Monday, October 13, 2014

China and emerging politics in Bangladesh and 2 other articles.


Posted: 13 Oct, 2014

China and emerging politics in Bangladesh

M. Serajul Islam

China has become the world's number one economic power. The new status coincided with the 65th year of the founding of Communist China. The news that the US has become the number two economy of the world was disclosed at the Annual World Bank-IMF Meeting in Washington last week. It has been revealed by the International Monetary (IMF), using the purchasing power parity (PPP) that the Chinese gross domestic product (GDP) stands at US$ 17.6 trillion while the US GDP at US$ 17.4 trillion!

Bangladesh must feel extremely good at this news because it has been befriending China since the early seventies when, in economic terms, the country was no better than an ordinary developing country. China scaled to this position, ironically, due to initiatives of US President Nixon and his Secretary of State Dr. Henry Kissinger and their 'Ping-Pong' diplomacy. These brought China back from the cold and sent it on way to becoming a world power with the return of its membership of the UN and with it, the permanent seat in the UN Security Council. In the opening-up that ensued in China under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping, it was the US that gave Beijing the opportunities for economic growth with investment and trade facilities. The Chinese leadership grabbed the opportunities to eventually overtake its benefactor to become the world's number one economic power.

During the Bangladesh war of liberation in 1971, China made the Americans happy. It opposed that war and with it, supported Pakistan even when that country carried out genocide in Bangladesh. When Bangladesh was liberated and had applied for UN membership, China opposed it. Of course, China opposed the membership not just to make the Americans happy but also to oppose its adversaries of the time, namely the USSR and the Indians. It also opposed Bangladesh's membership to make Pakistan happy because it was the conduit in the 'ping-pong' diplomacy that set the direction for China to conquer the world.

Bangladesh decided to forget China's role in 1971 soon after the "change of government" on August 15, 1975. Then, Bangladesh ignored China's 'dubious' role in 1971 and instead befriended China whole-heartedly, mainly as a way to deal with the overbearing influence that India had gained in Bangladesh for its role in the country's independence.

Since the establishment of diplomatic ties in 1976, China has treated Bangladesh as one of its best friends in the region. It helped develop and build the Bangladesh armed forces and also a lot of its economic infrastructure.  The quality of China's friendship was such that all subsequent governments, including the 1996-2001 Awami League-led government that should have had deep reservations for China, treated the country as one of Bangladesh's best friends.

Over the years, there has been no looking back for the positive attitude of the people, political parties and governments in Bangladesh for China. In contrast, India, which had done so much for Bangladesh in 1971, never enjoyed anywhere near China's acceptance in Bangladesh among its people. Governments and political parties have also not all been friendly towards India. The Awami League (AL) has been friendly but the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) not that friendly. Among the people, India has always been controversial because of many issues, mainly its unfriendly ways of dealing with water, trade and border-related issues.

The India-Bangladesh relations during 2008-2014 terms of Congress-rule in India and the AL in Bangladesh have been extremely close. Leading to the January 05 election, almost all-important foreign governments, except India, had urged the AL-led government to hold inclusive elections. China, although friendly with all political parties but in public perception closer to the BNP, had stated that the way elections were to be held, Bangladesh sovereignty would be at peril. Many read in that statement made by the Chinese Ambassador in Dhaka a not very subtle hint to the AL-led government not to hold the election without the BNP. Many also believed that China had referred to India as the source of threat to Bangladesh's sovereignty.

Those who had interpreted China's stand before the election to be supportive of the BNP were set for a shock after the AL returned to power through the controversial January 05 election that has led all of Bangladesh's development partners to term the new government weak on legitimacy. China surprisingly made a volte-face. It invited Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to a visit to Beijing and treated her in a manner that dismissed any thought that her government was suffering on legitimacy. A grateful Hasina discussed giving China the green signal to build the hugely costly and strategically critical Sonadia deep-sea port and the go-ahead with the BCIM-EC and, above all, agreed wholeheartedly to accept China's leadership for Asia's march into the world stage. Since the visit, Bangladesh is processing buying of two submarines from China. Trade/defence cooperation, already at their best, has received further impetus from the visit.

These overtures by China should have upset the BNP. Surprisingly, if what transpired at a seminar arranged by the pro-BNP Bangladesh Cultural Academy Foundation to celebrate the 65th Anniversary of the founding of People's Republic of China (PRC) is any indication, the BNP is not unhappy at all . The speakers, who were also from other parties including the communist parties and well-known individuals, besides the BNP, stated at the seminar that 'Bangladesh needs China to maintain its sovereignty.' That was, however, interpreted by the speakers differently from their respective party and individual backgrounds. The BNP supporters interpreted the need of China to protect Bangladesh's sovereignty from India. The communists in the seminar thought the threat was from the United States.

The Chinese CDA did not make any commitment in the context of Bangladesh's politics. He, of course, did not need to because all speakers were so enamoured with China from their respective perspectives that no one was willing to see anything wrong with the way China has handled its policies with Bangladesh. In 1971, it went against Bangladesh's liberation but now finds the AL- led government willing to follow it, without any questions asked, in leading Asia to the world stage. The BNP that was let down very badly by China after the January 05 elections seems to have forgotten this episode believing that it would come to Bangladesh's assistance against India which, in turn, would influence politics of the country.

The BNP leaders, who spoke at the seminar, have not followed recent developments in regional politics correctly. China is in no mood to fight for Bangladesh's sovereignty because it is now wooing the AL-led government for getting a strong footing in the Bay of Bengal through the proposed Sonadia deep seaport and the BCIM-EC projects.  These projects are critical for China because Japan, India and the US are now moving to keep China out of this critical geopolitical area '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'.

Thus while the communists at the seminar had their interests right and those not representing any political party spoke what they felt was right, the BNP speakers had it all wrong. By placating China that will not lift a finger to help Bangladesh have a new election and supporting any US-inspired conspiracy against it, the BNP may have upset the US that has repeatedly asked for new election. India under the Modi government has kept its distance from the AL government and if recent Modi-Obama meeting is any hint, the USA and India may indeed be getting closer on many issues. There is a possibility that the US would be able to encourage India for a new inclusive election in Bangladesh as it had tried and failed with the January 05 one.

The seminar underlined that in regional diplomacy in the context of Bangladesh, China has so far outwitted all Bangladeshi political parties and international stakeholders, including India and the US.  Somehow, it just seems the people, political parties and governments of Bangladesh do not have the heart to be critical of China even where they supported Pakistan while it committed genocide against it. It is time for India, in particular, to study China and its diplomacy in Bangladesh and inquire why China is not held responsible in Bangladesh for its actions even when it goes against the interest of the country and often against one or the other of the two mainstream parties. Bangladesh's political parties and also its well-known individuals in public domain do not seem to have that capability.

The writer is a retired career Ambassador.


Print Edition
Saturday, 11 October 2014

Code of conduct for ministers

Author / Source: M. Serajul Islam 

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Former Minister Suranjit Sengupta has called upon the government to introduce a code of conduct for ministers. This call in the wake of the explosive nature of what senior minister of the government Abdul Latif Siddique said in a meeting in New York that had led to a bounty of taka 5 lakh to be laid on his head by the Hefazat e Islam. A number of cases have been lodged against him and the Dhaka Metropolitan Magistrate has called him for a hearing in his court. The Prime Minister has said that he would be removed both from the cabinet and also from the party.

 Latif Siddique has caused a political sensation at a time when the AL -led government did not need one. On a visit with the Prime Minister on her trip to New York, the minister took the opportunity of a meeting arranged in his honour by the expatriates of his home district Tangail to speak out against the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) and one of the five pillars of Islam, the hajj in a manner that would even Islamophbics would not do. He referred to the Prophet like a common person and said his companions were dacoits. He also said that Hajj was a total waste of money and ridiculed it as nonsense. The way he delivered the diatribe was also significant. He gestured and ridiculed Islam in an unbelievable manner.

The diatribe of the minister has caused uproar in the country, particularly among the religious parties. BNP looking for the opportunity for a movement against the government has also joined the religious parties. They have dismissed the assurances given by the Prime Minister as inadequate although if the Prime Minister’s assurances were carried out, he would even lose his membership of parliament. The religious parties and BNP want the minister arrested and given punishment as prescribed by the law. They have given the ruling party till the 15th of October to act as they have demanded and have further added that if their demands were not met, there would be hartal on the 25th. HM Ershad has called the minister a murtad and demanded that he be hanged!

The holidays for the Eid and Durga Puja that intervened went in favour of the government because it helped put a brake on the ground swell of anger at the grassroots against the minister’s statement. Nevertheless, the issue still has serious potentials for public anger going by past occurrences. Poet Daud Haider and Taslima Nasrin have not yet been forgiven for their attempts to humiliate Islam and have not, decades after what they had done, allowed to come back home. Last year, when it was revealed that the some of the youth in the Shahabag Movement had indulged in anti-Islam postings on the Internet, a potentially extremely powerful youth movement that was heralded as the second liberation war of the country to re-establish the spirit of 1971 simply fizzled away within days. For two weeks, Shahabag had become a place of pilgrimage for the people of Dhaka and young and old were all making daily visits to Shahabag in hundreds of thousands. Within days of the public knowledge of the anti-Islam postings, almost all of them abandoned Shahabag underlining the power of Islam to the common folks in the country.

Suranjit Sengupta nevertheless spoke about the code of conduct for ministers out of frustration. He knows very well as does everybody in the country that in the last few years, the ministers of the government have acted as lose cannons under an unwritten approval from the highest level of the government to speak in public almost anything they wanted as long as it was directed at the opposition.  In fact, the free license to ministers to “speak as they like” was given by the ruling party as a political strategy to attack/ridicule and humiliate the opposition.  He himself has liberally done that as a minister. The strategy has worked fine and the ministers have been to a large extent able to keep the opposition on leash by the constant attacks in public. It has helped the ruling party to create division/confusion and an element of tentativeness in the opposition.

Nevertheless, the strategy always had a danger of boomerang. In giving the ministers the license, the government/ruling party did not consider the possibility that the ministers could use their license for their own personal gains and may not always use this license to only go after the opposition. Thus in the past six years of the AL led government, ministers have embarrassed the government umpteen times by going in public over issues that were their own interpretation of government polices or events and contradicted with those of the government. Ministers have regularly contradicted one another and often ended giving impression to the public that there was an utter lack of coordination in the government and among the ministers. 

That was of course only a natural outcome of the system that this government wittingly or unwittingly demolished. In the past, ministers very seldom went public on issues of governance. For matters of governance, every minister/ministry had a Public Relations Officer (PRO) who shielded the minister and his ministry from the media, aware of the dangers of exposure to the media. That system of course had due respect for the media because it always had access of the minister or his ministry’s views on any issue of importance to the public through the PRO. In case of matters of extreme public importance, ministers came before the media to satisfy public concerns. There is still a PRO for every minister/ministry but although his/her job description has not been altered even a bit, he/she now has a desk but no responsibility because the ministers these days play his/her role.

In fact, the ministers have been so much emboldened by their license to speak as they like that they these days do not even bother that in their open ended role in the media, they talk about the government without being designated as its spokesman. In fact, all ministers these days think they are spokesman of the government. It is not just the ministers, even party officials think that they are also part of the government and act as its official spokesman. The Minister of Communications is the example of one who has given himself the power of the government spokesman on all issues. The party joint secretary Mahbubul Alam Hanif is a party official who, forgetting he is no part of the government, has taken upon himself of the responsibility of not just the party but of the government’s as well. In the process, he has lumped the party and the government into one.

What Abdul Latif Siddique has done, its absurdity notwithstanding, is nothing unusual. Ministers of this government have said much more outlandish things in public in the past because of their license to “speak as you like”. There has thus always been a pandemonium in governance as a result of the way ministers have spoken in public without any legal authority. No one cared and the media seldom or never spoke against this deterioration of professional standards of governance. Latif Siddique has landed this government in trouble and it could be very serious one because he has decided to speak against Islam. Therefore the code of conduct for ministers that Suranjit Sengupta has talked about only underlines the fact that as a result of the “speak as you like policy”, the government has finally landed itself in a n extremely serious predicament. However a code of conduct is not certainly the cure.

He should ask himself why. He has taken the liberty to speak on an embarrassing truth of this government but he does not have the authority to speak on such an issue. The problem apart, his call for a code of conduct has established that the ministers of this government, supposed to be public leaders, do not know how to conduct themselves in public. Surely no party government anywhere would allow one of its own to go public to try to establish such a shame about itself.

In fact, the proper answer to Suranjit Sen’s concern is a very simple one. It is not in a code of conduct for the ministers that are already prescribed by law. The government must return to the existing laws and conventions. It must without delay designate the minister/s to be the official spokesman of the government and stop all others from making statements like they too have the right to do so. Simultaneously, the right of ministers   to speak in public on issues of governance as they like must be restricted only to their ministerial responsibilities where also they should be required to speak through their PROs unless the issues are of extreme public concern.

The writer is a retired Ambassador and his email id is


Islam again under attack in the international domain
M. Serajul Islam
  The case of Latif Siddiqui and earlier Taslima Nasrin and before that of Salman Rushdie; the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq in the name of war on terror and the current turmoil in Iraq/Syria with the emergence of ISIS/ISIL may not be unrelated. All these could very well be conscious multi-faceted efforts by the West to demean and destroy Islam.

Salman Rushdie’s case was the first of West’s strategy to encourage Muslims to attack Islam in works of literature or in speeches. He had won the Booker’s Prize for his outstanding book Midnight’s Children and many thought he was on course to becoming a Noble Laureate in Literature. He upset all the predictions by writing the Satanic Verses in which he, for reasons he alone could explain, chose to hurt the sentiments of the billion plus Muslims of the world leading to a fatwa for his head by Iran. The 2.8 million-dollar bounty on his head made him hide in fear. Whether or not Iran had the ability of carrying out the threat was never tested because not even a stone was thrown at him. Nevertheless, the international media, largely biased against Islam, pitched the Rushdie case as a case of Islam’s intolerance. And although Rushdie has not won the Noble Prize, he won much more international attention than a Noble Prize would not have brought him courtesy the forces against Islam.

Taslima Nasrin, whose literary value is zero compared to Salman Rushdie nevertheless reached the same lofty heights of international attention with her book Lajja attacking Islam. The forces against Islam picked her up when a nondescript Islamic group in Bangladesh placed a price on her head and she was banished from the country. She instantly became the darling of the West, courted admiringly wherever she went. The West never questioned her credibility as a writer or the background of the nondescript group that put the price on her head. It just used her because she had humiliated Islam. Perhaps, there is a similar reason behind the Latif Siddiqui diatribe against Islam and the holy Prophet. Perhaps, he too has similar pretensions. Perhaps, the international forces working against Islam have encouraged him to fight the war against Islam from within.

Since his diatribe, anti-Islam postings on the Internet have become extensive that suggest that international forces that are coordinating these efforts are using the social media and Internet to destroy Islam that was not available when Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasrin were attacking Islam. That there are powerful international anti-Islam forces in the social media/Internet was evident when unbelievable diatribes against Islam were posted at the time of the Shahabag movement last year. These forces that had seemingly gone into hibernation in the face of public wrath in Bangladesh when the Shahabag anti-Islam postings became public knowledge have now re-emerged following the diatribe of Latif Siddiqui. Postings are flooding in the social media backing Latif Siddiqui for his “courage” and the anti-Islam Muslims are now liberally quoting the Koran to depict it as a book that patronises cruelty and barbarity.

The anti-Islam Muslims are working, wittingly or otherwise, as part of the intellectual framework provided to the West to destroy Islam by Professor Samuel Huntington in his infamous book named The Clash of Civilizations. In the book, the Professor argued that there are seven civilizations coexisting at present and that notwithstanding, the world is destined to see a clash between the West and Islam. He therefore urged the West to prepare itself for the inevitable clash. Professor Huntington’s urging had a sense of urgency because he felt that Islam’s moral and ethical strength made it a strong challenger and unless the West prepared itself adequately and effectively for that inevitable clash, it would lose to Islam.

Professor Huntington argued his case based on many gross misrepresentations about Islam and the peoples of the Orient. Edward Said, a Palestinian Professor of Columbia, led the intellectual efforts to undermine Professor Samuel Huntington’s thesis to humiliate Islam. His book “Orientalism” practically destroyed the premises of Professor Huntington’s book. In his subsequent writings and lectures, Edward Said nailed the ill intents of the Professor against Islam convincingly. Nevertheless, the West took Professor Huntington’s warnings against Islam seriously and the efforts to use Muslims like Salman Rusdie and others have been a part of a multi- faceted strategy to destroy Islam from within, by a conscious effort of using Muslims to demean their own religion.

The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq have been the part of the multi-faceted strategy to destroy Islam with physical force. Thus in invading Afghanistan in 2001, the US went into denial that the very terrorists they went to fight there namely Al Qaeda led by Osama ben Laden were earlier established there by US intelligence to help the Mujahedeen fight the Soviets, a point only recently stressed by none other than Hillary Clinton. Likewise, the US invaded Iraq two years later on false pretexts that the country had WMD in denial of the fact that it had allowed the evil regime its best years when it was fighting Iran and did not bother when in 1983, the regime had killed thousands of Kurds using chemical weapons because it was fighting another Muslim state, Iran. The US invaded Iraq only when Saddam Hussein was no more willing to fight Iran and had meanwhile armed his regime enough to become a threat to Israel, US’ protégé in the region.

The US and West’s intentions in invading Afghanistan and Iraq may have prima facae failed. Afghanistan may likely to fall into the hands of the Taliban once the US withdraws its combat troops from there by end of December. Iraq is now under threat from ISIS/ISIL. Thus between Iraq and Afghanistan, trillions of US dollars and thousands of lives of West’s men/women in uniform may seem to have gone down the drain. Nevertheless, despite such setbacks, the West’s multifaceted strategy to destroy Islam has succeeded because in both the countries, Muslims are fighting and killing Muslims and weakening Islam as a result of the US led invasion of the West. The rise of ISIS/ISIL in Iraq has also come very useful in the multi faceted strategy against Islam. The West is using its barbarity and cruelty against fellow Muslims and the beheading of the westerners to depict Islam as a cruel and barbaric regime demean Islam further. In reality though, the ISIS/ is the direct outcome of the West’s US led invasion. Before the invasion, Iraq had an evil dictator but no terrorists.

These facts and the phobia that US and western media have been spinning of imminent attacks on US and western soil by ISIS/ISIL have led to deep suspicions that ISIS/ISIL is the creation of western intelligence establishments like Al Qaeda and Osama Ben Laden as part of the West’s many faceted strategy to destroy Islam. The suspicions are gaining strength because the ISIS/ISIL in reality is busy fighting fellow Muslims and threatening or being threatened by the royal regimes in the Middle East. Thus the rise of ISIS/ISIL, the flood of anti-Islam postings on Internet, anti-Muslim actions of writers and politicians could all be very well a part of the West multi-faceted strategy of preparedness for the clash of civilization as predicted by Professor Huntington.

The writer is a retied career Ambassador. His email id is HYPERLINK ""

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