Thursday, September 29, 2011

Bangladesh opposition comes heavily on delinquent anti-crime forces

SALEEM SAMAD

IN AN unprecedented public statement, the main Bangladeshi opposition demanded on Tuesday that the country's police and elite anti-crime force officers be barred from United Nations peacekeeping missions.

Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) chairperson Khaleda Zia blamed the two law enforcement agencies for breach of human rights, including extrajudicial executions, illegal detention, custodial torture and kidnapping and disappearance of suspects.

Until August, Bangladesh was the largest contributor of peacekeepers in UN missions, with 2,076 police and 8,579 army personnel.

She also urged international organizations and foreign countries to decline providing training and arms supplies to Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and police forces, which she said would be used against the opposition.

New York-based Human Rights Watch last May urged Bangladesh to ban the controversial RAB for alleged extrajudicial executions and requested the United States and European Union members refrain for increasing the capacity of RAB, the government’s crime-fighting outfit.

Amnesty International in August called for a freeze on arms supplies to Bangladesh in a bid to stop the RAB and other security forces from using them for extra-legal execution of crime suspects.

The London-based rights group said the RAB has been implicated in the killing of at least 700 suspects since its inception in 2004 during the regime of now opposition leader Khaleda Zia.

At least 200 alleged RAB killings have occurred since January 2009 when the current Awami League government came to power, despite Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s pledge to end extrajudicial executions and claims by the authorities that no extrajudicial executions were carried out in the country in this period, said Amnesty International.

The former prime minister, Zia, warned the law enforcers not to act as “party goons” or they will have to face justice if her party is reelected in the general election planned in 2014.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

U.S. seeks Bangladesh help to secure Afghanistan

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns 
SALEEM SAMAD

In a very rare gesture, United States on Monday sought Bangladesh assistance to secure and help in rebuilding civil strife riddled Afghanistan.

The U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns urged that relationship with Bangladesh is one of the highest priorities for the United States as it is closely working with Bangladesh in the areas of counter-terrorism, energy, food security, climate change adaptation.

Bangladesh senior officials at the meeting with U.S. government officials during a bilateral meeting with Bangladesh foreign minister Dipu Moni in New York in the sidelines of United Nations 66th General Assembly on Monday said the national sentiments is against sending troops to Afghanistan, according to sources.

In October 2010, Bangladesh unofficially declined Richard Holbrooke, U.S. Special Envoy to Afghanistan an extra-ordinary request last September to deploy large contingent of military troops to help secure Afghanistan against Taliban advances.

Quickly the dreaded Taliban fighters responded and threatened Bangladesh. The Taliban in a statement said that Bangladesh leaders having enough Islamic knowledge and political wit and believes that it will not commit a historic mistake to fight against Islam and against the Afghan people by sending soldiers to Afghanistan.

Scared by the militant’s threat, Bangladesh has made it clear it will not send its troops to Afghanistan while refuting reports that the US had requested the country to contribute soldiers to the war-torn nation.

Earlier, Bangladesh prime minister Shiekh Hasina said Bangladeshis has reservation regarding the U.S. and British led military intervention in Afghanistan.

Recently Bangladesh and United States relation deteriorated after Washington’s request for a respectable exit of micro-finance guru Professor Muhammad Yunus, from the position of Managing Director of Grameen Bank, he founded. His poverty reduction strategy is presently replicated in United States and equally a popular development initiative in most developing countries for empowerment of women.

Bangladesh overwhelming majority is Sunni Muslims and Talibans stated that the religious Muslim people of Bangladesh will not allow to assist the eternal enemy of Islam (meaning United States) against an Islamic neighboring country.

Afghanistan has been integrated into South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in 2007 and the region has strong ties with war-torn nation fighting the Islamic militants.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Rights group urge scrutiny of Bangladesh spy agency

SALEEM SAMAD

Bangladesh security agencies need to be under scrutiny of the parliament as they are blamed for infringement of privacy through tapping of phones and hacking emails.

Former senior bureaucrat Margub Murshed stated this that when he was the head of the telecom regulatory body, he turned down the offer by security agencies from wire tapping of private individuals without proper authorization.

Internet service provider's body leader Akhteruzzaman Manju disclosed that they are forced to provide details of email traffic to telecom authority commission every three months in violation of the privacy rights, sector insiders told a discussion organized by VOICE in the capital on Sunday.

Meanwhile, according to diplomatic cables released by the whistle blowing website Wikileaks in local language daily Prothom Alo, the dreaded spy agency Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI) meddled in media.

The cables disclosed how the spy agency tried to control coverage of news and broadcast by private television channels during the military-backed caretaker government during 2007-2008.

They played a key role to limit and censor media outlets that was critical, or provoked opposition against its policies, leaked US diplomatic cables revealed.

The cables, published by whistleblower website Wikileaks on last August 30, say the military intelligence along with other officials discreetly phoned and suggested how to cover the day's news, leading the media outlets to practice self censorship.

On the other hand, the rights activist Ahmed Swapan Mahmud demanded stringent data protection legislation to secure personal information and uphold privacy rights in the light of the constitution.

He reiterated that any interception or surveillance of email, messaging, telephony involving recording the conversations of clients is illegal for any operator, said Mahmud.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Police overwhelm Bangladesh opposition from street violence

Photo: REUTERS/Andrew Biraj - Police arrest a member of Jamaat-e-Islami during a clash in Dhaka September 19, 2011. Street marches by members of Bangladesh's biggest Islamic party seeking the release of its leaders from jail turned violent across the country on Monday, with at least 70 people wounded in clashes, witnesses said.

SALEEM SAMAD

THOUSANDS OF baton-wielding Bangladeshi riot police overwhelmed opposition protestors Thursday, forestalling street violence during a countrywide dawn-to-dusk shutdown.

A massive presence of riot police and mobile magistrate courts frustrated the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) from holding street agitation. Political partners sympathetic to the BNP, including Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami, were visibly absent in the street, witnesses said.

The opposition and its partners had called for the lockdown in protest of police action against its alliance Islamist partner last Tuesday during a demonstration demanding release of five key leaders detained as war crimes suspects during Bangladesh's bloody war of independence from Pakistan in 1971.

Water cannon vehicles and armored personnel carriers (APC) parked at strategic crossroads of the capital Dhaka gave the message of zero-tolerance to street violence.

Opposition leaders lamented that they were literally besieged by police, who barred them from holding protest marches. BNP party headquarters were physically blocked by barbed wire fences by police wearing bullet-proof vests and wielding tear-gas throwing guns.

Although political activities were largely limited on Thursday, opposition leader Mirza Fakrul Islam Alamgir claimed at a press conference later in the day that more than 400 people were hurt by police and another 500 opposition activists, including five senior leaders, were detained during a peaceful procession.

A police spokesperson scoffed at the protestors' claims about the number of detained activists as well as the number of those injured. The spokesperson, however, could not give the number of activists and leaders detained.

Alamgir came down on the government setting up mobile courts during the strike, dubbing the temporary facilities “undemocratic” and an “infringement of fundamental rights to protest.”

The opposition leader announced a countrywide demonstration next Saturday in protest against the death of a local pro-opposition youth leader in Barisal in south Bangladesh allegedly by ruling party hooligans during striking hours on Thursday.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Police overwhelms Bangladesh opposition from street violence

SALEEM SAMAD

Thousands of batons-wielding riot police overwhelmed the opposition from engaging in street violence during the dawn to dusk countrywide shutdown on Thursday.

Massive presence of riot police and mobile magistrate courts frustrated the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) from holding street agitation. Also the like-minded political partners including Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami were visibly absent in the street, witnesses said.

The opposition and its partners called a countrywide lockdown in protest of police action against its alliance Islamist partner last Tuesday during a demonstration demanding release of their key five leaders detained as war crimes suspects during the bloody war of independence of Bangladesh from Islamic Pakistan in 1971.

Water cannon vehicles and armored personnel carriers (APC) parked at strategic crossroads of the capital Dhaka gave the message of zero-tolerance to street violence.

Opposition leaders lamented that they were literally besieged by police and barred them from holding “peaceful” protest marches. The party headquarter was physically blocked by barbed wire fences by police wearing bullet-proof vests and tear-gas throwing guns.

Despite the political activities were largely limited on Thursday, the opposition leader Mirza Fakrul Islam Alamgir at a press conference later in the day claims that more than 400 people were hurt during the general strike by baton wielding police and another 500 opposition activists including five senior leaders were detained during peaceful procession.

However, the police spokesperson scoffed off the inflated figure of detained activists and also the number of wounded persons. The police spokespersons, however could not give the number of activists and leaders detained.

Alamgir came down on the government to set up mobile courts during the strike, which he dubbed as “undemocratic” and “infringement of fundamental rights to protest”.

Meanwhile, the opposition leader announced a countrywide demonstration next Saturday in protest against alleged death of a local pro-opposition youth leader in Barisal in south Bangladesh by ruling party hooligans during striking hours on Thursday.

It is expected that the opposition chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia on Sept. 27 from a public rally will announce anti-government program to oust the ruling party from power.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Bangladesh opposition to enforce shutdown after clashes with Islamist activists

SALEEM SAMAD

BANGLADESH'S OPPOSITION alliance has called for a countrywide shutdown on Thursday after hundreds of leaders and activists, mostly from an Islamist party, were arrested after violent protests.

On Tuesday a demonstration by Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami turned violent when the activists clashed with riot police in the capital. The Islamists marched in the city center to demand the release of five key leaders detained for alleged war crimes committed during the bloody war of independence of Bangladesh from Islamic Pakistan in 1971.

Nearly 500 Islamist activists were detained in the countrywide swoop. Many of their central leaders were also picked up by plainclothes detectives at midnight. Police produced the detained activists before magistrate court and took 183 on remand for questioning about incidents of arson and vandalism in which nearly a score of vehicles were torched.

Police sued more than 3,000 activists of the Islamist party for attacking riot police and causing physical injuries.

Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, leader of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalists Party (BNP), declared the shutdown and other alliance partners extended their political support, including the Islamist party.

Senior BNP leaders on Wednesday bitterly criticized the government for a number of offenses, including hiking the prices of fuel and furnace oil and. repression of opposition activists. They asked the current government to quit power and hold fresh elections under a neutral caretaker government.

Alamgir warned that the government would be held responsible if it creates any hindrance during the dawn-to dusk-shutdown on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Home Minister Shahara Khatun on Wednesday said 12 mobile courts will be deployed in seven major cities including the capital during Thursday's general strike to ensure summary justice to any offenders.

An estimated 11,000 additional riot police will be deployed to ensure safety of property and the security of citizens during the strike, a senior police officer told journalists.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Monday, September 19, 2011

Islamist rampage blamed in Bangladesh riots

Photo: Islamist runs riot in Bangladesh capital demanding release of war crimes suspects
SALEEM SAMAD

Islamists on Monday afternoon ran amok in the Bangladesh capital demanding release of Jamaat-e-Islami leaders detained to stand trial for war crimes.

Police detectives arrested several leaders including ATM Azaharul Islam, acting general secretary, publicity secretary Tasneem Alam, central working committee member Mohammad Ijjatullah and six other members.

Senior police officer Krishnapada Roy told journalists that fresh arrests of senior leaders were made at the Jamaat-e-Islami party headquarters on charges of assault on police, arson and vandalism.

Over 100 people, including Jamaat activists, police, journalists and pedestrians were reported wounded as protestors hurled brickbats, while police charged with batons and lobbed teargas shells to contain the worst political riot unleashed by Islamists in 10 years.

At least 20 vehicles, including police cars, commuter buses and motorbikes were torched in Dhaka as police fought a pitched battle with Jamaat-e-Islami activists and its student wing Islami Chattra Shibir, witnesses said.

The city center turned into a veritable battlefield in the wake of a government-opposition political standoff as rioters went berserk during countrywide street demonstrations.

Huge contingents of riot police were joined by elite anti-crime unit and para-military forces backed with water cannons and Armored Personnel Carriers to quell the bloody political strife.

Home Affairs minister Sahara Khatoon claimed the police have demonstrated utmost restrain and did not fire shot-guns to avoid any human casualty, he told TV reporters.

The planned agitation by Islamists came as they demanded the release of party chief Matiur Rahman Nizami, secretary general Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed, assistant secretaries general Mohammad Kamaruzzaman and Abdul Quader Molla and evangelist Delwar Hossain Sayedee, who were charged for crimes against humanity during the Bangladesh war of independence in 1971.

Hours before his arrest, Azaharul Islam claimed that nearly 500 activists were injured and 300 activists were arrested by police during the demonstration in the capital. About 700 people have been arrested across the country. In fact, police have launched a drive to round up the Jamaat activists across the country, he added.

By nightfall, the strife had spread into different cities of the country. News of Islamists clashes with police and arrests was being broadcast on TV news channels from various district towns.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

U.S. to help Bangladesh combat bird flu

SALEEM SAMAD

Bangladesh accepted United States offer to combat bird flu virus epidemic and develop 'seed virus,' a key ingredient to make a vaccine in emergency.

Bangladesh will share a new strain of bird flu virus with U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US CDC) to develop ‘seed virus’ for scientific use, confirmed health secretary Muhammad Humayun Kabir on Sunday.

Bird flu, also known as Avian flu virus H5N1often causes pandemic threat in the Asian region, including Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia and Vietnam.

United Nations body FAO in August said the contagious Avian flu, still remains firmly entrenched in Bangladesh because of unhygienic trade practices. The UN body warned possible major resurgence of bird flu as it observed a mutant strain of the H5N1 virus is spreading in Asia.

The US CDC approached health authorities in the first week of September for government authorization to use the virus.

The strain was found in humans in last March and detected by the Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), but mild in nature from its countrywide surveillance. This was recently confirmed by US CDC recently.

Bangladesh experienced 524 recorded Avian flu outbreaks and the Livestock Department culled over 2.4 million chickens across the country after the first outbreak in Mar. 22, 2007.

According to World Health Organization, the factors responsible for the entrenchment of the virus are complex production and market chains. Eliminating the highly pathogenic Avian influenza virus from poultry in the Asian countries will take 10 or more years, it cautioned.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Sunday, September 11, 2011

India embarrassed for the stalled water sharing deal with Bangladesh

Photo: India-Bangladesh official talks between prime minister Manmohan Singh and Shiekh Hasina in capital Dhaka on Sept. 6

SALEEM SAMAD

INDIAN PRIME Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh on Sept. 8 expressed surprise but denied embarrassing neighbor Bangladesh when India at the last minute ditched an expected deal on international river water sharing.

India scrapped a much-hyped deal to share with Bangladesh water from the Teesta River after the chief minister of the Indian state of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, opposed the pact at the last minute. West Bengal borders Bangladesh.

Speaking with Indian correspondents on board the airplane returning to New Delhi on Sept. 9 night, Singh said all technicalities of the Teesta water-sharing accord were settled and Banerjee had been consulted. He mentioned that Banerjee disagreed with the quantity of water sharing in peak and lean period.

Indian leader did not hesitate to mention that Banerjee disagreed with the quantity of water sharing in peak and lean period.

The Indian prime minister was in Bangladesh for a two-day official visit during the beginning of the week and signed eight MoU’s and one protocol to bring the bilateral relations to new heights as described by the officials.

The 196 miles long international river Teesta crisscross through India and flows through the Bangladesh floodplain, which is crucial for irrigation for major cash crops for one of the world’s largest hungry population.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh holds India responsible for failure to ink an agreement on equitable sharing of Teesta waters but is still hopeful of a pact within three months.

In strong words, the Bangladesh foreign secretary Mohamed Mijarul Quayes told journalist on Thursday that India would have to share responsibility for the failure.

A prestigious English newspaper Daily Star writes in its Thursday edition, Bangladesh-India relations are far too important and goodwill between us far too precious for us to judge our ties on the basis of just one trip.

On the other hand, the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party on Thursday said the visit of Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh has failed and did not yield anything worth for Bangladesh.

A senior leader Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, acting secretary-general of the party squarely blames the government for what it says inept diplomacy for the failure.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Eddies In The Teesta: Mamata’s objections to the Teesta treaty smudged the success of the PM’s Dhaka visit



Photo: Indian prime minister Dr. Manmohan Singh speaks to Paschimbanga chief minister Mamata Banerjee during an election campaign in Kolkata


PRANAY SHARMA and SALEEM SAMAD

Why Mamata Ditched
• She was willing to give Bangladesh 25,000 cusecs from the Teesta, but the agreement provided 33000 cusecs
• New Delhi said 8,000 cusecs over her limit was to come from Sikkim, Teesta’s place of origin
• Fear that Sikkim could deprive Bengal of 8,000 cusecs, in the absence of a formal agreement
• Feared the opposition could exploit the water issue

IN THE end, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s carefully choreographed and much-anticipated visit to Dhaka didn’t deliver the expected all-round success. No doubt, India put on the table a lavish set of agreements to bolster Bangladesh’s economy and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s domestic position, but what soured the mood during Manmohan’s visit last week was New Delhi’s failure to offer a conclusive deal over the sharing of the Teesta waters. Apprehensive of the Opposition exploiting the contentious water issue, Hasina thought it prudent to withhold the decision granting India access to the Chittagong and Mongla ports, which would have helped easy movement of goods to the Northeastern states from mainland India.

Former Bangladesh foreign secretary Mohiuddin Ahmed says, “All the goodwill suffered a serious setback following India’s inability and unwillingness to sign the Teesta water-sharing agreement. It will take time for trust and confidence to return.” Nazmul Ahsan Kalimullah of Dhaka University was even harsher: “India gave too little, too late.”

West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee has been blamed for scuppering the Teesta agreement by pulling out from the prime minister’s delegation to Dhaka at the last minute. Mamata is said to have told the Centre that she was opposed to the quantum of Teesta water being assigned to Bangladesh, as it would be at West Bengal’s expense. New Delhi, however, claims the agreement adhered strictly to the redline Mamata had drawn. This was at least the line most people in Dhaka bought, obvious from what Kalimullah told Outlook, “Bangladesh was denied an agreement on the Teesta because of Mamata’s arrogance.”

Given the multiplicity of versions about talks between the Centre and Mamata, it’s impossible to tell who’s at fault. But they point to the confusion prevailing before Manmohan’s departure. BJP leader Yashwant Sinha cautions, “We should sort out our internal differences beforehand. When we negotiate with another country, India should speak as one.”

So was Mamata being cussed? No, argues West Bengal public health engineering minister Subrata Mukherjee, who told Outlook, “We are all for good relations with Bangladesh and don’t mind sharing Teesta waters with it. But you cannot expect us to do it by turning the northern part of our state (through which the Teesta flows) into a desert.”

South Block, however, maintains that the proposed agreement took into account West Bengal’s position that it couldn’t give Bangladesh more than 25,000 cusecs of water from Teesta. The Mamata camp points to a crucial complication, saying she turned recalcitrant as soon as National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon told her that Bangladesh was to get 33,000 cusecs, that the additional 8,000 cusecs from her imposed limit of 25,000 cusecs were to come from Sikkim, from where the Teesta originates. Mamata wasn’t willing to accept the Centre’s assurance, saying she couldn’t agree to the proposed formula of sharing the Teesta waters in the absence of an agreement between Bengal and Sikkim.

Mamata’s cautious approach was influenced by West Bengal’s experience in the years following the signing of the 1996 Ganga Water Treaty between India and Bangladesh. Though then CM Jyoti Basu had given his assent, he soon realised that the sharing of water had adversely affected the flow of the Ganga at Farraka. This was because West Bengal as a lower riparian state couldn’t, in the absence of a formal agreement, prevent Uttar Pradesh and Bihar from ‘overdrawing’ water from the Ganga. In other words, Bangladesh’s guaranteed share was ultimately at West Bengal’s expense.

Mamata was also wary of the Left, the BJP and even the Congress exploiting the sensitive water issue to push her on the backfoot. Though CPI leader Pallab Sengupta wants India to be generous to Bangladesh because of its “geostrategic importance”, neither he nor other Left leaders were willing to commit themselves to a ratio for water-sharing acceptable to them. The reason is simple—no party would want to be seen supporting a deal militating against Bengal’s interest. There was also talk in the state of Congress leaders initiating a movement against Mamata once she gave her consent to the proposed Teesta agreement. Perhaps this was mere speculation, but a keen sense of survival meant Mamata wasn’t willing to provide room, even hypothetical, to her opponents.

Perhaps Mamata’s prickly relationship with the Congress also prompted her to adopt a recalcitrant attitude. For instance, when pleading for a special financial package for West Bengal from Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Mamata was asked to draw up a budget that could enable her to raise revenues internally too, leaving the Centre to keep its aid to ‘reasonable’ limits. The subsequent package also fell below her expectations. The Mamata camp also thought the Congress was being less than honourable in its negotiations. This was because of the attempts of the Congress, which she felt was at Pranab’s behest, to include Congress leader and Bengal irrigation minister Manas Bhuiyan in Union water resource minister Pawan Bansal’s delegation, which was supposed to sign the Teesta treaty a day before Manmohan was to arrive in Dhaka. Fearing that the treaty was being offered to her as a fait accompli, Mamata firmly told Manas not to join the delegation.

So is the Teesta treaty (and that for the sharing for the Feni river waters) dead? “It is better to eat a meal that is fully cooked than rushing to have one that is half done,” Mamata reportedly told her associates. This provides hope of Delhi and Bengal renewing negotiations over the contours of the Teesta agreement. Once the new deal is stitched, Mamata could travel to Bangladesh and assure its people of her desire to forge closer ties between the two “Bengals”. But Bangladesh’s Kalimullah isn’t hopeful of a prompt solution: “The Indira-Mujib agreement was signed in 1974 but took 30 years to implement. It may take another 30 years before the Teesta river water agreement is implemented.”

But for the Teesta agreement, India and Bangladesh made great headway in settling the legacy from the past. They demarcated their land boundary, pending since 1972, identified all the “territory in adverse possession”, agreed to exchange the 162 enclaves, and removed over 60 tariff barriers to give Bangladeshi goods greater, freer access to the Indian market and laying down the groundwork for movement of goods and people between the countries and in the Eastern region.

Yet these multiple gains didn’t register emphatically in the popular consciousness, unaccompanied as it was by the Teesta’s murmur.

First published in OUTLOOK magazine, September 19, 2011


Pranay Sharma in New Delhi and Saleem Samad in Dhaka

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Wikileaks: U.S. foiled Islamic terrorist mainstreaming in Bangladesh politics

SALEEM SAMAD

THE UNITED States in the autumn of 2008 frustrated the Bangladesh security agency's attempted mainstreaming of an Islamic terrorist outfit into politics, according to diplomatic cables released by the whistleblowing website Wikileaks.

Bangladesh spy agency Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI) had actively and covertly become a patron for the development of Islamic Democratic Party (IDP), a terrorist-labeled Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami Bangladesh (HuJI-B) with leaders from high command, according to the documents. HuJI-B is banned in Bangladesh and also listed as a terrorist organization with the U.S. government.

The diplomatic cables between the U.S. and Bangladesh say the U.S. embassy in Dhaka strongly opposed the creation of the IDP. The newly emerged political outfit may respond with violence possibly against the U.S. mission or its interests.

DGFI, the spy agency, supported the formation of the IDP as a way to bring HuJI-B into the mainstream in a bid to tightly monitor the group’s activities, which the U.S. diplomats felt threatening.

HuJI has never renounced the use of violence to implement its vision of transforming Bangladesh into a Muslim theocracy and implement Islamic Sharia.

Brigadier General ATM Amin, director of DGFI, assured U.S. Ambassador James F. Moriarty in the documents that IDP would never react violently and would not attempt to conduct an attack against the U.S. official presence in Dhaka. This intelligence note was contradicted by the security agency National Security Intelligence (NSI) and passed on to the U.S. embassy here, says Wikileaks.

It is difficult to determine the number of members and recruits and their ability to strike terror in Bangladesh. The terrorist outfit openly articulated its anti-Western and anti-India policy.

Since the government of pro-secular Sheikh Hasina took power two and a half years ago, the anti-terror units have broken the backbone of HuJI-B. The kingpins of terrorist organizations have been imprisoned and their hideouts busted.

Other cables said an anti-terror unit assessed that the HuJI-B would not respond with violence due to the severe degradation of the group’s capability and leadership structure from arrests and active surveillance.

It could not be ascertained whether the U.S. government is confident in Bangladesh authorities' assurance of the significant reduction of threats of terrorism.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com