New Age Islam Edit Bureau
07 April 2017
Friendship Is A Flowing River
By Sheikh Hasina
The Banality Of Evil
By C R Sasikumar
Is India A Racist Country?
By Anuradha Raman
Pakistan’s Lucrative Diplomacy
By F S Aijazuddin
Waiting for the Begum
By Salman Haidar
Getting Close, And Closer: Partners
By Vineeta Pandey
No Escape for War Crime Collaborators
By Hiranmay Karlekar
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
Friendship Is a Flowing River
By Sheikh Hasina
April 07, 2017
If our commitments are honest, India and
Bangladesh can achieve many things that are beneficial to our people
Maintenance of good relations with the
neighbours, friendship to all, malice to none — is the policy I pursue
throughout my life. My only desire in my political thought is to build a
society for common people where none will suffer from the curse of poverty
while their basic needs will be met. In other words, they will get the
opportunity to have the right to food, clothing, shelter, Medicare, education,
improved livelihood and a decent life.
I received the teaching of such sacrifice
from my father. My father, Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib ur
Rahman, did his politics with a motto to change the lot of the people. Wherever
there was an injustice, he would protest it. This was the policy of Bangabandhu
and he was always vocal for establishing the rights of the people. And, for
that reason, he had to embrace imprisonment time and again and endure
persecution. But he remained firm on the question of principle. Bangladesh
earned its independence under his leadership.
The support and cooperation of neighbouring
and friendly countries had accelerated our goal to earn the independence of
Bangladesh. Among those, India played the leading role.
India’s Helping Hand
The Pakistani military junta started a
genocide launching armed attacks on the innocent Bangalees on March 25, 1971.
In the 1970 general elections, people of
Bangladesh voted for Bangladesh Awami League and made it the majority party.
This is for the first time that Bangalees had got the mandate to rule Pakistan.
Although the population of East Bengal constituted the majority in Pakistan,
the Bangalee nation was subjected to oppression and subjugation all the time,
and deprived of its rights. The nation was about to lose its right to speak in
the mother tongue. It was unthinkable to the military rulers that the Bangalee
nation would ascend to state power and that were why they imposed the uneven
war on Bangalees.
With the people’s mandate, the Father of
the Nation declared the independence of Bangladesh and directed the people to
carry on the war of liberation. Responding to his call, the people of
Bangladesh took arms and the liberation war began. The Pakistani rulers and
their local collaborators engaged in committing genocide, rape, looting, arson
and attacked the innocent people of Bangladesh. The world woke up. People and
the Government of India stood beside the oppressed humanity. They gave food and
shelter to nearly 10 million refugees of Bangladesh. They extended all-out
cooperation in our great liberation war and played an important role in
creating global opinion in favour of Bangladesh. This helped us to earn victory
and the country was freed from enemy occupation.
We are grateful to the friendly people of
India. The Indian government had played an important role even in getting
Bangabandhu released from the Pakistani prison. Shrimati Indira Gandhi had
played the leading role in earning our independence, freedom of Bangabandhu and
bringing him back to his beloved people. We got her government, political
parties and above all the people of India beside us during our hard times.
Teesta Hangs Fire As Sheikh Hasina
The killers brutally assassinated the
Father of the Nation on August 15, 1975. I lost 18 of my family members,
including my mother, three brothers and sister-in-laws. I, along with my
younger sister Rehana, survived as we were abroad. In our bad days, India again
stood beside us. I could not come back home for six long years. The Bangladesh
Awami League elected me its president in my absence. I returned home with the
support of the people.
In Bangabandhu’s Footsteps
On my return, I started a movement for the
restoration of people’s basic rights and democracy. We formed the government in
1996 after 21 years. I got the opportunity to work for the people. I devoted
myself to the task of welfare of my countrymen not as a ruler but as a servant.
My father got the opportunity to build the war-ravaged country for only three
and a half years. And I got the chance to serve the people after 21 years.
During that time, the people of Bangladesh
realised that the objective of a government is to accomplish the task of
people’s welfare. We signed the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Treaty ending the
two-decade-long conflict. We brought back 62,000 refugees from India and
rehabilitated them in the country. We signed the Ganges Water Sharing Treaty
with India. The country’s image brightened in the outside world.
Two Steps Back
A five-year period is too short for the
development of any country. We couldn’t win the election of 2001. The
Bangladesh Nationalist Party-Jamaat-e-Islami assumed state power and destroyed
all our achievements. Again, the country’s progress suffered a setback.
Militancy, terrorism, corruption and misrule made people’s life miserable. The
country became champions in the corruption index five times. The minority
community became victims of torture. The country’s socio-economic development
had been stalled. The Awami League leaders and workers became targets of
persecution. Bangladesh once again fell under emergency rule. We demanded
restoration of democracy. We faced jail, torture and false cases. But finally,
The national election was held after seven
years in 2008. Winning the election, we formed the government. We started
implementation of a Five Year Plan and 10-year-long Poverty Reduction Strategy
Plan. We have been working to turn Bangladesh into a middle-income country by
2021 and a developed one by 2041. The people of Bangladesh started getting the
benefit of it.
Bangladesh is marching ahead. We earned
over 7.1% GDP growth. Inflation is contained within 5.28% and the poverty rate
has been reduced to 22%. At this moment, on many socio-economic indicators, Bangladesh’s
standing is better than many other South Asian nations whereas a few years ago
our position was at the bottom. But we still have a long way to go to ensure
prosperity of the people. And we are working towards that end.
My objective is to fulfil the dream of
Bangabandhu through building a hunger- and poverty-free Golden Bangladesh being
imbued with the spirit of the War of Liberation.
Regional Cooperation the Key
I always refer to poverty as the main enemy
of this region. A large number of people of Bangladesh and India suffer from
malnutrition. They are deprived of their basic needs. Lack of nutrition is
impeding the growth of a huge number of children. They don’t have proper
medicare and schooling. We have to change this scenario. We have the ability.
The only thing we need is to change our mentality. I think eradication of
poverty should be the first and foremost priority of our political leaders.
And, in today’s globalised world, it is difficult to do something in isolation.
Rather, collaboration and cooperation can make many things easier. That is why
I always put emphasis on regional cooperation and improved connectivity.
I believe in peace. Only peaceful
co-existence can ensure peace. There are some issues between us. But I believe
that any problem can be resolved in a peaceful manner. We have demonstrated our
willpower through the implementation of the Land Boundary Agreement. There are
some more issues like sharing of waters of the common rivers (the Teesta issue
is currently under discussion) that need to be resolved. I’m an optimistic
person. I would like to rest my trust on the goodwill of the great people and
the leaders of our neighbour. I know resources are scarce, but we can share
those for the benefit of the people of both countries. We share the same
culture and heritage. There are a lot of commonalities (at least with West
Bengal). We share our Lalon, Rabindranath, Kazi Nazrul, Jibanananda; there is
similarity in our language, we are nourished by the waters of the Padma,
Brahmaputra, Teesta; and so on. The Sundarbans is our common pride. We don’t
have any strife over it. Then, why should there be any contention over the
waters of common rivers?
Our foreign policy’s core dictum is:
‘Friendship to all, malice to none.’ The Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu
Sheikh Mujib ur Rahman, defined the policy. We are also inspired from his
words: “The very struggle of Bangladesh symbolised the universal struggle for
peace and justice. It was, therefore, only natural that Bangladesh, from its
very inception, should stand firmly by the side of the oppressed people of the
world.” At international forums, we support all international efforts towards
building a just and peaceful world.
In recent years, especially after 2009,
when my party assumed office, cooperation between Bangladesh and India has been
bolstered manifold. Rail, road, and waterway connectivity boosted. Trade,
commerce and investment maximised. People-to-people contact also got momentum.
Such mutual cooperation is definitely benefitting our people. Relations, at a
personal or national level, largely depend on give-and-take measures. Mexican
Nobel Laureate Octavio said ‘Friendship is a river’. I think that the
friendship between Bangladesh and India is like a flowing river and full with
generosity. This is the spirit of the people of the two neighbours. I think if
our commitments are honest, we would be able to achieve many things that are
beneficial to our people. On the eve of my four-day visit to India, I myself,
and on behalf of my countrymen, would like to convey the heartiest greetings to
the people of India. I hope that the cooperative relations between Bangladesh
and India would reach a new height through my visit.
Sheikh Hasina is the Prime Minister of Bangladesh
The Banality of Evil
April 7, 2017
The killing of another innocent man by a
vigilante group of gau rakshaks leaves “ordinary India” a bit confused and
perhaps a little troubled. Is this the new normal, we ask, where vigilante
democracy will increasingly decide, outside the courts and outside the
Constitution, on what is crime and what should be punishment? Or should this
episode be regarded as an isolated deviation, an unfortunate pathology that
will soon be set right by the majestic institutions of law? I have consciously
used the term “ordinary India” in the opening statement because I sincerely
believe that in “ordinary India” resides decency and a deeply-held commitment
to karuna and ahimsa.
So if an attitude of active mercy and
compassion and a belief in non-violence have been the gifts of this great Indic
culture to the world, where does the act of severely beating up a 55-year old
who was transporting legally-purchased cows for milk come from? Is it just
thuggery come alive from another age? Is it poor policing? Is it economic
collusion between the sellers of the cows and the vigilantes so that the goods
can be sold several times at super profits, knowing full-well that the
purchasers would be from certain demonised communities and, therefore, at a
political disadvantage in getting the protection of the state? Or is it an
early sign that the moment of truth for the India of decency — the “ordinary
India” — has arrived? How will “ordinary India” respond?
Two details from the episode, as reported
in the papers, make disturbing reading. The first is the report that the
vigilantes asked people driving the vehicles for their name and then allowed
those with non-Muslim names to leave the scene. There is something very eerie
about dividing Indian citizens on the basis of community, about holding a
community ab initio guilty. There is something frightening about the
construction of a “we” and a “them” — cultural persona in hostile opposition —
and then ascribing to the “we”, innocence, and to “them”, criminality.
The new form that this politics of othering
is taking brings a deep disquiet because it is reminiscent of all the horrors
of history from Rwanda to Srebrenica and from Iraq to Sri Lanka. In Julius
Caesar Act 3, Scene 3, Shakespeare notes the following exchange between Cinna
the poet and the mob out on a rampage to find the conspirators who have killed
Julius Caesar. “Your name, Sir, truly”.. “Truly my name is Cinna”.. “Tear him
to pieces; he’s a conspirator”… “I am Cinna the poet, I am not Cinna the
conspirator” .. “It is no matter, his name’s Cinna; pluck but his name out of
his heart and turn him going”.
The second detail is even more unnerving.
The vigilante group asked one of those transporting the cows to run away
because he was elderly saying “tu buddha aadmi hai, bhaag”. He ran. Then they
chased him and beat him up again. He died from the beating. Vigilante action,
it now seems, has gone beyond vandalism. It has become a sport. Slaves in
America were subject to such sport — “run you have your freedom” and as they
were running, they were shot from behind; to the sound of callous laughter. The
pravasis of India, who were taken to work in the plantations of Fiji,
Mauritius, Guyana, and the West Indies, have similar memories of such
harassment. And today, we in Independent India, have added to that bestiality.
This is more than a moral slippery slope. It leads to Jallianwalla Bagh.
It is not that suddenly decent India became
dormant and allowed indecent India to surface. It is politics which is
producing this perversity, a politics that has begun to transform the social
fabric of our country such that the “soft othering” that had hitherto defined
relations between religious communities — “they are like that and we are like
this” — has now become a “hard othering”. Competitive politics requires the
creation of an enduring vote constituency. The Congress strategy was one of
accommodation, if not appeasement, of differences while trying to create a
national political community. Secularism was its ideological plank, scientific
temper its policy instrument. There were other elements to its policy portfolio
but let me here limit myself to the cultural dimension of pursuing a politics
of unity in diversity. So while the Congress may have, at the local
constituency and even regional level, pursued a cynical politics of communal
othering, at the national level it was committed to the Nehruvian secularism
which gave to every religious community a sense of equal citizenship.
In spite of the demands of a pragmatic
politics, the Congress normal could have a Muslim president, a Sikh chief of
army staff, a Hindu prime minister, and a Christian principal secretary to the
prime minister. The optics were right even though the politics may have been
more cynical. All communities had a feeling of belonging to Mera Bharat. And,
this feeling made Bharat Mahan.
This strategy has today been abandoned. The
feeling of belonging is under threat. Citizens are being divided by name and
being ascribed de facto (not de jure) lesser rights protections by the state.
(This Latin distinction must be made just to please their lordships who may
protest.) We have now moved into a phase of competitive politics where the
othering has changed from being a “soft othering” to become a “hard othering”,
where a cultural adversary has to be created to consolidate the self. That the
cultural adversary is another Indian, a brother from another mother, is of no
consequence as long as he serves the purpose of consolidating the constituency.
It has emerged. An antagonist to Indic culture, who is responsible for the
historical hurt of destruction of temples and holy places, is constructed and
introduced into the public discourse. Politics asks for historical wrong to be
redressed. The politics of accommodation must be abandoned and replaced by a
politics of assertive, unapologetic majoritarianism.
The historical hurt, one can understand.
The demand for a salve one can understand because the wound festers. But one
cannot understand its conversion into a politics of hostility. Who is
responsible for the hurt? Not the “them” that is being blamed but the vagaries
of a collective history for which we must all accept responsibility. Nehru gave
us a conceptual frame to understand this history. He described India as a
palimpsest where inscriptions of earlier histories are never fully erased and
later histories, even when they write over them, show traces of the earlier
period. That is how a rare Kashmiri Shaivite Sanskrit document can be
discovered in the Malayalam script in Kerala. The politics of hard othering seems
to have learnt its craft of divide and rule from the British colonial state.
Internal colonialism in the name of nationalism.
This division into communities, into a “we”
and a “them” by religion, into a nationalist “we” and an anti-nationalist
“other”, jeopardises that great historical experiment of building a national
community of equal citizens. By itself what is happening is deeply troubling.
But what is even more worrying is the endorsement of this politics of othering
by “ordinary Indians”. Friends support it. Neighbours support it. Family
members support it. Cutting across gender and class. An esteemed colleague
lamented, this politics has divided my home. The hostility has entered our
soul. Karuna and ahimsa have no sanctuary. Reminds me of an argument made by
Hannah Arendt, that when evil becomes banal, ordinary people will participate
in it. The banality of evil makes young men chase an elderly man and beat him
to death. For sport. Is this the new normal?
As told to Anuradha Raman
APRIL 07, 2017
Samuel Jack is president of the
Association of African Students in India
In India, racism is practised in some
quarters and by some Indians. This is evident in the manner in which we are
treated when we seek extension for our visas, in the problems we face in
getting accommodation in the country, and in the general treatment of viewing
us with suspicion. The prejudice and stereotypes are all too apparent. When we
seek accommodation, most landlords come out with an emphatic ‘no’ without
offering any explanation. We are left with little choice and make do with what
we get. We are faced with a situation where we cannot even communicate with our
neighbours in case of an emergency. How do we talk with each other with so many
stigmas attached to us? How do we even begin to counter the prejudices?
Bias Linked To Caste System
To an outsider like myself, when I begin to
process this blatantly discriminatory attitude, I find that this racism is
linked to the prevalent caste system which is very hierarchical. Black people,
Dalits and untouchables somehow seem to be linked to this caste system which is
discriminatory and excludes people. Indian kids smoke in public places. Yet
when we smoke, we are always supposedly smoking marijuana or weed, when there
are many Indians who smoke the same. How can Africans playing loud music be an
excuse to beat them up and complain to the police when Indians do the same? I
am not saying black people don’t smoke weed or don’t do drugs but isn’t that
true of others too? So, why single us out? Why do people here become aggressive
when they see us on the streets? Students from the Northeast face the same
problems like us.
Is Punjab’s drug problem because of us? The
State is reeling under a drug crisis affecting many young men. In Goa, the drug
problem is largely due to Europeans and Russians who, along with local leaders,
peddle drugs, but will India discriminate against them? They give some
donations to NGOs and nobody dares speak against them.
The Class XII student who passed away in
Greater Noida recently unfortunately died of a drug overdose. He was an addict.
You will be amazed to see what Indian school children are smoking.
Unfortunately, Africa becomes a binary for most Indians. The impression is that
we hail from a backward continent, which is simply not true. Some African
countries have better human development indicators than India and have a robust
democracy. Indians went as indentured labour to the African continent and
elsewhere. If that is an acknowledged fact, how do Indians reconcile with their
racist attitude towards us? If Indians went as indentured labour and Africans
were treated like slaves, isn’t there a common history of discrimination that
binds the two?
The Wrong Colour?
Right from when we land here, our colour
becomes an excuse for Indians to display all their prejudices. An extension of
our visas which should not take more than seven days takes at least three
months for us. Police verification becomes an excuse for extortion. Policemen
keep calling at odd hours.
We are deeply disappointed and hurt that
the Government of India has not condemned the attacks against us. The
government must say this is wrong and that it will deal with it in an
appropriate manner. The government has to acknowledge there is a deep-rooted
prejudice first. It is only after you acknowledge the problem that you can
But the Government of India appears to be
in denial. Due to the hostility of some Indians, the number of African students
coming to study in India may come down.
What we are witnessing is the conflict of
cultures which is a law and order problem, not racism
Rakesh Sinha teaches political science
at Delhi University and is president of the RSS-affiliated India Policy
Some sporadic incidents cannot, and should
not, lead one to brand any society as racist. Of course, one cannot deny that
there has been some violence against people of African origin in some parts of
the country. But a majority of these incidents have not been motivated by the
colour of the nationalities involved. The reasons are sex, drug trafficking and
behavioural patterns which unsettle the structured values cherished by locals.
A society’s multi-culturalism depends on the blending of empathy and reason.
Chances of conflicts are higher when empathy and reason diminish. What we are
witnessing is the conflict of cultures which is a law and order problem, not
The Case Of Western Societies
Racism is a negative value of life which is
not a part of the Indian psyche. That said, no society or nation can claim to
have achieved a completely ideal stage where its citizens are on their best
behaviour. Whether a society is racist or becoming racist can be judged only by
the collective consciousness of larger masses. Unprovoked incidents against
Indians or Asian nationals in the form of violent attacks in Canada, the U.S.,
Australia, New Zealand tell us that all is not well with the melting pot of
Western societies either.
The notion of the Other is historically
rooted in the Western civilisation trajectory which erupts whenever societies
face an economic or political crisis. While the notion of egalitarianism rests
easily with elites there, this feeling does not find resonance with the masses.
There is a huge disconnect between academic discourse on egalitarianism and
India’s history and the psychology of its
masses have remained unchanged for as long as one can remember. During the
anti-colonial movement, leaders of the freedom movement wisely secularised the
struggle against colonial forces. Indians had no problem when two westerners,
George Yule (1888) and William Wedderburn (1889) became presidents of the
Indian National Congress (INC). Acceptance is the norm in Indian society.
There is an interesting observation in the
1911 Census report that Indians had no problems stating their religion.
However, what mattered to most surveyed was social status. Historically, India
has welcomed people of different races and creeds. The INC participated in the
anti-apartheid conference in 1927 in Brussels.
We Are One Family
It is this credo of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam
(the whole universe is one family) which led Indians to embrace victims of
religious or racist persecutions. In 1931, as the Census data revealed, there
were 24,000 Jews and 109,754 Parsis in India. They played a significant role in
our freedom movement and in economic activities that shaped India. In the first
session of the INC, there were nine Parsi delegates, and two each from the
Muslim and Christian communities, of a total of 72. Their representation kept
swelling in successive Congress sessions. Moreover, there has been consensus
for Anglo-Indian representation in Parliament. The fundamental rationale
underpinning this has been one of cherishing diversities.
However, in India there have been clashes
between Dalits and upper castes and some violent incidents against students
from the Northeast. But drawing a parallel with racism would not be correct.
Racism is based on hatred which makes conciliation between people of different
groups virtually impossible. Spiritual democracy is the basis of our secularism
and our multi-culturalism negates perpetuation of conflicts. These have little
to do with race.
Early education is an important field for
providing the basis for independent and critical thought
Sanjay Srivastava is professor of
sociology at the Institute of Economic Growth
The remarkable 1952 novel Invisible Man by
Ralph Ellison is about the experience of being black in the U.S. Its opening
paragraph has the following lines: “I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone,
fibre and liquids — and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible,
understand, simply because people refuse to see me”.
The novel’s protagonist goes on to say that
“the invisibility to which I refer occurs because of a peculiar disposition of
the eyes of those with who I come in contact”.
What is the peculiarity of the Indian eye
that makes blackness such an invisible – that is, insignificant – thing as to
take an axe to it when it seeks normal, human visibility, expressing the same
desires and anxieties as those who think of themselves if not as completely
white then at least something like possessing whiteness?
Confront The ‘Messy’ Present
We could, for a start, begin with history.
There are, by now, a number of books and exhibitions about an Indian past that
was apparently far more tolerant of blackness. Historians speak of an easy
intermingling between Indians and people of African origin, with Indian
noblewomen taking African men as lovers, and slaves being raised to the status
But to invoke history is to only add to the
problem of Ellison’s protagonist’s invisibility in the Indian present. History
is easy. It is the present that is messy. A certain kind of, albeit
well-meaning, history has convinced us that we were, in fact, good and tolerant
in the past and hence that goodness must lie somewhere submerged among us, only
needing minor prodding to emerge as joyful guiding light of the present.
Indians love history because it allows an exit route to not having to deal with
To the extent that 20th century racism has
been addressed in the West, it is not through constant references to the Black
Madonna in Christian iconography and Shakespeare’s Othello in literature. No.
It has been done through addressing the root causes and reasons for intolerance
in the present.
We in India refuse to deal with our present
because history is such everlasting comfort.
Strategies For The Present
What of the present, then? We could begin
with school education. This crucial realm is one where ideas of the false basis
of race and racism are almost never touched upon. While it is more difficult to
influence attitudes in the domestic sphere, early education is an important
field for providing the basis for independent and critical thought. But our
social science school books continue to deal with ‘tribes’ – a category that
flows on to blackness in general – in terms of their proximity to
‘civilisation’. The term itself – its bloody history, for example – is hardly
ever examined. We are willing to put up with the ‘uncivilised’ as long as they
know their place. We might also consider another strategy for the present. Our
cities are now places where we increasingly have declining tolerance for
strangers. We primarily extend courtesies to those we know, and exhibit
hostility to those outside our circles of familiarity. Do we not need an
education on how to live with strangers? Accounts of the past – fascinating and
important in themselves – are about the past. The past is, actually, another
planet and cannot be a guide to what is to be done now.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has a kidney
stone. It is his second. The first is an equally painful obstruction called
This latest disclosure of the prime
minister’s medical problems has released yet another flurry of snowflake
speculation. These will soon melt, as have all previous prognoses about his
imminent departure on health grounds. Nawaz Sharif has no intention of quitting
his post. As long as there is a country to be visited (even if it is
Ruritania), a guard of honour to be inspected, a photo-op with a head of state
to be had, another framed trophy to be added to the galaxy of dignitaries grinning
from the walls of his Raiwind estate, he will preserve his fitness — in the
supreme national interest.
His peripatetic travels have shown that
nothing is as dear to him as the cause of international diplomacy. One suspects
he has made more visits abroad than appearances on the floor of the National
Assembly. MNAs are less familiar with his features than foreign hosts are.
One should not cavil about his obsessive
interest in foreign policy. He is no different to any other leader of our
hapless country. To them, foreign policy is a synonym for a personal insurance
For example, haven’t the Sharif brothers
been rescued repeatedly by Saudi largesse and Qatari amnesia? Doesn’t Altaf Hussain continue to enjoy the
hospitality of the United Kingdom? Doesn’t former president Asif Zardari feel
more at home in Dubai than in Karachi? Even their nemesis, retired Gen
Musharraf, feels no embarrassment admitting that the plush property in London
was a personal gift from a Saudi monarch. Nor does he blush when he discloses
that organisers of lecture tours in the United States are eager to pay him
$150,000 a pop for the sort of vacuous speeches he gave for free as president.
Musharraf has followed the example of
illustrious names like Tony Blair, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan who
charged enviably high fees after they left office. One recent Pakistani
ambassador to the US took pains to hair-split his windfall income as a speaker.
He drew a distinction between the fees he received when speaking as an
ambassador from those he pocketed when speaking his mind. Needless to say, such
talent did not go unnoticed in a country that appreciates innovation and
The most recent example of such lucrative
diplomacy is the sinecure the Saudis have offered former Chief of Army Staff
Gen Raheel Sharif. After plucking petals for days — ‘Should I? Shoudn’t I?’ —
he reached the final one. He decided to head the Saudi-led 39-nation coalition.
The impression is that it is not against Yemen but against terror/the militant Islamic
State group/Iran. Never has the ummah stood so united against an enemy of
Last week, it was reported that a spokesman
for the coalition, the Saudi general Ahmed Asiri, while visiting the UK had an
egg thrown at him. Many Pakistanis might
feel that the former COAS in accepting this appointment in Saudi Arabia, has
smeared egg on the face of the nation.
It was not all that long ago that the
Pakistani people through their representatives in parliament voted against
joining this coalition. Of course, it will be argued that permission to Gen
Raheel Sharif has been granted by the competent authority. Authority does not
presume competence, nor propriety. What will never be assuaged are the feelings
of Pakistanis at this inexplicable volte face, this self-serving acceptance of
a gilded sinecure.
One is reminded of the anguished words of
remonstrance written by Queen Mary to her son King Edward VIII, after he
announced his abdication in 1936. Even
though they were written 80 years ago and in a different context, they are
still poignantly applicable: “You did not seem to be able to take any point of
view but your own”, she told her love-smitten son. “It seemed inconceivable to
those who had made such sacrifices during the war that you, as their King,
refused a lesser sacrifice.” Countless
Pakistani martyrs have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. It is sad
that our leaders find it impossible to make lesser sacrifices.
There may come a time when foreign policy
will be transacted in the interest of the nation, not in the personal interest
of rulers. There may come a time when
the National Assembly and the provincial assemblies shall be treated by elected
representatives as the dock of accountability, not as a springboard of
unbridled opportunity, nor as pulpits of feigned piety. There may come a time
when the dignity of service is regarded as its own reward. Until then, Pakistan
is being treated like some Masai cow: milked daily and bled to sustain its
The long anticipated visit by Sheikh Hasina
is an opportunity to freshen and re-animate ties between India and its
important neighbour to the east. Not that there is any pressing need for new
initiatives: relations are good, there is plenty of cooperation between India
and Bangladesh, and few outstanding issues that demand attention. The closest
there is to a dispute is the division of the waters of the Teesta, and that too
need not be an insuperable problem, for the basic groundwork has been done,
with extensive negotiations yielding an agreement in principle that former
Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, was all set to sign in Dhaka but was forced
to delay owing to unexpected backing off by the West Bengal Chief Minister,
whose support was ~ and is ~ crucial. Thus the technical basis of a balanced
agreement has been established but the uncertainties of Centre-State relations
in India have stood in the way of a final settlement.
Since the earlier near-miss on Teesta, much
has changed, in that India is under a different leadership which is widely
perceived as being more decisive, and certainly is much stronger in Parliament,
hence expectations about river-sharing have revived, for New Delhi could well
be in a better position today to come to terms on the water-sharing agreement
that Bangladesh has been seeking. Another factor to be noted is that while
India has undergone sweeping political change Bangladesh has remained under the
same leadership ~ that of Sheikh Hasina ~ and this continuity could be helpful
when it comes to reviving the earlier effort on the Teesta.
Sheikh Hasina’s exceptional record as a
discerning leader who has transcended differences and established meaningful
cooperation with India should also be acknowledged. It was under her leadership
that the landmark agreement on sharing of the Ganga waters at Farakka was
concluded; indeed, it can be argued that without her the Ganga would have
remained the biggest obstacle to good relations, as it was for the previous
half-century. At that time, too, there were strong differences on water-sharing
between Kolkata and New Delhi, which were ruled by parties that had strong
political differences, but yet they were able to come together in the shared
cause of peace and development. If Sheikh Hasina gave the lead from Dhaka, she
was able to count on the participation and support of the State Government in
Kolkata under Chief Minister Jyoti Basu, and of PM I.K.Gujral’s government in
New Delhi. The agreement on the Ganga waters, as it turned out, was a prelude
to other water-related issues, of which the Teesta is currently the most
prominent, though there are others that may well move up when Teesta is sorted
out. As past experience indicates, sharing the river waters is always
politically fraught and needs consistent high-level consideration, for problems
can keep arising in dealing with the numerous trans-border rivers between India
As the lower riparian, Bangladesh may feel
that its concerns tend to be overlooked: this was the case when the Ganga
agreement was being negotiated, and echoes of the same sentiment are to be
heard today when another water agreement is being put together. As a means of
giving itself some leverage in dealing with its larger and geographically
better placed neighbour Bangladesh has spoken of the possibility of a broader
regional water-sharing agreement that would include China among the negotiating
parties. The upper waters of the Teesta rise in Tibet so there is some apparent
logic in the suggestion, even though India has never favoured third party
association with bilateral issues of this nature and there can be little
realistic expectation of bringing third parties into the Teesta discussion.
Apart from the rivers issue, there are
several other matters that can be advanced during Sheikh Hasina’s visit, some
being projects to be financed out of a substantial loan that India is to
provide. Infrastructure development and better connectivity have long been on
the list of joint activities to which both countries are committed though the
follow-up has remained insufficient. For India, revival of the route across
Bangladesh is the most efficient way of getting across to the North-East, and
it would make a big difference to the development of that region. Conceivably,
should trans-border communications improve, Chittagong could resume its role as
the port for the eastern part of the sub-continent and Bangladesh become a
central element in the evolution of India’s ‘Make East’ policy. The
possibilities are unending. Some of these themes figure in the large number of
bilateral agreements that are to be signed during Sheikh Hasina’s visit and
they could give real substance to the relationship.
An MOU on cooperation in defence
manufactures is also part of the expected outcome from the visit, and this has
drawn some criticism in Bangladesh from elements that do not welcome closer
ties with India.That the Prime Minister of Bangladesh has not permitted such
groups to call the tune indicates the firmness of her conviction in the matter.
She has been a consistent advocate of better India-Bangladesh ties and has
helped steer the relationship in a positive direction.
After long initial travail, Bangladesh has
succeeded in overcoming many of its early problems and is today rightly to be
regarded as a significant partner in India’s growth and development plans. In
some respects Bangladesh has moved ahead of India, as for instance in its
progress in programmes for poverty reduction, health, and education: India may
have something to gain from closer interaction in these sectors. India’s
constant effort to combat terrorism and to lead the international community in
that direction is an important area of mutual interest. At one stage the
authorities in Dhaka were reluctant to press too hard against religious
extremists who often targeted India but ever since Sheikh Hasina came to power
there has been none of the former ambiguity in this matter. Bangladesh itself
has been targeted and is a resolute opponent of terrorism in all its
One must also recall that Bangladesh has a
fine record as a creative source of many significant regional initiatives. The
most important of these is the setting up of SAARC, which is now an established
part of the regional architecture but could scarcely have come into existence
without Dhaka’s persistence and its creative diplomacy. Bangladesh has promoted
projects of long distance connectivity and has drummed up multilateral support
for development projects like new bridges and roads to bind the region closer.
India’s recent initiative to establish a
rail link between Dhaka and Istanbul is in some respects an updating of an
earlier Bangladeshi concept. Maybe this imaginative idea will receive a
decisive boost from the meeting of the two Prime Ministers.
Getting Close, And Closer: Partners in
Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina
is on a state visit from April 7-10 to India after a gap of seven years, though
in between she has been touch been constantly in touch with Prime Minister
Narendra Modi at different forums and through high-level visits. The two had
first met on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York
in September 2014, and then during the Saarc summit in Nepal. Later in 2015,
Prime Minister Modi went to Dhaka where 22 pacts were signed, including those
to curb human trafficking and terrorism.
Modi’s visit in 2015 had taken place
against the backdrop of the settlement of the 41-year old land boundary and
maritime boundary disputes with Bangladesh, thus making it the first country
with which India now has no border issues.
Though it is her first ‘state’ visit in
seven years, this will be actually Hasina’s second visit to India in the last
six months. She had attended the Brics-Bimstec outreach meeting held in Goa
last October, during which she also held a one-on-one meeting with the Indian
Prime Minister. Though it was a rushed meeting, yet the two leaders managed to touch
upon important issues. In between, Hasina also came to New Delhi to attend the
funeral of President Pranab Mukherjee’s wife, Suvarna Mukherjee.
The ongoing trip is possibly her last visit
to India during her current tenure as Prime Minister, as Bangladesh goes to
poll in 2018. It is obvious that she is under tremendous pressure to extract
the maximum out of this visit. While Modi and Hasina will have a comprehensive
review of the bilateral relations and discuss new avenues of collaboration,
Teesta river water and defence pacts will be two major focus areas. The former
is crucial for Bangladesh, the latter for India. There will also possibly be an
agreement on civil nuclear cooperation, as India has been for the last two
years training Bangladeshi scientists in the nuclear sector.
Teesta has been the most emotive and
political issue both in India and Bangladesh. In 2011, then Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh was all set to sign the deal but things got stalled after West
Bengal Chief Minister Banerjee demurred at the last minute, saying her
Government hadn’t been consulted. Later, under the NDA dispensation in 2015,
Modi took Banerjee along with him to Dhaka and both sides assured that
something would be worked out. But from 2011 till today, six years have passed
and not much movement has happened on Teesta water sharing. Meanwhile, pressure
is mounting on Hasina to get water for Bangladesh, where irrigation channels
dry up during the lean season. Rallies, protests, marches and dharnas have
intensified in Bangladesh over the last few months demanding the country gets a
larger share of the river water. The country’s main Opposition, Bangladesh
Nationalist Party (BNP), has even warned that bilateral ties with India would
deteriorate if the latter failed to release “due share of water of all common
rivers”. To pacify the protestors, Bangladesh Water Resources Minister Anisul
Islam Mahmud, made statements to the extent that if negotiations fail on
Teesta, then Dhaka could raise the issue at an international tribunal.
Given the West Bengal Chief Minister’s
mood, it is clear that the much-awaited Teesta treaty may not happen soon.
However, even though Banerjee will get to interact with ‘didi’ Hasina during
the lunch hosted by Modi, it is clear that the Bangladeshi Prime Minister’s
visit this time will be without an agreement on water; the other comprehensive
package on river water and delta management on 54 rivers too has not been
finalised. Besides, Bangladesh’s request for support on the Ganga-Barrage
project, is under Indian side’s consideration.
On the other hand, the Comprehensive
Defence Framework Agreement is expected to be signed. This too has been
creating ripples in Bangladesh. Opposition parties and several groups in
Bangladesh have claimed that the deal, if inked, would give India an upper hand
compromise Bangladesh’s interest. However, for India, it is of high importance
as New Delhi wants a long-term arrangement to remove any possibility of
fluctuation in Dhaka’s policy towards India in case of change in regime there.
The other reason could be possibly to
balance out Dhaka’s growing warmth towards China. Bangladesh had recently
bought two submarines from China and Beijing remains its biggest military
hardware supplier. In any case, India would like to strengthen its own defence
relations with Bangladesh through joint production, military hardware
purchases, and coordinated operations against mutually perceived threats.
Besides, India will provide $500 million as soft loan for military purchases
The other area of discussion would be the
attacks on Hindus in Bangladesh. Even though the Hasina Government has taken
proactive and reassuring steps, India would want more firm action.
Nearly 25 agreements are lined up to be
signed, apart from the Memorandum of Understanding on defence. Besides, the new
bus services between Dhaka and Kolkata via Khulna is likely to be inaugurated
by the two leaders through video-conferencing. And even as she tries to correct
the trade imbalance which is highly titled towards India, there is the
additional Line of Credit of five billion dollars that will help fund several
projects in Bangladesh, in the infrastructure sector. This is in addition to
the one billion dollars that the Manmohan Singh regime gave her and the two
billion dollars the Modi Government had committed in 2015. So, in a both
literal and a metaphorical sense, Sheikh Hasina will have her hands full as she
The Sheikh Hasina Government must be
applauded for doggedly pursuing justice in the 1971 war crimes cases
The long struggle to punish Pakistan Army’s
Bangladeshi collaborators during the Liberation War of 1971, marks the triumph
of resolve and courage over daunting odds. The collaborators, leaders and
supporters of Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh, its students’ wing, the Islami
Chhatra Sangha (now Islami Chhatra Shibir), and their spawns like the al-Badr,
al-Shams, Razakara, Shanti Committee and Mujaheed Bahini, acted as spies and
guides of the Pakistan Army, besides murdering, raping and torturing their own
and destroying entire villages.
The struggle began as early as February 27,
1972, when family members of artists, professionals and intellectuals murdered
by the collaborators in the couple of days preceding Liberation on December 16,
1972, staged a procession in the streets of Dhaka demanding the trial of those
who, besides the killings, had perpetrated genocide and war crimes.
Unfortunately, adequate action did not
follow. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the father of Bangladesh as a nation, was
compelled to go slow in the teeth of Islamabad’s threat of retaliatory violence
against thousands of Bangladeshis trapped in what remained of Pakistan. Under
the Bangladesh Collaborators (Special Tribunals) Order, promulgated on January
24, 1972, only 752 of the 37, 471 collaborators, who had been charged with
specific offences, had been convicted by October 31, 1972. A major setback came
when Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared, on November 30, 1973, a general amnesty to
all under trial and/or convicted, under the 1972 Order. More, he ordered all of
them released within a week to be able to participate in the Victory Day
celebrations on December 16, and called upon them to participate in rebuilding
After Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s assassination
on August 15, 1975, the military oligarchs ruling Bangladesh under
Major-General Zia-ur Rahman, with President Abu Sadat Mohammad Sayem as the
front, repealed the Bangladesh (Special Tribunals) Order. Another order on May
4, 1976, revoked Article 38 of the country’s Constitution prohibiting the
formation of communal parties or associations, thus preparing the way for the
re-emergence of the Jamaat and its auxiliaries in Bangladesh’s politics.
The severe repression unleashed by the
dictators as well as the hobbling of the Awami League, whose entire top
leadership had been murdered inside Dhaka jail on the night of November 3,
1975, prevented an explosion of public protest. Discontent, however, simmered
underground and emerged on the surface when Major-General Zia-ur Rahman, who
had made himself President on April 21, 1977, allowed, in July 1978, Golam
Azam, perhaps the most notorious collaborator, to return from Pakistan, where
he had been based since Liberation, and stayed on. A citizens’ committee was
formed in 1979 to protest against the development. The Muktijoddha Sangsad
(Freedom Fighters’ Council) announced in January that protests would be staged
wherever Jamaat-e-Islami, a party of war criminals, held meetings and
gatherings. Jahanara Imam, mother of martyr Rumi, and a widely-respected public
figure, and other relatives of martyrs, supported the stand along with a number
Golam Azam, however, was allowed to remain
in Bangladesh where military dictatorships under General-turned-President
Zia-ur Rahman and HM Ershad seemed to pursue three objectives — protect and
rehabilitate war criminals, destroy the secular-democratic culture of the
country’s liberation struggle, and Islamise the country and take it closer to
Pakistan. Protests continued to grow. A number of publications carried
pro-liberation articles. Shahriar Kabir’s landmark work, Ekatturer Ghatak o
Dalal-ra: Ke Kothaye (The Killers and Agents of Seventy-one: Who and Where They
Are), giving details about the whereabouts and activities of war criminals,
created a stir when it was first published in 1987. A citizens’ committee was
formed in 1988 against the Ershad Government’s designation in that year of
Islam as the country’s state religion. Protests began.
The Bangladesh Nationalist Party’s
Government, which came to power in 1991, following elections after Ershad’s
ejection through a massive popular upsurge, pursued the same policies.
Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh, with whom it had a secret electoral understanding,
and whose support it needed in Parliament in the initial stages, grew
increasingly bolder. On December 28, 1991, it officially elected Azam, still a
Pakistani citizen, its Amir. The reaction was sharp. On January 19, 1992, a group of 101 widely-respected citizens of
Bangladesh set up the Ekatturer Ghatak-Dalal Nirmul Committee (Committee to
Uproot the Killer-Agents of ‘71). It said in its first declaration that it
would institute a people’s court and try Azam as a war criminal, and for
violating Bangladesh’s Constitution, if the Government did not.
Though the movement for his trial drew
enthusiastic response, Nirmul Committee — as the organisation has come to be popularly
called — leaders sought the cooperation of political parties that had supported
the liberation war, to ensure a massive popular presence at the People’s Court.
Thirteen political parties, including the Awami League, agreed. On February 11,
1992, was set up the Muktijuddher Chetana Bastabayan O Ekatturer Ghatak-Dalal
Nirmul Jatiya Samanyay Committee (National Coordination Committee to Realise
the Consciousness of the Liberation War and uproot the Killers-Collaborators of
‘Seventy-One). Jahanara Imam was made its convener.
Despite large-scale repression by the
Khaleda Zia Government, and measures like the closure of road and rail traffic
to Dhaka and public transportation within it, the trial by People’s Court, held
on March 26, 1992, at Dhaka’s Suhrawardy Udyan, was a massive success. In the
presence of 500,000 people, it declared Golam Azam a war criminal who deserved
the death penalty. The event was the turning point. The movement grew with the
severance of its links with political parties and Jahanara Imam’s passing on
June 26, 1994.
There were reverses, but the Nirmul
Committee’s leaders — Shahriar Kabir, Muntassir Mamun, Qazi Mukul and others —
came back fighting. Along with the Sector Commander’s Forum, the organisation
held a series of meetings and rallies throughout Bangladesh in 2006 to press
their demand. Victory was finally achieved when trials were instituted and the
leading war criminals punished during Sheikh Hasina’s second innings as prime
minister. The rest is history.