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U.S. reveals terrorist threat on garment buyers in Bangladesh
Kristi Ellis in Washington
 
The revelation from the U.S. State Department last week that the Islamic State terrorist network issued a threat targeting garment buyers in Bangladesh in October — as part of new travel warning to the Asian country — sent shockwaves through the fashion industry.
Full Story
Kristi Ellis in Washington
 
The revelation from the U.S. State Department last week that the Islamic State terrorist network issued a threat targeting garment buyers in Bangladesh in October — as part of new travel warning to the Asian country — sent shockwaves through the fashion industry.
“In October 2016, Da’esh threatened to target “expats, tourists, diplomats, garment buyers, missionaries and sports teams” in the most ‘secured zones’ in Bangladesh,” the U.S. agency said.
Da’esh is the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State, also known as ISIL or ISIS.
 
Unprecedented threat
The announcement marked what may be the first time the global fashion industry has been knowingly targeted by terrorists. It came as a broader warning issued to U.S. citizens on Thursday (Jan. 5) of “continuing threats from terrorist groups” in Bangladesh and a change to the U.S. embassy’s status in Dhaka to “partially accompanied,” allowing only “employed adult family members of U.S. government personnel to remain in or return to Dhaka.”
“The U.S. government considers the potential threat to U.S. government personnel in Bangladesh to be serious enough to require them to live, work and travel under strict security guidelines,” the agency said, warning U.S. citizens to take “stringent security measures.”
It is the first such threat specifically targeting the global fashion industry, industry officials say.
U.S. government officials and their families are not allowed to visit public places in Bangladesh, use any “uncovered means” of transportation or attend large gatherings in the country.
In a separate move, the U.K.’s Foreign Commonwealth Office issued its own travel warning on Bangladesh on the same day, saying “there is a heightened threat of further terrorist attacks,” which could be “indiscriminate, although foreigners, in particular Westerners, may be directly targeted.”
Bangladesh came under siege last year when the country was rocked by a series of terrorist attacks, including an attack later claimed by ISIS on a restaurant and café in Dhaka that killed 20 foreign hostages and raised concerns among global brands and retailers.
But the threat of terrorist attacks aimed squarely at foreign garment buyers is unprecedented, according to industry veterans.
“I don’t recall that there ever was a threat that specifically targeted garment buyers or people in our industry,” said Julia Hughes, president of the U.S. Fashion Industry Association. “That obviously is pretty shocking and a huge concern, of course, for all companies who are traveling and doing business in Bangladesh.”
 
A blow to Bangladesh
Hughes said the threat is a “blow” to Bangladesh, which is a key supplier of apparel to the U.S. “There has been a sense that things were getting back to normal after the earlier terrorist attacks [in July],” she added.
Nate Herman, senior vice president of supply chain for the American Apparel & Footwear Association, said there has been an “unspoken agreement” among protesters to leave untouched the garment industry in Bangladesh, which accounts for 80 percent of the country’s export earnings.
Security concerns and danger are not a new issue for garment buyers, who often make trips to hot zones around the world. After the 9/11 terrorists attacks, there was a travel advisory for Pakistan, a key apparel and textile supplier, and it is still considered a fairly unsafe place to travel.
Herman said the bombing at the café in July in Bangladesh killed several Italians involved in the apparel industry.
“No matter what happens in Bangladesh, the garment industry has never been targeted,” Herman said. “When there were protests over elections a few years back and where there were protests over wages, the garment industry was never touched. This [a specific terrorist threat on the industry] is brand new.”
Bangladesh’s apparel industry has been in the global spotlight over the few years in the wake of the Rana Plaza collapse in April 2013 that claimed the lives of 1,133 workers and injured more than 2,000.  Since then, U.S. and international brands and retailers have been working through two initiatives to inspect factories and improve safety and conditions in Bangladesh factories.
The country is the second-largest apparel exporter in the world, after China, employing more than four million workers. It is the fourth-largest apparel supplier to the U.S., with imports reaching $5.3 billion for the year ending Oct. 31.
 
Buyers may rethink strategies
Buyers canceled or postponed their trips in the immediate aftermath of the ISIS attack on the café that killed 20 people in July. Hughes said January is typically a time when many buyers travel because it is right after the holidays and a good opportunity before the Chinese New Year.
“For many companies who are monitoring the international situation, they may put a ban or delay on any travel to hot spots around the world,” she said.
It is unclear whether a Dhaka apparel summit, slated for Feb. 25, will go on in light of the new warnings and threats. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is scheduled to attend the opening ceremony.
The event is being touted by the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers & Exporters Association as a daylong conference that will “bring together some of the best global minds to formulate strategies toward a more sustainable apparel supply chain and also to drive innovation and prosperity” and to complement the global Sustainable Development Agenda 2030.
“The threat puts a chill on business for buyers or companies who may now review some of their sourcing strategies,” Hughes said. “It obviously puts an additional risk factor for Bangladesh.…I don’t think it means everyone will flee Bangladesh.…On the other hand, I cannot ever recall that our industry was specifically targeted by terrorists.  I don’t want to downplay that and say this is business as usual. It’s not.”

 


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Obama’s farewell speech carries a message for Bangladesh

Shahid Islam in Toronto
 
The US President Barack Obama is heading to the sun-setting of his presidency and had already delivered his farewell speech on Tuesday night with a clarion call to preserve and strengthen democracy, to rise above sectarian and racial divisiveness and, to uphold the values enshrined in the constitution that had made the USA what it is. “Our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted,” he said, adding, “All of us, regardless of party, should throw ourselves into the task of rebuilding our democratic institutions.” Among the issues he raised were expanding voting rights, increasing transparency in government, and reversing electoral gerrymandering that’s contributed to increasing polarization in the Congress.
Full Story
Shahid Islam in Toronto
 
The US President Barack Obama is heading to the sun-setting of his presidency and had already delivered his farewell speech on Tuesday night with a clarion call to preserve and strengthen democracy, to rise above sectarian and racial divisiveness and, to uphold the values enshrined in the constitution that had made the USA what it is. “Our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted,” he said, adding, “All of us, regardless of party, should throw ourselves into the task of rebuilding our democratic institutions.” Among the issues he raised were expanding voting rights, increasing transparency in government, and reversing electoral gerrymandering that’s contributed to increasing polarization in the Congress.
Lesson for Bangladesh
Thoughtfully analyzed, Obama’s farewell speech has message for many up-swinging nations, including Bangladesh. An inclusive democratic environment being the sine qua non for social and political stability that are so needed to undertaking developmental activities, Bangladesh has a lot to learn from what the departing US president had conveyed in his farewell speech.
“If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the internet, try talking with one of them in real life,” he said. “If something needs fixing, then lace up your shoes and do some organizing. If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself. Show up. Dive in. Persevere,” he urged the young Americans. He also reminded that there are ups and downs for those involved in politics and the business of democracy. “Sometimes you’ll win. Sometimes you’ll lose. Presuming a reservoir of goodness in others can be a risk, and there will be times when the process will disappoint you,” he cautioned. Bangladesh is moving forward with a $220 billion economy and many mega projects that are likely to surge up public spending to stimulate demands within. But the main anchors of the economy, namely the export and remittance inflow, are falling drastically. Export had already shown a negative growth during the last months of 2016 and remittance from NRBs too is expected to fall by a staggering 22 per cent by June of 2017.
The apparel industry, which accounted for 80 percent of the total exports (worth about $34.24 billion in fiscal 2015-16), is losing its verb and steam despite massive investments in renovating factories and improving working conditions. Meanwhile, the number of RMG factories had reduced from nearly 6,000 to less than 3,000 in last five years. And, according to Bangladesh Bank statistics, remittance inflow was $12.65 billion from January to November last year, already down by 9.31 percent from $13.95 billion in the same period of 2015.
 
Bad days ahead
There are also other additional bumps and swings on the way. The EU, where 80 per cent of Bangladeshi RMG is exported to, is sunk into a debt crisis and uncertainties sparked by the Brexit. The new Trump team in the US will be more protectionists in importing foreign goods, where rest of Bangladeshi RMG is headed to, while appreciation of Taka against the US dollar is making Bangladeshi products costlier by the day to international buyers.
Added to the lack of democratic spaces in a virtually one-party run political culture, the coming days could prove crucial for Bangladesh where the economy is suffering from stymied internal investment and entrepreneurship had nosedived to the level that no one wants to do a business or buy a flat anymore. The society is polarized to the extreme due to the authoritarian style with which the ruling party wants to shackle a budding generation that prefers freedom to fief-doming.
Let’s not deny that a cringing fear of uncertainty had gripped the nation for too long, which cannot be allowed to prevail further if the growth momentum of the present is to be sustained. Though public investment has increased to nearly 7 percent of the GDP from 5 percent several years ago, the very feat the regime wants to tout as ‘democracy of development,’ private investment remains static at 22-23 percent for over five years in a row.
This is precisely the reason why the departing US president had reminded the arriving Trump administration and the people around the world to mend internal divisions within every society. “That’s why I reject discrimination against Muslim Americans,” he reiterated, to great applauses. “That’s why we cannot withdraw from big global fights – to expand democracy, and human rights, and women’s rights, and LGBT rights – no matter how imperfect our efforts, no matter how expedient ignoring such values may seem. For, the fight against extremism and intolerance and sectarianism and chauvinism are of a piece with the fight against authoritarianism and nationalist aggression.”
 
Cost of divisiveness
Authoritarianism begets more divisiveness. Obama had elaborated the cost of divisiveness in his speech by saying, “The rise of naked partisanship, increasing economic and regional stratification, the splintering of our media into a channel for every taste – all this makes this great sorting seem natural, even inevitable. …….And increasingly, we become so secure in our bubbles that we accept only information, whether true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that’s out there. Isn’t that part of what so often makes politics so dispiriting?” he asked, adding, “How can elected officials rage about deficits when we propose to spend money on preschool for kids, but not when we’re cutting taxes for corporations? How do we excuse ethical lapses in our own party, but pounce when the other party does the same thing?” he asked. The same truth applies to today’s Bangladesh where income disparity is pushing over 90 per cent of the population to the brink; opposition parties are not even allowed to hold a meeting and false cases are piling up against all dissenters; corruption is eating away the very vitals of the economy while the financial institutions are robbed constantly by the surrogates of the regime who want to gobble everything.
Reminding his achievements while in the office, Barack Obama said, “In just eight years, we’ve halved our dependence on foreign oil, doubled our renewable energy, and led the world to an agreement that has the promise to save this planet……But without bolder action, our children won’t have time to debate the existence of climate change; they’ll be busy dealing with its effects: environmental disasters, economic disruptions, and waves of climate refugees seeking sanctuary.”
He warned, “Pretending the problem doesn’t exist not only betrays future generations, it betrays the essential spirit of this country. It’s not just dishonest, this selective sorting of the facts are self-defeating.” Quoting from personal experience he said, “My mom used to tell me, reality has a way of catching up with you.” That reality that ‘people want change’ is being ignored by the incumbent Bangladesh regime.
 
Lesson for the world
No wonder Obama reminded the Americans and the people of world, “If I had told you eight years ago that America would reverse a great recession, reboot our auto industry, and unleash the longest stretch of job creation in our history…if I had told you that we would open up a new chapter with the Cuban people, shut down Iran’s nuclear weapons program without firing a shot, and take out the mastermind of 9/11…if I had told you that we would win marriage equality, and secure the right to health insurance for another 20 million of our fellow citizens – you might have said our sights were set a little too high. But that’s what we did. That’s what you did.” The intellectually suave president reminisced, “For those of us fortunate enough to have been a part of this work, to see it up close, let me tell you, it can energize and inspire. And more often than not, your faith in America – and in Americans – will be confirmed. Mine sure has been.” He urged his country folks to “Hold fast to that faith written into our founding documents, that idea whispered by slaves and abolitionists, that spirit sung by immigrants and homesteaders and those who marched for justice, that creed reaffirmed by those who planted flags from foreign battlefields to the surface of the moon, a creed at the core of every American whose story is not yet written.” Reiterating the slogan with which he started his maiden campaign for presidency eight years ago, Obama said, “Yes we did. Yes we can.” With respect to power transfer to the next president he said, “In ten days, the world will witness a hallmark of our democracy: the peaceful transfer of power from one freely-elected president to the next. I committed to President-Elect Trump that my administration would ensure the smoothest possible transition, just as President Bush did for me.”
These are the immutable lessons that any nation must inscribe in hearts to build societies based on liberty, equality, fairness and justice. Bangladesh too can do it, and shall do it to strive forward to the pinnacle of success and prosperity. That’s what good leaders do for the nations they lead. That’s what good leaders emulate.

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Changes in Islami Bank comes as no surprise

Faruque Ahmed
 
The Islami Bank Bangladesh Ltd (IBBL) saw a major reshuffle on January 6 with the change of its chairman, managing director and at many other senior positions to pave the way of a new management which clearly looks like a takeover move under the present political environment.
The new chairman of the bank Arastoo Khan replaced Mustafa Anwar while Abdul Hamid Miah, managing director of Union Bank has   replaced Muhammad Abdul Mannan as its managing director. Changes have been also made in major committees to free the bank from the influence of the previous management and the bank’s local sponsors who were widely linked to Jamaat politics.
Full Story
Faruque Ahmed
 
The Islami Bank Bangladesh Ltd (IBBL) saw a major reshuffle on January 6 with the change of its chairman, managing director and at many other senior positions to pave the way of a new management which clearly looks like a takeover move under the present political environment.
The new chairman of the bank Arastoo Khan replaced Mustafa Anwar while Abdul Hamid Miah, managing director of Union Bank has   replaced Muhammad Abdul Mannan as its managing director. Changes have been also made in major committees to free the bank from the influence of the previous management and the bank’s local sponsors who were widely linked to Jamaat politics.
IBBL practiced ‘political Islam’
Khan was earlier appointed director of IBBL on December 15 as a representative of Armada Spinning Company; which bought 2 percent of the Bank’s share in recent past. IBBL Managing Director Mohammad Abdul Mannan who was serving for the third term and seen as a pioneer in Islamic banking in Bangladesh and made the bank the country’s largest private sector bank resigned on health ground facilitating the reshuffle.
Speculations were in the air over the past several years about such a changes in the bank’s ownership and management to relinquish the political and ideological control of the bank by Jamaat linked people.
It has now become true with this change over and many believe that the bank in the hands of the new management will be able to make bigger contribution to the nation on being freed from the stigma of Jamaat politics at a time when many senior leaders of the party were hanged on war crimes charges. Under the changed relations of the bank management with the government, it would now be able to use its resources and experience for further development of the banking sector.
The Bank’s newly appointed Vice Chairman Syed Ahsanul Alam made the political aspect behind the reshuffle clear. He said: “it was aimed at freeing the first generation bank from the perception that it practiced “political Islam”.
He said the previous board had problems relating to its “set up” and “mindset”.
“Political Islam” was practiced within the organisation and there was an attempt to cash in on Islam. “The question is not whether the previous boards were good or bad… they were good, but they had to face criticism… they were not respected. That’s why the changes were brought,” he added.
 
Sharia law to be pursued
The new chairman Arastoo Khan previously worked with a number of private and public banks as government nominated director. Earlier he was an additional Secretary at Economic Relation Division (ERD) of the Ministry of Finance and later worked as a member of Planning Commission.
It appears that the new IBBL management acted quickly to dismiss all confusion following the reshuffle. At a press conference in the city immediately after the changes the new chairman categorically said the new board will not lead to any change in its core banking practices based on sharia law.
The bank’s institutional preamble, which states its vision, mission and objective, “will never be prejudiced under any circumstances”, he said. “The preamble will not be violated. We would like to assure the people of the country and customers of the bank that the basic sharia law has to be strictly followed.”  All staff members have nothing to fear, employees, customers and general shareholders also have nothing to fear, he said.
Meanwhile Finance Minister AMA Muhith said the reshuffle was executed with the consent of bank’s foreign sponsors from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and The Islamic Development Bank. They wanted that the bank must leave behind the past blame game and uncertainties to hold on a firm ground in the changing situation.
Reports said earlier Foreign Ministry had taken over the issue with the foreign sponsors seeking their cooperation to implement the changes in the bank’s ownership and management. They approved and signaled the go ahead with the change.
It appears that before the change over, foreign sponsors, mainly Arab sponsors held over 52.16 percent hares. Then a group of new companies emerged as the second largest shareholders with a stake of 12.06 percent shares. They were hitherto unknown to general public.
 
Govt. initiated the change
Institutional investors held 16.89 percent shares followed by 6.39 percent owned by foreign investors, 6.96 owned by general investors and 2.36 percent by Investment Corporation of Bangladesh. Old local sponsors were holding only 3.18 percent shares reducing their voice on the board to the lowest.
Several little-known local companies bought the bulk of the local shares in the bank over the last one and a half years as preparation to charge the reshuffle. It appears that some business houses closer to the government set up those companies overnight and since they have huge unaccounted for money in hands they used it to buy IBBL shares to change the balance. They enjoyed all support from the government.
Until November last year, six companies, which were set up only a couple of years back, bought 12.06 percent local stakes in the bank.  Indication suggests that their stakes would cross 14 percent once the shareholding position is updated.
These companies include Platinum Endeavours Limited, Paradise International Limited, BLU International Limited, ABC Ventures Limited, Grand Business Limited, and Excel Dyeing and Printing Limited held 12.06 percent local stakes till November last.
Armada Spinning Mills Limited, which bought more than 2 percent of the equity started buying shares in Islami Bank since 2012 and secured a strong position in it last year.
Meanwhile they were waiting for the right time to start the reshuffling process. It seems that the operation is now over while many are keeping close watch on how the new recruitment of officers will take place in the bank and if any purging will take place at the same time. The first batch of the new officers has already been appointed, insides say.

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Indian policy fails to make peace with neighbours

Shamsuddin Ahmed
 
India has raised barbed wire fence along the western border of the Northeast Indian states with Bangladesh ostensibly to check illegal migration of Muslims from across the border to Assam. The pertinent question is whether Bangladeshis are going to the Northeast Indian states where, according to the World Bank Index, the living condition is poorer than their own country; where persecution of minority Muslims is a daily affair and the region is troubled by insurgents fighting for independence from India? Illegal migration from Bangladesh is a bogey to exert pressure on the small neighbour with threats of throwing out Muslims, from Assam which had been long ruled by Muslims. The matter can, however, be dealt with separately.
Full Story
Shamsuddin Ahmed
 
India has raised barbed wire fence along the western border of the Northeast Indian states with Bangladesh ostensibly to check illegal migration of Muslims from across the border to Assam. The pertinent question is whether Bangladeshis are going to the Northeast Indian states where, according to the World Bank Index, the living condition is poorer than their own country; where persecution of minority Muslims is a daily affair and the region is troubled by insurgents fighting for independence from India? Illegal migration from Bangladesh is a bogey to exert pressure on the small neighbour with threats of throwing out Muslims, from Assam which had been long ruled by Muslims. The matter can, however, be dealt with separately.
Fencing along Myanmar border
And now Indian army is raising similar fence along the eastern border with Myanmar to check cross border movement of insurgents, smuggling of arms and ammunition and goods allegedly from China. Looking at the map, one will see the Northeast Indian states are surrounded by fence from three sides leaving the region open for entry through the Arunachal Pradesh. Where and how the people will retreat in the event of revisiting of 1962 when Chinese army had run over Arunachal and reached Assam up to the bank of Brahmaputra. The reason for Chinese invasion – border dispute – is still on with China claiming the Arunachal Pradesh as its territory.
In fact, India began fencing the Myanmar border in 2013 but the work was aborted in the face of strong protests by tribal people living on both sides of the border. Fencing work this time was undertaken in collaboration with the Myanmar army. Report said fence in Manipur was raised on Indian side at places giving away large chunk of land to Myanmar to please its army. Thus hundreds of residents of Manipur fall in Myanmar side of the fence. The adverse situation faced by different tribal groups - Nagas, Kukis, Manipuris – who have been living peacefully for generations. Their homes and hearths and villages arenow divided by the barbed wire fence.  All factions of NSCN (National Socialist Council of Nagaland) protesting the fencing said they would not allow it. The militant outfit headed by S.S. Khaplang in a statement said the fence is against the wishes of Nagas – imposing physical wall between same families lived side by side since ancient time. “We will explore every means, peaceful or otherwise, to thwart further forcible division of our homeland and families by the colonizing forces,” threatened NSCN (K).
 
Doval doctrine guides policy
The outfit fighting for decades for independence of Nagaland from India, has an army stationed in Myanmar territory along the border and also controls about 20 militant camps of insurgent outfits within Northeast India.
Observers say Khaplang may not be able to thwart the fencing.  But he is capable to whip up tension among different tribes and cause disturbances with occasional armed attack on Indian forces. His outfit has killed more than 30 Indian soldiers in 2016. Some 18 Indian troops were killed in an ambush in Manipur. Nagas have also a self administered zone in Myanmar.  Naga leader S. S.  Khaplang, born in Mynmar has a peace pact with Myanmar army.  India has 1,600 km porous border with Myanmar – Arunachal 520km, Manipur 398km, Nagaland 215km and Mizoram 510km. It is important to understand the ground reality. Fence will have adverse impact on the lives of local people living along the border. The boundary line is not also crystallized with proper demarcation. India and Myanmar have a free movement regime (FMR) which allows tribal people to travel 16km each side of the border. The fencing is contradictory to FMR. It cuts across houses, lands, villages of the tribal people. This is not confined to Nagaland alone but in all border states of the Northeast.  This being the ground reality, experts say, fencing the border here and there would not help prevent cross border movement of insurgents, smuggling of arms and ammunition, narcotics and merchandise. Rather it will increase problems of the tribal people, provoke unrest and attack of militant outfits. India has failed to garner support and effective cooperation from Myanmar in checking cross border movement of insurgents and smuggling.  Since BJP came to power two years ago, Indian policy towards its neighbours is guided by the doctrine of Ajit Kumar Doval, National Security Adviser of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The ‘doctrine’ came into critical focus in the wake of the January 2016 terrorist attack on the Pathankot airbase in the Indian state of Punjab bordering Pakistan.
 
Hard line on disputed borders
The Pakistani Joint Investigation Team (JIT), which was invited to visit Pathankot and study the investigation of the case, reported that India had not only failed to prove the Pakistani origin of the terrorists but alleged that the entire event had been fabricated by India were very serious charges undermining the image of the Indian NSA. Doval was conspicuously silent on the issue.  Doval use to influence the key decision on Kashmir, Pakistan, China and small neighbours Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka. The Asia Times in May last year wrote Doval doctorine could not help India to make peace with neighbours. A former spymaster, Doval was the mastermind in suppressing Maoist movement, insurgency in the Northeast India and separatists in Punjab.
A hawk, Doval favoured offensive policy in dealing with neighbours including Pakistan and China. He states that terrorist organizations could be bought with money, weapons and manpower and gives importance to covert operations (by RAW) in neighbouring countries to achieve its goal. Doval who had planned the killing of Mizoram separatist commanders emphasized that individual morality has no place in larger interest of the state. The state interests are above the moral values.  Doval has adopted a hard line on India’s border dispute with China. He told the Munich Security Conference in New Delhi in October 2014 that “India would not compromise on its territorial interests,” when the very purpose of the meetings of the Special Representatives of the two countries were to seek a compromise on the dispute.

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Russia wanted payback, not a President Trump

Mark Mackinnon
The Globe and Mail
 
The startling thing about the U.S. intelligence report released last week on Russia’s alleged “influence campaign” to boost Donald Trump’s chances of winning the presidency is its lack of, well, intelligence.
That’s not a complaint about the lack of hard evidence provided to the public on Friday. As is noted atop each of the document’s 25 pages, “this version does not include the full supporting information.” Some sources, understandably, had to be protected.
Full Story
Mark Mackinnon
The Globe and Mail
 
The startling thing about the U.S. intelligence report released last week on Russia’s alleged “influence campaign” to boost Donald Trump’s chances of winning the presidency is its lack of, well, intelligence.
That’s not a complaint about the lack of hard evidence provided to the public on Friday. As is noted atop each of the document’s 25 pages, “this version does not include the full supporting information.” Some sources, understandably, had to be protected.
Confusing DNI reports
But there are major problems with the version of the report that we’re able to see. The first and largest concern is a confused framing of Russia’s aims and motivations in supporting Mr. Trump. Contrary to the report’s theme, the Kremlin wanted to hurt Hillary Clinton, the presumed winner, more than it wanted to see Mr. Trump in the White House.
The second eyebrow-raiser is the credit the U.S. intelligence community apparently gives the RT (formerly known Russia Today) television channel for helping swing the vote in favour of the Republican candidate, while spending no time pondering why so many Americans were ready to buy into the conspiracy theories and outright lies peddled by the Kremlin’s propaganda apparatus. That part – like the actual result of the election – likely shocked Russian President Vladimir Putin as much as anyone.
The report published by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) starts off on the right foot by suggesting Russia’s main goals were to “undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate secretary of state Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.”
That matches the strong sense I got while reporting from Moscow just before the Nov. 8 election. The Kremlin expected Hillary Clinton to become president – so much so that Valery Garbuzov, director of the state-funded Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies (which prepares reports that end up on Kremlin desks), told me days before the vote that he and his colleagues would “be in a furore” if Mr. Trump won, because they had devoted almost no time to studying how a President Trump might behave.
The operating assumption was that Ms. Clinton would win; the only thing in question was the margin.
 
Russia preferred stability
But the DNI raced past such nuances to conclude that Mr. Putin and his government “aspired to help president-elect Trump’s election chances.” That’s true only to the extent that feeding Mr. Trump’s campaign –with hacked information and “fake news” stories that fit Mr. Trump’s narrative – would cut into Ms. Clinton’s share of the vote, and people’s trust in the expected result.
Remember that Mr. Trump himself believed the election process was “rigged” against him. He expected to lose. The Kremlin accepted the same premises, and boosted Mr. Trump only to undermine Ms. Clinton.  Mr. Garbuzov suggested the Russian political elite was as uncomfortable as those in other countries with the idea of Donald Trump as president of the United States. “For Russian interests, it would be better when there is a situation of stability in the U.S.; a situation of predictability rather than unpredictability. An understanding of reality,” he told me.
It was clear then and now which candidate represented stability, and which promised unpredictability. If the Kremlin covertly aided Mr.  Trump’s cause, it did so with almost no expectation that he could win.
The real aim of Russia’s effort was payback. The DNI correctly assesses that Mr. Putin had a personal grudge with Ms. Clinton dating back to 2011 and 2012 protests in Moscow against his rule, which Mr.  Putin publicly accused Ms. Clinton, then secretary of state to President Barack Obama, of masterminding.
But that’s not the only reason Moscow might have thought it was fair game to meddle in a U.S. presidential race. From Russia’s point of view, the U.S. has been tinkering for decades in elections well beyond its borders.
 
Nobody is clean
The charge sheet is long: In 1996, a trio of spin doctors with connections to then-U.S. president Bill Clinton helped ensure Boris Yeltsin was re-elected as president, rather than the Communist challenger who held a wide lead in the polls before the Americans arrived. In 2003 and 2004, the U.S. and other Western governments poured money into election-monitoring organizations, pro-Western media outlets, and radical youth groups that prepared the ground for, and then helped carry out, revolutions that toppled pro-Russian governments in the post-Soviet states of Georgia and Ukraine.
From a Western perspective, the revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine were colourful examples of democracy breaking through in parts of the world that had finally grown sick of the corruption and autocracy.  From Moscow, the uprisings smacked of an “influence campaign.”
In 2011 and 2012 – following Mr. Putin’s announcement that he would return to the presidency after a four-year hiatus as prime minister –the pro-democracy protests came to Moscow itself. In the spring of 2012, just before Mr. Putin won re-election as president, I met an American diplomat in Moscow who was carefully weighing the wording of the post-election statement the U.S. Embassy would release following the vote. He was looking to encourage the anti-Putin protesters as much as possible, while still maintaining plausible deniability for the day after, when the U.S. had to get back to working with President Putin.
It’s easy to see how the Kremlin would see their pro-Trump meddling in 2016 – while simultaneously preparing to deal with a President Clinton – as a proportionate response.
The real shock of Moscow’s actions isn’t their scope or intent, but how well they worked.
The DNI report highlights how a trio of anti-Clinton, pro-Trump videos – some of them clearly belonging in the category of “fake news” – were among the most-viewed on the website of RT (Russia Today). This is held up as yet more proof that the Kremlin wanted to see Mr. Trump in the White House.
 
Multiple factors involved
The videos highlighted by the DNI include an August interview with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, a report claiming that “100 per cent of the Clintons’ ‘charity’ went to … themselves,” and a late-campaign file that quoted Mr. Assange asserting “Trump will not be permitted to win.” Each video was viewed millions of times online, and the DNI includes a detailed (if out-of-date) seven-page assessment of RT as an appendix to its crisper five-page summary of the evidence.
But while RT and Wikileaks, separately and collaboratively, clearly set out to damage Ms. Clinton, few Americans actually pay direct attention to either outlet. The real impact of both was offering material that was quickly spread by a host of Kremlin-friendly Twitter accounts (the DNI names the infamous Internet Research Agency – a “troll factory” in Mr. Putin’s hometown of St. Petersburg – as a primary culprit), and spun out on all-American pro-Trump blogs that were given equal weight with the mainstream media by online “news” disseminators such as Facebook and Google.
The Kremlin now seems pleased to see Mr. Trump moving into the White House, and the president-elect has gone to curious lengths to embrace Russia and its strongman ruler as potential “friends.” Hopes are high in Moscow that Mr. Trump will unwind U.S. sanctions against Russia, and perhaps even recognize its 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine.
But there’s little to suggest the Kremlin expected its “influence operation” would work anywhere near as well as it has.
The e-mail hacks and pseudo-news couldn’t have had the effect they did if the U.S. wasn’t so bitterly divided. Millions of Americans were ready to believe anything that fit their political narrative, regardless of its source. Mr. Trump’s supporters hated Ms. Clinton more than they distrusted the foreign power feeding them election “facts” of suspicious veracity and provenance.
That’s the real scandal of the 2016 U.S. election.

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US, UK alerted citizens in Bangladesh
Shakhawat Hossain
 
The governments of the United States and the United Kingdom have asked their nationals to remain alert during their stay in Bangladesh. The US Department of State, in a travel warning updated on January 5, drew attention of its citizens to continued threats from extremist groups in Bangladesh asking them to consider the risks in travelling to and throughout the country.
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Shakhawat Hossain
 
The governments of the United States and the United Kingdom have asked their nationals to remain alert during their stay in Bangladesh. The US Department of State, in a travel warning updated on January 5, drew attention of its citizens to continued threats from extremist groups in Bangladesh asking them to consider the risks in travelling to and throughout the country.
The state department allowed only employed adult family members of the US government personnel to remain in or return to Dhaka. This travel warning replaced the Travel Warning issued on July 10, 2016 after extremist attack on a Gulshan café on July 1 that killed 22 people, including 17 foreigners and a Bangladeshi origin US citizen.
 
ISIS recruiting fighters here
Likewise, The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, in a travel advice on January 5, also alerted its nationals to possible disruption to travel and access to Dhaka airport during the Bishwa Ijtema, a global Islamic congregation set to be held beside Turag River in Tongi in two phases – January 13-15 and January 20-22. It said all roads, especially adjacent to Tongi, are likely to be very congested with large numbers of pilgrims. The moderate Muslim nation has seen a wave of extremist violence since 2015.
Security agencies in Bangladesh, India and United States sharing intelligence suggested that recruitments of Rohingyas by the extremists have further angered Myanmar government. Experts have warned that Islamic State (ISIS) may be recruiting fighters and families from the persecuted community of Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar, as the terror group looks to expand into other countries in the region.
Violent clashes between differing ethnic groups, mainly Rohingya Muslims and Rakhain Buddhists, have been going on in Myanmar for a long time resulting in tens of thousands of Rohingyas attempting to leave the country. The recruitments are done from among those who have fled the troubled area by suspected Islamic State and Pakistan aided militants groups little-known Aqa Mul Muja-hidin (AMM) and the Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami-Arakan (HUJI-A). Pakistan based militant outfits Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jamatul Mujahideen and Pakistani Taliban have reportedly given full military assistance to the Rohingiya militants.
Four top arms suppliers of New Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) have remained in Bangladesh since bringing in their latest shipment of explosives. Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) unit officials were tipped off to their presence while investigating the New JMB Ashkona safe house raided on December 24, 2016, from where the unit recovered two pistols, 17 grenades and three suicide vests. These four arms suppliers are Sohel Mahfuz alias Hatkata Mahfuz, who police suspect supplied the explosives for the Holey Artisan Bakery attack, Mizanur Rahman alias Boro Mizan, Mizanur Rahman alias Chhoto Mizan and Joypurhat Sagor.
 
Bloggers are at risk: DMP
Police say these men bring explosives and arms for the militant outfit from India and other neighbouring countries. New JMB leaders and supporters hiding in India are assisting them with weapons and explosive procurement, several sources at the CTTC unit told the Dhaka Tribune recently.
Dhaka Metropolitan Police Joint Commissioner Abdul Baten doubts that the militants may attack bloggers if they get chance. He said, “The movement of bloggers get a boost in February regarding the Amar Ekushey Book Fair. They seem to wait throughout the year for the month. They become active with writings ahead of the book fair. The radicals also find chance during the time to attack them,” the DMP joint commissioner said this at a press briefing Sunday.
However, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal on Sunday said there is no militancy threat in the country at this moment. “We are working considering every possible security aspects. Law enforcers have undertaken all the necessary security measures to hold the Bishwa Ijtema peacefully.”  He said about 20,000 foreign pilgrims from 101 countries took part in the Bishwa Ijtema last year, which may further increase this year.

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SELECTION OF NEW EC
President likely to opt for a search committee
Abdur Rahman Khan
 
It is almost certain that the President would opt for a search committee to constitute a new election commission which is due next month.
Late President Zillur Rahman formed the incumbent Rakibuddin-led EC in 2012 through a search committee. The upcoming EC will oversee the next parliamentary polls slated for 2019.
According to Article 118(1) of the Constitution, which was framed in 1972, there shall be an EC for Bangladesh, comprising the CEC and not more than four commissioners, and the appointment of the CEC and other commissioners (if any) shall, subject to the provisions of any law made in that behalf, be made by the President.
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Abdur Rahman Khan
 
It is almost certain that the President would opt for a search committee to constitute a new election commission which is due next month.
Late President Zillur Rahman formed the incumbent Rakibuddin-led EC in 2012 through a search committee. The upcoming EC will oversee the next parliamentary polls slated for 2019.
According to Article 118(1) of the Constitution, which was framed in 1972, there shall be an EC for Bangladesh, comprising the CEC and not more than four commissioners, and the appointment of the CEC and other commissioners (if any) shall, subject to the provisions of any law made in that behalf, be made by the President.
No law for EC selection
Notwithstanding a constitutional obligation, a law on the appointment of chief election commissioner (CEC) and other commissioners has not been framed even 45 years after enactment of the charter.
Meanwhile, in his rapping up dialogue with political parties , the President got the mindset of the ruling party. Awami League suggested enacting new law to form EC, with a clause “if possible and if not possible”. Surely, it is easier for the President to pick up the “if not possible” clause from Awami League’s suggestions, say the political observers. It is presumed that the President is unlikely to press for a new law at this stage considering the time constraint.
During the meeting with the President at Bangabhaban, Awami League on Wednesday submitted a document titled ‘Democracy and Election’ containing four-point proposal and 11 important issues relating to elections to the President for reconstitution of the Election Commission.
Awami League suggested: “that a new law or an ordinance, if possible, may be enacted or promulgated for appointing the CEC and other commissioners. If it is not possible right now due to shortage of time, the move for reconstituting the next EC in line with the constitution may be taken. The Awami League proposed that it will support the way President would like to appoint the Chief Election Commission and other commissioners.
During the meeting, Awami League President Sheikh Hasina said her party does not want any debate on elections in future and wants that whichever party is voted to power by the people in next elections will govern the country.”
The Awami League also proposed to the President for introducing e-voting and enacting a law as permanent measure to form the Election Commission. One of the proposals mentioned that e-voting system may be introduced for the next parliamentary polls for a fair, credible and neutral election.
 
AL to accept president’s decision
While placing the proposals, the Prime Minister said Bangladesh Awami League respects the country’s constitution and other laws and it has full confidence in the President. The Awami League will support any legal move for constituting the Election Commission taken by the President,” Abedin said.
The President viewed the Election Commission as important for the polls. Similarly, support from the political parties was also important in holding and maintaining the law and order for the credible polls. The President hoped that it would be possible for constituting a strong EC with the support of the political parties.
After the talks, the AL briefed reporters at party president Sheikh Hasina’s political office at Dhanmondi about the outcome of the talks.
AL General Secretary said they placed four proposals, including introduction of e-voting system, before the President during the talks.
He also said they suggested that to ensure voting rights to all minorities, ensuring security to the voters before and after the polls, placing administration and law enforcing agencies under EC during the polls. During the election time government all administrative activities should be confined to routine work.
The president previously held talks with 22 political parties, including BNP, for the same purpose.

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