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All weather friendship

Sadeq Khan

Bangladesh is getting exhausted by internal bleeding. A despotic regime, unrepresentative in real sense and over the last seven years isolated altogether from the people, is at the helm of state affairs with a pet legislative body and a subservient judiciary, depending entirely on a repressive police raj to enslave the people, tame the civil society and intimidate the media into self-censorship.

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Sadeq Khan

Bangladesh is getting exhausted by internal bleeding. A despotic regime, unrepresentative in real sense and over the last seven years isolated altogether from the people, is at the helm of state affairs with a pet legislative body and a subservient judiciary, depending entirely on a repressive police raj to enslave the people, tame the civil society and intimidate the media into self-censorship.

The tricks used by the state machine of tyranny in the name of law-enforcement are manifold. They range from extortion at random from trade centres, road and river traffic, ports and airports, industrial establishment and development projects to raids in homes, mahallas, villages and townships to conduct socalled “detention trade” of procuring “protection money” on pain of “crossfire” execution, maiming by close-range shooting at the knees or at the feet, and in case of cash-rich victims or political adversaries, forced disappearance for covert execution or ransom.

Loss of trust
The tricks also include harassment of prominent victims by implication in multiple gang cases one after another and refusal of bail, leading to punishment of long detention of a victim without being found guilty. Associated with the police, plainclothes police and some Rapid Action Battalion units are a mafia wing of ruling party mastans with local, sectoral and central links in the civilian hierarchy of the ruling elite, which includes politicians, crony capitalists, bureaucrats and godfathers of criminal gangs who invariably maintain second homes and establishments abroad to flee the country if and when the wrath of the people may explode to render the tyranny indefensible. During the last Ramzan, the repression of the extortion regime reached such a peak that explosion of people’s anger, evidenced in resistance and bloody clashes in a number of places, could have developed into a conflagration, perhaps prevented by the spirit of patience, endurance and prayer of deliverance in the holy month.
In this dismal plight, the dynamics of growth of the nation has been kept apace by the toil of its internally and externally employed manpower and by the diligence and adaptability of same groups of entrepreneurs, big and small. They have been able to do so despite steady deterioration of state infrastructure, both physical and institutional, an utter lack of timely decision-making and callous neglect of governance by the self-seeking incumbents of power. Albeit some honest and patriotic civil and military bureaucrats have kept on acting as guards of national development interests in this messy country situation, but that guard is also becoming weak and vulnerable as we are losing the trust of most of our major development partners.
The USA and the EU have expressly distanced themselves from the current regime in Dhaka, whose hauteur on strength of support from the previous government of regional hegemony in Delhi led to some undesirable diplomatic incidents. The current government in Delhi does not seem to be enamoured with the existing regime in Dhaka, and hesitant in taking its side in consideration of its ambition to earn a permanent seat in the UN Security Council and for that purpose to align its neighbourhood policies with the global consensus for encouraging pro-people and representative governance amongst UN member countries.

Beggar thy neighbor policy
The concern felt by the Indian power elite over Bangladesh situation is reflected in an editorial opinion in a leading Indian newspaper The Hindu in its 28 July, 2015 issue. Interalia, The Hindu editorial says: “Bangladesh has seen a political crisis since the re-election of the Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League government in January 2014. The Khaleda Zia-led BNP and other opposition parties boycotted the poll after their demand for elections under a neutral caretaker was rejected. As a result, the election became a one-horse race, raising questions about the government’s democratic credentials.
“The animosity and mistrust between the two main parties have cost Bangladesh dear. While the BNP and the Jamaat resorted to violent protests, the government responded in a determined manner to crush the opposition. Political violence has been steadily on the rise since the last election, while many have criticised the undemocratic bent of the Hasina government. The situation remains volatile with forces opposed to secularism and democracy waiting to grab any opportunity to push their agenda. It is no secret that the Islamists have been aggressively trying to capitalise from the political mess. The Jamaat in particular has been at odds with the Sheikh Hasina government after two of its leaders were hanged for “crimes against humanity” committed during the 1971 Liberation War. Moreover, there was the real danger of the military finding a pretext for another political intervention if the law and order situation had worsened.”
In any case, neighbourly influence of the Delhi’s hegemony on Bangladesh people as well as polity has steadily decreased, as despite closer engagement and many concessions from Bangladesh over the last seven years, the other side failed to offer any satisfaction to Bangladesh in resolving most of the long-standing disputes and grievous injuries from Delhi’s old “beggar they neighbour” policy.

Facts and fictions
Despite settlement of long-awaited land and marine boundaries, the former by 41 year belated enactment by Indian Parliament and the latter by UNCLOS arbitration, Bangladeshis continue to die by shoot-at-sight orgy of Indian BSF almost weekly at the border fences erected by India. Teesta river-sharing issue awaits settlement for forty three years, and the menace of upstream diversion of Meghna waters at Tipaimukh as well as Indian river-linking project diverting Sankosh flows feeding Jamuna and its distributories in Bangladesh hangs like a Damocles’ Sword on the heads of the people of Bangladesh. Common man in Bangladesh find India as an “unfriendly” neighbour from their living experience.
Relations with nearly all members of the Organisation of Islamic Countries, the first and biggest bloc of transnational cooperation that Bangladesh joined at the behest of the-then Prime Minister and undisputed leader of the liberation struggle of Bangladesh. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, have declined under the current regime. With a constitutional policy of “friendship” for all in foreign relations (‘We are a small country, we want friendship to all and malice towards none’: Sheikh Mujibur Rahman), Bangladesh is now becoming almost friendless in its immediate neighbourhood and in the global community.
In this background, it was good to hear on the occasion of Chinese embassy reception on 28 July on the occasion of 88th founding anniversary of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), China’s Defence Attaché in Bangladesh, Senior Colonel Zhang Wei declare that China-Bangladesh cooperation are continuing on an even keel. He highlighted the rapid progress in China-Bangladesh military cooperation in the last few years, hailing it as “unprecedented level of cooperation.” Notably, he said, “Air Chief Marshal Xu Qiliang, Vice Chairman of Chinese Central Military Commission and H.E. Ms. Liu Yandong, Vice Premier of China, visited Bangladesh with great success. The topmost Chinese delegation met Honorable President Abdul Hamid and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, and signed a series of agreements with Bangladesh counterparts.”

All weather friendship
“Chinese PLA Navy hospital ship ‘Peace Ark’ visited Chittagong again and provided humanitarian medical services for the local people. Bangladesh so far is the only country in the world to receive Chinese medical ship twice. Over the past three decades, Bangladesh and China have maintained close defence ties. China is not only a reliable and affordable source of weapons and equipments for Bangladesh armed forces, but also provides military technology and training. During Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to China, the two sides agreed to forge closer defence relations in the future which includes a growing number of high-level exchange visits, training programmes, joint exercises, defence procurement, security cooperation such as counter terrorism, anti- piracy, peacekeeping cooperation and disaster management.”
For the sake of the security of the nation-state and for rebuilding of state infrastructure, both physical and institutional, the even keel of this all weather friendship must be maintained by consensus of the honest guards of national interest in the Services of the Republic, however derailed the sick power game in this country might be from time to time.


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Polarization amidst persecution: BNP changes track

M. Shahidul Islam in Toronto

Battered by an orgy of persistent persecutions that had resulted 100s of deaths and maiming, and over 35,000 incarceration of workers and leaders in the last two years alone, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) is changing is track and building a strong overseas operation to keep the party perky in order to direct future movements for holding an inclusive election from safe havens; away from the vicious paws of a repressive regime that the ruling AL has proved to be.

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M. Shahidul Islam in Toronto

Battered by an orgy of persistent persecutions that had resulted 100s of deaths and maiming, and over 35,000 incarceration of workers and leaders in the last two years alone, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) is changing is track and building a strong overseas operation to keep the party perky in order to direct future movements for holding an inclusive election from safe havens; away from the vicious paws of a repressive regime that the ruling AL has proved to be.

In recent weeks, the bruised party has reorganized its operations with formation of new committees in the UK and Canada while efforts are on to do the same in the USA. “This new phase of BNP’s politics is different and it has been forced upon us by a number of reasons,” says Shamsul Muktadir, one of the front ranking overseas BNP organizers living in Canada.

Move to unite nationalist forces
Muktadir says rampant persecutions of party leaders and workers aside, efforts are on to convict the party chairperson and the party’s senior vice chairman, Tarek Zia, who has been physically debilitated by torture while being in Bangladesh and, has been living in exile in the UK for years now. “The BNP will be destroyed soon unless we prop it from without, “Muktadir insists.
According to another BNP leader of national repute and stature, “A consensus has emerged that the party must embrace its estranged leaders and other nationalist forces, the persecuted intellectuals and all other patriotic elements at home and abroad, to create international pressure for holding a credible and inclusive general election by early 2016.” The leader said he’s being looked for by Bangladesh police and refused to be identified.
The spurt of such new activism abroad follows the commemoration of President Zia’s 34 death anniversary in Toronto under the guidance of Rezaul Karim Talukder, who had served the BNP in the 1980s as one of the leading organizers of the Nationalist Cultural Forum (JSS).
For months now, Talukder and his associates have been lobbying with the Bangladesh Caucus of the Canadian parliamentarians to exert what they call ‘soft power’ on the incumbent Bangladesh regime to ensure that the country gets back its deserved participatory democratic system sooner to overcome the stigma of the January 2014 farce election which was boycotted by most major political parties.
Meanwhile, in New York City, this correspondent witnessed during a recent trip a flurry of other civilsociety activism in concert with leading Bangladeshi academicians who believe restoration of credible democracy in Bangladesh brooks no further delay.

Mounting pressures for polls
“The Obama administration and the US Congress are being approached aggressively by a group of American Bangladeshis to exert simultaneous pressure on both Delhi and Dhaka to stop persecution of opposition leaders in Bangladesh and to hold a general election sooner,” said a New York based senior journalist who too had fled Bangladesh under persecution for being critical of the incumbent AL regime. 
“Our main focus is to convince global political and business leaders that collaborations with a regime that is not truly representative of the people and is too repressive against political dissents is in discord with civilized nations’ laws and other international guidelines,” said Muktadir, who’s an upstart scholar with a post graduate degree in international relations and a mint of diplomatic expertise earned while working for foreign diplomatic missions and other international organizations in Bangladesh and abroad.
When contacted, a reliable source within the BNP said, insisting on anonymity, “We’re mobilizing at home and abroad. The drought of democracy must be overcome by having the much needed rainfall of an election that must be truly reflective of public opinion, and, will end the existing political deadlock crippling Bangladesh within and destroying its image abroad.”
A Toronto-based local BNP leader said, “We’re collecting donations from party loyalists and other patriotic forces to make this global movement for restoration of democracy in Bangladesh a success.”


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This is Israeli television

Alice Rothchild in Boston AlterNet

When I received an email from Jewish Voice for Peace asking if I would be interested in an interview with a major TV news program, “Ulpan Shishi,” I was intrigued.
A senior Israeli news anchor, Danny Kushmaro, wanted to talk with American Jews who support the boycott, divestment, sanction movement against Israel.

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Alice Rothchild in Boston AlterNet

When I received an email from Jewish Voice for Peace asking if I would be interested in an interview with a major TV news program, “Ulpan Shishi,” I was intrigued.
A senior Israeli news anchor, Danny Kushmaro, wanted to talk with American Jews who support the boycott, divestment, sanction movement against Israel.

Multiple emails and phone calls with Omri Kronland, a producer on the popular Friday night show, reassured me that the program was actually interested in our opinions and would be “respectful,” although I was aware of the likelihood for hostile questioning and bizarre final editing. This was, after all, Israeli TV. On the other hand, this might provide me with an unusual opportunity to speak directly to the Israeli public as an American Jew who is deeply concerned about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and believes that the status quo of occupation and discrimination will not change without outside pressure.

‘Israel against the world’
Kushmaro arrived two hours late and was in a hurry to get to the airport, so we did the videotaping standing up. He had already spoken with three other activists as well as representatives from the right-wing advocacy group StandWithUs, supposedly to give the impression of “balanced journalism.” He started out with, “So why do you want to boycott me? Why are you gambling on my life?”
His rapid-fire questioning and frequent sparring made it clear he had no interest in understanding my views. Here was an opportunity for him to talk with a respected physician and committed activist whose objections to Israeli foreign policy and treatment of Palestinians is grounded in the Jewish prophetic traditions: seeking justice and working with the oppressed. We could have explored the efforts to find a resolution to some of the thorniest issues in the region: the cost of Jewish privilege, the vexing issues of democracy and Zionism, the international excitement generated by a nonviolent Palestinian resistance movement. But this interview was all about Danny Kushmaro feeling threatened and misunderstood, the existential threat to all Israelis, and the arrogant and misguided attitudes of American Jews who do not understand the evils of the Arab world in general and Hamas in particular.
The program aired July 17 and despite my inadequate Hebrew, I could tell the visuals were not friendly and there was much more commentary than listening. The segment before us featured the title, “Israel Against the World.” That certainly set the tone. The BDS segment opened with clips of BDS activists chanting and marching (evoking wild terrorists who hate Israel) and misleading infographics about the levels of foreign aid to other countries. Qassam rockets launched while I talked about the horrific devastation and suffering I witnessed while in Gaza in March. Even the background music switched when the activists were speaking.

Journalism minus integrity
The victim narrative was deeply entrenched; Kushmaro revealed an utter lack of sympathy for the massive death toll and destruction in Gaza. He insisted Israel did not want to start that war; he viewed criticism of Israel, which he admitted is “not a perfect country,” as disproportionate and biased. 
With further translation, I learned that he referred fondly to the Rothschild family who bought land in Mandate Palestine (with the not-so-subtle implication that I am a traitor to the family name, although I can assure you I am not from that family). He confused anti-Semitism with criticism of Israeli policy and Zionism in an interview segment featuring two people from StandWithUs. I can only describe them as living in an alternative universe, talking about how hard it is for “pro-Israel” professors who are forced to keep their opinions quiet, face daily hostility, and are at risk for losing their jobs, even in the field of biology! They talked about Jewish students who cannot sit on student councils. Here Kushmaro nodded sympathetically, buying the world-is against-us mantra hook, line and sinker.
Had he done his research, he could easily have discovered that Jewish Voice for Peace has established an Academic Council to provide information and support for the many academics who have been attacked, harassed, threatened, blacklisted, fired, and denied tenure because of their sympathy to the Palestinian narrative, their criticism of Israeli policies, or their support for the BDS movement. The list is long and troubling: Ithaca College, North Carolina State University, DePaul University, Bard College, Barnard College, Columbia University, UC Santa Barbara, etc.
If he had any journalistic integrity, he could have critically explored organizations like Campus Watch, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, the Anti-Defamation League, Hillel, AIPAC, and a host of others that have a long track record of McCarthy-esque tactics and of aggressively muzzling discourse on Israel as well as pouring millions of dollars into campuses to control Israel messaging. This includes an app for students to report their professors when they deviate from the party line. And then there is Sheldon Adelson who just raised $50 million to fight BDS and the $100 million the Jewish National Fund donated in June 2015 to the JNF Boruchin Israel Education Advocacy Center.

An opportunity lost
The tragedy is that this mish-mash of disinformation and alarming visuals is what passes for critical journalism in a country that is very concerned with its international image and seems unwilling to hear that its behavior is causing international censure. Kushmaro had a unique opportunity to educate the Israeli public about a growing international movement by listening to the voices of Jewish-American activists who are deeply concerned with the survival of Israel and who refuse to be complicit in its continuing descent into an increasingly racist, militaristic society that endangers not only Palestinians, but Jewish Israelis and both Diasporas as well. Instead, he chose to produce a segment that only reinforced the increasing insularity of Israeli political discourse and the mantra that “the whole world is against us,” without acknowledging that critics of Israel have legitimate concerns about the state’s policies.
The response to the program has been telling. A number of us have been showered with hate mail, one interviewee was forced to close her facebook account and JVP has received more than its share of hostility. At the same time, several Israeli activists sent messages of support and pride and a few curious Israelis wrote, just wanting to talk.
Alice Rothchild is a Boston-based physician, author, and filmmaker who is active in the US Jewish peace movement.


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Indian President Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam passes away

Dr. Abdul Ruff Colachal in New Delhi

Known fondly as the People’s President and the Missile Man, former Indian President who encouraged children and youth to dream big for bright future, has passed away following a cardiac arrest while delivering a lecture in IIM-Shillong in Northeast India. Dr Kalam was hospitalized in a very critical condition and could not survive.

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Dr. Abdul Ruff Colachal in New Delhi

Known fondly as the People’s President and the Missile Man, former Indian President who encouraged children and youth to dream big for bright future, has passed away following a cardiac arrest while delivering a lecture in IIM-Shillong in Northeast India. Dr Kalam was hospitalized in a very critical condition and could not survive.

Visionary Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen (APJ) Abdul Kalam was born on 15 October 1931 in Rameswaram, Tamil Nadu, was an Indian scientist who ended his career as the 11th President of India from July 25, 2002 to July 25, 2007. Kalam came from a poor background and started working at an early age to supplement his family’s income. After completing school, Kalam distributed newspapers to contribute to his father’s income. In his school years he had average grades but was described as a bright and hardworking student who had a strong desire to learn and spend hours on his studies, especially mathematics.

Kalam the ‘missile man’
After completing his education at the Ramanathapuram Schwartz Matriculation School, Kalam went on to attend Saint Joseph’s College, Tiruchirappalli, then affiliated with the University of Madras, from where he graduated in physics in 1954. Towards the end of the course, he was not enthusiastic about the subject and would later regret the four years he studied it. He moved to Madras in 1955 to study aerospace engineering.
Kalam spent his growing years dreaming of conquering the space frontiers on the Arabian Sea. His dreams of the next two decades were mostly conjured up on the shores of the Bay of Bengal, where he test-fired a variety of short, medium and long-range conventional and nuclear-capable missiles for India. His interest in flying led to a degree in aeronautical engineering, and eventually to his supervising the development of India’s guided missile program. He went abroad to study only once, in 1963-‘64, to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the United States. As president he visited Africa.
Dr. Kalam spent the next four decades as a scientist and science administrator, mainly at the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and was intimately involved in India’s civilian space program and military missile development efforts. He thus came to be known as the Missile Man of India for his work on the development of ballistic missile and launch vehicle technology. He also played a pivotal organizational, technical and political role in India’s Pokhran-II nuclear tests in 1998, the first since the original nuclear test by India in 1974. After serving a term of five years, he returned to his civilian life of education, writing, and public service. He has received several prestigious awards, including the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honour, though Indian regime has recently tried to belittle it by honouring its corporate lords’ favourites with this award.

Busy life
On 10 June 2002, the BJP led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) which was in power at the time, expressed that they would propose Kalam for the post of President, and both the Samajwadi Party and the Nationalist Congress Party backed his candidacy. After the Samajwadi Party announced its support for Kalam, the Congress candidate Narayanan chose not to seek a second term in office, leaving the field clear. Kalam moved into the Rashtrapati Bhavan after he was sworn in as President of India on 25 July. Kalam was the third President of India to have been honoured with a Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honour, before becoming the President. Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (1954) and Dr Zakir Hussain (1963) were the earlier recipients of Bharat Ratna who later became the President of India. He was also the first scientist and the first bachelor to be Indian president.  He did not have the support of the left parties, Shiv Sena, Congress party and UPA constituents, to receive a renewed mandate. Kalam declined to contest the 2012 presidential poll.
After leaving office, Kalam became a visiting professor at Indian Institute of Management Shillong, Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad and Indian Institute of Management Indore, honorary fellow of Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, Chancellor of the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology Thiruvananthapuram, a professor of Aerospace Engineering at Anna University (Chennai), JSS University (Mysore) and an adjunct/visiting faculty at many other academic and research institutions across India. He taught information technology at IIIT Hyderabad and technology at Banaras Hindu University and Anna University.
It was unfair that Kalam was frisked by airport security at the JFK Airport in New York in September 2011, which led to protests by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs and an expression of regret by US Government.  Kalam had previously been frisked by the ground staff of the Continental Airlines at the Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi in July 2009 and was treated like an ordinary passenger, despite being on the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security’s list of people exempted from security screening in India. Obviously, by insulting Dr. Kalam, India has also been insulted.

A common man’s president
In 2011, Kalam was criticised by civil groups over his stand on the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant, where Tamil Nadu government killed some of the protesters without mercy, while he supported setting up of the nuclear power plant and never spoke with the local people. The protesters were hostile to his visit as they perceived him to be a pro-nuclear scientist and were unimpressed by the assurance provided by him on the safety features of the plant.
A rare president of India Dr. Kalam replied to letters from the common people. As one of the few presidents to have touched the hearts of the poor children in the country, and since he also came from a poor background, he knew the power of education in changing one’s future.  Dr. Kalam became the first president to visit the Line of Control (LoC) and address the troops at Uri, close to the border with Pakistan.
Dr. Kalam, who received awards for his honest and dedicated work, also enjoyed writing Tamil poetry and playing the veenai, a South Indian string instrument. A religious person, Kalam could recite both the Holy Quran and the Bhagavad Gita.


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Myanmar sets for general elections but no hope for democracy

Shamsuddin Ahmed

Myanmar, fighting civil war with armed ethnic groups, is set for general elections on November 8. Basically ruled by the army, a recent move by the ruling USDP and supported by opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) of Aung San Suu Kyi to lower from 75 per cent to 70 per cent support in parliament for constitutional amendment ended in failure.

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Shamsuddin Ahmed

Myanmar, fighting civil war with armed ethnic groups, is set for general elections on November 8. Basically ruled by the army, a recent move by the ruling USDP and supported by opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) of Aung San Suu Kyi to lower from 75 per cent to 70 per cent support in parliament for constitutional amendment ended in failure.

With 25 per cent constitutionally guaranteed seats in parliament the army rejected the bill sought to amend the constitution. The amendment would have ended the army’s legislative veto power, paved way for constitutional reforms easy and a chance of Suu Kyi’s coming to power.

Democracy in transition
In a rare interview the Army Chief, General Min Aung Hlaing, told BBC, which was broadcast on July 19 that the military will not step back from politics until a peace deal is reached with all the ethnic armed groups of the country. But, he added, the army will respect the results of the forthcoming general elections even if the opposition wins. The army recognized the parliament as constituent assembly, not for a governing parliament. It was no surprise that after the last election the military council (SLORC) declined to hand over power to the National League for Democracy that had won the majority.
The longtime democracy leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner said she was not surprised at the fate of the amendment bill which was debated for three days in parliament. She called on her supporters not to be discouraged, and hoped her party would gain significant seats in parliament in the election. NLD participation in the election does not depend only on whether the constitution will be amended or not, she said. Nonetheless, the parliament’s decision was seen as a setback for Myanmar’s political transition, which began in 2011 when the military, which had ruled the country for decades, handed over power to a mostly civilian government.
Incidentally, Suu Kyi maintained silence on the plight of minority Muslims of Arakan state (Rohingyas) although her mentors, the western powers expressed deep concern and called for protecting their rights.  Nor she was heard speaking on the civil war with ethnic armed groups to the dismay of many. Probably, she did not like to annoy the army.

Border ethnic conflict continues
Reports trickled down from across the border (Bangladesh shares 271 kilometer border with Myanmar) said many politicians and analysts in Myanmar view the mood of the military leaders is far from euphoric.  They apprehend that the election will not be a happy culmination of democratic reforms. Rather it will usher in a period of acute uncertainty and unpredictable political horse-trading, disappoint almost everyone. It would not be surprising if the November 8 election yields another government dominated by retired soldiers and obliged to the serving generals.
The government is engaged in discussion with the National Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), an umbrella organization representing all the ethnic armed groups since March, aiming at a nationwide ceasefire agreement. Officials claimed that a nationwide agreement is round the corner. Bilateral ceasefire accord was reached with most ethnic armies including adjacent Nagaland based National Socialist Council of Nagaland led by SS Khaplang. Myanmar has also Naga citizens and Khaplang came from Myanmar. NSCN has been fighting with Indian forces to establish a separate state of greater Nagaland.
Kachin, Kokang, Palaung are the main armed ethnic groups. As talks went on, fighting continued in remote northeast between the government forces and Kachin Independence Army (KIA).  Kachin Land News reported Burmese army launched airstrike and ground offensive. Fighter jets bombed KIA positions. Almost daily fighting forced thousands of people flee across the border in China and also Thailand. Arakan Liberation army was emerging as another ethnic force in Myanmar’s civil war.

Conflicting reports on peace initiatives
Arakan Information Network, The Irrawaddy, reported the Arakan army over-ran two government camps in adjacent Chin state on March 29 killing two soldiers. Two others were taken prisoner. The Myanmar administration has allegedly promoted deep resentment among Rakhine community against the minority Rohingya Muslims. Official record show nearly 200 Rohingyas were killed and 1,40,000 displaced during the last few years.
Resurgence of ethnic conflict on the eve of general elections, the country is undoubtedly on the cusp of something big, wrote Richard Potter of Pittsburg in an article published by Delhi-based the Diplomat on July 22. Potter quoted Arakan army Brig General Tun Myat Naing as saying “May 2015 to May 2016 is a big period. Now it is July.  This year will bring back a sort of change in the country for the better.” However, the government officials ruled out such a prospect. It hoped peace would be restored with signing ceasefire agreement with all the ethnic armed groups which is near the corner.


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Syed Ashraful Islam: Then and now

Shahabuddin Ahmad

A Google download says that Syed Ashraful Islam, MP, was involved in student’s politics from early life in the Mymensingh district Awami League. After his father Syed Nazrul Islam was killed in November 1975, he left Bangladesh and devoted his energy in organizing the UK Awami league which was in disarray.

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Shahabuddin Ahmad

A Google download says that Syed Ashraful Islam, MP, was involved in student’s politics from early life in the Mymensingh district Awami League. After his father Syed Nazrul Islam was killed in November 1975, he left Bangladesh and devoted his energy in organizing the UK Awami league which was in disarray.

In the election held in 1996, Awami League came to power and Syed Ashraf MP was appointed as a State Minister for Civil Aviation and Tourism. During this incumbency I had the opportunity to meet him in his office where I have served for many years. I was totally unimpressed by seeing his office room which was not in order. We exchanged greetings and I left his office as he was reticent.

Ashraf’s portfolio change
I have been reading, as I am not apolitical, a lot of news reports which started appearing regarding him particularly when he was appointed minister for LGRD and Co-operatives after the elections in 2008 when Awami League again came to power. The press reports were on matters like he does not come to the office, he does not attend cabinet meetings regularly, he is not cordial to his colleagues and also to members of Awami Leagues students. The students particularly were uneasy with him as he did not, as the General Sectary of the party, attended to their needs such as arranging contracts, jobs etc. On one occasion, if I remember correctly, he made some remarks about Dr. Muhammad Yunus, the only Nobel Laureate of Bangladesh. I felt, his remark was uncharitable.
But after he lost his cabinet portfolio on July 9, the newspapers started publishing reports to say that Mr. Islam is honest, does not give in to pressure unduly for contracts and jobs and is a highly reasonable person and contributed, through discussions, in the proceedings of the cabinet meetings.  So the media reported against him for a period of 6 years and in favour for a short period of 7 days when he was meeting only those who are either not TV talk show participants, nor beneficiaries of the Awami League rule.
Many of his office colleagues and workers called on him during this period to show sympathy, according to reports. Syed Ashraf was a member of the cabinet without portfolio for a period of 7 days when impartial and sober elements of society spoke highly about him through various forums and I think thereby he earned a huge fund of goodwill.

The prime minister’s prerogative
Shortly after  Shekih Hasina had to appoint him as a minister for Public Affairs which has all along been held by all the Prime Ministers of the country and this appointment was preceded by one-two-one discussions which took place between Shekih Hasina and Syed Ashraf. Of course, Shekih Hasina has recently stated in a public function that reshuffling of cabinet and distribution of portfolios is a routine matter and it is the Prime Minister’s prerogative. However, this easy explanation has not been accepted by many people who have different idea about the changeover.
In days to come, sooner or later, truth will surface not only regarding this incident but also in respect of Sohel Taj son of Late Tajuddin Ahmad, the first Prime Minister of Bangladesh. According to press reports, when Sohel Taj was in Dhaka recently, he informed the Public Affairs ministry not to send his salary cheques.


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Political calm prevails while politics remains disquiet

Faruque Ahmed

Politics is no more a common property of the ordinary people. They don’t seem to understand what is happening around them or going to happen next. They only see a cloud of uncertainty and feel uneasy about their future.

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Faruque Ahmed

Politics is no more a common property of the ordinary people. They don’t seem to understand what is happening around them or going to happen next. They only see a cloud of uncertainty and feel uneasy about their future.

There exist a political calm but the environment is disquieting. The government remained unresponsive to the demand of the manor opposition alliance to hold a fresh and inclusive polls allowing the people to elect a government of their choice after the highly flawed January 5, 2014 election. But one senses a quiet preparation for a new mid-term election, sidetracking the major opposition BNP by way of prosecuting the senior BNP leaders including its chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia. Indeed, it is a disquieting situation.

BNP may be tactfully eliminated
Sensing the possible move for mid-term polls, the BNP chief made a fresh offer last week for the election time government. She said caretaker government is not the last word; a neutral acceptable election time government is the main issue for the opposition for the next election.
She is seemingly trying to create a room to negotiate and manoeuvre if and when the government comes up with a new election move. Nobody can predict the timing, but one can only hope it may be soon. The government is unlikely to wait for full five year term when its popular support is widely believed to be plunging.
Informed sources say two things are on move discreetly. The government is going to set up special speedy tribunals to quickly try the senior BNP leaders under framed up charges for their alleged role in arson and street violence early this year during its nationwide blockade and hartals.
Likewise, the government’s hand-picked docile Election Commission has undertaken the task of renewing the voters’ list and enlistment of young voters with support from ruling party men. It seems the government is working to create a new political dispensation in the country under which new opposition groups would be developed from within the Awami League gharana for easy manipulation.
In the new system BNP, Jamaat and other parties sitting on centre-right will have no place in this set up. To do this, informed sources claim, the ruling party’s strategy is to destroy BNP by splitting it. The Jamaat is not part of this scheme because it is already on the run.

BNP on strategy for survival
For now the Jamaat has lost ground for open politics, though it has not been banned ostensibly on war crime charges. Jamaat has backtracked and if BNP can be forced out of the political arena, the ruling party may be able to confine politics within its camp followers without any challenge from the Jamaat and BNP politics.
It is noted that BNP is aware of this move and it has been discussed at different levels in BNP that Begum Zia may also be forced into the jail as the Information Minister Hasanul Haque Inu has publicly hinted recently. They are known to be seriously working on a new strategy to see how they can face such a challenge from an uncompromising, ruthless ruling part which will not stop at anything short of BNP’s total capitulation.


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JC rejects poll rigging allegations

Jonaid Iqbal in Islamabad

Pakistan Supreme Court Judicial Commission [JC], constituted in April this year, to probe the allegations of rigging in the 2013 general elections, has rejected all allegations of systematic and organized rigging in the polls.

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Jonaid Iqbal in Islamabad

Pakistan Supreme Court Judicial Commission [JC], constituted in April this year, to probe the allegations of rigging in the 2013 general elections, has rejected all allegations of systematic and organized rigging in the polls.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif felt relieved at the report and in a Televised broadcast to the nation he said that the Judicial Commission report had vindicated his party of the rigging alleged by Pakistan Tehreek Insaf Chief Mr. Imran Khan. During his 126 sit-in, and thereafter, Imran Khan kept demanding that Nawaz Sharif and his government should forthwith resign.
Nawaz Sharif said, “It has been proven that our hands were clean.”
In his response PTI chief Mr. Imran Khan accepted the report but continued to repeat his previous allegation about rigging. Furthermore, he also demanded the resignation of the entire set up of Pakistan Election Commission and said the JC report had revealed a number of lapses occurred in the 2013 election.
Nonetheless, the JC report said, the elections [2013] were held fairly and according to law, no systematic pattern of rigging could be established and the public mandate was not stolen.
Speaking on the floor of National Assembly on Monday, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar – a signatory to the Memorandum of Understanding signed between PML-N and PTI last March, expressed his dismay at Mr. Khan’s response. He said Khan’s reaction was opposed to the MOU and terms of reference (TOR) of the enquiry commission that all parties would accept the decision of the commission. Responding to Mr. Dar’s speech, PTI leader Shah Mahmood Qureshi – former Foreign Minister in Yusuf Raza Gilani’s cabinet - said his party did not expect the government would be wrapped up as a result of the enquiry commission report. According to him, PTI only wanted to expose flaws inside the Election Commission.


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Nationalists challenge separatists

Nava Thakuria in Guwahati

Hundreds of nationalists participated at a rally in Guwahati earlier in July condemning the separatist militants’ violent activities. The National flag carrying demonstrators expressed their anger against the outlaws armed rebel outfits.

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Nava Thakuria in Guwahati

Hundreds of nationalists participated at a rally in Guwahati earlier in July condemning the separatist militants’ violent activities. The National flag carrying demonstrators expressed their anger against the outlaws armed rebel outfits.

Assam was boiling over the killing of Tinsukia based small time trader Nandalal Shah (65) and his teenage daughter Kajal on July 14 at his residence in Pengeri locality allegedly by militants belonging to the United Liberation Front of Asom (Independent). Three others were also severely injured in the militants’ indiscriminate firing.
A large number of Hindi-speaking people, settled in eastern Assam, protested against the killings. Raising voice against the ULFA (I) rebels, who have been targeting the unarmed people of Assam for many years, the demonstrators demanded strong action against the separatists and urged everyone to get united for the cause of India.
The ULFA (I) supremo Paresh Barua, however has denied that his organization was involved in the killings. But Assam police chief Khagen Sarma asserted that it was a handiwork of the outlawed ULFA(I). He also claimed that the police had already identified three suspects namely Kalia, Udoi and John, who were involved in the firings at Nandalal’s family.
Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, also in charge of State home portfolio, supported the State police Director General Sarma’s statement and declared that the militants would be dealt with strong hands. Gogoi stated that his government had taken the matter seriously and directed the security forces to adopt all possible steps to counter the terrorists.
Facing the heat of counter-insurgency operations, the ULFA (I) leader Barua threatened and later ‘banned’ two Assam based Bhojpuri organizations namely All Assam Bhojpuri Parishad and All Assam Bhojpuri Yuba Chatra Parishad. Elusive Barua, who is presently taking shelter somewhere in Burma-China border areas, claimed that these two organizations were misguiding the common Hindi-speaking people in Assam against their initiative to assimilate with the Assamese community.


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