Friday, January 29, 2010

Did Obama Sound Hypocrtical When Asked About Human Rights Violations in Israel?

Remember all the high expectations about US President Barack Obama's promise to deliver peace and even-handedness in matters dealing with the Muslim world vis-a-vis Israel? In recent months he has forgotten such promises, as is obvious from his government's opposition to the UN fact finding mission on Gaza, and the ensuing Goldstone Report. It is clear that he has caved into pressure from Israel-firsters both within his administration and the "Amen Corner" in the Capitol Hill.

Soon after his State of the Union speech, Obama has been traveling to sell his new ideas of putting America back on the right track for economic recovery. He visited Florida. There at a gathering of university students on Thursday, Laila Abdel-Aziz, a university student, who added that she worked on Obama's campaign last year, asked him, "Last night in your State of the Union address, you spoke of America's support for human rights. Then why have we not condemned Israel and Egypt's human rights violations against the occupied Palestinian people? We continue to support [Israel and Egypt] financially, with billions of dollars coming from our tax dollars."

From his response, it was clear that Obama was not prepared for such a tough question which would only unmask his hypocrisy on matters related to the Middle East, esp. the rogue Zionist state. He said, the United States would always ensure Israel's security but that Washington must also pay attention to the plight of the Palestinians.

I was not impressed with Obama's answer--but was impressed that a question about Palestinian human rights and U.S. aid to Israel was the first one asked, and that it was a student who'd worked on Obama's campaign that asked it. As noted by "End the Occupation" group, which comprise of Jews for Peace initiative, it is obvious that slowly and slowly, the discourse is changing in this country. People are no longer afraid of asking politically incorrect questions that affect our nation. Truly, when was the last time you heard a question about U.S. aid to Israel being aired on CNN?

As I write this, yet another high-profile Palestinian leader of nonviolent resistance to the Apartheid Wall has been arrested by the Israeli military. Mohammad Khatib, a leader of the struggle against the Wall in the West Bank village of Bil'in and a coordinator of the Popular Struggle Coordinating Committee, was taken from his house in a pre-dawn raid.

Will the USA administration ever have the moral courage to say that enough is enough with such human rights violations of the Jewish/Zionist state? Or will we let ourselves ignore such crimes while we complain about violations in other parts of the Muslim world? Will hypocrisy be the hallmark of Obama Administration, much in common with his predecessors'?

Shame on the hypocrites if they think that they could simply fool everyone for all time!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

American people's historian - Howard Zinn: an obituary

Dr. Howard Zinn, historian, teacher and political activist, died of a heart attack on Wednesday at the age of 87. He was an early opponent of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. To him, “There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people for a purpose which is unattainable.” He also didn’t buy Bush-Cheney’s justifications to go to wars in the Muslim world. In the January 2006 issue of the Progressive magazine, he wrote, “Terrorism became the justification for war, but war is itself terrorism, breeding rage and hate, as we are seeing now.”

In the aftermath of 9/11, when the War Party was busy conniving and selling the toxic tablets of war, Dr. Zinn didn’t find anything “just” about invading Afghanistan. In a December 2001 essay he wrote, “How can a war be truly just when it involves the daily killing of civilians, when it causes hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children to leave their homes to escape the bombs, when it may not find those who planned the September 11 attacks, and when it will multiply the ranks of people who are angry enough at this country to become terrorists themselves? This war amounts to a gross violation of human rights, and it will produce the exact opposite of what is wanted: It will not end terrorism; it will proliferate terrorism.” And Dr. Zinn has been proven right.

Professor Zinn’s popular book “A People’s History of the United States” sold nearly two million copies since its publication in 1980. True to its title, the book challenged the conventional historical account about America by presenting the perspective of the slaughtered and mutilated. It exposed the genocidal devastations of Christopher Columbus, the blood lust of Theodore Roosevelt, the racial failings of Abraham Lincoln, and the revolutionary struggles of impoverished farmers, laborers and resisters of slavery and war. It was a radical book that inspired many folks around the world - young and old -- to rethink American experience in a critical way.

Looking at the growth of the anti-war and peace movements in the USA, there is no doubt that Dr. Zinn changed the conscience of America in a highly constructive way. As MIT Professor Noam Chomsky noted, “Both by his actions, and his writings for 50 years, he played a powerful role in helping and in many ways inspiring the Civil rights movement and the anti-war movement.”

In 1967 Dr. Zinn published Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal. It was the first book on the war to call for immediate withdrawal without any condition. He spoke at many rallies and teach-ins to oppose America’s war in Vietnam. He drew national attention when he and Rev. Daniel Berrigan, another leading antiwar activist, went to Hanoi in 1968 to receive three prisoners released by the North Vietnamese. In 1971 he was severely beaten by Boston Police at a protest rally against the war.

Dr. Zinn’s basic message remained that war doesn’t solve any fundamental problem, and creates insidiously a common morality for all sides: “It poisons everyone who is engaged in it, however different they are in many ways, turns them into killers and torturers, as we are seeing now. It pretends to be concerned with toppling tyrants, and may in fact do so, but the people it kills are the victims of the tyrants. It appears to cleanse the world of evil, but that does not last, because its very nature spawns more evil. Wars, like violence in general, I concluded, is a drug. It gives a quick high, the thrill of victory, but that wears off and then comes despair.”

Dr. Zinn opposed sanctions against Iraq during the Clinton era, and called for withdrawal of U.S. forces from Saudi Arabia and Israel from the Occupied Palestinian Territories. From his criticism of Israeli policies, very few people, especially in the Muslim world, would recognize that Dr. Zinn was born in New York City on Aug. 24, 1922 to a family of poor Jewish immigrants. When Professor Joel Kovel, a fellow Jew, who had taught at Bard College for 21 years, was fired prejudicially last year for his published articles [e.g., "Zionism's Bad Conscience,” “Left-Anti-Semitism and the Special Status of Israel"] and book “Overcoming Zionism” (Pluto Press, London, UK) that were critical of the state of Israel, Dr. Zinn criticized the college decision for obstructing open discussion on a controversial subject like Zionism. Dr. Zinn also criticized the decision of University of Michigan when after receiving a series of complaining and threatening emails and letters from an ultra-Zionist group called StandWithUs, it withdrew from distribution Prof. Joel Kovel’s book “Overcoming Zionism.”

Professor Zinn was against the Holocaust industry and its merchants and promoters who had selective amnesia about horrendous crimes of the rogue Zionist state against its indigenous Palestinian people and justify further Israeli expansion into Palestinian land. Many years ago, when asked by a Jewish group to give a talk on the Holocaust at the Boston University (BU) campus, Dr. Zinn spoke not about the Holocaust of World War II but about other Holocausts taking place then. In his words, “It was the mid-Eighties, and the United States government was supporting death squad governments in Central America, so I spoke of the deaths of hundreds of thousands of peasants in Guatemala and El Salvador, victims of American policy. My point was that the memory of the Jewish Holocaust should not be encircled by barbed wire, morally ghettoized, kept isolated from other genocides in history.” To him, “If the Holocaust was to have any meaning, I thought, we must transfer our anger to the brutalities of our time. We must atone for our allowing the Jewish Holocaust to happen by refusing to allow similar atrocities to take place now—yes, to use the Day of Atonement not to pray for the dead but to act for the living, to rescue those about to die.” As a true humanist, Zinn was anti-thesis of charlatans like Elie Wiesel who would not even recognize the Holocaust of millions of non-Jews during World War II on the pretext that such a labeling would, what he called, “dilute,” “falsify” or “steal” “Holocaust from us.”

During the Great Depression years Howard Zinn grew up in the slums of Brooklyn. He graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School and became a pipe fitter in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where he met his future wife, Roslyn Shechter. He joined the Army Air Corps in 1943, and married Roslyn in October 1944, while he was on his first furlough. During World War II, he served as a bombardier in a B-17 and was awarded the Air Medal, and attained the rank of second lieutenant. As is obvious from his many speeches and writings, he deeply regretted dropping bombs in Japan. In his words, “Only after the war did I begin to question the purity of the moral crusade. Dropping bombs from five miles high, I had seen no human beings, heard no screams, seen no children dismembered. But now I had to think about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the fire-bombings of Tokyo and Dresden, the deaths of 600,000 civilians in Japan, and a similar number in Germany. I came to a conclusion about the psychology of myself and other warriors: Once we decided, at the start, that our side was the good side and the other side was evil, once we had made that simple and simplistic calculation, we did not have to think anymore. Then we could commit unspeakable crimes and it was all right.”

After the war, Howard Zinn worked at a series of menial jobs until entering New York University on the GI Bill as a 27-year-old freshman. He worked nights in a warehouse loading trucks to support his studies. He received his bachelor’s degree from NYU, followed by master’s and doctoral degrees in history from Columbia University.

Before joining Boston University in 1964 as an associate professor, Dr. Zinn was an instructor at Upsala College, a lecturer at Brooklyn College and chairman of the history department at Spelman College (a historically black women’s college) in Atlanta. He was named full professor at BU two years later in 1966. He retired in 1988, concluding his last class early so that he could join a picket line. He invited his students to join him; nearly a quarter of students did.

Howard Zinn considered war as the enemy of the human race and did everything possible as an educator and activist to oppose it. He said, “The abolition of war has become not only desirable but absolutely necessary if the planet is to be saved. It is an idea whose time has come.” Will our generation ever come together to save our planet to abolish this curse of war or will it let the military industrial complex to drag us to future wars that will be more atrocious and devastating than anything we have witnessed before?

With the death of Dr. Zinn there is no doubt that the anti-war and peace movement in the USA has lost one of its best activists and an honest historian that the public trusted.

References:
http://progressive.org/mag_zinn0106
http://www.progressive.org/0901/zinn1101.html
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/29/us/29zinn.html
Boston Globe, January 28, 2010
http://www.democracynow.org/2010/1/28/howard_zinn_1922_2010_a_tribute
Ibid.
http://www.progressive.org/0901/zinn1101.html
Ibid.
For a good review of the book, see, e.g., http://www.codz.org/node/12
http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/60/145.html
http://progressive.org/mag_zinn0106
Ibid.
Ibid.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Was the attempt by the Nigerian student a false flag operation?

http://info-wars.org/2010/01/04/intelligence-sources-plane-incident-a-false-flag-involving-trinity-of-cia-mossad-and-raw/
http://globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=16892
http://www.sott.net/articles/show/200114-Evidence-Mounts-for-US-Complicity-in-Terrorism-Mutallab-s-father-is-no-ordinary-banker


Today my attention was brought to the above links which mention about possible link of some intelligent sources in the failed bombing attempt on the NW Airlines airplane on the Christmas day.

Lately, we have seen the TV appearance of someone claiming to be OBL taking, as usual, credit for the failed attempt. Many doubters consider such appearances as very convenient tools employed by the CIA to make a case for existence of terrorism. (See, e.g., http://www.veteranstoday.com/2010/01/24/israel-please-no-more-bin-laden-tapes-nobody-is-buying-it/) They don't believe that the picture is that of the real OBL either. Interestingly, such OBL tapes mysteriously always appear to boost the USA government's justification for prolonging the so-called GWOT. They appeared to defeat Kerry in the last election when he ran against Bush, Jr.

We live in a world where we often cannot say where the real truth lies, and where and how it separates itself from falsehood. We are not sure who is saying the truth. I shall leave it to my readers to decide on their own what they make of the link of the intelligence agencies towards false flag operation.

Who makes up terrorists? My billion-dollar theory!

Since the failed attempt by a young Nigerian to blow-up an airplane in Detroit, I have been trying to get an understanding of what is common on such terrorists and would-be-terrorists? We know about what motivates them to get into the field (my book on Terrorism, available at Amazon.com has provided ample of analysis and evidences on that subject), but rarely did we study about the particular background they come from. As noted by Newsweek editor Fareed Zakaria these guys are not necessarily from poor families, which usually is the case or at least was believed to be so by many experts. We also noticed that terrorism even uses mentally handicapped people as its time bombers who would explode themselves or be remotely exploded by an agent.

As I have maintained all along suicide of any kind is haram in Islam. It is also the opinion of all scholars in Islam. Well, there are some recent exceptions though on this consensus of our ulama from some people who try to portray themselves as experts on such matters. But they are not and remain a very small minority. They are not obscure though since the western media and their agents in the east have highlighted their absurd views as if they conform to the majority opinion. No, they don't.

My years of research into the published information concerning personal lives of many terrorists makes me to conclude that they mostly come from broken families. Most of them missed a father-like figure who was needed as they grew up from being a child to an adult being. This negligence within the immediate family surroundings created within them a sense of being liked or approved by others, even taking on risky businesses which others won't. Psychologically speaking, they are, therefore, more emotional than most other children having a normal upbringing in the family. With a little dose of an ideology or a cause from a passionate preacher or leader and suffering of a people that they cared for these individuals can be more easily recruited to become foot-soldiers of terrorism.

(See my book: Democracy, Politics and Terrorism - America's Quest for Security in the Age of Insecurity, available in the Amazon.com to get a comprehensive understanding of the subject.)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Loss in Massachusetts: Ominous Sign for Obama?

In politics things are never as good as they seem and they are never as bad as they seem. Who would have thought that just a year after President Obama’s swearing in the National Mall, Washington D.C., a Republican who is an anti-thesis of almost everything that the late Senator Ted Kennedy stood for will win the vacated senatorial seat in the state of Massachusetts? But that’s what has happened on January 19 when Scott Brown, a Republican state senator for only five years, shocked and humiliated the White House and the Democratic Party establishment by defeating Martha Coakley in the race for the U.S. Senate seat.

It is really a shocking result considering the fact that states do not come more Democratic than Massachusetts, the only one that voted for George McGovern over President Richard Nixon in 1972. In this state, Mr. Obama won in 2008 with 62 percent of the vote. Now that very blue state has challenged the legacy of Edward M. Kennedy, a liberal icon who had held the contested seat for 46 years before his death. The Republican victory could only be daunting to the liberal and left. What a contrast with the liberal lion in the Senate? Mr. Brown supports water-boarding as an interrogation technique for terrorism suspects, opposes a federal cap-and-trade program to reduce carbon emissions and opposes a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants unless they leave the country.

Is this poll result a repudiation of President Obama or his policy or both? Ms. Coakley lost in no small part because of what many Democrats viewed as a lousy campaign against a sharp and focused opponent. She seemed to have the public persona of a flounder. Even the last minute appearance by Obama on Sunday could not rescue her from voter dissatisfaction with her. The lack of enthusiasm and turn-out among Democrats and Independents, in contrast to large turn out amongst the Republicans, contributed to her loss. David Axelrod, a senior adviser to Mr. Obama, did not view the results as a repudiation of the White House’s agenda, but he acknowledged that the administration needed to do a more effective job of signaling concern about the problems gripping Americans, for instance, unemployment rate.

As the unemployment rate climbed up from 7.5% to 10% in the last 12 months, so did Obama’s disapproval rating from 12% to 44%. There is such a strong R-square (90%) fit between the response variable and the predictor – unemployment rate, no analyst can ignore the obvious cause for Obama’s disapproval rate. As noted recently by George Will, the underemployment rate – the unemployed, plus those employed part time, plus those discouraged persons who have stopped looking jobs -- is actually much higher; it’s 17.3%. Almost 40% of the unemployed have been so for more than seven months or more (Newsweek, January 25, ’09). Bottom line: as long as the unemployment rate and underemployment rate remain high the presidential approval rate will suffer.

Since the recession began in December 2007, during the Bush era of mismanagement and colossal crime and stupidity, Congress has passed two stimulus packages - $168 billion in February 2008 and $787 billion in February 2009. Last month, Congress also passed a $154 billion jobs bill. While these have helped the economy to slightly grow in the last six months, the job creation has been very sluggish and disappointing, which is hurting most Americans.

Some Republicans would say that the election result was all about sending a clear message to the White House that the American people are tired of Obama and his policies - the “changes” he has been preaching. They want their kind of changes. Republicans want a smaller government, which as we have seen before is incapable of fulfilling public’s trust in terms of ensuring government regulations, law and order, except, of course, national security where they are penny-wise and pound-foolish. They created the current financial crisis and yet don’t want the government to fix it. They don’t want Obama to tax the banks to pay for the bailout. They don’t like getting out of Afghanistan; they want to stay the course, just like their Senator-elect Brown. Oddly, they don’t want to cut the budget; but they want to stop spending except, of course, when it comes to the troops, who need all the support we can give them! So, how does one balance the budget? You do the math. I guess, you need a voodoo economist to balance the budget!

Americans are still paying down their debts that fueled the consumption during the Bush-Cheney era between 2001 and 2007, before the recession hit. Household debt is still 30% above what it was a decade ago, and 23% of homeowners with mortgages now have homes whose values are less than the amount owed on the mortgages. According to George Will, in 2015 interest payment on the national debt will require a sum equal to one-third of income tax revenues ($533 billion). That is the pathetic state of largest capitalist economy in the world! As its economy falters so would its political empire crumble, unless, of course, the right fixes are found to stop the bleeding process. The sooner the better!

Many believe that the Massachusetts election result was a reflection of the mood of the voters who were tired of rising taxes in a recession year. Massachusetts is not unique with its own state problem. States are not getting federal bail-out money for their pathetic economic condition. Most states are knee-deep in debt, and are trying to function via rising taxes which hurt the electorates. That was the root cause which contributed earlier to the defeat of two Democratic gubernatorial candidates in New Jersey and Virginia. Voters like services without having to pay for those. They hate raising taxes.

Healthcare Bill:
Whatever the case may be, the worst casualty in this election result seems to be the health care bill overhauling the nation’s health care system, which the late Senator Kennedy had called “the cause of my life.” Stripped of the 60th vote needed to block Republican filibusters in the Senate, some Democrats themselves (including Speaker Pelosi) are not sure any more if the Senate bill would pass in the Congress. Some believe that more bipartisanship will be required with the Republican naysayers in an effort to move legislation through Congress.

The bill is now a centrist document, very similar to the one passed in Massachusetts few years ago by the then Governor Mitt Romney, a Republican. Even then the Republicans are now dead-set to oppose the bill so that Democrats are denied the success in passing the historic bill. Politics is a nasty thing even in the USA. Still the Democrats can’t give up the health care bill issue for that would be a political folly, as noted by economist Paul Krugman. Their abandonment of the issue will make them appear like sore losers, ineffectual and hapless. They must note that the horrors of health insurance — outrageous premiums, coverage denied to those who need it most and dropped when you actually get sick — will get only worse if reform fails, and insurance companies know that they’re off the hook. And voters will blame politicians who, when they had a chance to do something, made excuses instead. The Democrats in the Capitol Hill, who are still a solid majority, simply can’t afford a failure on this vital issue. They must try to pass the bill.

Tea Party:
Beyond the bill, the election of a man supported by the Tea Party movement, promoted by the right-wing conservative Fox News, also represented an unexpected reproach by many voters to President Obama after his first year in office. Most of those associated with the movement are either closet or overt racists who hate to see a Black American in the White House. They can’t say it aloud but are doing everything that is possible to steer opposition for everything that Obama stands for. These are ominous signs for America, where race still matters.

Guantanamo Bay:
Just like the healthcare issue and the senatorial election, too many things are not going right for the Obama Administration. It’s failing its liberal support base and also the centrists, the independents, with unfulfilled promises. A year after his inauguration and executive order outlawing torture, the Guantanamo Bay prison remains open with some 200 detainees. His administration has recently decided to continue to imprison without trials nearly 50 detainees because a high-level task force has concluded that they are too difficult to prosecute but too dangerous to release. The Obama administration has also decided that nearly 40 other detainees should be prosecuted for terrorism or related war crimes. And the remaining 110 or so prisoners should be repatriated or transferred to other countries for possible release. In the aftermath of failed bombing attempt of an airplane bound for Detroit on Christmas the administration recently halted transfer of Yemeni detainees to Yemen because it believed that the bombing plot was developed by an affiliate of al-Qaeda that is based in Yemen.

In the meantime, the Guantanamo detainees continue to be abused, and their treatment fails to meet the minimum standards of humane treatment mandated by the Geneva Conventions, the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 (the so-called McCain amendment), United States and international law, or even Mr. Obama’s executive order. For example, an appendix to the Army Field Manual allows the military to keep a detainee in “separation” — solitary confinement — indefinitely. It requires only that a general approve any extension after 30 days. As noted by Matthew Alexander, author of “How to Break a Terrorist,” even the initial 30 days of isolation could be considered abusive.
The Army Field Manual also does not explicitly prohibit stress positions, putting detainees into close confinement or environmental manipulation (other than hypothermia and “heat injury”). These omissions open a window of opportunity for abuse. The manual also allows limiting detainees to just four hours of sleep in 24 hours. Noting that most detainees have been held at Guantánamo Bay for seven years, four hours of sleep a night does not meet the minimum standard of humane treatment, either in terms of American law or simple human decency. Alexander notes, “And if this weren’t enough, some interrogators feel the manual’s language gives them a loophole that allows them to give a detainee four hours of sleep and then conduct a 20-hour interrogation, after which they can “reset” the clock and begin another 20-hour interrogation followed by four hours of sleep. This is inconsistent with the spirit of the reforms.” As can be seen, such measures only help to turn an innocent detainee when released into a terrorist, let alone help recruit others to the al Qaeda cause.

Murder and not Suicide of Detainees:
New evidence has also emerged suggesting that three Guantánamo prisoners - none of them al-Qaeda or Taliban fighters -- whom the US claims took their own lives in June 9, 2006 died not from suicide, but torture. Interestingly, the Bush administration had decided to release all three of them before they were murdered. From the very outset the news of suicide did not make sense to most Muslims who consider suicide as the worst of sins. A six-month investigation by Harper’s Magazine now indicates that the three prisoners - Yasser Talal Al-Zahrani, Salah Ahmed Al-Salami and Mani Shaman Al-Utaybi - were suffocated and tortured during questioning at a secret black site facility at Guantánamo known as “Camp No.” At the time, the commander at Guantánamo, Rear Admiral Harry Harris, lied when describing their deaths as an “act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us.” Quickly the Justice Department also tried to hush up the case. What is more troublesome: when the Obama administration was notified about this, it engaged in a further cover-up, claiming to conduct an investigation, but concluded that it would not open a criminal investigation before it even contacted the critical witnesses here. In his interview with Democracy Now, as noted by attorney and international law expert Scott Horton, the author of the article in the Harper’s Magazine, President Barack Obama is not upholding the pledge he made when he received the Nobel Prize to enforce the Geneva Conventions.

Campaign Funding:
In recent years, since at least the Swift-boating of Senator Kerry, campaign funding has become a matter of major concern for most voters who believe that special interest groups could decide the outcome of an election. On January 21, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations can spend freely in federal elections. This decision at the apex court, overturning a 20-year precedent that corporations could not pay for campaign ads from their general treasuries, now gives the lobbyists of special interest money even more power than what they already had in Washington. Now, every candidate who fights for change could face limitless attacks from corporate special interests.

It goes without saying that with no limits on their spending, big oil, Wall Street banks, and health insurance companies will try to drown out the voices of everyday Americans. Historically, the Republicans which prefer less government oversight, have been favored by Corporate America and big-spending, large interest groups. With this Supreme Court decision, American politics will be more solidly defined and controlled by these powerful interest groups.

None of these outcomes – from the loss in Massachusetts to the revelation of cover-up with the murder of detainees, albeit by the past Republican administration, at the Guantanamo Bay prison to the latest Supreme Court decision on campaign funding – is what the Obama Administration has hoped for as it moved into the second year. The Republicans seem ecstatic and energized. They see a change in the making, a rebirth of new Republicanism. But for the Obama administration not all is lost yet. The next mid-term election is more than nine months away. It has to simply reinvigorate its support base by delivering on the promises it made, starting with the Guantanamo Bay Prison, and stopping the torture of detainees – the very first executive order -- it issued merely a year ago.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Land-grabbing Menace – Will this horrendous crime be ever stopped in Bangladesh?

The Borgyis (Marathas) attack us no more
Nor are there the Zamindars.
Yet, why is there so much wretchedness
In this land of ours?

Last night my sleep was broken by a distressful call from my brother-in-law. He said that he had been told by the police authorities in Chittagong that they’re under tremendous pressure from the Home Minister Sahara Khatun to withdraw deployment of the Ansar from our Khulshi properties. Some background information is necessary here to understand the gravity of the issue.

My father (a Calcutta University graduate, retired businessman and philanthropist) and mother (a retired college professor and writer) own nearly 3.8 acre land in Khulshi, next to the Ispahani Properties, in Chittagong, since the 1950s when the property values were cheap and affordable. We had 11 small houses, lived by our employees and tenants -- who were mostly school and college teachers, plus a six storied house “Aranika” where my family members and some tenants lived.

In April 2005, during the BNP rule, armed with hundreds of terrorist goons, a powerful land-grabbing crime syndicate that was led by an ex-convict and ex-madrasa employee (and ex-Rajakar) by the name of Jaker Hosain Chowdhury was able to break our boundary wall and break into our properties illegally. They had the blessing of a very powerful politician from the ruling party – a BNP-MP who was then adviser to PM Khaleda Zia. Within hours, the criminals evicted all the 16 tenant families from our smaller one-storied houses and terrorized everyone, including those living inside the more secure Aranika. The sad episode was widely covered in most Bangla newspapers.

The Chittagong Metropolitan Police (CMP), mindful of pressure coming from the PMO, initially was hesitant to get involved and my pleas to the Prime Minister and Expatriate Affairs Minister seemed to go nowhere. I even contacted the current Prime Minister Sk. Hasina for help. I approached Mr. Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury, then Bangladesh Ambassador to the USA, and the US Embassy in Dhaka who vowed to help us. My father and I even had a press conference in mid-April in the Dhaka Press Club exhibiting all our deeds and documents related to our rightful claim of legal ownership of the properties. This was also reported in some Bangla dailies and an English weekly.

I felt betrayed by my own acquaintances and classmates who worked for the Prime Minister. They chose to either ignore my pleas for intervention or were afraid that by raising the issue with the Madam they might lose their jobs or favored status. I found them to be cowards and self-serving opportunists with no guts and bites of conscience or morality.

Nothing seemed to work until in late May, some six weeks after the illegal intrusion, when an unbiased police inquiry found that we were truly victims of Jaker and his criminal gang. After consulting with all the OCs under his jurisdiction, the CMP Police Commissioner was courageous enough to call for a police raid against the trespassers in our properties in mid-June of 2005 and eventually succeeded in evicting them and arresting a couple of low-level criminals. Unfortunately, by that time, the criminals had totally demolished nine homes and cut down hundreds of valuable trees that were once planted by my father. For the courageous activities of calling a spade a spade, the DC-North, however, was promptly transferred from Chittagong and even sued by the criminal syndicate. It seems no good job gets unpunished in Bangladesh! Everything was so difficult those days for the victims, and so easy for the criminals! No government minister and MP were willing to come to the aid of a victim when one of their very own was involved in such high-priced crimes.

After recovering our properties, or what was left of those, we installed the Ansar in our properties, just like our long-term neighbor - the Ispahani Properties, so that we don’t relive through that painful experience any more. Based on court cases filed by my family and others, Jaker was found guilty. It was proven beyond any doubt that he had misled the court with false power of attorney of someone whose forefathers never owned our properties, even during the British era. But Jaker managed to remain free evading justice. When the military-backed Care-taker Government came to power in January 11, 2007, he was put behind the prison walls. And we felt relieved and temporarily withdrew the Ansar from our premises, hoping that we won't be revisited by the episode of 2005. But we were wrong. After spending only five weeks, Jaker managed to get free. We later learned that he had tied knots with a senior Army officer with a promised share of the potential loot. How wonderful! At Jaker’s behest, a junior officer reporting to the senior officer would often make threatening calls to my family. It was an unnerving moment for us!

Probably emboldened by such a connection at the military high command, Jaker and his goons tried to break into our properties in January 30 of 2008. The incident was again covered in several newspapers. We had difficulty believing that a convicted criminal like Jaker would have the audacity to do his evil acts under military’s watch! But we learned that with right connections everything is possible in Bangladesh. The corrupt OC of Khulshi Thana was bought by the syndicate before the incursion, who won't respond to our frantic calls for help against the goons. Eventually, with a call from my classmate, a serving Lt. General in the Army, after much reluctance, the police moved in. But by that time, the goons had left after demolishing our guard’s house and partially breaking our boundary wall. The OC initially did not want to even take a GD. Jaker was later imprisoned but again came out with a bail petition filed on his behalf. I tried to bring the matter of repeat offenses by Jaker to the attention of General Moeen U. Ahmed, but nothing happened; the file probably disappeared.

Based on our criminal case filed in 2005, Jaker and eight of his top associates within the crime syndicate were sentenced to a 6.5-year R.I. term each in 2008 on a plethora of charges, including land-grabbing, illegal demolition of properties, forgery, falsifying documents, deeds and stamps, use of false power of attorney, etc. When he was put behind the bar, we thought that the worst was over. Unfortunately, after serving only a few weeks of his total sentence period, Jaker filed a bail petition in the High Court, which was granted. He manages to remain free to conspire and harass legal land-owners.

Interestingly, when Jaker found out that his old schemes to illegally grab our properties, 48-acre of Ispahani Properties and acres of other genuine landowners did not work, he came up with newer devious methods. In one such case, based on a forged land deed (# 2858) from the Sitakund Sub-Registry Office, dt. 5 September, 1977, he claimed to have directly bought all those acres of land; no more power of attorney this time. He was proven guilty of forging the deed. He is also guilty of forging land stamp (# 33187), valued at Tk. 10,000, dt. 1 September, 1977.

So fraudulent are his activities that on February 17, 2009 the Additional District Commissioner (Treasury) ordered taking legal actions against Jaker for forging stamps and deeds, and harassing genuine land-owners. But as usual, he manages to remain free, even with anticipatory bail petitions.

After that second attempt by criminal land-grabbing syndicate to grab our properties, we redeployed the Ansar to secure our properties.

Last year, Jaker managed to bribe a corrupt magistrate (Asaduzzaman Khan) to issue an arrest warrant, without any police inquiry, against my 84-year old father falsely claiming that the latter had tried to kill him by squeezing his balls when he visited our properties on a broad daylight in mid-February. A simply inquiry with the deployed Ansar could have proven the absurdity of the case. But with unscrupulous magistrates under one’s pocket sometimes everything seems so easy for a criminal mind! We had to come to Dhaka and file a petition against the absurd charge, leaving behind my sick mother who needed continuous monitoring of her health. What a travesty of justice in the hands of corrupt magistrates who have no accountability!

After the AL Mahajote government came to power, we all expected that our days of suffering are probably over. After all, the goons were once connected with the BNP. But we are continuously proven wrong. We forget that in Bangladesh, these powerful land-grabbing criminals have long arms and are always adaptable to find new sponsors, partners and goons to commit their illicit activities, totally oblivious of their accountability to God on the Day of Judgment. With long beards, long kurta, tasbih in hand, and a fitting cap, Jaker even presents himself as a pious man, more like the image one gets of the devil (Shaytan) who had dressed up as an Arab sheikh who conspired with the pagan Arabs to plot the murder of our Prophet Muhammad (S) some 14 centuries ago. His kind is oblivious of the stern warning from our Prophet (S) against land-grabbers: “Whoever usurps the land of somebody unjustly, his neck will be encircled with it down the seven earths (on the Day of Resurrection).” (Bukhari)

In recent days, we are appalled to learn that Jaker and his criminal land-grabbing syndicate have been able to find new sponsors - Planning Minister (Retd.) Air Vice Marshal A.K. Khandker and Home Minister Sahara Khatun. What a sickening and naked display of abuse of power when they pressure the Police to withdraw the Ansar protection from our properties so that Jaker’s criminal gang can grab our properties again! Forgotten are all the court cases we have won against the criminal syndicate! With corrupt politicians like those who needs a criminal these days!

This kind of nasty development with land-grabbing under the watch of the new government shows that certain things simply don't change in Bangladesh. Politicians come and go, but criminals remain and always find new partners and patrons for their crimes.

Since our personal tragic encounter, many expatriates have called me to seek advice. Truly, hardly a week passes without hearing similar heart rendering stories of suffering of genuine land-owners. In almost 90% of the cases I heard, some politicians, usually belonging to the ruling party or government have had been intimately involved. This must stop if we are serious about the image of Bangladesh that is interested in foreign investment. Who will invest in a country when a genuine owner with all legal documents and deeds, more than fifty years of payments of taxes, revenues and bills, don’t feel secure with its properties?

Will Prime Minister Sk. Hasina have the necessary resolve to stop such land-grabbing crimes that target the most vulnerable, law-abiding elderly citizens of Bangladesh? Will she stop her own Ministers from tying their knots with criminal syndicates?

May Allah help us all against such criminals and their partners and patrons! They plot and Allah plots, and Allah is the best of the Plotters! (Qur’an)

An Open Letter to Prime Minister Sk. Hasina: Please, stop land-grabbing crime

Dear Prime Minister,
Assalamu alaykum. Land-grabbing crime has become so widespread in Bangladesh that it has become a matter of major concern to most expatriates living outside. We find our parents and family members vulnerable to the criminal schemes of organized crime syndicates that almost always have political connections. With the emergence of your regime, we hoped things would change for the better, but alas, land-grabbing has now become a common feature in Bangladesh. What is more alarming is your ministers are now involved with such crimes. For this, I don’t have to cite any example outside the one I know so well, which concerns my own family properties in Khulshi, Chittagong.

Back in April of 2005, our family property in Khulshi, opposite to Government Woman’s College, was attacked by some 200 goons that were led by a convicted criminal, an ex-madrasa employee and leader of a very organized crime syndicate -- Jaker Hosain Chowdhury (son of late Kala Mia) of Chandanpura, Chittagong. He had then the backing of PM’s adviser, who along with his APS – Abu Bakr Siddiq would call police not to meddle in the land-grab. Based on a forged document and invalid power of attorney of someone who had no ownership or rights to our properties since at least 1915, Jaker attacked our properties and within hours evicted 16 tenant families that had lived there for decades in our 11 one-storied bungalows. Within weeks, Jaker and his terrorist gang demolished nine homes totally and cut down hundreds of valuable trees once planted by my father. It was one of the worst land-grabbing crimes of 2005, and was widely reported in all Bangla newspapers.

The property has been in our possession legally since the 1950s when my parents bought it. Noting that three of us – the children - live in the USA and that my parents have become too old and thus vulnerable, Jaker conspired to grab our properties. He needed a political backup, and he got one - Saqa Chowdhury.

Dear Prime Minister, you may recall that within days of the sad incident, I contacted you. I also contacted the then Expatriate Affairs State Minister Maj. (Retd). Quamrul. Even the US Embassy in Dhaka and Bangladesh Ambassador Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury were informed of the matter who vowed to help us. Fortunately, based on recommendation of an unbiased, fact-finding police inquiry in May 26, the goons were removed in mid-June in a police raid and the possession was restored back to us. All this was possible because of some honest police officers who were willing to stand up against the crimes of a powerful politically-connected, organized crime syndicate.

A number of cases filed in the courts against the land-grabbing syndicate of Jaker Chowdhury have already found him guilty for illegal land-grabbing, misleading courts with forged documents, deeds and stamps, false and invalid use of power of attorney, etc. He and eight of his major accomplices were sentenced to a 6.5-year prison term each and fined. However, free on bail, he has continued to harass our family with false charges. He has served prison terms thrice for his criminal activities. But he remains remorseless and is oblivious of accountability for his crimes both in this world and the Hereafter. He has forgotten that land-grabbing is one of the worst crimes as warned by our Prophet Muhammad (S): “Whoever usurps the land of somebody unjustly, his neck will be encircled with it down the seven earths (on the Day of Resurrection).” (Bukhari) With a huge terrorist cadre behind, bribes and corrupting influence of influential authorities, he continues to pose a threat to the civil society in Chittagong. He falsely claims ownership of vast territories of the Ispahani Properties and many other legal owners in the port city of Chittagong. As a deterrent to his ill-motives, like the nearby Ispahani Properties, we have deployed the Ansar to secure our properties from any future intrusion of Jaker’s goons.

We thought we shall never again be revisited by the nightmares of 2005, especially not under your watchful eyes of clean government. But we are not sure any more. Recently Jaker has been able to influence the Home Ministry, including Minister Sahara Khatun and Planning Minister A.K. Khandker to help him grab our properties. He wants to force withdrawal of the Ansar from our properties so that with his criminal goons he could forcibly grab our land. This is a very disturbing news to not only our family members but also to everyone in Bangladesh who hoped for a change through your election win, away from the dark days of corruption, thuggery and land-grabbing crimes to an era of safety and security, especially for genuine land-owners like my parents. If after more than fifty years of continuous ownership with all the genuine deeds and documents, taxes, revenues and bills paid, a family like ours feel insecure against such an organized crime syndicate what chances do our ordinary folks have?

On behalf of the hundreds of thousands of expatriates living today outside the country, I appeal to you to stop land-grabbing crimes. Please, stop Jaker Chowdhury of 187 Monu Mianji Lane, Chandanpura, Chittagong from victimizing my family and others in the port city of Chittagong. He belongs to the prison walls for his anti-social, criminal activities, and cannot be allowed to forge new alliances that facilitate crimes of land-grabbing.

Will Bangladesh ever remain so insecure that only the dead ones are the fortunate ones to have been spared of witnessing such horrendous crimes while the government either chooses to ignore or partakes in that victimization of the innocent? May Allah help those who are stern against criminals and fulfill their public trust and obligations!

Kind regards,
Dr. Habib Siddiqui

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Corporate America Still Doesn’t Get It

Let’s admit it. We saw it coming. I am talking about the recent financial crisis that hit us, which can only be described as an economic Tsunami. It is the worst economic debacle since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The U.S. economy is still wrestling with its effects. One tenth of the work force remains unemployed. Trillions of dollars of potential income have been lost; the lives of millions have been damaged, in some cases irreversibly, by mass unemployment. Millions more have seen their retirement savings wiped out. Perhaps millions of people will lose essential health care because of the combination of job losses and draconian cutbacks by cash-starved state governments. And as noted in the New York Times by Dr. Paul Krugman, Nobel Laureate in economics, this disaster was entirely self-inflicted. This Tsunami was not brought about by nature or a spike in international oil price, but by dysfunctional nature of our own financial system.

These banking institutions were giving out loans to individuals that did not qualify for the loan amount and could not afford to pay back. Just consider a real case: a hotel employee in the New York City, whom I know very well, makes $20,000 per year in his job as a manager responsible for managing the breakfast booth. He bought a single unit home for $450,000. After paying down-payment on his house, he has to pay $3200 per month on home mortgage. His wife does not work. That is, he is the single bread-earner in the family. Still, his mortgage company had no problem in approving his application and granting the loan to buy that house in Queens, NY. It does not take a genius to see that the person should not have qualified for the loan. But like millions of such cases, his loan application was approved in 2007. Individual compensations in pay-raise and bonus in those lending institutes were based on big short-term profits tied to how much loan was approved and how fast, and not based on common sense, simple math to analyze justification of such loan amounts, let alone long-term projections. Credit risks associated with such mortgages in the housing sector were simply overlooked and ignored. Government regulatory agencies also failed to do their task in adjusting their regulatory practices to address financial markets of our time.

With such insane practices, it was only a question of time when the housing bubble would burst leading to the collapse of the real estate market, which would start the ripple effect in other sectors that are linked to it. And that is what happened in 2007-2009 with the collapse of the housing bubble: the values of securities tied to real estate pricing plummeted, which damaged financial institutions globally. People started questioning bank solvency and investors lost confidence that affected the global stock markets, where securities suffered large losses during late 2008 and early 2009. Eventually, to protect bank interest, credit availability for a borrower or investor declined. Economies worldwide slowed during this period as credit tightened and international trade declined. With declining sale of products like the consumer goods, companies laid off workers, who, in turn, could not buy new products. Individual consumers bought only what they could afford and required. Nice-to-have items were a luxury that few could afford.

What is unfortunate in this mess is that for a screw-up in the Wall Street a garment worker in Bangladesh can suffer. Almost everything is linked today because of the globalization of world economy. Thus, when an American potential buyer does not buy home, he/she does not require all the furniture and other amenities that come with it, which are produced in places like China and other developing or underdeveloped countries. So, when a factory closes in China or Bangladesh because of less order or demand, its employees face massive lay-offs. In the housing sector, with less foreign cheap labors required for construction jobs, construction companies in the host countries must now return migrant workers to their native countries. Bottom line: what happens to economy in prosperous countries does affect every Salimuddin and Kalimuddin in other parts of the world.

Timothy Geithner, the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, placed significant blame for the freezing of credit markets on a “parallel” banking system, also called the shadow banking system. These entities became critical to the credit markets underpinning the financial system, but were not subject to the same regulatory controls. Paul Krugman agrees with the diagnosis and says, “As the shadow banking system expanded to rival or even surpass conventional banking in importance, politicians and government officials should have realized that they were re-creating the kind of financial vulnerability that made the Great Depression possible—and they should have responded by extending regulations and the financial safety net to cover these new institutions.” But such regulations were missing not only with shadow banking system whose implosion caused the credit crisis but also with the derivatives market.

As early as 1997 Federal Reserves Bank Chairman Alan Greenspan (once recognized as a financial avatar of sort) had fought to keep the derivatives market unregulated. The Republican conservatives did not like government regulations. The Securities and Exchange Commission was made a laughing-stock! American investor, businessman and philanthropist Warren Buffett famously referred to derivatives as “financial weapons of mass destruction (WMD)” in early 2003. It goes without saying that if George W. Bush had shown a small fraction of doggedness to the “financial WMD” that he showed for the non-existing Iraqi WMDs, we would have been spared of this current financial crisis.

Over the years too many things have gone wrong with America. She became more conservative which in turn strengthened the Republican power base that spearheaded the deregulation movement. The financial institutions by and large became deregulated becoming more powerful than the government. As a result, those working in the finance sector became the greatest beneficiaries of this faulty arrangement. Two years ago, I was simply shocked to learn that a 25-year old employee, fresh out of a graduate school with a master’s degree, of a (now failed) financial institute in the Wall Street was making more than $150,000 a year. A full professor (with a Ph.D. degree) in most state universities does not even make half that salary until after a decade of teaching. A government attorney makes $140,000 a year on retirement. As rightly noted in his Op/Ed column, dated 15 January, 2010, by Dr. Krugman, “From the late 1970s on, the American financial system, freed by deregulation and a political climate in which greed was presumed to be good, spun ever further out of control. There were ever-greater rewards — bonuses beyond the dreams of avarice — for bankers who could generate big short-term profits. And the way to raise those profits was to pile up ever more debt, both by pushing loans on the public and by taking on ever-higher leverage within the financial industry. Sooner or later, this runaway system was bound to crash.”

As we became more socially conservative as a nation, we elected folks that sounded more religious. Fox TV started replacing our favorite channels at home for information, and so did Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and other radio talk show hosts that replaced the NPR when we’re on the road. We let the neoconservatives with their twisted ideology and ignoble agenda to decide our foreign policy. We let the industrial military complex to raise its almighty Pharaonic head and dictate our defense policy. We became an empire without an emperor. Sure, we have democracy, an elected president, the Senate and the House of Representatives. But more and more our elected folks in the Capitol Hill behaved as if their life depended on powerful lobbies whose interests and goals were at odds with our priorities – domestic and international alike. They behaved like an Amen Corner, mortgaged to the whims and wishes of a savage, expansionist, settler regime that is run by war criminals in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. We opted for war, instead of sitting across a negotiation table. We even fought proxy wars on behalf of the settler regime. As the wars dragged on, and terrorism was brought into our own backyard, our ego and pride was hurt, and we felt insecure at home. We wanted revenge. Tons and tons of blood. Thanks to Bush and Cheney, we got dragged into vicious cycle of war abroad without doing cost-benefit analysis. So, now we have our armed forces in harm’s way where they can’t win, no matter how many forces we deploy. It is costing us now one million dollar a soldier deployed overseas. The current cost to station 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan is just over $68 billion. We spent billions of dollars in upgrading airport security systems, and yet, our machines can’t stop an amateur would-be bomber from getting into our planes. Worse still, we have been robbed of our memory; we refuse to remember. We blame Obama for the evils of Bush, who trashed the U.S. constitution and international laws.

On the home front, our appetite for things bigger and expensive grew exponentially. People got used to living in larger houses with more expensive amenities. Many Americans even bought the gas-guzzling Hummer. Easy credit made all those possible. In 1981, U.S. private debt was 123% of GDP; however, by the third quarter of 2008, it was 290%. It was no accident that in 2007, top five financial institutions reported over $4.1 trillion in debt for fiscal year 2007, about 30% of USA nominal GDP for 2007. As a result, Lehman Brothers was liquidated, Bear Stearns and Merrill Lynch were sold at basement-sale prices, and Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley became commercial banks, subjecting themselves to more stringent regulation. With the exception of Lehman, these companies required or received government support. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two U.S. Government-sponsored enterprises, owned or guaranteed nearly $5 trillion in mortgage obligations at the time they were placed into conservatorship by the U.S. government in September 2008. These seven entities were highly leveraged and had $9 trillion in debt or guarantee obligations, an enormous concentration of risk. And, yet they were not subject to the same regulation as depository banks.

The International Monetary Fund estimated that large U.S. and European banks lost more than $1 trillion on toxic assets and from bad loans from January 2007 to September 2009. These losses are expected to top $2.8 trillion from 2007 to 2010 with roughly two thirds from loans and the remainder on securities. The IMF estimated that in the last three years, the three major banks - Citigroup, Wachovia and Bank of America lost $124, 77.4 and 68.3 billion, respectively.

September of 2008 was a panicky, defining moment in this crisis when in just one week people withdrew $144.5 billion from money market accounts versus $7.1 billion the week prior to it. In a dramatic meeting on September 18, 2008 Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke met with key legislators to propose a $700 billion emergency bailout. Bernanke reportedly told them: “If we don't do this, we may not have an economy on Monday.” But that was not enough to arrest the downward slide of economy. Between June 2007 and November 2008, Americans lost an estimated average of more than a quarter of their collective net worth. By early November 2008, the S&P 500, a broad U.S. stock index, was down 45 percent from its 2007 high. To offset this decline in consumption and lending capacity, the U.S. government and U.S. Federal Reserve have committed $13.9 trillion, of which $6.8 trillion has been invested or spent, as of June 2009. In effect, the Fed has gone from being the "lender of last resort" to the "lender of only resort."

Even today, after all those government bailouts of the financial institutions the Wall Street and the CEOs in the corporate America simply don’t get it. In a sickening display of brazenness and damn-care attitude they are rewarding themselves with tens of billions of dollars this year as year-end bonuses. Goldman Sachs is expected to pay nearly $20.2 billion as employee compensation for 2009, matching the 2007 record. In one recently-bailed out financial institute the average bonus paid to its employees is reported to be more than $600,000. Forget about most Americans, even President Obama does not make that kind of salary from his job in the White House. Ordinary Americans are furious and so is Obama. He decided to impose a fee (Financial Crisis Responsibility Fee) on the country’s largest banks, insurance companies and broker-dealers to recover some of the money spent bailing them out. He said, "My commitment is to recover every single dime the American people are owed. And my determination to achieve this goal is only heightened when I see reports of massive profits and obscene bonuses at some of the very firms who owe their continued existence to the American people...We want our money back, and we're going to get it." He also said, “If these companies are in good enough shape to afford massive bonuses, they are surely in good enough shape to afford paying back every penny to taxpayers.”

As expected, the banking industry -- among the most powerful lobbies in Washington -- is already launching attacks to stop Congress from enacting the proposal. It has the conservatives, the Republicans, to now lobby on its behalf. The Republican lawmakers – the very people that had brought this financial crisis upon America before Obama took office - are now showing the early signs of Alzheimer! Forgotten, rather conveniently, are the Bush-Cheyney days. Blame it all on the new chief and his party!

But American people had enough of those greedy bad guys of the Wall Street and Amen Corner playing with their jobs and lifesavings. Some of the financial institutes are aware of the negative public mood, and are, therefore, taking more cautious steps. To quell public furies, some are conditioning payouts to future performance criteria, which will bring some stability of the banking system — where pay has typically been linked to encourage high-risk, fast-reward schemes that paid bankers handsomely, regardless of the long-term performance of their investments. Still, many lawmakers in the Capitol Hill are justifiably upset, where the House Democrats on January 14 proposed imposing a 50 percent windfall tax on bankers’ bonuses. Even such measures may not be enough to satisfy taxpayers. As suggested in a recent New York Times editorial, Congress should pass a one-off windfall tax on bonuses. Surely, banks could not have made profits in 2009 had it not been largely underwritten by taxpayers, who pumped in billions of dollars of capital, covered losses from the collapse of the American International Group and guaranteed the debts of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The Federal Reserve lent hundreds of billions against shoddy collateral that no one else would touch and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation guaranteed loans worth hundreds of billions more. For the sake of long-term financial stability, Congress should also pass President Obama’s proposed big bank fee — intended to recover, over 12 years, the $117 billion that the administration estimates it will spend on financial bailouts. That should discourage banks that are already too big from getting even bigger and posing a larger threat to the overall economy. Last month, the House passed the financial-reform bill, which allows for putting some regulation back into the finance sector. The government must now ensure that the financial institutes are closely monitored and fined heavily for any misstep.
And yet, all these measures may not be enough to energize the weak economy and reinvigorate consumer confidence. What frustrates most Americans is that bankers, as is evident from their recent testimony at the official Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, showed a stunning failure, even now, to grasp the nature and extent of the current crisis. They have no clues as to what can help the economy either.
The interest of most Americans would be better served by ignoring any advice coming from these supposed wise men of the Wall Street, who have no wisdom to offer. They are greedy fools!

References:
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/15/opinion/15krugman.html?th&emc=th
Reducing Systemic Risk in a Dynamic Financial System, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, June 9, 2008, http://www.newyorkfed.org/newsevents/speeches/2008/tfg080609.html
Krugman, Paul (2009). The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008. W.W. Norton Company Limited.
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/15/opinion/15krugman.html?th&emc=th
See this author’s book: “Democracy, Politics and Terrorism - America's Quest for Security in the Age of Insecurity” for a detailed exposition of the subject of terrorism, Amazon.com; http://www.amazon.com/Democracy-Politics-Terrorism-Insecurity-ebook/dp/B001ET5YOI/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1263683978&sr=8-1
http://www.reuters.com/article/idCNL554155620091105?rpc=44
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/02/business/02crisis.html?_r=1
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_financial_crisis_of_2008#cite_ref-112
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/15/opinion/15fri1.html?th&emc=th

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Comments on recently concluded treaties and MOUs between Bangladesh and India

Ref: http://www.e-bangladesh.org/2010/01/12/achievements-of-pm-sheikh-hasina-from-her-india-trip/#more-2167

Thanks to both Kh. Abdus Saleque Sufi and Sushanta Das Gupta for summarizing in the e-Bangladesh Prime Minister Sk. Hasina'a recently concluded trip to India. Their write-up apparently provides a complete picture of what truly happened between the leaders of two neighbors who had their shares of ups and downs in relationships. The trip was a keenly observed event for many - those who wanted to see a positive outcome thus cementing years of mistrust and also those who wanted nothing more than a failure to emerge so that such could be made an issue towards unseating the government.

As I stated in my last article - on a mock memo to PM Manmohan Singh, if I were the PM of Bangladesh, there are many thorny issues that really need more than a simple wound-dressing. Water-share from the common rivers remains the most troublesome issue. I am reminded by newspaper reports that India has not lived up to the treaty obligations of 1996. If true, it is really sad, and thus puts into question the very achievements in this latest treaties and MOUs that Sk. Hasina has signed with Singh. I, therefore, agree with the cautionary concluding remarks of the authors that "If two governments remain honest and committed there is nothing which can barrier the building the bridges of good healthy neighborly relation for the greater interest of the great people of the region. Days will come soon when barbed-wire fencing will be removed and people will move like free singing birds across."

Let's hope that both parties are honest and such dreams turn into reality so that as a result of good friendship both our peoples gain from these treaties and MOUs and live peacefully and happily without the fear of hegemony, subordination, war and conflict. Only time would tell us how correct or incorrect we were in our wishful dreams.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Does Race Still Matter?

It is said that before Prophet Moses (Musa alayhis salam – peace be upon him) could settle his people to the Promised Land, the children of Israel lived in the deserts of Arabia for decades. It was like a transition period for the former slaves of Egypt. There they learned how to live as a free nation away from the corrupting influence of Pharaoh’s Egypt. Any change agent would tell you about the wisdom of a transition phase that allows people to adjust accordingly and change their paradigm. Anything done too fast with little preparation and education of the very people who must live through a change is often doomed to failure.

So with President Obama’s election in 2008, I see a validation of that change theory. He is a mixed breed – son of a Black African father and a white American mother. He is not a pure-bred white or black. Thus, it is no accident that he appears somewhat lighter skinned than many Afro-Americans living in the USA. Being brought up by a highly educated mother and cared for by his white grandparents, it is not difficult to understand that Obama does not have an Afro accent, unless he wants to use that distinguishing dialect.

In their new book "Game Change," authors Mark Halperin and John Heilemann say that in 2008 Harry Reid, the Majority Leader in the Senate, described candidate Obama as a "'light-skinned' African American 'with no Negro dialect unless he wanted to have one,'" whom many voters would embrace. This revelation has now become a big news item in the media. Many see the remark damaging to Reid’s re-election chances in Nevada where 77% of eligible African Americans voted in 2008. Some fear that it will inject race into an already tough campaign depressing black turnout in Nevada, and eventually hurt Reid. Senator Reid has already apologized to President Obama on Saturday for his "poor choice of words" -- and the president accepted saying that "I know what's in his heart." Still the Republicans are out to get Reid’s head, who is a Mormon Christian, and fondly known among his supporters to have “an ear of tin and a heart of gold.”

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele, who is black, said on "Fox News Sunday," "There is this standard where the Democrats feel that they can say these things and they can apologize when it comes from the mouths of their own. But if it comes from anyone else, it's racism. It's either racist or it's not. And it's inappropriate, absolutely." Steele, along with GOP Senators John Cornyn of Texas and Jon Kyl of Arizona, said Reid's remarks justified the same outrage once directed at former Sen. Trent Lott (Mississippi Republican) who in 2002, had to step down as majority leader after implying that the country might have been better off if Strom Thurmond of South Carolina had been elected president in 1948, when he ran as a segregationist.

There is no doubt that the Republicans – the losers in the 2008 election – are trying everything to hurt the Democratic Party so that the latter’s margin of seats in the Senate is reduced from 58 in the upcoming mid-term election of 2010. They are fired up for 2010. They want to unseat Reid in Nevada -- long known as the Mississippi of the West. Their comparison of Reid with Lott is, however, misleading given the fact that Sen. Reid was one of the first lawmakers (alongside the late Senator Ted Kennedy) to encourage Obama to run for president and worked hard to help him win. Reid’s point was that he believed the country was ready to elect an eloquent, mixed race person like Obama in 2008. And he was proven right.

As a keen observer of history and race relations, I seem to believe that while America was ready for Obama in 2008, it was not ready for the likes of Jackson and Sharpton. Even if the latter personalities were to match Obama’s academic and professional credentials, and had spoken and behaved exactly the same way as Obama had done, they would have been rejected by most White Americans. Race still matters not just in the USA, but throughout our world. People are more comfortable about electing or selecting their own kinds even when they are less qualified. As I have pointed out elsewhere the corporate world is no different either. Prejudice runs deep into our human conscience and has had produced adverse results. The societies that have been able to bury prejudice and embrace integration are better positioned to lead and succeed than those that are not.

It was no accident that in their failed attempts for the White House both Hillary Clinton and John McCain played the race card. Even the former president Bill Clinton came to his wife’s aid to sully his own global image. But nothing worked. The American people had enough of anyone who sounded like George W. Bush. They wanted a change; a real change away from the Bible-thumping Christian merchants of war, and the savage labels of Bush and Cheney’s extraordinary renditions, Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. And Obama sold that idea of change rather successfully. He gave them hope of a better future. With that, Obama was able to unite not only his Black electorate base and minority voters but excite all those in the middle who were White swing voters, and win the 2008 presidential election.

I am willing to believe that it won’t be too long when one day the son or daughter of Black parents will occupy the White House. But in the mean time, those aspiring children of the African Americans must go through the transition phase of living in the “desert of Arabia” before occupying the White House.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Comments to Paul E Marek’s piece: “Why the peaceful majority is irrelevant”

My attention was drawn into a piece in the Internet by Paul E. Marek who is a second-generation Canadian, whose grandparents fled Czechoslovakia just prior to the Nazi takeover. In that 2006 piece (an old article), only recently much circulated, he said that the fanatics are on the march and they are essentially controlling the world affairs. He said, "Peace-loving Muslims will become our enemy if they don't speak up, because like my friend from Germany, they will awaken one day and find that the fanatics own them, and the end of their world will have begun." [Ref: http://inrepair.net/2008/01/20/why-the-peaceful-majority-is-irrelevant/]

Here below is what I wrote in response to the piece:
I believe that the original author has a somewhat too simplistic and distorted image of our world, esp. the Muslim world. Facts are more complicated.

In his view, it is the silent majority that are to be blamed for the rise of the extremists. It is a historical fact that only a small number of organized folks have been able to shape our world politics. The silent majority later goes with the winning party. They are never organized and don’t become the change agents.

What is happening across the Muslim world is nothing new since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. We have all kinds of problems at every strata in our society. What we inherit today is a colonial legacy in which the nation states were curved out of peoples that did not live together, and then people were divided between states. In the vast majority of the cases, the new emerging leaders were no representatives of our people, they were puppets of special interests. In the name of democracy, what we have is failed democratic institutions that have little representation where the political power behaves as if they own the state that they rule with monumental thuggery. It is a messy internal situation.

Then we have the external components. To make things worse, we see ourselves humiliated in Israel with some of the worst human rights violations committed by the savage Zionist regime, not only uncontrolled but actually aided and sponsored by the Christian West and World Jewry. The failure of our leaders to combat external threat and their spineless servitude to the tunes of western masters have alienated their own support base – the masses. The silent majority have seen the defeat of Kemalism, Nasserism, Ba’athism, etc. in tackling daily problems that matter to them. Thus, they are looking for deliverance. And this vacuum is increasingly filled by Islamic parties, religious groups with their NGOs and social-centric activities. That is what essentially led to the success of Hamas and many such groups within the Muslim world. Not all of these religious groups are violent. As a matter of fact they are often more democratic than the other secular democrats in our Muslim world. But they are now conveniently dumped by the stooges and lackeys of foreign interests, the Mafias that rule our world, as the "bad" guys, even “terrorists.” With such an epithet it is now so easy to pin them down – blessed and financed by the western masters.

A section of Muslims, mostly young folks, however, are restless and they want to hit the hornet’s nest no matter how ill prepared they are. They are the OBL-type followers, mostly now depicted as the so-called Jihadists, fanatics, etc. They are a very small group in our Muslim world who think differently than the vast majority.

It is paralysis of one’s wits to assume that these fanatics now are on the march and have taken the mantle of Muslim leadership. No, not yet. As such, I have problem with the so-called German view. More problematic is his silence about the factors which had contributed to the rise of those fanatics. Would Hitler have emerged if it were not for the Versailles Treaty? Would OBL emerge if it were not for the Afghan battleground in which the CIA itself had recruited him and others, and the monumental abuses of human rights and Israeli war crimes in Palestine, or the occupation of Muslim lands by the USA? I doubt that.

Blackwater’s Trigger-happy Criminals

Blackwater, which now goes by the name Xe, is again all over the news. Two of its guys were among those killed on December 30 in the suicide attack at the CIA station at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost, Afghanistan. According to Jeremy Scahill, author of the international bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute, of the two Blackwater operatives killed at this bombing—one was a former Navy Seal; the other was an Army master chief sergeant—and that there was a third Blackwater operative that was wounded in the blast.

This report proves that the notorious mercenary group is still heavily engaged with the CIA for many clandestine activities not just inside Iraq but also in other territories including Afghanistan. What is also quite revealing from this incident is that CIA had lied to us again when it said that it had stopped all connections with Blackwater or Xe a month earlier. As recently disclosed in a Democracy Now interview with Illinois Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, a leading member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the chair of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, such on-going collaboration with Blackwater, which is a repeat offender and known to have killed innocent civilians and committed war crimes, puts the very mission of the United States at risk, threatening and endangering the lives of the very Americans it is supposed to protect.

In his interview with the Vanity Fair magazine, CEO Erik Prince confirmed Blackwater’s deep-rooted association with the CIA. Shortly after 9/11, Prince claimed to have assembled a team, a secret clandestine team for the CIA that trained not at any of the official CIA facilities, but at one of his homes in Virginia. He trained this team, and then they were deployed around the world. And they would go into countries, and, in some cases, the CIA chief of station in the countries that they went into wasn’t even notified that they were going in there. They even went to Germany to hunt down suspected links to al Qaeda. The German government is embarrassed by such a revelation. Last Wednesday, prosecutors in Germany announced that they had launched a preliminary investigation into a report that the CIA and Blackwater had planned a secret operation in 2004 to assassinate a Syrian-born naturalized citizen of Germany in Hamburg with suspected ties to al-Qaeda.

In the last few days, two former Blackwater operatives -- Justin Cannon, 27, and Christopher Drotleff, 29 -- were arrested on murder charges stemming from their alleged involvement in the shooting deaths of two Afghan civilians and wounding a third in Kabul in May. These killings took place under the Obama Administration. This news surfaced just hours after it was revealed that Blackwater had reached a settlement with Iraqi victims of a string of shootings, including the Nisoor Square massacre, who had sued the company for the “senseless slaughter.” Even a U.S. military investigation conducted soon after the massacre found that Blackwater was unprovoked when it killed Iraqi civilians in Nisoor. The company is reportedly paying $100,000 for each of the Iraqis killed by its forces and between $20,000 and $30,000 to each Iraqi wounded. The amount of compensation is pitiful by American standard. It is worth noting that Blackwater received $1.5 billion dollars from the US government for its security and other clandestine activities in Iraq. As noted by Scahill 90 percent of this company’s revenue comes from the US government. For them to pay, two or three million dollars hush-money for their war crimes is nothing – only a bargain - basement sale price (Libya paid $10 million for each of the Lockerbie victims)!

News of the settlement came a week after a federal judge in Alexandria, VA, dismissed manslaughter charges against five Blackwater operatives involved in the Nisoor Square massacre that killed seventeen Iraqi civilians and wounded 27 in 2007. The lawsuit was filed by 70 Iraqis. The shootings, in which the guards opened fire with grenade launchers and machine guns on civilians in a busy Baghdad traffic circle, have since then become a rallying point for Iraqi resistance and grievances against America. To many Iraqis, the massacre is a symbol of U.S. disregard for their lives. U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina threw out the indictments because he found that prosecutors and agents had improperly used statements the guards had provided to the State Department with the understanding that the statements would not be used against them.

As is quite evident now, Condoleezza Rice’s U.S. State Department had given immunity to those killers, which violated its own policy in that regard. The appropriate legal venue for the trial should have been Iraq and not the USA. To avoid any trouble inside Iraq, those Blackwater employees were secretly ferried out of the country in the dead of night by the State Department and Blackwater, taken to the US, where they then got off on murder—on manslaughter charges, on a technicality.

Family members of the dead and survivors said that the judge's decision added a painful epilogue to the incident, making a mockery of the justice that the United States was supposed to bring to their country. The Iraqi government also protested the judge’s decision. There is little doubt that the judge's decision would fuel anti-American rhetoric and may affect the outcome of the important parliamentary election scheduled for March 7.

As noted by Scahill, there is yet another lawsuit filed by some other Iraqi victims against Blackwater in the state of North Carolina. The man who was perhaps the single most prominent witness to the Nisoor Square shooting was driving a vehicle right behind the first vehicle that the Blackwater guys shot. His nine-year-old son was shot in the head. His head exploded on a van, on his cousins and other people in the vehicle. That man has retained counsel in North Carolina and is suing. That could be a very problematic case for Blackwater, because they’re not only suing Erik Prince of Blackwater, they’re suing the individual shooters in state court in North Carolina. One can only hope that this lawsuit ends up actually going to trial.

As hinted earlier, Blackwater’s has been deeply involved with the CIA on a number of covert activities. The group was part of a covert program in Pakistan that included planning the assassination and kidnapping of Taliban and Al-Qaeda suspects. It is also said to be involved in a previously undisclosed U.S. military drone campaign that has killed scores of people inside Pakistan. Its operatives have been working under a covert program run by the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the military’s top covert operations force. As noted by Scahill, Blackwater operatives are effectively running the drone bombings for both JSOC and the CIA inside Pakistan. Not only that, the group is taking part in ground operations with Pakistani forces under a subcontract with a local security firm - Kestral. The operations have included house raids and border interdictions in northwest Pakistan and other areas. Not surprisingly, many in Pakistan hold Blackwater responsible for some of the worst bombings inside Pakistan. Blackwater personnel have also been accused of posing sometimes as aid workers. According to Scahill, JSOC has no regard for civilian population in its hunt for the so-called bad guys. Its drone attacks are known to kill more civilians than real ‘targets.’

Blackwater has also been given responsibility for planning JSOC operations in Uzbekistan. The program has become so secretive that the top Obama administration and military officials have likely been unaware of its existence.

It is worth pointing out that the JSOC used to be headed by General McChrystal who has now been promoted and is the head of all US forces and NATO forces in Afghanistan. With such a development, one can expect more involvement from mercenary groups like Xe (or erstwhile Blackwater). It is not difficult to understand why more civilians have died from drone attacks in Obama’s first year than the preceding eight years of Bush. This is a sad resume of a president who had just won the Nobel Peace Prize!

References:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/07/AR2010010703206_2.html?hpid=topnews
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/01/AR2010010100589.html?hpid=topnews
http://www.democracynow.org/2010/1/8/blackwatergate_private_military_firm_in_firestorm
http://www.democracynow.org/2009/11/24/blackwaters_secret_war_in_pakistan_jeremy
http://www.democracynow.org/2010/1/6/obama_has_kept_the_machine_set

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Response to violence in Palestine and Pakistan

[Shortly after publication of my article on what to expect in 2010, a reader has sent comments to the New Age, where my article appeared. Here below is my response to his comments.]

In the letter below, Mr. Elahi seems to misunderstand my views about Palestine. In my New Age article I mentioned that in the Muslim world President Obama will be weighed on the basis of his success or failure to deliver peace in the Israel-Palestine conflict. The Palestinian issue has remained the burning issue in the Muslim psychic. That is the Muslim reality today from Bosnia to Bangladesh, Turkey to Tanzania, and Indonesia to Morocco. As I hinted, President Obama seems handicapped to deliver what he promised to the world. It would be insane to deny the Israel Factor for such failures to deliver. The Obama plan for the troubled region was not torpedoed by either Hamas or Mahmoud Abbas but by Netanyahu who continues to build new settlements, blockades Gaza and confiscates Palestinian land. And the Obama administration has come to terms with that reality, mindful of the power of the Lobby. Stating such is not giving air to any “conspiracy theory” or playing, what is commonly dubbed as, the “Muslim victimization” card but stating mere facts, which somehow are always ignored by our pro-Israeli friends like Mr. Elahi. Look at the US position inside the UN or inside the Capitol Hill that still tries to condone Israeli war crimes. Where is that “change” people had come to expect from the Obama administration? How long can President Obama and his administration hoodwink global citizenry?

Mr. Elahi's position in favor of Israel is long known, but is indefensible given Israel's brutal practice and persecution of the Palestinian people that goes on uninterrupted even to this very day. What the Israelis did last year in Gaza are nothing short of War Crimes, as also opined by the UN Fact-finding Goldstone Report (see: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/specialsession/9/FactFindingMission.htm).

Mr. Elahi has previously called for embracing a Gandhian strategy in dealing with expansionist leaders of Israel. He seems oblivious of the fact that such tactics simply didn't and will not work inside Israel. Israeli leaders are not British leaders of Gandhi’s time! They are worse. Just look at what is happening with the Palestinian Gandhis inside Israel today. As I write, three such individuals Mohammad Othman (arrested on September 22, 2009 at the Allenby Bridge crossing, while returning from addressing the Norwegian national pension fund about divestment from Elbit Systems, a major Israeli military contractor), Abdallah Abu Rahmah (a leader of the weekly nonviolent protests against the Apartheid Wall in Bil'in, arrested in his home in the early morning hours of December 10, 2009-International Human Rights Day ) and Jamal Juma' (coordinator of the Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign, was arrested on December 16, 2009) - all non-violent activists and leaders within the Palestinian camp are now behind Israeli prisons. Where is Mr. Elahi's outrage against such Israeli detention without charges? One should not ignore the historical fact that the Palestinian Intifadah and its extreme version, played out in the Occupied Territories, did not just happen for no reason. The continuing Israeli expansionist policy, war crimes and persecution are the factors that seeded the birth of such violent resistance tactics that we are witnessing. For decades before the 1980s, there were hardly any such actions taken by the Palestinian people. Of course, there were some plane hijacks, but these were too few to be considered serious or problematic of the scale we see today.
Israel's arbitrary detention and persecution of dissenters such as Mohammad, Abdallah, and Jamal-Palestinians who are leading a nonviolent movement of protest against Israeli apartheid and in support of campaigns of boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel-stand as a crucial test of whether the Obama Administration singles out Israel for a special exemption from its human rights rhetoric when the Secretary Clinton pledged that the Obama Administration would hold itself accountable to universal human rights standards:
"By holding ourselves accountable, we reinforce our moral authority to demand that all governments adhere to obligations under international law; among them, not to torture, arbitrarily detain and persecute dissenters, or engage in political killings. Our government and the international community must counter the pretensions of those who deny or abdicate their responsibilities and hold violators to account."
How hypocritical does Secretary Clinton sound when we compare her rhetoric against concrete actions! Truly, more and more President Obama's policies in the Muslim world are sounding like those of the Bush W. era. And that is unacceptable and bad for our world.

Here in this short response, I shall not dwell upon the subject of current violence inside Pakistan because of the time it would take for an objective analysis of the sad situation there. Suffice it to say that like any nominal Muslim, I strongly condemn violence in any form. While I condemn such internecine violence reaping the Pakistani society today, it would be too foolish for anyone to ignore foreign complicity to initiate and sustain such madness either. Let’s not forget that there was no Af-Pak Taliban before the current vicious cycle of violence that had its root in the Soviet Occupation of Afghanistan and the drone attacks inside Pakistan. As an ardent student of history I can definitely predict that with outside players and factors gone, Pakistan would be much better off today.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Prime Minister Sk. Hasina’s Upcoming Visit to India – A Mock Memo

Prime Minister Sk. Hasina Wazed is scheduled to leave for New Delhi within the next few days. If I were in her shoes, here below is what I would have said to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India during our official face-to-face meeting.

Dear Mr. Singh, thanks for the opportunity you have provided to discuss the bilateral relationship between our two neighboring countries. As you know, this relationship between our two countries is shaped not only by geography, history, culture and economics but also by geopolitics. We, in Bangladesh, are mindful of India’s timely assistance during our nine-month long liberation war that witnessed genocide of our people and exodus of millions of refugees into India. We also remember the sacrifice of many Indian soldiers that gave their lives so that we could be free and independent. On behalf of 160 million Bangladeshis, let me take this opportunity to express my deep gratitude to the Indian government and its people for all that they did, endured and sacrificed so that Bangladesh would become a reality in the global arena. Thank you.

Today, Bangladesh is a proud member of the UN, OIC, Commonwealth of Nations, SAARC and BIMSTEC; it is the seventh most populous country in the world with a vibrant economy that is listed amongst the Next-11 countries.

Having said that, Mr. Singh, as you are aware, the friendly relationship between our two countries did face some bumps in the last 38 years, especially, after the murder of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975. Our two countries share waters from 54 common rivers and share common land and maritime boundaries. Just to put into perspective, we share 4096 km of land boundary. Even after the signing of the Mujib-Indira Pact of 1974, there remain 51 enclaves of Bangladesh, measuring 7,083.72 acres, which are land-locked inside India whose residents live in abysmal conditions, with a lack of water, roads, electricity, schools and medicines. That situation is simply unacceptable in the 21st century and needs immediate redress. Six kilometers and a half of border along the Comilla-Tripura area still remain undemarcated. This must change.

In the past, Bangladesh government has frequently protested BSF incursions inside Bangladesh, and shootings which resulted in deaths of many unarmed Bangladeshi citizens. As of last month, the death count alone in our side since 1990 stands at 1090. There is hardly a week when Bangladeshis living along the border are not victims of BSF shootings, thus souring relationship between our two peoples. Such an aggressive and utterly irresponsible practice on the part of BSF must come to a halt. Our tradition dictates that we value life and cannot therefore accept practices that are grossly criminal and inhuman.

Let me now move to the crucial water share issue. It is like a life and death issue for us. Bangladesh is a lower riparian country and is, therefore, vulnerable to any unilateral action on her common rivers by India. While we understand the increasing energy demands within India, we simply cannot welcome any initiative that devastates our people. Already our people have suffered enormously from the adverse effects of dams and barrages that were constructed on many common rivers. Whereas during the lean seasons, the water flow in the Teesta River used to be 4,000 cusec at the minimum before the Gajoldoba barrage was constructed some 70 km upstream from Dalia point in Nilphamari in 1985, we now get less than a thousand cusec. We are not getting our agreed upon due share of water flow.

To meet energy needs, in the last few years India has also constructed several dams across the Teesta. Such measures have resulted in loss of navigation during the dry season and flooding during the wet season, let alone causing loss of livelihood of millions of our people that depend on water. Instead of poverty alleviation, these structures are forcing poverty onto our people.

As to the Farakka Barrage, it has been described, and if I may add, rightly so, as the Death Trap for Bangladesh. A walk along the coast of the Padma and Teesta Rivers inside Bangladesh is sufficient to prove the claim. It will surely pain any conscientious human being, seeing the irreversible damages done on our side. Mr. Singh, please, ensure that we get due share of water from all those common rivers during the dry season. Dear Prime Minister, we cannot consent to any new death trap for Bangladesh. Please, stop the construction of the Tipaimukh Dam. Please, also stop the Fulertal Barrage.

Let me now move on to the bilateral trade issue. As per 2007-08 statistics, Bangladesh imported $ 3.7 billion worth of goods from India while we exported $35 million! (Informal trade is estimated to be at least double these numbers! The smuggling of contraband items from India goes unnoticed!) As is quite evident, there is a huge trade imbalance between our two countries, which needs to be corrected as soon as possible. One of the prudent ways to resolving this trade deficit would be for your government to lift the Tariff, para-Tariff & non-Tariff barriers, which are currently imposed on goods imported from Bangladesh. We would also welcome direct trading facilities with India’s seven eastern states. The import of Bangladeshi goods to those eastern states can also have a positive impact in not only closing the trade deficit with India but also reaping multi-faceted benefits to India in an area that is vulnerable to outside influence.

Let me now move to the security issues. We understand India’s priorities to contain insurgency in her north-east corner, close to the Bangladesh border. As our recent extradition of the ULFA leaders to the Indian government has demonstrated, we are very serious about ensuring that our soil is not used for terrorist and anti-state activities against our neighbor. Suffice it to say that we expect similar reciprocities from India. For years, India has had sponsored and assisted subversive elements in the hilly districts of Bangladesh to destabilize our state. There are some 40 Santi Bahini camps inside India. There are even Bangasena terrorist camps operating inside the state of West Bengal today whose objective remains the disintegration of Bangladesh and the creation a Hindu state called Bangabhumi, curving out 1/3 of Bangladesh in our south-western part. Such hostile activities ought to stop immediately.

We are genuinely interested in the Asian Highway that allows regional states to be connected with each other. We understand Indian government’s rationale for the request for transit routes that connect its north-eastern states with West Bengal via Bangladesh. For instance, the direct transit route from Kolkata in the state of West Bengal to Agartala in the state of Tripura via Bangladesh would reduce the distance from 1880 km to merely 740 km. While we are willing to consider such a request for transit routes via Bangladesh we believe that for greater good of our entire region, a more comprehensive scheme is needed that allows connecting Bangladesh to India, China, Myanmar, Nepal and Bhutan through transit routes inside India. Because of regional security concerns, I must, however, emphasize here that such transit routes ought to be used purely for tourism, trade and commercial use. Suffice it to say that we also expect connectivity to all our enclaves inside India. In accordance with the Mujib-Indira Treaty of 1974, and following the due process (Supreme Court order and constitutional amendment), the Government of Bangladesh promptly handed over the Berubari enclave to India. Sadly, India has neither ratified the treaty nor met its obligations, including the transfer of the Tin Bigha corridor. The enclaves of Dohogram and Angorputa near the border have to have 24/7/365 corridor facility. Denying such transit rights to people living inside the enclaves is simply criminal, inhuman and unacceptable.

According to the 1974 Mujib-Indira Treaty, midstream of border-rivers defines the boundaries of our two countries. However, subsequent dykes and embankments that have been constructed by India have had some adverse effects. These have led not only to severe soil erosion on our side but also changed the course of those rivers. The erosion on the Bangladesh side gives way to new chars (or islands) on the other side which Indian villagers illegally occupy in no time with the help of the BSF. Bangladesh is losing thousands of acres of land to India in this process, and this must stop. Let me remind you here that the 1974 Treaty between our two friendly states stipulated that the line of separation between Bangladesh and India is defined along fixed lines and not shifting lines, which happens as a result of shift in the movement of common rivers along the border. I call upon your government to ensure that the common border along those rivers remain physically where it was back in 1974 when the treaty was signed between our two governments.

Dear Mr. Singh, the maritime boundary demarcation in the Bay of Bengal remains a major contentious issue, especially in the light of offshore oil and gas explorations. Bangladesh Government is genuinely concerned about claims made by India and Myanmar that appear to us to be exaggerated, unscientific, irrational, ill-intentioned and illegal, and aim at sea- or zone-locking Bangladesh. As evidenced from direction of our rivers to the Bay of Bengal, we strongly believe that natural prolongation of continental shelf is from north to south and not east to west. My government has recently registered its objection with the UN to India’s and Myanmar’s claims over certain areas in the Bay of Bengal.

It is disheartening to see that the status of the Talpatty Island, formed by silts brought by southward flowing river Hariabhanga in south-western Bangladesh into the Bay of Bengal, still remains disputed between our two friendly nations. We wonder why! Is India’s might becoming the right to her exaggerated, unscientific claims and illegal possessions? Should not such disputes be resolved mutually and justly between the two friendly countries?

Dear Mr. Prime Minister, many in Bangladesh consider India as a hegemonic power that does not care about legitimate rights of its smaller neighbors. That perception has to change for greater good of our entire region. My government is committed to improving relationship with India. We believe that friendship is based on reciprocity of goodwill, cooperation and trust. Bangladesh’s smaller size should not let any state demean her geo-strategic pivotal status. We believe that contentious matters need to be resolved justly and equitably as soon as possible, failing which we only plant the seeds of distrust. We have the Gujral Doctrine in front of us to guide us resolve our outstanding problems amicably and fairly.

Dear Mr. Singh, let me reassure you that our Bangladesh Government considers yours as a friendly government. We strongly believe that the bumps I mentioned in our roads of friendship can definitely be fixed and we can usher in a new era of regional cooperation, prosperity and friendship. What we need is political will that is forward looking. With that, I believe that we are capable of weeding out mistrust, thereby allowing our peoples on both sides of the border to live peacefully and prosperously. As we move into this New Year, let’s give that present to our peoples. Thank you.

References:
http://www.southasianmedia.net/profile/india/india_interstateconflicts1.cfm
http://www.spiritus-temporis.com/bangabhumi/; http://www.defence.pk/forums/bangladesh-defence/24485-india-patronize-hindu-militant-group-breaking-bangladesh-setup-hindu-state.html
http://www.ittefaq.com/issues/2009/08/12/news0502.htm
Ibid.
http://www.thaindian.com/newsportal/business/bangladesh-takes-marine-border-dispute-with-india-to-un_100272494.html
The author is indebted to Dr. M. Aminul Karim for fruitful discussion on this subject, and the access to his working paper entitled: Bangladesh-India Relations: Some Recent Trends, ISAS Working Paper No. 96, Nov. 12, 2009, NSU, Singapore. The author also acknowledges the privilege to share some data from Maj. (Retd.) Zaman.