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 Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan move towards regional integration

M. Shahidul Islam
 
As the US mulls over the prospect of quitting Afghanistan long before the 2014 deadline, the leaders of Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan (IPA) are busy in crafting a post-war roadmap for regional peace and stability.
Battered by prolonged sanction (Iran), terrorism (Pakistan) and war (Afghanistan), the three leaders promised in a regional summit in Islamabad, which ended on February 17, to root out terrorism, enhance bilateral trade, and stand together against foreign intervention.
They also pledged to extend full cooperation in bringing peace to war-devastated Afghanistan. According to the joint statement, President Ahmadinejad, and his Pakistani counterpart, Asif Ali Zardari, “reiterated their full support for an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned inclusive process of peace and reconciliation.”
Full Story
M. Shahidul Islam
 
As the US mulls over the prospect of quitting Afghanistan long before the 2014 deadline, the leaders of Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan (IPA) are busy in crafting a post-war roadmap for regional peace and stability.
Battered by prolonged sanction (Iran), terrorism (Pakistan) and war (Afghanistan), the three leaders promised in a regional summit in Islamabad, which ended on February 17, to root out terrorism, enhance bilateral trade, and stand together against foreign intervention.
They also pledged to extend full cooperation in bringing peace to war-devastated Afghanistan. According to the joint statement, President Ahmadinejad, and his Pakistani counterpart, Asif Ali Zardari, “reiterated their full support for an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned inclusive process of peace and reconciliation.”

 The summit had the blessings from both China and Russia, two of the permanent members of the UN Security Council, according to diplomatic and military sources. The prioritization of the geopolitical agendas does point to a plausible nexus with external powers.

The summit displayed an unprecedented show of unity at a time when Iran faced threats of external aggression and Pakistan decided not to cooperate with the USA due to a NATO attack inside Pakistan in November having killed 26 Pakistani soldiers and, the killing of more civilians inside Pakistan by frequent NATO drone attacks.
Military postures were aplenty too. The pledge to stand together against foreign intervention aside, the most important agreement in the summit was the pledge not to allow the territory of one for use to launch attack on the other. This was, perhaps, an oblique reference to the prospect of the use of territory of the neighbours by the USA to attack Iran. “All parties agreed to commence trilateral consultations on an agreement in this regard,” a joint statement read.
At least for now, the summit seems to have managed to extricate Iran from a prolonged spell of isolation by securing borders for trade and cooperation with its immediate neighbours. “When brothers join their hands together, certainly the hands of God will assist them,” said the Iranian President. Blaming ‘outside powers’ for all the problems of the region, Ahmadinejad said, “There are countries that are determined to dominate our region.... with their hegemony.”
 
Major step
Although the three leaders had already met in Tehran in June 2011 to discuss terrorism, the Islamabad summit was the first major step toward a regional integration of the three economies, and, embodied an effort to knot a hitherto unseen geopolitical collaboration.
Besides, the quest for an economic integration of the region stretching from the Persian Gulf to the Himalayas - which has long been hampered by an explosive mix of coups, wars, revolutions and external interventions - gained a fresh momentum in the summit. The leaders pledged to overcome their historical legacies by enhancing three-way trade, facilitating preferential tariff, signing free trade arrangements, embarking on barter trade, improving connectivity, expanding transit and cooperating in energy, mineral and agricultural developments.
To prove their depth of sincerity, the leaders mandated their respective foreign ministers to prepare and coordinate a Road Map for Trilateral Cooperation, to be completed before the next summit, expected to be held in Kabul later this year.
The only visible spasm stemmed from President Karzai’s request to Pakistan to influence Taliban leaders to join the ongoing peace negotiations. Pakistan took the request with a pinch of salt and responded tersely. The country’s foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, retorted: “It would be unrealistic and preposterous for Afghanistan to expect that her country could somehow arrange for Taliban leader Mohammad Omar to join the peace negotiations.”
Pakistan insists it too is a target of frequent Taliban attacks. Our Islamabad correspondent said, “Some fringe Taliban leaders are negotiating for peace with the USA, somewhere in Qatar, not with the Afghan government, not inside Afghanistan.”
That being the reality, the expressed commitments of the three leaders to endorse only an ‘Afghan-led solution’ to the conflict is bound to dampen the US efforts further. It may also put in question a Thursday report in The Wall Street Journal which quoted Karzai as saying that the “U.S. and Afghan government have begun secret three-way talks with the Taliban.”
The Journal’s report was trashed as ‘false’ by a statement released by the Taliban that said ‘We (Taliban) will not deal with the puppet Karzai regime.’
Such palpable dilemma of the Afghan regime notwithstanding, for its part, Pakistan has made a strategic decision to ally closely with Tehran and China, two of the regional powers, to reduce Indian influence in Afghanistan and to deflect US pressures, according to sources.
 
Economic boom
Islamabad expects an economic boon from this new regional integration. Iran has agreed to construct a gas pipeline to cover both Pakistan and Afghanistan to fuel their industrialization and to sell oil to Pakistan at a discounted rate, with deferred payments. President Ahmadinejad also pledged to boost bilateral trade with Pakistan to $10 billion within two months, according to the Pakistan Tribune newspaper.
Being a landlocked nation, Afghanistan too needs both Iran and Pakistan to conduct external trading. Earlier, in 2010, the US has influenced Pakistan to replace an outdated Afghan-Pakistan transit trade agreement, signed in 1965. Bilateral trades have increased many fold since and, is expected to double by 2015 from the current $2.5 billion to $5 billion.
The new agreement allows Afghan trucks to drive through Pakistan to the Wagah border with India and use port facilities in Pakistan’s Karachi and Gwadar ports.
War-torn Afghanistan also needs Iran’s economic support for reconstruction, as well as to avail a window of opening to the Persian Gulf.
In 2009, Iran was the fourth largest investor in Afghanistan and the two neighbours have decided to construct a new rail line connecting the Iranian city of Mashhad with Afghanistan’s Herat, and, eventually Kabul. Thanks to Iranian investment, Herat has turned into a Dubai of Afghanistan and bilateral trade with Iran is expected to surpass $3 billion annually by 2013 (globalreview.ca). 

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JOURNALIST COUPLE MURDER

Country-wide protest against slow progress in investigation
Journalists community representing both the factions of BFUJ, DUJ, National Press Club and Dhaka Reporters Unity staged a protest demonstration in front of national press Club on Wednesday demanding immediate arrest of the killers of journalist couple Sagar Sarwar and Meherun Runi. 
Special Correspondent
 
Newsmen across the country will observe one-hour work abstention on February 27 demanding immediate arrest of the killers of journalist couple Sagar Sarwar and Meherun Runi. Sagar Sarwar, news editor of private television channel Masranga and his wife Meherun Runi, a senior reporter of ATN Bangla, were found dead in a pool of blood in their rented flat in the city on February 11.
The journalist community representing both the factions of BFUJ, DUJ, National Press Club and Dhaka Reporters Unity will also observe a six-hour token hunger strike from 10:00am on March 1 if the perpetrators are not put behind bars by February 27.
The programme was announced from a rally in front of the National Press Club on Wednesday. The rally was organised as part of their countrywide demonstration demanding immediate arrest of the killers.  In the rally, journalist leaders expressed their anger over the apparent little progress of investigation into the case. Journalist leaders said they were not satisfied with the authorities’ version that there have been significant progress in the investigation and the authorities are serious with the case.
Full Story
Journalists community representing both the factions of BFUJ, DUJ, National Press Club and Dhaka Reporters Unity staged a protest demonstration in front of national press Club on Wednesday demanding immediate arrest of the killers of journalist couple Sagar Sarwar and Meherun Runi. 
Special Correspondent
 
Newsmen across the country will observe one-hour work abstention on February 27 demanding immediate arrest of the killers of journalist couple Sagar Sarwar and Meherun Runi. Sagar Sarwar, news editor of private television channel Masranga and his wife Meherun Runi, a senior reporter of ATN Bangla, were found dead in a pool of blood in their rented flat in the city on February 11.
The journalist community representing both the factions of BFUJ, DUJ, National Press Club and Dhaka Reporters Unity will also observe a six-hour token hunger strike from 10:00am on March 1 if the perpetrators are not put behind bars by February 27.
The programme was announced from a rally in front of the National Press Club on Wednesday. The rally was organised as part of their countrywide demonstration demanding immediate arrest of the killers.  In the rally, journalist leaders expressed their anger over the apparent little progress of investigation into the case. Journalist leaders said they were not satisfied with the authorities’ version that there have been significant progress in the investigation and the authorities are serious with the case.
Inspector general of police (IGP) Hassan Mahmood Khandker had earlier claimed “remarkable progress” in solving the Sagar-Runi case within a 48-hour deadline set by the home minister on the day of the murder.
Minister Shahara Khatun later said that 48-hour deadline was a tactic. But the police are yet to uncover any clue and identify or arrest anyone. She also shifted the responsibility to Prime Minister saying that the PM was closely monitoring the progress of the case.
Prime Minister’s press secretary Abul Kalam Azad said on Wednesday that PMO Press Wing was totally unaware about such monitoring of sensational journo-couple murder case as indicated by home minister advocate Sahara Khatun.
“I don’t know about the PM’s monitoring. Better ask the home minister. In fact, she (home minister) can tell you exactly about her personnel findings,” Azad told the press. 
Meanwhile, investigators are yet to trace out the motives and any clue behind the gruesome killing of the journalist couple. Police is also denying that they were questioning any of Runi’s colleagues and also denied that anyone of them has left the country soon after the murder. 
And at last, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina opened her mouth on Thursday lamenting the “irresponsible attitude” of journalists about reporting on the journalist couple murder.
“Irresponsible attitude of the journalists has destroyed the material evidence of the killing that is now hampering the case investigation,” she said while speaking at a meeting of the party’s grassroots leaders from Sylhet district at her official residence Ganobhaban.
Referring to the journalists’ movement on the issue, Sheikh Hasina observed “I don’t know why the journalist community didn’t go for such a movement during the BNP-Jamaat rule. I think they (journalists) feel safe during our regime to launch such movement.”

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US lawmakers’ bill irritates Pakistan 

Jonaid Iqbal in Islamabad

 
Last week a bill introduced by Dana Rohrabacher of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and one more lawmaker of the United House of Representatives, has created quite a stir in Pakistan. The resolution calls for Balochistan’s right to self-determination.
The resolution has been condemned by every section of public opinion but they also agree that some proactive action is needed to stem this growing crisis, noting at the same time that the promised Balochistan package of the government is still in the process of implementation and nothing much had been achieved as regards its implementation. 
Full Story

Jonaid Iqbal in Islamabad

 
Last week a bill introduced by Dana Rohrabacher of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and one more lawmaker of the United House of Representatives, has created quite a stir in Pakistan. The resolution calls for Balochistan’s right to self-determination.
The resolution has been condemned by every section of public opinion but they also agree that some proactive action is needed to stem this growing crisis, noting at the same time that the promised Balochistan package of the government is still in the process of implementation and nothing much had been achieved as regards its implementation. 

However, the US government has stated quite forcefully that the bill is personal gimmickry of two members of House of Representative and that it does not mirror the official policy of the US government. The other US officials including Secretary of State Hilary Clinton have issued statements that it regards Baluchistan as part of Pakistan. The US also respects the sovereign integrity of the country.

 
Bugti hails foreign interventions
Meanwhile, Baloch Republican Party’s self-exiled chief Brahamdagh Bugti has welcomed all foreign intervention in the province whether it is by the US, NATO or India, according to latest published report. After the silly resolution was tabled in Washington, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani strongly condemned it, saying it was an attack on the sovereignty of the country. 
He also called for an all-party conference asking all shades of opinions in the country as well as political forces to come forward to resolve the crisis, which by the way is not an easy one. The latest news is that head of his own faction of Muslim League, Nawaz Sharif has put conditions for attending the conference for which no date is set yet, although the crisis is becoming more acute and all other parties have joined in making unkind remarks on the government. 

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State of the world and our way up

Sadeq Khan
 
Debates and divisions in our polity continue to focus on credits and discredits in the 1971 Liberation war and in the 1975 sepoy-people uprising. No doubt these two phenomenal happenings shaped the course of the ship our nation-state over the last forty years. But while we remain polarised over and obsessed with the past, the world order has gone through a sea-change, and is experiencing a “shorter cycle” geopolitical (and economic) turnover. As such, our politicians are finding themselves out of depth in the new world realities. There has been an unfortunate resurgence in Indo-centric thinking, both pro and con, in our national politics and consequent attempts at readjustment of our development drive. The  results have been fruitless. The record of financial management of the state by the present government has been dismal, and the concessions obtainable from shining India have proved so far worthless compared to prices paid in terms of accommodations allowed from our side.
Full Story
Sadeq Khan
 
Debates and divisions in our polity continue to focus on credits and discredits in the 1971 Liberation war and in the 1975 sepoy-people uprising. No doubt these two phenomenal happenings shaped the course of the ship our nation-state over the last forty years. But while we remain polarised over and obsessed with the past, the world order has gone through a sea-change, and is experiencing a “shorter cycle” geopolitical (and economic) turnover. As such, our politicians are finding themselves out of depth in the new world realities. There has been an unfortunate resurgence in Indo-centric thinking, both pro and con, in our national politics and consequent attempts at readjustment of our development drive. The  results have been fruitless. The record of financial management of the state by the present government has been dismal, and the concessions obtainable from shining India have proved so far worthless compared to prices paid in terms of accommodations allowed from our side.
Meanwhile fundamental changes in the global order demand that we begin focussing on current realities and look for ways to cope with them. To draw attention to new realities as they are today, I quote below (somewhat abridged) from a frame-work paper on the State of the World by STRATFOR Global Intelligence. 
 
The European epoch
On Dec. 25, 1991, an epoch ended. On that day the Soviet Union collapsed, and for the first time in almost 500 years no European power was a global power, meaning no European state integrated economic, military and political power on a global scale. What began in 1492 with Europe smashing its way into the world and creating a global imperial system had ended. For five centuries, one European power or another had dominated the world, whether Portugal, Spain, France, England or the Soviet Union. While the collapse of the Soviet Union ended the European epoch, it was accompanied by a cluster of events that tend to accompany generational shifts. The 1989-1991 period marked the end of the Japanese economic miracle, the first time the world had marvelled at an Asian power’s sustained growth rate as the same power’s financial system crumbled. The end of the Japanese miracle and the economic problem of integrating East and West Germany both changed the way the global economy worked. The 1991 Maastricht Treaty set the stage for Europe’s attempt at integration and was the framework for Europe in the post-Cold War world. Tiananmen Square set the course for China in the next 20 years and was the Chinese answer to a collapsing Soviet empire. (The 1989-91 period also) locked into place a long-term changing of the guard, where North America replaced Europe as the centre of the international system. But generations come and go, and we are now in the middle of the first generational shift since the collapse of the European powers, a shift that began in 2008 but is only now working itself out in detail.
 
The American century
After 1991 the only global power left was the United States, which produced about 25 percent of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) each year and dominated the oceans. Never before had the United States been the dominant global power. Prior to World War II, American power had been growing from its place at the margins of the international system, but it was emerging on a multi-polar stage. After World War II, it found itself in a bipolar world, facing off with the Soviet Union in a struggle in which American victory was hardly a foregone conclusion. The United States has been the unchallenged global power for 20 years, but its ascendancy has left it off-balance for most of this time, and imbalance has been the fundamental characteristic of the global system in the past generation.    
Unprepared institutionally or psychologically for its position, the United States has swung from an excessive optimism in the 1990s that held that significant conflict was at an end to the wars against militant Islam after 9/11, wars that the United States could not avoid but also could not integrate into a multilayered global strategy. What happened in 2008 was one of the financial panics that the global capitalist system periodically suffers. Panics generate political crises within nations, followed by changes in the relations among nations. Of these changes, three in particular are of importance, two of which are directly linked to the 2008 crisis. The first is the European financial crisis and its transformation into a political crisis. The second is the Chinese export crisis and its consequences. The third, indirectly linked to 2008, is the shift in the balance of power in the Middle East in favour of Iran.
 
China supersedes Europe
Embedded in the idea of the European Union was the idea that Europe could at some point transcend nationalism and emerge as a United States of Europe, a single political federation with a constitution and a unified foreign and domestic policy. There were two foundations for it. One was the apparent economic and social benefits of a united Europe. The other was that this was the only way that Europe could make its influence felt in the international system. The European vision was smashed in the aftermath of 2008, when the fundamental instability of the European experiment revealed itself. That vision was built around Germany, the world’s second-largest exporter, but Europe’s periphery remained too weak to weather the crisis. There is no question that the Europe of 2012 operates in a very different way than it did in 2007. There is an expectation in some parts that Europe will, in due course, return to its old post-Cold War state, but that is unlikely. China was similarly struck by the 2008 crisis. Apart from the inevitably cyclical nature of all economies, the Asian model, as seen in Japan and then in 1997 in East and Southeast Asia, provides for prolonged growth followed by profound financial dislocation. 
Indeed, growth rates do not indicate economic health. Just as it was for Europe, the 2008 financial crisis was the trigger for China. China’s core problem is that more than a billion people live in households earning less than $6 a day. The economic consequence is that China’s large industrial plant outstrips Chinese consumer demand. As a result, China must export. Recessions after 2008 cut heavily into China’s exports, severely affecting GDP growth and threatening the stability of the political system. China confronted the problem with a massive surge in bank lending, driving new investment and supporting GDP growth but also fuelling rampant inflation. Chinese growth has been the engine of the global economic system, just as Japan was in the previous generation. China is not collapsing any more than Japan did. However, it is changing its behaviour, and with it the behaviour of the international system. If we look at the international system as having three major economic engines, two of them—Europe and China—are changing their behaviour. The events of 2008 did not create these changes; they merely triggered processes that revealed the underlying weaknesses of these two entities.
 
The emergence of Iran
Somewhat outside the main processes of the international system, the Middle East is undergoing a fundamental shift in its balance of power. The driver in this is not the crisis of 2008 but the consequences of the U.S. was in the region and their termination. With the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, Iran has emerged as the major conventional power in the Persian Gulf and the major influence over Iraq. In addition, with the continued survival of the al Assad regime in Syria through the support of Iran, there is the potential for Iranian influence to stretch from western Afghanistan to the Mediterranean Sea. Just as the processes unleashed in 1989-1991 defined the next 20 years, so, too, will the processes that are being generated now dominate the next generation. Still powerful but acutely off-balance in its domestic and foreign policies, the United States is confronting a changing world without yet having a clear understanding of how to deal with this world or, for that matter, how the shifts in the global system will affect it. For the United States strategically, the fragmentation of Europe, the transformation of global production in the wake of the Chinese economy’s climax, and the dramatically increased power of Iran (a recognition of which was publicly acknowledged in a recent CNN interview of General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of USA by Fareed Zakaria) will create dangers and opportunities. The fragmentation of Europe raises the question of the future of Germany and its relationship with Russia. The movement of production to low-wage countries will create booms in countries hitherto regarded as beyond help (as China was in 1980) and potential zones of instability created by rapid and uneven growth. And, the idea that the Iranian issue can be managed through sanctions is a form of denial rather than a strategy.
Three major areas of the world are in flux: Europe, China and the Persian Gulf. Every country in the world including the most important country, the United States, will have to devise a strategy to deal with the new reality, just as 1989-1991 required new strategies. 
 
Opportunity for Bangladesh
The opportunity for Bangladesh, we may safely deduce from the foregoing STRATFOR assessment of the state of the world, lies precisely in the movement of production to low-wage countries, and not in regionalism of a slow SAARC order. ‘Shining India’ will hardly be any use to us in that context, and may indeed stand in our way. It is high time that we grasp the significance of the ‘major areas’ of thrust affecting the world order. It is high time we devise our own independent strategy for growth and our connections to deal with the new reality. To remain Indo-centric will simply be suicidal for our nation-state in the fast-changing new world order. 

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Things moving towards an interim govt.

Abdur Rahman Khan 

 
Both the government and the opposition appear to have softened their stand on non-party interim government issue.
The opposition is preparing for their Dhaka march programme scheduled for March 12 demanding restoration of the caretaker government, the system that was scrapped through enactment of an amendment to the constitution.
The ruling Awami League, however, sharply reacted to the opposition programme terming it an attempt to obstruct the ongoing trial of war crime tribunal. Awami League leaders and ministers challenged to face the opposition on the street and announced to keep the city under their control throughout the month of March.
Full Story

Abdur Rahman Khan 

 
Both the government and the opposition appear to have softened their stand on non-party interim government issue.
The opposition is preparing for their Dhaka march programme scheduled for March 12 demanding restoration of the caretaker government, the system that was scrapped through enactment of an amendment to the constitution.
The ruling Awami League, however, sharply reacted to the opposition programme terming it an attempt to obstruct the ongoing trial of war crime tribunal. Awami League leaders and ministers challenged to face the opposition on the street and announced to keep the city under their control throughout the month of March.

 Awami League and its various front organisations have been organising series of  programmes  beginning  from February 15 to drum up public  support against the  opposition programme. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina  joined  the  bandwagon to  speak bitterly  against  the  BNP  and  its  chief Khaleda Zia. 

Addressing a public meeting in Sandwip, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Saturday said the BNP chief’s ‘Dhaka Cholo’ programme is ‘designed to protect’ the war criminals now facing trial for killing, plundering and raping during the country’s Liberation War in 1971.
“BNP is the synonym of terrorism, corruption and money laundering,” Hasina said, adding that the BNP chief had committed corruption while in power and whitened her black money tarnishing the image of the nation.
Addressing a separate rally in Luxmipur on Saturday, leader of the opposition in parliament Begum Khaleda Zia, reiterated the demand for national election under caretaker government. 
“The ball is now in your court. So, it is your responsibility. If you do not hold the national polls under caretaker government, we will stage tougher movement,” she said indicating the ruling AL. 
The opposition leader also claimed that the free, fair and neutral election is not possible under ruling Awami League. “So, election shall not be held under Awami League,” she said. 
As the government and the opposition started wielding their swords, foreign diplomats appeared on the scene. After all, they consider it their headache to keep Bangladesh on the track of democracy without any violence or instability.
In their peace making efforts in recent weeks, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Robert O. Blake, British High Commissioner Robert Gibson and the delegation of European Union MPs met the two influential politicians, Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia and also the civil society leaders. 
 
Diplomatic manoeuvring
It is observed that the diplomatic manoeuvring helped reduce some tension. Soon, Awami league Joint Secretary Mahbubul Alam Hanif stated that they are not going to hold any counter programme to frustrate BNPs Dhaka march on March 12. 
Begum Khaleda Zia also made an announcement that they would not pursue a politics of vengeance if elected to power. 
Addressing a discussion marking the 40th founding anniversary of Gonoshasthaya Kendra at Savar, Khaleda Zia said, “We had mistakes, failures and limitations in the past as human being. But, we never committed offence intentionally and I am giving the assurance of keeping it up in future.”
“We will try our best to build a prosperous Bangladesh taking lesson from our past mistakes.” Khaleda Zia said asking the civil society members to come to politics. 
Awami League leaders including party general Syed Ashraf and presidium member Suranjit Sen Gupta have invited the opposition to come up with an alternative proposal for a neutral interim government.
It appears that, if everything goes well, an interim government could be the safe exit for both the ruling party and the opposition and also the countrymen from a volatile situation. 
Now the question remains, who will head the interim government and who will form it?

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BB GOVERNOR WARNS

Serious debt crisis may hit the nation

Faruque Ahmed 

 
The economy is increasingly causing anxiety. At last the government policy makers are coming round to accept that the economy is under threats. Bangladesh Bank governor Dr Atiur Rahman last week expressed his apprehensions while talking to the bankers that the country may eventually face a debt crisis like some of the European nations who are now risking the collapse of their financial institutions and spreading social unrest in the streets.
   In Bangladesh, the government borrowing is rising asymmetrically. The authorities have recently revised the government’s borrowing targets from the banks to Tk 25,700 crore from 18,957 crore in the budgetary outlines for the current fiscal year. However, the fact is that the government borrowing has already exceeded the limits and the FBCCI President Abul Kalam Azad apprehends the borrowing may exceed the revised figure at the year-end.
Full Story

Faruque Ahmed 

 
The economy is increasingly causing anxiety. At last the government policy makers are coming round to accept that the economy is under threats. Bangladesh Bank governor Dr Atiur Rahman last week expressed his apprehensions while talking to the bankers that the country may eventually face a debt crisis like some of the European nations who are now risking the collapse of their financial institutions and spreading social unrest in the streets.
   In Bangladesh, the government borrowing is rising asymmetrically. The authorities have recently revised the government’s borrowing targets from the banks to Tk 25,700 crore from 18,957 crore in the budgetary outlines for the current fiscal year. However, the fact is that the government borrowing has already exceeded the limits and the FBCCI President Abul Kalam Azad apprehends the borrowing may exceed the revised figure at the year-end.

Sources say that an exceptional situation has developed now in the economy in the context of public finance to implement the budget for FY2011-12 estimated at Tk 163,589 crore. It was largely based on internal borrowing and external development assistance. But now the government’s relations with the World Bank have gone sour following the suspension of the Padma bridge funding and its associated fallouts. Flow of external assistance has been dwindling and the IMF is delaying the government’s fresh loan requests for balance of payment support program at a time when the country is facing foreign currency shortage due to higher import bills and slower growth of export earnings and remittances. 

All donors including WB, ADB or JICA are also slowing the aid disbursements on many projects, forcing the government to enter into a financial crunch. Statistics say the government received slightly over $803 million in five months from July to November 2011 while its loan repayment stood at $525 million, leaving a net aid inflow of $278 million during the period. As a result the government’s project implementation program is in jeopardy so are the fulfilment of its election pledges.     
Policy makers feel shy of telling the nation the exact nature of the problem that the economy is facing. Recently both the finance minister and the governor of Bangladesh Bank used poetic expressions to explain the case as a ‘black shadow’ (‘kalochaya’) hovering over the economy. But the BB governor now is a bit candid as he said last week that he feared a debt crisis may eventually hit the nation. Economic experts have suggested that the most challenging job facing the economy is coming from indiscipline in the capital market and the money markets. 
The stock market crash has destroyed the small investors and as a corollary it has also hit the services sectors more. With it, many banks and non-banking financial institutions have lost capital to become sick.
The forced government borrowing from the banking sector in such situation has pushed most banks to the brink of collapse, including the state-owned commercial banks. Moreover the central bank is resorting to the printing press to create money overnight for the government without collateral backing from the GDP and this in turn is only aggravating the intensity of inflation in the country. 
The huge government borrowing from banks has also pushed out private sector from adequate credit market slowing down the pace of private sector growth, job creation and income generation activities. 
All these are part of the poor management of the national economy which is resulting into a growing macroeconomic imbalance. Banks are now attracting deposits at higher interest and correspondingly raising lending rates. Some of them are charging up to 20 to 22 percent. Business leaders said the soaring cost of capital is not sustainable to opening new business or running the existing ones. 
 
Bond floating
The Central bank last week has asked the leasing and non-banking financial institutions to float bonds to increase their capital base. Even the government is now trying to issue international bonds as local sources have been dried up. But bonds market is not working in the country because of the stock market crash and a dysfunctional inter-bank bond market. 
Many banks including the state-owned commercial banks are sitting on huge quantity of government bonds and they are failing to cash them which are adding to their liquidity problem. They are borrowing from the call money market to overcome cash demand on the customers’ window. Many are now questioning why a reasonably good economy is turning bad and why have we picked up quarrels with the donors, especially the World Bank when the government desperately needs their support to protect the economy. 
This is assuming more importance when the global economy is facing recessions adversely affecting export markets and slowing down workers remittances. Two things have impacted the donors’ community more in such a situation. 

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Why should BNP attend Parliament?

M. Serajul Islam

 
A legitimate allegation against the BNP in the last 3 years of the AL rule has been its boycott of the Parliament. In a parliamentary system, the Parliament is the centre of gravity around which the entire political system revolves. In it, the opposition is as important as the ruling party exemplified in Great Britain where the opposition is officially called Her Majesty’s Opposition. 
Nevertheless, Bangladesh is not Great Britain and there are very few points of similarity in the two countries for proper comparison. Yet, the decision of the BNP to boycott the Parliament as if it did not exist is not a good thing for parliamentary democracy. Nevertheless, no matter how severely the BNP is criticized; that criticism would look harsh if the realities of our politics is taken for consideration to make a value judgment on the BNP’s boycott of the Parliament.  
Full Story

M. Serajul Islam

 
A legitimate allegation against the BNP in the last 3 years of the AL rule has been its boycott of the Parliament. In a parliamentary system, the Parliament is the centre of gravity around which the entire political system revolves. In it, the opposition is as important as the ruling party exemplified in Great Britain where the opposition is officially called Her Majesty’s Opposition. 
Nevertheless, Bangladesh is not Great Britain and there are very few points of similarity in the two countries for proper comparison. Yet, the decision of the BNP to boycott the Parliament as if it did not exist is not a good thing for parliamentary democracy. Nevertheless, no matter how severely the BNP is criticized; that criticism would look harsh if the realities of our politics is taken for consideration to make a value judgment on the BNP’s boycott of the Parliament.  

 Nevertheless, Bangladesh is not Great Britain and there are very few points of similarity in the two countries for proper comparison. Yet, the decision of the BNP to boycott the Parliament as if it did not exist is not a good thing for parliamentary democracy. Nevertheless, no matter how severely the BNP is criticized; that criticism would look harsh if the realities of our politics is taken for consideration to make a value judgment on the BNP’s boycott of the Parliament.  

Unfortunately, the Parliament in Bangladesh has not emerged by a long stretch of imagination as anywhere near what is required to make a parliamentary system functional. That the parliament has come to this sad stage is not the fault of the BNP alone. The AL has also contributed its share. In fact, it is the AL that had taken the leadership to make the parliament dysfunctional.  From the very first Parliament of the country, the cardinal principle on which a parliamentary democracy stands, namely the right of free expression of views inside the Parliament, was gagged. The first Parliament came into being after a war of liberation that had fundamentally affected every sector of the country in a bloody manner, with death and destruction.
In that Parliament, the stature of Father of the Nation Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was so absolute that even the idea that someone would stand in Parliament and criticize his action or that of the Awami League was totally inconceivable. There was also no effective political party in the Opposition to play the role required from the opposition in a parliamentary democracy. Hence, our start was a bad one if it was parliamentary democracy that we were seeking to turn into reality the dreams for which hundreds of thousands had laid down their lives and created Bangladesh.
In his life time, the Father of the Nation ended our tryst with parliamentary democracy by the BAKSAL amendment. Those first few years when the true seeds of good governance under a parliament system could have been sown were wasted, first, by trying out parliamentary democracy where no role was envisaged for the opposition, then, by the BAKSAL amendment that tried to end for good even the concept that there could be any opposition to the Government by introducing one party system.
Those formative years also established the political mindset where those who followed, whether they have been uniformed or elected, have followed the need to make the role of the opposition as insignificant as possible. In fact, it has been the uniformed rulers who have sought to broaden the role of those who were not part of the government in the process of governance. They of course did so selectively but nevertheless they sought to take those they considered useful from the ranks of the opposition to talk with them because they were seeking legitimacy for their backdoor entry to power.
The fall of the military dictatorship of President Ershad was supposed to help establish parliamentary democracy again after 15 years of Presidential rule under the military governments. In fact, both the mainstream parties agreed to bring back parliamentary democracy when fighting together against President Ershad. After his fall, parliamentary democracy was reinstated. Unfortunately, the political mindset of governance without opposition was also re-established although meanwhile the weak almost non-existent opposition that was the case during the first AL rule as well as during the period of the military was replaced by a two-party political system that is considered ideal for parliamentary democracy of the Westminster model.
In the first BNP tenure under Khaleda Zia however it was not the ruling party’s mindset to sideline the opposition that was the main reason why the opposition did not play its role in the parliament. The AL chose to leave the parliament to force down the BNP Government that it claimed wrongly to have been elected by fraudulent means by movement in the streets, through hartals. That set the traditions in our politics to sideline the Parliament to bring down the government by force. In fact, the tradition not to go to the Parliament for realizing political demands was introduced in our politics by the Awami League in the 1991-1996 tenure of the BNP. 
In its 1996-2001 term of office, the BNP followed the AL’s example to take politics to the streets. The AL also ensured that the BNP would remain away from the Parliament by not allowing it space in the deliberations of the legislative body.  By the time the BNP came around, the politics of conflict and distrust in which the two mainstream parties contributed their share ensured that the Parliament would be an institution where the praises of the ruling party and its leaders dead and alive wound be sung and the opposition party’s leaders dead and alive would be condemned. 
When the AL won the last elections by a 3/4th majority, the traditions of our negative politics were deeply entrenched. The fact that the BNP won a historically low number of seats marginalized them even further in the context of participating in the Parliament. In the last 3 years, the AL has condemned the BNP for staying out of the Parliament while making not even the slightest effort to welcome them to it. The AL Parliamentarians have gone to the extent of naming late President Ziaur Rahman as an agent of Pakistan’s ISI! There have been insinuations of the worst type against the BNP leaders that can be anything but incentives to bring the party to parliament. In fact while rendering lip service to the need of the BNP to come to parliament, the AL leaders did everything inside the parliament and out of it to ensure that the BNP would stay out of it permanently.
On the rare occasions under this government that the BNP parliamentarians have attended Parliament, they have also shown scant respect for the leaders dead and alive of the ruling party in the true spirit of tit for tat. The public has been utterly frustrated by the attitude the parties have shown in Parliament with the ruling party doing much better in the game of abuse. These days, sessions of the parliament are shown live. Watching these sessions is nothing short of torture. The quality of deliberations is abjectly poor barring few honourable exceptions. With due respect to women empowerment, those who sit in Parliament on women’s quota do not do themselves or the gender they represent any favour at all. The thing that comes out strongly with what happens in our parliament these days is the competition of the members to shower praises at the Prime Minister, her government and of course at Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.  
The only new element in parliamentary deliberations these days and a strange one at that in a parliamentary democracy is the role of some members of the ruling party. Some of their criticisms on ministers of this government and governance would beat the BNP if it was making these criticisms. This no doubt is a reflection of the division within the ruling party with the group that has fallen out of grace due to the role they played against the party during the last CG making the criticisms. Two members of this group have now been silenced with their induction into the Cabinet.
The BNP’s case for not attending the Parliament was perfectly made by the new woman member of Parliament. Her tirade against the BNP and particularly against Khaleda Zia was so full of unparliamentarily language that one English Daily while carrying the news refused to print what she said in view of the venomous language in which she spoke.  What was worse was the fact that the Speaker granted her five extra minutes in addition to the 10 she was allotted so that she could carry on with what she was saying. Her speech was applauded and clapped by the Parliamentarians among whom the Prime Minister herself was present.
Clearly, in the “traditions” that have been set in Bangladesh; there is no reason why an opposition party should attend its parliament. The offer that the present ruling party makes all the time that the opposition should place the points it raises in public meetings in the Parliament make very little sense. In the present mindset of the ruling party parliamentarians, the BNP members of parliament would be wasting their time and offering themselves for abuse by attending the parliament. The way this new woman Member of Parliament abused the BNP and Khaleda Zia that the rest of the ruling party members enjoyed that newspapers found disgusting even to print should  convince anyone why the BNP should not attend parliament. 
The absurd point is the folly in all these that the ruling party does not see. With the floodgate of private TV stations, people are witnessing first stand how democracy is being trampled.  The woman MP may have made her party colleagues happy. What she did not realize and her party colleagues too is that voters have seen her act. They would not be encouraged to vote for her party because they too found what she said, disgusting. If only the AL had been a little generous with its 3/4th majority and allowed the BNP time and space in parliament instead of humiliating and abusing the party, it would have gained a lot politically without weakening its position even a little bit.  One wonders whether common sense has taken leave of our politics and politicians.
The tirade of the woman MP would convince the BNP even more to stay out of Parliament. They are doing a pretty good job flagging for the people the mistakes of the Government through their long marches and public meetings and earning points for the next general elections. In the parliament without it, the ruling party is helping its cause. At this stage only a firm assurance to restore the CG system could encourage the BNP to return to parliament.
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The writer is a former Ambassador to Japan. 

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Faiz Ahmed no more

Holiday Report

 
Veteran Journalist, writer and frontline cultural activist Faiz Ahmed died at city’s  BIRDEM hospital on Monday. He was 84. 
Faiz Ahmed, the founding chief editor of the state-run Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS), had been suffering from old age complications for long.
His body was first taken to Shilpangan Art Gallery in Dhanmondi, which he founded. There from  the body was  taken to  Dhaka University and  National Press Club before  keeping  it  at  the CPB office for  allowing  his comrades, admirers and all sections of people to pay their last tribute.   As per his wish, his eyes were donated to voluntary organisation Sandhani and the body to Bangladesh Medical College.
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Holiday Report

 
Veteran Journalist, writer and frontline cultural activist Faiz Ahmed died at city’s  BIRDEM hospital on Monday. He was 84. 
Faiz Ahmed, the founding chief editor of the state-run Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS), had been suffering from old age complications for long.
His body was first taken to Shilpangan Art Gallery in Dhanmondi, which he founded. There from  the body was  taken to  Dhaka University and  National Press Club before  keeping  it  at  the CPB office for  allowing  his comrades, admirers and all sections of people to pay their last tribute.   As per his wish, his eyes were donated to voluntary organisation Sandhani and the body to Bangladesh Medical College.

Ahmed was born on May 2, 1928 in Munshiganj. He joined Communist Party after partition in 1947 and took part in the nation’s independence war in 1971. 

He became involved with the communist movement in his youth and was awarded party membership while in prison in 1960. He served imprisonment for four years due to his political involvement during Ayub’s regime. He had to go underground to evade arrests for many times. 
During  Ershad’s military  regime, Faiz Ahmed  was taken  to prison  for  organising  cultural  activists  against  the autocratic  regime. He  was  the founder  convenor  of  Sammilito Sangskritic Jote and  Jatiya Kabita  parishad, both  of  which  played vital role  in  the  anti-Ershad  movement. 
He  was  the  key personality  in  arranging  the  historic meeting  of  two  political leaders- Begum Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina to forge  the  joint  movement  against  Ershad’s rule.
In his journalism career, he served  the daily Ittefaq, the Sangbad, and  now defunct  Azad and Purbodesh. He had been writing for many literary magazines while actively practicing journalism. 
Ahmed, also a popular writer of fictions and rhymes for children, has penned more than 100 books. 
He was awarded Ekushey Padak, Bangla Academy Padak, Shishu Academy Award for his journalistic excellence and contribution to democratic society and national literature. 
 
Condolences
President Zillur rahman,  Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, leader  of  the  opposition Beghum Khaleda Zia, Nobel laureate  Professor Dr Mohammd Yunus,  political leaders, student  organisations  and  various  socio-cultural  organisations issued  statement  to  condole  the death  of   Faiz Ahmed. 
They  recalled his contribution to journalism and his role as an activist in  all national struggles for  democracy.  He  will remain  as  a source  of  inspiration  for  the  future  generation  to  come, they  said. 

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The undemocratic democracy in Bangladesh

M. I. Ali

 
The worst enemies of the two major political parties in Bangladesh are the parties themselves. Conversely, their performance while in power has helped their opponents to defeat the incumbent in all four post 1990 general elections in the country.  These four elections have also shown that our politicians are yet to get a full understanding of democracy and of democratic practices.  Democracy in Bangladesh is a tool to grab political power for personal benefits and agendas.  Once elected, they behave as if they own the country and do not give much thought to the fact that they may have to face elections again.
This practice has its roots in the military regimes of pre-Bangladesh days when the dictators arrogated all powers to themselves.  Keeping in line with that system, politicians have built an all powerful Prime Minister’s Office at the cost of all statutory and non-statutory institutions.  The bankruptcy of power and authority has come to such a pass that only last week the Home Minister while commenting on the lack of progress in a double murder case said that the Prime Minister was in charge of the investigation.  The irony here is that it appeared perfectly normal to the Home Minister and those around her.
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M. I. Ali

 
The worst enemies of the two major political parties in Bangladesh are the parties themselves. Conversely, their performance while in power has helped their opponents to defeat the incumbent in all four post 1990 general elections in the country.  These four elections have also shown that our politicians are yet to get a full understanding of democracy and of democratic practices.  Democracy in Bangladesh is a tool to grab political power for personal benefits and agendas.  Once elected, they behave as if they own the country and do not give much thought to the fact that they may have to face elections again.
This practice has its roots in the military regimes of pre-Bangladesh days when the dictators arrogated all powers to themselves.  Keeping in line with that system, politicians have built an all powerful Prime Minister’s Office at the cost of all statutory and non-statutory institutions.  The bankruptcy of power and authority has come to such a pass that only last week the Home Minister while commenting on the lack of progress in a double murder case said that the Prime Minister was in charge of the investigation.  The irony here is that it appeared perfectly normal to the Home Minister and those around her.

An analysis of the last four general elections shows that the Awami League has been the leader (up to now) and BNP the follower.  Awami League boycotted the Parliament and BNP followed suit.  Awami League initiated the use of hartal as a weapon to harass the government, BNP while in the opposition used this weapon too.  It of course goes to the credit of BNP that while in power they did not promise that they would not call hartal ever again when they would be in the opposition.  Awami League on the other hand did make a public commitment while in power that if in future they are in the opposition, they would never call another hartal.  Unfortunately the Awami League could not keep its promise and opened the flood gates of hartals during the last BNP rule.

It now goes to the credit of the BNP that they have veered away from hartals and have taken up mass contact programmes to get their message across.  These tactics seems to be working well as almost all opinion surveys in the national media reflect a greater understanding of the BNP politics than that of the Awami League by their readership. The rejection of the Caretaker Government system by the Awami League appears to have been a big mistake as people are very suspicious of the true intentions of the ruling party.  This has been borne out by the immediate past election commissioners who have been loyal to the Awami League.  They said that credible elections are not possible under the Election Commission in its present form.  In fact, no free and fair elections are possible under any political government until all statutory institutions as provided in the Constitution are duly constituted and empowered in accordance with the law.  This will put in place the checks and balances that are necessary to reign in the Prime Minister’s Office and create the peoples’ confidence.   Selective interpretation of the Constitution that has so far resulted in the erosion of all powers and authorities of the Constitutional watch dog institutions is no longer acceptable by the people.  Thus, general elections under political governments are definitely possible and acceptable if all of the Constitutional provisions regarding the statutory institutions are put effectively in place.
Once again, credit must go to Begum Khaleda Zia for acknowledging the fact that politics in the country has become intellectually bankrupt.  She admitted that there have been mistakes in the past and invited bright intellectuals to join politics and carry it forward.  This is all very nice but would it be fair to expect such people to take up the offer?  Most probably not.  Not before the democratisation of the party constitution that now allows its chair person total dictatorial powers.
This is true of Awami League also.  Although both of these major political parties profess democracy, neither practices it within the party.  Both of these two parties are full to the brim with sycophants and self seekers who surround their leaders and keep them isolated from the realities obtaining in the country.  It is these sycophants who will again make sure that the intellectuals with new ideas find no way to use their talents in remoulding the party and then soon become frustrated and leave.
Finally, there is no proof that both the parties have taken any lessons from their victories or defeats and reintroduction of the Caretaker Government will only ensure that the incumbent dictator is replaced by the one waiting in wings.
For democracy to take root in this country, laws must be passed to establish all statutory constitutional bodies and to empower them to keep the government on the democratic track and ensure that the democratic and fundamental rights of all citizens are duly respected.

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HASINA FOR YUNUS’ TOP WORLD BANK JOB!

Decade’s biggest joke

Sheikh Hasina Dr. Yunus
Special Correspondent

 
It must be the biggest joke of the decade that Bangladesh Prime Minister, widely known for her role in removing Muhammad Yunus from Grameen Bank, is now proposing to the European Union for making him the head of the World Bank (WB). 
She made the proposal at a meeting with a visiting delegation of European MPs who had their earlier meeting with Dr Mohammad Yunus expressing high appreciation for his innovative micro-credit programme and social business theory. 
However, the people and probably her party men doubt whether it is at all an honest proposal on the part of Sheikh Hasina who had bitterly criticised Dr Yunus as “blood sucker” of the poor. 
Sheikh Hasina, possibly out of her disgust for and fear of Professor Yunus, recently accused the Nobel laureate of obstructing the Padma Bridge funding. On several occasions in recent years, she tried to project herself in close proximity with Indian Nobel laureate Amartya Sen by showing total disregard for the only Nobel winner in her own country.
Full Story

Sheikh Hasina Dr. Yunus
Special Correspondent

 
It must be the biggest joke of the decade that Bangladesh Prime Minister, widely known for her role in removing Muhammad Yunus from Grameen Bank, is now proposing to the European Union for making him the head of the World Bank (WB). 
She made the proposal at a meeting with a visiting delegation of European MPs who had their earlier meeting with Dr Mohammad Yunus expressing high appreciation for his innovative micro-credit programme and social business theory. 
However, the people and probably her party men doubt whether it is at all an honest proposal on the part of Sheikh Hasina who had bitterly criticised Dr Yunus as “blood sucker” of the poor. 
Sheikh Hasina, possibly out of her disgust for and fear of Professor Yunus, recently accused the Nobel laureate of obstructing the Padma Bridge funding. On several occasions in recent years, she tried to project herself in close proximity with Indian Nobel laureate Amartya Sen by showing total disregard for the only Nobel winner in her own country.

Widely criticised

However, Sheikh Hasina has been widely criticised in and outside the country for her handling of the Yunus affair. Many have even suggested that the World Bank’s refusal to go ahead with the Padma project had something to do with Dr Yunus, who has allegedly used his powerful friends in Washington to lobby against Bangladesh’s case. Professor Yunus has all along denied any such possibility.
Muhammad Yunus has said that he could not meet Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina even after trying to seek an appointment with her and that forcing him out from the Grameen Bank was totally unnecessary.
“We’ve never had a face-to-face meeting although I’ve tried to seek an appointment so that I could see her, but it never happened,” Yunus said in an interview published in the India Ink section of the New York Times web site on Wednesday.
Explaining his relationship with Sheikh Hasina, Dr Yunus said, “She never explained so I don’t understand what went on, just speculation of various types in the press. One is that she feels I’m a political threat, I don’t know why I’m a political threat. This is again speculation. She never said that I’m a political threat. Probably she would say, “Why should I think he’s a political threat, he’s not in politics. Who is he? He is nothing.”
 
Grameen Bank at risk
On his removal from Grameen Bank, he said “It was totally unnecessary. It makes no sense. There is no meaning to it. But it puts Grameen Bank at risk, and that’s what worries us”.
“They removed me and still they couldn’t find a replacement. We’re worried about the future of the bank. Because after all this, the bank is owned by poor people. The borrowers own 97 per cent of the shares of the bank and the government owns only 3 per cent,” Dr. Yunus added.
Since the Western world including the European Union and the US have been consistently expressing concern for Grameen Bank and speaking high about Professor Yunus, Sheikh Hasina perhaps tried to give an oblique reply by suggesting the top World Bank job for Yunus so that her future political threat is away from the country. 
If really some thing happens positively for Dr Yunus in the World Bank, Sheikh Hasina and her admirers would be happy to say that after all it was she who promoted the idea first. A clever move indeed.

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 Let’s learn English

Sancho Panza

 
My friend, an aspiring intellectual honing his skills in anticipation of a call from any TV talk show, was relaxing on a maachan in a shanty along the railway tracks in Kawran Bazaar downing fortified daab water.  
1952 was all about rashtobhasha and not matribhasha, he grumbled.
So what is the difference? I asked.
What do you mean by what’s the difference, he shot back at a lesser mortal, me.
Full Story

Sancho Panza

 
My friend, an aspiring intellectual honing his skills in anticipation of a call from any TV talk show, was relaxing on a maachan in a shanty along the railway tracks in Kawran Bazaar downing fortified daab water.  
1952 was all about rashtobhasha and not matribhasha, he grumbled.
So what is the difference? I asked.
What do you mean by what’s the difference, he shot back at a lesser mortal, me.
Don’t they mean the same thing, I mean, apart from the difference in spelling? I asked back.
Of course not.  For one thing, it is Ekushey February and not aat-e Falgun.
Not many people would know the day if we followed the Bangla calendar. I said.
And do you know that people were playing songs at full blast on loud speakers in gap between the BSMMU and BIRDEM hospitals?  Hospitals full chockablock with serious patients?
No body stopped them? I asked.
Who would dare? 
Good question. I said.
The sad part is that these people are political activists who are supposed to represent the people.  Worst part is that the Police Control Room is only a hundred meters away.  What were they doing?
Protocol duty? I ventured.  VIPs need protection during their visit to the Shaheed Minar and after all, the hospital patients are not VIPs, they can wait until the festivities are over.
Wait where?  In Heaven?, he asked.
Surely the VIPs are more important than the patients in these hospitals, you know, most of them are only ordinary people,  I said.
Yes, so ordinary that none of the print or electronic media found this important enough to report.  Mind you, most of them passed that way and none of them gave any thought to the plight of the patients in these hospitals.
Right. I said, they had more important things to do like reporting the visits of the VIPs.  VIPs are definitely more important than a few critically ill nondescript patients,  I said very forcefully.
He realised that he had lost the argument and skilfully changed the subject saying, the Rashtobhasha Andolon in 1952 was more economic than political.
How do you say that? I asked.
If Urdu became the national language then it would give the West Pakistanis an unfair advantage over the Bengalis in government jobs and put them at a disadvantage in all national activities.  Therefore Urdu was totally unacceptable to us.
How is this relevant to us today?  
Do you know how many Indians, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, Filipinos, etc., are working in Bangladesh today?  The are doing the jobs that could be filled in by our youths if they knew English language skills,  He asked.
This is confusing and so I asked, you mean we should learn English and not Bangla?
He was angry. Are you daft? Are you George Bush that you are either with us or against us?  We need skills in both languages.  Don’t you know our youth beat the best of India in cyber war?  With proper English language skills our youth can dominate the world IT industry.  We have to be bi-lingual, he asserted.
You have a point there, I conceded.
Think of the Khilafat Movement of undivided India.  Rejection of English education pushed back the Muslim community a hundred years behind the non-Muslims of India.  They have not been able to come out of it yet.  Let us not plunge ourselves into another Khilafat Movement, let us not ignore English, let our youth prosper in Bangladesh and all over the world.  Let’s be bi-lingual, he said.
There may be something to think about here, especially for those of us whose children do not study abroad.

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