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Key Economic Data 
  2004 2003 2002 Ranking(2004)
Millions of US $ 56,844 51,900 45,500 54
GNI per capita
 US $ 440 400 390 175
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

Books on Bangladesh

Update No: 026 - (28/02/08)

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.

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 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.

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.

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 non-government organization. 

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.   

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