Sunday, September 30, 2007

Abu Samara and his jihad against freethinkers

The curious case of Abu Samara and his jihad against freethinkers
A.H. Jaffor Ullah
Source: Mukto Mona

Bright and early on Jumma Day (Muslim Sabbath Day), September 28, 2007 I learned via an e-mail that one Abu Samara wrote an article in Bengali, which is needless to say – a diatribe-ridden from Alif to Yaa, and published in a vernacular newspaper on September 24, 2007 by the name Naya Diganta (New Horizon). In this article, he poured his venom to freethinker writers who originated from Bangladesh . Conspicuously absent in the article was the name of heavy hitters such as Ibn Warraq or Ali Sina who had been writing exposé to reveal all kinds of inanities in the religion of “peace” dating back from 7th century.

You see, neither Ibn Warraq nor Ali Sina is from Bangladesh. Therefore, a Bangalee taking a nom de plume (fake name) Abu Samara, which means "father of Samara", decided to lambaste the freethinkers originated from Bangladesh with the hope that the present military-backed government could do something to harass the family members of these writers who were left behind Bangladesh. And for that purpose he mentioned in his magnum opus that this group of writers is trying to tarnish the "image' of Bangladesh to outsiders. Lest Mr. Samara forgot, Bangladesh had topped the list of most corrupt nation on earth prepared by Transparency International (TI) consecutively for few years during the reign of Khaleda Zia and Jamaat who took control of Bangladesh in October 2001. What more the writers of Mukto-mona, NFB, or Vinnomot could do to tarnish the "pristine image" of Bangladesh that had been going downhill since August 1975 to abyss (read hell) and thanks to the alliance between the military and Islamic parties such as Jamaat for this retrogressive journey. I have called these people who are the likes of Abu Samara – Bangladesh Über Allis (Above All in German language) folks. To these self-proclaimed patriot and defender of Islam anyone who critiques Islam and Bangladesh in public is nothing more than the enemy of Islam and the motherland. Therefore, they wrongly think these folks should be identified, vilified, and censured.

The conspiracy theory of these Bangladesh Über Allis folks is loaded with falsity. A case in point is the alleged role the Zionists playing to propagate "falsities" against Islam. Mr. Samara conveniently found the connection between Mukto-mona and Zionist organization. Did he mention one name from Zionist camp that is supporting Mukto-mona financially or intellectually? No, he won't find even one. But how conveniently did he spread the proverbial horse manure in the Internet.

The timing of slandering the freethinkers of Bangladesh origin at this time needs some probing. Most cyber writers took up their pen in late 1990s because the established publishers of newspapers and periodicals in Bangladesh won't touch their probing articles because of the fear these may unleash. In the last ten years a tremendous amount of articles critiquing the Mullahs way interpretations of Islam was published in 'News from Bangladesh' (NFB), Mukto-mona, Vinnomot, and a few intrepid websites in the Net. Writers whose name was "unearthed" by Abu Samara are already well-known' many of them had published books in Bangladesh. In short, these writers are already known to many booklovers allover Bangladesh. Mukto-Mona has been awarded prestigious Jahanara Imam Memorial Medal recently for making significant contribution in the movement for establishing humanism, rationalism and scientific mindset among the people. Why then Abu Samara took this onerous duty on himself to propagate hate among Bangalee readers? I think I know the answer.

On January 11, 2007 a new administration was placed in Dhaka with the help of Bangladesh military. Gen. Moeen, the chief of military is the main backer of this government. In February or March of 2007 Gen. Moeen gave a public lecture in Dhaka when he mentioned that religion would play a very important role along with a homegrown version of democracy in the future polity of this nation of 150 million. This statement gave incentive to religious parties and their followers. These obscurantists found their epiphany from the tall talks of Gen. Moeen. They started allover again to think about a Green Bangladesh. Move forward to September 2007 and you will find some truth to what I am propounding here. Just the other day the government arrested a twenty year old budding cartoonist by the name Arif. The kid is languishing in jail for a piece that he wrote and drew. It was an innocuous cartoon poking fun at the very people like Abu Samara who takes the hadiths (example set by Prophet Muhammad) literally. These people because of their reverence to Prophet Muhammad opined that the cartoon had offended the "feelings" of many Muslims. No opinion poll was taken in Bangladesh that I know but the Mullahs were quick to assert that Arif's carton was blasphemous and not fit for public consumption in Bangladesh. The government who through their action had proved that they are friendly to Mullahs' cause had quickly acted and arrested the kid. And that is not the end of it. The editor of vernacular newspaper Prothom Alo, which published the piece in their magazine by the name "Al-Pin" (Arabesque way of putting it), not only apologized in public but also went to the national mosque asking the forgiveness of Ulemas (learned mullahs) in a highly publicized Tauba Ceremony. Many a reader thought the editor asked the forgiveness on behalf of secular writers. The mullahs had sardonic laugh allover their face and many of them may have interpreted the ceremony as the capitulation of secular ideals from Bangladesh at least for the time being.

Inspired by the highly publicized Tauba Ceremony of Dhaka the petite Islamists of garden variety allover Internet had been roused from their hibernation. They are active again. Thus, spoketh Abu Samara. He is a coward one who took a sobriquet to lambaste many intrepid writers including me. Am I perturbed by all this? Not at all. The likes of Abu Samara think that the time is right to daub black tar on secularist writers. However, their jihad won't bring any fruition.

Come to think of it, there once was a website by the name Shodalap whose main task was to critique the writings of Bangalee freethinkers. Perhaps the website had changed its stance and had become an inclusive forum. However, there still exists virulently anti-secularist websites from which the likes of Abu Samara draw inspiration to lambaste Mukto-mona writers. Without an ounce of sapience Abu Samara, the toothless tiger, wrote his ad hominem article. I strongly denounce his malevolence that he showed out of hatred that he harbors against Avijit Roy, Fatemolla, Taj Hashmi, Mehul Kamdar, and of course myself. Mr. Samara thinks that our effort to link the incidences of bombings in Bangladesh for the last 7-8 years with radical Islamists will be an exercise in futility. How preposterous is Mr. Samara's claim. Yes, Mukto-mona writers always wrote that there is a connection between the radical Islamists in Bangladesh and the spate of bombings over there. The arrest of Bangla Bhai, Shaikh Abdur Rahman, and many of his followers and their subsequent trials that led to the walking of the Islamists to gallows all point to the fact that we were right in our assertion. One could easily draw the conclusion that the real face behind Abu Samara is born loser Bangalee belonging to Rajakar party – Jamaat. The reason he hates the secularists is because we are like thorns in his path to Islamism.

The wannabe Abu Samaras will do justice if they could bring concrete evidence of foul play by the secularist writers. By the way, Google is a search engine that relies strictly on strings of words. Therefore, if anyone wrote "Salahuddin Shoyeb Chowdhury" and "Friends of Israel" in the same article, then of course one will see the article in which these two phrases appear. What is the big deal hear. One however needs to see an authoritative article or reference to draw any conclusion. The puny-brained Islamists such as Abu Samara will never understand how a search engine works. It is mentioned that "Little learning could be dangerous." Caveat emptor, readers! Watch out of articles that come out in parochially inclined newspapers such as Naya Diganta . That is all I can assert here.
A.H. Jaffor Ullah, a writer and columnist, writes from New Orleans, USA

Bangladesh: Military, Mullahs and Oligarchs

Bangladesh was made a paradox with the able hands of military, mullahs, and oligarchs

A.H. Jaffor Ullah

The chief of the military-backed government of Bangladesh , Fakhruddin Ahmed, spoke before a gathering at the campus of Columbia University on September 28, 2007. The chief advisor came to New York City a few days earlier to attend the general assembly of the U.N. in which he gave a 15-miniute address before the dignitaries and the permanent representatives of the comity of nations that make this organization one of a kind world body.

Fakhruddin's address to Columbia University's "World Leader's Forum" caught the attention of many people because this is the first time that the chief advisor came to the West after being thrust into power by cantonment intrigue in Bangladesh. Also, the chief advisor never did take any question from journalists in Bangladesh despite the fact that he attended various state functions in many of which he delivered only speech.

The silent force that is the purveyor of Fakhruddin Administration does not allow the chief advisor to address the press in an open forum. That is precisely why quite a few eager beaver attended the lecture with the hope that they could ask him some pertinent questions about the way Bangladesh is being run since January 12, 2007. Many civil rights activists also attended the lecture to get the impression as to why about a quarter million people or so are rotting in the jail without any charge, tens and thousands of poor people were made homeless by the government's forces alone in Dhaka, half a dozen senior professors from three universities – Dhaka, Rajshahi, and Chittagong were arrested and placed in jail as of this writing, and why the government had arrested a twenty-year old cartoonists at the behest of Islamists in Bangladesh. The other pressing questions that need explanation are – the exit map for this temporary government whose 90-days tenure as per the constitution had all but expired and how long the emergency rule will continue in this "paradoxical" nation that is mired in hyper inflation, and quasi military rule. Not to mention the military-backed government had supported a faction of political leaders to engage in open politics when it has squashed the political activities of the leading parties and whose leaders are in jail pending litigation. Also important to many attendees of the lecture is the issue of the up coming general election and the reform process that should make a level playing field for all political parties.

I could not attend the lecture because I live about 1,300-1,400 miles away from New York City; however, Mr. Jahed Ahmed, who is one of the moderators of Mukto-mona forum, had attended the meeting and I read his eye account report of the speech. Mr. Ahmed did a superlative job in reporting the performance of Mr. Fakhruddin Ahmed while he took notes. I request the readers to peruse his report to know what Mr. Fakhruddin had emphasized in his carefully prepared speech.

What I would like to do in this write-up is to bring up the issue of one segment of his speech in which he said, "Bangladesh is, in many ways, a paradox that has baffled many a pundit." This needs elaboration a bit. I have no idea in which context the chief advisor categorized Bangladesh as a paradoxical land. Is it the polity, its political leadership, or is it the people?

As I have alluded to earlier that Mr. Fakhruddin Ahmed was thrust into the forefront of governance by a powerful coterie of power. His purveyor – the military in my view is accountable for making Bangladesh a paradoxical land. In August 15, 1975 the military executed a plan that it hatched in Kurmitola cantonment. Since then the military came to power not once but three times. All along the way, it courted the mullahs (read Islamists) to consolidate its power. Lest we forget, this tiny nation was formed in 1971 through a mass participation under the leadership of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Tajuddin Ahmed, Nazrul Islam, and many more like them. An estimated 3 million people were butchered and a quarter million women raped by the brute and occupation army of Pakistani government. The masses wanted a secular polity and they got one only to see that only three and half-year later the military reverted the course of the journey to transform this one-time vibrant society into a quasi religious state.

In mid-September 2007 a vernacular newspaper published an innocuous cartoon in which the twenty-year old cartoonist by the name Arifur Rahman poked a fun at the naming of Muslim boys. The Islamists twisted the meaning of the punch line and asked the government to arrest the cartoonist and the editor, publisher and the whole shebang of Bangla newspaper Prothom Alo. The Fakhruddin Administration could have appointed a body of scholars to look into the content of the carton before arresting the cartoonist. But to appease the religious fanatics the government did nothing of that sort and it simply arrested the young man who created the cartoon. The activist government then went further and arranged a " Taoba" (forgiveness or pardon) ceremony with the mullahs asking the law minister to be the middle man to carry out the fiasco in public. The picture of the hapless editor seated among corpulent mullahs graced the page of most newspaper. The secular segment of the society simply cringed in feat thinking what lies ahead for this "paradoxical" land. In my opinion the military-led government is making this country a nation of paradox.

The army appointed 10 or so technocrats, ex-military men, and businessman to run the country of 150 million people after January 11, 2007 over through of a caretaker government, which was ordained in late October 2006. The country is essentially being run by a group of oligarchs who have no connection to masses. Bangladesh is still a village-based polity. These men are all city-bred and have a serious disconnection to the people of the land. The Fakhruddin Administration' s main agenda was to break the tradition of two-family driven politics but to do execute its policy it appointed three oligarchs from the same family. Is not it paradoxical? The military-led government said it will arrest all the corrupt politicians but in reality it turned a blind eye to quite a few politicians who are corrupt. The only reason these corrupt politicians are roaming freely in the nation is that they are extending their helping hands to tighten the noose around the neck of two supreme political leaders. The government is also dictating these corrupt but free politicians to wreak havoc in their respective parties. Initially the government thought they could help catapult Dr. Yunus into the political arena. The Peace Nobel laureate thought he could facilely form a political party using the Internet and media but that was proven so wrong. The idea of forming the party just withered in the vine and the oligarchs could do nothing but twiddle their thumbs. Indeed, Bangladesh is seemingly a nation of contradiction.

If I understand correctly by reading Jahed Ahmed's write-up on day's event at Columbia University , Mr. Fakhruddin Ahmed talked about the success of poverty alleviation program, food production situation in Bangladesh and the need for good governance; however, he avoided those touchy issues as the arrest of university professors and the young cartoonist. These questions were asked but the chief advisor dodged the questions while he gave his glib answers. I was saddened to hear that Mr. Fakhruddin Ahmed did not even say word on the arrest of Arifur Rahman, the jailed cartoonist. By remaining reticent on this hot issue, the chief advisor had proved one more time that Bangladesh is riddled with contradiction in terms of the governance. The same Mr. Fakhruddin had given a fiery speech on February 21, 2007 in which he urged everyone to join in to make Bangladesh a knowledge-based society but that ephemeral plea just vanished in the thin air. The hard reality is that the nation is now under the influence of obscurantists who are dictating the government to efface the vestiges of secularism. Isn't that a glaring example of the paradoxical nature of Bangladesh ? If I may say so, Mr. Fakhruddin Ahmed, it is through your action our motherland is becoming not only a hapless but an utter paradoxical land. Instead of lecturing on it, please do something about it so that in future this epithet could be kept "rest in peace."
A.H. Jaffor Ullah, a researcher and columnist, writes from New Orleans , USA

Analysis of 3B Military, (Burma, Bangladesh and Bangkok)

Analysis of 3B Military, (Burma, Bangladesh and Bangkok)
Aug 24th, 2007 by Dr San Oo Aung

Courtesy: Burma Digest

It is quite fascinating to read Dr. Aung's comparative analysis of three military regimes in Burma, Bangladesh and Bangkok (Thailand). Few months ago the Washington Post had published a story about the rise of military regimes in Asian countries under the headline of Across Asia, the Generals Strike Back. As Generals are coming back into the national pictures, thy don't guarantee the ultimate return to democracy. Of course, the worst example is Burma. Sadly, the rise of military regimes in Asian countries is a major setback as democracy is becoming a distant dream for their citizens. Interestingly, Burma, Bangladesh and Thailand are dominated under military repressions very uniquely as they have caused disaster and human suffering. Just remember the atrocities and brutalities by the Bangladesh Police and Army during the student-police clash last month. Are 3B militaries striking back as democracy is failing? Or, they're finding pretexts in democratic failures? Blaming politicians and institutions is strategically beneficial to justify a civil-military government in the years to come. Will the Army redefine democracy with "more decisive say" in the coming days?

Lecture Hop: cruel and petty dictator edition?

Lecture Hop: cruel and petty dictator edition?
September 29, 2007

Courtesy: The BWOG Blog

The World Leaders Forum might be over, but Bangladesh's problems sure aren't!
Armin Rosen reports on the last of this round of WLF events.

Like Turkmenistan, Bangaldesh finds itself straddling a perilously thin line. In Turkmenistan, a solid tradition of dictatorship makes it all too easy for president Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov to lead the central Asian country away from democracy (those who saw him speak this past Monday learned that this is exactly what he plans to do). Bangladesh has an equally checkered history of civil war and military rule, although Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed's relatively bullshit-free speech at the World Leaders Forum leads me to believe that the country probably won't revert to destructive historical habit--but it was difficult to watch Dr. Ahmed without thinking there's a decent chance that it will.

Dr. Ahmed was surprisingly candid as to the challenges facing his country. In impeccable English the Princeton PhD explained that his country holds long term promise, and that trade liberalization, foreign development and support from NGOs have put Bangladesh on pace to half poverty by 2015. Bangladesh could be a middle-income country within two decades, says Dr. Ahmed, who did an excellent job of presenting his country as the least dysfunctional of the world�s poverty-stricken hellholes--but he was nevertheless clear that Bangladesh remains a poverty-stricken hellhole. He touched on land shortages, corruption and market threats to the country's economically vital readymade garment industry as challenges that could break his small country of 150 million people. And he closed on the ominous prediction that global warming will sink 30% of Bangladesh within the next couple centuries.

What Dr. Ahmed didn't touch on during his keynote address was the fact that his very appearance at Columbia portends deep and possibly destructive problems for Bangladesh. Ahmed is the chief advisor to a "non-partisan transitional -government," and the country is operating under emergency rule as set forth in its constitiuon. But in South Asia, "emergency rule" is often just dictatorship by other means--a case in point is Indira Gandhi's heavy-handed tactics during India's "emergency" in the mid-70s. So is Ahmed a responsible caretaker for a poor but inevitably promising country, or a technocratic dictator ruling over a proverbial house of cards?

One Bangladeshi expat delivered a Bollingerian scolding during the question-and-answer session, and claimed that Ahmed's "regime" has been curtailing freedom of the press, imprisoning academics and turning a blind eye to religious and political extremism. Another questioner brought up the millions of Bangladeshis who have illegally settled in India, and mentioned that this could turn into a prickly and possibly intractable issue for the two neighbors (likely given the intensity of the immigration debate in our own country). Ahmed effectively sidestepped the question about imprisoned academics by assuring us that they deserve to be in jail. On illegal immigration he pled total ignorance, and he completely ignored the question of whether he is refusing to reign in extremism.

Ahmed's commitment to democracy will be revealed in 2008, when an election is scheduled to end Bangladesh's constitutional emeergency rule. If those elections go down as scheduled, and if Ahmed's program of poverty reduction proves even marginally successful he will go down as one of the great leaders in his country's young history. But Ahmed's revealing answers and non-answers suggest other disconcerting possibilities. What's for sure is that Bangladesh is no Turkmenistan--but that isn't exactly a big deal.

Dr. Fakhruddin’s Speech at Columbia and the “Paradox” of Bangladesh

Dr. Fakhruddin’s Speech at Columbia and the “Paradox” of Bangladesh
Jahed Ahmed
Courtesy of: Mukto Mona

“Bangladesh is, in many ways, a paradox that has baffled many a pundit.”
-Dr. Fakhruddin at Columbia University (28th September 2007)

This morning Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed, Honorable Chief Adviser of Bangladesh, delivered a speech at Columbia University on an invitation by its World Leader’s Forum. At the same venue just a few days ago Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinajad was invited amid massive protests and gave a speech followed by questions and answers session during which Mr Mahmoud underwent a real tough time. Unlike Ahmedinajad, Dr Fakhruddin, however, was well received by the community of Columbia University, its students, teachers, staff and media. Dr. Fakhruddin’s speech was well-written and he delivered it well. Yet it might not be easy to predict, to what extent the Chief Adviser has been able to dispel the doubts about Bangladesh as “a paradox that has baffled many a pundit,” a phrase taken from his speech. Unlike what we see back home, here in US (and in much of the West) a speech or lecture by a VIP is almost always accompanied by the questions and answers (Q & A) session. But this session didn’t go as well as Dr. Fakhruddin might have predicted. And I am sure--our Chief Adviser, a Princeton alumni himself--has realized it as well.

The title of Dr. Fakhruddin’s speech was “Bangladesh’s Socioeconomic Development: Success, Challenges, and Imperatives.” During his more than half-an-hour speech which started at 11 am, Dr. Fakhruddin spoke on a wide range of issues starting from—Dr. Yunus’ micro-credit; challenges of poverty reduction; Bangladesh’s success in population control, food-production, garments industry, primary education, Non-formal education (NFE) (some may not agree with the way he promoted BRAC’s success as an NGO); migration issue— to current caretaker government’s drive against corruption and resolve to hold elections “before the end of December 2008.”

One very interesting aspect of Dr. Fakhruddin’s speech was his repeated utterance “democracy is a necessary but not sufficient condition for good governance.” (May be, General Moyeen has requested him to make it a point every where he goes to!) “Our democratically elected governments during the past 15 years failed to promote good governance and to protect citizens’ rights. We must accept that while democracy may take various forms and manifestations, its ultimate objective is always the same—the rule of law by the will of people. Democracy must put in place checks and balances against abuses of power and corruption,” said Dr. Fakhruddin during his speech. While many of us may agree with Dr. Fakhruddin’s statement about the failure and corruption (moral and fiscal) of country’s mainstream politicians, it’s quite dubious in my opinion that not even once did he mention that about the military’s repeated record of capture and abuse of power in Bangladesh by bypassing country’s constitution. After all, Bangladesh’s age is 35+ years, not 15 years. As for the underlined portion (Note: I did it to make my point. –J.A.) of his remarks, we only wish Mr Chief Adviser’s “various forms and manifestations” of democracy would not remind us of General Ayub’s “Basic Democracy.” The Q & A session started at around 11-35 a.m. I attended the speech on behalf of and carried a question with me which read as follows: Recently in Bangladesh, a young cartoonist Arifur Rahman was arrested and is held in prison for a cartoon which used the word, "Mohammed" and which some fundamentalist groups found objectionable. When a similar cartoon was published in the magazine of another fundamentalist group's own newspaper, no allegation of people’s "religious sentiments being hurt" or any such issue arose. We are aware that lawyers have been restricted from representing Mr Rahman and that his own family has not been allowed to meet him. This follows on the heels of the brutal torture and killing of Tribe leader and Activist Cholesh Ritchil and the arrests of hundreds of university teachers, several thousands of people with no prior criminal record. Would you please comment on this horrific state of affairs in Bangladesh with respect to individual rights and freedoms? During Q & A session I saw Dr. Austin Dacey, a long time friend of Mukto-Mona, United Nations representative of the Center for Inquiry (CFI) Trans-national and assistant editor of Free Inquiry magazine, in the queue on the other side of the hall. The moderator took first four questions from four members of the audience (there were total two lines). I was waiting for my turn. The first four questions were about Dr. Yunus & micro-credit (asked by a Bangladeshi journalist but I couldn’t quite clearly follow it); arrest of cartoonist Arifur Rahman (asked by Dr. Austin); imprisonment and harassment of university teachers, students and others and Bangladeshi refugees in India . In his response although Dr Fakhruddin maintained that his government is “respectful” (?) of the freedom of press, he clearly avoided the issue of cartoonist Arifur Rahman’s arrest. But the question regarding imprisonment and persecution of university teachers, asked by a young South Asian student, shattered the image which Dr. Fakhruddin created of his government through his sugar-coated speech. It was interesting to notice, how Dr. Fakhruddin’s face turned grumpy as the question was asked. And his answer to this particular question was old rhetoric: that it was initially a “minor” incident that was magnified later through some anti-government agents in order to destabilize the country. By the time my turn time came, Ms Clare Oh (who granted me permission to attend the event) came to me telling,” Sorry, media people are not allowed to ask any questions. Q & A session is open only to Columbia students and staff.” Surprised and deeply frustrated, I pleaded saying the first four persons who asked questions were not Columbia students themselves. Ms Clare acknowledged- that was a mistake. I obeyed the rule and came out with Dr. Austin, thanked him for raising the issue of cartoonist Arif’s arrest. If it was not for him, the American audience would not have learned about the example of this government’s policy of appeasement toward Islamic fundamentalists: imprisonment of a boy as young as 19 years only for “hurting religious sentiments” (!) of Muslims (read, Mullahs). As I was coming out, I left the copies of CFI's statement on cartoonist Arifur Rahman issued to Mukto-Mona yesterday on the table with the receptionists near the entrance. Initially I hoped to distribute them among the audience personally but I arrived there late and the speech already started.

How many more years would Bangladesh remain a ”baffling paradox?” Who might know answer to this question: The politicians, bureaucrats, the military, the public or none of them! I thought about this on my way back home.

New York
September 28, 2007
About the author: Jahed Ahmed is the co-moderator and editorial board member of Mukto-Mona (, a network of freethinkers and humanists from South Asian countries. He can be reached at

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Rescuing military image in Bangladesh

Has the image of Bangladesh army been tarnished lately? Interestingly, the army backed Caretaker government is trying to redefine the army's role in the current government. Bangladesh army won't be involved into national politics may sound too assuring to a lot of political observers. People have growing suspicion about army's motive in the whole political process. Bangladesh offering a new model of military dominated civil affairs to the world body is a quiet fascinating provocation by its design.

"Bangladesh represents an effective model of civil-military cooperation in crisis prevention ," Fakhruddin Ahmed was quoted as saying at the UNGA session in New York by the state-run BSS. May be, he said the truth. He may have overlooked the course of political process that is increasingly dictated by the military planners. Blogger Jagrook Bangalee claims, "a parallel government is being run by the military intelligence in Bangladesh". The self-acclaimed civil-military model doesn't work "when in the midnight whose doors are knocked and abducted to unknown destination at least for a few days before handing over to the police, then to jail for indefinite period without bail. The eminent professor of Dhaka University and Rajshahi University could not be saved from such allegation, late production to police and detained to jail for indefinite period". The saga remains same for almost all of the people taken into custody.

Bangladeshis may seek comfort in what General Moeen recently said about the army's willingness to return to their barracks when the government asks them to do so. Will that cease Army's undue and invisible role in politics? It's very unlikely to happen in Bangladesh under the given condition. Suddenly an increasing drum beats on Army's retreat puzzle the political observers about the undercurrent of these statements. May be the recent geo-political developments are holding the untold answer. Burma is burning. The whole world is looking at the volatile situations in Burma. Bangladesh government is under increasing international scrutiny about its political reforms, election, and human rights issues. That is why, Bangladesh Army is validly redefining its role to escape international scrutiny which will be critically tested in the coming days. The hope for sustainable democracy will go away if invisible hands continue to dictate political developments in Bangladesh.

সবকিছু নষ্টদের অধিকারে চলে যাবে

সবকিছু নষ্টদের অধিকারে চলে যাবে
অভিজিৎ রায়
২২ সেপ্টেম্বর ২০০৭
Source: Mukto Mona

আমি খুব সহজে আশাহত হই না। “আশা নিয়ে ঘর করি, আশায় পকেট ভরি” টাইপের মানুষ আমি। যখন সবাই হাল ছেড়ে দিয়ে মাথায় হাত দিয়ে বসে থাকে, তখনো আমি নির্ঘুম রাত জেগে থাকি এক চিলতে সোনালী রোদ্দুরের আশায়। মনে মনে হয়ত আউরাই – ‘মেঘ দেখে কেউ করিসনে ভয়, আড়ালে তার সূর্য হাসে’। আমার গাড়িতে একটা সিডি রেখে দিয়েছি, মাহমুদুজ্জামান বাবুর। অফিস যেতে যেতে প্রতিদিন সকালেই শুনতে থাকি অফিস যাওয়ার পথটুকুতে –

‘ভোর হয়নি, আজ হল নাকাল হবে কিনা তাও জানা নেইপরশু ভোর আসবেইএই আশাবাদ তুমি ভুল না’।
হ্যা আশাবাদ আমি ভুলি না। পরশুর ভোরের প্রত্যাশা করি। কিন্তু আমার মতন এই যে চরম আশাবাদী এ মানুষটিও গত কয়েকদিনে বাংলাদেশের গতিপ্রকৃতি দেখে যেন আশা হারিয়ে ফেলতে চাইছে। আজ আর কালকের দুর্দৈব দেখে পরশু ভোর নয়, যেন অপেক্ষা করছি ঘোর অমানিষার। অথচ ঘটনার শুরু হয়েছিল সামান্য একটা কৌতুকাশ্রিত কার্টুনকে কেন্দ্র করে। এমন একটা কৌতুক যা সম্ভবত শতাব্দী প্রাচীন। এমনই সাধারণ যা কিনা শিবিররাও তাদের কিশোর পত্রিকায় দেদারসে ব্যবহার করেছে। কিন্তু সেই কৌতুকই কাল হল। আমাদের মতি মামার কাপুরোষোচিত বদান্যতায় এক বিশ বছর বয়সী তরুণ কার্টুনিস্টের জেল হল, আর আলপিন সম্পাদকের গেল চাকরী। আমি এ নিয়ে ক’দিন আগেই একটা লেখা লিখেছিলাম – যে দেশে শস্যের চেয়ে টুপি বেশি

আমি ভেবেছিলাম সময়ের সাথে সাথে টুপিওয়ালাদের দৌরাত্ম অচীরেই কমে আসবে। আশা ছিল গণমানুষের সচেতনতার প্রতি। ভেবেছিলাম গণমানুষ নিজ নিজ কাজে ব্যস্ত হয়ে গেলে আর আইন-শৃংখলারক্ষাকারী বাহিনী একটু টাইট দিলেই আবার সবকিছু স্বাভাবিক হয়ে আসবে। কিন্তু এরপরের কয়েকদিনে যা হল, তা আমার কল্পণাকেও হার মানালো। দেখলাম ব্যারিস্টার মইনুল সহ অন্য উপদেষ্টারা মোল্লা মহিউদ্দিন আর ওবায়দুল্লাহর সাথে গলাগলি করে দেশের আর ইসলামের বিরুদ্ধে ষড়যন্ত্র খুঁজতে লেগেছেন। ওই যুগল-সর্পিল কোল দিয়ে, বুক দিয়ে দেশ আর ধর্মের ভাবমূর্তি রক্ষা করার পণ করে নেমেছেন। আর্মি আর মোল্লা যখন “স্ট্রেঞ্জ বেডফেলো’তে পরিণত হয় –তা হয় এক অতি কুৎসিৎ দৃশ্য। শকুন আর শৃগালের শয্যাদৃশ্য যেন এটি। তাও না হয় সহ্য করলাম। তখনো আশা হারাইনি।

এর পরদিন দেখলাম সব বাঘা বাঘা সাংবাদিকেরা – যাদের কলমের আঘাতে এতদিন আকাশ বিদীর্ণ হয়, ধরিত্রী চৌচির হয়ে যায় বলে ভাবতাম – তারা হাতজোড় করে, নতজানু হয়ে কতগুলো অর্ধশিক্ষিত হুজুরের পালের (সরি, বলা উচিৎ বিশিষ্ট আলেম সমাজ) কাছে ক্ষমাভিক্ষা করছেন। তখনো আমি আশায় বুক বেধে আছি। এর মধ্যে আবার সাপ্তাহিক ২০০০ এর ঈদ-সংখ্যা বাজেয়াপ্ত হল। কবি দাউদ হায়দার তার একটি আত্মজীবনীমূলক লেখায় মক্কার উপমা দিয়েছিলেন। এ ধরণের উপমা সাহিত্যে হরহামেশাই দেওয়া হয়। লর্ডসকে ক্রিকেটের মক্কা বলে। আমরা কথায় কথায় বলি মক্কার মানুষ হজ পায় না, ইত্যাদি। আমি নিজেও সিঙ্গাপুরের বাঙ্গালীদের নিয়ে একসময় লিখতে গিয়ে আমার একটা লেখায় লিটল ইন্ডিয়া জায়গাটাকে সৌদি আরবের মক্কার সাথে তুলনা করেছিলাম। লেখাটি জনকন্ঠ আর ভোরের কাগজে ছাপাও হয়েছিল। আমার কখনো মনে হয়নি কারো কোন অনূভুতিকে আমি আঘাত করছি।

‘মক্কা’ শব্দটি বর্তমানে সাহিত্যের এক অনিন্দসুন্দর উপমায় পরিণত হয়েছে, যেমনি ইংরেজী ভাষায় হয়েছে ‘বাইবেল’ শব্দটি। বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ে পড়ার সময় আমার স্যারেরা প্রায়-ই বলতেন অমুক বইটা বাঈবেল অব ফিসিক্স, কিংবা অমুক বইটা গনিতের বাইবেল। যে কোন প্রোগ্রামার কম্পিউটারের বইয়ের দোকানে গিয়ে বুকশেলফে খুঁজলেই পাবেন – “জাভা, এক্স-এম এল ওয়েব সার্ভিসেস – বাইবেল বুকস’, কিংবা ‘ জে.টু.ই.ই – বাইবেল বুকস’ ইত্যাদি। শুধু প্রোগ্রামিং এর নিরস বই নয়, খুঁজলে বাইবেল টাইটেল সমৃদ্ধ সরস বইও পাওয়া যাবে : The Sex Bible: The Complete Guide to Sexual Love (by Susan Crain Bakos) কিংবা The Wine Bible: Books (by Karen MacNeil) এমনকি The Brothel Bible: The Cathouse Experience এর মত বই। কারো মাথায় আকাশ ভেঙ্গে পড়ছে না। কারণ সবাই জানে বাইবেল এখানে আক্ষরিক ‘বাইবেল’ হিসেবে ব্যবহৃত হচ্ছে না – বরং এখানে বাইবেল-এর প্রয়োগ হচ্ছে ‘এন্সাইক্লোপিডিয়া’ কিংবা ‘সমগ্র’ হিসেবে। নিরেট মুর্খ ছারা কেউ ‘ওয়াইন-বাইবেল’ বা ‘ব্রোথল বাইবেল’কে বাইবেলের অপমান হিসেবে নেয় না, অথচ দাউদ হায়দারের লেখায় লৌক্ষ্মের বালাখানার পাশে মক্কার উপমা দেখে আমাদের ধার্মিক শিশ্ন খাড়া হয়ে ওঠে। অবশ্য যে জাতির পন্ডিতদের নিছক বিড়ালের আগে মোহম্মদ দেখলেই শিশ্ন দিয়ে লাভার উদ্গীরণ ঘটে, সে জাতির ধর্মরক্ষকেরা লৌক্ষ্মের বালাখানার পাশে মক্কা দেখলে কি করবে তা সহজেই আনুমেয়। আমার আগের ‘যে দেশে শস্যের চেয়ে টুপি বেশি’ প্রকাশের পর এক পাঠক একটি মন্তব্য করেছেন, যা উদ্ধৃত করার লোভ সামলাতে পারলাম না:

“বাঙালি মুসলমানের দুইটা মাত্র অনুভূতি খুব পোক্তা, একটা যৌনানুভূতি, আরেকটা ধর্মানুভূতি। তবে যৌনানুভূতিটা প্রখর হলেও জানপ্রাণ দিয়ে ওটা আড়াল করে রাখে, আর ধর্মানুভূতিটা ভোঁতা হলেও ছুঁতা পেলেই ওটার উৎকট প্রকাশ ঘটায়।"

সাপ্তাহিক ২০০০ ঈদ সংখ্যার বাজেয়াপ্ত করণে উপরের উক্তির যথার্থতা প্রমাণিত হল মাত্র। এখন থেকে মনে হয় অর্ধশিক্ষিত মোল্লা ওমরদের কাছ থেকে কবি সাহিত্যিকদের সাহিত্য রচনায় শব্দ-প্রয়োগের তালিম নিতে হবে, আর তারপর লেখালিখি শুরু করতে হবে। তারপর-ও আমি বলব - আশার ঢোল ফুটো হয়ে গেলেও তখনো আশা পুরোপুরি হারাইনি।

কিন্তু কাল যে ঘটনা পেপারে পড়লাম তার পর আশা রাখাটিই বোধ হয় এখন দুরাশা মাত্র। বায়তুল মোকারমের বৈঠক খানায় গিয়ে বাংলাদেশের হেড মোল্লা খতিব ওবায়দুল হকের দলবলের কাছে ক্ষমা প্রার্থনা করে এসেছেন চার সাংবাদিক আর দুই উপদেষ্টা। প্রথম আলোতে প্রকাশিত ছবিতে দেখলাম মোল্লা ওবায়দুল দলবল নিয়ে আয়েশে সফায় আসীন আর আসামী সাংবাদিক আর দুই উপদেষ্টা কাচু মাচু মুখে কাঠের চেয়ারে। আসামী মতি হাত কচলাতে কচলাতে বার বার-ই হুজুরের কাছে ক্ষমা চেয়ে গেলেন এই বলে – “ব্যঙ্গচিত্র প্রকাশের ঘটনার মধ্য দিয়ে আমরা যে-ভুল করেছি, তার জন্য দুবার ক্ষমা প্রার্থনা করেছি। আজ আবারও ক্ষমাপ্রার্থনা করা হবে। আমরা সচেষ্ট থাকব যেন এ ধরনের ভুলের আর পুনরাবৃত্তি না ঘটে”। আর শেষ মেষ মোল্লা ওবায়েদ মহাপুরুষ সেজে মতিকে মাফ করে দিলেন এই বলে –“আন্তরিকভাবে ক্ষমা চাওয়ার পর নবী করিম (সা.)-এর উসওয়া এবং সুন্নত হলো এটাকে মাফ করে দেওয়া”।

এই রংগ-নাটক সাফল্যজনকভাবে মঞ্চায়ন করে বাংলাদেশ সরকার দুটো দৃষ্টান্ত স্থাপন করলেন। এক, সরকারীভাবে হেড মোল্লা ওবায়দুল হকের রাজনৈতিক ক্ষমতা মেনে নেওয়া হল। ইরানে যেমন একসময় খোমেনি কিংবা আফগানিস্তানে যেমন একসময় মোল্লা ওমরের তাগুদি নির্দেশে দেশ চলত, ঠিক তেমনি বাংলাদেশেও ফ্যানাটিক ওবায়দুল হকের সবক নিয়ে এখন থেকে বাংলাদেশ চলবে। রাষ্ট্রের কর্ণধরেরা, উপদেষ্টারা, রাজনীতিবিদেরা, সাংবাদিকেরা সব একযোগে উবু হয়ে হেডমোল্লার পায়ের কাছে বসবেন, কেউ কেউ হয়ত অতি উৎসাহী হয়ে হুজুরের হস্ত-পদ ধৌত করবেন, আর হুজুরে আলমপনা আশীর্বাদের ভঙ্গিতে সবক দিবেন, পবিত্র গ্রন্থ থেকে দিকনির্দেশনা দিবেন, আর সেই পবিত্র সবক মাথায় নিয়ে রাষ্ট্র পরিচালিত হবে।

আরেকটা দ্বিতীয় নজির-ও সেই সাথে স্থাপিত হল। এতদিন রাষ্ট্রীয় বিবাদ-বিপত্তি নিষ্পত্তির জন্য সংসদভবন, বঙ্গভবন এগুলো ছিল উপযুক্ত এবং নির্বাচিত স্থান। আমাদের অতি বুদ্ধিমান রাষ্ট্রের কর্ণধরেরা সেটিকে সংসদভবনের বদলে বায়তুল মোকারমের বৈঠকখানায় নিয়ে ঊঠালেন। এই কাজের সুদূর-প্রসারী প্রভাব কি তারা ভেবে দেখেছেন? এ ব্যাপার-স্যাপারগুলো হয় শারিয়া-কেন্দ্রিক রাষ্ট্রে। বাংলাদেশে শারিয়াভিত্তিক দেশে পরিণত হতে আর কয়েক পা দূরে রয়েছে বলে মনে হয়। শারিয়া রাষ্ট্রে পরিণত হলে তার আবস্থা কি হবে তা সম্বন্ধে আমাদের দেশের বিদ্যাবাগীশদের কোন ধারণা আছে? আদালতে যেতে হবে না, স্রেফ মুখের কথাতেই স্ত্রীকে তালাক দেওয়া যাবে, তা সে গাঁজা খেয়েই হোক আর সুস্থ মাথাতেই হোক, কিন্তু স্ত্রী স্বামীকে কোন অবস্থাতেই তালাক দিতে পারবে না (Shafi’i Law # N 3.5, p.560; Hanafi Law, p.81, 523; Deen Ki Bnate, Maolana Ashraf Ali, Thanvi, p.254, Law 1537), মেয়েদের ধর্ষন প্রমাণের জন্য চারজন পুরুষ সাক্ষী লাগবে (Shafi’i Law # 0.24.9), হিলা বিয়ের মাধ্যমে তালাকপ্রাপ্ত স্ত্রীকে ঘরে তুলতে হবে (Islamic Laws by Ayatollah Seestani, Law # 2536, p.469; Hanafi Law, p.15; Shafi’i Law #p.29.1, p.673), হুদুদ মামলাতে মেয়েদের সাক্ষ্য গ্রহণযোগ্য হবে না (Hanafi Law, p.353; Shafi’i Law # 0.24.9, p.638; Penal Law of Islam, p.44,45.), সম্পত্তিতে মেয়েদের অধিকার থাকবে পুরুষের অর্ধেক (Abdur Rahman Doi, p.299) ইত্যাদি। আমাদের রথী-মহারথীরা কি একবারো চিন্তা করেছেন দেশটাকে কোন চুলায় তারা নিয়ে যাচ্ছেন?

তর্ক করার সময় আমি নিজেই বলি আমাদের একাত্তুরের মত গৌরবোজ্জ্বল ইতিহাস আছে, এ দেশ কখনোই শারিয়া ভিত্তিক দেশে পরিণত হবে না। কালকেও এক বন্ধুর সাথে কথা বলতে গিয়ে একাত্তরের, নব্বই-এর উদাহরণ হাজির করলাম। কিন্তু দেখলাম নিজের কাছেই নিজের কন্ঠ এখন অপরিচিত লাগছে। আমাদের জীবনে সত্যই কি কখনো একাত্তুর ঘটেছিল? কেমন যেন স্বপ্নের মত মনে হয় সবকিছু। বাংলাদেশের ভবিষ্যত নিয়ে ভাবলে এখন সবার আগে চোখের সামনে ভেসে উঠে ইরাণে আর আফগানিস্তানের মত রাস্তায় রাস্তায় মিছিল করা শশ্রুমন্ডিত জিহাদী বাহিনীর অগণিত মুখ। বাংলাদেশ কি ওই দিকেই চলেছে? অথচ, আমার সিডিতে এখনও বেজে চলেছে মাহমুদুজ্জামান বাবুর সুললিত কন্ঠের গান –

‘ভোর হয়নি, আজ হল নাকাল হবে কিনা তাও জানা নেইপরশু ভোর আসবেইএই আশাবাদ তুমি ভুল না’।
ড. অভিজিৎ রায়, মুক্তমনার প্রতিষ্ঠাতা সম্পাদক; ‘আলো হাতে চলিয়াছে আঁধারের যাত্রী’ ও ‘মহাবিশ্বে প্রাণ ও বুদ্ধিমত্তার খোঁজে' গ্রন্থের লেখক। ইমেইল :

Friday, September 28, 2007

Which side Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury does really belong to?

Which side Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury does really belong to?
Source: Commentary at e-Discussion Group

This is a million dollar question. For some years, the mysterious Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury from Bangladesh has been fooling many secularist Westerners. That includes friends of Israel as well. Salah Uddin acted as if he was the epitome of anti-communalism and the only pro-Israel humanist Bangladesh could ever produce. He cried victim as if he got the wrath of Bangladeshi Islamists. When his crying game was unfolding in Bangladesh's political stage, quite ironically he could not gather any friend from the Bangladeshi secularist camp. For obvious reasons, nobody from that lobby ever trusted him. Suffice it to say, even most member from the religious minority or the liberal intelligentsia did not care for him much. It was too difficult to give him the benefit of doubt considering the fact that it was Salah Uddin himself who had the audacity to call Bangladeshi human rights activist Shahrirar Kabir a "Mossad agent" on the record. His comment was published in the Islamic fundamentalist Bengali daily INQILAB, which was part and parcel of his one time employer. Many close observers of this chameleon think he was the best con man Bangladesh could ever produce.

But Salah Uddin Shoaib's real agenda can not be suppressed anymore. Lately, the Bangladesh cartoon fiasco and the subsequent monkey dancing of the Bangladeshi Islamists drew condemnation of the secularists and anti-Islamists worldwide. In this situation, Salah Uddin's pet project, his weekly BLITZ sided with the Islamists. Instead of helping the cause of free speech and religious tolerance in Muslim countries, he simply sided with the cause of bigotry and blind fanaticism perpetuated by global jihadists. The author Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury basically recommended the arrest of the editor of the Bengali daily PROTHOM ALO, the publisher of the cartoon. What a audacity! The catchy title of the piece is self explanatory- Blasphemous Daily Star group. Blitz writes on September 19th:
"Here a questions appears very prominently. Why the government is reluctant in arresting the editor and publisher of Prothom Alo? Is this because they are considered to be very close to the present government? In this case, normally people might raise question, as to where is the rule of law".
Wait a bit... Now look into the article by Mahmudur Rahman, a notable Islamist who published similar view in his writing published in the Jamaat sympathizer Bengali daily NAYA DIGANTA. Mahmudur Rahman not only blamed the PROTHOM ALO editor, he wrote highly of jihadi politics in Bangladesh and Afghanistan. After reading the two articles, someone can easily derive to the conclusion that Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is indeed a stooge of the global Islamists.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Innovative Ideas for Bangladesh Election System:

Innovative Ideas for Bangladesh Election System: Democracy with Bangladeshi Characteristics?

Guest Column by: Bhaskar Roy
Paper no. 2391
September 26, 2007
Source: South Asia Analysis Group

Talking to the press on September 12, the first day of dialogues with political parties, the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) of Bangladesh, ATM Shamshul Huda said the electoral reform proposals aim at ‘freeing the electoral process from the vice (like) grip of Pakistan muscle and black money’. This would create an atmosphere encouraging to honest and dedicated political leaders to take part in the elections.

The Election Commission (EC) has proposed a new option of ‘no’ vote to allow voters to express their view that a certain candidate has zero support from a particular voter. There is, however, no space in the ballot paper to state why the candidate is not acceptable. The proposed ballot paper will also have the option for voting ‘none of the candidates listed’.

Another proposal of the EC is if the winning candidate is disqualified for some reason, the next highest vote getter gets the seat if he does not have any thing against him discovered which would disqualify him, too. In case the second best candidate is also disqualified, re-election from that constituency will be called.

The EC has other proposals like registration of political parties, a certain minimum votes in the last elections to be eligible to participate in the current elections, certain restrictions on retired military officers and civil servants, loan defaulters and others. It is, however, not yet clear what would be the rights of a candidate who has either served a criminal sentence, or serving one, or under trial.

It is yet unclear how some of these proposals would work out and impact the democratic political system of the country. The EC believes that statistics of ‘no-vote’ candidates would be of interest to academic and political science research. Eventually, such statistics could be manipulated by opponents of a candidate for future political activities in the constituency and even in the next election.

Like most developing countries Bangladesh elections are highly susceptible to sabotage by election agents of candidates by manipulating voters and Returning Officers (RO). A particular party with influence, money and muscle power in a constituency can destroy the credibility of an opposition candidate. Such developments, it can be said with certainty, would lead to street protest and violence. No candidate with a black mark on him or her would take it without protest. It would be a serious mistake to pretend that Bangladeshi politician are middle-school children who will go home and cry in their mother’s lap. There will be serious retaliations, and the country’s political diaspora will continue to limp.

Besides these, several other proposals are under consideration which, the EC claims, would make for an ideal situation for conducting elections.

Bangladesh’s first unique election process was the enactment of the Caretaker Government Act. This provided for a neutral Caretaker Government to administer the country for a maximum of 90 days after a government’s tenure during which the elections were to be held, and then the power was to be handed over to the party or coalition which made the number to form a government.

In a very short time, however, the system was manipulated by the political parties to make the Caretaker Government partisan. It was about to happen in January with disastrous consequences had the army not stepped in to stabilise the situation, but without martial law.

If there is wide scale vote rigging including casting of false votes during every election, how will the authorities ensure that false ‘no’ votes are not cast against targeted candidates. In the 2001 elections when the BNP returned to power with a four party alliance including the Jamaat-e-Islami, the armed forces were directed to prevent Hindu voters from exercising their franchise. Known Awami-League supporters were also similarly kept away from polling stations in many places by the army on polling duty. The Hindu community is generally known as the Awami League’s vote bank.

Incidentally, the GOC, Chittagong area was also advised to extend all assistance to the Jamaat parliamentary candidate in the area, Shahjahan Choudhury. The assistance to Choudhury included providing him two Motorola communication sets from the Army inventory to communicate with his people on the last two days before the polling day, when all cell phone connections were officially blocked.

Very little has changed between 2001 and 2007. The same people are around, though somewhat subdued. Many of those pro-BNP and Jamaat actors remain well ensconced within the system awaiting the opportunity to come out to play their defined roles as before.

The decision of the Caretaker Government and the EC to reform political parties hardly inspires confidence and the direction Bangladesh’s democracy may be taking. The CEC can set rules and guidelines outside the parties to lay down the process. But they cannot, with any imagination, get involved in formulating the internal structure and formulation of a political party. For example, the EC cannot dictate how many central committee members should be there, or sit on inner party elections etc. If one can decipher some of the EC and government moves, efforts are being made to influence positioning of leaders against posts, especially in the two main parties, the Awami League and the BNP. Top-level vacancies are apparently being created with the anti-corruption drive. This does not mean the anti-corruption drive is being criticised in this article. Far from it, the drive was sorely needed. But from the developments reported in the mainstream Bangladeshi media, the conclusion appears obvious –leaders acceptable to the Caretaker Government and top brass of the armed forces.

This may be an unfortunate observation, but generally true. Politicians in most third world countries are corrupt. The Transparency Internationalisation, a non-government international watchdog on corruption, has been placing Bangladesh almost at the very bottom of the corruption ladder in recent years. Of course, corruption does not end at the doorsteps of politicians. It is a vicious nexus between the politicians, the businessmen, bureaucrats, law enforcers and the armed forces. All have to take part together for a perfect crime!

If the current disposition is trying to use the instruments of the EC to bring in political leaders who, in spite of corruption, remain within limits and work constructively at the same time, no one can blame them. Nothing else is available, and this is a reality that has to be accepted.

In the five years of BNP-Jamaat rule from 2001, the country was put through a terrible twister. It was not only financial skinning of the country, but the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism was abetted from ministerial level, allowed Pakistan sponsored unending terrorist attacks against India from Bangladesh’s soil and, basically, sought all opportunities to down grade relations with India.

Tareq Rahman Zia, the elder son of Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, and Senior Joint Secretary General of the BNP, emerged as the power centre. Tareq gathered around himself a group of politicians, businessmen, bureaucrats and armed forces officers who consciously took the country to the situation briefly mentioned about the BNP-Jamaat rule. Most astounding was the contact he established with Dawood Ibrahim in Dubai in 2005.

Bangladesh was on the verge of being declared a state sponsor of terrorism during this period. Its human rights record especially with regard to journalists, Hindu minorities and secularists were abysmal as recorded by Human Rights, the European Parliament and others.

Tareq Rehman, who is in jail now with a long list of charges against him, is reported to be the most hated person in Bangladesh. So is the case for his immediate inner circle.

If the Election Commission is of the view that its contemplated changes will bring a new sunrise to the country, it has a difficult job ahead. Its proposals and applications have, however, yet to look at the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI). The Advisor for Law, Moinul Hossain, recently quipped to the press that the Jamaat is not corrupt. Law-breaking and corruption charges have, of course, been registered against some top Jamaat leaders, but they are generally being kept under the carpet.

This is a matter of serious concern. How will the EC account for the Jamaat, or bring the Jamaat to account. There is enough evidence with the Bangladesh authorities to suspect foreign funds coming to the Jamaat. Sources of some of these funds are Al Qaida front organisations like the RIHS of Kuwait. Is there a divine power looking over the Jamaat in Bangladesh, or more earthly devious intrigues?

The election regulations under consideration and those on the way to implementation would have to be weighed very carefully. It must be all inclusive, which does not seem to be at the moment. If this effort is messed up, since there are important players waiting to do just that, one may forget a clean election at the end of 2008.
(The author is an eminent China analyst with many years of experience of study on the developments in China. The views expressed by the author are his own. He can be reached at

Some Questions to Dr. Fakhruddin?

Deshi Voice has found the following questions in the discussion group. They're logical questions to ask the Army backed Caretaker Government of Bangladesh. If these questions are not answered or addressed, they will definitely grow over time along with public resentment. So, if you meet Dr. Fakhruddin, why won't you ask him to answer these questions?
  1. Money laundering, rather siphoning money to overseas by BNPJamat leaders, prominently Tarek Zia reached its height when you were the Governor of Bangladesh Bank (Central Bank of Bangladesh). The Financial Management Unit (FMU) of Bank Negara Malaysia (Central Bank of Malaysia) which looks after Money Laundering issues wrote to your office enquiring about the source of the huge amount of money that was transferred by Mr. Tareq Zia to Malaysia. Apparently, there was a total silence from your office in the first place; subsequently, an answer was sent to them that the Bangladesh Bank was satisfied that the money was from a legal source.

    How do you justify your role in this matter ? You knew about money laundering that was going on at that time. Why were you silent ? Why did you not resign your post ? On the contrary, you were seen to support BNP-Jamat corrupt regime wholeheartedly? You did not open your mouth during the first caretaker government time (soon after BNPJamat alliances handed over the power), nor did you speak out in many seminars you attended on financial accountability after your tenure? How do you justify that your high moral ground now is real?

  2. In the last 9 months, you have not given a single media interview except with foreign media. What was the reason for you not to appear at any interview with Bangladeshi media - print or electronic? Does this mean you undermine the local media outlets specially when media in Bangladesh has been mostly bludgeoned into submission through intimidation and censorship (examples include - concerted intimidation of the media by army personnel, the very well-documented beatings of journalists, warning to two private channels for broadcasting events following the Dhaka University crisis, public warning by Law Advisor against media, the recent arrest of a cartoonist, and the talk-show “guidelines” handed down by the military government to television channels).

  3. Do you feel embarrassed as Chief Advisor when the Army Chief keeps on making comments, statements and suggestions on hard core political and economic issues, which are clearly beyond his area of expertise and responsibility? How do you justify that there is no dual government--- rather a military government with civil stooges in the front line? An interesting example of the military supremacy is that during the recent flood, General Moeen opened a relief fund called the Army Chief Relief Fund while you also have a relief fund. The queue of people donating money to the Moeen fund was shown in TV many times, while the fund called Chief Adviser’s Relief Fund was sort of absent from the TV camera. Tradition in Bangladesh says that the Head of Government (Prime Minister’s) Relief Fund receives all prominence and business, civil society, and even military would as a general practice contribute to that fund. Vested interest groups prefer the military fund to your fund, as your puppet role seems to be visible to everyone. Any comment?

  4. You have said echoing the Military Chief that no one was above law when it comes to combating corruption. Can you tell the following please?

     Why the 11 advisers were not asked to submit their wealth statement? Are they immune to any legal challenges?

     Can you ask Professor Yunus to submit his wealth statement, including his overseas account details?

     Why Jamat leaders remain largely out of the anti-corruption drive? Can you investigate into the tax return and wealth statement of Jamat leader Delwar Hossain Sayedee? What about his extortion of money from local and foreign sources? What about his non-submission of tax return and declaration of wealth and funds that he has accumulated during the 5 + years? Did you know he was traveling all over the world in the name of preaching Islam and collecting donation for Jamat?

     Did you check on the source of funding of Jamat?

     Why have you been silent on the activities of the Islamic Banks (Islamic Bank, Shah Jalal Bank etc; Islamic Insurance companies and Islamic NGOs—a lot has been written about them and you must be aware of their source of funding and activities).

     Why have been silent about the arms smuggled into Bangladesh, apparently under the patronage of Nijami?

     Are you willing and able to find out a little about the tax return history of Barrister Moinul Hossain, Tapan Chowdhury etc?

     Are you able to say why the extra judicial killing during Mr. Anwarul Iqbal’s (one of your cabinet members) time as the Chief of the underground killing machine (Rapid Armed Battalion- or RAB) will not be investigated?

     Are you able to probe into the business of General Matin and his wife (ex-employee of Bangladesh Biman–airline)?

     Are you able to say why the former Chief Election Commissioner Justice M.A. Aziz should not be arrested and tried on the ground of abuse of power, embezzlement of public fund (over Taka 600, 000 000; about USD 9million), preparing false voter lists and playing a role in the BNP-Jamat election engineering plan ? On the same token, why the President Iajuddin cannot be tried and removed from office? You do not need a parliament to do this now?

     Why are you turning a blind eye on corrupt journalists, such as Mr. Shafiq Rehman of Jai Jai Din and you have kept two prominent journalists (Editor of Janakantha and Jugantar) in the jail? Shafiq’s property needs to be probed, as well as a closer look into the legality of the construction and acquisition of land on which his newspaper building sits.

  5. There is a general feeling that your government (rather the military government) resorts to blackmailing, intimidation and conspiracy in breaking parties, extracting false information through torture and intimidation and you seem to have even less power than your Adviser Mr. Moinul Hossain whose reckless comments tell all about the intention of your government and source of your power. Can you comment?

  6. The recent Mohammad cartoon issue was fanned by the Government’s spokesperson Barrister Moinul Hossain. He was seen on TV making a quick remark that the nation is under ‘severe conspiracy’. He has been using the word ‘conspiracy’ time and again and hints this to foreign power’s role in ‘destabilizing the country’. We have seen BNP-Jamat use same tactic before. Can you tell us what ‘conspiracy’ (and threat from external powers) your government is referring to?

  7. Did you see the cartoon yourself? What element in there did you find offensive from a rational point of view? Why did your government refrain from arresting and trying the mullahs who broke the emergency law by resorting to violence on the street? Why have you taken a harsher stand against the teachers of Universities? Was it because the teachers had challenged the Army and the emergency law openly? How much role does your government have in these decisions as opposed to the army?

  8. You had said and your Advisers (Matin/Moinul) echoed with the Army Chief that the ‘war against corruption’ will go unabated? We now hear your spokesperson Barrister Moinul that after the news comprising 200 people, there will be no further list? Why are you giving ‘arrest holiday’ here ? When will you go after Jamat?

  9. What is your view on the war criminals of Bangladesh ? Can your government make any reform here by constituting a war crime tribunal ?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Why politics matters, and always

Why politics matters, and always . . .
Syed Badrul Ahsan

Source: Daily Star, Editorial
September 26, 2007

Being a politician and being in politics are not quite the same. The first refers to one who has made a vocation of politics. The second draws attention to one who has found his way into the political field without first having been baptised in it. A politician is an individual who has walked all across the country, known the pulse of the nation, and, having known it, spoken up in defence of all its aspirations. And one who strays into politics, or decides that he should be in it, is a person who may have pursued a profession all his adult life, and then, having gone into superannuation, decided that a foray into politics was not quite a bad idea.

When, therefore, you speak of politics in Bangladesh today, you are quite liable to be asked for some answers to questions that arise in your soul. And those questions will rear their heads because of the battering that politics has lately been getting in this country. It is the politician today who is at the receiving end of it all. The politician, it is being argued with a fairly good degree of regularity but with not much of persuasion, has been responsible for all the ailments the national body politic has been suffering from over the years. Bad administration, a politicisation of the institutions of state, et al, are all failings, the responsibility for which has been laid, consistently, at the door of the politician.

But look around you, around the entire canvas that has spread itself over the last two decades, perhaps even more. And you will perhaps stumble on the truth that it is not the politician who needs to be censured for everything that has gone wrong in the lives of the Bengalis. A somewhat slight degree of introspection will be revealing of the thought that everything of significance, every act of noble note that has been observed in Bangladesh has come from the politician. It was the political class that inaugurated the drive for nationalism in the 1960s, with results that have done all of us proud. Whatever radicalism (and radicals are often necessary when vested interests threaten to get the better of us) has come into the Bengali soul has been a direct offshoot of the struggle for self-determination that our politicians put up in the Pakistan era.

You might now suggest that it was the politicians who made a mess of things after 1971. You would be wrong to do that. Indeed, it would be highly unethical on your part to infer that everything that has gone awry has been a consequence of politicians doing a bad job. Ask yourself this question: in all these years since December 1971, what stretch of time, in government, has actually been dominated by politicians? The government of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman lasted a bare three and a half years. That led by Sheikh Hasina was in office for five. And then there are the two stretches of government under Begum Khaleda Zia. The difficulty with the Khaleda Zia administration, especially the most recent manifestation of it, was that it comprised too many retired bureaucrats, quite a few former military officers, and a bevy of businessmen to be strictly regarded as government by politicians.

You note all the corruption that defined the government between October 2001 and October 2006. You note, too, the level of involvement in it of those who came from no recognisable political background and yet were not averse to making capital out of politics, simply because they found themselves, improbably for you and me and all the rest of us, in the political tent. It is the predominance of these people, all fundamentally non-political individuals trying to pass themselves off as politicians, that has given politics a bad name. Let us not be fooled here. Politics has remained the noble calling it has historically been, in this country and elsewhere. It is only the outsiders who have intruded into it that have left politics on shaky ground.

At this point in time, there is a huge need to segregate politicians from the pretenders in politics. Include in the latter group the retired government secretaries and former military officers and affluent businessmen who have found themselves in the happy position of being lawmakers and cabinet ministers. It might sound like a cliché, but it is a truth to be narrated again nevertheless: in Bangladesh, as in other countries where politics has by and large been a target of persecution or has been a fugitive, the bureaucracy has played an inordinately large role in undermining the cause of politics.

The elitism that you spot today in what passes for politics is what you naturally get out of a system that leaves politicians out in the cold wilderness and allows everyone else to come into the warmth of the fireplace. It is a bad tradition that has come down to us from Ayubian times. Remember the likes of Altaf Gauhar and Roedad Khan? Again, in the Zia years, it was politics that was humiliated when the nation's first military ruler went forth to accommodate, in his own parochial interest, the very elements that once vocally and violently opposed the emergence of this Bengali republic. He said he would make politics difficult, and he did. That was anti-politics at work.

The Ershad dictatorship simply carried such anti-politics to newer, more reprehensible extremes. Shady businessmen found friends in the corridors of power, indenting went into the hands of a new class of people who quickly earned notoriety as the nouveau riche, civil servants became part of the general's poetry circle, and long-time politicians were yanked away from their parties, became renegades, and were eventually destroyed.

Politics has been on the retreat. A brief revival of politics, and politicians, left the sky looking charmed in the later part of the 1990s. But that was all. In the BNP-Jamaat coalition government, it was non-politicians in the form and shape of businessmen who took charge. To a lesser degree, former civil servants and entrepreneurs (and among them were many who traditionally had little to share with the party) found their way into the Awami League too, disappointing tens of thousands of its workers at the grassroots level. And in the weeks and months before the eventually aborted January 22 elections this year, politics looked about to be reduced to a farce through the "nomination business" resorted to by the major parties.

Today, it is plain, politics is in a straitjacket. It should not have been. And it ought not to be in the weeks and months ahead. For the incontrovertible truth remains that the future of this country, of any country, is what the political classes, with all their sense of idealism, make of it. Detect the corrupt among them, by all means. They all are in huge requirement of comeuppance. But do not miss the woods for the trees. Do not begin thinking that a few bad eggs can spoil the whole, wonderful and passion-driven vocation that has at decisive turning points in the history of Bangladesh given its people a reputation to be proud of.

It was politics that forced Ayub Khan out and sent Yahya Khan and his Pakistan packing. It took politics for us to reclaim the country from the Ershad coterie. It was, again, a forceful demonstration of well-meaning politics that compelled the Iajuddin caretaker team into abdication. The goal was a reassertion of people power. The goal remains as potent and as poignant as it was back then, or at any earlier point in time.
Syed Badrul Ahsan is Editor, Current Affairs, The Daily Star.

Increased military spending in South Asia

Photo Courtesy: Citizens for the World

South Asian people are increasingly suffering from poverty and deprivation as their governments are racing for militarization. The International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) says, Pakistan, India continue defence shopping. The amount of military expenditure is increasing at the cost of rising poverty and intolerable human suffering. Bangladesh is not far behind. Our military expenditure has now reached to $840 million, according to IISS. The actual military expenditure in Bangladesh is always very shadowy as the Army receives funding from non-military expenses of the national budget. South Asians should raise their voice to stop militarization and promote peace and stability.

Daily Times reports on September 26, 2007,
ISLAMABAD: There are rising fears in South Asia that increasing defence spending will exacerbate countries’ internal and external disputes and further aggravate human security in the region, according to an International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) report.

The report titled ‘The Military Balance’ gives the composition of armies, weapons, economies and demographics of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

It says the military structure of India and Pakistan is the most cumbersome and huge, both in terms of men and material.

It says Afghanistan has 50,000 troops besides the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) personnel, Bangladesh 126,500, India 1,316,000, Nepal 69,000, Pakistan 619,000, and Sri Lanka 150,900. About defence expenditure, it says that Bangladesh spends $840 million, India $21.7 billion, Nepal $139 million, Pakistan $4.14 billion and Sri Lanka $686 million per year.

Pakistan, India continue defence shopping: “India’s arms procurement programme continues to gather pace, with the decision to purchase the Trenton, an amphibious transport dock-class ship, along with four landing craft, from the US for $48.23 million in August 2006, its second major arms deal with the US since 2003,” the report notes.

It says India also ordered three modified Krivak III frigates on July 6, 2006, from Russia for $1.1 billion. In view of the Indian air force chief’s concern over the reduction of fighter squadrons from the current 32 to 28 by 2012, there could be an interim order for additional Mirage fighters from France. The air force is also seeking 126 multi-role combat aircraft, 80 new helicopters and light combat aircraft.

Pakistan is also purchasing arms for its forces, including a $1.15 billion order in June 2006 for six Swedish SAAB 2000 turboprop AWACS aircraft with radars from Ericsson Microwave Systems.

It says Pakistan signed a major $5 billion arms deal with the US on September 30, 2006, to purchase 18 new F-16C/D fighter aircraft equipped with AMRAAM - beyond visual range air-to-air-missiles - with the option to buy 18 additional new aircraft and upgrade its existing 34 F-16 aircraft.

It is also planning to acquire up to 150 JF-17 Thunder fighter aircraft worth $2 billion and an estimated 36 J-10 fighter aircraft worth $1.2 billion both from China.

About Pakistan-India efforts to resolve disputes, it says although the bilateral security environment improved between India and Pakistan through expansion of transportation links, people to-people exchanges and a meeting between their leaders in Havana, there was little progress in their composite dialogue.

It quoted an Indian official report that says that 76 of 299 districts in nine provinces – Chattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar, Orissa, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh – are ‘badly affected’ by Maoists violence.

Militancy in Pakistan tribal areas: The report also highlights Pakistan’s problems in Waziristan and Balochistan where militancy has been going on despite military operations.“In early September, a senior Pakistani minister alleged that India was supplying arms and resources to tribal militants in Balochistan; this was sharply refuted by the Indian government,” it says.

IPI Protests Jailing of Cartoonist

IPI Protests Jailing of Cartoonist in Bangladesh
and Suspension of Publication of Satirical Weekly.
Source: International Press Institute

25 September 2007
Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed
Honourable Chief Adviser
Non-Party Caretaker Government of the
People's Republic of Bangladesh
Dhaka, Bangladesh
Fax: 880-2-8113244

Your Excellency,

The International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists in over 120 countries, is seriously concerned at the jailing of a freelance journalist and cartoonist in Bangladesh and the suspension of the satirical magazine Aalpin .

On 17 September, Aalpin, a weekly magazine of the leading Bengali daily Prothom Alo, published a cartoon showing a small boy calling his cat "Mohammad Biral" ("Mohammad Cat"). The cartoon triggered protests by the Muslim community in Bangladesh. Islamists and Imams from different mosques called for a street protest against the cartoon, stating that it was a deliberate attempt to ridicule Islam's Prophet Mohammad and harm the sentiment of devout Muslims. On 19 September, police broke up a street march by hundreds of Islamists in the Bangladesh capital Dhaka, who were demanding "death to the Prothom Alo editor" and "hang the cartoonist."

The publication of the cartoon and the consequent protests led to the arrest of the cartoonist, Arifur Rahman, on 18 September, for deliberately insulting Islam and seeking to provoke violence and disrupt peace in the country. On 19 September, Rahman was sent to Dhaka Central Jail for 30 days. The authorities have also requested Aalpin to suspend publication until the matter is resolved.

Apologising for the cartoon, the publishers of the Prothom Alo have announced that they will no longer publish any of Rahman’s articles or cartoons. The publishers have also dismissed a sub-editor in connection with the cartoon. On 20 September, the e ditors of different Bangladeshi newspapers issued a joint statement urging the country's Islamic clerics to accept Prothom Alo's apology.

While Moulana Obaidul Haque, Khatib ("head preacher") of Dhaka's Baitul Mokarram Mosque, has urged Muslims to consider the apology and to refrain from pursuing the issue, the Bangladeshi government has given the publishers of Prothom Alo two weeks to explain, "Why, in this circumstance, the magazine [...] shall not be banned and legal action not be taken against the publishers," according to a statement issued shortly after the cartoon was published.

IPI would like to remind Your Excellency that the state of emergency imposed in January after the cancellation of the general election is not an excuse to restrict press freedom. With a general election planned for the end of 2008, it is vital that the country’s citizens have access to information and that the media is free to report facts and express opinions.

IPI therefore urges Bangladesh’s caretaker administration to immediately free cartoonist Arifur Rahman, to allow publication of the satirical weekly Aalpin and to remove the state of emergency. By doing so, the caretaker government will be fulfilling its responsibility to create a democratic climate for the forthcoming election.

Thank you for your kind attention.

Yours sincerely,

Johann P. Fritz

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

EU seeks explanations on 'rights abuses'

EU seeks explanations on 'rights abuses'
Source: BDnews24

Dhaka, Sept 25 (— The European Union has sought clarifications from the government over a number of cases of human-rights abuses in Bangladesh, EU representative Bea M ten Tusscher said Tuesday.

The EU will also examine chief adviser Fakhruddin Ahmed's claim of improvements in the country's human rights situation, she said.

"The chief adviser is assuring us that the situation has improved. We will certainly analyse that as it is our task," Tusscher told reporters following a roundtable on EU human-rights guidelines.

"We have already asked for clarification on some certain cases (of human rights abuse) that came to our attention. And there is a dialogue on this clarification which we have received," said Tusscher, ambassador of the Netherlands to Bangladesh.

"So we are in a open and transparent dialogue with the government about the concerns we have."

"And that is true for many more countries. I don't think Bangladesh is to be singled out," she said.

The EU will spend 130 million euros for 2007-2013 on governance and human-rights fields in Bangladesh, said Stefan Frowein, head of the delegation of the European Commission in Dhaka.

The roundtable, attended by lawyers, human-rights activists and NGO representatives, was organised to assess the existing human rights situation in Bangladesh.

The EU routinely holds meetings with people from different strata in many countries, where they have activities, to decide their strategy for guaranteeing human rights in line with the EU guidelines in the respective countries.

"In Bangladesh, the European Union plans to spend 130 million euros on governance and human rights for the period 2007-2013," Frowein said.

On the reason of holding such a meeting, Frowein said: "I think it is legitimate. The money we spend in your country comes from the European taxpayers."

Former caretaker government adviser Sultana Kamal, German ambassador Frank Meyke, advocate Shahdin Malik and advocate Sara Hossain spoke at the roundtable.

Bangladesh's Epicenter of Political Tumult

This is an in-depth analysis of the Dhaka University incident published in the Washington Post. The current military backed government has really underestimated the strength, conscience and sacrifice of the students and teachers for freedom and democracy in Bangladesh. The photo that the Army can not stand will be the stark reality in the future if they don't get the message.

Bangladesh's Epicenter of Political Tumult
Students and Teachers at Dhaka University Fulfill a Tradition of Protest, and Pay the Price

By Emily Wax
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, September 23, 2007; A18
DHAKA, Bangladesh -- Nearly every political milestone in Bangladesh has its roots in the stately, tree-lined campus of the University of Dhaka, where student-led protests have repeatedly given rise to sweeping changes in government. So it came as little surprise to many students last month when the anti-government rallies they started mushroomed into violent street demonstrations in other cities.

According to the common axiom here: So goes the campus, so goes the nation.

"The DU campus is a barometer for the country's political mood. Because of our long history of poverty and bad government, it's been in the students' interest to be politically active," said Aninda Rahman, a 24-year-old English student at the university. "It's the students' duty within the framework of Bangladesh to give a voice to the people."

Today, however, several weeks after the most dramatic protests yet against the military-backed interim government, it's become clear that the university and its students have paid a price for their activism. Some students and teachers thought to be behind the protests have been jailed. The government has shut down the campus, putting padlocks on the lecture halls and emptying out the dorms. Officials said the campus may open after the Islamic holy month of Ramadan ends in mid-October.

Such disruptions are not unusual in this South Asian country, where there have been 22 coups -- some successful -- since its independence from Pakistan in 1971. Some students say it takes up to six years to complete a degree because the university is often shut down during political tumult.

"Sometimes the students think, there just has to be a better way," said Mahinur Rahamar, 23, a business student. "It's frustrating when school keeps getting shut down. Our families are working class, and they suffer when we can't finish our degrees. But that has always been our tradition. I'm not sure it can change."

The current political controversy centers on opposition to an interim government that came to power in January. Diplomats say the government, led by respected banker Fakhruddin Ahmed, quickly won international respect for protecting the judiciary's independence, ending partisanship in the election commission, requiring voter registration cards in elections, and helping to clean up a political system that is perennially ranked by Transparency International as one of the world's most corrupt.

But now many of those same diplomats who praised the government fear that the crackdown on corruption, and on students and professors, has gone too far. Rights groups point to mass arrests and the brutal suppression of student protests. Human Rights Watch, based in New York, says as many as 20,000 people have been jailed on corruption charges in the past seven months.

While the University of Dhaka has been leading the protests, it has also become the front line for what is being called the "Battle of the Begums," or women of high rank, a reference in this case to the two women who have dominated Bangladesh's politics for the past 16 years. Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia, the leaders of the two main political parties, have been jailed on corruption charges. But their supporters are widely seen as polluting the school's tradition of independent political activism by bribing student leaders and encouraging professors to back their causes.

Bangladesh's interim government insists that much of the recent student activism stems less from political conviction than from aggressive recruiting tactics by political parties. The parties have agents as old as 40 living on campus as "student leaders," working to influence student votes, critics and diplomats say.

"Our Socratic tradition has always been one of our greatest strengths," said Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury, a government adviser and a former ambassador to the United Nations. "But now, I think the students and even some of the professors are taken over by professional politicians."

According to local reports, the August protests began innocently enough. In what has become known as the "Umbrella Incident," a university student haplessly opened his wet umbrella, splashing a soldier. That set off a tiny scuffle. But the scuffle was enough to provoke students to vent outrage over the presence of troops on their campus.

The day after the Umbrella Incident, M. Anwar Hossain, a respected biochemistry professor, helped organize a demonstration to address a growing list of grievances with the government, not the least of which was the banning of protests -- part of a martial law imposed seven months ago to squelch public outcry against the military-backed interim government's delay in holding elections.

Soon after, Hossain was arrested at his home for inciting an uprising. He is still in jail, awaiting trial.

Amnesty International, along with foreign diplomats, has asked for Hossain's release. Hossain's son, Sanjeeb, a 22-year-old law student, has said his father is not politically involved with the jailed protest leaders and was only trying be a guardian for the students, helping them demonstrate against a repressive regime.

"It's scary when professors and students are in jail, since it's like the soul of the country is behind bars," Sanjeeb Hossain said in an interview. "This is terrible for our family and terrible for Bangladesh. It's not as simple as just to blame all of this on politics. He was trying to protect student rights, that was it."

Some of the country's most famous sons graduated from this school, including dozens of elected officials and internationally recognized leaders, such as Muhammad Yunus, the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner, and Fazlur Rahman Khan, considered the greatest architectural engineer of the second half of the 20th century for his design of the Sears Tower and John Hancock Center in Chicago.

Today, most students at the University of Dhaka are from working-class and middle-class backgrounds. They see themselves as the voice of a largely poor and illiterate nation.

Their position as protectors is perhaps best illustrated by a photo that surfaced here recently. The image, which has been widely circulated on the Internet, shows an unarmed student kicking an army soldier. It has become such a stirring emblem of the students' power that the photojournalist who took the picture has gone into hiding, fearing for his life.

"That photograph said it all," said Shahidul Alam, a renowned photo gallery director in Dhaka. "That image is such a powerful symbol of our times. It shows the power of unarmed students against the ego of the military."

Release Cartoonist Arifur Rahman

Deshi Voice is joining hands to demand the immediate release of Cartoonist Arifur Rahman. Condemn the military junta of Bangladesh and stand up to demand the unconditional release of Arifur Rahman. Read Mash's column on freedom of press in Bangladesh.

Liberation War of Bangladesh

Our liberation war symbolizes the glorious sacrifice of our heroes against the military occupation and autocracy of the Pakistani regime. Three million people in nine months valiantly sacrificed their lives for democracy and independence in 1971. Razakars and militant Jaamat-e-Islami collaborators along with the Pakistan army forces failed to defeat the spirit of this nation through genocide and massacre. It's true that only in Bangladesh justice never comes or even it comes, it's too late. That is why, the mass killer and war criminal Rajakar-Jaamatis don't face justice the same way Nazis faced the Nuremberg trial. It always turns to be opposite in Bangladesh as these killers get rehabilitated socially and politically. Probably, Bangladesh is the only country in the world where war criminals got rehabilitated instead of facing justice. We became independent on December 16, 1971. History reminds us that no force can ever dominate the free spirit of this wonderful nation.

Please join us to look back at the proud history of the liberation war of Bangladesh in this 40 minute long video documentary:

Democracy in retreat around the world

Democracy is failing around the globe. This new report from the Freedom House is reflecting the depressing trend where people are loosing hope for democracy in their respective country. Bangladesh is no exception in this frustrating global trend. The Financial Times reporter Daniel Dombey has phrased the Army backed Caretaker Government's take over as a "military coup" in Bangladesh. The "Caretaker government concept" is not understood in the western democracies where an unelected government symbolizes an illegitimate authority irrespective of their popular support. Read this report published in MSNBC:

Democracy in retreat around the world
By Daniel Dombey in Washington
Financial Times
September 24, 2007

Democracy and good governance are on the retreat in a number of countries around the world, a wide-ranging report says on Tuesday.

The report, compiled by Freedom House, a US government-supported campaigning organisation, concludes that human rights and governance have worsened in Russia and Iran, arguing that corruption in Iran has intensified in spite of the campaign promises of President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad.

It also indicates that states across the world are attempting to follow the model of China and Russia by seeking to modernise parts of their economy while keeping a central grip on power.

Among the countries that have achieved economic success while maintaining or intensifying what the report identifies as political repression are Libya, Tunisia and Algeria. It adds that Egypt has been both economically unsuccessful and politically repressive and that democratic developments have been stopped in their tracks by coups in Thailand and Bangladesh.

The survey of 30 countries comes as President George W. Bush prepares to address the United Nations on his "freedom agenda" for the world on Tuesday.

On taking office for the second time, Mr Bush pledged that America would seek to end "tyranny in our world", and he prides himself on being a "dissident president".

The White House says that "interrelated aspects of human freedom" will be at the heart of the president's efforts during his time at the UN – whether the issue is Darfur, governance in Africa more generally, or the Middle East peace process.

But in an introductory essay to its survey, Freedom House highlights what it calls "the durability of a 21st century authoritarian capitalist model" pioneered by China.

It argues that Russia has followed a similar path of exploiting economic growth to minimise pressure for political reform and claims that Russia "has come to resemble the autocratic regimes of central Asia more than the consolidated democracies of eastern Europe".

For the past two years "Russia could no longer be considered a democracy at all according to most metrics", and is less democratic today than it was in 2005.

It highlights the high threshold for parties to be elected to the Russian parliament, opacity in the award of broadcasting licences, corruption, the rareness of jury trials and uneven enforcement of property rights.

"Civil society has been a clear target of the Russian government over the past two years," Freedom House says.

On Iran, the report says that corruption has increased – as highlighted by cut-rate privatisations for favoured buyers and a failure to deposit billions of dollars in oil revenues in the national treasury on schedule.

It adds that restrictions on freedom of expression have worsened since Mr Ahmadi-Nejad was elected president in 2005.

"Journalists, particularly younger and less well-known ones, have little protection from arbitrary arrest and detention," it says, adding that academics and non-governmental organisations with foreign contacts have increasingly been accused of breaking the law by committing "political offences".