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© Arif Hafiz

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Mull over this: if a temple is ransacked in the forest, but no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

As per bdnews, several temples and shops were burned. This ransacking went on for two days. Bdnews says:

The leaders of the Hindu minority there blamed the ‘indifference’ of the administration for the situation.

The problem is, the facts suggest otherwise. The local level administration tried to hold some meetings and head off any trouble before things got out of hand. Then Anisul Islam Mahmud, the local MP stepped in. Now, he isn’t just your typical Jatiyo Party MP who has trouble even doing something innocuous as taking over a local hospital. Mahmud, along with Ziauddin Bablu, is Sheikh Hasina’s enforcer in Jatiyo Party, and is tasked with making sure that JP Chief H. M. Ershad stays in line. As such, Mahmud has, at all times, the ear of the Prime Minister. When he was not successful (by some accounts, he was chased by local people and had to be rescued by police), Afsarul Amin showed up. Afsarul Amin is the senior representative from Chittagong in this current cabinet, and was probably the best person for the job since former mayor Mohiuddin Chowdhury refused to get involved in this matter. Amin, too, failed to get things under control. It took the deployment of a heavy contingent of police and RAB to finally bring the situation under control.

And then, poof. The matter disappeared from our media. No follow-up reports to investigative articles. No allocation of the blame.

Or rather, some allocation of the blame. Four days after the incident, Nurul Islam, another MP from Chittagong and the leader of one of the three factions currently active in Chittagong AL, said this:

চট্টগ্রামে হিজবুত তাহরির, জেএমবি নিয়ে আমি দীর্ঘদিন চিৎকার করছি। শেষ পর্যন্ত তারা হাটহাজারীতে ঘটনা ঘটিয়েই ফেলল। ঘটনার বর্ণনা আমি দিতে চাই না। তবে চট্টগ্রাম-৮ আসনে সন্ধ্যা ৬টা থেকে রাত ১টা পর্যন্ত মন্দিরে মন্দিরে ঘুরে ঘুরে আমি পাহারা দিয়েছি।

I have been complaining for a long time about Hijbut Tahrir and the JMB. At last, they succeeded in causing the incident at Hathazari. I don’t want to go into the details of the incident, but I personally went from temple to temple between 6 pm and 1 am to guard everyone

The column was, ironically, titled “যার কাজ তাকেই করতে হবে”. Islam is silent on whether he thinks it is now his job to patrol the city at night to ensure law and order. Islam’s allegation that HiT and JMB are behind the attacks are also problematic. Both groups are banned in Bangladesh; people routinely get arrested for just owning literature that espouses their cause. That they would go on a violent rampage for two days, and be met with negotiation and discussion from the highest levels of the government, is fantasy, pure and simple.

Then day after, Abdul Mannan, the former Vice Chancellor of Chittagong University, who is now the designated pro-AL voice in Prothom Alo, wrote this:

একবাক্যে সবাই স্বীকার করেছে যারা এই দুদিন এমন একটি শান্তিপূর্ণ এলাকায় ধর্মীয় অনুভূতিকে উসকানি দিয়ে পরিস্থিতি ঘোলাটে করতে চেয়েছিল তাদের উদ্দেশ্য কী ছিল? ইসলামী ছাত্রশিবির চট্টগ্রাম বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ের ঘটনাকে কেন্দ্র করে নন্দীরহাটের ঘটনার সূত্রপাতের দিন চট্টগ্রাম শহরে আধবেলা হরতালের নামে বেশ অনেকগুলো গাড়ি ভাঙচুর করেছে। তারা কোনো কোনো এলাকায় যুদ্ধাপরাধীদের দায়ে তাদের অভিযুক্ত নেতাদের মুক্তি দাবি করেছে। সবকিছু একসঙ্গে করলে সহজে এই উপসংহারে আসা যাবে যে এসব কোনো অপকর্মই হঠাৎ ঘটে যাওয়া কোনো বিষয় ছিল না। সবকিছুর পেছনে সুপরিকল্পিত প্রস্তুতি ছিল এবং উদ্দেশ্য একটাই, যুদ্ধাপরাধীদের বিচার বানচাল করা।

Everyone fully admits to being curious about the motive of those who instigated this incident in a previously peaceful area. Islami Chatra Shibir destroyed several vehicles on the day this incident started, which coincided with a hartal they had called. In some areas, they have demanded the release of their leaders who are now standing trial for war crimes. If all the dots are connected, we can easily come to the conclusion that this was not a solitary incident. There was a singular and well-planned motive, and that was to foil the trial of the war criminals

ICS, Jamaat’s student body, is currently under a state of siege, much like its parent organization. Awami League has consistently chosen to use overwhelming force anytime Jamaat or Shibir was bringing out even peaceful protests. Again, to suggest that the government would passively stand by and allow Shibir to take control of a key Chittagong suburb for two days and stand by passively is to show a reckless disregard to the ground reality of Bangladesh.

To sum up, we have what is, by all accounts, a communal riot, that the government did its best to nip in the bud. Its conduct afterwards, however, seems to have been less than honorable. That our media has gone completely silent on this story, while printing the self-serving allegations of Awami League politicians and intellectuals, is a stain on the entire industry. That the said politicians and intellectuals pin the blame on different groups only makes this matter more ridiculous. And as for the Awami League government, it would do well to remember one of the eternal truths of politics: it’s always the cover-up, not the crime itself, that gets you.

ব্লগ এখন অনেকটা পর্নোগ্রাফিতে পরিণত হয়েছে: Syed Ashraful Islam

“On the Internet 50 percent is porn material. Why should we refer to the Internet?”: Vladimir Putin

Three broad trends significant in this election:

Media Activism: A large section of Bangladeshi media played an extremely enthusiastic part in boosting Selina Hayat Ivy, trashing Shamim Osman, and completely ignoring BNP candidiate Taimur Alam Khandqar. We heard over and over, that Ivy was a successful mayor in her last stint. What were the indications of her success? By how much did corporation tax revenues increase? How many schools and colleges did she build? How many bridges and culverts were constructed during her tenure? We don’t know, because the media didn’t tell us. Instead, they repeated non-stop that Ivy was a “clean” candidate. What that clean means, or will mean in the future, no one knows.

Similarly, Shamim Osman probably got the most intensive media lynching in Bangladeshi media history after Tarique Rahman in 2005 – 2008. Conspicuously absent from the litany of accusations against him was the fact that he committed the most blatant act of political terrorism in Bangladesh’s last 20 years. In 1998, when BNP arranged a road march to Chittagong to protest the peace treaty, it was Shamim Osman who led the attack on Khaldea Zia’s motorcade, and forced her to change her route to Chittagong. It was an event that shocked the nation and dominated media coverage at that time. Yet, this time around, this very significant event was almost absent from the media coverage.

In the same vein, all  the media said about Tamur was that he is a former chairman of BTRC and the past Caretaker Government filed 5 corruption cases against him. What were his successes or failures as BTRC chairman? What is the status of those corruption cases? Are they more or less serious than the ones filed against our current Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, and so on? We don’t know, because the media didn’t bother to tell us.

Army Deployment and BNP: Sheikh Hasina chose an extremely insidious way to remove army protection from the elections. The media coverage of this election was extensive and hysterial for the last few days before the election. Thus, the Election Commission’s request for army was granted. Only, when the time came for the army to deploy, they never showed up.

When BNP then decided to boycott the election, it made things very simple for Ivy. The vote in this election was always going to divided into pro and anti Shamim Osman. With Taimur not participating, the anti-Shamim vote would, instead of being split up, go to just one candidate, Ivy. Even though everyone is going on about how exemplary this election was, there were plenty of indications of irregularity during election day, including Ivy complaining that half of her polling agents did not show up because of threats, and Shamim Osman openly assaulting a Chatra League leader. However, what changed was that while these measures may have been enough to tilt the balance in a three-way race where the anti-Shamim vote would be fragmented, it proved inconsequential in a two-way race.

Decentralization of power: Just two days after Ivy’s election, Lokman Hossain, the mayor of Narsingdi, was assassinated. Lokman Hossain was twice-elected the best mayor in Bangladesh. His assassination, from where it was committed to the modus operandi of the killers, all bear the trademarks of a political hit. A three-day hartal has already been called against the killing. Remarkably, Telecommunications Minister Rajiuddin Ahmed Raju is already mentioned as being involved in this matter.

Bangladesh is slowly undergoing a painful decentralization where young and ambitious mayors are building their own power base and challenging the more senior leaders in their parties. They are using their positions as mayor and chairman to build patronage networks, increase name recognition, and show the people of their area that they can deliver services and infrastructure projects. The ossification of student politics since the ’90s has temporarily stopped the inflow of student leaders into politics, and created a vacuum which is being exploited by businessmen and retired governemnt officials. However, in the end, it is this generation of local government leaders who will make the transition to, and ultimately run, national politics.

Major General (rt) Tarique Ahmed Siddique is an Advisor to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, with rank of cabinet minister. (For those interested, he is the brother of Dr. Shafiq Siddique, who is married to Sheikh Rehana, Sheikh Hasina’s sister.) He held an extraordinary press conference in the Prime Minister’s Office yesterday, where he said:

1. There is currently an ongoing international conspiracy to disband RAB.

2. The United States has a similar force to RAB, called Homeland Security.

3. Limon was involved with criminals.

4. All those writing about Limon are involved in the conspiracy to disband RAB.

5. A certain newspaper editor is at the forefront of the campaign to ban RAB.

6. This newspaper editor was involved with the 21st August grenade attack on Sheikh Hasina.

7. This editor is probably a supporter of terrorists and militants.

8. The government has enough evidence linking him to these attacks so that they could arrest him right now if they so wished.

9. However, the government shall refrain because it does not want to harass journalists.

So, where to start? In case there is any confusion, the editor in question is Prothom Alo’s Matiur Rahman. Allegations that he was involved in the 21 August grenade attacks against Sheikh Hasina had so far been limited to the realms of nutty conspiracy theories. They were propagated primarily by Kaler Kontho, a rival vernacular, and mouthpiece of the Bashundhara corporate group (Prothom Alo and Daily Star are owned by Transcom). In fact, merely a month ago, Matiur Rahman had won a decision in the Press Council that found such allegation to be without any supporting facts and issued a warning to Kaler Kontho.

Major General (rt) Siddique ran the military intelligence outfit, DGFI, and the force that guards the PM, SSF, during the last Hasina government. This term, he functions as Bangladesh’s de facto Defense Minister. Given that he has confirmed what Kaler Kontho has been saying all along, will the Press Council now apologize to Abed Khan and Kaler Kontho? Interestingly, both Prothom Alo and Daily Star have completely blacked out the story so far. I assume lots of emergency meetings are being held at CA Bhaban right now.

As a sidenote, Homeland Security is not a military or para-military force, it’s government department in the United States government, somewhat akin to our Home Ministry. Although in a country where the chief justice goes around saying safety of the state is the supreme law, nothing really shocks any more, but it would still be nice if blatant ignorance was the exception rather than the rule.

Showing us that all sorts of dynasties can coexist and flourish side-by-side in Bangladesh, Zafar Sobhan has very capably taken over the defense of Dr. Yunus (here and here) from his illustrious father. Mr. Sobhan’s main point is that this witch-hunt against Dr. Yunus hurts Sheikh Hasina’s international standing abroad, and detracts from what should be the Awami League’s real mission: the destruction of Tarique Rahman.

I absolutely defer to Mr. Sobhan on the ups and downs of our prime minister’s international standing. However, I am still left with some disquieting thoughts. Dr. Yunus is arguably the most accomplished Bangladeshi alive. He is certainly the most well-connected Bangladeshi alive. If all Mr. Sobhan is left with is appealing to international sentiments, one has to ask, is there no domestic constituency left in Bangladesh that can dissuade or counsel Hasina from this disastrous policy? The fifty-plus cabinet, the half a dozen advisers, too many MPs to count, the much-vaunted sushil brigade, and no one to tell or show Hasina that you can’t sink Dr. Yunus?

Instead, Mr. Sobhan is left appealing to the prime minister’s international standing. It’s not a completely futile threat. Joseph Stalin once asked, “How many divisions has the Pope?” Sheikh Hasina isn’t likely to be quite as flippant; she knows better than any of us the path that took her to Gono Bhaban in 2007 – 2008. However, it’d have been nice to be able to solve this one mess by ourselves.

Speaking of 2007 – 2008, we have fond memories of the glory days when the unbeatable troika of Messrs. Sobhan, Wahid, and Ahsan used to regale us with grand tales and lofty ambitions from the rarified perch of Daily Star’s op-ed page. However, as they say, all good things come to an end. Mr. Sobhan is no longer at Daily Star, and Mr. Wahid now graces Shah Alam’s Daily Sun. Syed Badrul Ahsan alone is left to educate and inspire us. But he has switched into over-drive recently; there are only so many rags that pro-AL tycoons will be able to publish in the next three years, and the plum editorial jobs aren’t going to land themselves. Thus, we got this gem:

Khaleda Zia’s vow of nullifying every act of the Awami League is a patent threat to all of us. If the threat comes to pass, the sunlight will go fleeing from our lives, the moon will lose its luster, poetry will die, politics will be no more, rivers will not run and good men and women will be fugitives in the wild woods.
Everything will pall. Everything will pale. Everything will fall.

If Mr. Sobhan is sending a message from the Awami League base to its leadership, Mr. Ahsan’s message is from the Awami League leadership to the people, and especially those who make up the readership of the Star: Yes, we are proving to be quite bad, and we have also started losing elections, but stick with us, otherwise, dum dum dum…

Yes, those currently in power have started thinking about the next elections. Which is good, because our opposition seems to find it difficult to focus on a time-window past the next two weeks. They should take a leaf from Sajeeb Ahmed Wazed Joy, the eminent computer scientist “with graduation from Texas University at Arlington, USA” who, like many before him, has discovered the convenient advantages of one-party rule, as long as it’s his party doing the ruling. Another message from AL, and perhaps the most significant one yet.

From the Daily
Star
:

According to Singapore newspaper
The Straits Times report, the court on Monday convicted and fined
businessman Lim Siew Cheng $900,677 (S$1.2 million) for
transferring Koko’s $3.17 lakh and holding the money in his
personal account upon Koko’s advice.

From The
Straits Times
:

Lim Siew Cheng, 63,
should have suspected the money could be the proceeds of criminal
conduct and should have reported it to the Corrupt Practices
Investigation Bureau or the police. He did neither and on Monday he
pleaded guilty and was fined $6,000 each for the two offences under
laws to prevent money-laundering.

Two fines of
6,000 for a total of 12,000. Not 1.2 Million, or 1,200,000. But
hey, when the Zia family is concerned, exaggerating things
a hundred times is nothing new. Expectations of accuracy and
honest reporting from the Bangladeshi media? Not unless your name
is Dr. Yunus.

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