Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Islami Bank and the National Anthem Chorus Saga: A sneak-peek into the truth

In an Orwellian move that expounded toxic levels of mean-mindedness on part of the incumbent administration in Bangladesh, Information minister Hasanul Haq Inu and cultural affairs minister Asaduzzaman Noor on different occasions on Tuesday made contradictory statements on a donation from Islami Bank Bangladesh Limited to the Independence Day event ‘Lakho  Kanthe Sonar Bangla’ to be organised by the government. At a press briefing at the secretariat, Asaduzzaman Noor absolutely denied that his ministry had received any donation from Islami Bank for the event. ‘It is cent per cent certain that no cheque has been received from Islami Bank for funding the event Lakho Kanthe Sonar Bangla. You may verify it yourself,’ he told reporters.  

When contacted, IBBL executive vice-president Ataur Rahman said that the bank’s vice-chairman Mustafa Anwar had handed over a cheque for Tk three crore to the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, on March 14 in response to a request from the Bangladesh Association of Banks for the event. ‘But it depends on the prime minister for which purpose the money will be spent,’ the IBBL official added. 

The remarks of the IBBL official tallied in with newspaper reports and pictures which clearly showed Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina receiving a check from Islami Bank officials

Information minister Hasanul Haq, however, said at a function in the city that the national anthem event could not be funded by an organisation run by ‘war criminals’. He said the money received from the Islami Bank for the event should be returned.

In an attempt to set a world record, three lakh people will gather at the National Parade Square on March 26 and sing the national anthem in chorus on the occasion of the Independence Day.

Let us get you surprised,

The above discourse gives the impression that this is perhaps the first time that the IBBL is donating to an event of this calibre. Let us disappoint those chetona-charged feelers of the overtly progressive Shahbagised supporter base who have been baying for blood by now.

Prior to this, the Bank also sponsored the ‘National School Football Tournament-2011′ with a view to popularizing the football game among the school students. In addition to this, the Bank donated Tk 2 crore to Bangladesh Olympic Association to organized the 8th Bangladesh Games recently. In 2011, IBBL was given responsibility to furnish and decorate Dhaka city, venue of Cricket World Cup-2011, during the game. The Bank portrayed the heritage and culture of Bangladesh through its decoration which deserved praises and thanks from all corners at that time. Besides, the Bank regularly sponsors various festivals and occasions to patronise the Bangladesh’s sports, culture, literature and heritage.

So it should not be any matter of bewilderment that the IBBL is donating towards such an event of national importance.

What you should really be surprised about,

The examples above are from the times the Awami League has been ruling Bangladesh, and especially pertain to its last term. When a ruling party such as the Awami League claims itself to be a champion of ultra nationalist ideologies to the point of such fascist absurdity that it identifies a corporation such as the Islamic Bank of Bangladesh as being aligned with anti-liberation forces, any denizen of this country with a minimum amount of common sense would ask as to why the government, headed by the Awami League, took those ‘donations’ from Islami Bank Bangladesh back then and why is it now acting weirdly at a seemingly 180 degree angle?

Moreover, the above drama being concocted should not be your real concern. The actual concern that should be on your mind is the fact that the government is facilitating extortion through this drama. Yes, it is facilitating extortion, that too through public announcement via the finance Minister himself.  Its mentionable that Finance minister AMA Muhith's bid to collect Tk 100 crore from private businesses for funding the ICC T20 World Cup and the recording of the national anthem by  over three lakh people at a time on March 26 has flanked widespread criticism. The question arises if the minister is engaged in raising funds by using government power as oppressive pressure on private sector businesses when this sector itself is in serious trouble. The finance minister however said the money is urgently needed to support national level activities including hosting a Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) concert at Bangabandhu National Stadium in the city ahead of the T-20 tournament scheduled to begin on March 16. But public reaction has not been helpful for the Finance Minister.The finance minister's move received headlines in almost all dailies on Monday wondering whether or not it is an instance of 'extortion by the state.' News reports said the finance minister has already sent letters to banks asking them to donate Tk 1.0 crore each which also included foreign banks. Corporate business houses have also been asked to make contributions. Some business leaders held the view that they always make donations to such events but never before the finance minister was directly involved with the collection of such a huge figure. Muhith has attempted to justify his move saying toll collection of this type is a common practice and even he does a lot of toll collection for the government.  

What the Islami Bank really is,

A pride of this nation. The IBBL is the largest private bank of Bangladesh and placed among the Top 1000 world banks 2012 list. The Banker’s Top 1000 World Banks ranking, by UK based century old financial magazine ‘The Banker’  has been setting the industry benchmark since 1970, providing comprehensive intelligence about the health and wealth of the banking sector. Alongside strong global banks of the developed and emerging countries, the Islami Bank was positioned in the list as the lone financial institution from Bangladesh. It may be mentionable that the inclusion of the Islami Bank in the prestigious club of the best 1000 is tantamount of global recognition of overall development of the Bangladesh Banking Sector. 

Contrary to popular myth, it has a 63.09% foreign and 36.91% local shareholder (about 60,000) status, which means that it is not a Jamaat owned product like the government, itself a major local shareholder of the Islami Bank, told you all year long.

Shocked? You should be. Truth is that the state was the extortionist all along. And all you were thinking about was why it was receiving donations from the perceived “bad guy”, the Islami Bank!!! Om Chetona…….

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Arab League chief hails war crimes trial in Bangladesh: Why its not bloody funny.......

In what appeared to be another nicely put together happily ever after story courtesy of the Daily Star, funded by the government of Bangladesh, it was marketed as news of great significance that the Arab League chief Nabil El Araby has praised Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for holding trial for war crimes, according to the foreign ministry.

"The Arab League Secretary-General Dr Nabil El Araby praised Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s “guts and determination” to form and hold trials at the International Crimes Tribunals, Bangladesh (ICT-BD)," said the release.

During the meeting, the veteran diplomat recounted memories of the deliberations in the UN Security Council during Bangladesh’s 1971 War of Liberation.

The Secretary-General said he was following the developments with trials at the ICT "quite closely", the press release continued, "and assured the Bangladesh state minister that the Arab League would always stand by the side of justice".


The reality that the Daily Star and you might have missed:

The above statement goes well in line with the editorial policies of the Daily Star, hence there is a need to speak up to the glaring silence on the following conveniently forsaken issues:

1.Remember Rab’aa Al Adawiyya ? Remember the massacre of more than two thousand innocent souls by the state forces in Egypt? Here is an account to refresh your memory.  Neither Nabil-El-Araby, the Arab League nor the government of Bangladesh made any comment on that terrible day as people were being slaughtered in front of the cameras.  Words of justice in their mouths are akin to pearls before swine.

2.Now remind yourself of the May 5 massacre carried out by the government of Bangladesh on innocent civilians. None of the parties involved here talked of justice that day either.

3.The very International Crimes Tribunal being talked about here has a reputation long since in tatters. As one opinion piece nicely frames it, “Born in bloodshed, Bangladesh seeks a justice long overdue. Regrettably, the very judicial body responsible for delivering that justice instead threatens to further deny it. “ The withering analysis on the political murder through hanging of veteran opposition politician Abdul Quader Mollah by the Economist should be a final nail in the coffin to any notion that the tribunal ever wanted to deliver justice.   

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Kishor Kantha magazine offices raided: Strangling the remaining voices of the media in Bangladesh

Police have arrested 6 employees of the widely popular monthly childrens entertainment magazine, the Kishore Kantha from its offices at Paltan in Dhaka including its assistant editors. This comes at a time when the government at Bangladesh is facing widespread criticism by governments and rights advocacy groups for its clampdown on the media, especially through the closure of several newspapers and TV stations and the arrest of leading media personalities such as Mahmudur Rahman of the Amardesh newspaper and Mir Quasem Ali, the Chairman of the Diganta Media Foundation.   

Police informed that a joint team of Detective Branch (DB) of police and RAB aided by Paltan station police arrested the employees in a nighttime raid last Monday on the offices of the magazine opposite Baitul Mokarram at level 7, 51/1, Paltan. Of the arrested, Parvez Alam and Tofazzal Hossain were assistant editors of the magazine while the identity of the others could not be immediately known. 

Paltan police station OC Morshed Alam informed the media that his team had raided the offices of the institution on ‘secret’ information that plans subversive to state security were being plotted there. He further added that his team had arrested 6 people from the office premises Monday night based on the above information. He further informed reporters that cases were ‘being prepared’ against them in this regard and that some laptops and equipment had being seized from the offices in this connection.
When contacted on the above incident, Kishor Kantha magazine editor Poet Mosharraf Hossain refuted allegations that plans subversive to state security were being plotted at Kishore Kanta offices as being very absurd. He added that the employees were solely engaged with tasks pursuant to the running of the monthly magazine. Furthermore, the 6 employees had been arrested by police without any charges or any prior notice on the part of the police whatsoever.

Kishor Kantha is a popular monthly magazine for children and teenagers throughout Bangladesh. It is represented at the local level by numerous reader forums under the banner of ‘Kishor Kantha Pathok Forum’ spread throughout the districts of the country and has recently launched an e-version to broaden its reach to online audiences.

What this means,

This sudden move to even descend with vengeance upon staff of a children’s magazine is nothing to be taken lightly. The unspoken reason behind such despicable actions conducted with the blessing of the state is indicative of the current state policy, that of throttling any media not subservient to the government in lieu of its ownership, be it a simple children’s magazine or a media group, despite repeated protests by numerous advocacy groups. On previous occasions, the two term running information minister and hardcore leftist, Hasanul Haq Inu was even seen to smirk when asked about when his department would facilitate the ‘re-opening’ the blocked television channels Diganta and Islamic TV.

History teaches us that oppression has its limits, not due to the unimaginativeness of the oppressors, but due to a cumulative realization by the oppressed. As the lists of the affected become longer, the question remains as to how long will it be till we reach breaking point?    

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Real Terrorists in Bangladesh

In a blitzkrieg of a remark, Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan defended the security forces on Saturday, at a dialogue organised by the BBC Bengali Service in Dhaka nonetheless.

In response to BNP Vice Chairman Hafizuddin Ahmed’s question: “Isn’t the basic right of a man to live is denied by the crossfire?”, the minister replied: “Of course, every human being has the right to live. But, I think a bit of crossfire is needed to uproot terrorism from the country.”

He further added, “The people of the country have accepted crossfire. Crossfire do take place in other countries too, which is legal”

The comments have drawn national and international criticism from concerned individuals, online activists and advocacy groups.

This comes at an increasingly important time where corruption, extrajudicial killing and an utter disregard for the rule of the law by the rulers themselves is rife in Bangladesh, which was placed 92nd among 99 world nations in terms of the rule of the law in the past year by the World Justice Project (WJP). Add to that the news that allegations of murder, torture and forced disappearances are being levelled at Bangladesh's government in a case under review by the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, and you get an idea of the picture at hand here.

Still looking for more evidence of the real terrorists in Bangladesh? This is a picture taken just yesterday from the online version of the popular newspaper Amar Desh (print version closed down by the government) of public armed clashes between two groups of Awami league factions fighting each other at Sreepur, Gazipur, over elections on the 9th of March, 2013.

And you still ask as to who are the real terrorists in Bangladesh?        

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The IHS Jane's Shibir mania. Just how justified is it?

In a press release entitled, “Global Terrorism & Insurgency Attacks Rapidly Increase in Five Years”, according to IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre, Bangladesh Islami Chatra Shibir was ranked 3rd among the most active “non state armed groups”.

The list compiled was shown as follows:
1. Barisan Revolusi Nasional (Thailand)
2. Taliban
3. Islami Chhatra Shibir (Bangladesh)
4. Communist Party of India – Maoist
5. Al-Qaeda in Iraq
6. Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen (Al-Shabaab)
7. FARC (Colombia)
8. New People’s Army (Philippines)
9. Jabhat al-Nusra (Syria)
10. Unified Communist Party of Nepal – Maoist

As expected, the news made headlines in newspapers throughout Bangladesh. Interestingly, few cared to wait for any explanation as to why Bangladesh Islami Chatra Shibir, an exclusively student organization active in thousands of primary schools, colleges and universities in Bangladesh and a well known member organisation of the World Association of Muslim Youth (WAMY), was put along with well known, well documented and most importantly, well filmed armed groups such as the Taliban, FARC, Jabhat Al Nusra, Al Qaeda, Al Shabab among others.  

Some observations regarding the IHS Jane Report :

1.      The IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre uses open source data to build its global database. Wikipedia, quoting the U.S. Director of National Intelligence and the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), defines open source data as data "produced from publicly available information that is collected, exploited, and disseminated in a timely manner to an appropriate audience for the purpose of addressing a specific intelligence requirement." In the context of Bangladesh, this open source data includes comparatively biased and sometimes shockingly inaccurate reports by the Daily Star ( most widely circulated English daily in Bangladesh), the Independent, bdnews24, the Daily Sun, etc. among others, all fiercely opposed to Shibir, a phenomenon stemming from politically and ideologically biased ownership. A bulk of this open source information stems from the electronic media too, which is interestingly party to heavy handed censure by the state as evidenced through this somewhat old but quite handy list.   

2.      An essential part of this open source data stems from Bangladesh government sources, which are bound to be biased to Shibir by default (due to political opposition).Couple that with the dismal press freedom index rank of 144 out 179 in 2013 (dropping down 15 places from 2012) and a country corruption index rank of the 13th most corrupt country in 2013 and you would begin to wonder if media not already closed under the circumstances were unbiased to start with. So effectively, when media and government reports on Shibir pursue a unified course, there is just reason to be alarmed and cautious.

3.      The report, by mentioning non state groups, has overlooked the biggest perpetrator of terrorism, the state itself, namely governments of the USA, Myanmar, Syria, Bangladesh, etc. In light of the above discussion, it would do well for any sane mind to note that the government of Bangladesh has carried out gross violations of human rights against its own civilians throughout 2013 as evidenced by this hot off the shelf report by Human Rights Watch.

So why was Shibir listed among the top 10 world terror organizations? We shall have to wait till the detailed report comes out I guess. Shibir, on its part, has strongly protested the IHS report.