Books on Bangladesh
Update No: 026 - (28/02/08)
ROADMAP FOR ELECTIONS
Bangladesh Election Commission Chief Shamsul Huda reaffirmed that the general
elections will be held by December this year as per the latest election
schedule. He arrived at this conclusion while addressing an Awami League
delegation. The Awami League delegation led by its President Zillur Rahman urged
for immediate lifting of the 13-month-old state of emergency and creating an
environment that allowed for the conduct of free and fair elections.
Bangladesh's movement towards free and fair elections has been impeded in the
wake of uncontrollable violence that resulted during the parliamentary elections
slated for Jan. 22 last year. Huda stated that the Caretaker government's Chief
Adviser Dr Fakhruddin Ahmed had assured him of the conduct of elections in a
timely fashion. According to Huda's observations, 50 percent of 40 million
registered voters list will be completed this month and a draft voters list will
be published by June 30. The Election Commission is currently engaging the major
parties in a dialogue to update election rules to preclude future elections from
falling prey to nepotism, electioneering and black money.
INDIA-BANGLADESH DEFENSE COOPERATION
Bangladesh's army chief, General Moeen U. Ahmed, is currently in India over a
week long visit that aims to redefine defense issues in the relationship between
both countries by seeking to strengthen defense ties and promote greater
security and cooperation. Moeen's visit acquires greater significance for New
Delhi because the General has been a key figure in Bangladesh politics where an
army-backed interim authority under the president has ruled during a state of
emergency, since taking charge in January 2007 following months of political
violence. While the military in both countries have shared historical and
cultural roots grounded in colonialism, today things are different.
The Indian military is much more democratic and professionally detached than its
Bangladeshi counterpart. Bangladesh's generals had ruled the country for almost
15 years until December 1990 when the last military ruler, Hossain Mohammad
Ershad, was overthrown by a populist upsurge. Moreover, frequent allegations of
corruption and abuse by Bangladesh's military has given it more of a
professional rather than political role. Also, despite generally friendly
inter-state relations, Indian and Bangladeshi border guards have often exchanged
fire along their 4,000-km (2,500-mile) border accusing each side of targeting
the other. Given this scenario, it is especially interesting to see how both
countries intend to advance defense cooperation. Moeen will meet with the chiefs
of the Indian army, navy and air force, as well as the president, prime minister
and senior government leaders. Moeen and his Indian counterpart would discuss
steps to combat corruption and terrorism, and the possibility of joint
operations against insurgent groups, other officials said. Observers are
suggesting that Moeen's visit comes in the wake of Bangladesh's attempt to
garner India's political support as it may be serious this time about its
anti-corruption drive and reforms, just ahead of the coming election. Strangely
Moeen seems to believe that the Bangladesh military is the best instrument for
bringing change in the country and establishing democracy; a position that given
the history, seems ironical to say the least.
BANGLADESH AT THE WTO
Bangladesh Commerce Adviser, Dr Hossain Zillur Rahman, is scheduled to
attend the 5th WTO LDC Ministerial meeting from February 27. Rahman will lead a
7-member Bangladesh delegation to the 3-day meeting that seeks to mobilize a
uniform position of the LDC group in the WTO. The meeting will review
developments in the Doha Development Agenda since the Hong Kong Ministerial held
in 2005. The meeting is meant to convey a political message about common
positions of LDCs. The food security issue under agriculture negotiation will
also be raised particularly since there are heightened concerns over food prices
across the world. Other areas of concern that are also likely to be discussed
include duty-free and quota-free market access, erosion of trade preference,
technical assistance and aid for trade.
Bangladesh's Director General of WTO Cell in the Commerce Ministry AKM Fazlur
Rahman and Bangladesh Ambassador to Geneva Dr Debapriya Bhattachariya will serve
on the Advisers delegation. Private sector representatives on the delegation are
Dr MA Taslim of Dhaka University, BTMA president Abdul Hai Sarker, BGMEA
president Anwar-ul-Alam Chowdhury and BKMEA president Fazlul Hoque.
HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSE: SUPPRESSION OF FREEDOM OF THE PRESS
The international organization, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has released a major
report last week outlining the arrest and torture of Tasneem Khalil, a HRW
consultant and reporter for CNN and The Daily Star. Khalil was arrested in May
2007 and subsequently tortured by Bangladesh's military intelligence agency, the
Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI). The DGFI which is similar to
Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Agency, keeps targeted journalists
confined to what are known as "black hole" detention centers.
According to the Human Rights Watch report, Khalil was tortured at the center
located at DGFI headquarters inside Dhaka cantonment, known as "Black Hole
1." International and domestic pressure then led to his freedom after being
in captivity for 22 hours.
What is really alarming in this case is how the Bangladesh military arrested
Khalil without producing a warrant and the authorities also confiscated his
passport, two cell phones, personal documents, and his and his wife's computers.
After going through a rather invasive questioning, the interrogators punched him
on the side of his head and continued to beat him repeatedly with a baton.
Allegedly Khalil believes that his captors put him through hell only to set him
up for what could be a faked 'crossfire' killing; a method that is commonly used
by Bangladesh's Rapid Action Battalion to execute detainees. This latest report
underlines the corruption in Bangladesh's political system and the military with
the flagrant abuse of journalists now becoming a common occurrence.
South Korean company YoungOne Corp. is building the world's largest shoe
manufacturing plant near the southeastern Bangladesh city of Chittagong. The
100-million-dollar plant is going to employ 30,000 people and produce 100,000
pairs of shoes a day once it starts in the middle of next year. It is already
being referred to as the biggest footwear factory in the world. YoungOne was one
of the first foreign companies to enter Bangladesh and is a leading private
textile exporter. During the last year, it exported over 300 million dollars of
garments from the country. The company also has operations in Vietnam and China
with annual sales of 800 million dollars. It also owns Bangladesh's first
private export processing zone, which was approved by the country's caretaker
government last year. The export zone is designed to accommodate 500 factories.
Bangladeshi factories exported footwear worth 76 million dollars in the first
half of the current financial year ending June 2008, a gain of 18.6 percent over
the same period a year ago.
BANGLADESH'S 'POWER NGO'- THE BRAC
In an article by Annie Kelley in the Guardian, one of the world's largest NGOs
has helped millions in Bangladesh. However, critics are saying that by doing so
the NGO now operates almost independently with very little accountability. The
BRAC building is home to the world's largest NGOs, the Bangladesh Rehabilitation
Assistance Committee (BRAC) is located in the heart of Bangladesh's capital city
Dhaka. The BRAC overlooks a slum, most of which has been re-habilitated by the
organization. The slum consists of many small enterprises that have been funded
by BRAC micro-finance loans. The slum has a school run by BRAC-trained teachers
using BRAC textbooks.
More than 200 BRAC-trained health volunteers are responsible for dispensing
medical services. BRAC has even set up a University and a bank. BRAC has grown
from a small relief operation to a massive organization that now accounts for an
expenditure of $320m, a staff of 108,000 and services that reach more than 110m
people across the country. It supposedly provides the largest "scale"
of programs to the poorest in Bangladesh's society. According to the Guardian,
BRAC has organized nearly 7million landless poor into 239,000 village
organizations and distributed more than $4bn in micro-finance loans.
In explaining the expansion of BRAC's powers and lack of accountability,
observers point to the failure of Bangladeshi administrations to provide
services for the millions of landless poor. Instead of the government, BRAC has
proved to be good at making money. BRAC's Executive Director, Mahabub Hossain
claims that the organization is trying to extend its reach to other developing
countries, which has also been one of the reasons for its expansive role. Even
though BRAC has been an effective organization in ameliorating poverty and
extending jobs and skills to many of Bangladesh's poor, the fear for many people
outside BRAC is that the government has become excessively reliant on BRAC and
is finding it hard to operate without its support. It might be fair to observe
that this could not have happened if the government had done its job and
governed in the interests of its population.
Another cause of concern is BRAC's environmental record that centers on the
promotion of hybrid crop seeds to the millions of farmers taking out BRAC
micro-finance loans in Bangladesh's rural communities. The question for the
government and the people of Bangladesh is perhaps how to control BRAC from
becoming too powerful while still maintaining its effectiveness as a
Claims that BRAC is a parallel government might be a bit far-fetched. It might
be fair to observe that this could not have happened if previous governments had
done their job and governed in the interests of its population. Perhaps a newly
elected government may become a paragon of virtue, or at least enable a fair and
open society, whilst its predecessors were infamous around the world for their
astonishing levels of corruption.