imperfect | world | 2010

Archive for April, 2008

Apr 25,2008

James Moriarty

Seeing Cherie Booth yesterday on TV demanding the immediate shipment of Hasina for medical treatment made me think about foreign interference in Bangladeshi politics. So I am going to blog about James Moriarty, the US ambassador to Bangladesh. His arrival earlier this month portends, I fear, a menacing level of interference.

“Diplomatic activism,” if we can call it that, has been key in the recent developments in Bangladesh not least in the installation of the current military-backed caretaker government. So what can we expect in the future? Judging from his recent stint in Nepal, Mr Moriarty is not the type to engage in sensitive diplomacy. Indeed one journalist wrote “Moriarty was to prove very much an American cowboy in a Nepali china shop.” Read “cowboy” as euphemism for stoking conflict, murder and mayhem. As the results favouring the Maoists come in from Nepal, Mr Moriarty - their implacable opponent - must be wondering where he went wrong. The truth is that he never did possess a realistic view of what was possibile in Nepal. Mr Moriarty’s CV on the web tells us he has won several performance awards. Perhaps these were won mainly when he was behind a desk in Washington. In Nepal, his performance would have earned him a severe dressing down given the perverse outcome. And hence perhaps his appointment/demotion to Bangladesh.

So what did he do in the last four years in Nepal? And what can Bangladeshis anticipate? Since 2001, with the appointment of Christina Rocca as Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, the USA’s military involvement in Nepal has been considerable. The US pumped millions of dollars into building up Nepal’s security forces. Military exchange programs got expanded, and the Royal Nepalese Army (RNA) saw its numbers swell from a pre-2001 figure of 35,000 to 100, 000 in 2005 and a projected 150,000 by this year. US military advisers swarmed the place, and the compliant RNA did their bidding from sabotaging peace talks to murdering people in cold blood. Many people believe that US arms support during this period intensified violence and killings of innocent people. John Mage writes:

The resumption of civil war in the fall of 2003 saw the highpoint of U.S. military involvement in Nepal. Elaborate permanent quarters for U.S. “advisers” were constructed adjacent to RNA headquarters in the centre of Kathmandu. Through its International Military Education and Training Program (IMET), the U.S. trained the security forces in “special operations.” There ensued “a policy to allow mass disappearances accompanied by tacit approval at the highest levels of state to use mass torture, extra-judicial killings and other gross abuses.” The government announced a plan for “Village Defence Volunteers,” based on Latin American paramilitary “death squad” models. This proved too much for the European Union Heads of Mission in Nepal, who up to this time had followed the growing U.S. intervention without adverse public comment. They warned, with diplomatic understatement, that in other countries such plans “have often been responsible for grave violation of human rights.”

Mr Moriarty arrived in 2004 and lost no time in engaging in “diplomatic activism.” The infamous killings and destruction of property in Kapilvastu in the Terai by the death squads revealed Moriarty’s political objectives. I again quote at length from John Mage:

“These semi-official communalist murders were immediately denounced by the European Union ambassadors and “Human Rights” groups. Moriarty, recalled to Washington for consultations, was reported to have pointed to these death squad activities as reasons for “optimism.” Moriarty returned to Kathmandu in May 2005 and did not deny the report when confronted with it, merely stating that there was a “range of opinion” about the Kapilvastu death squad outrage. Moriarty said his main concern was that the RNA was running out of bullets. Not wishing openly to break ranks with India or the European Union on the question of military assistance to the increasingly isolated royal regime, the United States turned to its Israeli surrogate. In August a “huge cache” of 5.56 mm bullets for the U.S. M-16 rifles was reported to have been supplied to the RNA by Israel.”

Earlier this year, another commentator, Mohan Nepali, had this to say about another massacre in the Terai:

“James F. Moriarty visited Nepal’s Terai region (bordering India), met Madhesi leaders and instigated them to take actions against the Maoists. Immediately after this, devastating communal violence erupted in the Terai region. The Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, comprising not only armed robbery, smuggling and kidnapping gangs from both India and Nepal but also political workers and supporters from different mainstream parties ranging from moderate to ultra-rightist views, massacred 29 civilians in Rautahat in March 2007. The massacre is globally known as the Gaur Carnage.”

Moriarty’s job therefore was to stop the Maoists at all costs. Pratyush Chandra, writing in CounterPunch says, “for the US, the main task of the Nepalese politicians must be to eliminate the Maoists, not to bring in a stable democracy. The latter could be just an instrument in this regard. The “authoritarian rule” imposed by Monarchy per se was not wrong, If it had eliminated the Maoists, it would have been declared successful.”

A large number of writers describe how time and again James Moriarty over-stepped the boundaries of diplomacy to pursue these aims. On the eve of the historic April 2006 revolution which humiliated King Gyanendra, Moriarty was machinating to get the Seven Party Alliance to break their pact with the Maoists “and reconcile with the monarch contrary to the spirit of the people” according to Narayan Prasad Wagle. He goes on to state that

“Moriarty’s visits of army camps and frequent speeches about domestic political affairs do not confrom to diplomatic norms and etiquette, and principles of Vienna Conventions on diplomatic relations. The arms deal between the government and the Maoists was unreasonably delayed partly due to the threat of suspension of aid by America if the conditions put forward by it (were) ignored.”

I wonder now that Moriarty has left the country whether he has come to terms with why the Nepalese did not swallow his viewpoint. I wonder if he remembers his words from 2005 when he said the maoists were a “terrific threat” and wanted an “absolutely terrific totalitarian state in Nepal that also threatens the stability of the entire region.” His use of the word “terrific” is a bit strange as the writer Professor Gary Leup noted. He means it in the pejorative sense clearly. (Again according to his CV he speaks many languages including Nepali and Bangla. Some would say he should practise his English more - preferably back in the USA). But Gary Leup in the same article may have some light to shed on why Mr Moriarty’s dreams were never realised. Professor Leup assumes the voice of Thomas Paine and writes :

“The rebellion in Nepal is a revolt in favor of Reason. It makes no sense for 72% of its people to live below the poverty line, many in conditions resembling medieval European feudalism. It makes no sense for the government to neglect the population and present the king as the incarnation of a god. It makes no sense for 60% of the development budget to come from abroad, or for the country to so lack job opportunities that 50,000 Nepali women have to work as prostitutes in Mumbai, India — half the city’s total. It makes no sense for infant mortality to be 70 in 1000 because there’s just one doctor per 25,000 people, or for longevity to average 59 years, or for literacy to stand at 45% with only a third of girls getting any education. The revolution will quite likely change all this. The world is my country, all men my brothers, all women my sisters. So I reject the horrid depictions of it and yes, I support the truly terrific revolution in Nepal.”

Apr 23,2008

Trafficked Workers

“My agent promised me a job in Dubai as a caterer,” said Mohammad Ashraful, 36. “But he seized my passport from a Dubai hotel and forced me to go to Iraq,” he told Reuters.

Sadly the story is not as rosy as the title suggests:

As Bangladesh closed its embassy in Iraq in 2003, the undocumented Bangladeshi workers could not collect duplicate passports to return home.

Apr 17,2008

Last week ( April 11th) was the 3rd anniversary of the terrible Spectrum Factory disaster in Savar. See an earlier post on this here

Lets recap on what has happened ( thanks to Clean Clothes Campaign).

  • Companies which have still not committed to the relief fund are: Carrefour (France), Cotton Group (Belgium), New Yorker, Steilmann, Kirsten Mode, and Bluhmod (Germany).
  • Last April 11 2007, progress on implementing the relief scheme had been delayed due to various reasons (including the political situation in Bangladesh)
  • Also last April, Inditex (Zara), initiator of the fund, distributed about US$ 3,000 total, divided over 22 of the victims, and pledged that the rest of an announced $60,000 advance would reach the remaining families shortly
  • Unfortunately during the last year there have been further delays regarding the advance payments. About 75 US$ was paid out to the victims since last year, but no advance payments were realized for the families of the dead.
  • On April 11, 2008, the National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF) in Bangladesh organized a press conference demanding full implementation of the Spectrum Trust Fund for the welfare of the affected workers and the families of the dead.

Drishtipat and we the makers of a documentary on Bangladeshi garment workers created a one-off fund for some of the workers appearing in our film. We extended the financial help to include a little girl - Nadia - who lost her father in the Spectrum Disaster in terms of financing her schooling. I am happy to report that at least that small assistance is being given timeously. And the latest reports are that she is doing well in her schooling. Here is a picture of Nadia last year:

Nadia receiving from Sultana Kamal

Apr 16,2008


bangladesh 1971 Photographs (pdf document )

Bangladesh Film Festival London April 2008 (pdf document)

Let me know if you are going along….might see you there. Have people noticed that “The Architect” has now become a film about Bangladesh? Its inclusion is quite bizarre. How can a film about an Estonian-born philandering architect - who happened to get the contract for building Bangladesh’s parliament -  be a film about Bangladesh??

The elegance of old Dhaka

Apr 16,2008

old dhaka architecture

Elegance is not a word people commonly use to describe old Dhaka. But check this gorgeous old thing. I snapped this shot in december of 2006 and I made a mental note that if it was ever to come on the market….

I just walked in through the gate and started snapping away. The darwan had no problems with it. And after a few minutes the owner came out and greeted me. We had a pleasant chit-chat and I went on my way. In Gulshan, they would have set the dogs on me. Thats the difference.

Apr 15,2008

Jacqui Spliff

The procession of Labour cabinet ministers visiting Bangladesh continued this month. Jacqui Spliff, correction Smith, had a few things to say at the British High Commisioner’s residence the other day. Like her predecessor, the offensive John Reid, this Home Secretary also is obsessed focussed on terror. I wonder if she will flesh out some of the points she made below. They elevate the status of Bangladesh as a terror exporting country. Certainly, last January, this assessment by the foreign powers had something to do with what transpired in the country.

And this week Jacqui revealed that there were currently 30 active and ongoing terror plots in the UK. And some 2000 people involved. Well, I never…whoa etc. Like in true Tony Blair style, this government wants people to be scared. And scared people will accept anything including of course the lengthening of detention of terror suspects to an unprecedented 42 days. ( If you recall Tony tried 90 days and was defeated).

The labour party no longer uses the phrase “war on terror” but otherwise all things remain the same. Anyway, this is what Jacqui had to say in Dhaka:

There is a potential linkage between terrorists in Britain and terrorists in Bangladesh and we have shared interest and endeavor to tackle it through both short- and long-term measures…


We agree with the US analyses about HUJI-B [Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami Bangladesh] as a potential threat.


We value our counter-terrorism relationship with Bangladesh very highly.

Apr 14,2008

How has the suspension of trade union rights in January 2007 affected the garment industry? I have my own ideas but here is an anecdote to give you an indication:

Russell worked in the RM Sweater factory in Dhaka. Whilst working he developed a severe chest pain. He wanted to leave to get to a hospital. He was denied. Russell collapsed at the gate at 4.30pm. He died at the factory there and then. The factory usually stays open until 10pm everyday but closed that day at 5.30pm. The other workers soon worked out what had happened and took to the streets. This is a story from two weeks ago.

The difficulty of getting leave from a factory is a long standing complaint by garment workers. Pre-planned leave of absence is discouraged let alone an unexpected request. And we all know the tragic outcomes that the locked gate policy has had on workers in the past when fires have killed scores of women and children locked inside the factories.

So my take on it is simple. The caretaker government has effectively been denying the ability of garment manufacturers to reach a level of compliance with international labour standards. It’s a tripartite process and it requires the fullest participation of workers and their organisations. How can this happen if trade union activity is proscribed? If one of the players is not there, the garment owners are hardly likely to take up the cudgels themselves are they? And without compliance there will inevitably be a knock on effect on competitiveness.

Back to the good old days

Apr 11,2008

Committee to Mess up the bloody place

The battle hardened fundamentalist forces took us back to pre-Jan 2007 days today when they turned the streets of Dhaka and Chittagong  into the type of potentially deadly confrontations we used to witness between the two established Bangladeshi tribal groups. Members of the Committee to Resist Normal Civilised Behaviour (also known as Committee to Resist Anti-Quran Laws), Jamaat and others took to the streets to protest against any kind of implementation of laws which give equal property rights of women. 

It would be anti-koranic and against the teachings of the prophet they argue. Remember the koran is the uncreated word of allah himself. It applies, whether you like it or not, to all places and for all time for muslims. It is beyond negotiation and it is the absolute truth. Got that?
Reformist muslims will come forth with all sorts of checks and balances and quotations but the fact of the matter is that it all adds up to nowt. You can’t do battle on the terms set by these mullahs. Every piece of surah or hadith has its reply from these learned chaps. So what is the answer? Build a tradition of secular politics? Um….i think we all know the shameful history of Awami League. Build a progressive politics based around Bangladeshi nationalism? Um… I think we all know the shameful history of BNP on that. Um…er…fight them on the streets? Now you are talking…

The liberal in me is piping up and squeaking - but what about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? What about the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women? What about our secular intellectual tradition? Well we haven’t bothered much really in the past -  with women or minorities or children or workers or refugees or the disabled or the infirm or journalists or ….. this nebulous concept called democracy.

Apr 11,2008

The World Economic Forum (WEF) has just published a league table of countries that are economically better off because of their adoption and use of modern IT. The WEF, if you recall, is that outfit which provides junkets a forum for meaningful dialogue for the world’s super rich A listers and political elite concerned entrepreneurs, individuals and policy makers in the Swiss ski resort “think-tank” town of Davos.

This kind of list is very difficult to compile and I suspect only marginally more useful to the world than my laundry list for my local dry-cleaning shop. But the good news is that Bangladesh is not at the bottom. No. Not by a long shot. Of the 127 countries surveyed Bangladesh comes in at 124. What a fine testament to the stewardship of our IT sector by the governments of Khaleda and Hasina. We are just pipped by India (ranked No 50 and ahead of us by only 74 countries).

Here look for yourself - Rankings pdf.

Apr 10,2008

You have seen the movie, now visit the web site SWAPNABHUMI - THE PROMISED LAND

Finally I managed to find time to get this done. Thanks to Ain Tohvri all the way there in the frozen wastes of Estonia for the web development. Estonia too has a considerable stateless population. And Ain and I had wonderful discussions about the dynamics of the Soviet occupation of Estonia, Estonian resistance and resistance art. Thanks for an educational experience Ain.

Comments, suggestions and feedback welcome. Amazon purchases even more so.

Aloo bortha links

Apr 3,2008

The general has spoken: “let them eat Aloo bortha.” That is the advice given by Bangladesh’s top general concerning how to deal with the country’s rice crisis. To mark this historic and remarkable exhortation, I give below a recipe for aloo bortha.

1. Boil potatoes until soft. In the UK I find the Maris Piper variety to be best.

2. Fry onions and dried red chillies.

3. Set aside the onions and dried chillies to cool.

4. Add a modicum of the oil you have just used into the boiled potatos. Crush the chillies into the potatos, and mix the whole thing with the onions.

5. Salt to taste. Roll into fist sized balls.
Serve with rice, as the general has suggested, immediately.

A particularly large helping of bortha is required for Hasina who has ear trouble, eye trouble and standing-up-in-court trouble.

And John Pilger’s defence of Mr Slippery Moudud Ahmed is made bortha of by Asif Saleh in CiF . But Asif old chap, could you not have used the space to talk about other things? I mean Pilger’s intervention is old hat and has been dealt with sufficiently. Why make unnecessary aloo bortha of that has-been from down under?


Apr 2,2008

I have been Flickr-ing.

Chittagong and Chottogram

  • Filed under: Bihari
Apr 1,2008

A very positive reception ( rapturous even among certain quarters..!)  for our documentary Swapnabhumi - The Promised Land. Extended discussions took place after the multiple showings in different areas.