Monday, May 28, 2012

Ambassadors in our politics again
Daily Sun
May 26, 2012
M. Serajul Islam 

The US Ambassador Dan Mozena loves Bangladesh. It is just that he says things about Bangladesh; even his body language is extremely positive.  The US Ambassador in Dhaka is by whatever goes with the position a celebrity in Bangladesh. There was a US Ambassador in Dhaka during the AL’s last term who was once called to the MFA by the Foreign Minister. The Ambassador asked the MFA official that he would be pleased to have “ a cup of tea” with the Minister at his Residence instead. 

That of course did not happen.  The Ambassador was reminded about protocol that resolved the issue. Dan Mozena appears to be more down to earth. He perhaps does not think that his position gives him the authority to dictate his views to the Government like some of his predecessors in the past. Recently, the Ambassador met an audience in an open discussion organized by a local think tank where he touched upon all the issues current in our politics and gave views on all but in a manner that was inoffensive. 

In was interesting to note from the discussion that the US is seriously interested that the current political impasse in the country would be resolved soon. He seemed certain that the ruling party and the BNP would eventually sit and find a way out to hold the next elections in a free, fair and credible manner. He hoped that the two protagonists would sit sooner to find the solution rather than later for the good of the country.  Interestingly, the discussion was supposed to be on “US policy towards Bangladesh” but it ended with an open discussion of the Ambassador’s views on Bangladesh’s politics! 

Nevertheless, the conviction with which the Ambassador stated that the AL and the BNP would eventually sit and resolve the deadlock over the issue of the caretaker government has raised a lot of hope in interested quarters. The whole country, barring the Prime Minister and a few of her loyal Ministers and party leaders,  has little doubt that the country would be doomed should the Prime Minister’s insistence to hold the next general elections under an interim government is carried through. Perhaps the Ambassador knows something that he is not willing to share at the moment to have made such a definitive statement that the two parties would sit and resolve their differences.

Many however feel afraid at the way the Prime Minister has been dismissing the opposition’s demand on the CG to be convinced that the Ambassador’s definitive statement on talks between the AL and the BNP would take place. They apprehend that the Prime Minister would not relent on supervising the next elections that would lead to a conflict and break down of the civil order. To prevent such a predicament taking place, the US Ambassador would need not just his efforts; he would need those of his fellow Ambassadors of the developed countries to make an impact upon the government to hold free, fair and non-party led general elections that would encourage the opposition to participate. 

The Ambassadors of the developed countries in Dhaka meet regularly and coordinate their positions on the politics of Bangladesh. During the last BNP term, they used to meet in what was then known in the media as the Tuesday Club. In that forum, they discussed all the issues of Bangladesh politics and collectively had put pressure on the BNP Government to do what they thought was correct. Individually, the Ambassadors also went to the media with their opinions, views and recommendations like they were a part of the political process and had a stake in it. 

The BNP of course did not listen to their views and suggestions. They paid a heavy price and the country, even more. The refusal of the BNP to heed to what these Ambassadors had to say eventually led to 1/11. The army used the emergency to push the country back decades. One reason why the BNP did not pay heed to the Ambassadors was the way they gave their advice and suggestions. They appeared partisan in the way they interfered in politics. At least one of them did not leave anyone in doubt which party’s interests he was representing.  

A similar situation is again facing Bangladesh; in fact worse. In 2006, the AL had pushed the country to the edge on the issue that the retired Chief Justice that the BNP wanted to head the Caretaker Government was unacceptable to it. The AL contended that as Justice KM Hasan was once a member of the BNP, he could not become the head of the CG Government. The fact that he had resigned from the BNP more than a quarter of century before to become a judge and eventually the Chief Justice was of no consequence to the AL. They suspected that he would use that flimsy link with BNP to help it to win the election. 

The same AL is now asking the BNP to participate in elections that the Prime Minister would supervise with a smaller number of AL Ministers where all of the nearly 240 directly elected AL MPs would be able to again participate in the elections as sitting MPs if they receive the party’s nomination. The ruling party has introduced this system for the next general elections sidetracking the Supreme Court’s recommendation for holding the next two general elections under the CG. In fact, the AL used its 3/4th parliamentary majority to abolish the CG system and introduce the system under which the incumbent PM with her party would hold the next general elections. Simple common sense would dictate anyone except those trying to force this system to conclude that the BNP would not participate in a ruling party supervised election. 

The BNP has been trying to encourage the ruling party to create the conditions that would allow it to participate and carry forward the fragile democracy of the country. It has been doing so largely by democratic protests. Those protests have resulted in the government throwing the party’s leadership behind bars, thus attempting to gag democracy by means that are outright undemocratic that would do credit to dictatorial regimes the country has seen in the past and not a party that claims for itself to have led the democratic and liberation movements of Bangladesh. Unfortunately, the ruling party is showing no signs so far of its willingness to resolve the political impasse before it democratically. If it insists on this course of action, then it would not need a crystal ball to predict that the country is sliding towards disaster. 

The developed nations are our development partners. They have a stake at the way we progress because they have invested directly and indirectly in our development. That investment apart, we need their continued positive encouragement for a variety of reasons.  Recently we have seen three important visitors to Bangladesh. They have all said that the country has a great future that has been articulated by Dan Mozena who said that we have the potentials to become the “Asian Tiger.” The three visitors and all others who have visited Bangladesh in recent times have stressed upon the need of political stability and strengthening the democratic process. 

Dan Mozena and his colleagues can make a very important impact in encouraging political stability and democracy in Bangladesh. However in doing so, they must see that they do not do so by intervening with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations that prohibits them from interfering in the host country’s internal affairs. Their predecessors did so before the last CG. Many say their undue interference brought the emergency; in fact one of them bragged about his role in doing so. 

More importantly, with the ruling party, they would need to be diplomatic to get it to do what is in the interest of the country. Embarrassing it by going public would not serve their objective or Bangladesh’s interests because this party would  be much more difficult to motivate and encourage than the BNP. Thus the Ambassadors need to unite and talk on our politics not in the media but behind the scene. Ambassador Mozena has already created for himself the credibility to lead such an endeavor by demonstrating that he is a genuine friend of Bangladesh. 

The writer is a retired career diplomat and former Ambassador to Japan

On Hillary Clinton’s Kolkata visit and lessons for Bangladesh
"As I See It" column
The Independent
25 May, 2012
M. Serajul Islam

The Washington Post thinks that Mamata Banarjee had a great meeting with the US Secretary of State. In a front page report in one its recent issues; the hour long meeting between the two has been described as “warm, vibrant and energetic.” The Secretary herself described the meeting with Mamata Banarjee as a “remarkable” experience.

Yet the Chief Minister of Paschim Bangla has recently emerged as a major obstacle to US interests in India. She has been the main force in derailing a major reform agenda of Prime Minister Manmohon Singh in which the US had a major interest, namely allowing foreign retail chains an entry to the Indian market. In line to enter the Indian market was the well known US retail chain Wal-Mart. The reform agenda has been derailed by Mamata Banarjee to defend the poor shop keepers in her province. 

When the US Secretary of State included Bangladesh and West Bengal as destinations in between her important meetings in Beijing and New Delhi, many failed to predict the right reasons for these two destinations being included on that trip. There was one similarity though in the Secretary’s stops in Dhaka and Kolkata. Like Mamata Banarjee, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also declined the US request made by both Hillary Clinton and President Obama on  Dr. Mohammed Yunus and the Grameen Bank.   

In the end, the Secretary’s visit to Dhaka and Kolkata brought different and contrasting results for the two leaders she met in Dhaka and Kolkata. In both Bangladesh and Paschim Bangla, there is growing disenchantment with the ruling party. Mamata Banarjee came to office last year overthrowing a deeply entrenched Communist government riding a popularity wave. Of late, many who voted her to power are deeply disappointed with her style of politics. They now feel that the choice between the Communists and Trinamool is one between the devil and the deep blue sea. 

In Bangladesh, the ruling AL came to office three years ago with a massive mandate. People in Bangladesh are now disenchanted with the ruling party because of its style of governance and failure to make any headway with the major issues of concern of the people. However, in Kolkata, the US Secretary strengthened that position of Mamata Banarjee in Paschim Bangla and India. Veteran journalist Kuldip Nayyar called the visit to Kolkata   “an unexpected vote of confidence amid a growing perception of disenchantment with her (Mamata Banarjee’s) style and substance of governance.” In Bangladesh, the Secretary endorsed the opposition’s agenda by taking a critical view of the government. 

Mamata Banarjee has been able to attract US attention positively even though she has come directly coming into confrontation with furthering US interest in India. In fact, it is not just the US that is taking an interest in the mercurial politician; Mamata Banarjee has drawn similar attention in the West in general. Most recently, TIME magazine has named her in 2012 as one of the 100 most influential people of the world. The interest of the US and the West in Mamata Banarjee has of course been encouraged by the fact that she has overthrown a well entrenched communist regime.  

However, there are many aspects of her personality and personal life that have contributed to the US Secretary’s positive interest in her. Her humble origin that  she has not forgotten by staying in the same house in a “8 by 8 feet “ room  that she has occupied for a long time in a “Kolkata neighborhood beside a foul smelling open drain” , is one. That she is “the only woman who has risen to political power in South Asia without being the widow or the orphaned daughter of an established leader”   is another. 

The US Secretary has also been drawn towards a personal rapport with Mamata Banarjee because of a “common bond” for “women who have broken through barriers of discrimination and braved the fire of electoral politics.” Above all, Mamata Banarjee has been able to convince the Secretary that her stand that has gone against the USA and many of the Indian Prime Minister’s economic reform agenda is one of principle taken to help the poor. 

In a way the visit of the US Secretary to Kolkata has indirectly complicated Bangladesh’s interests with India. The credibility she has given to Mamata Banarjee at a time when her style of politics has been making  her unpopular in her own province and India, will  encourage her to keep Bangladesh waiting longer for the Teesta water sharing agreement. She will do so to pressure the Centre for achieving her demands because New Delhi is as restless as Dhaka for signing the agreement that is crucial to encourage Bangladesh to give India continued security cooperation and the finalize the trial run on land transit.

The Bangladesh government could do itself a favour and analyze Hillary Clinton’s trip to Kolkata to find out, first, why she ended her trip to Kolkata with respect for the Chief Minister enhanced, and second, why she made such critical comments about the Bangladesh government that have done a huge favour to the opposition while she spared Mamata any embarrassment at all on the issue of governance. In Paschim Bangla, Mamata Banarjee has messed up governance that has earned her the nickname of “Queen of demo-crazy.” 

The politics that Mamata Banarjee is playing with New Delhi is also becoming increasingly complex.  She is  using Trinamool’s  19 seats in the 543 seats Lok Shaba  which is critical for the survival of the Congress led UPA coalition at the centre  not just for furthering the interests of Paschim Bangla and the poor of India  but also for a greater political end, namely to wrest substantial political power from New Delhi for the Indian provinces.   Bangladesh’s interests  have become a casualty in that pursuit. 

Hillary Clinton’s visit to Kolkata has flagged for Bangladesh a note of caution against fond hopes that Mamata Banarjee would anytime soon relent on the Teesta.  It has also flagged the mistake our negotiators made when they by-passed Mamata Banarjee while negotiating with New Delhi because they thought they could only deal only with its sovereign equal on bilateral issues. Sovereign equality did not stop the US Secretary of State from going to Kolkata to talk to her; it unfortunately stopped our Foreign Minister from doing the same with unfortunate consequences. This is another lesson for our foreign policy managers. Unfortunately this one has come rather late.   

The writer is a former Ambassador to Japan and Egypt.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Trashing Dr. Yunus: Crossing the finer lines of decency
Daily Sun
May 19, 2012
M. Serajul Islam

I am in Washington these days.  I looked eagerly for some news in the US newspapers about the three important visits to Dhaka that for Bangladesh was a rare diplomatic event. It was days after the US Secretary had left Bangladesh that The Washington Post carried news on the visit. It was on the Finance Minister’s critical comments on the US Secretary for her praise of  Dr. Mohammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank.  

Of the three visits, that of Hillary Clinton (HC) attracted most attention in Bangladesh.  The reason was not just that the US Secretary is one of the most powerful politicians of our time. People in Bangladesh were more eager and curious  to find out whether she was visiting Bangladesh with the snubbing by the Prime Minister on Dr. Yunus or some other agenda in mind.

The way the US Secretary interacted with the Prime Minister upon her arrival in Dhaka led many to speculate that the US Secretary had forgotten the past. The warm hug between the two and the broad smiles raised false hopes in government circles. Reports in the media even went to the extent of congratulating the Government for what it said was a major triumph of its diplomacy.  

When reports came to the media later about what transpired at the Secretary’s meeting with the Leader of the Opposition, there were hints that all did not go the Government’s way. In that meeting, the US Secretary, while expressing reservations on hartal, nevertheless appeared to support the opposition’s demand for an acceptable system for the next general elections. The Secretary also expressed   concerns on extra-judicial killings and disappearances that are major demands of the opposition.  

The government’s mood changed and reality dawned upon it only after it came to know what transpired at her town hall like meeting with the youth aired by a local TV channel.  At her meeting with the youth, the Secretary did not leave anyone guessing what she thought of the Bangladesh government and what the US expected of the government in the time up to the next elections. The result of the meeting with Dr. Mohammad Yunus and Sir Fazle Hussain Abed completed the Government’s cup of disappointment. 

After that meeting, the US Secretary came back at the government for the way it dealt with her request on Dr. Yunus and the future of the Grameen Bank. She said she held the Noble Laureate in high respect and that the GB has attained positive acceptance all over the world. She asked the Government to ensure that the work of the world renowned financial institution is not hampered by its undue interference. The US Secretary also listened to Dr. Yunus and Sir Fazle about the need to hold the next general elections under a neutral caretaker government and seemed to agree.  

Nevertheless, it was only after the US Secretary had left Bangladesh did the Government wake up to the fact that her visit was a disaster; that her smiles garbed views that were critical.  In fact, it was a few days after she  was back in Washington did Ministers of this government start criticizing Dr. Yunus. The Finance Minister started the attack that made to the pages of The Washington Post. He used his favorite non-word “rubbish” in attacking Dr. Yunus and the GB. His body language was particularly noticeable that led to expression of disgust from leading members of the civil society. 

The Minister of LGED joined his colleague in trashing Dr. Yunus. He questioned his credibility for  the Noble Prize; in fact he trashed the Prize! He felt that one can win it simply by drinking white wine and cheese and making connected quarters happy. He made a number of totally unwarranted references not just trashing Dr. Yunus in words that were distasteful; he also questioned the integrity of the Noble Peace Committee. He also got his facts wrong, particularly on the Irish Noble Peace winners Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan who were founders of the Northern Ireland Peace Movement later named as the Community of Peace People and not Motherland Peace as he incorrectly mentioned. 

 He humiliated them by incorrectly stating that they went to Court over the Prize money so he could humiliate Dr. Yunus more. He could not care less that to humiliate Dr. Yunus, he slandered two Noble Laureates and used untruth to do so. The Minister for Industries who had no reason to poke his nose into the campaign to humiliate Dr. Yunus nevertheless attacked him in vicious language that was both ridiculous and pathetic. He called the Noble Laureate “blood sucker” of the poor.  He left no one wondering from where he picked the words. 

When the Prime Minister had asked the EU to back Dr. Yunus for the WB President’s post some time ago, many were confused whether she was serious. However when her Advisers, Dr. Mashiur Rahman and Dr. Gowhar Rizvi backed the Prime Minister’s statement as official, people had thought that the Prime Minister had finally ended her quarrel with Dr. Yunus and was ready to move on. People were beginning to feel relieved that the end of the quarrel would bring rationality to the government’s treatment of the Noble Laureate that was seriously affecting the country’s interests abroad. 

In retrospect, the US Secretary said nothing to anger the Ministers. She asked for a free and fair election; expressed concerns over the disappearances; expressed faith in Dr. Yunus and backed the credibility of the GB. She also criticized the opposition’s programme of hartal and encouraged the mainstream parties to work for democracy and political stability of the country. Her views are those of the overwhelming majority of the people of Bangladesh. 

The EU made all the critical points about our politics at a media conference more pointedly than the US Secretary soon after she had left Dhaka.  In fact at the EU media meeting, the Italian Ambassador’s attacks were in direct contravention of the Vienna Convention that strictly prohibits diplomats from interfering in a host country’s internal affairs.  Yet none of the Ministers came forward to criticize the EU or the Italian Ambassador. Therefore it does not need much common sense to conclude why the Ministers spared the EU and went after Dr. Yunus, GB and the US Secretary. The Prime Minister, indeed, has not changed her mind on Dr. Yunus. HC’s remarks that she held him and GB in “high respect” only angered her more and triggered the tirade of the Ministers. 

Poor Dr. Yunus; he has now become the victim of his own fame. Unfortunately, that fame and the Prize are now jeopardizing our major foreign policy goals because in an effort to humiliate him, the government is ignoring conflicts with powerful countries and world leaders who respect and honour him and the Grameen Bank.  Had he not won the Noble Prize, he would not have angered the Prime Minister; the Ministers would not have gone after him and the GB; the Padma Bride would by now have been well into the construction stage and the visit of the US Secretary of State would have ended as the crowning glory of Bangladesh’s foreign policy initiatives! 

Well known and well respected civil society leaders have trashed those who trashed the Noble Laureate. Their views have resonated deeply in the minds of the majority people in the country. Unfortunately, we are seeing being played out before us an unbelievable drama where a Bangladeshi who has earned the unquestioned respect of the rest of the world is being humiliated by some of our Ministers as unfit and undeserving for what he has earned for Bangladesh. A country whose image abroad is pitiable is witnessing its government trash one who has given the country the only positive image internationally in recent times and has the potentials to give so much more! 

He writer is a former career Ambassador to Japan

Has logic taken leave of our politics and politicians?
As I see it column
The Independent
18 May 2012

M. Serajul Islam

Our politics is beginning to defy logic. Many things are happening in our politics that makes one feel that we are living in a surreal world or we are having a bad dream. The way the Ministers are attacking Dr. Mohammad Yunus leaves one to conclude that with logic even decency and sanity have taken leave of our politics. A senior Minister of the Government trashed his achievement in winning the Noble Prize claiming that such a prize can be won by anyone sipping white wine with chips in the rights quarters!  Believe it or not, Dr. Yunus is a teetotaler; he does not drink or smoke! 

Dr. Mohammed Shahidullah who was well known for his wisdom had once said that a nation that cannot show respect to its worthy citizens would soon have no such worthy citizens born to it.  He was expressing his frustration at our national trait of dishonoring those whom we should honour and respect. We are seeing this happening in the country in the way   the government has again started humiliating Dr. Yunus with renewed venom and pack of lies following the visit of the US Secretary of State. 

Many individuals have won the Noble Peace Prize. Dr. Yunus has been different from most of them. The Grameen Bank (GB) for which he was awarded the Prize has attracted the attention of important countries and leaders of our times in a very positive manner. Both Dr. Yunus and the GB have become household names worldwide where many today know Bangladesh as the country of the Noble Laureate. For a country suffering endemic image problem, Dr. Yunus, the GB and his Noble Prize could have been heaven’s favour to Bangladesh to change its image. The Italian Ambassador has again reminded us of this image problem bluntly when the EU Ambassadors met the media recently.

A lot of this image problem is due to the nature of our politics. Nevertheless a lot of good things are happening in the country that we are failing to project. Any other country with an image problem such as ours would have thanked the stars for someone like Dr. Yunus. His name and fame could have branded Bangladesh in a manner that would have helped overcome a lot of the country’s poor image.   

Dr. Yunus’ value is not just in the fact that his name has become synonymous with Bangladesh in a positive way. His friendship with the world leaders could have been a bonus in pursuing the country’s foreign policy goals.  Those who pursue these goals know how difficult it is to be heard in capitals where our foreign policy interests lie. Dr Yunus’ friendship with the world leaders could have helped our foreign policy managers reach these leaders and be heard if they wanted his help. If only the Government had not humiliated him and the GB in absurd manners, his friendship with the US Secretary of State would have led her recent visit to Bangladesh to end as a crowning success of its foreign policy instead of being the failure it has been! 

In fact, the new round of vicious attacks on Dr. Yunus started only after the US Secretary had expressed her “deep respect” for him and the GB. Their sarcasm, the body language, in the renewed attacks makes one wonder what made them do it. The LGED Minister, in attacking Dr. Yunus, humiliated and ridiculed all who respects   him. He said that   the Irish Noble Peace Laureates Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan went to court to resolve their fight over prize money to underscore that the Noble Peace Prize is a cheap one. In his eagerness to humiliate Dr. Yunus, he failed to check facts on the Irish recipients. Their organization was the “Committee of Peace People” and not “Motherland Peace” as the Minister said. The Noble Peace Prize money is distributed to the recipients directly by the Committee. Hence he also incorrectly mentioned about their court battle over the Prize money.  

Truly, what we are hearing from our Ministers on Dr. Yunus and GB defies logic, common sense and decency.  The “attack Dr. Yunus campaign” is again underscoring the truth in what Dr. Mohammad Shahidullah had said about our national trait in dishonoring our best sons and daughters, in this instance best even in the world context. Dr. Yunus is only the 7th individual in world history to have won the Noble Peace Prize, the US President’s Freedom Medal and the US Congress’ Gold Medal to be in the company of Aung Saan Suu Kyi; Norman Borlaug; Nelson Mandela; Mother Teresa; Elie Wiesel and Martin Luther King! The only way to even try to justify the attacks of the Ministers would be to believe that they have a deep grudge against Bangladesh; that they want It humiliated because by their actions they are doing exactly that! 

It is at least heartening nevertheless to find that Dr. Shahidullah was correct only partially in regards to what he said about respecting our eminent citizens. It is only these Ministers and few around the government who are humiliating Dr. Yunus; that the people have not taken leave of their senses. When Barrister Rafiqul Huq joined other eminent citizens to trash the attacks of the Ministers, every word they said resonated deeply in the minds of the people who cannot help wondering about the reasons for which this government is going against Dr. Yunus in this absurd fashion, defeating  logic and defying decency and common sense.

The same defiance of logic and common sense in the actions of the Government is being seen in the government’s handling of the resignation of Sohel Taj. In a   recent TV programme on newspaper review, the guest was an Editor. The host asked him whether the Speaker’s interpretation that the resignation of the former State Minister from the parliament was not in accordance with the constitution and hence unacceptable was correct. The Editor was clearly uncomfortable with the question. He did not want to give a clear answer.   

He said at first that the Speaker was right because according to him the Constitution required that a member must submit his resignation in person. The host then asked him whether it mattered that he did not submit his resignation in person when he did not want to remain in the parliament. The Editor fumbled and said that perhaps as Sohel Taj was the son of former Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmed, a different set of laws applied to him for resigning from the parliament! 

A simple reading of the relevant part of the Constitution would show that both the Speaker and the Editor are wrong.  Article 67 (2) says: “A MP may resign his seat by writing under his hand to the Speaker, and the seat shall become vacant when the writing is received by the Speaker..” There is no mention that a member must present his resignation in person to the Speaker. If this is not clear enough (why is a million dollar question!), then by terms of Article 67 (b), Sohel Taj has vacated his membership because he has unlawfully abstained from parliament for 90 consecutive days.  

Therefore when Sohel Taj submitted his resignation, he was in fact not a member of the parliament!  The Speaker’s action in not accepting his resignation can thus be described only as a game of procedure, a wrong one at that, that he is playing that may not be entirely on his own choice.  Common sense, decency and logic have  all taken leave of our politics, truly. 

The writer is a retired career Ambassador to Japan and Egypt.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

On the visit of Katsuya Okada
Daily Sun
May 13, 2012
M. Serajul Islam

In the backdrop of the high profile visits of the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Indian Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, the visit of the Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Katsuya Okada was almost a non-event.  Pranab Mukherjee was scheduled for the visit earlier and hence his visit was not entirely unexpected. Those of Katsuya Okada and Hillary Clinton have taken place quite unexpectedly. 

But once these visits were known to the media, all focus was on Hillary Clinton and Pranab Mukherjee and little on Katsuya Okada despite Japan’s great importance to Bangladesh as its number one development partner.  Japan with the WB and the ABD are the three financiers for Padma Bridge project that has run into trouble on corruption charges on the Bangladesh side. Japan is also financing the US$ 1 billion Dhaka metro rail project that too has run into trouble.  

Japan has been a major financier of the Jamuna Bridge, Bangladesh’s biggest ever economic infra structure project. In fact, for quite some time after diplomatic ties were established in 1972, Bangladesh was on top of the list of countries receiving Japanese ODA largely in recognition of the great war of liberation that Bangladesh fought in 1971. Last year Japan increased its ODA from US$ 400 to US$ 600 million a year, much greater than that from the USA and greater than the UK. 

Japan’s ODA to Bangladesh has been over US$ 10 billion so far. It is also the quality of that aid that makes Japan so important for Bangladesh. Japanese aid over the years has gone to key areas of economic infra structure and human resources development. Japanese assistance is also largely grants and a lot of assistance initially received as aid is also eventually converted into grants. Thus on quantity and quality, the importance of Japanese assistance that is seldom acknowledged in Bangladesh publicly, is in a class of its own. More importantly, unlike its other donors, Japan does not humiliate Bangladesh for the assistance it gives to the country. 

Bangladesh’s dependence on aid today is however not as desperate as it was in the initial decades after independence. Nevertheless its importance cannot also be under estimated. These factors notwithstanding, Japan is a major destination for countries seeking FDI. Malaysia’s transformation from a developing country no better than Bangladesh when the two were seeking economic development in the 1970s to a major economic success story has largely been to due to Japanese FDI. Japanese FDI has also helped in a major way in launching China’s economic development. 

Japan is these days itself seeking new FDI destinations. In China, Japanese investors are now un-comfortable for a variety of reasons, one being the historical animosities between the two countries. Many Japanese investors in China are seeking new pastures for investment. Malaysia has saturated. So has Vietnam. Other Southeast Asian nations such as Cambodia, Laos, etc do not have the geopolitical or other potentials to attract Japanese FDI. Bangladesh’s geopolitical location and its huge reservoir of cheap labour force are great lures for attracting Japanese investments. Till December 2011, 208 Japanese companies have registered in Bangladesh with a cumulative investment of US$ 1.2 billion. The numbers have not even scraped the vast potentials. 

Japan has in the past quite explicitly expressed its interest in Bangladesh as an investment destination. It has also highlighted the reasons that have been distracting Japanese investors from coming to Dhaka in a major way. During his stint in Dhaka under the last BNP government, Ambassador Matsushiro Horiguchi had highlighted these distractions in a letter to the Government that was leaked to the press. Unfortunately, the government of the time took no note of the distractions and Japanese investment in Bangladesh never fulfilled the potentials that are invariably there. 

Two recent events in Bangladesh have encouraged Japan to focus on Bangladesh with renewed interests that have been additional reasons for the sudden visit of the Japanese Deputy Prime Minister. The possibility of Bangladesh becoming the connectivity hub of the region as a result of the initiatives taken for improvement of Bangladesh-India relations is one reason.  Bangladesh now has a large portion of the Bay of Bengal for looking for hydro-carbons as a result of the ITLOS decision on demarcation of maritime boundary with Myanmar. Bangladesh expects to have another large portion of the Bay for the same purpose once its case against India comes up at the UN Commission on Law of the SEA (UNCLOS) in 2014. Energy starved Japan is viewing these developments with keen interest. 

Katsuya Okada spelled out this interest in clear terms. In one of his meetings in Dhaka, he said that “Bangladesh is a raw diamond. If it is polished it will be real diamond.” He expressed Japan’s willingness to fund the Padma Bridge but only after the cloud of corruption raised by the WB accusation is satisfactorily resolved. He said that Japan would soon re-start the funding of the Dhaka metro rail project as it is satisfied with the re-routing. He nevertheless clearly underscored the importance of a zero tolerance on corruption in Japan-Bangladesh aid relations as required under Japanese law.

The Japanese DPM is a very important leader of the ruling party, no less influential than the Prime Minister. In Dhaka, he met the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition but held official talks with the Foreign Minister. Given the fact that Japan has the capability to turn Bangladesh around and launch it to the orbit of assured economic development with its investment potentials alone, he needed assurance from the level of the Prime Minister to take home about Bangladesh’s seriousness for economic relations with Japan. 

The fact that US Secretary of State held official talks with the Bangladesh Foreign Minister perhaps made it difficult to elevate the level of talks of the Japanese DPM.  In this sense, the timing of the Japanese DPM’s visit was an inopportune one for Bangladesh because a leader of his importance should have held his official talks with the Bangladesh Prime Minister. Nevertheless even in these 3 visits, a departure was made. The Indian Finance Minister’s courtesy call with senior ministers in attendance followed by a luncheon she hosted for him was given the aura of summit level talks. Something like that should have been arranged for the Japanese guest. 

The timing of this visit was also wrong for Bangladesh because the Japanese DPM visited Dhaka when on issues that Japan is deeply interested for continued economic cooperation, namely political stability and corruption, Bangladesh’s position is very fragile. One good thing that Bangladesh offered to Japan, an offer that has come decades too late, is that of an exclusive economic processing zone that Bangladesh offered to South Korea when the last AL Government was in office. Whether this offer would be translated into concrete result would depend largely on whether Bangladesh can overcome the current political instability gripping the country and the quicksand of corruption into which it is sliding. 

The three important visits to Dhaka took place not due to diplomatic initiatives of the Bangladesh Government.  The underlying reason for the visits is just one; to offer Bangladesh the incentives and the preconditions for joining a new security alliance in the making for the region aimed at containment of China. Katsuya Okada came to Dhaka holding out the aid and investment incentives to encourage Bangladesh to join this new security initiative when it is formalized.  

There has been no Bangladesh Ambassador in Japan for nearly a year since the last one was withdrawn under an embarrassing accusation of sexual harassment. Yet Katsuya Okada came to Dhaka. That lends credence to the belief that the three important visits to Dhaka were all undertaken with a well coordinate game plan in the interest of the visitors rather than Bangladesh. Nevertheless, the visit of a Japanese DPM was one loaded with great opportunities. Unfortunately   because of its pre-occupation with Hillary Clinton and Pranab Mukherjee, the Bangladesh Government failed to give the visit the importance that it deserved. 

The writer is a former Ambassador to Japan.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

On Pranab Mukherjee’s visit: Silver lining in a dark cloud
As I see It ccolumn
The Independent
M. Serajul Islam

When the Indian Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee had visited Bangladesh as a Special Envoy to then just installed AL Government, he disappointed many Bangladeshis by his failure to meet the Leader of the Opposition Begum Khaleda Zia. In fact many eyebrows were raised in the country when he found time instead to visit Dhaka Cantonment to meet the controversial Bangladesh Army Chief General Moyeen U Ahmed who had threatened to impose upon Bangladesh a military dictated “democratic” rule. Pranab Mukherjee left many wondering whether India favoured a democratic government in Bangladesh or not. 

The Indian Finance Minister was scheduled to visit Bangladesh followed by the External Affairs Minister KM Krishna a couple of months or so ago for a review of Bangladesh-India relations in the context of the Joint Communiqué signed between the two governments during the much heralded visit of the Bangladesh Prime Minister to New Delhi in January, 2010. The visits were planned to salvage the deteriorating bilateral relations because of India’s failure to deliver on the Teesta water sharing agreement and other promises on outstanding bilateral problems. 

In the end, however, the Bangladesh Ministry of Foreign Affairs took o explained unofficially to the media that the Indian Finance Minister would not be coming to Dhaka for bilateral talks so as not to raise expectations. Instead MFA sources said that he would be visiting Dhaka to address the concluding ceremony of the joint celebrations of the two countries to mark the 150th year of the birth of Rabindranath Tagore. That was hardly anyone’s focus in looking at the visit of the Indian Minister.  

Thus MFA’s unofficial briefing notwithstanding, people in Bangladesh expected that his visit would provide answers that they were seeking for India’s failures to deliver its promises to Bangladesh. When the visit coincided with that of the US Secretary of State, the focus shifted to finding reason why the two leaders were visiting Dhaka at the same time. There were expectations in the air and some apprehensions that there could be some unexpected news from the two visits.  

Pranab Mukherjee is a key figure in the Indian Government. His close connection with the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is well known.  Therefore, his visit was not treated as the MFA indicated.  His courtesy call on the Prime Minister was more like a summit level bilateral meeting with senior ministers in attendance that was followed by a luncheon hosted by her in his honour.  Therefore, there was ample time spent between the two to review the status of Bangladesh-India  relations which was done, albeit in an informal manner. 

Unfortunately, the Indian Minister had nothing to make Sheikh Hasina happy. On the much expected and much awaited Teesta water sharing agreement, all the Indian Minister said was that it would be signed “soon” that in diplomatic parlance could be an indefinite wait.  He was also equally uncertain on the land boundary agreement. He could not assure Bangladesh when the Indian parliament would ratify the agreement that is a mandatory requirement to implement it.  

At the meeting with senior editors of Bangladesh, the Indian Minister said that India would run the extra mile for better relations with Bangladesh. He assured that all outstanding issues would be resolved. He provided details of disbursement of the US$ 1 billion loan and  mentioned that India would write off US$ 200 million out of the loan most of which would be spent for the railway sector to help Bangladesh absorb the bad news on Teesta and the land boundary agreement. What was worth noting from the Minister’s meeting with the editors was his eagerness to explain the reasons for disappointing Bangladesh on the major promises something that neither he nor other Indian leaders cared to do in the past. Also noticeable was his effort to address to Bangladesh’s interests instead of those of any particular political party. 

The Joint Commission meeting held in New Delhi that started while the Indian Minster was in Dhaka also confirmed that the Teesta water sharing and the land boundary agreements would remain uncertain promises to Bangladesh. Nevertheless, the Bangladesh Foreign Minister and the Indian External Affairs were upbeat and expressed satisfaction that bilateral relations were on track although ground reality clearly pointed to the contrary. The Bangladesh Minister expressed concern that unless the Teesta agreement was signed soon, bilateral relations could be adversely affected. 

These facts aside, the visit of the Indian Finance Minister ended on a note that should make a lot of people happy in Bangladesh on something that has nothing to do with the Teesta, the land boundary agreement, the Tippaimukh or the other substantive issues of Bangladesh-India relations. It is in the context of Bangladesh’s internal politics that his visit has raised hopes in the country.  This time he not only met the Leader of the Opposition but also assured her that India would be ready to deal with any political party that would win the next general elections. 

He also raised optimism with his free and fair exchange of views with the senior editors. He said that India has no favourite between the two mainstream parties and that it the democratic right of the people of Bangladesh to choose their government. India, he said, would deal with either of the parties with equal commitment. The message he delivered was clear and meaningful; that India would have no problem dealing with the BNP government if people of Bangladesh elected it to form the next government.  This assurance from the Indian Finance Minister should help remove a public perception that has also been reflected in international media that India is working to ensure a return of the AL to power by any means. 

This message seen together with similar messages from the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Matsuya Okada raises hope in Bangladesh that India would be playing a positive role in Bangladesh that would benefit the democratic process in the country. The three leaders did not land in Dhaka by accident. They must have surely coordinated their visits. In their separate ways, they delivered the same message to the ruling party and the BNP to work together for ensuring continuity of the democratic process in Bangladesh and assuring its political stability.  

Hillary Clinton’s message to this effect given alone would have encouraged the Prime Minister to do the contrary. The DPM’s message, given in the same way, would also have been wasted on our Prime Minister. With Pranab Mukherjee lending India’s support to the message, the chances of the Awami League working for an acceptable system of national elections on which Bangladesh’s political stability depends, appears bright. This is the silver lining in the dark cloud over Bangladesh-India relations. 

The writer is a retired career diplomat and a former Ambassador to Japan.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


Short-term prospects and long term consequences
The Holiday, May 10th., 2012

M. Serajul Islam
There were no surprises with the way the visit of the US Secretary of State ended.  The government’s efforts to give the visit a positive spin were misplaced. No TICFA agreement was signed or any security pact for the region.  The request for duty free access of Bangladeshi RMG products to the US market was ignored. The partnership agreement that was signed was on the cards as it was offered to Bangladesh during the discussions of the US Assistant Secretary Andrew Shapiro last month.
Nevertheless, the Government that was apprehensive that the Secretary would take a hard-line for the snubbing on the twin issues of Dr. Mohammad Yunus and Grameen Bank was relieved that these issues were not raised in the Secretary’s meeting with the Bangladesh Prime Minister or at her media briefing. Instead, there were some warm statements on Bangladesh’s performance on crucial issues of social and economic indicators of growth. The Government also received high marks for its zero tolerance on terrorism.  It was happy also that the Secretary expressed some harsh words against opposition led hartal that has placed it in a very difficult predicament in governance.

Although the BNP was admonished for hartal, it was nevertheless happy because the Secretary made it clear that the US wanted the next elections in Bangladesh to be held in a manner where all parties would participate. She also urged the ruling party to hold consultations with the opposition both in the parliament and outside on the issue. The BNP has been demanding this from the ruling party and its current political agitation is to pressure the AL to do this precisely. She strongly urged the Government to ensure an end to extra-judicial killings and disappearances, issues that are now concerns of not just the BNP but the nation. The presence of Ilyas Ali’s daughter at the meeting of the Secretary with Begum Khaleda Zia was therefore significant.
Govt. worried
On balance, however, the Secretary left the ruling party much more worried than the opposition. Notwithstanding what she said to the government and the opposition, she visited Bangladesh in pursuance of her country’s regional and global interests. If she made any party happy or worried, it has resulted as collateral advantage or disadvantage in pursuing US’ new security strategy for Asia and the Pacific which was the real reason for her visit to Bangladesh.
That was evident from observations that the Secretary made about India while addressing the press and media after her official talks with the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh. She encouraged Bangladesh to tread a regional path in company with India to assure its future. To play that role, she urged Bangladesh to strengthen and consolidate its democratic roots. It was also in this context that she urged both the ruling party and the opposition to negotiate a democratic way out of their present impasse and hold the next general elections so that all parties would be able to participate. It was also in this context that she strongly advised the opposition to shun the hartals and return to the parliament for peaceful resolution of their current problems with the ruling party.
Powerful leaders like Hillary Clinton do not do anything without any reason. Their visits overseas are all undertaken in pursuance of the objectives of their foreign policy. These leaders, in pursuance of their goals, are constantly in touch with one another across national boundaries both formally and informally all the time. Hence the fact that the US Secretary of State landed in Dhaka two days after the Japanese Deputy Prime Minister and was in Dhaka at the same time as the Indian Finance Minister were not  simple coincidences. 
Corruption core issue
The Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Matsuya Okada offered to Bangladesh the promise of investment and economic assistance. He did not, however, do so without preconditions.  He urged the government to enter into dialogue with the opposition to resolve the political impasse and encouraged the BNP to participate in the next general elections. He also did not fail to underscore the issue of corruption and urged the Government for showing no tolerance on the issue, underscoring the fact that Japanese laws related to overseas aid make it imperative that the process is free of corruption and is transparent.
In other words, he urged the Government in unequivocal terms that the democratic process in Bangladesh must be allowed to function unhindered. The US Secretary in her discussions with the Bangladesh leaders re-stated the same views as those of the Japanese DPM. Her words were in fact more focused. After expressing US’ choice on “betting on Bangladesh”, she said that it “must make the hard decisions necessary for the rule of law, for transparency.” She added: “We do not want to see Bangladesh flagging or faltering. We want to see democracy flourish in Bangladesh.”
The Indian Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee also followed the same line on the need to ensure the democratic way to function in Bangladesh without obstacles. In this context, he made two significant departures from India’s stance in Bangladesh’s politics under the present government so far. He met the opposition leader after mysteriously failing to do so when he visited Dhaka as a Special Envoy in February, 2009. Second, he said that India has no favourites in Bangladesh; that it would be willing to work with any government that is elected by the people of Bangladesh.
The main underlying message of all the three visitors has thus been the same. They have asked the ruling party and the opposition to patch up their differences and shun the path of conflict in favour of the path of discussion and consultation for resolution of political conflicts.  It is this common message that leaves little doubt that there has been prior coordination for the three visits.
The interest of these 3 countries for ensuring success of democracy of Bangladesh has nevertheless a serious underlying message. It is not that these countries have in the past encouraged Bangladesh’s democratic process.  They have done so in the past. The fact that their top leaders have come to Dhaka to deliver the message at about the same time is what suggests that they have their own common interest in seeing democracy thrive in Bangladesh and that there is an important message in their common support for the democratic political process in the country.
Geopolitical location
US officials depicted the US Secretary’s trip to Bangladesh that has been taken together with China and India as part of a larger US “pivot” for greater US engagement in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. The main reason for this engagement which is in fact a new security strategy is the containment of China. Towards this policy of containment, the US and India have already entered into a strategic alliance whose details are being worked out. Recent changes in Myanmar have encouraged both the US and India to try and cut off China across the land connecting South Asia with Southeast Asia. In this scheme, Bangladesh’s importance has enhanced because of its geopolitical location.
Additional factors that have encouraged US, India and Japan to take a joint stand on democracy in Bangladesh have been the prospect of Bangladesh emerging as a regional connectivity hub as a consequence of India’s offer to help Bangladesh  to become such a hub in exchange of land transit and security assurances. The recent gains of Bangladesh in the Bay of Bengal as a result of the ITLOS verdict have opened for Bangladesh promises of discovering hydrocarbons  that have also enhanced the sudden importance of Bangladesh to the US, Japan and India.
Nevertheless, on the face of it, the Secretary’s visit should make the people of Bangladesh happy for she has impressed upon the ruling party and the BNP what they expect them to do for the sake of the country. The Secretary has not given the ruling party any assurance that it would use its influence in any way to help the Bangladesh government with its current problem with the WB over the Padma Bridge funding although it is not unknown in Bangladesh that the US Secretary could help Bangladesh on this count even without lifting a finger. She has thus clearly underlines US’ zero tolerance on corruption that is what the people of Bangladesh want. At the same time, she has sent a firm message to the BNP that it must shun the path of hartal which is equally another major demand of all Bangladeshis.
In the short term, the visit of the US Secretary of State therefore promises good omen for Bangladesh provided the ruling party listens to her. The fact that the Government would be seen to be accepting the demands of the opposition if it listens to the US Secretary of State however make such a prospect somewhat uncertain. The Prime Minister has shown zero tolerance to any demand of the Opposition thus far in her second term. There is however one good reason to hope that it would be different this time because the US has India on its side. The government would find it difficult to refuse India.
Dhaka’s concern
In the long term, there is however good reason for Bangladesh to be concerned. The eventual game plan here is to isolate China in the region and Southeast Asia. In such a containment policy, US have its global interests, India its regional and Japan its defence and historical reasons to get together. Bangladesh has none of these reasons.
Bangladesh has painstakingly built excellent relations with China that began when the country was just another developing country to one where it is today, though not yet given the Super Power status, more than one for it is showing all the potentials to overtake the only Super Power, the US, in not that distant a future. China has proven a very dependable ally to Bangladesh. By moving to the US-India security axis, Bangladesh would be wasting all the good work of its diplomacy and getting caught in power play involving super and major powers that would put our interests at risk.
It was not without significance that the US Secretary met Dr Yunus and Sir Fazle Hasan Abed after she had set aside the politicians. She wanted their views on our politics that she could depend upon that was no doubt a poor assessment of our politicians. Both clearly told the Secretary that the country’s future depended on holding the next general elections under a system of caretaker government. That is also what the US wants and with India with it, the chances of the Prime Minister acceding to hold the next elections in way that would bring the BNP to the polls is betting better.
The Secretary departed Dhaka reminding everyone that she “highly respects” Dr. Yunus and that she hopes “to see it (GB) continue without being affected or undermined by any government action.” Clearly, she did not abandon her friend Dr. Yunus or forgot the actions of the Bangladesh Government to humiliate him and discredit the GB.
The writer is a former Ambassador to Japan and Egypt. 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

USA seeks long term engagement in Afghanistan to end war on terror

Daily Sun, May 6, 2012
M. Serajul Islam 

President Barak Obama undertook a surprise visit to Afghanistan, his third in his current term last Wednesday.  The explicit reason for the surprise visit given by White House was the need for the President to sign the Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) that would keep the two countries together for a decade after US and NATO combat troops depart in 2014. That the visit also coincided with the first anniversary of the killing of Osama Ben Laden (OBL) however figured more prominently in most political analysis in the USA. 

The US and Afghan diplomats negotiated the SPA painstakingly. The Koran burning issue and the incident in which a US soldier killed 16 Afghans including women and children not too long ago had threatened to end the US involvement in Afghanistan with the two countries falling apart strategically.  The Agreement had also become necessary for President Obama to claim that the US would be able to bring the war on terror to an end satisfactorily in an election year in which Afghanistan would be a major issue.  

The US has invested heavily in Afghanistan. It went there primarily in pursuit of OBL and Al Qaeda that had masterminded the 9/11 attacks that killed over 3000 Americas. It also held the Taliban Government of Afghanistan guilty of giving OBL and Al Qaeda the sanctuary to carry out the terrorist attacks on US soil. The part of regime change was easy and the Taliban Government was quickly overthrown after the US invaded Afghanistan in October, 2001. 

The task of killing OBL and dismantling Al Qaeda was however a much more difficult task.  In fact, it took the US a decade thereafter to take down OBL and break Al Qaeda; tasks achieved at huge financial and human costs. According to one estimate, US spent US$ 2.3 to US 2.7 trillion till June of last year in Afghanistan. In 3 years under President Obama’s watch, 575 US soldiers have been killed there, the same number lost in 7 years under President Bush. In the process however, the US angered Afghans as well as Pakistanis by collateral damages that killed hundreds of thousands of innocent Afghan and Pakistani men, women and children that led to the resurgence of the Taliban in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. The drone attacks in this regard have been particularly reprehensible. 

In fact, the Taliban is now back strongly in Afghanistan to challenge the Karzai Government that never graduated from a puppet regime of the US to one fully in control of the country. The emergence of the Taliban and weakness of the Karzai administration encouraged the US to negotiate with the Taliban so that the moderate elements among them could be encouraged to enter mainstream politics and share power in an Afghan national government after US withdrawal.  The Obama administration that had last year announced that the US would withdraw its combat troops from Afghanistan by 2012 in place of a deadline of 2014 set earlier in belief that most Americans were weary of further US involvement of troops in Afghanistan and elsewhere appears to have changed its deadline once again. 

It is now not stressing that the nearly 100,000 US combat troops in Afghanistan would be withdrawn within this year.  Instead, the administration is now hinting that perhaps a quarter of that number would be returning by 2012 and the rest not before 2014. In fact, the new strategy of the Obama administration as outlined in the SPA is for the US to remain involved in Afghanistan more deeply and intimately than was earlier anticipated. In the period till 2024, the US would not just be providing the Government of Afghani financial aid for over all governance; it would also be assisting with troops whose role would not necessarily be training and support related.  

In an election year, the SPA would be handy for the President’s re-election effort.  Without it, he would have been accused of handing Afghanistan back to the enemy instead being given the credit for killing OBL and breaking Al Qaeda. He would also have been accused for failing to bring the war on terror to a satisfactory end. The decision to visit Afghanistan on the anniversary on OBL’s killing was thus a tactical one. It will  help remind Americans that it was his decision to engage in Afghanistan instead of withdrawing as many had thought he would that netted OBL and rendered Al Qaeda incapable of being a major threat any longer. 

That the President made the right choice with the surprise visit was evident from the way the Republicans reacted.  They criticized him for what they said was his triumphant stance where he spoke in the first person about achievements in the war on terror instead of giving the troops the real credit. They drew references to President Eisenhower and his stance on the Second World War where he did not speak of his own contributions but highlighted those of the troops. A Republican member of the House Armed Services Committee went to the extent of accusing the President of putting down the troops. 

In fact, the President was neither triumphant nor did he take away any credit from the troops.  He also did not praise himself as his opponents have accused in his speech in Afghanistan.  CNN correspondent Wolf Blitzer trashed the accusation of the Congressmen of putting down the forces by stating that in 3 years of Presidency, President Obama has not just whole heartedly inherited the overseas involvements of his predecessor, he also increased the budget of the Pentagon successively in these years. Non-partisan analysts in the USA commented that the President deserved the credit for taking OBL out and breaking Al Qaeda. 

Afghanistan, OBL and Al Qaeda are going to figure importantly in this year’s election. The President is no doubt going to get votes for these successes. Whether he will eventually win or not will however depend mainly on the state of the economy that is showing signs of recovery, albeit slowly. Nevertheless, the President has undertaken the trip with the election in view because what is coming in the media surrounding the anniversary of OBL’s death are all heartwarming for the President’s re-election team. 

In the time before his death, OBL was disappointed with the extremism of his terrorist organization, particularly in their involvement in killing Muslims in sectarian fights. Papers/documents recovered from his residence in Abbotabad and released subsequently have shown that he had instructed his associates to stop killing Muslims and instead to concentrate on the enemy that he identified as the Americans.  

Political analysts in the USA now feel that a year after the death of OBL,  USA is  a much safer although they feel that there is no scope to lower the guard against terrorism. These analysts feel that a lot of future terrorist threat in USA would be home grown.  These analysts also feel that Al Qaeda’s brand of militant Islam has been rejected in the Muslim world.  It has helped the cause of Islam there in the way the US would like and as being witnessed in Egypt and Tunisia where once fundamentalist and militant Muslim parties/organizations are finding public acceptance for their moderate stance of Islam. 

The morning after President Obama left Afghanistan, 6 suicide bombers attacked a secured part of Kabul highlighting that the extremist Taliban are still a threat. The future of the SPA may not be as simple as President Obama visualized in his address to Americans from Bagram Air Base. Meanwhile though the SPA would please majority of the Americans who want the troops to return home but also want US influence in Afghanistan not to end abruptly to bring the war on terror to a satisfactory end. Hence both the  visit and the SPA may help President Obama politically as his opponents apprehend. 

The writer is a former Ambassador to Japan