Sunday, September 28, 2014

Posted : 28 Sep, 2014 00:00:00
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Indo-Bangla relations - an analysis
M. Serajul Islam

The Awami League (AL)-led government is in a spin mode with a flurry of foreign affairs initiatives. The Prime Minister took two major visits to Japan and China and then the Japanese Prime Minister came to Dhaka.

In this spin mode, the country that should have figured on top of the list for many reasons, namely India, has not been in the picture in a major way. It was India that had encouraged the AL-led government to go ahead and hold the January 05 elections without the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and 32 others of the country's 45 registered political parties that returned it to power. When 154 members of parliament (MPs) were elected without a vote and less than 10 per cent voters elected the rest, India had stood behind the AL-led government to try and give the elections legitimacy where many countries and international organisations had stated the elections were not democratic and the country would need fresh elections. Yet, since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under Narendra Modi took power in May, the two countries have exchanged visits at only the foreign ministerial level. Meanwhile, Narendra Modi has visited Bhutan and Nepal. He met the Pakistan Prime Minister and the Sri Lankan President in his inauguration ceremony that Sheikh Hasina did not attend as she was then on a visit to Japan.

Thus it was in New York on the sidelines of the 48th UN General Assembly session that Sheikh Haisna met the Indian Prime Minister Modi for the first time. To recall, Sheikh Hasina began her official foreign visits with a visit to New Delhi upon assuming power in January 2009. India had then honoured that visit by upgrading it from an official one, in supersession of protocol, to a state visit, reserved exclusively for a head of state and not a head of government. Since the BJP took office, the developments in Bangladesh-India relations, therefore, do not show the warmth that had existed in these relations under the Congress-led government in India.

Before he left for his New Delhi visit, Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali had stated in the media that he would in his discussions with Indian leaders seek assurances that Bangladesh would not be subjected to any attacks from across the border intended for a regime change. He was no doubt spinning on a newspaper report that the Indian intelligence RAW had unearthed an ISI-inspired Jamaat-led move was underway to destabilize the AL government.

The two issues on which Bangladesh should not just have demanded New Delhi for immediate action, namely the highly overdue Teesta and the LBA (Land Boundary Agreement) deals, figured passively in the Bangladesh Foreign Minister's discussions in New Delhi. He came back with Indian commitment to deliver both the deals, commitments that New Delhi has reiterated many times in the past without any forward movement. The Indians did not give him any time-frame and he did not also demand one. In fact, in both the Indian Foreign Minister's visit to Dhaka and her counterpart's visit to New Delhi, no new grounds were covered. And the million-dollar question whether New Delhi under Narendra Modi would give the AL-led government the same support as under the Congress still remains unanswered keeping not just the AL government tense but also everyone else in Bangladesh.

Meanwhile, the AL-led government's foreign policy initiatives since the January 05 elections undertaken primarily to remove the uncertainty arising out of the controversial January 05 elections and the departure of the Congress government in New Delhi have instead added to the uncertainty. One major initiative was Sheikh Hasina's visit to China that was very successful in the context of bilateral relations. However, it was not for strengthening bilateral relations that she undertook the visit. Its real intention was "to woo China to snub the West" that has refused to withdraw its reservation on the January 05 elections and give the AL-government legitimacy. In trying to achieve that objective, the visit has achieved results that have caused concerns in New Delhi and also in Washington and Tokyo.

The China visit has further strengthened Bangladesh's defence cooperation with Beijing. It is now in the process of acquiring two submarines from Beijing that New Delhi fear will allow China to move into the Bay of Bengal. To these, the BCIM-EC and the Sonadia deep seaport initiatives discussed during the visit would also, if realized, allow China a strong foothold in an extremely important geopolitical location too close to the fragile Indian northeast where a number of secessionist movements are still active for India's comfort. To these strategic issues, the visit would also strengthen the already strong trade relations where India, despite its strong support for Bangladesh and proximity, finds its trade figure with Bangladesh half of China's. Last year, Bangladesh-China trade was worth US$ 10 billion and Bangladesh-India half of that, both weighed heavily against Bangladesh.

To these outcomes/realities, Sheikh Hasina's pledge during that visit to be an  'active partner' in a 'China-led' century has added further to New Delhi's uneasiness. It appears that the new developments in Bangladesh-China relations would cause anxieties in New Delhi was not anticipated by the Bangladesh foreign policy managers in the flurry of foreign policy initiatives taken by them since the January 05 elections to gain legitimacy and to attack the West. Therefore, with the active support of those in Indian intelligence who had planned the Bangladesh policy under the Congress government, it is now using the story floated about Jamaat-led ISI-backed story to destabilize the AL-led government to bring New Delhi under the BJP on the same page as the Congress government on Bangladesh.

When the story to destabilize the AL-led government first hit the media, it was the US that had been named as the brain behind the plot, a story that the US Embassy in Dhaka had trashed. The story has now re-emerged where the name of the US has been replaced by ISI-Jamaat. In the rehashed story, it is now being said that Narendra Modi would bring Sheikh Hasina up to date on the plot. He would also offer Sheikh Hasina the same support as the Congress government to fight Islamic fundamentalism and save secularism.  As if Narendra Modi supporting AL-led government for sake of secularism is not incredible enough, the rehashed story is also suggesting that Narendra Modi would ask the US government to do the same when he meets President Obama in Washington.

The twisted/rehashed original conspiracy theory has too many loopholes for serious consideration. It is again bringing into play the Jamaat/Islamic fundamentalist phobia for public consumption that has outlived its usefulness and acceptability.

This new story has been developed in denial of the new realities, particularly those related to Bangladesh's overtures to China and Indian sensitivity. During the last term, when Sheikh Hasina was in Beijing and ready to sign a number of deals, her team had kept New Delhi informed on these deals so that there would not be any misapprehensions in New Delhi. Added to this, the twisted conspiracy theory involving ISI-Jamaat has also been developed in denial of Narendra Modi's need to make the US happy for his and India's interests and US-Japan interests in Bangladesh where all three -  India, the USA and Japan - are on the same page where China is the common enemy.

The writer is a retired career Ambassador. His email id is

Purchase of Chinese submarines and its implications
M. Serajul Islam
  The Prime Minister’s International Affairs Adviser Dr. Gauhar Rizvi said recently in a seminar that the Chinese CDA in Dhaka also attended and addressed that China and India are on the same page as far as Bangladesh is concerned. He used the developing initiative of Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIM-EC) to emphasize his view. The Chinese CDA expressed that his country hoped that the four countries would be able to sign a framework agreement for BCIM by the end of the year or early next year.

The seminar was organized by the Centre for East Asia Foundation, a Dhaka think tank,  that also addressed in addition to the BCIM-EC, the Maritime Silk Route. The Seminar was also attended and addressed by the Myanmar Ambassador. However, from newspaper reports, it was not clear whether the fourth country in the BCIM-EC initiative, namely India, was present in the Seminar. If India was absent in the Seminar, than the optimism of the Prime Minister’s Adviser could be misplaced. This matter notwithstanding, the Adviser’s optimism could also be misplaced for other important reasons as well.

China has suddenly found rich pastures in Bangladesh for its economic/strategic interests at a time when it is India that has invested much more time, energy and even a US 1 billion soft loan to befriend Bangladesh for furthering its own strategic and economic interests. India had been the most trusted friend of the AL government in its 2009-2013 tenure. It was primarily India’s backing that allowed the Awami League Government to hold the controversial January 5 election and return to power. Nevertheless, China that had opposed the country’s liberation war has been a substantially bigger beneficiary in trading with Bangladesh than India. Bangladesh-China trade last year was US$ 10.3 billion as against US$ 5 in Bangladesh-India bilateral trade, both heavily weighed against Bangladesh.

In this new term, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has undertaken a well-publicized visit to China after an equally well-publicized visit to Japan. In the last term, her first overseas visit was zealously guarded for India. On her trip to China in early June, she moved Bangladesh deeper into the Chinese lap by promising to buy more arms. A number of economic cooperation agreements were also signed; including one related to the major infrastructure project, the Padma Bridge. The proposal for the proposed deep seaport in Sonadia was also discussed. That proposal has already attracted significant attention in New Delhi as part of China’s desire to rope Bangladesh in an anti-India “string of pearl” plan, a pearl of deep-seaports built by China extending from Pakistan through Sri Lanka to Bangladesh. The concept has caused considerable concern in New Delhi together with Bangladesh’s over-enthusiasm to become an “active partner” in a “China led” century.

Bangladesh-China overtures have taken another new dimension from New Delhi’s perspective with the recent news that Bangladesh is going to purchase two submarines from China worth US$ 203 million dollars and the deal is awaiting clearance at the Bangladesh Finance Ministry. Reports have also stated that the Government has purchased land in the island of Kutubdia for building a submarine base. A senior Indian naval officer has stated that the decision of Bangladesh to acquire offensive naval armament together with “the on-going strife in the country is a matter of concern” for New Delhi. He also stated that “ Chinese submarines are sneaking into Indian territorial waters in the Bay of Bengal region” and that the Indian navy is not prepared for any conflict due to inadequate infrastructure.

The submarine purchase therefore does not hint that New Delhi, Beijing and Dhaka are on same page as the Prime Minister’s Adviser has stated with conviction. In fact, BCIM-EC and the proposed Sonadia seaport where China will help build and finance it if it goes ahead, have enough potential to take India away from the same page where Bangladesh and China undoubtedly are at the moment. The proposed submarine purchase is going to take India further from that page with the AL led government trying hard to “woo China to snub the West.” China is of course only too glad to be doing great business in Bangladesh where the AL led government, in its eagerness to strike the West, has wittingly or otherwise allowed China concessions that are of great strategic value to it as well as economic.

The AL Government has thus been too warm in its relations with China after the January 5 elections for New Delhi’s comfort. Therefore, if India was absent in the seminar on BCIM-EC in Dhaka, it must have been to flag that concern. In fact, ever since the BCIM-EC initiative has been discussed publicly, New Delhi has not matched the enthusiasm of Dhaka and Beijing over it. The reasons for such lack of enthusiasm are many but the most important one is that the situation in India’s northeast is still fragile. There are a number of active secessionist movements going on there where the Chinese had fiddled in the past with Bangladesh by its side. In fact, even in the latest discussions between the Bangladesh Border Guards and the Indian BSF, the Indians have expressed concern over sanctuaries of Indian secessionists in Bangladesh.

Further, If BCIM-EC corridor and the Sonadia deep seaport eventually emerge as successful endeavours, it will give China dominant presence in a strategic geopolitical location “ 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 is no reason to believe that India would feel comfortable with China gaining such a dominant position in the Bay of Bengal, courtesy Bangladesh. In fact, such a prospect would also sound alarm bells in Washington and Tokyo as well.

There is also the new phase of Washington-New Delhi relations that is emerging. Narendra Modi would need the United States for India’s presence in the international scene much more than the Congress led Indian government. The two countries are getting closer and Narendra Modi and Barak Obama are scheduled to meet in Washington next week. The new phase of Washington-New Delhi relations is expected to bring back the strategic partnership between the two countries that was announced in 2011 by President Obama but had subsequently gone into the cold storage as relations soured between the two countries over many issues of which Bangladesh was one. That Washington-New Delhi strategic relation had the intention to contain China in South, Southeast Asia and Pacific at the core.

To add to the above, the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Dhaka early this month. It was an unusual visit because there has never been a return visit between the two countries at the level of the Prime Minister and that too so soon after Sheikh Hasina’s visit to Tokyo. Shinzo Abe came to Dhaka after Narendra Modi’s visit to Tokyo and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to China. In Dhaka, Shinzo Abe’s main interest was Japan’s Bay of Bengal initiative where China is no part, an initiative that is still being developed. Japan has committed nearly US$ 6 billion in aid over the next 5 years. Shinzo Abe therefore came to Dhaka to ensure that Bangladesh to think twice over the Sonadia deep seaport project and taper its enthusiasm on the BCIM-EC as both projects would give China, its arch rival, a strong foothold in a key strategic area and accept its Bay of Bengal initiative as the better alternative.

Therefore, there is little reason for India to be on the same page with China on Bangladesh where China is currently ruling the roost with India watching apprehensively. In fact, there are many reasons to the contrary. It appears that Bangladesh has entered into a foreign affairs quagmire from where it would require diplomatic skills of the rare kind to get China and India interested in the same book, let alone the same page on Bangladesh.

The writer is a retired career Ambassador. His email id


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Saturday, 27 September 2014
Author / Source: M. Serajul Islam
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Imran H Sarkar can very well be the hero in Robert Browning’s immortal poem, “ The Patriot”. Little more than a year ago, he was the hero who had held even the president, the prime minister, the ministers and the rest of Bangladesh in awe, all waiting to hear what he had to say and all eager to oblige his wishes and desires. He had the power to mesmerize the parliament to adopt new laws when the old ones were unable to hang the one he and his followers wanted to go to the gallows.

 He was allowed to hold traffic from moving through one of Dhaka’s major intersection where two major hospitals are located so that he and his comrades could hold their public meetings. Incredible as it may now seem, he was the government and the elected one was just too anxious and pleased to play second fiddle to what he and his comrades desired. The country’s intellectuals, identifying themselves as the secular forces, announced to the nation that Sarkar and his comrades were the mythical phoenix that had risen from the ashes to lead Bangladesh to a new level where the spirit of 1971 in its pristine glory would prevail. 

That was a lofty goal but these intellectuals were not daunted and on the nation’s behalf, placed upon his and his comrades the task of rebuilding a new Bangladesh.
The media was aggressive in support of the Gonojagoron Mancha (GM). A few private TV channels laid camp at Shahabag and covered live the rise of the phoenix. They spread the news that it was a nation’s duty to pay homage to the heroes of Shahabag and declared that those who did not do the pilgrimage were the anti liberation forces! It was arithmetic pure and simple and for days, a dazed nation watched the rise of phoenix, many convinced that a second liberation had started in Bangladesh. The frenzy was unbelievable. No one questioned or was allowed to question about the identities of the youth and their objectives.

No one questioned or was allowed to question why the GM who were angered by a decision of the ICT that allowed a war criminal to escape the gallows were not expressing their anger at the ICT that failed them and the AL led government that built up hopes through its ministers and political leaders that the alleged war criminals would be hanged. 

The media went into denial over the presence of well-known AL cultural activists round the clock in the Mancha who were old enough to be fathers and grand fathers of the Shahabag activists. That media’s state of denial allowed these pro AL cultural activists to turn a potentially anti-government movement into pro-government and anti BNP/Jamat one. The media was in denial even when the link between the AL led government and the GM was palpably evident. 

The media, instead of exposing this palpable link, kept on harping that the GM would rise as the proverbial Phoenix from the ashes and dared the doubters to the contrary as anti-liberation forces. When Islam entered into the equation, the outpouring of support for the GM fell substantially. The government, aware that the GM was of immense value to its politics to contain the BNP/Jamat demand for elections under the caretaker government, however did not allow the GM to fall apart. 

It came behind the GM’s demand to hang Qader Mollah directly, giving Imran H Sarkar and his comrades VVIP hospitality to keep the GM alive. The GM with the media in tandem created the hype in which the government hanged Qader Mollah. The hype was surreal but it helped create the necessary political conditions the government needed in its strategy to hold the January 5 elections the way it did and returned to power. The GM’s role in the AL’s return has been a major one by any estimation.

The GM nevertheless had touched a large number of the people where it mattered most, their pride in the war of liberation and the need to punish those who collaborated with the Pakistani army in its genocide. Thus, they were sad and disappointed to see that the ruling party losing its interest in the trials of the war criminals with the conviction it had before the elections. It was even worse for them to see the government distancing itself from the GM. In fact, when the Mancha expressed its disappointment with the snail’s pace in the trials, it received stern warnings from the government.  

In frustration, Imran H Sarkar and his associates blamed the ruling party of a deal with Jamat. In turn, the ruling blamed Imran H Sarkar and his associates of accepting money from Jamat and misappropriating huge sums from funds raised by the GM. The ruling party used its power to split the GM into 3 factions pushing Imran H Sarkar faction to oppose it. Thus when the Supreme Court commuted Jamat leader Delwar Hossain Sayedee’s death sentence into life imprisonment without parole; only the Imran H Sarker faction opposed the verdict. The GM that had brought hundreds of thousands of people to the Mancha over the ICT’s failure to hang Qader Mollah succeeded in bringing only a few hundred to Shahabag to protest the reprieve given to Delwar Hossain Sayedee. 

The pro-government faction also descended on Shahabag with fewer supporters with even a smaller third faction whose intentions were not clear also descending upon Shahabag. The police that had assisted the Mancha before the January 5 elections in every conceivable way like the Mancha employed them beat and chased the Imran H Sarkar faction from rallying at Shahabag. 

The turnabout in the fate of the mainstream GM led by Imran H Sarkar has literally been a 180 turn about. What made the turnabout ironic is the fact that the ruling party and the self-acclaimed pro-liberation and secular forces that had backed the GM absolutely to pressure and force the government/parliament to change the laws to hang Qader Mollah did nothing when the mainstream GM led by Imran H Sarker went to Shahabag to protest the reprieve given to Delwar Hossain Sayedee. 

Compared to Qader Mollah, Delwar Sayedee is a more serious alleged war criminal but the Supreme Court turned aside the ICT verdict to hang him.
Therefore, the forces that supported the protest in the QM case, in particular the self-acclaimed secular/pro-liberation war forces, should have come more strongly behind the protest of Imran H Sarkar led GM against Sayedee’s reprieve. They did not and watched silently as the police beat and attempted to force it out of Shahabag.

Rashed Khan Menon hit bull’s eye in exposing the reason behind this irony. He said that the GM has outlived its usefulness and hence there was no reason for it to continue. In retrospect, politics has in fact been the main reason for the emergence of GM and its popularity. It served the ruling party’s objective to deal with the BNP/Jamat’s movement for elections under the caretaker government. The people were taken for a ride with emotional issues such as pro-liberation and spirit of 1971 issues. And now, a widely held public perception is that the ruling party is negotiating with Jamat to bring it out of its alliance with BNP, weaken the latter and perhaps go for a mid term elections and overcome its legitimacy issue that has been dogging it since the January 5 elections.

Imran H Sarker’s days and those of his comrades as heroes are certainly over like that of Robert Browning’s patriot. No one is seriously blaming the ruling party for its treatment of the erstwhile heroes because no one expected politics to be anything but the pursuit of gaining and retaining political power by any means. 
The GM is no longer of any value to the ruling party in the power game. 

Nevertheless, the nation expected the secular and pro-liberation forces to stand by these patriots that has not been the case that has exposed something sinister; that they too have been in league with the ruling party in using, rather misusing, the Projonmo. The mythical Phoenix has thus been defeated by politics and with it, also the nation’s dream that the Projonmo would take Bangladesh to new

The writer is a retired career diplomat. His email id is :

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

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 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

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

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