Sunday, September 21, 2014

The articles were publiched in Fiancial Express in last two months


AK Khandker and his book

M. Serajul Islam




AK Khandker (AKK) has enflamed the political platform with his book “1971 Bhetoray Bairay”. The book has also brought the former Deputy Chief of the Mukti Bahini bagful of abuses and insults. The ruling party supporters have condemned him into the same league as late President Ziaur Rahman whom they called a Pakistan ISI agent, and Kader Siddiki, whom they named as a neo-Razakar. They have accused AKK of taking money from ISI to write the book as a part of conspiracy by anti-liberation forces against Bangladesh!

Critics have used the meanest adjectives to attack the war hero where even his presence at the historic surrender ceremony on December 16, 1971 as Deputy Chief of the Mukti Bahini has been trashed. They have stated that AKK was loitering in Kolkata on 16 December 1971 and was lifted by the Indians and taken to Dhaka for the ceremony, thus undermining the role of Mukti Bahini in the liberation war and India in that war. They further stated that even his dress in shirt and trouser and not war fatigues indicated that he was not actively involved in the liberation war!

The ruling party supporters and other critics of AKK are shocked because he said in the book that Bangabandhu ended his historic March 7 speech with  “Joy Pakistan” after saying “Joy Bangla.” They have also been angered because AKK has said that Bangabandhu did not announce the independence of Bangladesh before he surrendered and that the Awami League was not prepared to fight the war of liberation. These statements in AKK’s book have hit the AL’s interpretation of the 1971 war of liberation with the force of a political tsunami.

Ironically, in attacking AKK, the Awami Leaguers have bit at their own base. They have used foul language to abuse him but have not been able to put forward convincing arguments to dismiss the issues of history that the war hero has raised in his book. Instead of convincing arguments, they have argued that anyone who contradicts or questions the zero-sum contribution of Bangabandhu in the war of liberation of Bangladesh is a traitor and does not deserve to live in Bangladesh.

I have worked with AKK for five years; between 1980-82 in Canberra and between 1983-86 in New Delhi. He talked to me about the events of 1971 many times over. Except the issue of “Joy Pakistan”, all the other issues that have brought AKK heaps of abuse from the Awami League have been written the same way as he had told me in one to one conversations I had with him. The  “Joy Pakistan” issue has surprised me as it has many others. But the other issues that have angered the Awami Leaguers have been discussed and written in the public domain before AKK’s book. Tajuddin’s daughter’s book is more graphic against the AL’s version of history on the issues of declaration of the war and its preparedness than AKK’s book.

AKK to those who know is nothing like the villain that his present opponents have tried to make him. If patriotism means being prepared to do for the country whatever it requires to ensure and protect its independence, then he should be anyone’s patriot. In those long conversations I had with him, he would tell me repeatedly how from March 1, 1971 he would walk from his residence to the old airport and watch the Pakistanis bring in every flight of PIA paramilitary from West Pakistan dressed in the Awami dress. His own intelligence being the second in command of the East Pakistan base of the Pakistan Air Force told him in no uncertain terms that the Pakistanis were involved in sham negotiations with Bangabandhu to buy time to strike upon the people of East Pakistan.

AKK had also told me of his closeness with his Punjabi boss and how easy it would have been for him and those in contact with him before March 25 to destroy the Air Force arsenal. As many would remember, the Pakistanis used the Air Force extensively for strafing to physically control the land after the Pakistanis started their genocide on the night of March 25, 1971. AKK’s contact with the AL’s political leadership to destroy the Air Force’s arsenal was turned down with contempt. Similar attempt by Brigadier Majumdar in Chittagong from where the announcement of independence was made and the first salvos at the Pakistani army by the freedom fighters to make the first move was also turned down.

No historical evidence has yet turned up to suggest that the AL had contacted the Bengali members of Pakistani’s military, EPR, Police to prepare for the war of independence. There is no evidence either that the AL itself had any armed cadre for such a war in which the Pakistanis massacred hundreds of thousands of men, women and children. In fact, these Bengali officers/soldiers/ armed personnel defected and spontaneously started their armed response to the Pakistani genocide on their own and did not wait for a declaration of independence. The AL’s leadership had crossed into India and Bangabandhu had surrendered to the Pakistanis without any contact with them.

AKK, like the rest of those who joined the freedom movement from armed cadre background, decided to join the war of liberation on his own accord. He left Dhaka within days of the start of Pakistani genocide with his family and joined the liberation war risking his life and those of his wife and children who accompanied him. The way the members of the ruling party in which the opposition JP also joined and abused AKK in parliament was unbelievable. Members wanted the book banned; AKK arrested and tried as a traitor. The body language of these members was particularly significant, full of venom like they wanted to physically tear the war hero apart. Those who watched this surreal session in parliament were left wondering where those who attacked AKK with such venom were during the liberation war.

The AL came to power in 2008 riding the crest of a popularity wave. AKK as the President of the Sector Commanders Forum was instrumental in motivating the Projonmo to vote for the AL on the spirit of 1971. It is also significant that those who were with AKK at the launching of his book were not BNP or Jamat but stalwarts of the AL’s cultural front. They must have read the book underlining that many prominent Awami Leaguers like for instance Dr. Anisuzzaman have not dismissed the book the way Awami League’s top political leadership has.

AKK has not been disrespectful to Bangabandhu personally in the book. His book’s basic theme nevertheless is that the genocide of the Pakistanis that started on March 25, 1971 transformed people in such manner that it did not matter who announced the independence or who led it because the people were determined to die for freedom. His regret is that had the AL been better prepared for the war of liberation, there would have been lesser miseries and deaths in that war. In fact, dispassionate reading of his book would give the BNP many issues to criticise because AKK does not give Ziaur Rahman any of the credit that the party gives him for announcing the declaration of independence and his role in the liberation war.

There is nothing wrong in the criticisms against AKK’s book but there is nothing right either in the manner the Awami League supporters have   subjected him to abuse/humiliation and insults. Finance Minister AMA Muhit made this point explicitly when he asked those who oppose his book to write his/her own book and refute the points/issues with which they differ. However, the Awami Leaguers have shown no intention of taking up AMA Muhit’s suggestion and have kept up their abuse on their belief that all glory of independence of Bangladesh should go to Bangabandhu and the Awami League; a belief that is now falling apart. AKK’s book and that of Tajuddin’s daughter would be of tremendous value when attempts are made at some future time to get out of the AL’s zero-sum interpretation of history and seek out a balanced view of the 1971 liberation war.

Doubt lingers also in the minds of many who are not AL supporters whether Bangabandhu said “Joy Pakistan”. However, the onus is on AKK’s opponents to prove he is wrong. The only way to do this is to bring out a record of the entire speech. Meanwhile, the Awami Leaguers who are now attacking AKK should spare a moment and consider that they are not doing Bangabandhu or their role in 1971 any favour by condemning the country’s top liberation war heroes – Maulana Bhasani, MAG Osmani, Ziaur Rahman; Kader Siddiki; and now AKK - as anti liberation force and ISI agents. Meanwhile AKK has resigned as Chairman, Sector Commanders’ Forum that has enhanced his standing with those who think that those who fought with arms in 1971 are the country’s real heroes. He has not budged even a bit from what he wrote in the book.



The writer is a retired career Ambassador.  His email  is ambserajulislam@gmail.com


Abe’s Dhaka visit and Japan’s strategic interests

M. Serajul Islam

 
Japan has been Bangladesh’s most trusted friend. It has always treated Bangladesh as special since recognising the country in February 1972. Bangladesh was the largest recipient of Japanese ODA for a long time. In the 1970s 80s and 90s, when its development partners were literally underwriting the country’s development budget, Japan was Bangladesh’s number one provider of development assistance. Japanese assistance was of the highest quality going to the country’s economic and human infrastructure building. Although Japanese aid has been both in aid and grant, most of the aid has been subsequently written off as grant.

Development assistance, however, is no longer as critical as before to Bangladesh’s development efforts. Nevertheless, Japan’s importance to Bangladesh has not diminished even a little bit. In fact it has enhanced significantly because Japan can now literally lift Bangladesh the quickest towards its destination of becoming a middle-income country through trade and investment. The ground work for such cooperation was laid out during the successful visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to Japan in the end of May when   Japan pledged US$ 5.96 billion over next five years in assistance and proposed the formation Bay of Bengal Industrial Growth Belt (BBIGB) to help Bangladesh realise its huge economic potentials and expedite its growth.

Both were major overtures by Japan to become deeply involved in Bangladesh. Nevertheless, the decision of the Japanese Prime Minister to come to Dhaka so soon after Sheikh Hasina’s visit emphasised a paradigm shift in its interests in Bangladesh.  The offers/proposals that Japan made to the Bangladesh Prime Minister in Tokyo were expected to mature over time.  In fact, a number of high-level visits from Tokyo to Dhaka were undertaken already to carry forward the discussions and decisions reached in Tokyo at the Summit meeting. There was no need for Japan to pursue those decisions at another Summit level meeting. In diplomatic parlance, visits at summit level that take place in such quick succession hints at something unusual and extraordinary.

Therefore, the reason for Shinzo Abe’s Dhaka visit was an urgent one and perhaps had little to do with the decisions reached between the two countries in Tokyo. Subsequent to her visit to Japan, Sheikh Hasina had visited China. A number of decisions were reached there on Bangladesh-China relations that must have worried Tokyo. One was the discussion on the Chinese offer to build the Sonadia deep seaport. The others were the decisions on enhancing military and economic cooperation. The offer on Sonadia and decisions of cooperation in economic/military areas underlined that Chinese involvement in Bangladesh is deepening and entering into strategic areas. In particular, the offer to build the Sonadia deep seaport where Chinese also have stated they would keep control had the potential to directly conflict with the Japanese offer of the Bay of Bengal Industrial Growth Belt.

Japan and China have historical enmity with a lot of it emanating from Japanese occupation of China during the Second World War. That enmity has now taken a new dangerous dimension over the issue of the islands in South China Sea. Japan’s BBIGM offer has been made keeping in view the strategic location of Bangladesh and its importance vis-à-vis China. Amitava Mukherjee has recently underlined that strategic value in an article  “Is Bangladesh the newest acquisition to China’s pearl of strings? in the Internet based web paper geopoliticalmonitor.com. In the article, the writer highlighted Bangladesh “as a country which overlooks the strategically important sea lanes of the Indian Ocean linking China with the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, thus playing a role in securing energy supplies for Beijing”.

Therefore there are ample reasons to believe that the overtures by China to Bangladesh during Sheikh Hasina’s China visit taken after her Japan visit have worried Tokyo and necessitated the visit of Shinzo Abe to Dhaka to woo Bangladesh from China. Meanwhile, the new government in New Delhi is coming come closer to Washington. Secretary of State John Kerry has already visited New Delhi and Narendra Modi would be visiting Washington later this month. The Indo-US strategic partnership that President Obama had announced in 2011 to stop Chinese influence in Southeast Asia and Pacific that was sent to cold storage as US-India relations deteriorated under the Congress government over a host of issues where Bangladesh’s elections of January 5 also played a role is now warming up again.

Japan, a traditional US partner, under Shinzo Abe’s second term, has also targeted Southeast and South Asia as a new focus in foreign affairs where it sees China’s influence the same way, as does the United States, perhaps even with more concern. Thus the US/India and Japan are getting closer in a strategic partnership that wants to contain China from expanding into South Asia and Southeast Asia vis-à-vis China. In the evolving strategic equations, Bangladesh’s geopolitical location has become very important. Bangladesh may thus be moving into a position where USA/India/Japan could be vying for Bangladesh’s support to keep China from getting any foothold in the geopolitical location that is emerging as one of tremendous strategic value. In fact, US’ massive investments in Myanmar that is equally important in this emerging cold-war type of conflict have been made with containing China in view.

One is not sure if the Bangladesh foreign policy strategists have considered its attempts to deal with Japan and China with these strategic issues in mind. It does not appear to be so. In fact, one could suspect that the Bangladesh Government has inadvertently walked into a situation that could turn for it into a hot potato where the way the issues would be resolved would depend not on it but on the international players. This would explain why Shinzo Abe’s Dhaka visited Dhaka so soon after Hasina’s Tokyo and also visited Sri Lanka together with his Dhaka visit where the Chinese are creating a foothold through helping that country with its deep seaports.

In fact, the media has openly stated that Shinzo Abe’s Bangladesh and Sri Lanka visits were undertaken to offset China in South Asia. These views have connected Narendra Modi’s visit to Tokyo before he visited Dhaka/Colombo to conclude a Japanese-Indian meeting of minds on China vis-à-vis China. Shinzo Abe did not cover any new issue in Dhaka in Bangladesh-Japan bilateral relations except those covered in Tokyo. He reiterated again the importance of the BBIGB that only exposed further Japan’s interest to use this proposal to offset the Chinese offer on Sonadia and thereby get a strategic stranglehold in the Bay of Bengal.

Shinzo Abe steered clear of Bangladesh’s internal politics. He said nothing that was of use for the AL led government to score points over the issue of legitimacy of the government. In fact, his meeting with Begum Zia and his emphasis on discussion among the parties suggested that Japan considers that Bangladesh is still in the midst of a political crisis that needed to be resolved. In all these, he of course did not fail to get from a government willing to do anything to please Japan a commitment on its candidature for a seat as a non-permanent member in the UN Security Council. The large business/investment delegation that went the Japanese Prime Minister nevertheless that Japan is looking at Bangladesh seriously as a major investment destination.

Shinzo Abe’s visit was pursued in Japan’s long-term strategic interests with Bangladesh with the immediate objective to stop China’s influence in the country and South Asia growing. He has left the Bangladesh Government with the task of finding a way to deal with China with which it has wittingly or unwittingly gone deeper in economic/defence and strategic cooperation after Sheikh Hasina’s visit; a task that will now get more difficult as USA and India are expected to join Japan in encouraging Bangladesh to disengage from China’s strategic goals in the region.



The writer is a former Ambassador to Japan. His email id is ambserajulislam@gmail.com


President’s Obama’s present predicament: A deer before headlights

M. Serajul Islam
 
The President who had ignited so much hope in not just his own country but the rest of the world with his message of change is now fighting his own personal battle to keep his name from heading the list of US’ worst Presidents. President Barak Obama entered White House in 2008 after 8 years of President Bush had pushed US economy into depression that in turn ruined the world economy because of two disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

President Obama decided to be presidential upon assuming office. Hence he owned everything his predecessor left on his plate including the two wars although by that time, public opinion in USA had already shifted against the wars because of the humungous costs, both financial and in terms of lives of US men/women in uniform lost.  Instead, President Obama who as a rookie Senator from Illinois from 2005 till he became the President, had opposed the wars, decided to send additional troops to Afghanistan and took time to end US involvement in Iraq thus allowing the economy to bleed further.

President Obama had other ideas in mind as the country’s first African-American President for which he even set aside what most politicians would have done almost naturaly; update the nation on the poor state of the union he inherited. He thought his destiny was to carve for himself a name as one of the country’s great presidents. His role model was President Abraham Lincoln who attained immortality for the way he united a nation torn by civil war through political bipartisanism.  President Obama like President Obama believed that bipartisanship was of the need of the hour to unite the nation that President Bush had divided. He thus accepted bipartisanship as his guide to presidential glory.

He thus gave the key post in his cabinet, that of the Secretary of Defence in his first term to a Republican and it is a Republican again who holds that office in his present term. Till 2010, President Obama did not feel how serious was the opposition to his administration and to him personally because the Democrats held the majority in the Senate as well as the House. President Obama began to see the true face of his opponents once the Republicans gained majority of the House in the November, 2010 elections.  They made it a policy to oppose the President to make it difficult for his administration to achieve and bills proposed by the White House were turned down routinely simply because they did not want to work with him. President Obama wanted to make his name in US history by bringing the country’s 50 million poor; unprivileged and uninsured under an affordable heath insurance. He was able to enact the Affordable Care Act (ACA) while the democrats held the House. The Republicans took the ACA to court and when the Supreme Court vacated the case in 2013, they refused to fund the federal government and stopped it for 11 days to impede the implementation of the ACA.

That effort failed and ACA was implemented. The Republicans have now passed the resolution to take the President to court for not implementing parts of the ACA underlining so far their relationship with the President is concerned; to them he is damned if he does and damned if he does not. The President who had entered the White House with faith in bipartisanship as his guiding principle in politics found to his dismay as he started his second term that his opponents were determined to condemn him to the list of the country’s all time worst presidents and had little intention of working with his administration. In fact, there are many who are now convinced that the Republicans are articulating the views of the country’s large conservative base that have never felt comfortable with an African American President in the White House with visions of becoming a great American President.

By their actions, the Republicans have trashed the vision of the founding fathers of the US constitution of a government of checks and balances among the 3 branches of the government to encourage them to cooperate rather than dominate one another and enhance democracy and democratic ways of governance.  The Republicans by their deliberate policy not to work with the President, have pushed the President to fall upon his power to issue executive order to run the government by bypassing the Congress because important issue of national interest related to the economy, taxation, immigration needed to be resolved.

President Obama’s presidency has thus turned full circle; from bipartisanship in the Congress to according to New York Times “ moving assertively and in private to fashion government policies by executive order on issues ranging from immigration to tax law”. The White House has made it clear that where the Congress is willing to work with the President, it would go there but where the Congress showed unreasonable opposition, it would depend on all means available to the President including executive order to move the administration’s agenda along. In fact, lobbyists/pressure groups/stakeholders who were seen in the Congress not too long ago are now engaged with the White House for furthering the interests of those they represent. And for the White House, it is not issuing executive orders at will but through deliberations and consultations with the stakeholders.

Nevertheless, the president’s opponents have been incensed by the use of executive orders. There was already a resolution by the House to take the President to court and Republicans have now threatened to impeach him over the use of executive orders. Presidents in the past have used executive order to move their administration along. President Bush issued 291 executive orders and President Bill Clinton 395 compared to President Obama’s 184 to date. Past Presidents Franklin D Roosevelt and Harry Truman issued many times more. Unfortunately, past Presidents issued executive orders not to challenge the Congress; President Obama has been compelled to issue these orders because the Congress has decided not to let his administration work.

The President is in no fear of impeachment yet as the Democrats hold the Senate. But the heat is increasing and present politics in Washington suggests for the first time that the US Government as designed by the founding fathers where the Congress would makes the laws and the President execute them, is falling apart. The fault lies in both but the Congress started the process of falling apart by refusing to work with the President thus violating the spirit with which the founding fathers had written the constitution. The President who desperately wanted to work with Congress in a spirit of Lincoln inspired bipartisanship challenged the Congress out of need rather than design. With elections due in the Congress due in November, the President’s predicament could be worse if the Republicans are able to get the Senate while holding on to the House. He could then indeed face impeachment over the use of executive orders.

Meanwhile the President’s predicament has worsened with James Foley’s beheading that occurred while he was on vacation. He played golf right after speaking to James Foley’s mother and when it enraged even his supporters on issue of insensitivity, the President played golf again to prove a point to ISIS that threats do not work with his administration that convinced only people still deeply devoted to him. The pressure on President Obama increased when David Cameron threatened war against ISIS but he appeared confused and admitted that his administration had no policy on how to deal with the ISIS crisis. The president’s confusion encouraged the resolve of the Republicans to make his tenure as difficult as possible. Even some Democrats have joined the Republicans against the President leading the media to describe the President Obama’s current predicament with that of a deer suddenly caught before the headlights.

A tense fight is underway in US politics between the White House and Congress without any clear winner yet where US’ way of conducting politics in a democratic way is being dented. There is neither any winner yet nor signs of compromise. The November Congress elections may provide the winner or the answer.


The writer is a retired career Ambassador and his email id is ambserajulislam@gmail.com


Impeaching the Judges: A few facts

M. Serajul Islam



The cabinet has set the ball rolling for another amendment to the Constitution, the 16th. It approved the draft of the proposed amendment in a cabinet meeting recently. Under the proposed amendment, the parliament would regain its power to impeach the judges that was originally given to it by the 1972 Constitution that it lost subsequently through the amendment to the constitution.

The cabinet decision has since become a major subject of discussion everywhere because it has introduced a new controversial issue in the public domain. Talk Shows and newspaper columnists have gone overboard over it. In the Talk Shows and newspaper columns, the pro AL participants and columnists have supported the government’s move as a positive one for a number of reasons. First, they argued it would strengthen the sovereignty of the parliament that is the spirit of the 1972 Constitution. Second, they further argued that it would be a positive move towards reinstating the historic 1972 Constitution in its pristine glory.

The pro-AL Talk Show participants and newspaper columnists are right in a way. In many countries under the parliamentary system, the power of impeachment of the judges rests with the parliament. In next-door India, article 126 of its constitution gives the parliament that power. Nevertheless, the explanations in defence of the proposed 16th amendment are too simplistic and do not reflect the context in which these are being argued. They are defending the proposed amendment by going into denial over nature and composition of the present parliament, the timing of the proposed amendment and the current state of politics in the country. If these were brought into the equation, their simple and seemingly justified explanations would not stand to serious scrutiny. In particular, scrutiny would show that the parliament lost its power to impeach the judges by an amendment by the AL government and the opposition had nothing to do with it.

The first problem in giving the parliament the power to impeach the judges lies in Article 70 of the Constitution that defeats the context in which the ruling part/government has argued the need of the proposed 16th amendment. Article 70 stipulates that members of parliament would lose their membership if they vote on any issue against the party’s decision conveyed to them by the Party Whip. Under this power, the parliament would become the judge, jury and prosecution while impeaching a judge following the enactment of the proposed 16th amendment. Even if mechanisms were built in the proposed 16th amendment to safeguard the interests of the judge facing impeachment; his/her fate would still be decided by the decision of the ruling party communicated through the Whip. With Article 70 remaining in the Constitution, the proposed 16th amendment would give politics precedence over justice and force judges to toe the line of the ruling party, thus destroying the independence of the judiciary that has also been guaranteed by the constitution.

The second problem for the proposed 16th amendment arises from the nature of the present parliament. With the issue of legitimacy hanging over it like the Sword of Damocles, with 154 of its 300 members without a single vote to show, arguing that giving the present parliament the right to impeach the judges would restore the sovereignty of the people makes no sense because this parliament does not reflect the will or wishes of the people. Further, the ruling Awami League did not seek any mandate of the people for such a fundamental change in the constitution to empower the parliament that would destroy the independence of the higher judiciary.  Therefore, it cannot be argued that restoring the right of parliament in its present state to impeach judges would be democratic. In fact, no one without political motive would argue that the present parliament deserves to be given such a power.

The politics surrounding the proposed 16th amendment makes it most controversial. Ruling party leaders have said that the power to impeach the judges was taken away from the 1972 Constitution by President Ziaur Rahman and given to the Supreme Judicial Council  (SJC) to make the judges happy for backing the changes after August 15, 1975. This is not correct. The power was taken in 1974 through the 4th amendment and given to the President.  Ziaur Rahman became President in 1977. In fact, he could have benefitted from the 4th amendment. Therefore he should be given credit for doing something that no one else in power has done in the country’s history. He gave up the President’s power to impeach the judges to the Supreme Judicial Council.

It should also not be forgotten, that the 4th amendment ended the parliamentary system and introduced the presidential one. Therefore the parliament was no longer sovereign when Ziaur Rahman assumed political power and the power to impeach the judges by then had already been given to the President. Therefore, Ziaur Rahman could not have given the parliament the power to impeach judges that it had under the 1972 constitution because it would not have made sense to do so to a parliament that was no longer sovereign. President Ziaur Rahman did the best thing he could have in terms of making the government he had inherited less dictatorial; he created the SJC and handed to it the power that he could have exercised himself.

Therefore the initiative of the government to give the parliament the right to impeach judges has caused many eyebrows to be raised in the country. There are many who do not see any necessity at the moment for it to do so. They feel that the judges have shown their willingness to back the ruling party without showing any signs to oppose or embarrass it. Former Chief Justice Khairul Huq, the architect of the controversial 15th amendment and now the Chairman of the Law Commission came to the media and gave the government’s initiative a carte blanche. He did not do his good name any credit by doing so but nevertheless underlined that the present parliament is under no threat from the judiciary in its dominance over the country’s government and politics.

Therefore many are curious why would the ruling party initiate a move that raises so many questions about its intentions, particularly on timing.  The answer lies in what Ministers and AL political leaders have said repeatedly in the media leading to the cabinet decision o the proposed 16th amendment; that they intend to remain in power till 2019 and beyond. The judiciary is still the guardian of the constitution and therefore could be a threat to such a desire of the ruling party however benign it may seem prima facae. The proposed 16th amendment would take care of that possibility. Past experiences of governments with adding to its powers to remain in power indefinitely have boomeranged. In its 1972-75 term, the AL had enacted the Special Powers Act of 1974 but became its victim. The BNP had given the police the power for permitting political meetings in Dhaka and the ruling party has used this power against it very effectively so far.

The proposed 16th amendment could provide a future BNP government the handle to mould the judiciary largely pro-Awami League to its advantage that would be harmful for democracy. Readers interested on a detailed analysis of the right to impeach the judges in the context of the 1972 Constitution should read a very thought provoking article  “ Fourth Amendment to the Constitution: A Review” that appeared in the Financial Express’ issue of July 20, 2013 in its Feature and Analysis section.  All arguments in favour and against the proposed 16th amendment apart, it has already created considerable unhealthy controversy. Given the fact that parliaments worldwide have impeached judges only in a blue moon (in India, it has happened only twice in over six decades), one must wonder why the government has decided to initiate the 16th amendment at a time when it could do very well with every bit of public confidence in its intentions and its governance when the judges should be the least of its worries.


The writer is a retired career Ambassador. His email  is ambserajulislam@gmail.com

Articles carried by Daily Sun since August 3, 2014


Bangladesh cricket team’s white wash in West Indies

M. Serajul Islam



At 156/2 at the start of the final session of the fourth day of the second Bangladesh-West Indies Test, with the Tamim Iqbal and Momin ul Huq partnership past 100, the 489 target was still too distant. That notwithstanding, the commentators were not sure whether the target that would normally be considered impossible for any Test team would be out of reach for the Bangladesh team. Perhaps, the Bangladeshi in the commentary team influenced them. Atahar Ali Khan was once a national cricketer himself but when it comes to the Bangladesh team, he seems to forget his cricket sense and lets his emotion take over.

He thought Bangladesh had a chance after Shamsur Rahman put the Bangladesh innings on fast track with a quick fire 39 but in the context of the game, a thoroughly useless innings and perhaps out of sympathy for him, the West Indian commentators too did not rule out a miracle when Tamim-Momin were batting. However once Tamim was removed, the team folded like a pack of cards for 192, losing by a massive 296 runs within four days with West Indies declaring their second innings with 6 wickets remaining. Bangladesh lost its last 8 wickets in the last session!

To be fair to Atahar Ali Khan, even the West Indies Captain Dinesh Ramdin said later that he too was worried of the impossible happening during the Tamim-Momin partnership. When that 110 runs partnership was on, the Bangladesh team did not seem inferior to any of the Test playing teams. Mushfiq and Mahmudullah showed that same patch of glory in the First Test with their 130 runs partnership. Unfortunately, the outstanding batting performances of Bangladesh such as these two instance have been just too few and have almost always been followed by collapses like the one in the second Test that raises doubts even in the minds of the team’s most avid followers whether Bangladesh should be playing Test cricket.

Bowling has always been Bangladesh’s weakest point. It has never shown any promise of being able to bowl a team twice. The 4 times in 85 Tests that Bangladesh was able to bowl a team twice and win were against Zimbabwe when it was finding it difficult to play cricket at the international level and West Indies when it was at the weakest for a variety of reasons including some not related to cricket. Skipper Mushfiq in a show of inexperience stated in the media before the start of the West Indies Test series that his Team would try its best to draw. His statement exposed to the opposition and others following Bangladesh cricket that the Team itself did not believe it has the ability to play Test cricket because it did not have the bowling potentials.

Mushfiq showed experience as a skipper also in the way he handled the Test in the two Tests. He won the toss in both the Tests. Yet, on placid wickets in both the Tests, he chose to field. He thus allowed the West Indies team to pile up a huge total in the First Test and spent the rest of the time in that Test trying to save an innings defeat that it saved by the skin of the teeth. In the Second Test again he chose to field and allowed the opposition to build a good total, although not a formidable one. The total was still enough to force a follow on that the opposition did not impose. Instead the West Indies batted again, compiled a huge lead and then imposed on the Bangladesh Team, a crushing defeat.

Instead, if Mushfiq had chosen to bat in the 2 Tests, the batsmen would not have been under any pressure when starting the Tests and left to play according to their abilities. The placid nature of the wickets would have given them the confidence and the chance to pile good totals to place the West Indies Team in some pressure. By choosing to field in placid wickets, the Bangladesh Team chose to place itself under pressure in both the Test from the moment the first ball was bowled. In fact with sub-standard bowling of which he was well aware, Skipper Mushfiq himself set up the Team for a predicament from where even the draws that he had hoped became unrealistic.

Skipper Mushfiq’s hope to draw the Tests was also unrealistic because he failed to consider what is, after the lack of bowling potentials, the other major problem of the Bangladesh Team namely the mental attitude of the players in playing cricket at the Test level. Tamim Iqbal scored two fifties and one near 50 and showed a temperament that he never showed before for his own good. In the two Tests he did not bat like it was   a 50/50 game. Yet, in showing this improvement, he also showed his impunity by playing irresponsible shots that go him out. The way he was out when his promising partnership with Mominul Huq was making the opposition nervous showed that his improvement in this regard is still not up to what should be expected from the top batsman in the team.

Mushfiq with the only century to his credit and Mahmudullah with two fifties played well as did Mominul Huq. But the rest of the batsmen neither had the talent nor the mental aptitude of Test cricketers. The bating of Mushfiq/Tamim/Mahmudullah/Momen were good individual performances. In fact, when they batted, they played and looked at par and even better than the West Indian batsmen by comparison. But they did not score enough runs to put the Team in any position of strength, as scores of 182 and 314 in the First Test and 161 and 192 in the Second Tests, underline conclusively. These scores for a team without bowling potentials are certain enough to earn humiliating defeats.

The West Indies series showed that Bangladesh Test Team’s bating is on the decline while its bowling abilities remain as poor as before. Shakib al Hasan’s inclusion in the Team may have made some difference but would not have made much difference in the eventual outcome. Some batsmen need to be replaced like Nasir Hossain, Shamsur Rahman, Anamul Huq and Imrul Kayes but there are no batsmen sitting on the sides that can replace them.  In bowling, the predicament is such that the Team plays four specialist bowlers simply because without them, the Team would not be able to play at all. The Team bowling is so poor that even hoping for draws is utterly unrealistic, Mushfiq’s hopes expressed before the series notwithstanding.

The West Indies tour has thus been a mishap in every department. Added to the two massive defeats in the Tests, the Bangladesh side also lost the 3 50/50 matches and the single 20/20 match convincingly. The white wash has been embarrassing and humiliating and should give the cricket administrators of Bangladesh enough reasons to worry about the future of Bangladesh cricket. The poor performance of the Bangladesh Team was reflected by the drought of spectators in the field. Thus no one was charged money to watch the match in the Second Test, as it was West Indies’ 500th Test match.


The writer is  a retired career Ambassador. His email id is ambserajulislam@gmail.com


President Obama’s tryst with his golfing passion
M. Serajul Islam



If President Obama had thought after winning his second term for the White House that he would spend his present term for building his legacy, his current predicament must be making him feel that it is a nightmare into which he has been thrust instead. The state of the economy that the Republicans had expected would stop his desire for a second term has turned around very comfortably and showing visible signs of good health. Yet, on issues of foreign affairs, immigration; healthcare and race, considered much less important to most Americans than the economy, President Obama is pitched against the biggest battle of his presidency to keep his name from becoming the worst President in US history.

The foreign affairs issue causing the President the greatest concern is  the beheading of American journalist James Foley by an ISIS terrorist and then the release of a video of that act on YouTube that has been rightly been viewed by Americans as one of the most outrageous acts of terrorism in recent memory. The fact that ISIS still holds 3 more Americas that it has threatened to execute Foley style has added to the tension and concern of Americans that in turn has placed pressure on the President to act. To this, the killing of an unarmed   black youth by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri that sparked off a racial riot has added to create further pressure on President Obama.

President Obama himself provided ammunition for his by taking his yearly vacation to Martha’s Vineyard, a favourite holidaying island in Massachusetts with these issues in their height. US Presidents have long set the tradition that no matter how demanding the issues at hand, they have the right like anyone else to do the normal things that others do, like for instance take their yearly vacation with the family and divide time between their work and personal pleasures. Former White House officials have unanimously said  “ to make cold hearted decisions in the best interest of the country and manage the burdens of perhaps the most stressful job on the planet, a president must guard against becoming consumed by the emotions of the situations they confront.” Further, these officials have also explained that a US President works with the same degree of devotion and concentration whether in the White House or on vacation anywhere.

During the first Gulf War, while US troops were in harms way fighting Saddam’s invading forces in Kuwait, the elder President Bush would retire to bed at the usual appointed time every night of those tension filled days. Therefore, the fact that President Obama took his vacation this year is not a matter that has put him in trouble.  It is the manner in which he has handled the Foley crisis that now has his opponents gunning at him for his insensitivity. The nation has in fact been outraged that the President went off for a game of golf right after he had spoken with the mother of the slain journalist James Foley, promising her that his administration would pursue the perpetrators “relentlessly” and he has been  “heartbroken” at the grisly affair.

In a similar situation but of lesser degree in terms of affecting the Americans emotionally, President Bush was sent to the cleaners because he went to play golf immediately after issuing a strong statement condemning a suicide bombing in Israel in 2002.  As a price for that indiscretion, he gave up playing golf the next year for the remainder of his tenure as President. President Obama’s indiscretion has been much more serious because the nation had seen Foley’s beheading in the video that the perpetrators had posted on YouTube. President Obama has become known for his “cool, emotional detachment “that Americans thought was a good quality but with time, they have become critical of it. Thus when he went to play golf immediately after talking to James Foley’s mother, they felt the President was too cool and detached and less human for their liking.

The matter of the President Obama’s vacation, more precisely his decision to play golf right after talking to Foley’s mother, has been explained by the White House as a matter of policy and not that of President’s lack of compassion or his love for golf. These officials have said that with 3 more Americans as hostage in ISIS hands, the terrorists would have construed any break in the President’s activities as a hint that the administration was softening that would have been contrary to US’ time honoured and sacrosanct policy of not dealing with terrorists under duress. Thus, the President decided not only to show his determination to the ISIS terrorists but also to his supporters at home that he has long stopped worrying about what his critics say by playing golf  again the day after  talking to Foley’s mother, “ his 8th day at the course in 11 days on the island.”

The Republicans are cashing upon the national anger on the President by pursuing the resolution they passed in the House to take the President to court over not implementing part of the Affordable Healthcare Act  (ACA) or Obamacare. They are also speaking in public to demean the President over his vacation time. On both counts, they have no reason to go after the President. The Republicans had fought ACA tooth and nail in Congress but when they failed to stop it from becoming law because in 2010, he Democrats held the House, they pursued it out of court and failed to stop it there as the Supreme Court validated it. They then stopped the federal government from functioning for 11 days late last year by withholding the budget but failed there too. And, now they are threatening to take the President to court for not implementing parts of the same Act!

On vacation time, the President’s supporters are hitting back strongly. They are stating that a House that is scheduled to be in office for only 124 days in the whole of 2014 has no moral right to criticise a President who has had vacation time since entering the White House for only 129 days! However, the President is really taking the fall over his golfing “obsession”. Even his sympathisers “have started to mutter about the unseemly symbolism of a commander-in-chief who practically lives on the links.” Some of them have openly said that his decision to go golfing after talking with Foley’s mother was an error in judgement and done in “bad taste”. One pro-Democrat paper came out with a picture of Foley’s grieving parents and a news headlined “Prez tees off as Foley’s parents grieve.”

Thus a President fighting for a legacy and fighting against a media that has problems with him that goes beyond his ability and credentials to the colour of his skin, has played into the hands of his opponents by taking his vacation at a wrong time; handling the Foley issue insensitively and his love of golf.  His cool demeanour has now become his fault because many Americans on both side of the political divide want to see in their President, a caring and compassionate human being that the President has failed to demonstrate during his vacation at Martha’s Vineyard with the issues he had to handle.

America is waiting to see the President’s next move. His supporters are hoping he would do something like what his predecessor President GW Bush had done had done. Unfortunately, if recent moves and attitude of the President are any indication, it is a different Barak Obama that the nation is seeing now. The President Barak Obama who came to the White House to build a presidency based upon bipartisanship to leave a legacy for himself as one of America’s best presidents, is now running an administration on executive orders because he now knows that he cannot get anything done any longer through bipartisanship. Perhaps, he now believes that his legacy rests on being able to achieve his objectives particularly on issues such as Obamacare that can now no longer be achieved through the Congress and bipartisan politics.


The writer is a retired career Ambassador. His email id is ambserajulislam@gmail.com


President Obama rejects war to end ISIS

M. Serajul Islam


President Obama finally announced his plan to deal with the fast growing ISIS crisis. In an address to the nation on Wednesday, he laid out that strategy with not just his nation watching in rapt attention but also the rest of the world. He expressed his administration’s firm determination to deal with the ISIS phenomenon and stated: “Our objective is clear: we will degrade, and ultimately destroy, [ISIS] through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy.”

President Obama has described ISIS as an extremist/terrorist group the same way as President Bush had described Al Qaeda and rejected its pretensions to call itself a state. He has also expressed the same determination to end ISIS as his predecessor was determined to destroy Al Qaeda.  President Obama however made one extremely qualitative difference in his strategy to pursue ISIS from his predecessor’s objective to pursue Al Qaeda. President Bush had used war to end Al Qaeda and entered Afghanistan in pursuit. President Obama’s strategy will not lead to any combat troops on the ground in Iraq. It will be a counter-terrorism strategy where airstrikes will be the means to achieve the end of ISIS.

President Obama mentioned in his address that he has held consultations with US allies abroad and Congress at home in formulating the strategy to deal with ISIS.  He said that the   ISIS will be pursued not just Iraq but also in Syria to first degrade it and eventually destroy it as long as it takes. President Obama has also underlined that ISIS does not represent Islam because it is killing fellow Muslims from the Shia sect to bring together the coalition of Sunni Muslim countries in the region. He has targeted Saudi Arabia, UAE, Turkey and the majority Sunni states with special focus upon Turkey in order to use its air bases for launching ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria.

President Obama’s address to the nation has been generally well received in the United States. CNN carried an extremely interesting analysis of his speech. It divided the speech into segments. The part where the President spoke of strong action against ISIS to chase it down and decimate it, Democrats/Republicans/independents gave him very high marks. In the part where the President spoke on putting US men and women in uniform in the line of fire, the support for the President nosedived where even among the Democrats, support for the speech fell. The CNN analysis underlined unequivocally that Americans want the ISIS threat to be dealt with forcefully and urgently but they are opposed to put Americans combat troops on ground.

Americans want ISIS demolished but not through war. Therefore, there is support for the President’s strategy as he outlined on Wednesday. The Republicans supported the President determination on ending ISIS and have given his speech full marks on ending ISIS. However, they are pinning down the President on his time frame and lack of details in the strategy to end the ISIS danger. House Speaker John Boehner while supporting the President’s strategy on degrading and demolishing ISIS fully also added categorically that bombing ISIS and training Iraqi troops would not achieve the objective.  He demanded details from the President on how the objective would be achieved and the time frame for it.

The Republicans in Congress have said they would give the President approval on sending troops for training and defending American interests that is part of the strategy the President announced on Wednesday. They are however avoiding suggesting to the President that he should send combat troops to Iraq to end the ISIS in the quickest possible time although they are nevertheless mentioning that time is critical and if ISIS were not destroyed fast, it would grow and become more menacing. Senator John McCain has taken the cudgel against the President by digging into the past. He has been blaming the President for ISIS becoming the danger that it is today; stating that it is now a more dangerous threat to the United States than Al Qaeda was when President Bush invaded Afghanistan in pursuit of the war on terror. 

In a CNN talk show, he told Jay Carney, President Obama’s former Press Secretary that if his boss had not left Iraq in a hurry in 2011 and had left residual forces in the country, ISIS would not have grown and the present danger would not have arisen. Jay Carney’s response was that even when there were over 100,000 US troops on ground in Iraq, Sunni and Shia terrorist groups were killing the same way they are today in which the US troops were aloe being killed and that withdrawing US combat troops had no impact to the worsening situation in Iraq. What Jay Carney failed to point out is that it was Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki who was installed in office by the United States who did not allow US residual troops to remain in Iraq.

That regime reversed Saddam Hussein’s policy of Sunni domination over the Shias by killings of Sunnis by Shias far worse than even in the worst days of the Saddam era. The seeds of Iraq’s current predicament were thus sown when US occupation forces were in Iraq during the administration of President Bush. President Bush’s invasion and occupation of Iraq   failed to bring democracy and instead placed in power a regime far worse than the one it replaced that has pushed Iraq towards its current predicament including the rise of ISIS where there is no effective government running the country from Baghdad.  It is a mystery of sorts why the President and the Democrats are still unwilling to place at the door of the Republicans the blame for Iraq’s current predicament.  It is now evidently clear that President Bush had invaded Iraq on fraudulent intelligence when there were neither weapons of mass destruction there nor any terrorists and these are the reasons why after the US  spent US$ trillions and the lives of over 4000 US soldiers, Iraq is in flames and ISIS threatening to take over the country.

It is clear that despite the President’s well-accepted speech, the strategy he has outlined will not end ISIS any time soon. At best, it will only weaken its present strength and surge. The President’s strategy will also train and arm the Free Syrian Army working against President Bashir Asad in Syria. However, this will also take time to have any impact on the ISIS. Meanwhile, while Americans feel the President is on the right track in his determination to end the ISIS phenomenon without going to war, some Republicans are drumming up the ISIS threat as one of imminent danger to US security to argue the necessity for war. The anniversary of 9/11 is helping up their cause.

The need for war to end ISIS that some Republicans are suggesting has been explained by a story that has recently made its rounds in the media in the United States.  US’ humungous war industry that brings US$ billions to the rich and the powerful that backs the Republicans are having a lean time with the end of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and no new ones in the horizon. A new war in Iraq, this time for destroying ISIS would again bring new life into the declining war industry in USA and in turn to the rich and powerful supporters of the Republicans. With President Obama in office however, a new war in Iraq has no chance of becoming a reality. Thus ISIS that is a 31,000 strong active fighting force, will be on the run as the US starts to bomb its strongholds but in no immediate danger of dissemination, President Obama’s strategy notwithstanding.


The writer is a retired career Ambassador. His email id is ambserajulislam@gmail.com


A hospital’s pound of flesh
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M. Serajul Islam
  The recent case at the United Hospital where its authorities refused to hand over the dead body to the relatives had caused quite a furore in the media. Unfortunately, it is one of the public issues that the media helps raise but are then dumped into the archives because the government is too busy with politics and the society that is increasingly becoming one for the privileged, too unconcerned to loose its sleep over someone’s dead body lying to be buried because his relatives could not pay for his treatment.

One had hoped that the outrageous incident over the right of Mohammad Aslam to be buried with his religious rites as quickly as possible after he had passed away and the duties and responsibilities of his relatives to send him to his eternal rest that were held up by the United Hospital over a matter of money would linger a little longer in the public domain. It has not and it is now forgotten; an irrelevant matter of the past. No one knows whether the same hospital or others like it would not hold more dead bodies with the same mind-set of Shylock and his pound of flesh.

The Minister of Health had assured the public that an inquiry would be held to determine whether the hospital had done anything irregular while it still had the dead body in its custody, unwilling to release till the debt was paid. The Minister’s intervention was responsible to instil some sense in the United Hospital to release the body but it did not compromise on its pound of flesh. It held the dead body for 5 days till it was assured that its debt would be paid while the dead man’s daughter appealed to the public for help, as she did not have the money to pay.

The questions that Mohammad Aslam’s death raised have not ended. At the time he died, Mohammad Aslam’s relatives were left with a bill of Taka 31 lakhs for his unsuccessful treatment of which Taka 12 lakhs had been paid leaving taka 19 lakhs as the remaining part of the pound of flesh. Mohammad Aslam was in United not for the super expensive heart surgery but for a lung ailment. In US dollars, his treatment cost was 35 thousands; a sum too huge for payment anywhere in the world where patients have no insurance. A royal illness like one related to the heart would have cost Mohammad Aslam many times more; a bill that only those that are super affluent in the society can afford. US$35 thousand is one that even the affluent in Bangladesh cannot pay without borrowing.

Mohammed Aslam’s predicament in the hands of the United Hospital may not go in vain if the society could muster the moral courage to demand a few things of the government and get answers. For example, how many in this poor country can pay for treatment in these mega hospitals? Are these hospitals being run under any well-established set of regulations that can be pursued when violated? Do the patients have any recourse under the law if they do not receive fair treatment? Could the costs that the patients are charged be lowered by strict regulation and monitoring? Finally, how many in this country where there is no system of health insurance be able to pay US$ 35 thousands for a lung ailment?

The public perception about United from its outwardly looks and high treatment charges is that it is a five-star hospital. In Dhaka, the Apollo is another that falls in the same category. Some would say Square too is another. There have been no new five star hospitals since the last one United was established many years ago. Instead there have been mushroom growths of cheaper hospitals modelled after these hospitals but without any assurance of satisfactory treatment. The reasons are interesting. First, there is no market for the 5-star hospitals because of the prohibitive treatment costs. Second, the mushroom growth of clinics and hospitals modelled after these 5 star one suggest that if costs could be reduced, the demand is huge. All these underline that there is something eerily amiss in these hospitals/clinics.

Unfortunately, there are no visible efforts by the government to check the costs in the big hospitals and lack of regulation of the quality of treatment in the hospitals, both 5-star and the cheaper versions. Thus maltreatment in private hospitals is rampant. One reads regularly of deaths in these hospitals/clinics but never any news that anyone has been held responsible for such deaths. In fact, a relative of this writer, a widow, was recently subjected to colonoscopy without anesthesia to cut on costs in one of the cheaper hospitals. The pain was unbelievable, like she was being slaughtered. When her relatives in USA heard of the ordeal, they asked her to sue because from their experience in USA, they thought the doctor/hospital would instantly lost license to practice or be in business is she did so.

Unfortunately, there lies the untold travesty of justice in Bangladesh’s health sector. Hospitals/doctors in Bangladesh do not take any malpractice insurance for there is no reason to. Even if laws are there to take doctors/hospitals to court, no one ever heard on any malpractice suit succeeding in any court in the country. In fact, the medical profession, God bless those regulating it, are the beneficiary of unbounded love and affection of the regulators. The regulators are blissfully oblivious to what hospitals and doctors do to their patients and believe it or not, doctors and hospitals have the license of James Bond of fiction, immunity from being questioned or taken to court for deaths in their hands.

Therefore the urgent need in the country is to establish patients’ rights. Bangladesh is perhaps the only country in the world where patients are literally at the mercy of the doctors/hospitals/clinics where they often pretend to be gods! The task of establishing these rights would be extremely difficult, if not impossible and hence must be approached in steps; piece meal. A good way to start this approach would be to bring the big hospitals into a comprehensive legal framework where violations can be easily implemented in the court. The authorities should undertake a serious look at the costs, particularly whether patients are treated for unavoidable examinations. Patients are seldom told about their treatment regime. Thus many, in fact majority of patients, who are not affluent and have to borrow money for treatment, find that there is always a huge extra bill where they are lucky to get well. Others, like Mohammad Aslam, cannot even die in peace and be buried and have to wait for days till these hospitals receive their pound of flesh..

It must however not be forgotten that above state of affairs notwithstanding, doctors/ hospitals render yeoman services in Bangladesh. Some of the doctors would be able to stand with the best anywhere. Nevertheless, their potentials are lost because once they make their names; they have to treat many times more patients each day than they humanly can because there are so few of them. Thus even in the hands of these potentially world level doctors, patients are often maltreated and many lose their lives regularly because these doctors see just too many patients and hence commit the errors. These outstanding doctors would tell you that they have no lives because of the way people chase them for their services. Yet, they make no effort, like doctors worldwide, to see that many patients that they can treat each day without risking lives. The bottom line is, life is cheap in Bangladesh and doctors/hospitals take full advantage of it.

Thus the big hospitals are exploiting the regulation-free health market to the fullest and now even not sparing dead bodies to make more money. The question that every individual in the country with a conscience should ask is did United not make enough money by exploiting the regulation free health care market to show come compassion to facilitate Mohammad Aslam’s journey to eternity without holding his dead body in custody for 5 days? Doctors in this hospital are under the Hippocratic oath that makes his/her work a service to the people to be delivered with the highest ethical standards. Instead the Mohammad Aslam case has shown that the ethics in the oath of Hippocrates has been replaced by the mind-set of Shylock and worse in the health care sector on Bangladesh. Even Shylock would have more human than to extract his debt with a dead body.

The writer is a retired career Ambassador. His email id is HYPERLINK "mailto:ambserajulislam@gmail.com"



President Obama’s tryst with his golfing passion
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M. Serajul Islam
  If President Obama had thought after winning his second term for the White House that he would spend his present term for building his legacy, his current predicament must be making him feel that it is a nightmare into which he has been thrust instead. The state of the economy that the Republicans had expected would stop his desire for a second term has turned around very comfortably and showing visible signs of good health. Yet, on issues of foreign affairs, immigration; healthcare and race, considered much less important to most Americans than the economy, President Obama is pitched against the biggest battle of his presidency to keep his name from becoming the worst President in US history.

The foreign affairs issue causing the President the greatest concern is the beheading of American journalist James Foley by an ISIS terrorist and then the release of a video of that act on YouTube that has been rightly been viewed by Americans as one of the most outrageous acts of terrorism in recent memory. The fact that ISIS still holds 3 more Americas that it has threatened to execute Foley style has added to the tension and concern of Americans that in turn has placed pressure on the President to act. To this, the killing of an unarmed black youth by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri that sparked off a racial riot has added to create further pressure on President Obama.

President Obama himself provided ammunition for his by taking his yearly vacation to Martha’s Vineyard, a favourite holidaying island in Massachusetts with these issues in their height. US Presidents have long set the tradition that no matter how demanding the issues at hand, they have the right like anyone else to do the normal things that others do, like for instance take their yearly vacation with the family and divide time between their work and personal pleasures. Former White House officials have unanimously said “to make cold hearted decisions in the best interest of the country and manage the burdens of perhaps the most stressful job on the planet, a president must guard against becoming consumed by the emotions of the situations they confront.” Further, these officials have also explained that a US President works with the same degree of devotion and concentration whether in the White House or on vacation anywhere.

During the first Gulf War, while US troops were in harms way fighting Saddam’s invading forces in Kuwait, the elder President Bush would retire to bed at the usual appointed time every night of those tension filled days. Therefore, the fact that President Obama took his vacation this year is not a matter that has put him in trouble. It is the manner in which he has handled the Foley crisis that now has his opponents gunning at him for his insensitivity. The nation has in fact been outraged that the President went off for a game of golf right after he had spoken with the mother of the slain journalist James Foley, promising her that his administration would pursue the perpetrators “relentlessly” and he has been “heartbroken” at the grisly affair.

In a similar situation but of lesser degree in terms of affecting the Americans emotionally, President Bush was sent to the cleaners because he went to play golf immediately after issuing a strong statement condemning a suicide bombing in Israel in 2002. As a price for that indiscretion, he gave up playing golf the next year for the remainder of his tenure as President. President Obama’s indiscretion has been much more serious because the nation had seen Foley’s beheading in the video that the perpetrators had posted on YouTube. President Obama has become known for his “cool, emotional detachment “that Americans thought was a good quality but with time, they have become critical of it. Thus when he went to play golf immediately after talking to James Foley’s mother, they felt the President was too cool and detached and less human for their liking.

The matter of the President Obama’s vacation, more precisely his decision to play golf right after talking to Foley’s mother, has been explained by the White House as a matter of policy and not that of President’s lack of compassion or his love for golf. These officials have said that with 3 more Americans as hostage in ISIS hands, the terrorists would have construed any break in the President’s activities as a hint that the administration was softening that would have been contrary to US’ time honoured and sacrosanct policy of not dealing with terrorists under duress. Thus, the President decided not only to show his determination to the ISIS terrorists but also to his supporters at home that he has long stopped worrying about what his critics say by playing golf again the day after talking to Foley’s mother, “ his 8th day at the course in 11 days on the island.”

The Republicans are cashing upon the national anger on the President by pursuing the resolution they passed in the House to take the President to court over not implementing part of the Affordable Healthcare Act (ACA) or Obamacare. They are also speaking in public to demean the President over his vacation time. On both counts, they have no reason to go after the President. The Republicans had fought ACA tooth and nail in Congress but when they failed to stop it from becoming law because in 2010, the Democrats held the House; they pursued it out of court and failed to stop it there as the Supreme Court validated it. They then stopped the federal government from functioning for 11 days late last year by withholding the budget but failed there too. And, now they are threatening to take the President to court for not implementing parts of the same Act!

On vacation time, the President’s supporters are hitting back strongly. They are stating that a House that is scheduled to be in office for only 124 days in the whole of 2014 has no moral right to criticise a President who has had vacation time since entering the White House for only 129 days! However, the President is really taking the fall over his golfing “obsession”. Even his sympathisers “have started to mutter about the unseemly symbolism of a commander-in-chief who practically lives on the links.” Some of them have openly said that his decision to go golfing after talking with Foley’s mother was an error in judgement and done in “bad taste”. One pro-Democrat paper came out with a picture of Foley’s grieving parents and a news headlined “Prez tees off as Foley’s parents grieve.”

Thus a President fighting for a legacy and fighting against a media that has problems with him that goes beyond his ability and credentials to the colour of his skin, has played into the hands of his opponents by taking his vacation at a wrong time; handling the Foley issue insensitively and his love of golf. His cool demeanour has now become his fault because many Americans on both side of the political divide want to see in their President, a caring and compassionate human being that the President has failed to demonstrate during his vacation at Martha’s Vineyard with the issues he had to handle.

America is waiting to see the President’s next move. His supporters are hoping he would do something like what his predecessor President GW Bush had done. Unfortunately, if recent moves and attitude of the President are any indication, it is a different Barak Obama that the nation is seeing now. The President Barak Obama who came to the White House to build a presidency based upon bipartisanship to leave a legacy for himself as one of America’s best presidents, is now running an administration on executive orders because he now knows that he cannot get anything done any longer through bipartisanship. Perhaps, he now believes that his legacy rests on being able to achieve his objectives particularly on issues such as Obamacare that can now no longer be achieved through the Congress and bipartisan politics.

The writer is a retired career Ambassador. His email id is HYPERLINK "mailto:ambserajulislam@gmail.com"


Dream of racial equality in USA
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M. Serajul Islam
  Ferguson, a city in St Louis County in Missouri, USA and with it, the nation is in turmoil. On August 9, a white police officer Darren Williams gunned down a black teenager Michael Brown in the city of 21,000 where the population is 2/3rd African-American but where 94% of the police force is white! As African-Americans protested the death and turned unruly and violent, their protests were met by an insensitive administration where their anger was trashed with a show of combined force of police and National Guards that was unbelievable. Armoured cars were put on the streets that kept vigil. Night curfew was imposed and the victims were made to look the guilty party. The facts that have come into the public domain from Ferguson show that African-Americans in the world’s oldest democracy suffer racial discrimination and profiling where they are considered to be the cause of their predicament by the majority whites of the country!

Michael Brown was guilty on that August day of a violation of the law. Video footages have shown that he had forcibly taken out a cigar box and push the casher and walked out of a convenience store. Minutes later, Darren Williams confronted Michael Brown walking in the middle of a road and obstructing traffic. Darren Williams was unaware that Michael Brown had robbed the store and confronted him for his illegal behaviour. Michael Brown immediately and instinctively raised his hands and asked the police officer not to shoot. His pleas were disregarded and Darren Williams fired, hitting Michael Brown six times, twice in the head, all from the front, killing him instantly.

These details were revealed in an autopsy report that underlined unequivocally that Michael Brown was as good as dead the moment the police officer saw him in an unruly manner on the road. He was given no chance of survival, like a weak animal that comes in the path of a tiger praying in the jungle. Ferguson is pointing at a very deep malaise in the mind-set of the country’s predominantly white police forces vis-à-vis the African Americans, a mind-set supported by a large number of the country’s predominantly white population. There is no doubt that African Americans have made great strides. They were once slaves in the country and became free following the American Civil War of 1861-65. They gained their civil rights following the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Yet five decades and more since that historic movement, African Americans find themselves in a racial predicament that raises serious questions if the majority whites will ever accept the African-Americans as equals.

The US Declaration of Independence states unequivocally that all men are created equal and it is the duty of the state to ensure their life, liberty and happiness. Nevertheless, events occur like the one in Ferguson occur with monotonous regularity in the country that brings to the surface a race related reality that is shocking; that the US Declaration; its Constitution and all the laws giving the African-American their civil rights notwithstanding, the dream of Martin King of a United States where people would be judged not by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character is still a distant dream. In fact, Ferguson and before it, the case of Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman in Florida in 2012-2013 have underlined that the racial contempt and reservation of the majority whites about their fellow African-American citizens have deepened instead.

Ferguson is still raging. It has highlighted that African American youth in the country, notwithstanding what the law says, no matter what their station in life, are taught by their mothers, that when confronted by the police in public places, they must consider their lives depended on not giving the police any excuse to shoot them dead. In Town Hall meetings in Ferguson after the shooting, African-American mothers unanimously said that they do not sleep at night unless they know that their sons have safely returned home. The fear of the Ferguson African-American mothers resonated in the hearts of African-American mothers around the country.

Last year, an all White jury united the African-Americans in their revulsion after they had acquitted George Zimmerman although all evidence proved that he had gunned down the African American teenager Trayvon Martin on a racial mind-set among many whites that coloured people are dangerous. George Zimmerman was a member of a vigilante group that was formed and armed legally on a mind-set that African-American men pose a deadly threat to the security of the whites. President Obama had then spoken emotionally as an African-American underlining that when he and his fellow African-American walk into a white neighbourhood, the whites instinctively look at them with suspicion, like they are risks to their safety, their lives. The President had then said that he knew the feeling first hand, having felt it many times himself.

The President has come twice before the nation on the racial storm witnessed over Ferguson. He condemned the senseless killing of Michael Brown and underlined the excessive use of force by the police both while killing Michael Brown as well as while containing the outburst of anger in the African American community. However, the President was also critical about the riots and acts of violence from the community against the police and condemned what he thought were their excesses. Clearly, unlike in the case over the Trayvon Martin murder, on Ferguson, the President has tried to balance on the race issue and has put part of the blame also upon the African Community for the way they have reacted.

In doing so, he has neither found favour with the African Community nor among the majority whites. The former is aghast at the President that the police officer has not yet been arrested and charged and he has said nothing on the issue. The conservatives and the elements on the right of US’s great political divide have used the President’s condemnation of the violence by the African-Americans to justify that Darren Williams was right in killing Michael Brown. These elements have also used the President’s condemnation of the violence by the African Americans in Ferguson to further justify their racial profiling of them as violent people who deserve to be discriminated against and even be killed.

It is true that African-Americans in USA are violence prone. But then, it is also equally true that the number of people in the country who die in the hands of the whites is also significant. In fact, most of the major mass shootings in recent times, including that of the killing of 26 in Connecticut in 2012 of which 20 were children was the act of a white. This notwithstanding where African Americans have been wrongly profiled as violent while whites have been wrongly spared, the US laws guarantee protection of life of even an accused murderer till a court of law finds him guilty. In fact, the US prides in this and lectures the world for falling short on the rule of law index. Yet, white police officers are regularly getting away with murder in USA and the rule of law is blatantly violated when an African American is the victim.

Thus despite shooting Michael Brown, unarmed as he was and pleading to be arrested, Darren Williams gunned him down but still remains outside the purview of the law. Ferguson’s African-American protesters are instead being pursued by the law for demanding his arrest as they would be entitled even where the rule of law is not high by US standard. Events such as this one in Ferguson not just exposes the racial problem in the USA nakedly to the rest of the world; it also effectively takes away USA’s moral right to lecture the rest of the world on human and civil rights and the rule of the law. As US ponders on the moral and ethical questions raised by the Ferguson murder, it may also look into why African Americans are violence prone. Martin Luther King Jr. had said in the 1960s “a riot is the language of the unheard.” It is high time that in world’s oldest democracy, the majority whites would show the mind-set to hear the plight and predicament of the minority African Americans.

The writer is a retired career Ambassador. His email email id is HYPERLINK "mailto:ambserajulislam@gmail.com"


Hillary Clinton attacks President Obama on foreign affairs
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M. Serajul Islam
  President Obama will leave office in January 2017. He cannot contest again for the White House. Thus he is in political terms, a lame duck President. This is the time that former Presidents in US history have devoted to building their legacies. Among the recent Presidents in US history, President Obama just did not come to office with great promises to his fellow Americans and the world, he did not leave anyone in doubt that he wanted to be remembered among the country’s great Presidents.

He therefore chose President Abraham Lincoln as his role model. He wanted to unite the country after his predecessor had thrown it apart like President Lincoln had done to the country after the American Civil War. His promise of change not just attracted voters in his own country to look beyond the colour of his skin and vote for him; it attracted the attention of the rest of the world who pinned their hopes upon him to unite the world after George W Bush had torn it asunder by his “war on terror”.

The US and the world saw in him as President John F Kennedy of a new era. Inspired by the way people in US and the world supported him; President Obama reached out to his opponents to build an administration on bipartisanship. He offered the most crucial job in his administration to a Republican; that of the Secretary of Defence where he retained President Bush’s choice, Robert Gates. He replaced him with another Republican Conservative Chuck Hagel in 2013. He tried his best to reach out to the Republicans on many occasions and on issues. In 2010, he compromised on the federal budget deal. He also tried to reach to the Republicans on pro-choice and pro-life and health care issues.

President Obama also owned the policies of President Bush in domestic politics as well as international affairs at a time when the two were directly related to each other like seldom before in history and in both, the country’s predicament was at its worst. He entered the White House when eight years of President Bush’s war on terror had led the country to spend trillions of dollars of tax payers’ money in the two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq where in the latter there were no terrorists or terror groups to carry out any war of terror.

Those trillion of dollars spent in the wars that were never popular in the country turned the US economy from a net surplus one to a net deficit one. President Bill Clinton had left for President GW Bush a healthy economy whereas in the 8 years, President GW Bush turned that economy into tatters and left for his successor President Obama, an economy in ruins. In addition, President GW Bush left President Obama with US troops in thousands, fighting unpopular wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. By the time President Obama took office, thousands of US soldiers had been killed fighting for objectives that did not appeal or make sense to the Americans.

Thus in domestic affairs and international relations, the United States was in a predicament that was nothing short of a nightmare for a US President to find himself in upon entering the White House. Yet, President Obama, believing that it was his destiny to become one of US’ great Presidents, did not put the blame for his or the country’s predicament upon his predecessor. He tried to lead the country united, failing to realize that the Republicans never accepted or cared for his offers of bipartisanship and were determined to fight his administration in all manners imaginable or possible to ensure that he would leave the White House as the worst US President in recent times.

President Obama today is fighting for his name from being listed at the top of the list of the worst Presidents in sharp contrast to his wish and dream to become one of the best for which he had tried his policy of bipartisanship. At a time when he is praying for divine intervention to get him out of his current predicament, President Obama has been subjected to attack from an important but totally unexpected quarter in his own camp, that from his former cabinet colleague Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton, now certain to announce her candidacy for the next US Presidential election, moved from her personal concerns to criticise the President in an unbelievable manner on his foreign policy initiatives, particularly those related to Iraq/ISIS/Syria and Russia/Ukraine believing that such attacks would strengthen her credibility.

The Washington Post recently carried a report that has been based on an interview she gave to Geoffrey Goldberg. In this interview according to the Post report, she distanced herself completely from President Obama’s foreign policy forgetting that she herself as the Secretary of State had laid its foundations. She hit the President where his opponents are hitting him the hardest, his policy in Syria and Iraq. She blamed the President for not arming the opponents of President Assad that she called a “big mistake that has led to the spread of violent jihadists throughout the region.” She failed to acknowledge that she was in charge of foreign affairs when that “big mistake” was committed.

The former Secretary of State thus stabbed the President on the back at a very bad time for him. However, the manner she stabbed him earned her the anger of a wide spectrum of people in the country who were ready to support her for possible bid for the White House. At a time when in the rest of the world, people are calling the Israeli atrocities in Gaza as genocide, the former First Lady’s support and compassion was not for the children and innocent people killed in Gaza but for those who are perpetrating the crime. Thus in her interview with Geoffrey Goldberg, she went much further in supporting the Israeli cause than the President who himself has disappointed many of his supporters and admirers abroad by strong and unequivocally upholding Israel’s crimes against humanity in Gaza.

She used the issue of Israel’s security as the excuse to give the country carte blanche to deal with Gaza and the West Bank in any manner it wanted. She said in her interview: “If I were the prime minister of Israel, you’re damn right I would expect to have control over security, because even if I’m dealing with [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas, who is 79 years old, and other members of Fatah, who are enjoying a better lifestyle and making money on all kinds of things, that does not protect Israel from the influx of Hamas or cross-border attacks from anywhere else. With Syria and Iraq, it is all one big threat. So Netanyahu could not do this in good conscience.”

Critics have taken Hillary Clinton apart for this interview. Jennifer Rubin who wrote the Washington Post article called her interview “the worst sort of political opportunism for which she is famous.” She blamed her for not having the “nerve to resign out of principle on Syria, as did former ambassador Robert Ford. Only now, when the entire region has gone to seed she decides the Obama critics were right on some key aspects of foreign policy.” Jennifer Rubin put the blame for the current crisis in the region over the ISIS threat squarely on Hillary Clinton with President Obama also equally responsible for their hurry to get out of Iraq in 2011. She wrote: “Both Obama and Hillary Clinton wanted out of Iraq completely; this turned out to be among their gravest errors, which contributed to the rise of the Islamic State and necessitated our re-entry into Iraq.”

Hillary Clinton’s interview has not been a clever political act for this has led many to believe she is an opportunist that could cause her to lose support for her bid for the White House among many groups in the country. By her interview, she has succeeded in strengthening the efforts of the President’s opponents to condemn him as the country’s worst ever President. All this goes to prove, first, that the Democrats are a disunited party leading to mid-term elections later in the year for the Congress and the Presidential elections in 2016 and second, President Barak Obama has not just failed with his policy of bipartisanship with his opponents but also failed in inspiring his own party and his closest collegaues to be loyal and faithful to him.

The writer is a retired career Ambassador. He can be reached at HYPERLINK "mailto:ambserajulislam@gmail.com"


On British Minister’s resignation and death of humanity in Gaza
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M. Serajul Islam
  It took a British politician with Pakistani roots Baroness Sayeeda Warsi to show Great Britain what is wrong with its government’s policies in Gaza. For now over three weeks at the time of writing this piece, over 1800 Palestinians, including over 200 children, have been killed by Israeli bombardment intended to reduce the 1.8 million people crammed in the 138 sq. mile coastal enclave, to pulp. The tragedy earned international attention but failed to raise the conscience of the powers in the West that watched silently as Israelis killed at will. One picture that came out of Gaza was of a dead child in a freezer who could not be buried as Gaza had run out of burial places!

It is unbelievable that the rich and developed nations that routinely embarrass and pull up the less privileged ones for violation of human rights cannot muster the courage to call the systematic annihilation of the people of Gaza as crime against humanity or genocide. It is equally unbelievable that the nation of Israel that came into existence in 1948 because its people were subjected to genocide by Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime that brought the world together in sympathy is today doing to the Palestinians what Hitler had done to them.

President Barak Obama who had come to power with the promise of bringing the West and the Muslim countries together after his predecessor President GW Bush’s “crusade” had set the two worlds apart has since reneged on his promise. His role in Palestine has sadly been one of betrayal. He has failed to lift a finger against the actions of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who ascended to power at the same time he went to White House for the first time to derail the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. In fact, far from lifting a finger, President Barak Obama has accepted barrage of insults from the Israeli Prime Minister without even a protest.

In 2011, Netanyahu was angry with the US President over illegal Israeli settlements in Palestinian. On a visit to the United States, while the anger lasted, Benjamin Netanyahu ignored the President by skipping a scheduled meeting with him and instead addressed the Joint House of the US Congress, an honour that the country gives to exceptional world leaders and under exceptional circumstances. The way the US has conducted its relations with Israel under President Barak Obama, few have been left in doubt that it has been Israel that has called all the shots.

The White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest while spinning to rope the Russian President in the MH17 downing said recently: “Whether it is the Russians themselves that pulled the trigger or Russian separatists trained by Russians, it’s all the same. It all goes back, ultimately, to Vladimir Putin.” Instantly, the Press secretary’s spin was spun back to place the blame for the Gaza massacres upon President Obama. One newspaper report thus wrote: “Whether it is the Americans themselves that pulled the trigger in Gaza, so far killing over 1 000, most non-combatants, or Israeli soldiers equipped with US-supplied weapons, it’s all the same. It all goes back, ultimately, to Barack Obama.” In fact, after this comment was made, the death toll in Gaza doubled and instead of taking the side of the victims, the US President sanctioned an additional US$ 250 million to improve the dome technology for Israel’s protection. By this sanction the US President gave Israel the green signal to continue with its killing spree as long as it takes to ensure that Hamas no longer has any ability to fight for freedom and bring to an end the decade long blockade that has been slowly but certainly snuffing the life out of the people of Gaza.

The US/West have backed Israel in its crimes against humanity in Gaza based on Israel’s right to defend against Hamas’ rocket attacks that have resulted in deaths of 64 Israelis and 5 civilians. In justifying Israeli action, these powers have gone into denial over why Hamas fires rockets at Israel. There was no Israel before 1948. The state of Israel has been created on land that belonged to the Palestinians that they shared with the Christians and the Jews for thousands of years and lived in peace and harmony till the land fell into the hands of Great Britain after the First World War as a trust territory. It was then that the British Government with the infamous the Balfour Declaration of 1917 hatched the plot to create Israel by driving away the Palestinians from their land thus condemning millions of the Palestinians to become homeless and refugees or to live in a ghetto like Gaza and in the West Bank, without a present and a future.

The British, an Anglican Christian state, used the scriptures to support the Zionist movement for creation of Israel. In supporting this movement, the British did not care; first that it had no right to make that decision because the land was not theirs, and second, the creation of Israel based upon the scriptures could not be binding under international law because scriptures are not historical facts, not necessarily. It was not just with the Palestinians that the British have been the cause of what ails the modern world. They have done the same wherever they have been colonial powers. They created the Kashmir problem before they left India. They divided India in 1947 that caused millions of deaths in Punjab for which responsibility should be theirs.

Therefore in the historical context, Baroness Warsi’s resignation is worthy of international attention. Her resignation will go into the record book as that by a British Minister who has resigned because she did not agree with the British Government’s immoral and unethical policy in Gaza. What infuriated Baroness Warsi is Prime Minister David Cameron’s refusal to call Israeli attack of a UN school in Gaza as a “moral outrage and a criminal act.” He agreed that the UN Secretary General had been right to speak against that attack but accused Hamas for “no regard for human life and must cease firing rockets into Israel and digging tunnels to facilitate the murder of civilians”. He had no words for the 1800 deaths in Gaza including those of children and would only say “sustainable security for Israel cannot be achieved simply by permanent blockade, aerial bombardment and periodic ground incursion.”

Baroness Warsi’s resignation will not change the Cameron Government’s immoral stand in Israel. Nevertheless it will bring focus on where and why it is wrong. This is why she deserves the warmest cheers of freedom loving people worldwide for her courage to stand for right against wrong and bring to focus upon Britain and its dismal record in history and international politics. Israel, with its latest crimes against humanity in Gaza, has gone way too much over the line with its argument of self-defense leading the Italian philosopher Gianno Vattimi to state that it “is a little worse than Hitler.” That statement is now beginning to resonate around the world.

The above notwithstanding, the people of Gaza are suffering because the powerful countries with the United States and Great Britain leading are using their powers for the perpetrators of crimes against humanity and not the victims. The victims bring to memory the David versus Goliath fight of the scriptures to underline that the human spirit and it’s craving for freedom cannot be and has never been defeated, no matter how heavy the odds.

The writer is a retired career Ambassador and can be reached at: HYPERLINK "mailto:ambserajulislam@gmail.com" ambserajulislam@gmail.com



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China’s string of pearls
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M. Serajul Islam
  An article has gone viral on the Internet about Bangladesh-China relations and how New Deli views it. If the assumptions and conclusions in the article are even partly correct, then Bangladesh politics could be headed into unchartered waters about which not many in Bangladesh seems to be aware of, let alone write or talk about it in the public domain. The article written by Amitava Mukherjee (AM) has appeared in the web based Geopoliticalmonitor.com with a provocative title “Is Bangladesh the Newest Addition to China’s String of Pearls’?’

AM has suggested that New Delhi policy makers are worried with the visit of Sheikh Hasina to Beijing in June this year and with the agreements that were signed on the visit and the general tenor of the visit that suggested that Sino-Bangladesh relations are graduating from “ the stage of economic partnership into the realm of strategic partnership.” He further suggested that Sheikh Hasina’s visit to China and the developments thereafter have led New Delhi to go slow on its election rhetoric against Bangladesh on the sensitive issue of illegal Bangladeshis in India. New Delhi does not want to upset the AL led government at this stage with the issue because that would push Bangladesh deeper into the Chinese strategic plan for South Asia and move the AL led government to move away from its traditional “India centric” policy to a “China centric one.”

New Delhi’s feels that these developments are likely “to entangle Dhaka in the vortex of troubled South Asian waters” in an anti-Indian Chinese strategic plan that he has named the “string of pearls.” The essence of this anti-Indian plan is China’s desire for foothold in the waters of the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal as well as inland in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh together with landlocked Nepal and Bhutan, to encircle and isolate India. In this context, the Chinese have helped Pakistan build its Gwadar deep seaport; Sri Lanka its southern Hambantota deep seaport are now in the process of signing with Bangladesh an agreement for constructing the Sonadia deep seaport together with investments for improvement of the Chittagong port.

AM has also underlined New Delhi’s concerns from Bangladesh’s huge defense purchases that makes China the country’s number one supplier and agreements for infrastructure development and development of energy needs of the country that have come to light with Sheikh Hasina’s visit to Beijing. He concluded from these developments that Sino-Bangladesh relations have not just been transformed from an economic to a strategic one but also concluded that Bangladesh has now become “the newest addition to China’s string of pearls”.

The writer has emphasized upon Bangladesh’s location as “a country which overlooks the strategically important sea lanes of the Indian Ocean linking China with the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, thus playing a role in securing energy supplies for Beijing” to explain the importance of Bangladesh to China in its strategic plan of the pearl of strings. AM explains convincingly based on geopolitics and China’s well-known policy of antagonism towards India why it considers Bangladesh an “acquisition.” However, the reasons he has put forward to explain why Bangladesh has become a part of the plan as an acquisition by China is not very convincing.

The author has put forwards a couple of reasons to explain why Bangladesh now finds itself as a part of the Chinese plan of the “string of pearls. First, he thinks that the AL led government is also conscious like China of its huge strategic value and wants to use it for its advantage to project an “independent identity.” Second, he thinks Bangladesh wants to use that “independent identity” to get back at India for its betrayal to deliver the Teesta and the LBA deals. Both promises however do not stand to serious scrutiny for reasons that are obvious. Following the January 5 elections, the AL Government has run into deep crisis on legitimacy and now needs New Delhi more desperately than ever to overcome this crisis. In fact, if New Delhi decides to back the western nations whose pressures upon the AL led government for fresh elections are mounting, the AL government will have no alternative but to catapult where China’s ability to help it is absent.

Further, the AL led government has too many issues of history, politics and of course the fact that India surrounds it on all sides to risk going over to China in an anti-India strategic plan. In fact, history and reality makes it absurd to accept that an AL led government would be part of an anti-India Chinese plan consciously. This line of thinking is also fundamentally opposed to the very ethos of the Awami League. Therefore it is incomprehensible that the AL government would leave India at such a desperate time for it and join the China sponsored anti-India “string of pearls” strategy just because the Teesta and LBA deals have not been delivered.

Nevertheless, facts revealed by AM suggest strongly about China’s anti-Indian “string of pearls” plan and its interest to “acquire” Bangladesh and why not? In 2010, India and the US became strategic partners to contain China’s influence in Asia and the Pacific, a partnership that both countries entered not in secret but openly. That partnership had gone to the cold storage as relations between USA and India soured under the Congress Government over an wide array of issues in which the Bangladesh elections has also played a part. That partnership has resurfaced with the departure of the Congress Government. US Secretary of State John Kerry is in New Delhi at the time of writing this piece. Narendra Modi who needs USA to overcome his government’s credibility on Hindu fundamentalism and for himself over his role in the Gujarat riots will visit Washington shortly. Thus in the period ahead, Washington-New Delhi strategic partnership against China is expected to deepen, leaving Bangladesh with China in this emerging scenario.

This leaves for speculation whether the AL led government has deliberately decided to go with China and against USA and India. AM has agued that the choice has been deliberate. He has further argued that New Delhi does not want to lose the confidence of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. If New Delhi is interested to bring Bangladesh back to its fold and away from China, the cards are too strongly stacked in its hands to break the Chinese “string of pearls” and the role of Bangladesh in it. New Delhi need not woo Sheikh Hasina but could demand it if indeed her government is deliberately pursuing an anti-India policy with China as a partner in the so-called “string of pearls.” India has that power over the AL led government and with USA with it, the task is child’s play.

There is of course a simpler and more realistic explanation to the recent overtures in Sino-Bangladesh relations that AM has not seen. The Bangladesh Government has been desperate for recognition after the January 5 elections and the Chinese hand of friendship came to it as heaven sent. The Chinese used the AL government’s desperation for legitimacy to deepen its economic advantages that are significantly better than India’s but also to rope Bangladesh to become its unwitting “newest acquisition” in the so-called string of pearls. Therefore an equally simple explanation to New Delhi’s concerns over China-Bangladesh relations is that Beijing trapped an unsuspecting Dhaka in its anti-India strategic plan.

The facts AM revealed in his intriguing article are interesting and its premises, specially those based on facts, suggest that Bangladesh has indeed walked into the “vortex of troubled South Asian waters.” It will need extremely competent diplomatic handling for the AL government to keep its head above the water where the players it is pitched with/against are without a shadow of doubt, of a much superior class.

The writer is a retired career Ambassador. He can be reached at: HYPERLINK "mailto:ambserajulislam@gmail.com"