January 2008


Interesting but not so surprising conversation at the end of this post by Shafiur.

In Business Jan 20th, 2008 at 4:55 am

I’m a foreign investor who started an IT business here last year. The business opportunities are substantial — excellent skilled employees, good spoken English, decent internet connection (when the fiber cable isn’t cut!). But the government bureaucracy is horrible. We expend a huge amount of effort trying to do business here. If the opportunities wouldn’t be so good, I’d be ready to start looking for a government that wants to work with investors.

sr Jan 20th, 2008 at 8:20 am

Tell us more about the difficulties you face.

In Business Jan 20th, 2008 at 11:28 am

Here’s just one example…

I’ve recently re-applied for a new work permit. First the office complained that my requested income as managing director/technical lead was too high (similar to an senior software developer salary in America).

Then they said that they need a new security clearance. The agency responsible to give security clearances refuses to re-issue one or send a copy of one from last year, because they said it’s not necessary — they just did one a year ago. We asked whether we can hand-carry the clearance ourselves. They refused.

My family lives with me here in Dhaka. They are needing new visas again Right now, we are needing to get visas for them every three – six months, even though I was given a three year visa from the USA. We applied for the visas six weeks ago.

They still haven’t come. Right now the visa office is saying that they need my new work permit. At the time we applied, my work permit was valid. Of course, by now it has expired because of the problems we are having with having that renewed.

So right now, we are waiting on my work permit and will continue to hassle people until we figure out how to get paperwork moving. In the meantime, my family is without visas, making travel out of the country difficult.

We have faced similar problems again and again and again. Before the caretaker government, we faced corruption (though we have chosen to not pay bribes). Since the new government it’s even harder because everyone is afraid to do anything to help.

I’m excited about the potential here. However, unless the bureaucracy changes, there really isn’t much room for small new business ventures.

sr Jan 20th, 2008 at 1:05 pm

Interesting distinction you make concerning what used to happen before the CTG took over. That is what economics predicts – that in the absence of functioning markets you will get corruption to smooth things out. But now markets don’t work that well and the mechanism for ironing out the crinkles , although still very much there, is probably not as routine as it was. Thanks for sharing.

And by the way, after miserably failing in running the government efficiently, in the name of cleasing the country of corruption, that same bureaucracy AKA retired mens’ civil society AKA CTG has snatched the additional duty of ruling the country too.

They brought the dead body all the way to Dhaka because they would not allow Khaleda Zia and her son’s to travel to Dinajpur. The DGFI led government dared subject a dead body to this much hassle in a country where the religio-social culture is to treat a deceased with utmost respect and bury ASAP with least humiliation of the body. [And those scoundrels in Prothom Alo are making a case about use of government helicopter for Khaleda’s mother!!!!] The family did not want Government helicopter, they did not want to bring the body to Dhaka either. It was DGFI plan to minimize a freedome time and prevent a meeting of Khaleda and her sons.

Then when the talk about remand came up, I expected a repeat of the treatment Sheikh Selim, the AL leader in detention received, when his mother died. Sheikh Selim was released for about 8 hours, whole of which he spent with his family, friends and political colleague at his home in Banani. All Awami League politicians including Sheikh Hasina were also there. There was no restriction on Mr. Selim from attending any ritual or anybody else from visiting him. For Mr. Selim it was a sad, unwanted but at least a tolerable good bye to his mother.

But this was not going to happen in case of Khaleda Zia and her sons. Although remand was granted for six hours, both Tareq and Coco was held in waiting in separate police stations and was allowed only one hour in their houses. Khaleda Zia could spend a little more than 2 hours. And all three could visit separately so that none could talk to each other.

ziafamily.jpg

[Photo: New Age]

What major disaster could happen if they were allowed to be together during this time of this great personal loss? Would they hatch a conspiracy? How could they follow up that conspiracy from their solitary confinement in their respective prisons? Or they would have discussed legal defense strategies?
If the case against Tareq or Coco is so solid, if there were sooooooooooooo many witnesses of the extortions by Tareq or Coco, why this much fear of their defence strategies? Why torture? Our activists are very much bothered about torture against anybody but BNP leadership or Zia family. Regarding Tareq’s recent torture allegation, there was not a single word from our so-called human rights watchdogs. And the government would not say anything. Yes government and its mouthpieces spoke out. But only to prove that a picture attributed to torture on Tareq was false. So, it’s all right to torture Tareq but a fake picture will never be tolerated!!

And ‘ torture’ is the only word you would find to describe the way Khaleda family was treated yesterday in the name of humanitarian remand. This torture is another act atrocity of the current regime controlled by military chief Moeen u Ahmed and army intelligence. And believe me, no atrocity in Bangladesh (Tareq Zia is now paying for his cricket game under police protection) goes unpunished. I only have this to say to General Moeen, CA spineless Fakhruddin, home advisor Matin, DGFI brigadiers Amin and Bari and those lower rank corrupt DGFI officers. Brigedier C F Bari knows what is gonopituni when he was given a mild gonopituni by the students of university on the night of 20th August. But that 20th August Gonopituni will feel like ‘jamai ador’ when the next wave will come upon you dear General and Brigedier shahibs.

There is probably a never ending stock of vocabulary for expressing how bad were the days before January 11, 2007. Although serious challenges are being raised about that irresponsible and reckless generalization, nobody could claim that days post 1/11 are better for the media.
Compared to absolute freedom ( of journalism as well as of conspiracy) our media enjoyed before 1/11, last one year has been one of the the worst time for the media in Bangladesh. A recent New Age report chronicles the miseries of our media and media-men over the last years. The current military regime has taken control of almost all the electronic media in Bangladesh. While channel I considers itself a partner of the conspiracy and coup of 1/11, other channels have either been grabbed by crude forces or blackmailed into submission. A few days after 1/11, following the arrest of Giasuddin Mamun and AFM Selim, respectively the MD and Chairman of Channel 1, the channel was taken over by a retired major. We heard of land grabbing or even pukur churi, but this was first instance of TV channel robbery in Bangladesh history. Channel 1 employees protested in a press conference but this story was shunned by the mainstream Bangladeshi media. Veteran journalist Ataus Samad was appointed CEO of NTV when both its chairman ( Falu) and MD ( Enayetur Rahman Bappi) were arrested and the TV station was destroyed in a fire. After rebuilding the channel in an amazing fast pace, Mr Samad has recently resigned. It was learnt that lately Mr Falu was running the show from behind the bar as a result of an invisible understanding with the military intelligence agency (DGFI) that is running the country now. With an invisible finger movement Falu’s bank account transactions continued unhindered and Falu could happily run the channel by signing documents and giving phone directions from jail. Mr Ataus Samad, finding himself bypassed, resigned. In the meanwhile NTV MD Mr Bappi also got released from jail ( This was also not seen in the media). And the effect is clear. TV has suddenly become another mouth piece of the DGFI run government. Another TV outfit, RTV, also owned by the same Mr Falu, has recently been sold to another government selected business house, Bengal group. It is not a secret that the DGFI facilitated forced this transaction. There is no question that RTV now is another trumpet of the government. The only news only channel in Bangladesh, CSB, has been shut down with the stroke of a pen. No questions asked, no answers given. Rest of electronic media took the lesson and became the best buddy of the military Generals.

The new age report lists the condition of print media. While two leading newspapers boast of being the media partner of the 1/11 coup and another one is is working its ass off to become the media machine of the government, the rest of the print media are somehow held hostage by this government. Almost a dozen of media owners are now either in jail or being chased by the law enforcement agencies.

Breaking the glorious tradition of defying all intimidation, the media submitted themselves completely. Despite all these torture, they are in deep love with this government. This is classic stockholm syndrome.  You will hardly see any news item critical of this government. After five years of blanket, true-false criticism of previous government, our editors have suddenly become sold to this government. Every single day there is conscious effort of promote the government or its cronies.

If one asks the editors to resume their job of the watchdog of the nation, they will show lame excuse of DGFI phone calls or government pressure on the owner. However, there are exceptions. New Age has been critical and defiant all along. New Age is a proof that the excuses shown by our leading editors are lame. Despite all the torture on BNP as well as on the publisher, BNP’s mouth piece Daily Dinkal remained another defiant outlet. Similarly outlets like Nayadiganta, Shangbad, Jaijaidin also refrained from mindless boot-licking of the Generals.

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I’ll end my commentary today with link to two news items. Both are very unusual at current situation. First one is a commentary by Jaijaidin editor Shafik Rehman. This is one of the rare occasions where an editor directly takes jab at the de facto ruler, army chief Gen Moeen U Ahmed. Revoking the failed government plan of minus two, he proposes minus three. The three he wants to minus are three Ahmeds. Gen Moeen U ahmed, CA Fakhruddin Ahmed and President Iajudin Ahmed.

The second critique was absent in most of the media with a few exceptions. The exceptions are Shangbad and Inqilab! DU teacher leader Anwar Hossain read a scathing written criticism of current government including Generals Moeen U Ahmed. This is the harshest ever criticism ever seen in media outlets in post 1/11 Bangladesh. Read the Inqilab version here and this is the Shangbad version.

Looks like the scenerio  is changing, finally. Hope the rest of the media will come out of the stockholm syndrome soon.

Today I’ll invite readers to read today’s blog post of legendary photographer and celebrated activist Shahidul Alam. This post articulated many worries I have been stuck with last few days. Here’s how Shahidul Bhai starts…..

The newly appointed education adviser has my sympathy. He had spoken the truth. With scandals emerging about departing advisers, and accusations flying about the gross incompetence of the ‘PhD’ government, he must have felt the need to demonstrate the character of the cabinet.

Having lost the Candy Man, we now have an adviser who is candid in his remarks. “Regardless of the verdict of the court, the teachers shall be freed, ” he had said. Great news for the teachers. Sad news for justice.

But the candor of the education advisor is unlikely to inspire confidence in the government. He might equally have said, “regardless of the verdict of the court, we shall find Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia guilty,” or any other convenient outcome for the many flimsy cases against politicians, business people, students or any other member of the public. The fact that the government finds the judicial system irrelevant, while confirming people’s fears, does do away with their flicker of hope for justice. This was a lamp that needed to stay lit.

The anniversary party could have done without the media gatecrashers. The weeks leading up to the 11th January 2008, have been particularly difficult for the government. In August, it had taken violent protest by the students for the military presence in campus to be removed, but it is the fallout of the government’s heavy-handed response that they now need to deal with. Having closed the 24 hour news channel CSB  and intimidated others with barely veiled threats, ..

more …

Visit Shahidul News for rest of the post and some heart wrenching photography.

This is what I wrote on January 12, 2007. One year have passed. Unfortunately I find myself unable to change the stand I took during the first hours after the disguised military coup on January 11.

Yes to Democracy, No to martial law, No to Colonialism

Developments in Dhaka are quite ominous. Although on the outside everything looks like a perfect solution of the current crisis, I have an eerie feeling that Bangladesh democracy has just taken a leap backwards.

Where nobody in Bangladesh know what is going on, even the major two political parties were trying to understand the situation, Bangladesh just got two unexpected spokesperson. One is the US government and the other is the UK high commissioner. Before anyone else they started saying that the emergency was declared for good reason, it was change towards good etc.

Then another set of developments stunned the nation. Under curfew cover, certain political leaders and ex elected representative and NGO officials were arrested. Nobody knew what specifically happened to arrest them without warrant or charges using emergency power.

Iajuddin’s speech last night was reminiscent of all the speeches delivered at the onset of military coup.
I strongly feel Bangladesh is now ruled by a military installed and protected civil leadership. And the military is being backed and protected by the “west”.

Yes Bangladesh is now like Algeria, Turkey, and Pakistan where western supported Military is the main power broker.
Bangladesh just created a very bad precedent. We used to have a free society, have freedom and democracy. Even if an elected government takes over in few months, this will be, in fact an Army installed government.

At this point rather than cheerleading the Military for their populist arrests, we need to protest the hidden military rule. First of all, the emergency must go. All arrested people must be released. We need to know who is running the Bangavaban.

In a democracy, elected political parties should run the country. In case of Bangladesh it could be Awami League or BNP. Military is the paid security apparatus of a nation. Their job is to guard the homeland and do errands to fix issues at home, not ruling the country.

In 1982, Awami League supporters were happy at Army takeover. That was definitely a short sighted approach. Everybody irrespective of party line must protest the disguised west backed military rule in Bangladesh.

Say Yes to Democracy. No to a military backed impotent democracy.

If you ever question any motif of this government, you will be asked whether you want to go back to pre 1/11 Bangladesh. I don’t know what is meant by pre 1/11, does pre 1/11 mean the street violence on Oct 28? Aren’t the elections of 1991, 1996 or 2001 pre 11 events also? What about 15 years of political, press, speech freedome? What about unprecedented economic growth? Aren’t all these pre 1/11 Bangladesh? How fair it is to dismiss 15 years of stability, freedome or developement because to 30 some days of relative anarchy? I’ll rest this issue on the readers.

But let me try to give you a glimpse of post 1/11 Bangladesh.

(more…)

Newspaper reports today on Tareq Rahman’s allegations of physical torture while in remand.

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‘I was kept blindfolded for 18 hours of the 24 hours of remand on December 31. I was not taken to a police station from the Dhaka Central Jail but somewhere else. I was tied up and suspended from the ceiling and tortured physically there while being kept blindfolded,’

Detained former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia’s son Tarique Rahman alleged in the court on Wednesday that he was tortured after being taken on remand.

‘When a politician like me is tortured inhumanly in remand, what can happen to the common people?’

Tarique, who is also senior joint secretary-general of the BNP, questioned the magistrate.

‘I want security for my life,’ he pleaded.

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This blogger knows that this report will make many people very happy and also knows that many people will be saddened too. Instead of commenting on this report, this blogger prefers to remind all of the following poem,

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn’t a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

This poem, “First they came…” which is arguably attributed to Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984), was written on the inactivity of German intellectuals following the Nazi rise to power and the purging of their chosen targets, group after group.

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