Wednesday, March 24, 2010

An Alternative View of “Crossfire” getting Cross-fired

Extra-judicial killings are unacceptable anywhere. Having said that let's not be oblivious of the hard facts in our world. Such killings are quite common everywhere and are routinely practiced by most governments to weed out elements within the society that they consider dangerous, who might otherwise escape from a faulty judicial system. Consider, for instance, the Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK) where some 700,000 Indian soldiers are now stationed to do the administrative 'police' work. With their unsheathed bayonets they are supervising every five meters, all the time, all year round. Or look at the eastern Indian states where the government of India is in a war against the locals, who are conveniently dumped as the Naxalites or Maoists. There under the name of Operation Green Hunt, the Indian paramilitary forces are doing the ‘army’ job, hunting down the so-called Maoists. Before Operation Green Hunt, the state government armed tribal militia, which, backed by police in a state like Chhattisgarh, burned village after village. Nearly 640 villages were emptied in a text-book way of what’s known as strategic hamletting, which the Burmese SPDC regime has been routinely practicing against the Rohingyas and the Karens in the Arakan and Karen States, respectively, of Myanmar for quite some time. It was tried by the Americans in Vietnam in the 1960s and the British in Malaysia decades before during the British occupation of the territory. The operation forces locals to move into police wayside camps so that they can be controlled, and the villages are emptied so that the forests become the refuge for the ‘terrorists.’

In the last few years, tens of thousands of freedom-loving Kashmiri Muslims and 'Naxalites' have been killed by such 'crossfire.' As to other types of crimes, e.g., disappearance, rape, destruction of homes and fields, the least said the better. Just a reading of Arundhati Roy's essays in the Outlook "Walking with the Comrades" and "Azadi: It's the only thing the Kashmiri wants. Denial is delusion." and interview in the Democracy Now with Amy Goodman and Anjali Kamat last Monday is enough to see the dirty, ugly and not-so-pleasant, undemocratic realities inside India - supposedly the largest democracy in the world today.

As I write Kanu Sanyal - the legendary founder of the Naxalite movement of the 1960s in West Bengal - that heralded a violent struggle and claimed thousands of lives, died today, apparently by committing suicide. I won't be surprised to learn that he was murdered by the Indian government agencies. Such mysterious deaths are nothing new in India.

For the last 43 years, “crossfire” is sad part of life for most Palestinians and Chechens living inside the occupied territories. Thanks to the activities of the occupation forces, it is also a fact of life for many Pakistanis, Afghans and Iraqis today! Even the USA and the UK - two flag carriers of liberal democracy in our world today -- are not immune from such extra-judicial killings where many innocent people were the victims. We have seen such “crossfire” in Germany, Spain and Italy also in their wars against home-grown terrorists and the mafia underworld.

Since 2004 when the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) went into operation in Bangladesh as an elite force, it has done a wonderful job in fighting crime and terrorism. It has arrested hundreds of criminals, smugglers, fake currency manufacturers and dealers, and drug traffickers inside the country. Under the able leadership of DG - Mr. Hasan M. Khandker, NDC, it has also succeeded in keeping its politically neutral image intact. No one can blame it as another Rakkhi Bahini!

According to the US State Department's Human Rights Report on Bangladesh, released on Mar 12, law enforcement officials were responsible for 154 deaths, 129 of which were attributed to 'crossfire' in 2009, representing a 3 per cent increase from the previous year. From published reports, on an average some 255 people get murdered every month in Bangladesh, mostly by terrorists and extortionists. The average monthly numbers for robbery, hijacking and abduction are 49, 78 and 58, respectively. The death count by alleged crossfire comprises only a small fraction of that total number (less than 5%).

While extra-judicial killing is inexcusable, it is worth noting that hardly anyone killed in a ‘crossfire’ was an innocent by-stander. Tired of the spiraling crime and corruption, and a faulty judicial process, which allows criminals to go free on bails in higher courts of the country, the general public has been very supportive of the RAB actions against those criminals. With such crossfire, they see one less terrorist, murderer and extortionist like Picchy Hannan, Debashis and Shahjahan, let alone the notorious Bangla Bhai who was arrested and later hanged for terrorism.

Without RAB’s engagement, Bangladesh would have more, and not lesss, of the top terrorists like Subrata Bain, Prokash Kumar Biswas, Shahadat Hossain, Mollah Masud (of Seven Star gang), Dakat Shaheed, Haris Ahmed alias Haris, Khorshed, Tanvir Islam Joy alias Tarek Rana and Zisan (all the above now hiding in India), Jabbar Munna, Kala Jahangir, Tokai Sagar, Ashiq and Saidul (both of Kawran Bazar), Mamunur Rashid (of Nasirabad, Chittagong), Champaiya alias Abu Hanif, Jashimuddin (of Bakolia, Chittagong), Abdur Rahim and Fayyaz (of Lalkhan Bazar, Chittagong), preying upon our vulnerable people.

And yet, a liberal section within Bangladesh is very vocal about crossfire deaths. It is not difficult to comprehend why many of our concerned citizens and expatriates see anti-Bangladesh campaigns in such allegations. They suspect deep rooted conspiracy against the people and government of Bangladesh.

As I write this essay, Los Angeles Police officers fatally shot late Saturday night an unarmed autistic man, Steven Eugene Washington. The officers said that they thought Washington was pulling out a weapon from his waistband area, but he turned out to be unarmed. The American Civil Liberties Union is calling on the Los Angeles Police Department to review its policies following the fatal shooting of an unarmed autistic man.

As I have hinted above, there is hardly a single state in our days that is not blemished by accusations of crossfire. It is, therefore, simply wrong to showcase Bangladesh as the only offender. It is hypocritical when finger-pointing comes from agencies and groups that are working for states that routinely practice such abuses.

I am not aware of any photo exhibition to protest crossfire anywhere, including India. So like many concerned Bangladeshi-Americans I am suspicious about the motive of the Crossfire exhibition in Drik Gallery in Dhaka. We are told that Mahasweta Devi, a writer and social activist, came all the way from India for the inaugurating of the exhibition. As I write, more than a thousand Bangladeshis have been killed by the Indian BSF in the border areas. I am not aware of any photo exhibit inside Bangladesh or outside to showcase such grievous violations of human rights by India. Has Ms. Devi done anything to bring an end to such routine murders, committed by her own government? Has she done anything to stop or condemn the crossfire in Kashmir? If not, why all this excitement and fuss about crossfire in Bangladesh? Never mind Kashmir, I am not aware of any photo exhibit for those unfortunate Bangladeshi victims by the photo-journalist Shahidul Alam either.

In a November 1, 2009 exhibition at the same gallery, Mr. Alam tried to show the plight of the Tibetan exiles from their homeland. The exhibition titled ‘Into Exile — Tibet 1949-2009’ was also closed down by the police. We can understand Bangladesh government's reactions to the Chinese government's disapproval of such exhibits which it finds aimed at sensation generating and harmful to its national interest. Many people suspect Mr. Alam of being used by pro-Indian groups to further their case inside Bangladesh, albeit at the expense of China – the other more powerful regional power.

In the regional tug of war between India and China for supremacy, it would be ill-advised of Bangladesh to take a side. It would be stupid of any Bangladeshi to fall into traps set by groups and states that are hostile to the territorial integrity and interest of Bangladesh. Our intellectuals ought to have clear hindsight, and know their priorities well before promoting agendas that only harm our people and our national interest.

Whether we like it or not, in this age of information super highway, perception is increasingly defining our reality. As a nation, we should never let others define that perception for us. It is sad to see how some of our journalists, working for foreign interests, are abusing their freedom to report mundane matters and making mountains out of moles when more pressing needs are ignored. Like any other country in this planet, Bangladesh has tons of problems. However, crossfire is not a priority in my Pareto chart.

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