Monday, November 30, 2009

Comments on Shorish Kashmiri's 1946 interview of Mowlana Abul Kalam Azad - the case of Pakistan and India

[Note: After posting my comments, I was told that the entire interview was a hoax and not a real one. That explains why the purported predictions of the Mowlana was made to appear so perfect, almost unbelievable. Still I shall leave the original posting for the time being. So the posting below still is based on before-the-fact kind of information, i.e., assuming that there was such an interview.]

Recently my attention was drawn to an interview with the Mowlana Abul Kalam Azad that was conducted by journalist Shorish Kashmiri for a Lahore based Urdu magazine, Chattan, in April 1946. It was a time when the Cabinet Mission was holding its proceedings in Delhi and Simla. In that interview the Mowlana is credited with the prediction for dismemberment of Pakistan and even the military rule there.

I have been an avid reader of Mowlana's writing for many years. Many of my essays on Islam, esp. my short commentary of Surah al-Fatiha: The Meaning behind the Beginning of the Beginning - have drawn heavily from Mowlana's tafsir of the Qur'an. He was probably the best of the ulemas in the British India in the last days of the colony. There is little doubt that he was a true, sincere leader of Indian national independence who strove hard to make a case for all Indians, irrespective of caste and creed, to live together in a united India. His characterization of Jinnah in the interview was fair and shows once again that Jinnah was a true ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity, well until the late 1930s when he saw first hand how the Hindu communal forces had treated Muslims and what was to come if a united India came into existence. In my opinion, the Mowlana was fighting a losing battle and Jinnah was right when he championed the cause of Pakistan. It was the dirty communal Hindu leadership, the likes of Patel, that pushed Pakistan through our throat, a theme that was also to emerge in Jaswant Singh's latest book: Jinnah India- Partition Independence. As an ardent student of Eqbal Ahmed, I believe that the day Gandhi mixed religious symbolism in politics he basically seeded communal politics.

The Mowlana was right though in questioning: "when and where Islam provided for division of territories to settle populations on the basis of belief and unbelief. Does this find any sanction in the Quran or the traditions of the Holy Prophet? Who among the scholars of Islam has divided the dominion of God on this basis? If we accept this division in principle, how shall we reconcile it with Islam as a universal system?" It was for the same reasons that most of the ulema in India, including Mowdudi, objected to the creation of Pakistan. They were also too apprehensive of the secular Muslim leadership that was to rule the new country. The only justification I could cite for the cause of Pakistan from the Qur'an is its call for the believers to migrate if they could not practice Islam. Surely, India by then had not become that bad requiring its Muslim minorities to migrate. Nonetheless, the situation of Muslims varied depending on where they lived - wherever they were away from the community of Muslims the situation was quite bad. The Hindus were a highly discriminatory bunch - back in the pre-partition days of India and even today. There are approx. 13% Muslims living inside India today. That is like one in eight. And yet when it comes to government jobs, they represent 2% of the workforce. (For details, see my 2003 article on "Minorities in the Indian Sub-continent" about the despicable state of affairs of Muslims in India.) Even the Mowlana who was the president of Indian National Congress was not given an important ministerial portfolio outside education. True that India had chosen some Muslims to become her ceremonial head - the President, but such appointments were a charade to hide the dirty truth under the rug - the impoverishment of minorities. As to the discrimination of Muslims in Bengal at the hands of Hindus, the least said the better. Tomes can be written on that subject alone!

Far from Kashmiri's un-Islamic assertion giving Mowlana almost a knowledge of the future, we know for sure that the Mowlana's statement - "In future India will be faced with class problems, not communal disputes" - was proven wrong. There has not been a year when communal riots did not occur in India. In that context, Bangladesh fared better than India, and even Pakistan, if we can ignore the Shia-Sunni sectarian violence there. And Bangladesh would not have been a reality today had it not been for the emergence of Pakistan some 62 years ago.

Interestingly, the elements that led to the breakup of Pakistan are still present there for India. But thus far, such factors have not contributed to its dismemberment. Is it simply its democratic character or some other factors that act as the glue to keep things together in India?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Real Story behind the Thanksgiving Day

Thanksgiving Day is the most observed holiday in the USA, which is celebrated by people of all races, colors, ethnicities and even religions. It is a day in which family members gather to eat turkey, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. According to some estimates, nearly 40 million turkeys are eaten over this long weekend. Thanksgiving holiday falls on the last Thursday of November. There is even a White House event in which the President pardons a turkey on Wednesday. That lucky turkey gets to live — and fly first class to Disneyland, where it is grand marshal in the Thanksgiving Day parade. Unfortunately, another nameless bird gets slaughtered in his place. Of course, many would find something wrong with this concept, which sounds like “A Tale of Two Cities!” The turkey-pardoning is supposed to be a long-running national tradition, but it officially only dates back to George H. W. Bush and 1989.
Like every other major popular celebration in our world, Thanksgiving has its history, and if I may say, not a pleasant one – the kind that we often hear which associates it with the “Pilgrims” that landed in the New World. According to a single-paragraph account in the writings of one Pilgrim, a harvest feast did take place in Plymouth in 1621, probably in mid-October, but the Indians who attended were not even invited. Though it later became known as "Thanksgiving," with giving thanks to God for the harvests of the land, the Pilgrims never called it that.
So, what did really happen in Plymouth in 1621? For that we have to dig deeper into history, away from popular myths and traditions -- the imagery of a picnic of interracial harmony -- and come to terms with some of the most terrifying bloodsheds in New World history. [In what follows below I summarize some historical accounts. Interested readers may like to read the book - “The Hidden history of Massachusetts: A Guide for Black Folks,” by Tingba Apidta and other books that were written by the descendants of Native American Indians.]
We are told that on “September 6, 1620 the Pilgrims had set sail for the New World on a ship called the Mayflower. They sailed from Plymouth, England and aboard were 44 Pilgrims, who called themselves the "Saints", and 66 others, whom the Pilgrims called the "Strangers." The long trip led to many disagreements between the "Saints" and the "Strangers". After land was sighted on November 10, a meeting was held and an agreement was worked out, called the Mayflower Compact, which guaranteed equality and unified the two groups. They joined together and named themselves the "Pilgrims." Although they had first sighted land off Cape Cod they did not settle until they arrived at Plymouth, which had been named by Captain John Smith in 1614.” It is worth noting here that in 1614 when a band of English explorers sailed home to England with a ship full of Patuxet Indians bound for slavery, they left behind smallpox which virtually wiped out those who had escaped.
When the Pilgrims crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 1620, they landed on the rocky shores of a territory that was inhabited by the Wampanoag (Wam pa NO ag) Indians. It was there that the Pilgrims decide to settle. Plymouth offered an excellent harbor. A large brook offered a resource for fish. The Pilgrims biggest concern was attack by the local Native American Indians. But the latter were a peaceful group and did not prove to be a threat.
Any visitor to a Wampanoag home was provided with a share of whatever food the family had, even if the supply was low. This same courtesy was extended to the Pilgrims when they met.
We can only guess what the Wampanoags must have thought when they first saw the strange ships of the Pilgrims arriving on their shores. But their custom was to help visitors, and they treated the newcomers with courtesy. It was mainly because of their kindness that the Pilgrims survived at all. The wheat the Pilgrims had brought with them to plant would not grow in the rocky soil.
On March 16, 1621, what was to become an important event took place, an Indian brave walked into the Plymouth settlement. The Pilgrims were frightened until the Indian called out "Welcome" (in English). His name was Samoset and he was an Abnaki Indian. He had learned English from the captains of fishing boats that had sailed off the coast. After staying the night Samoset left the next day. He soon returned with another Indian named Squanto (SKWAN toe) who spoke better English than Samoset. Squanto told the Pilgrims of his voyages across the ocean and his visits to England and Spain. It was in England where he had learned English. Squanto's importance to the Pilgrims was enormous and it can be said that they would not have survived without his help.
The Pilgrims needed to learn new ways for a new world. They were not in good condition. They were living in dirt-covered shelters, there was a shortage of food, and nearly half of them had died during the winter. They obviously needed help. Squanto brought them deer meat and beaver skins. He taught them how to cultivate corn and other new vegetables and how to build Indian-style houses. He pointed out poisonous plants and showed how other plants could be used as medicine. He explained how to dig and cook clams, how to get sap from the maple trees, use fish for fertilizer, and dozens of other skills needed for their survival. By the time fall arrived things were going much better for the Pilgrims, thanks to the help they had received. The Pilgrims decided to have a thanksgiving feast to celebrate their good fortune. They had observed thanksgiving feasts in November as religious obligations in England for many years before coming to the New World.
Captain Miles Standish, the leader of the Pilgrims, invited Squanto, Samoset, Massasoit (the leader of the Wampanoags), and their immediate families to join them for a celebration, but they had no idea how big Indian families could be. As the Thanksgiving feast began, the Pilgrims were overwhelmed at the large turnout of ninety relatives that Squanto and Samoset brought with them. The Pilgrims were not prepared to feed a gathering of people that large for three days. Seeing this, Massasoit gave orders to his men within the first hour of his arrival to go home and get more food. Thus it happened that the Indians supplied the majority of the food.
For three days the Wampanoags feasted with the Pilgrims. It was a special time of friendship between two very different groups of people. A peace and friendship agreement was made between Massasoit and Miles Standish giving the Pilgrims the clearing in the forest where the old Patuxet village once stood to build their new town of Plymouth.
Contrary to the fabricated lore of storyteller generations no Pilgrims prayed at the meal. What's more, they consumed a good deal of home brew. In fact, each Pilgrim drank at least a half gallon of beer a day, which they preferred even to water. This daily inebriation led their governor, William Bradford, to comment on his people's "notorious sin," which included their "drunkenness and uncleanliness" and rampant "sodomy".
Later as the pilgrims grew in number they started showing intolerance to the Indians and their religion. The relationship deteriorated. Any Indian who came within the vicinity of the Pilgrim settlement was subject to robbery, enslavement, or even murder. The Pilgrims further advertised their evil intentions when they mounted five cannons on a hill around their settlement, constructed a platform for artillery, and then organized their soldiers into four companies - all in preparation for the military destruction of the Native American Indians.
Pilgrim Miles Standish went to the Indians, pretended to be a trader, and then beheaded an Indian man named Wituwamet. He brought the head to Plymouth, where it was displayed on a wooden spike for many years, according to Gary B. Nash, "as a symbol of white power." Standish had the Indian man's young brother hanged from the rafters for good measure. From that time on, the whites were known to the Indians of Massachusetts by the name "Wotowquenange," which in their tongue meant cutthroats and stabbers. A monument in Weymouth, rededicated in 1923 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of settlement, still bears testimony to the encounter between the natives and the white settlers under Miles Standish that killed Indian chiefs Pecksuot and Wituwamet in March, 1623.
By the mid 1630s, a new group of 700 even holier Europeans, calling themselves Puritans, had arrived on 11 ships and settled in Boston, which only served to accelerate the brutality against the Indians.
In one incident in 1637, a force of whites trapped some seven hundred Pequot Indians, mostly women, children, and the elderly, who had gathered for their annual Green Corn Festival near the mouth of the Mystic River, near present day Groton, Connecticut. Under the leadership of Englishman John Mason, in the predawn hours the sleeping Indians were surrounded by English and Dutch mercenaries who ordered them to come outside. Those who came out were shot or clubbed to death while the terrified women and children who huddled inside the longhouse were burned alive. Only a handful escaped and few prisoners were taken-to the apparent delight of the Europeans: To see them frying in the fire, and the streams of their blood quenching the same, and the stench was horrible; but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice. The next day the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony declared "A Day of Thanksgiving" because 700 unarmed men, women and children had been murdered. This event marked the first actual Thanksgiving.
According to Susan Bates (who writes on Native American issues), “Cheered by their "victory", the brave colonists and their Indian allies attacked village after village. Women and children over 14 were sold into slavery while the rest were murdered. Boats loaded with a many as 500 slaves regularly left the ports of New England. Bounties were paid for Indian scalps to encourage as many deaths as possible. Following an especially successful raid against the Pequot in what is now Stamford, Connecticut, the churches announced a second day of "thanksgiving" to celebrate victory over the heathen savages. During the feasting, the hacked off heads of Natives were kicked through the streets like soccer balls. Even the friendly Wampanoag did not escape the madness. Their chief was beheaded, and his head impaled on a pole in Plymouth, Massachusetts -- where it remained on display for 24 years.”
In just 10 years 12,000 whites had invaded New England, and as their numbers grew they pressed for all-out extermination of the Indian. Euro-diseases had reduced the population of the Massachusetts nation from over 24,000 to less than 750; meanwhile, the number of European settlers in Massachusetts rose to more than 20,000 by 1646.
By 1675, the Massachusetts Englishmen were in a full-scale war with the great Indian chief of the Wampanoags, Metacomet. Renamed "King Philip" by the white man, Metacomet watched the steady erosion of the lifestyle and culture of his people as European-imposed laws and values engulfed them.
In 1671, the white man had ordered Metacomet to come to Plymouth to enforce upon him a new treaty, which included the humiliating rule that he could no longer sell his own land without prior approval from whites. They also demanded that he turn in his community's firearms. Marked for extermination by the merciless power of a distant king and his ruthless subjects, Metacomet retaliated in 1675 with raids on several isolated frontier towns. Eventually, the Indians attacked 52 of the 90 New England towns, destroying 13 of them. The Englishmen ultimately regrouped, and after much bloodletting defeated the great Indian nation, just half a century after their arrival on Massachusetts soil. Historian Douglas Edward Leach describes the bitter end: “The ruthless executions, the cruel sentences...were all aimed at the same goal-unchallengeable white supremacy in southern New England. That the program succeeded is convincingly demonstrated by the almost complete docility of the local native ever since.”
When Captain Benjamin Church tracked down and murdered Metacomet in 1676, his body was quartered and parts were "left for the wolves." The great Indian chief's hands were cut off and sent to Boston and his head went to Plymouth, where it was set upon a pole on the real first "day of public Thanksgiving for the beginning of revenge upon the enemy."
As the Native American Holocaust continued, several official Thanksgiving Days were proclaimed. Governor Joseph Dudley declared in 1704 a "General Thanksgiving"-not in celebration of the brotherhood of man - but for [God's] infinite Goodness to extend His Favors...In defeating and disappointing... the Expeditions of the Enemy [Indians] against us, And the good Success given us against them, by delivering so many of them into our hands.
Just two years later one could reap a £50 reward in Massachusetts for the scalp of an Indian-demonstrating that the practice of scalping was a European tradition. According to one scholar, "Hunting redskins became...a popular sport in New England, especially since prisoners were worth good money…" [The Hidden History of Massachusetts: A Guide for Black Folks ©Dr. Tingba Apidta; ISBN 0-9714462-0-2]
At the end of that conflict most of the New England Indians were either exterminated or made refugees among the French in Canada, or they were sold into slavery in the Carolinas by the Puritans. So successful was these early trade in Indian slaves that several Puritan ship owners in Boston began the practice of raiding the Ivory Coast of Africa for black slaves to sell to the proprietary colonies of the South, thus founding the American-based slave trade.
The killings became more and more frenzied, with days of thanksgiving feasts being held after each successful massacre. Susan Bates writes, “George Washington finally suggested that only one day of Thanksgiving per year be set aside instead of celebrating each and every massacre. Later Abraham Lincoln decreed Thanksgiving Day to be a legal national holiday during the Civil War -- on the same day he ordered troops to march against the starving Sioux in Minnesota.”
Mary Shaw writes in the Philadelphia Freedom Blog: “In 1830, as the "settlers" pushed westward, the 23rd Congress of the United States passed the "Indian Removal Act", legitimizing the land greed of the white "settlers" and resulting in the death or displacement of countless Native Americans. This legislation was signed into law by none other than all-American action hero President Andrew Jackson himself…The Native Americans who survived were herded onto reservations, where they faced their own set of challenges. This form of apartheid separated Native Americans physically, socially, and economically from the world outside the reservation. Traditionally nomadic hunter societies were forced to learn to farm for their subsistence. Disenfranchised and disillusioned, the Native American population came to face the highest rates of poverty, suicide, alcoholism, and teen pregnancy amongst ethnic groups in the U.S. -- a trend that continues to this day. All because of the selfish, imperialistic dreams of the white man.”
Before I close this sad saga of thanksgiving, we need to understand the “Pilgrims.” So who were these European Pilgrims? We are told that the "Pilgrims” were a sub sect, or splinter group, of the Puritan movement. They came to America to achieve on this continent what their Puritan brethren continued to strive for in England; and when the Puritans were forced from England, they came to New England and soon absorbed the original "Pilgrims."
According to Chuck Larsen (who is a teacher and a Native American), “The Puritans were not just simple religious conservatives persecuted by the King and the Church of England for their unorthodox beliefs. They were political revolutionaries who not only intended to overthrow the government of England, but who actually did so in 1649.
“The Puritan "Pilgrims" who came to New England were not simply refugees who decided to "put their fate in God's hands" in the "empty wilderness" of North America. Mainstream Englishmen considered the Pilgrims to be deliberate religious dropouts who intended to found a new nation completely independent from non-Puritan England. In 1643 the Puritan/Pilgrims declared themselves an independent confederacy, one hundred and forty-three years before the American Revolution. They believed in the imminent occurrence of Armageddon in Europe and hoped to establish here in the new world the "Kingdom of God" foretold in the book of Revelation. They diverged from their Puritan brethren who remained in England only in that they held little real hope of ever being able to successfully overthrow the King and Parliament and, thereby, impose their "Rule of Saints" (strict Puritan orthodoxy) on the rest of the British people. So they came to America not just in one ship (the Mayflower) but in a hundred others as well, with every intention of taking the land away from its native people to build their prophesied "Holy Kingdom." [See Blitzer, Charles, "Age of Kings," Great Ages of Man series, references to Puritanism, pp. 141, 144 & 145-46. Also see Jennings, Francis, "The Invasion of America," references to Puritan human motives, pp. 4-6, 43- 44 and 53.]
“The Pilgrims were not just innocent refugees from religious persecution. They were victims of bigotry in England, but some of them were themselves religious bigots by our modern standards. The Puritans and the Pilgrims saw themselves as the "Chosen Elect" mentioned in the book of Revelation. They strove to "purify" first themselves and then everyone else of everything they did not accept in their own interpretation of scripture. Later New England Puritans used any means, including deceptions, treachery, torture, war, and genocide to achieve that end. They saw themselves as fighting a holy war against Satan, and everyone who disagreed with them was the enemy. This rigid fundamentalism was transmitted to America by the Plymouth colonists, and it sheds a very different light on the "Pilgrim" image we have of them. This is best illustrated in the written text of the Thanksgiving sermon delivered at Plymouth in 1623 by "Mather the Elder." In it, Mather the Elder gave special thanks to God for the devastating plague of smallpox which wiped out the majority of the Wampanoag Indians who had been their benefactors. He praised God for destroying "chiefly young men and children, the very seeds of increase, thus clearing the forests to make way for a better growth", i.e., the Pilgrims.”
Thus, we know that the Pilgrims were no saints; far from being God-fearing individuals they were savages bent on colonizing America for the “good” white soul at the exclusion of their hosts – the Native Americans -- who had settled in the New World hundreds of years ago! So how and why this contemporary mix of myth and history about the "First" Thanksgiving at Plymouth developed? According to Chuck Larsen, it developed “in the 1890s and early 1900s. Our country was desperately trying to pull together its many diverse peoples into a common national identity. This was the era of the "melting pot" theory of social progress, and public education was a major tool for social unity. It was with this in mind that the federal government declared the last Thursday in November as the legal holiday of Thanksgiving in 1898.”
Today the town of Plymouth Rock has a Thanksgiving ceremony each year in remembrance of the first Thanksgiving. There are still Wampanoag people living in Massachusetts. In 1970, they asked one of them to speak at the ceremony to mark the 350th anniversary of the Pilgrim's arrival. Frank B. James, president of the Federated Eastern Indian League, prepared a speech. But he was not allowed to deliver it; the Massachusetts officials told him to write another. James declined to speak, and on that Thanksgiving Day hundreds of Indians from around the country came to protest. It was the first National Day of Mourning for them.
Here is part of what James wrote: "Today is a time of celebrating for you -- a time of looking back to the first days of white people in America. But it is not a time of celebrating for me. It is with a heavy heart that I look back upon what happened to my People. When the Pilgrims arrived, we, the Wampanoags, welcomed them with open arms, little knowing that it was the beginning of the end. That before 50 years were to pass, the Wampanoag would no longer be a tribe. That we and other Indians living near the settlers would be killed by their guns or dead from diseases that we caught from them. Let us always remember, the Indian is and was just as human as the white people. Although our way of life is almost gone, we, the Wampanoags, still walk the lands of Massachusetts. What has happened cannot be changed. But today we work toward a better America, a more Indian America where people and nature once again are important."
We are told that President Obama did not seem all that thrilled about the Turkey event. He said, “There are certain days that remind me of why I ran for this office. And then there are moments like this, where I pardon the turkey and send it to Disneyland.” I don’t know whether President Obama ate Turkey this Thanksgiving Day. But if he did, can you blame him for upholding a tradition in the White House that says you can pardon your turkey and eat it, too? Or, may be that he ate Turkey for the right reason – to renew our commitment to building a more peaceful and prosperous future that every American family can enjoy, echoing the passionate call by Frank James some 39 years ago!
Some other good references:
(1) Berkhofer, Jr., R.F., "The White Man's Indian."
(2) Jennings, Francis, "The Invasion of America."
(3) Blitzer, Charles, "Age of Kings," Great Ages of Man series.
(4) See "Chronicles of American Indian Protest," pp. 6-10. Also see Armstrong, Virginia I., "I Have Spoken."
(5) See Larsen, Charles M., "The Real Thanksgiving," pp. 3-4. Also see Graff, Steward and Polly Ann, "Squanto, Indian Adventurer." Also see "Handbook of North American Indians," Vol. 15, the reference to Squanto on p. 82.
(6) See Benton-Banai, Edward, "The Mishomis Book," as a reference on general "Anishinabe" (the Algonkin speaking people’s) religious beliefs and practices.
(7) See Graff, Stewart and Polly Ann, "Squanto, Indian Adventurer." Also see Bradford, Sir William, "Of Plymouth Plantation," and "Mourt's Relation."
(8) See "Handbook of North American Indians," Vol. 15.
(9) Manataka American Indian Council, (see Bates, Susan, “The Real Story of Thanksgiving,” Larsen, Chuck, “Introduction for Teachers,” and “The Plymouth Thanksgiving Story,” http://www.manataka.org/page269.html#%283%29
(10) Paul, Daniel N., “First Nations History: We Were Not the Savages,” 3rd Ed., Fernwood Publishing, September (2006); www.danielpaul.com


Other references:
http://tomficklin.blogspot.com/2009/11/real-story-of-thanksgiving-by-susan.html
Shaw, Mary, “What’s Thanksgiving all about?” Philadelphia Freedom Blog, November 22, 2009, http://phillyfreedom.blogspot.com/2009/11/whats-thanksgiving-really-all-about.html
http://www.2020tech.com/thanks/temp.html#story

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Comments on the Bombay carnage of last year

The Bombay (I hate to use Hindutvadi terms) carnage poses so many unanswered questions that we truly are puzzled by the motives and its players, direct or indirect. Early reports suggested that the terrorists consumed haram before going in, and even included uncircumcised guys - these are surely not the pictures that emerge for the so-called Islamist terrorists. We heard the same stories about some of the perpetrators of the 9/11 who drank wine and had visited strip bars where lap dances were performed on some of them by strippers, before their "Godly" mission. And yet mysteriously a Qur'an is left behind in the rental car of one hijacker before he flies, and even a last will! He even quarrels for the right to park in the parking lot of the airport with another traveler - as if to be known or remembered. Why would someone do things like that to attract so much attention unto himself before carrying out his so secretive mission? An explanation that "criminals always leave behind important clues" seems too unreal for guys like 'Ata, who were considered very cool and brilliant by those that met or known them. I can't add two plus two here to get four! Something too odd, too unexplainable, too sinister and confusing to a rational mind, unless I can imagine things beyond the normal - something like the Game theory. Who knows!

And that is why, we don't have shortage of the conspiracy theorists! But can one blame them when we know so little about such important matters, and our common sense seems to betray us from drawing a seemingly rationale conclusion? Not surprisingly, we hear about the Mossad agents in both of these cases who are accused of funding the crimes without probably the knowledge of the very actors who perpetrated such crimes.

Could all these players (9/11 and Bombay) have been manipulated patsies in the context of a relatively sophisticated operation mounted by forces within some intelligence community(ies), using sophisticated methods and assets, a theory so beautifully presented by Webster Tarpley in his analysis of the Fort Hood carnage (see, e.g., http://pakalert.wordpress.com/2009/11/17/major-hasan-of-fort-hood-a-patsy-in-a-drill-gone-live/)? In an old article of mine, I have tried to draw parallel between OBL's actions and those of Hasan-e Sabah of the Hashishyyn of the middle ages (see, Media Monitors Network: Understanding OBL through the lenses of the past, or the New Age Op/ed: http://www.newagebd.com/2006/apr/27/oped.html).
Those fanatics were accused of getting drunk before their crimes in the public (this accusation of being drunk is however totally rejected by the Ismailis). Even then I am not sure if I did a justice to portray the current players of such well publicized terrorist acts of our time as following the footsteps of the hashishyyn.

Dr Taj Hashmi's theory of narco-traffic and connection of Dawud Ibrahim tries to throw some light into what has been rather too confusing of an episode in Bombay. This, I assume, is based on allegations that the Bombay players killed some Israeli Jews, who might have been involved with drug trafficking, before the main event. A more thorough research may help us find the real answers to our still unanswered queries behind the Bombay carnage. That is what is needed from an impartial, objective looking researcher. Hashmi's essay, based merely on speculations, like most of his other shoddy works of research, fails to meet the curiosity of many of us on this sad episode.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Oprah Winfrey - The TV Talk Show Queen

One of the hot topics from the USA this past week has been: Oprah Winfrey’s bombshell like announcement that she is calling it quits to her most successful TV program after 25 years in 2011. When she started the program back in September of 1986, no one imagined this black and fat lady to last more than a week. But against all odds, she not only proved all her critics wrong but also made billions while being a successful host and entertainer on small screen TV. In that process, she created millions of fans who regularly tuned into her program and even wished that they were sitting in front of her when the show aired. She also gave millions away to her audience. For the spectacular launch of the show's 19th season, nearly 300 deserving audience members received brand-new cars. No TV talk show host has ever done anything close to that kind of publicity stance.

The magic with Oprah all began back in 1973. As a 19-year old young girl at the time, Oprah got her television start covering local news in Nashville, TN. She was both the youngest news anchor and the first black female news anchor at Nashville's WLAC-TV. She then moved on to Baltimore’s WJZ-TV in 1976 to co-anchor the six o'clock news. After being demoted from anchoring the Baltimore news, Oprah finally found her niche as the co-host of a local morning show called People Are Talking, which premiered on August 14, 1978. From the beginning, Oprah says, she preferred telling people's stories to reporting straight-up news.

Then, after hearing that a morning show in Chicago needed a new host Oprah became obsessed with getting the job. In 1983, Oprah relocated to Chicago to host WLS-TV's low-rated half-hour morning talk-show, AM Chicago. The first episode aired on January 2, 1984. Within months after Oprah took over, the show went from last place in the ratings to overtaking Donahue as the highest rated talk show in Chicago. It was renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show, expanded to a full hour, and broadcast nationally beginning September 8, 1986.

At midnight on September 8, 1986—exactly eight hours before her very first national television show—Oprah wrote an auspicious journal entry. "I keep wondering how my life will change, if it will change, and what all this means. Why have I been so blessed?" The rest is history! She says she is indebted to movie critic Roger Ebert who helped her in syndicating the show.

In 1985, Oprah co-starred in a film adaptation of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Color Purple. She earned immediate acclaim as Sofia, the distraught housewife and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, which she did not win. In October 1998, Oprah produced and starred in the film Beloved, based upon Toni Morrison's Pulitzer Prize winning novel of the same name.

In 1998, Oprah began Oprah's Angel Network, a charity that is aimed at encouraging people around the world to make a difference in the lives of underprivileged people. To date, Oprah's Angel Network has raised more than $51 million. In 2005 she became the first black person listed by Business Week as one of America's top 50 most generous philanthropists, having given an estimated $303 million in charity. Oprah invested $40 million and some of her time establishing the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls near Johannesburg, South Africa; the school opened in January 2007. She has also been repeatedly ranked as the most philanthropic celebrity of all times.

Oprah opposed invasion of Iraq. In a February 2003 series she had done, she showed clips from people all over the world asking America not to go to war. The program, however, was interrupted in several east coast markets by network broadcasts of a press conference in which President George W. Bush, joined by Colin Powell, summarized the case for war. After her program “Is War the Only Answer?” aired, she was severely criticized by war mongers within the USA. In 2006, Winfrey recalled: “I once did a show titled Is War the Only Answer? In the history of my career, I've never received more hate mail-like 'Go back to Africa' hate mail. I was accused of being un-American for even raising the question.” That savage attack on Oprah says a lot about America, arguably the freest country in the world. The country was not comfortable about dissenting opinions, especially, anything deemed unpopular with the War Party and its affiliate the “Amen Corner”, questioning the merit of war or the support for the rogue Israeli government. One can only hope that with the election win of Obama, the mood of the country has changed for the better. It’s no-brainer that Oprah actively endorsed Obama for the presidential position. Her endorsement was crucial to win the democratic primaries for Obama against Hillary Clinton.

As supervising producer and host of the top-rated, award-winning “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” Oprah has entertained, enlightened and uplifted millions of viewers for the past two decades. Her accomplishments as a global media leader and philanthropist have established her as one of the most respected and admired public figures of our time. She has been ranked the richest African American of the 20th century, one of the most philanthropic African American of all time, and was once the world's only black billionaire. Some analysts even assess that she is the most influential woman in the world today. Suffice it to say that when she retires, we shall miss her greatly. But in the meantime, let’s enjoy her program.

Further comments about Mujib Era (1972-75)

There are many Bangladeshis today that blame Sk. Mujibur Rahman for the famine of 1974 that killed thousands of poor Bangladeshis. Unfortunately, they are unaware of the CIA covert plan to harm popularity of Sk. Mujib's govt. in the post-liberation period. In a well-researched PBS TV documentary program - Food as a weapon of War - we learn about US government's role in bringing down the popularity of Sk. Mujib by diverting wheat-carrying ships away from the ports in Bangladesh, which triggered the famine of 1974. Nor should we forget that with the winding up of UNROB (United Nations Relief Organization in Bangladesh) operations in December 31 of 1973, already the process for economic crisis was set in order. As a result of this man-made famine, scripted by Henry Kissinger of the USA govt., many poor people died of starvation and did not have the kaffons (burial shrouds) to bury them with.

History bears testimony to the fact that the USA and some other countries, including China, did not welcome the new country Bangladesh and conspired to bring it down. Little did we know back then that the JSD of Sirajul Alam Khan was basically a foreign supported group. This fact was shielded from many insiders within the central command. Siraj has been unmasked in recent years as being on the CIA payroll. The group's role back then was not much different from the hawkish communists of Sukarno's Indonesia in the mid 1960s, which also resulted in violent replacement of the government by a pro-American puppet government. In those cold-war days it was difficult for Nidhiram Sardars like Sk. Mujib to hold onto power without a powerful backer. Back in the early 1970s, India was no match to the USA and had taken her eyes away from the developments inside Bangladesh (at least not to the extent of interfering in internal affairs of the country). The Indira government was not too happy with the removal of its so-called liberating forces out of the country in 1972, just within months of Sk. Mujib's return. The quick withdrawal was not in their calculation. But Indira had to relent to Mujib's demand. I honestly think that if not for anything else, that withdrawal of Indian forces is the biggest achievement of Sk. Mujib. There has not been a history of that magnitude when a "liberating" force voluntarily leaves a country that it helped to liberate so fast.

India has been an untrustworthy ally for Bangladesh and any of its neighbors. Its dirty hegemonic behavior is at the root of that attitude. Thus, even when we wanted a normalization of relationship in places like Tin Bigha and other enclaves, India has not reciprocated our good-will attitude. We obviously know about India's own rationale why it collaborated with us to give a meaning to our aspirations for freedom. But that should not be news to anyone who had studied world history and liberation movements.

Much has been said about the Rakkhi Bahini, which Mujib created. The claim that the Rakkhi Bahini was strengthened more than the Army was a pure propaganda which saw much success in creating a negative opinion about the new regime. Facts were entirely different though. As we all know too well, no police force alone around the world has been able to deal with home-grown terrorists. That is why, even in the USA we have the ATF and the FBI, and special anti-terrorist groups within the Homeland Security department. Likewise, the Bangladesh government of early 1970s created the Rakkhi Bahini as a para-military force (better equipped than Police but not Army) not only to employ the former Freedom Fighters but also to fight those terrorists who were killing civilians, esp. in the north-western districts. The creation of RAB around 2003 was for similar reasons. The Italian and Spanish governments have had their counterpart cells fighting terrorism. People in general are happy with such activities against miscreants.

Our people's expectations in the post-liberation era also were too irrational of a country that had no resources outside its manpower, no foreign exchange, nothing. They wanted an Aladin's lamp (Cherag) to solve their 24-year disparity in prosperity and transform the country into a Sonar Bangla overnight. True that the "sonar Bangla" slogan was popularized by none other than Sk. Mujib himself. But my unbiased analysis suggests that his promise was applicable to our land within the framework of a united Pakistan and not what came to be in 1972. It is the same saga with moth-eaten Pakistan that we settled for in 1947! The rosy pictures of our Nawabs and Urdu-speaking leaders in the last days of the British Raj simply did not materialize in Pakistan, and then when the Punjabis took over power after Jinnah and Liaqat had died in the early 1950s, we were slowly heading for the dismemberment of the country.

If the stupid Punjabi leadership had the wisdom to relinquish power to Sk. Mujib in 1971 after the election in which his party (Awami League) won 160 of the 300 elected seats for the National Assembly of Pakistan, I am convinced that there won't be Bangladesh today. Sk. Mujib was in no position as the Prime Minister of a united Pakistan to divide the country into two independent countries. It was not in his calculation either when he negotiated with Yahya and Bhutto.

I also believe that when the new Soviet-India backed government came into power, the very reason that Sk. Mujib's life was spared in Pakistan and that he was released in early January of 1972 to take over the mantle of leadership was that both Pakistan and its ally - the USA - knew too well that he was the most nationalist of the whole Awami bunch, and that he would stop any further tilt towards the Soviet/India block, possibly bringing the country to a more neutral position. The early signs were that their scheme worked. But later events, esp. with Sk. Mujib's operation in Russia, showed that the CIA had decided that he could not be trusted to unify Pakistan and surely not act as their agent. They found a better old friend - Kh. Mostaq - to fill that gap. The rest is history!

As to the killing of 1975, I was in Dhaka as a student and remember the shock people felt at the news of the assassination. Surely there was no protest but I won't call the atmosphere a relief-type atmosphere which some people have painted! To me it felt like an atmosphere when people are shocked and couldn't express their emotions freely. People had little freedom and were panicked terribly. They knew that any outburst of sad emotion may result in their own deaths, so they did not show it openly and suppressed such. I know of many students and others who cried hearing the news of Mujib's death. And of course, there were others who were happy with the death news. Among the student groups were JSD-BCL and Maoists/Naxalites. People had their own reasons to either celebrate or mourn the event. No one should ever forget that in countries like ours where people's public display of emotions is very much a function of the openness existing within the society. Look at the jubilation today across Bangladesh with the news of the verdict! People are celebrating milad and offering shukrana namaz! Could any of this be possible if the Awami League government was not in power? I doubt. If the people were happy with the killings of 1975, they must now be showing their sadness and even protest the verdict of the Supreme Court, but we don't see any such rallies today. Why? Are we less democratic or open today? No. And yet, everyone from even those who at one time had welcomed the change to those who did not like the BAKSALi direction the country was heading is now openly saying that the assassination was a wrong thing and that the justice has prevailed eventually. Don't assume that they are forced to say this kind of statement. This apex court verdict also would force any wannabe political assassin to rethink twice before committing a murderous act. We must get out of the vicious cycle of political assassination.

Sk. Mujib had his faults like anyone of us. He was no angel. He was a product of his time and place. He came from the common masses with same kind of strengths and weaknesses that our common people had. His greatest strength was his uncompromising attitude demanding fairness from the Punjabi snobs and power-hungry bunch, the very people that opposed the creation of Pakistan during the dying days of British Empire. He had also tremendous love for his people. But he was not the brightest or smartest of his generation. He needed to draw the brightest minds unto himself to succeed. It is there that the opportunists and sycophants succeeded to corner him and segregate him from the very people that he needed to be in touch with. He was even separated from Tajuddin Ahmed, the best of his advisers. Instead, he relied on folks that wanted to see him uprooted. That is the tragedy of Bangladesh.

I believe that the greatest blunder Sk. Mujib committed was the creation of BAKSAL, an idea that was fed to him by Castro in Algiers in 1973. It was against everything that he stood for all his life. But also blame it on our sycophants who congratulated him for that blundering decision. I remember too well how the BUET VC -- Dr Waheeduddin supported the move. And he was not alone among our so-called intellectuals! Even our opportunists within the higher echelon of the Armed Forces had no moral qualms to congratulating the move. If they had the moral higher ground, they would have resigned or protested. Everything seemed so kosher those days by our shameless Bengali opportunist character!

Even today, I am not too hopeful about Bangladesh. What I see is the same, actually worse, Bengali character that knows how to be a good sycophant and enrich oneself. We behave as if we are ready to tie our knots with Satan to go to hell if our moves would guarantee enriching ourselves. That is the sad account of our people, esp. those that matters - the so-called intellectuals and politicians there. Very few people there think outside their self-interests. But the fact of the matter is, you can't build a just society with that kind of mentality. Only a real revolution (which we may never see in our lifetime again) could dispose off the garbage accumulated within our foul national character. My father reminds me of a great line from a poet, probably Jibananda Das, who said that we need to replace our Bangla soil seven times before we may be able to change our foul character (or something like that; I am terrible with poems!). We truly don't have the character of a civilized nation that is required to take us to higher planes. That is why we end up electing scum and rubbish to our public offices, the failed leadership.

With great sadness therefore I say that I personally don't see any hope for our people. None of these leaders truly wants to hear honest advice, even when such are provided for free without any ulterior motive. They simply don't care about you and I. They care about power and nothing else. Funny that even these leaders know that it is a hopeless case with Bangladesh. That is why, each of these leaders now have their loved ones living outside the country. They too have special passports to settle in countries like the USA and the UK when they are away from power. How wonderful! If this sad trend continues, there won't be anyone worth living or staying back except the bad guys from whom we must then select our political leadership. It is a sad, sad saga!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Supreme Court Verdict - Bangabandhu Murder Case

It was so wonderful to learn about the long awaited judgment on the Bangabandhu murder case. The Supreme Court of Bangladesh unanimously upheld an earlier judgment that found all those 12 rogue officers of the armed forces guilty of the worst crime in the history of Bangladesh. Unless some miracles happen, these criminals will be hanged for the murder of Sk. Mujib and his family members on August 15, 1975.

However, not all the guilty criminals are behind the bars in Bangladesh now. Only five murderers are behind the bar. They are: Lt Col (sacked) Syed Faruque Rahman, Lt Col (retd) Sultan Shahriar Rashid Khan, Lt Col (retd) Muhiuddin Ahmed (Artillery), Maj (retd) AKM Mohiuddin Ahmed (lancer) and Maj (retd) Bazlul Huda. One - Maj. Aziz Pasha - died in Zimbabwe some years ago. Six criminals are absconding and are rumored to be hiding in Africa and other places. They are: Lt Col (dismissed) Khandaker Abdur Rashid, Lt Col (relieved) Shariful Haque Dalim, Lt Col (retd) Nur Chowdhury, Lt Col (retd) AM Rashed Chowdhury, Capt Abdul Mazed and Risalder Moslehuddin Khan. The government of Bangladesh must now try to bring them home through extradition treaties signed with those countries where they are hiding and implement the verdict.

It took more than 34 years to eventually find justice on this case of monumental importance to tens of millions of Bangladeshis. It was a delayed justice but not a denied one; it was by all accounts a welcome verdict. The verdict showed that a killer can run and even hide under the skirts of the beneficiaries of a gruesome murder but justice may still prevail. The Supreme Court verdict also proved that even when we least expect justice in a country that has increasingly become hopeless for the victims not everything is lost; the victims can still smile and see light at the end of what once appeared to be a never-ending judicial circus.

So who knows we may even live long enough to see the war-criminals of 1971 hanged for their monumental crimes! Thirty-eight years probably is not too long of a waiting time. Let's keep our hopes alive and have a sweet dream for now!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

How committed is Bangladesh Government about boosting the Corruption Perception Index?

Nothing could be more gratifying for a government which finds itself being perceived positively in matters of fighting corruption. An improved perception can attract foreign investment. Bangladesh is one of those countries which has been able to drastically improve her corruption perception index. This year she improved her ranking to 139 out of 180 countries. She was 147th last year. Bangladesh scored 2.4 on a 0-10 scale rating (with lower numbers signifying more corruption perception), a number still below the 3.0 - cutoff value for the top 100 and bottom 80 countries, meaning corruption is still rampant. But compared to how Bangladesh began with a score of 0.3 points nearly a decade ago, it is definitely a good achievement. Nor should we forget that the country was placed at the bottom of the list for the fifth successive years from 2001 to 2005 (during the BNP rule).

In recent months, after the Mahajote came to power, the government has taken some positive measures that are bound to improve country's perception index. These include: election commitment of the current government against corruption, continuation of institutional reforms, formation of parliamentary standing committees and information commission. The government has not, thus far, interfered with the activities of the Anti-Corruption Commission giving it freedom to do its tasks independently. These are all positive signs and are sure ways to boost country's perception rating. Unfortunately, there are still areas which may put a dent to Bangladesh's image.

It was not too long ago that the ACC Chairman, Mr. Golam Rahman, had vehemently complained about the impotency of the agency. Sure enough, many of the verdicts by the High Court Bench granting bail to individuals, convicted of corruption, are making a mockery of the agency’s efforts to wipe out corruption from the country. News media accounts suggest that most of those convicts were probably freed on grounds of technicality and not on the weaknesses of the charges brought against them. If such public perceptions are true, unless the ACC is strengthened by bills passed by the parliament or presidential decree, its activities are going to result in zero-sum activities at a tremendous cost to the country’s economy.

In a widely covered interview, Mr. Rahman was bold enough to correctly call the ACC a 'toothless tiger', which finds itself in a no-win, difficult and precarious position to be state’s corruption fighting agency without the right mechanisms set in place to make it more effective. (During my meeting with his predecessor back in February, I heard similar complaints from Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Hasan Mashhud Chowdhury.) And in spite of such candid and correct assessment from its current Chairman and the constraints it has to work under, it is highly gratifying to see the ACC's unwavering battle to put a stopper to corruption by charging many corrupt individuals, including politicians. In recent months, the agency has been more scrupulous than anytime before in its filings of corruption cases against politically connected bigwigs that have siphoned off country’s money through shoddy deals. It is also showing great discrimination and clarity in dropping cases against some individuals who were wrongly charged by the immediate-past interim government.

But like every other things that seem to go wrong with Bangladesh when we least expect them, the recent presidential pardon of sentences against Shahadab Akbar, son of deputy leader of parliament Syeda Sajeda Chowdhury, is sure to put a questionable mark on the government’s sincerity to fight corruption. Chowdhury was sentenced to 18 years' imprisonment and fined Taka 1.6 crore in absentia in four cases filed by the Anti-Corruption Commission and National Board of Revenue during the tenure of the last caretaker government. News reports suggest that Chowdhury had failed to appear before the court and did not even file any appeal against his convictions and yet the President had no qualms about pardoning him. This act of clemency can’t simply be overlooked. Yes, like the presidential pardon of bigwigs under Clinton and Bush before they vacated the White House, Bangladesh’s President Zillur Rahman has all the constitutional rights to pardon anyone, even a serial killer. But when the only criterion appears to be partisanship such an act of presidential clemency gives a bad name to the government, and is neither easily forgotten nor forgiven by the public. They perceive such as an abuse of justice and presidential power. There are even charges that in pardoning Chowdhury, the President had failed to follow usual legal procedures. The ACC lawyers are also calling foul on the matter. If any of these accusations are true, the current government’s high pitched election promise to weed out corruption seems too hollow and insincere. The clemency of Chowdhury also opens the door for other convicts who had not surrendered to the court to follow this backdoor of presidential clemency under political consideration.

The High Court on July 13 this year in a verdict scrapped the 13-year jail sentence against another politician – Awami League lawmaker Dr. Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir -- in a case that was filed by the ACC, adjudging the conviction against him illegal. On Nov. 16 the ACC filed an appeal with the Supreme Court against the High Court verdict that scrapped the sentence against him in a corruption case. While no one likes to see an innocent human being falsely charged and convicted in a kangaroo court, the judiciary branch of the government must carry out its civic duty diligently, transparently and justly so that no one can question its verdicts.

No one should belittle people’s perception since such actually helps to mold our realities (even when perceptions are not always correct). And that is what corruption perception index of Transparency International is all about. All the recent gains in the CPI rating may evaporate unless the government is sincere in its declared commitment to fight corruption. I can only hope that the Hasina government will have the wisdom to take the CPI rating seriously and thus, not to take Bangladesh on a wrong track. People have long memories; it is the politicians who don’t and they are fools.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Recommendation for a new book on the Rohingyas of Burma

The Rohingya people of Arakan are the worst sufferers of human rights violations in the 21st century, and yet very little is known about their suffering in the outside world. The all powerful media rarely mentions them, as if the Rohingyas are the forgotten people of our time. Greedy about trade relations with the culprit SPDC regime, now ruling Burma (Myanmar), her neighbors have chosen to ignore the plight of these unfortunate human beings, who must now choose between living in hell in a place called the Arakan state of Burma and a life of an unwanted, illegal refugee outside Burma. They must brave the trigger happy NASAKA guards to cross the borders and enter illegal territories, sometimes in boats but most of the time on feet. In that process of exodus, they may die of hunger and thirst or end up in jails of their refuge. In the last few years alone, thousands have embraced that unfortunate fate of extinction. And yet, the world conscious has not gotten the better of this tragedy to either demand and force a change inside Burma that would ensure citizenship of the Rohingya people and allow them to live as free citizens, un-abused, un-harassed and protected by the government of Myanmar or ask international communities to allow the fleeing refugees to live honorably.

There are very few books available in a western language that are written about the Rohingyas of Burma. And fewer yet are books that are written by the Rohingyas themselves writing about their own inhuman experience either within the state of Arakan (now Rakhine state) of Burma or outside Burma as an unwanted refugee. Ahmedur Rahman Farooq is a Rohingya refugee who now lives in Norway. The book – Rohingyas: Tears Down the Cheeks – is a brave attempt by Farooq to fill the gap in our understanding of the plight of the Rohingya people. In this book, aside from providing information about the history, culture and politics around the Rohingya people, Farooq offers a first-hand account of Rohingya life inside Arakan. I recommend this book to anyone interested in broadening understanding of minority people inside Burma.

Informed comments of a reader on my article on free market capitalism

Hermann wrote in the Asian Tribune:



Your article is well timed. Most of the people who are rich and comfortable in life want no law or regulation when it comes to fleecing public of their savings. Yet, the same greedy lot wants other criminal laws well applied and strengthened. These are the people who want more police and defense mechanisms to keep the innocent civilians from voicing dissatisfaction.
The notion that people should be allowed freedom to trade in share market is a myth. Even a well educated resourceful person cannot fully grasp the market forces to make an intelligent investment. The media gives such a bang about money made in the stock market but they never visit the other side to show the losers. For every dollar one make, another has to loose. The stock market is an unregulated gamble like the lottery tickets. At least lotteries are well regulated, but stock market is not. That is why time and again we find fraudsters doing insider trading and siphoning billions of dollars from the system.

Enron scam should have put a stop on this unregulated financial transactions well in time before the current financial collapse came. But the greedy and the rich wanted more. They will not allow to share the wealth. They want it all.

Current crisis in the US healthcare reform is laughable. The very people benefiting from the proposal are being dragged for a few dollars to oppose the legislation. It is a fact most of the Americans do live sub-standard life. One major affliction at later part of their life will destroy all their life savings.

Then we have seen how insurance industry works in these capitals. They boast about the benefits on paper and get so many involved. But when the actual incident occurs to pay, they will read through the fine print to deny the claim. The so called well insured do live in an illusion in the west. When they need insurance payout most, will see their claim rejected or marginalized because of some fine print.

The people who can change laws and ascended to the pinnacle are rich and famous. They do not want any restrictions of their wealth and ability to make more money from the innocent soles. The so called independent media is also in the hands of rich and famous, so what do you expect. We hear and see only the rosy side of events.

Ref: http://www.asiantribune.com/news/2009/11/15/letter-america-free-market-capitalism

Is Free Market Capitalism Failing?

Is free market capitalism failing? Do we need a new economic system? Twenty years ago when the Berlin Wall collapsed and the Cold War ended, the mere suggestion that something was wrong with capitalism might have sounded preposterous, absurd, and almost insane. Back then we saw the collapse of the mighty Soviet Union and perceived the end of socialism when mother Russia itself dumped its trademark ideology, opting instead for free market capitalism. Come to think of those changes, surely those were no small matters! It appeared that the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 might have been the crushing victory for free-market capitalism. And yet people today are questioning the merit of capitalism, even in its own cradle.

A new BBC World Service global poll, surveying 29,033 adult citizens (living in major urban areas) across 27 countries (Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, Spain, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America), conducted between 19 June and 13 October 2009 by the international polling firm GlobeScan, together with the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland finds that dissatisfaction with free market capitalism is widespread, with an average of only 11% saying that it works well and that greater regulation is not a good idea. That is, eight in nine people believe that free market capitalism is bad; it has failed and is not working for them any more. So overwhelming is the verdict against capitalism that no statistical magic or jugglery can put a dent to the conclusion drawn from the study.

What is rather quite discomforting and embarrassing is that even in a country like the USA, the flag-bearer of capitalism, the dissatisfaction is quite high. Three in four (75%) Americans think that capitalism is not working satisfactorily in the USA. Outside Pakistan (21% in favor) and the USA, no other country taking the poll has a satisfactory rating above 20%. That is, if you take away the USA and Pakistan as outliers, the overriding view in all the other 25 countries taking the poll is that capitalism is simply not working for them. It either needs a replacement or a complete overhaul.

The most common view, held by an average of 51% among the people polled by GlobeScan/PIPA is that free market capitalism has problems that can be addressed through regulation and reform. An average of 23% feel that capitalism is fatally flawed, and a new economic system is needed—including 43% in France, 38% in Mexico, 35% in Brazil and 31% in Ukraine.

So, why this despair against free market capitalism that was once believed and put forth as the “cures all” and “fits all” economic system? The answer can be found in the collapse of the financial sector - banking and insurance institutions of the USA and many of the capitalist countries in the last couple of years (or more specifically in the last 13 months). So interrelated and inter-dependent the global economy has become that once the financial institutions inside the USA started collapsing the ripple effect could be felt thousands of miles away in distant continents. Even countries like Nepal and Bangladesh are not immune from what happens in the Wall Street! While hundreds of billions of dollars have been funneled in by the Obama administration to rescue the troubled financial institutions and giant industries, the US economy is still showing little sign of recovery. Some Wall Street experts tell me that we may not see a full economic recovery during Obama’s first term, i.e., we may have to wait for his second term, if he is reelected. Dissatisfaction against President Obama today is at an all time high. Most Republicans claim that Obama has no clue as to how to solve the current economic crisis. Forgotten are the sad facts that he had little to do with the collapse of the free market capitalism. As any Democrat would tell you it is Bush Jr. “stupid” -- the moronic predecessor with a peanut-size brain and low IQ -- who should be faulted and not Obama! The unfortunate fact for the Democrats is that the “intellectually disadvantaged” predecessor is no longer occupying the White House; it is Obama today who must now find the Aladin’s magic lamp to rescue America from the ills of Bush Jr. It’s a tough job for the new president while people’s patience is running thin! Many Americans are increasingly showing tell tale signs of PTSD!

So what could be done with capitalism? Is it fixable? The BBC poll suggested some interesting results here. In 15 of the 27 countries polled, a great majority would like their government to be more active in owning or directly controlling their country’s major industries. The formula suggested is nationalization of heavy or major industries - that is more like the old socialist model. This view is particularly widely held in countries of the former Soviet states of Russia (77%), and Ukraine (75%), but also Brazil (64%), Indonesia (65%), and France (57%). Knowing too well how some former party insiders within the collapsing Soviet system had overnight become billionaires one can sympathize and understand the rationale that the people living in those newer republics of the former Soviet Union today want more stringent government oversight. We can also understand the mindset of people within Indonesia and Brazil, where capitalism has not been as deeply rooted as it is in Western Europe and North America. But what is wrong in France, now led by Sarkozy, a tiny Hungarian, who can be mistaken for a dwarf, who is forced to talk about national identity yet unable to address his citizens as did General de Gaulle? He probably needs a burqa to hide his hideous self since that is a more passionate subject for silly politicians like him that are devoid of any brilliant idea about fixing their country’s economy!

Majorities of the poll takers support governments distributing wealth more evenly in 22 of the 27 countries —on average two out of three (67%) across all countries. In 17 of the 27 countries most want to see government doing more to regulate business—on average 56%. As we all know, the poll takers’ desire here cannot materialize without dumping the free market capitalism, which does not allow for a fair or even distribution of wealth.

The poll also asked about whether the breakup of the Soviet Union was a good thing or not. An average of 54% people polled said that it was a good thing. This was the majority view though in only 15 of the countries polled. An average of 22% said that it was mainly a bad thing, while 24% was neutral. Among former Warsaw Pact countries, most Russians (61%) and Ukrainians (54%) believed that the breakup of the Soviet Union was a bad thing. In contrast, four in five Poles (80%) and nearly two-thirds of Czechs (63%) felt that the disintegration of the USSR was a good thing.

The poll numbers from Russia should not come as a shock to anyone familiar with recent media news reports that confirm the nostalgia in Russia about the “good old” days. Free market capitalism, once considered an elixir, has not done anything positive for most Russians. The gap between the rich and the poor, almost invisible during the Soviet era, is too visible these days, widening exponentially every passing day. As is well known among social scientists, when under stress, especially in difficult times, people tend to blame the present and picture a rosy picture of the past. Forgotten then are the memories of short supplies and long queues in front of stores. The generation that grew up in the 1960s, 1970s or 1980s associates their youth directly with the U.S.S.R. and see its once mighty empire fragmented into pieces, weak and vulnerable, having little role to play in the world today. Russia is not even part of G7! The younger generation, born after the collapse of the empire, feels romantic about an era that it has little knowledge about outside what it hears from the elders. Its theories are molded today by the despicable condition that it finds itself with a failed experiment with free market capitalism. So, we can understand the poll numbers from Putin’s Russia!

The BBC poll, while not a death-nail yet to the casket of all mighty free market capitalism, does poke some serious concerns about its health. If America fails to resuscitate her failing economy fast, thus reviving faith in its old economic system, it won’t be too far when one day we shall hear the death bell of free market capitalism. And who knows we may even see the resurrection of old socialism, or something entirely new that is a third way – a shift of paradigms from envy (destructive socialism) and greed (destructive capitalism) to contributive, distributive, and harmonic justice, so that interest-free money based on real goods rather than on debt can build universal capital ownership into every human being!

[The author is indebted to Peter Connors of the BBC for bringing the BBC poll results to his attention: Wide Dissatisfaction with Capitalism - Twenty Years after Fall of Berlin Wall.]
Ref: http://www.globescan.com/news_archives/bbc2009_berlin_wall/
To see the relevance of comments about Sarkozy, see, for instance, Shaykh AbdalQadir’s article: The political class as eunuchs, http://www.shaykhabdalqadir.com/content/articles/Art100_31102009.html
See, e.g., http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-adv/advertisers/russia/articles/society/20091028/back_to_the_ussr_of_your_dreams.html
See an interesting topic “Model Islamic Justice Project Launched to Close the Wealth Gap in a Just Third Way” by Dr. Robert D. Crane: http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/model_islamic_justice_project_launched_to_close_the_wealth_gap_in_a_just_th/

Friday, November 13, 2009

Comments on a SAAG article on supposedly US-Myanmar relationship

My attention has been drawn to an article: UNITED STATES: DRAMATIC POLITICAL REACH-OUT TO MYANMAR, A STRATEGIC IMPERATIVE, published in a website for the South Asian Strategy Group by one of its analysts Subhash Kapila (http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/%5Cpapers35%5Cpaper3470.html). The group claims to be a non-profit and non-commercial think tank, with a declared objective to advance strategic analysis and contribute to the expansion of knowledge of Indian and International security and promote public understanding. It does not mention who pays for the group. However, a close look at its many publications make it amply clear that it is possibly a front for the RAW, working towards Indo-centric strategies to influence the decision makers, strategic planners, academics and the media in South Asia and the world at large. As such, anything published from the SAAG ought to be taken with much caution.

Idealism has never been important to India and many such hegemonic powers of our time. They were always willing to sacrifice such at the altar of self-interest. Thus, it was not unnatural for India to tie her knots with the SPDC regime, and other previous military dictators of Burma. In recent years, since 9/11, she has also tied her dirty hands with Israel and the USA to stop Chinese influence in the region. Yes, China has relationship with Burma - where there are more similarities than oddities for China. China also has strong relationship with Sri Lanka, where she is building a huge naval base. China has also been a trusted (a term which is increasingly becoming obsolete these days of geo-political self-interest) friend of Pakistan, which sees herself cornered by Indo-Israeli sphere of influence in Afghanistan. But then there are still some 'neutral' countries in the region - like Bangladesh, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, where if the USA were to be serious about containing Chinese influence she would have a much better case to make that strategic inroad. (The USA, much in contrast to Kapila's theory, need not reach out to Myanmar if it is serious about an eastward strategic imperative!)

But as we have seen in the last few decades, the US interest has revolved around its own national security which is dependent on uninterrupted flow of oil to not only the USA but also its major allies - the European (more specifically the NATO) countries, and to some extent Japan. However, since the turn-around from Indo-China in the 1970s, the USA has not paid due attention to the eastward flow of oil through the Malacca Channel, concentrating more on the westward flow of oil from the Middle East. It is highly unlikely that under the Obama Administration we shall see a change in that strategy.

Oil or energy has decisively become very important for the survival of all developed and developing nations. China, for her own self-interest, wants to ensure the easiest and cheapest route for that inflow of oil. Shipment by sea is always much cheaper than over land. That is why China is more concerned about any shipment that would guarantee a cheaper flow of oil to her territories. The Sino-Myanmar relationship is built on that simple equation, and so do many other similar relationships in Africa, where China, followed by India, is buying millions of hectares of land, exploring oil and gas, and developing infrastructure to penetrate those markets.

Nor should we forget that the two major wars of this century owe themselves to oil. Had the Taliban government agreed to the the interest of the US oil companies in the closing days of Clinton and early days of Bush Jr., we may never have witnessed Afghanistan being attacked by the USA, whether or not 9/11 ever took place.

Kapila's analysis is a flawed one. Nowhere in his article did I get a hint of anything remotely stating that the USA had reached out to Myanmar. (If I am mistaken I would like to be corrected.) Many such analysts are basically working for the RAW to make a case for India, aiming to broaden India's hegemonic sphere of influence. Obviously, they know that as a poor country with much trouble spewing in the northeast corner, India on her own can't do it alone, she needs a big brother like the USA watching her back, so that in case of any tug of war with China, she could lean onto that brother. Kapila therefore conveniently ignores or leaves aside other better alternatives for the US strategy, and instead tries to pull her to tying her knots with the hated Myanmar regime.

The kowtowing of the so-called democratic Indian government with the brutal SPDC military oligarch has been nothing but a shameful and criminal display of self-interest that has resulted in prolonging the lifeline of the hated regime. India has no excuse for her despicable role in strengthening Myanmar. The hegemonic powers like that should not be trusted by anyone craving for human rights and fair play.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Comments on my previous article relating to Fort Hood violence

Soon after publication of my article on "Is America on a Wrong Track?", New Age, November 11, 2009, a reader, long known for his despicable cultural alienated attitude towards anything Islamic or Muslim wrote a letter to the editor of the newspaper with a copy to me. In that he equated the act of the shooter in the Fort Hoot, TX army camp with criminal activities of suicide bombers of the Taliban. He, like his past observations, drew inappropriate and flawed conclusions by confusing symptoms with causes. My editorial piece far from going after the symptoms of the violence, now widespread especially amongst the members of the Armed Forces of the USA, pointed out the root cause, which is the never-ending war that was unleashed by former President George W. Bush. War is stressful and can lead to PTSD, or more correctly, post-war disorder.

No Muslim takes the loss or killing of life lightly since the Qur'an could not have been more explicit on this matter when some 14 centuries ago it declared - "Whoever kills a human being... then it is as though he has killed all mankind; and whoever saves a human life it is as though he had saved all mankind."

What the Army doctor is allegedly reported to have done in Fort Hood, TX is criminal and condemnable. But to equate his alleged activity with that of a suicide bomber from the Taliban or al-Qaeda is debatable, if not utterly wrong, to say the least. Many of the U.S. war veterans, almost 40 percent, are now known to exhibit PTSD syndrome. While psychiatrists like the alleged killer are the ones who try to bring mental balance amongst the sufferers of this syndrome, studies have confirmed that thus far within the US Army, adequate attention to the very mental health of these providers - the doctors - has been missing. Many of these doctors can exhibit temporary insanity at any moment. If this simple fact was not clear to that reader, a talk with a psychiatrist, mental health expert, can help clear his ignorance.

What was also so hilarious was his proposing Gandhi's so-called non-violent method as a solution. I won't dwell upon this suggestion here since it is a very controversial subject in its own merit. Suffice it to say that the events leading to Gandhi's own assassination and the never-ending history of communal riots inside India do show very clearly that the method has not worked perfectly at its own source to remove the curse of violence that has been plaguing the country in the last 62 years. The reader's assertion about the success of Gandhi's fasting shows his ignorance of the history of the time.

A recent article in the Chicago Tribune by Zeenat Rahman agreed with my conclusions about the harmful effects of PTSD on many war veterans. But I was very disturbed reading some of the comments posted by bigots. One bigot questioned how could the shooter suffer from PTSD since he had not gone to the battlefield. True that the alleged shooter did not go to the battlefield, but anyone who is familiar with psychiatry would testify that these professionals are under tremendous mental stress. As human beings, many a time they are vulnerable to PTSD by simply listening and trying to help their victims. A prolonged war like the one we are seeing in Afghanistan and Iraq is now known to contribute PTSD syndrome amongst many war veterans. Very few can claim to be totally immune from its caustic effect.

Another bigot claimed that it was the violent passages in the Qur'an that was responsible for the shooting, i.e., the Islamic religion is violent by design. Let me state very clearly to such holier-than-thou bigots that if they are searching for such passages, they need not go beyond their own scriptures before passing judgment on the Qur'an. They simply have to study the Bible!

Ref: http://newsblogs. chicagotribune. com/religion_ theseeker/ 2009/11/zeenat- rahman-specter- of-fear-detracts -from-real- issues-.html
http://www.newagebd.com/2009/nov/11/edit.html#2

Sunday, November 8, 2009

American Economy, Election and Endless Wars

Is America on a wrong track? Is the Obama administration failing to fulfill people’s aspirations and expectations?
In Wednesday, Oct. 28, a 26-year-old soldier from Fort Carson, Colorado set to return to Afghanistan intentionally shot himself in the shoulder to avoid deployment. On Nov. 5, a 39-year-old army psychiatrist, who had faced repeated harassment for his ethnicity and faith from his fellow soldiers, shot dead 13 people at the "Soldier Readiness Center" in Fort Hood, Texas, military base. He was opposed to the war and upset about his impending deployment to Afghanistan. This tragedy once again shows how the very individuals that are trained to help victims of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are themselves losing their own mental balance. Suicide and killings amongst returning soldiers from their duties in Iraq and Afghanistan are at an all time high now. Researchers report that the rate of PTSD and other mental difficulties tied to war may be as high as 35%.
On Friday morning, Nov. 6, a 15-year-old boy shot a 17-year-old fellow student with a history of bullying the young shooter on a school bus in west Philadelphia. The same day a 40-year-old fired engineer opened fire in the offices of an engineering firm where he was let go more than two years ago killing one person and injuring five others. Just a few days ago a young man, in his early twenties, shot himself to death in my neighborhood. My neighbors told me that he had difficulty coping with stresses of life.
While the stock market has picked up, allowing some investors to recover losses suffered during the last couple of years, and the country appears to be pulling out of the recession, a full economic recovery may not happen anytime soon. The unemployment number is really bad in the world's biggest economy! In a fresh sign of financial misery at grassroots level, in October it rose to 10.2% from September's 9.8%, reaching its highest level since April 1983. Monthly figures from the US department of labor revealed that employers cut a higher-than-expected 190,000 jobs in October. There is a hiring freeze with many big corporations, especially for skilled workers. If any company is hiring, they want to hire for less pay. It seems it will take at least three years to recover the lost jobs.
It is not difficult, therefore, to understand why for the first time under President Obama, majority of Americans says the U.S.A. is on the wrong track (Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll conducted Oct. 22-25, 2009). Fifty-two percent say the country is on the wrong track compared to 36% who say it is headed in the right direction with 9% saying conditions are mixed and 3% undecided. President Obama's job approval rating stands at 51%, the same number it had been during the previous two months. But the approval ratio for his handling of the economy has slid down from 51 in September to 47% in October. Forty-nine percent are very dissatisfied with the state of the economy and another 31% are somewhat dissatisfied. Seventeen percent are somewhat satisfied and only 2% are very satisfied. What is also worrisome is that 58% percent say that worst has not yet come. Twenty-nine percent believe the economy has bottomed out. Forty-two percent believe things will get better in the next 12 months compared to 33% who say they will stay the same and 22% who predict things will be worse. Sixty-three percent believe that current conditions are due to factors President Obama inherited while 20% say he is responsible for them. Well, one can surmise that a majority of those 20% were die-hard Republicans who still refuse to come to terms with the mess that George W. had left the country with.
Predictably, Bob McDonnell led a Republican sweep in Virginia on Tuesday night defeating the democratic contender in the gubernatorial race. So did the Republican Chris Christie who won the New Jersey governor's race, defeating the incumbent Jon Corzine. The latter seemed to have run out of ideas other than raising taxes to balance a looming $8 billion state budget deficit. The state also had an alarming 9.7% unemployment rate. President Obama’s multiple visits to rally Democrats to Corzine's side did not help. As can be seen, however, from a Fairleigh Dickinson University poll, conducted on Monday, just a day before the election, the defeat was by no means a verdict on Obama’s presidency. The poll found 68% saying the country was heading in the right direction while only 34% saying that about New Jersey.
The WSJ/NBC poll numbers are equally bad for the Congress and on other burning issues. For example, 65% disapprove of the job Congress is doing compared to 24% who approve with 11% undecided. On health care, 42% say the reform plan Obama is pushing is a bad idea, 38% say it's a good idea and 16% have no opinion, with another 4% unsure. Forty-five percent say it is better to pass his plan compared to 39% who disagree. Forty-eight percent disapprove Obama's handling of the health care issue while 43% approve with 9 percent undecided, a ratio that has grown more negative since last month. On foreign affairs, the public approves of his handling of this area by 51% to 39% with 10% undecided. On Afghanistan, Americans support a troop increase by 47% to 43% with 10% undecided. However, when asked about specifics about increasing the number of troops, Americans oppose sending large contingents of troops, and nowhere close to the number requested by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan. The public is divided at 45% each on the option of withdrawing nearly all troops and using Predator drones and Special Forces to attack al Qaeda camps.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost some 5,000 dead American soldiers, a trillion dollars, and a divided America facing an endless war. General McChrystal needs at least another 40,000 soldiers to avoid the risk of "mission failure" in Afghanistan. Pakistan, which sided with the USA in Afghanistan, now has a war of her own to fight inside. As if these were not enough of a wakeup call to revise America’s interventionist policies, Israel and its powerful lobby are trying to push America to open yet another warfront with Iran. It goes without saying that Israel has mastered the art of exploiting regional instability to prolong her illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories.
On Nov. 3, the House of Representatives passed H.Res.867, condemning the Report of the UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict (known informally as the Goldstone Report) as "irredeemably biased and unworthy of further consideration or legitimacy," by a vote of 344 to 36 with 22 abstentions. Through its vote, the U.S. Congress has once again proven that it has lost moral compass and is too reluctant even in the post-Bush era to shed its image as Israel’s “Amen Corner.” As the current events have also proven the Obama administration is simply impotent against Israel. It is not difficult to understand why Mahmoud Abbas will not seek re-election.
President Obama is now under tremendous pressure to decide as to what to do with Bush’s Global War on Terror. His anti-war supporters, the independents -- who played the decisive role in the last year’s election to put him to the White House, are noticing how he is failing them, compromising at every step to please the war party. Will he embrace the same fate as President Johnson? Will he just be a one-time president?
For those of us who are tired of America’s pyrrhic wars, not everything is lost. On Nov. 4, an Italian court convicted 22 CIA operatives and a U.S. Air Force colonel of orchestrating the kidnapping of a Muslim cleric in Milan in 2003 and flying him to Egypt where he was allegedly tortured. The Americans were all tried in absentia. A Milan prosecutor said his office would seek to have them extradited from the United States, but a formal decision will be made later by the Italian Justice Ministry. The case is the only instance in which CIA operatives have faced a criminal trial for the controversial tactic of extraordinary rendition, under which terrorism suspects are seized in one country and forcibly transported to another without judicial oversight. The verdict, first of its kind, sends a strong signal against the crimes of the CIA and puts the so-called Global War on Terror on trial. A similar case involving a German citizen kidnapped in the Balkans has resulted in arrest warrants and a civil lawsuit but has not gone to trial.

These are some of the tell tale signs that things are rotting inside America. Seemingly, the American nation is suffering from PTSD. She needs psychiatric help. She needs an overhaul and not false promises. She has to get out of the vicious culture of war that is responsible for her breakdown – mental, moral, social and economical. Until Americans understand that wars are bad for the economy (especially when these are not short-term wars) and are not the prudent ways to promote national security or settle scores on terrorism, they will continue to send warmongers – sold to the military industrial complex -- into power that will prefer war over peaceful resolutions of such problems. If Americans have failed to learn anything from their recent troubles, nothing probably will educate them.

One can only hope that America will have the hindsight to abandon her outdated methods and do things that are morally right, just, fair and lawful. The sooner the better!

Monday, November 2, 2009

My interview with the Energy & Power: Delayed Decision Stimulates Energy Sector Corruption

My interview with Mollah Amzad Hossain, Editor of the Energy & Power magazine, vol. 7, issue 9, Nov. 2, 2009 (http://www.ep-bd.com/news.php?id=373) can be read below:

Too many things are seemingly wrong with Bangladesh’s energy sector. Bangladesh lacks the right people in right place to making the right decision at the right time. It has failed not only to attract its skilled expatriates to return and take the mantle of leadership but also to retain its talented workforce. Outside the mediocrity in the technical and administrative leadership and lack of human resources and infrastructure, corruption is another dynamics that has a caustic and crippling effect on anything that it comes across, thereby adversely hindering the development initiative and smooth functioning of the energy sector. Many investors are compelled to bribe so that they can soften the attitude of bureaucrats and expedite matters in their favor. In that process often times it is the undeserving vendor that is chosen over more qualified ones. So, unless corruption is dealt severely and weeded out, it will continue to create a vicious cycle that breeds corruption and in the process gets sustained from players both within and outside the government.



This is how Dr. Habib Siddiqui, Non-resident Bangladeshi Energy Expert, a 1977 graduate in Chemical Engineering from BUET sketches the horizon in Bangladesh’s energy sector. Dr. Siddiqui has graduate degrees in both chemical and nuclear engineering from some of the leading research and engineering universities in North America. He earned his PhD in chemical engineering from the prestigious University of Southern California, Los Angeles, doing research in the area of enhanced oil recovery from disordered porous media. His web of technical interest also includes nuclear energy. He is a certified Master Black Belt in Six Sigma who has led deployment initiative within three major U.S. corporations (including Merck & Co., where he was a Director lately). He has authored more than 400 articles on a plethora of subjects from scientific and technical to international politics and human rights.



During his brief visit to Bangladesh, Siddiqui (HS) spoke to Energy & Power (EP) Editor Mollah Amzad Hossain. The following is the excerpt of his interview.



EP: How do you evaluate the crisis of energy in Bangladesh?



HS: Like many other 3rd world countries an efficient private sector has not flourished in Bangladesh. Massive government initiative was essential for the development of energy infrastructure, which could not be done for various reasons and that has kept us far behind many other countries today. What upsets me deeply is when I compare our particular case with that of our neighbour -- Myanmar, a country that is ruled by a ruthless military oligarchy for nearly half a century with the worst record in human rights. They are quite aggressive in their bid to explore petroleum resources in offshore. Side by side, they are active in establishing their right on the maritime boundary by submitting claim with the UNO.



And look at us. We have a longer history of democracy in Bangladesh. We have a more educated and talented technical workforce. Sadly, our government in the last four decades has done a lousy job to establish our rights on the maritime boundary and exploring natural resources. It is slow and shortsighted. We react rather than act. We are therefore always a few steps behind our more aggressive neighbours - India and Myanmar. Bangladesh would have been well positioned to avoiding the mess we find ourselves today, if we were thinking and taking the right initiative for offshore exploration for petroleum resources years ago. The lack of government initiative on our natural resources has been a terrible mistake, slowing our progress.



EP: After the independence, the Bangabandhu Government was the first among the South Asian countries to start offshore exploration for petroleum. What are the reasons for government’s inactions and why we lagged behind compared to our neighbours?



HS: Let’s take Petrobangla. I don’t think its works are transparent. Both Petrobangla and PETRONUS were born almost at the same time. Today you can see where they stand and their positions. The public perception is that Petrobangla has neither the capability nor the courage to take independent decision that is based on sound technical expertise; it is run by political whims. As a result, we the public are skeptical of its role in protecting our national interest. The failure to confront Magurchara and Tengratila blow-outs showcased Petrobangla’s inexcusable inability to deal with those kinds of critical issues of our national interest. The government has failed to ensure efficiency and effectiveness of state-owned enterprises. It has also failed to provide incentives that are necessary for the growth of the private sectors.



Now as to your question on why the government has failed, there are many reasons I can cite. However, for our purpose here, I shall try to limit these to a few.



You need a representative government that caters and cares for public interest. It must understand the trust it carries and carry out the task diligently, honestly and transparently. Do we have that kind of government? The unfortunate political changes of 1975 triggered a domino effect that affected negatively each and every sector in our country. Energy sector has also suffered the burnt since then. After taking power, General Ziaur Rahman initiated the process of implanting military bureaucrats in many government-run institutions, including the energy sector companies, a process that was to continue until the end of the Ershad dictatorship. Instead of the people’s representatives, making the energy policy and ensuring that our people gets the best from any deal the bureaucrats in the military and civil administration took total control of the energy sector. With lack of accountability to people, they became corrupt and self-serving. Gradually, corruption got institutionalized over the next 17 years. Consequently, petty personal interests were served and development visions of these institutions were stalled by ignoring technical considerations.



The meritorious and competent professionals found no alternatives but to leave the country. The brain-drain of competent professionals from energy sector was simply alarming, and yet the successive governments didn’t take any initiative to stop this phenomenon. In the last 18 years, the elected governments have spoken about the talented non-resident Bangladeshis, or more correctly, the expatriates, and how they could have enabled technology transfer. But all such were empty talks. I still have not seen any concrete proof of engaging our expatriate experts into reviving the energy sector.



I remember when I was a BUET sophomore or junior discussing about the exploration of coal from northern Bangladesh and utilizing it for power generation in a class project discussion that was initiated by Dr Iqbal Mahmud. And look at it some 30 plus years later, we are nowhere close to mining that coal reserve! That coal remains underground while we complain about lack of power generation!



EP: Who are responsible for that?



HS: Obviously the political leadership. I hold it accountable for our failure in energy security. After Bangabandhu’s death, in all these years of Bangladesh, I have failed to find a single leader who really cared about Bangladesh and its ordinary people – the Salimuddin and Kalimuddins within our society. Every politician today, with rare exceptions, seems to care more about his or her greed. Politics is a vehicle for personal enrichment and victimization of others. These are by all means sure recipes for disaster and not nation-building.



We need a people’s government that truly cares, thinks rationally and is willing to formulate a policy that is built on hard facts and consensus-driven, and is aggressive enough to execute it once a decision is taken. Our past governments have miserably failed to provide proper policy and guidance for the energy sector. This has caused enormous harm to our economy, leaving us behind and almost unprepared to deal with alarming gaping energy shortage.



The bottom line is we need a patriotic political leadership that can initiate a fresh revival. We need right people in the right place making right decisions at the right time. Initiatives must be taken to develop governance, transparency and efficiency with everything we do. We need a healthy working environment that is built on meritocracy, and not sycophancy. We must retain the best of our talented workforce through a reward and recognition system, and enable a process that helps our technical folks to exchange and learn from their more talented and skilled expatriates. We must take lessons from other countries and provide appropriate pay packages to qualified professionals. If we fail in this talent management program, it won’t be too long that Bangladesh would be bereft of its best brains. Already, an alarming 80 to 90% of the best engineers have chosen to leave Bangladesh for bettering their livelihoods.



EP: Does that mean that energy sector development should remain stalled till Bangladesh’s energy sector enterprises and manpower acquires efficiency?



HS: No, I did not mean that. If we could afford to be self-reliant, capable and effective ourselves of doing the right thing, definitely it would have been better for us. But we are nowhere close to that ideal situation.



The globalization factor has completely changed our old thinking. We are forced to find the best alternative fast under the situation we are in. Even a communist country like China has opened all its sectors including energy to foreign investment – and mind that, to capitalist countries – its once-mortal foes. In terms of technology transfer in the energy sector that we are talking about, e.g., oil and coal exploration, Bangladesh is in its infantile stage. It needs someone to grab its tender arm and show it how to walk. That will be a much prudent way than being stupidly self-reliant while we don’t know the basics. Government can play a big role in encouraging both local and foreign investment to vitalize our energy sector.



EP: A section of civil society under the banner of Oil, Gas & Port Protection Committee (OGPC) is opposing open pit coal mining and leasing of offshore blocks to IOCs for exploration. How do you evaluate that?



HS: There are environmentalist groups in many countries, including the USA. They are quite active and protest on matters that seem harmful to them in a peaceful manner and the governments are not too offended by their activism. In these days of the Internet, many of these groups also have a very active petition campaign where individual supporters are asked to write to their elected representatives to oppose something that is controversial. You won’t see there the kind of vandalism that takes place in Bangladesh.



I strongly disagree with what the agitators are doing in Bangladesh. I believe this group is acting against national interest with funding from foreign sources. Our ordinary people, the vast majority, are not behind them. I observe with utter surprise when some University teachers get involved with them. They are not only hindering the development of the energy sector but also causing an image crisis for the country. We must note it. Whose purposes are being served by these agitators who oppose the coal mining and offshore oil and gas exploration? It is really saddening to see that we are not mining our high quality, less environment-polluting coal while we allow poor quality Indian coal polluting our environment. This attitude is simply unbelievable! I suspect that these agitators are basically serving the causes and interests of India, and not of Bangladesh.



EP: Agitators are opposing coal mining and offshore PSC. They are propagating that coal should only be mined after ensuring domestic need. What is your evaluation?



HS: If we like to discuss the PSC agreements, we can do that. Any agreement may have merits and demerits. If any clause of any agreement is found to be compromising national interest after signing of agreement, these can be mitigated always through negotiations. The modern commercial world does not favour arbitrary termination or scrapping of signed agreement. All agreements have inbuilt mechanism how these will be operated. Controversies of any signed agreement have to be resolved through negotiation. Government has to take initiative for that.



On the other hand regarding exploration of natural resources in the offshore, I am being reminded of a story in the Holy Quran. The Prophet Moses (Musa (AS)) had a wonderful encounter with Khidir (AS). The story is mentioned in the Surah al-Kahf. Khidir allowed Musa to accompany him on the condition that he must not ask any question as long he is with him. They went to a town where people did not give them food to eat or water to drink. But on the way, Khidir saw a wall that was on the verge of collapse and he fixed it. This behavior puzzled Musa (AS) who could not keep quite. He asked Khidir why he had fixed the wall. Khidir explained that the property where the wall stood belonged to some orphans whose God-fearing parents had hidden some treasure underneath that wall hoping that when their kids would grow up they would find the hidden treasure. It was God’s wish that such a treasure be not made visible to others before they come of age. So, fearing that collapsing wall might bare the hidden treasure, Khidir fixed the wall.



There is a big lesson in this story of the Qur’an. In contrast to the hidden treasure, the maritime resources of the Bay of Bengal, which is our share, now remains exposed and is getting stolen unless we try to grab which is ours before everything is lost. However, we are not mature enough to do this task ourselves. We need partners that can help us protect our rights. If we wait too long till we acquire capacity to explore and exploit nothing will be left for us. In this context, I am in favour of the initiative for PSC that has been taken to explore it now. We have already made much delay. We must not waste any more time. For exploring other blocks, the government must take appropriate initiative to resolve maritime boundary disputes.



EP: What government should do to encourage investment in energy sector?



HS: Not too long I have written on government measures needed to encourage foreign investment. There has to be transparency and simplifying of the government procedures for investment. It is too bureaucratic today with lots of steps, and sign-offs, which require, unfortunately, bribes to move from one area to the next. The system needs to be simple and investment-friendly so that every investor sees it to be fair and not bogged into corruption.



The government must first correctly assess how much investment is required for energy sector. Government should also decide how much it can invest from its own sources. As to the rest, it must have a clear vision on how much investment it may need from different sources.



As I hinted above, our government must realize that the bureaucracy is the main deterrent force toward attracting FDI. And for transparency in concluding agreements, we must take lessons from other countries. The policymakers must realize that dilly-dally attitude in decision making encourages corruption. Corruption must be weeded out to help investment.