Gramsci Institute

People are now conscious of their ownership of natural resources

Anu Muhammad tells Shahidul Alam in an exclusive interview. Transcribed and translated by Rahnuma Ahmed

NewAge, 5 September 2009

IMMEDIATELY after Professor Anu Muhammad, member secretary of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports, was taken to Square Hospital, injured in police action on the committee’s protest march in the capital Dhaka on Wednesday afternoon, eminent photographer Shahidul Alam interviewed him on camera.

Watch the interview on YouTube (in Bangla)

Read excerpts:

Shahidul Alam: What was your protest against?

Anu Muhammad: The gas resources which Bangladesh has, both in its gas fields and in the deep sea, is limited but if Bangladesh was able to utilise it, it would help the country be rid of its electricity crisis, it would enable greater industrialisation, it would help solve many problems, problems in the educational and health sectors. For the last two decades, Bangladesh’s control over its gas fields has passed over to multinational corporations through contracts which have handed over the control of blocks to these companies. Bangladesh has its own organisations, there’s BAPEX [Bangladesh Petroleum Exploration and Production Company] and other organisations as well which can lift gas but instead of exploring that option, we have handed over the control of gas fields to the multinational companies. And now what has happened is that the vast resources which Bangladesh has in the deep sea are being secured by foreign companies.

Recently, three gas blocks have been leased out to foreign companies, two to an American multinational, ConocoPhillips, and the other to an Irish firm, Tullow, with the opportunity to export 80 per cent of the gas produced. But we conducted our own study which reveals that they will own, and be able to export the full 100 per cent. And even though we are being told that this is being done in order to solve the gas crisis, to solve the electricity crisis, but actually, in reality, none of the gas produced — according to this contract — will enter Bangladesh. We will not agree to such a deal. There is absolutely no question that we will agree to a deal which deprives the people of Bangladesh. To a contract that threatens the nation’s future. This contract should be rescinded, it’s the people’s demand, it’s everyone’s demand.

We had organised a protest today demanding that the government cancel its decision, we had organised a siege of Petrobangla because Petrobangla has turned into a den of these multinational corporations. It’s no longer a Bangladeshi organisation. Our protest rally was very peaceful, we were proceeding steadily and very calmly when, as we had walked a couple of hundred yards, the police suddenly turned on us and began attacking us. They lathi-charged us, they used their boots, they kicked us, they punched us, regardless of who it was, whether it was a man or a woman. They were brutal, they were all over the place. More than fifty of us were wounded, some of them very severely, some of these lives are at risk.

So what we want to say is, since this movement concerns everyone, since it is in the interests of all, and since everyone is united behind us, nothing can stop this movement. Neither brutality nor repression, nor trickery nor any attempts to hoodwink us.

Who else besides you was attacked today?

About fifty of us were injured, this includes Saiful Huq, one of the leaders, and many activists. Among the students, Jewel and Tania, they suffered head injuries. And two women students who, when the police tried to hit me on the head and in my abdomen — very targeted attacks — they ran forward to protect me. These two women activists were very badly injured. They are all in hospital now.

We often speak of democratic governments. So, what do you think of the manner in which this government is behaving, is it any different from other governments?

You know, we tend to think that there has been a change in the government, but now I think that that’s an illusion, that we live within an illusion, a maya, which makes us believe that there has been a change in the government. Whereas in reality, the government does not change because power, and interests, particularly, the interests of imperialism, the interests of multinational corporations — whether it’s the Awami League or the BNP [Bangladesh Nationalist Party], and all other governments which were in power, in principle there is no difference amongst any of these governments. There is no difference in principle, and to protect their interests they can exert the greatest possible force, they make use of all possible avenues — their army, their police, their legal system, their thugs, to protect the interests of the MNCs, of the imperialists. And in exchange for protecting those interests, they get paid off. In exchange, they are given some material benefits.

So what role should the people play now?

I think, I believe, and also, I speak on the basis of my experience in the movement, that once the people recognise, once they understand that this is their resource, that they are its owners, then it’s impossible to take it away from them. And people are, generally speaking, very conscious now. And it’s not just deep-sea gas, it’s the whole of Bangladesh. It belongs to the people. People are now increasingly conscious of this, and the greater the consciousness the better. The more they realise this, the more inevitable becomes the defeat of these anti-people forces.

Further resources:

Protest against offshore block deal: 50 injured as police charge into demo

Police action against marchers: Peaceful protest must not subject to such brutality (Daily Star editorial)

Police action betrays govt’s intolerance to dissent (NewAge editorial)

Apology to count only if govt revokes offshore deal (NewAge editorial)


September 5, 2009 Posted by | Interview, News and Updates | Leave a comment

The Virtues of Deglobalization

Walden BelloForeign Policy in Focus, 3 September 2009

The current global downturn, the worst since the Great Depression 70 years ago, pounded the last nail into the coffin of globalization. Already beleaguered by evidence that showed global poverty and inequality increasing, even as most poor countries experienced little or no economic growth, globalization has been terminally discredited in the last two years. As the much-heralded process of financial and trade interdependence went into reverse, it became the transmission belt not of prosperity but of economic crisis and collapse.

End of an Era

In their responses to the current economic crisis, governments paid lip service to global coordination but propelled separate stimulus programs meant to rev up national markets. In so doing, governments quietly shelved export-oriented growth, long the driver of many economies, though paid the usual nostrums to advancing trade liberalization as a means of countering the global downturn by completing the Doha Round of trade negotiations under the World Trade Organization. There is increasing acknowledgment that there will be no returning to a world centrally dependent on free-spending American consumers, since many are bankrupt and nobody has taken their place.

Moreover, whether agreed on internationally or unilaterally set up by national governments, a whole raft of restrictions will almost certainly be imposed on finance capital, the untrammeled mobility of which has been the cutting edge of the current crisis.

Intellectual discourse, however, hasn’t yet shown many signs of this break with orthodoxy. Neoliberalism, with its emphasis on free trade, the primacy of private enterprise, and a minimalist role for the state, continues to be the default language among policymakers. Establishment critics of market fundamentalism, including Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman, have become entangled in endless debates over how large stimulus programs should be, and whether or not the state should retain an interventionist presence or, once stabilized, return the companies and banks to the private sector. Moreover some, such as Stiglitz, continue to believe in what they perceive to be the economic benefits of globalization while bemoaning its social costs.

But trends are fast outpacing both ideologues and critics of neoliberal globalization, and developments thought impossible a few years ago are gaining steam. “The integration of the world economy is in retreat on almost every front,” writesthe Economist. While the magazine says that corporations continue to believe in the efficiency of global supply chains, “like any chain, these are only as strong as their weakest link. A danger point will come if firms decide that this way of organizing production has had its day.”

“Deglobalization,” a term that the Economist attributes to me, is a development that the magazine, the world’s prime avatar of free market ideology, views as negative. I believe, however, that deglobalization is an opportunity. Indeed, my colleagues and I at Focus on the Global South first forwarded deglobalization as a comprehensive paradigm to replace neoliberal globalization almost a decade ago, when the stresses, strains, and contradictions brought about by the latter had become painfully evident. Elaborated as an alternative mainly for developing countries, the deglobalization paradigm is not without relevance to the central capitalist economies.

11 Pillars of the Alternative

There are 11 key prongs of the deglobalization paradigm:

  1. Production for the domestic market must again become the center of gravity of the economy rather than production for export markets.
  2. The principle of subsidiarity should be enshrined in economic life by encouraging production of goods at the level of the community and at the national level if this can be done at reasonable cost in order to preserve community.
  3. Trade policy — that is, quotas and tariffs — should be used to protect the local economy from destruction by corporate-subsidized commodities with artificially low prices.
  4. Industrial policy — including subsidies, tariffs, and trade — should be used to revitalize and strengthen the manufacturing sector.
  5. Long-postponed measures of equitable income redistribution and land redistribution (including urban land reform) can create a vibrant internal market that would serve as the anchor of the economy and produce local financial resources for investment.
  6. Deemphasizing growth, emphasizing upgrading the quality of life, and maximizing equity will reduce environmental disequilibrium.
  7. The development and diffusion of environmentally congenial technology in both agriculture and industry should be encouraged.
  8. Strategic economic decisions cannot be left to the market or to technocrats. Instead, the scope of democratic decision-making in the economy should be expanded so that all vital questions — such as which industries to develop or phase out, what proportion of the government budget to devote to agriculture, etc. — become subject to democratic discussion and choice.
  9. Civil society must constantly monitor and supervise the private sector and the state, a process that should be institutionalized.
  10. The property complex should be transformed into a “mixed economy” that includes community cooperatives, private enterprises, and state enterprises, and excludes transnational corporations.
  11. Centralized global institutions like the IMF and the World Bank should be replaced with regional institutions built not on free trade and capital mobility but on principles of cooperation that, to use the words of Hugo Chavez in describing the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), “transcend the logic of capitalism.”

From the Cult of Efficiency to Effective Economics

The aim of the deglobalization paradigm is to move beyond the economics of narrow efficiency, in which the key criterion is the reduction of unit cost, never mind the social and ecological destabilization this process brings about. It is to move beyond a system of economic calculation that, in the words of John Maynard Keynes, made “the whole conduct of life…into a paradox of an accountant’s nightmare.” An effective economics, rather, strengthens social solidarity by subordinating the operations of the market to the values of equity, justice, and community by enlarging the sphere of democratic decision making. To use the language of the great Hungarian thinker Karl Polanyi in his book The Great Transformation, deglobalization is about “re-embedding” the economy in society, instead of having society driven by the economy.

The deglobalization paradigm also asserts that a “one size fits all” model like neoliberalism or centralized bureaucratic socialism is dysfunctional and destabilizing. Instead, diversity should be expected and encouraged, as it is in nature. Shared principles of alternative economics do exist, and they have already substantially emerged in the struggle against and critical reflection over the failure of centralized socialism and capitalism. However, how these principles — the most important of which have been sketched out above — are concretely articulated will depend on the values, rhythms, and strategic choices of each society.

Deglobalization’s Pedigree

Though it may sound radical, deglobalization isn’t really new. Its pedigree includes the writings of the towering British economist Keynes who, at the height of the Depression, bluntly stated: “We do not wish…to be at the mercy of world forces working out, or trying to work out, some uniform equilibrium, according to the principles of laissez faire capitalism.”

Indeed, he continued, over “an increasingly wide range of industrial products, and perhaps agricultural products also, I become doubtful whether the economic cost of self-sufficiency is great enough to outweigh the other advantages of gradually bringing the producer and the consumer within the ambit of the same national, economic and financial organization. Experience accumulates to prove that most modern mass-production processes can be performed in most countries and climates with almost equal efficiency.”

And with words that have a very contemporary ring, Keynes concluded, “I sympathize…with those who would minimize rather than with those who would maximize economic entanglement between nations. Ideas, knowledge, art, hospitality, travel — these are the things which should of their nature be international. But let goods be homespun whenever it is reasonably and conveniently possible; and, above all, let finance be primarily national.”

Foreign Policy in Focus columnist Walden Bello is a member of the House of Representatives of the Philippines and senior analyst at the Bangkok-based research and advocacy institute Focus on the Global South.

September 5, 2009 Posted by | Trends and Analysis | , , | Leave a comment

Press Statement: Third Mission of the International CHT Commission

International Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission
Bangladesh Secretariat: 10/11, Iqbal Road, Mohammadpur, Dhaka 1207

Press statement

The International Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission (CHTC) appreciates that after 12 years since the signing of the CHT Accord some important measures have been taken to implement the Accord. These include specifically the setting up of the National Committee for Implementation of the CHT Accord, re-establishment of the Land Commission and the Task Force for CHT Refugee Rehabilitation Affairs, the cancellation of plantation leases that have not been properly developed, and the withdrawal of temporary military camps. This has generated a sense of momentum which the CHTC appreciates and encourages. The CHTC congratulates the Prime Minister on her statement on the occasion of the International Indigenous Peoples’ Day in support of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This statement encourages not only the indigenous peoples in Bangladesh, but also all over the world.

Between 11-16 August members of the CHTC visited all three districts of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Commission members met with government representatives, the three brigade commanders and their zone commanders, senior police officers, politicians and civil society leaders, including both Pahari and Bengali representatives.

During meetings with the brigade commanders and their staff the CHTC members were informed that they saw no security risks with compliance to the government policy on the withdrawal of the camps. This view was confirmed by the police and local authorities.

In meetings with all parties the land issue was presented as the main concern. The CHTC therefore considers it of utmost importance that the Land Commission becomes fully activated and funded, including its function as a tribunal to settle land disputes, which should be disposed of before the cadastal survey is undertaken.

The CHTC is disappointed, however, at the rate of progress towards activation of the Land Commission; the Commission’s lack of progress on the determination of disputed land claims; its apparent decision to hold the cadastral survey beforehand and the absence of proposals for electing the Hill District Councils.

The CHT Commission hopes that the Land Commission will establish a database of all disputed land claims, providing the claimants with forms on which they can supply the information required for this purpose. This might be the subject of an approach to international agencies such as UNDP for financial and technical assistance. Because of the complexity of overlapping titles on the same land plots granted in different circumstances, a definitive set of rules should be developed by the Land Commission to rank the relative priority of different kinds of land titles. For those whose claims to land are disallowed, the government should draft rehabilitation measures for discussion with community leaders.

The CHTC was alerted to the necessity of activating and properly funding the Task Force for CHT Refugee Rehabilitation Affairs. Moreover, there is a need for a speedy development of government guidelines for the interaction and division of labour between the Task Force and the Land Commission.

The CHTC further urges continuing measures to enhance access to justice within the CHT, including the activation of legal aid committees.

It is imperative that elections are held for the CHT Regional Council and Hill District Councils and the CHT Commission recommends that alternative electoral methods are explored promptly.

The CHTC has collected a large amount of information including documents given to us by Bengalis and Paharis which remains to be analysed, and as usual will be producing a report on this visit utilising these data We have a further international visit planned for the coming year.

We are convinced that the vast majority of the people of all communities in the CHT are determined to maintain the peace and harmony of the region, and that they will cooperate with the processes that are essential for the purpose. Peace is an essential human right, and all the efforts of both government and people should be devoted to its achievement.

List of meetings

Civil society in Bandarban
Tribal Muslim Welfare Association
Hill District Council Chairman, Bandarban
Deputy Commissioner, Bandarban
Brigade Commander, Bandarban
Civil society in Rangamati
CHT Regional Council Chairman
Jana Sanghaty Samity (JSS)
United Peoples Democratic Front (UPDF)
CHT Forest and Land Committee
Hill District Council Chairman, Rangamati
Deputy Commissioner, Rangamati
Brigade Commander, Rangamati
Civil society in Khagrachori
Brigade Commander, Khagrachori
Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina
Finance Minister, Abul Mal Abdul Muhith
Foreign Minister, Dipu Moni
CHT Land Commission Chairman, Khademul Islam Chowdhury
Parliamentary Standing Committee on CHT and Cultural Minister, Promod Mankin
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh
CHT Minister, Dipankar Talukder
Law Commission, Justice Mohammad Abdur Rashid
European Commission
Donor de-briefing meeting

August 23, 2009 Posted by | Militarization, Statements | Leave a comment

Slavoj Žižek – What does it mean to be a revolutionary today?

July 20, 2009 Posted by | Trends and Analysis, Video | , | Leave a comment

High Court Verdicts on Sexual Harassment: ‘Dismantling the master’s house’

NewAge, May 25, 2009

Of course, we are happy, thrilled, and excited at the High Court’s recognition, at its validation of our long-standing demands and struggles. That unwelcome sexual attention is, well, just what it is. Unwelcome. Period, writes Rahnuma Ahmed*

THE High Court’s verdict was a ‘revolution’, said Salma Ali, president of Bangladesh Jatiya Mahila Ainjibi Samity (BNWLA).

In response to a public interest litigation filed by the BNWLA, the High Court ruled on May 14 that any kind of physical, mental or sexual harassment of women, girls and children at their workplaces, educational institutions and at other public places, including roads, was a criminal offence, punishable by fine and/or imprisonment. The ruling detailed sexual misdemeanour as ‘any kind of provocation through phone calls or e-mail, lewd gestures, showing of pornography, lurid stares, physical contact or molestation, stalking, vulgar sounds or any display of a derogatory nature.’ The HC bench directed the government to make a law on the basis of its guidelines; until that happened, its guidelines would enjoy the status of law.

On May 17, ‘another’ revolution took place. The same bench, of Justices Syed Mahmud Hossain and Quamrul Islam Siddiqui, in response to a writ petition, declared that the decision of the Jahangirnagar University authorities to exonerate Drama and Dramatics chairperson Sanwar Hossain Sani from charges of sexual harassment and to suspend six students (which include four women complainants) for allegedly assaulting him was ‘illegal’. It directed the JU authorities to hold a fresh enquiry. The new one, according to the verdict, should be conducted by ‘neutral persons’. It should accord with the High Court’s recent guidelines. The writ petition, represented by barrister Sara Hossain and advocate Ruhul Quddus Babu, was jointly filed by Ain o Salish Kendra, Nijera Kori, Karmojibi Nari, professor Serajul Islam Choudhury, and journalist Kamal Lohani.

The complaints were not proven ‘beyond any doubt’, there was no ‘hard evidence – that is what the JU Syndicate had said when clearing Sanwar Hossain of all charges in September 2008. Dismissing this, the HC bench ruled that the standard of ‘beyond a[ny] reasonable doubt’ could not be applied to allegations of sexual harassment. A slap in the face of the JU authorities? Of the members of the final enquiry committee, the Syndicate, and the university teachers association (JUTA) which had expressed ‘relief’ at the Syndicate’s decision and had advocated that ‘indisciplined’ students (and not a teacher who had sexually harassed women students) be punished? Beyond any reasonable doubt.

Of course, we are happy, thrilled, and excited at the High Court’s recognition, at its validation of our long-standing demands and struggles. That unwelcome sexual attention is, well, just what it is. Unwelcome. Period. And as Fawzia Karim, the petitioner’s counsel, had argued in court, the absence of a law against sexual harassment, ‘rampant’ in Bangladesh, means that victims cannot file accusations against the offenders.

But our moment of happiness is also overcast with feelings of grief and loss. We have not forgotten our sisters, those who were either killed for having rejected declarations of love, or took their own lives at the humiliation suffered. Simi Banu, art student, taunted and harassed by local mastaans, committed suicide in 2001. Mohima Khatun, raped, killed herself in 2002. Shahinoor, a garment worker, raped, threw herself under a train, in 2003. Biva Rani Singha, a college student, kidnapped and raped for a week in 2003, later became mentally unbalanced. Farzana Afrin Rumi, a college student, hanged herself when a local group of thugs barged into her house to kidnap her, in 2003. Alpina, a class four student, killed herself after being assaulted in front of her mother, in 2003. Chameli Tripura, nine years old, was raped and killed in Ramgarh, Chittagong Hill Tracts, in 2008. And many, many more. Killed. Committed suicide. Became mentally ill. Acid disfigurement. Humiliation. No, we have not forgotten our sisters. Nor have we forgotten sub-inspector Bashar who went to Simi’s house and insulted her parents. He advised them to control ‘her’ movements. He filed a general diary against her, instead of her harassers. Nor have we forgotten countless police officers who have repeatedly refused to register complaints made by women and their family members, distraught and angry, seeking safety and protection through legal means.

It was, after all, a bloody revolution.

Will things change? Krishnokoli, a young singer and cultural activist, doesn’t think so. Mere court verdicts are not enough. The political structure of the country needs to be altered first (New Age, May 15). I understand and sympathise with her misgivings as I turn to look at neighbouring India, at the famous Vishaka judgement (Vishaka and others vs State of Rajasthan and others, Supreme Court, 1997), which is known to have informed our own HC judgment. The Vishaka PIL arose out of the gang rape of Bhanwari Devi, a member of a group of women called sathins, trained by the local government to do house-to-house social work at the village level, in exchange of honorariums. Bhanwari Devi, as part of a government campaign against child marriage, had tried to prevent the marriage of a one-year-old girl. The family, who happened to be high caste, were outraged at Bhanwari’s audacity. Five men, including the girl’s father, gang-raped her in her husband’s presence. The village authorities, the local police and doctors teamed up with the rapists: police were reluctant to record her statement, two government doctors refused to examine her. When she finally took her case to the state criminal court, the accused were acquitted. The judge declared that it was not ‘credible’. Upper caste men would surely not stoop as low as raping a lower caste woman? The humiliation and violation of the court process, says Naina Kapur, a New Delhi-based lawyer, led her to initiate the Vishaka petition. She, like many others, was frustrated by the criminal justice system’s inability to provide tangible remedies, restore the dignity of the victim, address systemic issues, and to create social change (Avani Mehta Sood, 2006).

The Vishaka PIL has made a significant impression upon the public, says Sood, because it has led to the establishment of systems of legal accountability. It has created tremendous awareness and open acknowledgement of sexual harassment. The judgement has had a huge impact on universities and large workplaces. Women now know that there is a law, and as a human rights lawyer put it, ‘It makes a big difference to people harassing women as well, to know that they can be called upon it.’ Awareness created by the Vishaka decision has also led to many more cases being filed by women victims, at the HC level. However, it has not yet been enacted (The Protection of Women Against Sexual Harassment at the Workplace Bill 2007), and the SC guidelines continue to be the law. Very few complaints committees have been set up. Service rules have not been amended. The judgement has been flouted by both public and private employers. Social activists have claimed that the guidelines were too general, it did not cover the entire gamut of workplace relationships (e.g. doctor molesting his patient). The unorganised sector does not fall under the ambit of the bill. Investigations carried out by the inquiry committees have too often been bound by red-tape, leading to long drawn out cases, and thereby, delaying punishment for the harasser, and adding to the victim’s trauma. But continued activism has led to two significant interim orders being issued by the Supreme Court. One of these asks professional bodies (e.g. the UGC) what steps they have taken to implement the Vishaka guidelines, while the other, clarifies that the investigation and report of the investigation committee is to be deemed final. Committees have also been directed to submit annual reports of complaints and actions taken to the government.

By highlighting the problem of sexual harassment, the Vishaka judgement has simultaneously opened up questions and dilemmas over separating sexual harassment from, and its close intermeshing with other forms of gender-based discrimination/harassment at workplaces (Kalpana Kannabiran and Vasanth Kannabiran 2002). As the authors say, the separation between professional victimisation and sexual harassment is never absolute. And there are other things too. Sometimes sexual harassment can become a weapon of retaliation for progressive dalit men who face offensive and discriminatory behaviour from upper caste and upper class, articulate women classmates and colleagues. Where systemic forms of discrimination and inequality run deep, where the legal system, in its entirety, overwhelmingly promotes unjust hierarchies, are changes possible? Or, to pose Caribbean-American writer, poet and activist Audre Lordes’ words as a question: can the master’s house be dismantled with the master’s tools?

Not, in its entirety, no. But as I write this, it is also important to acknowledge the difference that it is bound to make at Jahangirnagar, to the lives of six young women and men-students, whose suspension will have to be withdrawn by the JU authorities. The difference that the second HC judgement will make to the lives of four young women complainants who had, against overwhelming odds, protested. Whose dignity – with the help of a new inquiry committee composed of neutral persons, working in accordance with guidelines set by the High Court – will be restored.

Laws, fortunately or unfortunately, are part of the political process. And, revolutions need to be created, and re-created. Again, and yet again.

*Rahnuma Ahmed is an anthropologist based in Dhaka. E-mail:

May 25, 2009 Posted by | Contesting Masculinity, Trends and Analysis, Women's Movement | Leave a comment

The Unfolding Crisis in Pakistan

‘The greatest threat lies in the tribal regions of Pakistan’

The greatest threat, it seems to me, lies not in the tribal regions of Pakistan as President Obama proclaims, but in the military-industrial complex that goes by the name of the United States, and in its heartless centres – Washington and Pentagon, writes Rahnuma Ahmed*

Republished from NewAge, Dhaka, Bangladesh

We need more troops, more helicopters, more satellites, more Predator drones in the Afghan border region. And we must make it clear that if Pakistan cannot or will not act, we will take out high-level terrorist targets like bin Laden if we have them in our sights.
   Democratic nominee Senator Barack Obama, Woodrow Wilson Centre, July 15, 2008


Photo: Wikipedia

SWAT, renowned for its natural beauty, its thick forests, lush valleys and sweeping mountains is now a scene of death and destruction, and of unfolding horror as the Pakistan military, armed with gunship helicopters, mortar and jets intensifies its operation to ‘eliminate’ Taliban fighters. Military operations are being conducted in three neighbouring districts of the North West Frontier Province – Swat, Dir and Buner – an area stretching to 400 square miles. According to the UN, 200,000 people have already left their homes, with another 300,000 leaving, or about to leave. But the total number of displaced people, due to the fighting in recent months, is estimated to be a million (The Telegraph/UK, May 8, 2009). According to the Asian Human Rights Commission, fleeing civilians, caught in the crossfire between the Taliban and the army, do not even have time to bury their dead.

American plans to intensify the conflict in a region that borders Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to the BBC, could only serve to ‘deepen the crisis.’ According to its Islamabad correspondent, the security forces are poised for a ‘showdown’. The present operation is regarded as ‘pivotal’ in the struggle against the Taliban. If it fails, Swat could turn into ‘an even bigger safe haven for militants and al-Qaeda than the tribal areas.’ According to Pakistan’s prime minister, this war is not a ‘normal war’ (but after all, what is a normal war?). It is a ‘war for the survival of the country.’

When I first saw the recent video footage of the public flogging of a 17-year-old girl by the Taliban in Swat, I remembered earlier video footages that had widely circulated on the internet, of women being publicly humiliated and beaten by the Taliban in Afghanistan. I also remembered Laura Bush’s solo radio address to the nation (the first to be delivered entirely by a first lady, October 2001). It was after the US invasion. The women of Afghanistan, we were told, were ‘rejoicing’. They no longer had to ‘face beatings’, they could wear ‘nail polish’ without being afraid of finger nails being pulled out. Seven and a half years later, there seems little reason to think that women still rejoice (if they ever did). According to news reports, women are disproportionately affected due to death and injuries caused by US and NATO troops, i.e. their ‘liberators’. I do not know whether something more lies behind the surfacing of these video footages ‘attesting’ to the inhuman treatment suffered by Muslim women, whether they are actually signifiers of impending western imperial aggression.

Chand Bibi’s screams, as J Sri Raman reminds us, were preceded by the sound of drones – remotely operated US gunships – for many months. Neither side, however, seemed to care about the ‘death and suffering’ caused by their actions.

Tensions grew between the two governments over the ceasefire or peace deal in which the Zardari government agreed to the Taliban’s enforcement of their interpretation of the shariah in Swat. The US secretary of state termed it an ‘abdication’ to the Taliban. The situation in Pakistan posed ‘a mortal threat to the security and safety of our country and the world.’ The Taliban, said Ms Clinton, were seeking to overthrow the state of Pakistan, one that is ‘a nuclear-armed state’. The Obama administration’s hysterical views on the government’s ability to contain the Taliban were chorused by members of the mainstream media and academics. On a Democracy Now! news video. I watched David Sanger of New York Times express doubts about whether Zardari’s confidence in the army to safeguard the nuclear bomb was justified. I watched Rolp Mowatt-Larssen of the Kennedy School of Government express fears that ‘instability might lead to a security breakdown where they might lose either material or parts of a [nuclear] weapon.’ But Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek, speaking on the Jon Stewart show, was in a class by himself. He shrilled excitedly as he said ‘(but) the problem in Pakistan is, we don’t have anybody there, we don’t have any US troops there.’

Historian Manan Ahmed, University of Chicago, was asked by Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman about the recent events, and how they get talked about in the US. There is a lot of hyperventilation, says Manan. It is very hard to project a future in which Pakistan fails. There are mega-cities, Karachi has a population of 18 million, Islamabad possibly 12-13 million. The Pakistan army is 500,000 to 700,000 strong, the Taliban fighters are estimated to be 14,000 to 18,000. It is very hard to see how they are simply going to walk into Islamabad and take over the nuclear bombs and the nuclear facilities. When asked by Amy, what should be the US administration’s approach to the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan, Manan replied, firstly, these two countries should not be linked together. The current administration’s Af-Pak strategy (or Af-Pak ‘theatre’) is misplaced, to start with. The fact of the matter is, Afghanistan has a population of 35 million or so, it is ravaged by 30-plus years of war, it has hardly any infrastructure to speak of, and very little urban presence. Whereas, in Pakistan, there are 175 million people, at least, some tradition of governance, and also, a fiercely critical media. Afghanistan and Pakistan are not countries whose fates can be lumped in one basket. The first thing to do, says Manan, is to recognise Pakistan’s own realities.

Secondly, he went on, the civilian government of Zardari has to be lent support. It is suffering from a legitimacy crisis on the domestic front because of the Long March. The drone attacks have contributed to the crisis, even though, according to Pentagon and other related outlets, their success rate is abysmally low, only 2 per cent of al-Qaeda, Taliban and targeted people have actually been killed, the remaining 98 per cent killed are civilians. In November last year, Gilani had promised to the nation on television that the new administration would stop the drone attacks. However, these attacks have not only continued but increased in frequency. I myself, said Manan, am not a fan of Zardari, but since this is the government that was elected by the people – and that too, after a 12-year gap in elections – one has to extend to them the political will to act in Swat, Waziristan, Balochistan. One has to give them the political standing that will enable them to go to the people and say, this is a hard war, we need to support the refugees and we need to fight these ‘foreign elements’ militarily.

Pepe Escobar, a Brazilian journalist, thinks the proposition that a rag-tag band with less than 10,000 fighters, no air force, no Predator drones, no tanks, no heavily weaponised vehicles, concentrated and localised in particular areas (of NWFP and Punjab), could rout the well-equipped, very professional 550,000-strong Pakistani army, the sixth largest military in the world, which has already met the Indian colossus in battle, is downright ‘ludicrous’. Why the hysteria then? He thinks a democratic government, a truly civilian government in Islamabad, is ‘more than a threat to US interests.’ The Talibanisation of Pakistan is a myth, it is a diversion, ‘a cog in the slow-moving regional big wheel – which in itself is part of the new great game in Eurasia.’ A new narrative is emerging, writes Escobar, one needed to legitimise Obama’s Af-Pak surge. The new uber-bogeyman is Baitullah Masood, with a $5-million price on his head. Predator drones hit his family home in South Waziristan twice but not where he was actually located. Even though the ISI had forwarded the information to the CIA. Not only once, but twice.

The greatest threat, it seems to me, lies not in the tribal regions of Pakistan as President Obama proclaims, but in the military-industrial complex that goes by the name of the United States, and in its heartless centres – Washington and Pentagon.

Shared ‘future’ (and past) of Pakistan and America’s rulers

The United States has a stake in the future of these two countries [Pakistan, Afghanistan]. We have learned, time and again, that our security is shared.
 President Barack Obama
   At a news conference in Washington, flanked by Asif Ali Zardari and Hamid Karzai, May 6

‘Future’, shared. Okay, maybe. But what about the past?

To be fair to president Obama, he did mention the ‘past’. Not at this news conference, but earlier, on March 27. In a speech broadcast live from the White House, he had said, ‘To avoid the mistakes of the past’ we must work with the people of Pakistan, not just the government.

What exactly did he (or his speechwriter) mean when he referred to ‘mistakes’ committed by the US and Pakistan governments? I presume he is speaking of previous US administrations since his is only four months old. What sort of work was it? What was it aimed at? Whose interests did they serve, the peoples’, or that of the rulers? If it was not that of the former but the latter – as many commentators and analysts now argue – what does it tell us about the nature of American politics? About the processes through which citizens of western democracies are led to believe that their elected leaders do not deviate from oaths taken, of protecting their own citizens? That their intelligence agencies, who work under the direction of these leaders, would not covertly work with the intelligence agency of a US ally, to murder its own citizens? (Well, maybe citizens of third world nations not intelligent enough to vote the right leadership into power, but surely not American ones?). When Obama says, the two nations must work with the US, to ‘disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaeda and its extremist allies in Pakistan and Afghanistan’ so that they can no longer ‘plot’ against, or ‘threaten’ the American people, a lesson ‘learned most painfully on 9/11’, which history do these words, repeated ad nauseum by both Democrats and Republicans and the parrot media, hide?

Currently, debates are raging over these political issues, inspired largely by the painstaking and meticulous research conducted over the last couple of years by a whole range of people, including professionals, grassroots workers and family members of victims killed on 9/11, who form the 9/11 Truth movement. Needless to say, the scientific findings and analyses of its members are largely marginalised by the American corporate media. After all, as the Nuremberg trials had demonstrated ‘propaganda’ was deemed by both prosecutors and judges to be a crime against humanity. Julius Streicher, founder and publisher of Der Sturmer, was accused, indicted and executed in 1946 for inciting the murder and extermination of Jews. By Nuremberg standards, top-ranking members of the US media too are culpable to charges of criminal complicity in mass murder.

The myth that the origins of al-Qaeda can be traced to the Soviet occupation (1979-1989) of Afghanistan was dispelled by Zbignew Brzezinski, president Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser. In an interview, Brzezinski said, the reality, which was ‘secretly guarded’, was ‘completely otherwise’ (Le Nouvel Observateur, 1998). President Carter had authorised secret aid to the opponents of Kabul’s pro-Soviet regime a good six months earlier, to ‘induce a Soviet military intervention’, to make them ‘bleed for as much and as long as is possible.’ The contra force was known as the Afghan mujahideen. Codenamed Operation Cyclone, the CIA’s mujahideen programme was one of the longest and most expensive CIA covert operations ever. Resistance groups received funding from Britain’s MI6, SAS, Saudi Arabia, and China. Between 1981 and 1993, the US government poured at least $6 billion; according to some estimates, figures were as high as $20 billion. A briefing paper for Pakistani parliamentarians states the ISI and CIA worked together in passing ‘weapons, military training and financial support to Afghan resistance groups’ (Pakistan’s Foreign Policy: An Overview 1947-2004. PILDAT, 2004). According to other reports, supporting guerrilla forces had two distinct advantages: while running an occupation was proving to be cripplingly expensive for the Soviet Union, the cost of supporting anti-Soviet guerrilla forces was relatively low. Further, since American troops were not directly involved, no body bags being flown home meant a low level of general public awareness, and hardly any disapproval.

According to the 2004 briefing paper, during this period, the ISI and the CIA encouraged volunteers from the Arab states to join the mujahideen groups. And that they did. At least a hundred thousand Islamic militants, says Ahmed Rashid of Far Eastern Economic Review, flocked to Pakistan between 1982 and 1992; among them, about 60,000 instead of taking part in the fighting, enrolled in madrassahs. Muslims who were recruited in the US were sent to the CIA’s spy training camp in Virginia. According to John Cooley, the author of Unholy Wars: Afghanistan, America and International Terrorism, young Afghans, and Arabs from Egypt and Jordan, and even some African-American ‘black’ Muslims were given training in ‘sabotage skills’. The Americans, said Tom Carew, a former British SAS soldier who had secretly fought for the mujahideen, were keen to teach the Afghans the techniques of urban terrorism, such as car bombing, ‘so that they could strike at the Russians in major towns’ (British Observer, August 13, 2000). In 1986, Osama bin Laden, a civil engineer by training, brought heavy construction equipment to Afghanistan from Saudi Arabia to build ‘training camps’ (later dubbed ‘terrorist universities’ by Washington) deep into the sides of mountains, and connecting roads, in collaboration with the ISI and the CIA.

New covert assistance under the Reagan doctrine saw a dramatic rise in arms supplies. As it rose to an annual high of 65,000 tonnes by 1987, a ‘ceaseless stream’ of CIA and Pentagon specialists journeyed to Rawalpindi. At the ISI headquarters there, ISI intelligence officers and CIA specialists, to borrow president Obama’s phrase, ‘worked together’ in planning operations to assist the Afghan mujahideen. CIA’s support for the jihadis, as Michel Chossudovsky, professor of economics, University of Ottawa points out, was channelled through the ISI. For the operation to be successful it was necessary that Washington’s ultimate objective of the jihad – destroying the Soviet Union – remains a secret. And thus, Muslim militants, motivated as they were by nationalism and religious beliefs, were unaware that they were doing Uncle Sam’s dirty job. ‘While there were contacts at the upper levels of the intelligence hierarchy, Islamic rebel leaders in theatre had no contacts with Washington or the CIA.’ With a staff estimated at 150,000, composed of military and intelligence officers, bureaucrats, undercover agents and informers, the ISI soon developed a ‘parallel structure’ which wielded ‘enormous power over all aspects of government.’

Closely linked to the CIA’s covert operation was the Central Asian drug trade. Previously, opium production was limited and catered to small regional markets. Two years after the CIA began its operation, the Pakistan-Afghanistan borderlands became the world’s top heroin producer; in Pakistan, heroin addiction rose from near-zero in 1979 to 1.2 million in 1985.

CIA’s support for the Islamic jihad was later relocated to Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Balkans, where new undercover initiatives were set in motion. According to Chossudovsky, the role of Pakistan’s military and intelligence network in the events leading to the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the emergence of six new Muslim republics in Central Asia proved to be that of a ‘catalyst’.

But surely, the close CIA-ISI ‘working relationship’ ended after the Cold War? Daniel Ellsberg, a military analyst employed by the Rand corporation who blew the whistle and revealed a top secret study of US government decisions about the Vietnam war in 1971 (Pentagon Papers), does not seem to think so. ‘To say Pakistan is, to me, to say CIA because … it’s hard to say that the ISI knew something that the CIA had no knowledge of’ (2004). Nine-eleven, according to the Truth-ers, was neither a surprise attack on the US government, nor was it an event opportunistically used by the Bush administration to extend the American empire. Nor was it a case of the Bush administration knowing about it but allowing it to happen. On the contrary, they think – and present a most convincing case – that 9/11 was not only orchestrated by the Bush administration, but that the ISI was a ‘working’ partner in the crime. I list only a few of the connecting-the-dots pointers that they raise: 

1. Evidence exists of multiple wire transfers in excess of $100,000 to alleged ‘lead hijacker’ Mohammed Atta prior to 9/11, and that these wire transfers are linked to the then ISI’s head Lieutenant General Mahmoud Ahmad, the alleged ‘money man’ behind 9-11 (ABC News, Time Magazine, Times of India). 

Even though questions were raised in the media about foreign intelligence backing for the 9/11 hijackers, the 9/11 Commission Report stated that the government has been unable ‘to determine the origin of the money used for the 9/11 attacks.’ And, that it is of ‘little practical significance’! 

2. General Mahmoud Ahmad was in the US when the attacks occurred. The Bush administration not only provided red carpet treatment to the alleged ‘money man’ behind the 9-11 attacks, it also sought his ‘cooperation’ in the ‘war on terrorism’. The precise terms of this ‘cooperation’ were agreed upon between General Mahmoud Ahmad, representing the Pakistani government, and deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage, in meetings at the State Department on September 12 and 13. In other words, the administration decided in the immediate wake of 9-11, to seek the ‘cooperation’ of Pakistan’s ISI in ‘going after Osama’, despite the fact (documented by the FBI) that the ISI was financing and abetting the 9-11 terrorists.

3. A few hours after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, the Bush administration concluded without supporting evidence, that ‘Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda organisation were prime suspects.’ President Bush confirmed in an evening televised address to the nation that he would ‘make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbour them.’

4. The Bush administration had planned to attack Afghanistan months before September 11. The White House, CIA and Pentagon put into action the already-existing plan which was probably why it was able to respond so quickly. The objective, according to a Pakistani diplomat to whom senior American officials had confided, was to topple the Taliban regime and install a transitional government of moderate Afghans, possibly under the leadership of the former Afghan king Zahir Shah.

On the 9th of September while General Ahmad was in the US, the leader of the Northern Alliance Commander Ahmad Shah Masood – the most important leader in the anti-Taliban alliance in Afghanistan – was assassinated. The Northern Alliance had informed the Bush administration that the ISI was allegedly implicated in the assassination.

If this be the history of the ‘working relationship’, of government-to-government contacts between the US and Pakistan, what does the future hold? Brzezinski had said something most telling. The Americans and the Pakistanis had collaborated very closely. They acted with remarkable courage. We supported them, they had our backing, but they were the ones endangered, not we.

Pakistan’s endangered days do not seem to be over. The worst seems to lie ahead. In ‘Obama’s new wars’ Reverend Richard Skaff writes, if the Obama administration has its way, Pakistan must be dismantled along with its ruling elite, the ISI and its military generals. Because it is they who are ‘the main accomplice and the last witness who would indict the cabal of criminals who committed the atrocity of 911.’

New imperial cartographies. Destroying and re-creating national boundaries

[t]he new face of globalization embodied in Mr. Obama who has began his new war in Pakistan in collaboration with the Indian government, in order to dismantle that country and balkanize it like the rest of the world. Certainly, the region will witness more contrived attacks that will escalate the conflict on the borders of India and Pakistan, which will eventually change the map of the region.
   Rev Richard Skaff, ‘Obama’s new wars’, Global Research, May 2, 2009

EMPIRE, as an idea, is constructed through cartographic, or map-making, discourses. And thus, it is not surprising, in the context of imperial histories of the west, and its imperial present, that a map termed ‘The New Middle East’ – stretching from Turkey in the west to Pakistan in the east – should surface in the early years of this century. A century that America’s rulers wish to re-craft as ‘the American century’.

As the world’s oil reserves increasingly got depleted – global oil production is reported to have peaked in 2004-05 – fierce competition began for control over the remaining oil reserves (the ‘great energy war’). Dick Cheney, the former US vice-president, summed it up best when he reminded his audience at the London Institute of Petroleum in 1999, ‘The Middle East, with two-thirds of the world’s oil and lowest cost, is still where the prize ultimately lies.’ He should know, he was then the CEO of the oil giant Halliburton. Of course, after becoming the vice-president, he no longer spoke about the Middle-East as the ‘prize’, but as ‘the place [where] terrorism must be confronted.’ Cheney was also one of the signatories to PNAC, the Project for a New American Century, a shop that is said to have closed down. So, do we still need to worry about America’s grand imperial designs, about overt and covert warfare? According to a Washington Post report (2006), an unidentified PNAC source had said, they had winded up but not from any sense of failure. On the contrary. Their goals, they felt, had been ‘accomplished’. The escalation in war (albeit with a change in terminology, recently pre-packaged as ‘overseas contingency operation’) under the Obama administration, proves that.

Did America covet its neighbour’s oil any less in the last century? No. The Eisenhower Doctrine, 1956-1958, was adopted to ensure US access to oil and gas. William Blum in the Rogue State writes, ‘In keeping with that policy, the United States twice attempted to overthrow the Syrian government, staged several shows-of-force in the Mediterranean to intimidate movements opposed to US-supported governments in Jordan and Lebanon, landed 14,000 troops in Lebanon, and conspired to overthrow or assassinate Nasser of Egypt and his troublesome Middle-East nationalism.’

Ralph Peters: ‘Ethnic cleansing works’

THE new imperial cartographer is Lt Col Ralph Peters of the US National War Academy, who was posted to the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence within the US Defence Department before his retirement, and is considered to be one of the Pentagon’s leading authors. Two maps of the Middle East, one Before, and the other After, were published with his article, ‘Blood Borders: How a better Middle East would look’, in the Armed Forces Journal (June 2006). Ralph_Peters_solution_to_Mideast Map: Wikipedia

A more peaceful Middle East, writes Peters, requires major boundary revisions. Colonisers of earlier eras (Peters calls them ‘self-interested Europeans’) had drawn the ‘most arbitrary and distorted borders’ in Africa and the Middle East. A fairer, even though not perfect, arrangement can be made if ‘national boundaries between the Bosporus and the Indus’ are amended. By conforming to the Middle East’s ‘organic frontiers’, it would correct the ‘wrongs suffered by the most significant “cheated” population groups, such as the Kurds, Baluch and Arab Shia.’ Until these ‘colossal, man-made deformities’ are corrected, hatred and violence will continue. Between all this proselytising, Peters slips in a sentence – ‘Oh, and one other dirty little secret from 5,000 years of history: Ethnic cleansing works’ – which does not conceal the murderous intent behind the new cartography.

Some countries would gain, others would lose, a small number would remain unchanged. The most glaring injustice, according to Peters, is the absence of an independent Kurdish state. A Free Kurdistan, made up of Iraq, Turkey and Syria, would reverse the human rights sin of omission – the failure to champion Kurdish independence. Better still, it would deliver ‘the most pro-Western state’ between Bulgaria and Japan. The rest of Iraq would be divided into a ‘Sunni Iraq’ and an ‘Arab Shia State’. Jordan would gain with ‘southward expansion at Saudi expense.’ Mecca and Medina together would form a Sacred Islamic State, ‘a sort of Muslim super-Vatican’. Iran would lose a great deal of territory to Unified Azerbaijan, Free Kurdistan, the Arab Shia State, and Free Baluchistan, but it would gain provinces around Herat from Afghanistan. Although losing to Persia in the west, Afghanistan would gain from Pakistan in the east. The latter, another ‘unnatural state’, like Saudi Arabia, would suffer similar dismantling. It would lose its Baluch territory to Free Baluchistan. Bloodshed, writes Peters is inevitable, but gradually new and natural (organic) borders will emerge. And of course, until they do, ‘our men and women in uniform will continue to fight for security from terrorism, for the prospect of democracy and for access to oil supplies.’

The map does not officially reflect Pentagon doctrine but it has been used in a training programme at NATO’s defence college for senior military officers, reportedly, at the National War Academy, and also in military planning circles since mid-2006. Its display in NATO’s military college in Rome, Italy sparked angry reactions among officers in Turkey, outraged to see a ‘portioned and segmented’ Turkey. The Turkish chief of staff protested to the US chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, this led to an American apology. I wonder, has similar outrage at the map been officially expressed by the military leadership and officers in Pakistan?

Peters’ article is available at the AFJ website, minus its maps. However, they are to be found at wikipedia and other websites. Its casual surfacing and circulation has led Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya to speculate whether it is an ‘attempt to build consensus.’ Maybe, to gradually prepare the general public for ‘possible, maybe even cataclysmic, changes in the Middle East’?

Vultures gathering for the feast?

Rajinder Puri, in a piece titled ‘If Pakistan Breaks…’ (Outlook India, April 15, 2009) cites the instance of China which, to safeguard its ‘strategic interests’, has recently signed an agreement with the NWFP provincial government, thereby ‘bypassing the central government of Pakistan to forge direct ties with its potential breakaway province.’ The agreement was signed on April 7 by the Pakistan ambassador and the governor of Xingjian province. Puri adds, ‘Afghanistan, Baluchistan and the territory it occupies in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir are necessary for Beijing to maintain its access to Gwadar port in Baluchistan and to Iran with which it has finalized mega contracts for supply of energy. It also seeks to maintain easy access from its Xingjian province to troubled Tibet.’ Puri advises his own government to ‘start formulating its future policies’ based on the ‘assumption’ that Pakistan may not ‘survive as a nation state.’

Pakistan, he writes, is an ‘artificially created’ state (reminiscent of Peters’ argument for ‘organic states’). It is, he contends, ‘under serious assault because of its internal contradictions.’ Of course, I have no reason to support Pakistan’s past military juntas, or its present pliant political leadership, and least of all, the octopus-like military-intelligence network, corrupt and power-hungry to the core. But Puri’s obliviousness to the Anglo-American military roadmap, to the evolving US foreign policy agenda of balkanisation (currently taking place in Iraq), or to map-making that advocates ethnic cleansing, contributes to the regional imperial reasoning.

As death approaches, vultures gather for the feast – so the saying goes.

Securing or destabilising Pakistan?

I believed it [the war in Iraq] was a grave mistake to allow ourselves to be distracted from the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban by invading a country that posed no imminent threat and had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks… Ending the war is essential to meeting our broader strategic goals, starting in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the Taliban is resurgent and Al Qaeda has a safe haven.
   Barack Obama, ‘My Plan for Iraq’, Op-Ed, The New York Times, July 14, 2008

SO, president Obama believes that the war in Iraq was ‘a grave mistake’. And what will the next US president say? That Obama’s escalation of the war in the ‘Af-Pak theatre’ was ‘an even more grave mistake’?

Baghdad was reported to be slipping into a civil war in 2006. In recent weeks, sectarian violence has exploded as the predominantly Shia Iraqi government forces and the US-created al-Sahwa (Sons of Iraq), a Sunni militia, openly fight each other. Sectarianism was unknown in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, writes Dahr Jamail. Manufactured and fomented by the occupying forces, it is aimed at dividing Iraq along purportedly ‘natural’ ethnic-religious lines – Kurds, Shias and Sunnis. Proposed by Senator Joseph Biden (now the vice-president) in 2006, the US corporate media has since gone into gear, spinning tales of how Iraq’s borders were ‘artificially-constructed’. And how, in the interests of stopping further bloodshed, Iraq needs to be carved-up.

A grave mistake it definitely was, but is the Obama administration doing anything to undo it? To make reparations? Like, say, rescinding the SOFA and the SFA agreements, said to have been approved by Iraq’s ‘sovereign’ parliament? Repealing the ‘hydrocarbon law’? Dismantling its 14 ‘enduring bases’ that resemble self-contained cities as much as military outposts? Closing down Fortress America, the recently-opened $700-million embassy in Iraq, the largest on the planet, ten times that of US embassy’s elsewhere, with space for 1,000 employees?

And what about the 1,331,578 Iraqi deaths? No doubt an unbearably heavy burden for a nation that had ‘nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.’ Lost lives cannot be brought back, but at the very least, international war crimes trials can proceed against Bush and co. ‘Forgiving and forgetting’ maybe easy for Obama, but not so for the Iraqis.

As Obama’s war shifts to Afghanistan and Pakistan (now that Iraq has been turned into, in Jamail’s words, a ‘permanent colony’), it seems, from what Obama says, the US’s ‘strategic goals’ can be broadened. And, what could they be? Are they aimed at making Pakistan more secure as a nation state, or at destabilising her?

Contrary to what US policymakers and opinion-makers would want us to believe, destabilising Pakistan – causing disruption and disarray in the Pakistani state – is part of ‘an evolving US foreign policy agenda’. Michel Chossudovsky, professor of economics, University of Ottawa, thinks that regime change is no longer the main thrust of US foreign policy. That the policy is to actively promote Pakistan’s political fragmentation and balkanisation, as a nation.

A new strategy has been set in motion to replace the older one of indirectly ruling Pakistan through its military and intelligence apparatus, one that was crafted and put into effect over decades by Washington. ‘Regime change’ aimed at ensuring continuity under military rule has been discarded. The new strategy is to institute a compliant political leadership, one that has no commitment to the national interest, that will simultaneously serve US imperial interests, while working towards the weakening of the central government, and fracturing Pakistan’s federal structure, already ‘fragile’. Direct forms of American interference – and this includes an enlarged US military presence within the nation’s territory – will soon follow.

Other reports indicate that Washington has been heavily pressurising the Pakistani government since January to forget its long-standing enmity with India over disputed Kashmir. To fight ‘its’ war instead, against the Taliban and ‘al-Qaeda’. Military aid passed by the present US Congress is tied, to ensure that Pakistan’s military establishment no longer deviates as it had earlier, when it secretly went ahead and made its own nuclear bomb (1998). It is generally believed that President Reagan had pretended not to know, had kept it secret from Congress so that military aid to Pakistan could pour unabated, and Pakistan (and the ISI) could continue brokering the Washington-sponsored mujahideen resistance in Afghanistan. To defeat the Soviet Union, the ‘evil empire’.

US military training to be given now will focus exclusively on fighting ‘counterinsurgency’ forces. In the name of providing military training to Pakistan’s security forces, analysts think that the US military presence will gradually be increased to numbers not previously known in Pakistan. Re-deploying the Pakistan army to fight the Obama administration’s war in neighbouring Afghanistan, and in its own country, is strategic to Washington’s global domination project: it will ‘free’ India from worrying either about its illegal occupation of Kashmir, or the threat of ISI-sponsored militant infiltration and attacks, planned across the border. A free Delhi will be able to work more closely with Washington, to be a counterforce to the inexorable rise of China. And, as Pepe Escobar points out, Washington’s dream of balkanising Pakistan would dismantle the ‘Terrorist Central’, capable of contaminating other parts of the Muslim world, from Indian Kashmir to the Central Asian ‘stans’ – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan. A Terrorist Central that was birthed and nurtured by the US, as revealed by Benazir Bhutto’s warning to President George Bush senior in the late 1980s, ‘You are creating a Frankenstein.’

Baluchistan, long neglected by the Pakistani government, is in Escobar’s words, ‘the ultimate prize’. Comprising half of Pakistan’s land area, its deserts are immensely rich in uranium and copper; potentially very rich in oil, it produces more than one-third of Pakistan’s natural gas. Less than 4 per cent of her population live there; Baluchis are the majority, seconded by Pashtuns. Strategically, the US covets Baluchistan for several reasons: it lies east of Iran, south of Afghanistan, and has three Arabian seaports, including Gwadar, practically at the mouth of the Strait of Hormuz. Built by China, Gwadar is the crux to what Escobar calls ‘the Pipelineistan war’, between the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline (IPI) and the US-backed Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline (TAPI). IPI is planned to cross from Iranian to Pakistani Baluchistan – a nightmare for Washington. Whereas TAPI, perennially-troubled, is planned to cross western Afghanistan via Herat and branch out to Kandahar and Gwadar.

Gwadar’s strategic value for China stems from its closeness to the Strait of Hormuz, since nearly 60 per cent of China’s energy supplies come from the Middle East. While China is anxious that the US, with its very high military presence in the region, could choke off these supplies, US military circles whip up paranoia about China’s scheme of building a naval base in Gwadar. In Washington’s dream of empire-building, Gwadar is to be the new Dubai. What stokes the fire is Pakistan’s status, a key pivot to both NATO and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, of which Pakistan is an observer. Whoever ‘wins’ Balochistan, says Escobar, incorporates Pakistan as a key transit corridor to either Iranian gas from the monster South Pars field, or to a great deal of the Caspian wealth of ‘gas republic’ Turkmenistan.

From Washington’s imperial perspective, Baluchistan has to be thrown into chaos. Nothing short of that will stop the construction of the IPI gas pipeline. Once Pakistan is balkanised, the US could take control of Baluchistan’s rich natural resources, and promote Gwadar for the benefit of TAPI, not IPI. That would fulfil the imperial dream – Caspian gas would flow under American and not Russian or Iranian control.

The impending Talibanisation of Pakistan is accompanied by shrill cries of ‘nukes in the hands of kooks’, i.e. derogatory reference to Islamic militants who, it is assumed, will lay their hands on Pakistan’s nuclear bomb any minute, and that of course, will signal the end of the world. In the last week of April, secretary of state Hillary Clinton, in an appearance before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was asked whether aid to Pakistan would be linked to getting information from AQ Khan, head of Pakistan’s nuclear programme, who later confessed to having been involved in a clandestine international network of selling nuclear know-how. Naming AQ Khan ‘probably the world’s greatest proliferator’, the US secretary of state said, we made it very clear that the network had been dismantled, and it was.

But has the US network been dismantled? Sibel Edmonds, a former FBI translator-turned-whistleblower, has tried for five years to launch a congressional investigation of corruption at Washington’s highest levels – sale of nuclear secrets, shielding of terrorist suspects, illegal arms transfers, narcotics trafficking, money laundering, espionage – but has not succeeded. Not only has Congress refused to act, but the Justice Department, on a request from the State Department and Pentagon, has shrouded her case under the state-secrets privilege, ‘a rarely used measure so sweeping that it precludes even a closed hearing attended only by officials with top-secret security clearances’ (Philip Giraldi, 2008). Edmonds offered to tell her story to US media outlets. No response. What is now known is from her interview in the UK’s Sunday Times, and through a website linked through her. Through these, Edmonds speaks of ‘a treasonous plot to embed moles in American military and nuclear installations and pass sensitive intelligence to Israeli, Pakistani, and Turkish sources [that] was facilitated by figures in the upper echelons of the State and Defence Departments.’ Her allegations are against Richard Perle, then chief of the Pentagon’s prestigious Defence Policy Board, and Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defence for policy. Senators Grassley and Leahy, a Republican and a Democrat, who interviewed her at length in 2002, attested to her ‘believability’. Nuclear secrets are definitely in rogue hands.

And, where, in this unfolding story of great power games and imperial designs, wars over energy, covert operations and military-intelligence networks, corrupt and pliant political leadership serving Western imperial interests, balkanisation and cartography, sales of nuclear secrets, are the people and what they want.

Iraqis want to stay united and to fight the occupation, writes Dahr Jamail. Pakistanis in general, according to The Times (May 5, 2009), are reported to ‘mistrust the west’ more than they fear the Taliban. And while Baluchis definitely want more autonomy, they are adamant about remaining within a Pakistani confederation. Escobar writes, people in FATA, or Swat, or anywhere else dread the Taliban-style rule. But they dread even more ‘being split into four countries and [going] under Indian suzerainty.’ And in Washington’s eyes, as Escobar points out, any form of resistance to foreign interference or Predator hell from above bombing is inevitably branded ‘Taliban’.

The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Washington, the Pentagon and its European allies, may truly have made a mistake.

*Rahnuma Ahmed is an anthropologist based in Dhaka. She can be reached

May 19, 2009 Posted by | Militarization, South Asia, Trends and Analysis | Leave a comment

Executions, Torture by Security Forces Go Unpunished

New Government Must Address Impunity to Make Good on Human Rights Promises

Human Rights Watch(New York, May 18, 2009)  The Bangladeshi government should take urgent action to make good on its campaign promise to end impunity for human rights abuses and to establish the rule of law, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Successive governments have promised but failed to ensure that law enforcement officials and soldiers responsible for abuses are brought to justice.

The 76-page report, “Ignoring Executions and Torture: Impunity for Bangladeshs Security Forces,” details the involvement of soldiers, paramilitary officers, and police in so-called “crossfire killings” and other custodial killings, torture, “disappearances,” and arbitrary arrests. It examines a number of cases that have received national and international attention, in which those responsible have not been prosecuted. Facing constant threats, harassment, and even physical abuse, victims and family members have often been forced to abandon their efforts to seek justice, and the suspected perpetrators have continued serving in the security forces.

“If you are a soldier, a member of the Rapid Action Battalion or the intelligence services, or a police officer, you can get away with murder in Bangladesh,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “But those who kill or torture should be behind bars with other violent criminals.”

Over the past five years, the military, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB)  an elite crime-fighting force and the police have been responsible for well over 1,000 killings. Human Rights Watch and others have long contended that many of these deaths, often described as “crossfire killings,” were actually extrajudicial executions of people in custody. Bodies of the victims often had wounds that suggested that they had been tortured. While there have been far fewer extrajudicial killings since the new government took power in January 2009, new cases have begun to emerge in recent weeks and no one has been held accountable for past abuses.

The report highlights the case of Choles Ritchil, a leader of the indigenous Mandi tribe, who was arrested and tortured to death by a group of soldiers in March 2007. It also describes how Khabirul Islam Dulal, a local politician in Bhola district, was tortured by navy officers in front of his family and neighbors a few weeks earlier. Although witnesses have identified suspects in both cases, no one has been prosecuted and imprisoned.

“The very forces tasked with upholding the law and providing security to the public have become well known for breaking the law in the gravest manner without ever facing any consequences,” Adams said. “Forces such as RAB and the military intelligence agency DGFI have become symbols of abuse and impunity.”

The report concludes that Bangladeshi governments since independence in 1971 have been unwilling to prosecute and punish state officers responsible for grave human rights violations. The problem is one of both law and practice. Alleged human rights violations should be investigated by an independent and neutral body, and archaic laws that shield security officials from prosecution should be amended. The report urges the government to set up a witness protection program and to prosecute or take disciplinary action against anyone who tries to stop or hinder a criminal investigation.

The situation is partially the result of an outdated legal framework under which law enforcement officersand members of the armed forces are shielded from prosecution. In violation of international legal standards, article 46 of Bangladeshs Constitution empowers parliament to pass laws that provide immunity from prosecution to any state officer for any act done to maintain or restore order, and to lift any penalty, sentence, or punishment imposed.

Soldiers and RAB officers are also protected from the civilian criminal justice system under rules that ensure that they can only be prosecuted in internal courts by their peers through processes that lack independence or impartiality. While the civilian courts have jurisdiction over cases involving police officers suspected of involvement in criminal activities, such officers are protected by Section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which requires explicit government approval to prosecute an officer purporting to act in an official capacity. Several other laws state that no legal action can be taken against a person who in good faith acts to implement any of its provisions.

Foreign governments are well aware of the poor human rights record of these agencies, but nevertheless cooperate with and provide training to them.

For all of these reasons, senior law enforcement and military officers have never been under strong systemic pressure to ensure that soldiers, paramilitaries, or police officers operate within the law or human rights norms. They take for granted that they have complete discretion in carrying out their mandate, even if it includes the use of unlawful violence. They send the message to victims that anyone who attempts to hold them accountable will have to pay a high price and that, in any case, the efforts will be fruitless.

Bangladeshs new government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, has declared a “zero-tolerance” policy for extrajudicial executions and stated that state officials who engage in such acts will be punished. There are, however, no indications that the authorities have initiated any serious investigations into past abuses or into credible allegations that several suspects in the February 2009 rebellion and massacre at the headquarters of the Bangladesh Rifles, the countrys border security forces, have been tortured and killed while in custody.

Given their long history of arbitrary arrests, torture, and extrajudicial killings, Human Rights Watch recommends that DGFI and RAB be disbanded or, at the very least, that an independent commission be set up to assess their performance, identify and recommend for dismissal officers believed to be responsible for serious human rights violations, and develop an action plan to transform them into agencies that operate within the law and with full respect for international human rights norms.

DGFIs operations should be strictly limited to lawful military intelligence activities and in no circumstances should it have powers to detain or to engage in surveillance of the political opposition and critics of the government.

“As a party to the UN human rights conventions, Bangladesh is obliged to ensure that all violations past and future  are investigated, and that those responsible are brought to justice,” Adams said. “If Bangladesh is to become a country in which fundamental human rights are respected and the law is applied equally to the poor and the powerful, the existing culture of impunity has to be torn down.”

Download the Human Rights Watch report, “Ignoring Executions and Torture: Impunity for Bangladeshs Security Forces,” 

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on Bangladeshs Rapid Action Battalion, please visit:

· Bangladesh: Investigate Killing by Anti-Crime Unit,” April 2009 news release

· Bangladesh: End Wave of Killings by Elite Forces,” August 2008 news release

· Judge, Jury, and Executioner: Torture and Extrajudicial Killings by Bangladeshs Elite Security Force,” December 2006 report

For more information, please contact:

In London, Brad Adams (English): +44-20-7713-2767; or +44-790-872-8333 (mobile)
In Sweden, Henrik Alffram (English, Swedish): +46-42-346-161; or +46-738-111-000 (mobile)

In Mumbai, Meenakshi Ganguly (English, Bengali, Hindi): +91-98-2003-6032 (mobile)

May 18, 2009 Posted by | Media Release | Leave a comment

Extrajudicial killings: a national shame

Editorial, NewAge, April 13, 2009

The new government declared that no more extrajudicial killings shall there be. The emphasis with which this was stated was inspiring and we pinned our hopes on the government assertion thinking that in at least one area of life a change was truly coming about. It did not take us long to be undeceived. On January 16 the Rapid Action Battalion killed a 38-year-old man in a late-night shootout at Abdullahpur under south Keraniganj. On Friday the same force killed a suspected criminal who was allegedly wanted in 17 cases at Najirbagh under South Keraniganj in a so-called ‘shootout’, according to a report published in New Age on Friday. The same mockery of justice and pillorying of the rule of law by the very law enforcers of the country. The cover-up story is also more or less the same stereotype – the victim and his cohorts either attempting to flee to escape arrest or firing upon the law enforcers which invited the fatal bullet from the law enforcers.

It seems the outcry by the human rights activists and civil society leaders and foreign observers has had no effect and the government is showing no more sensitivity to the issue than its predecessors. Extrajudicial killings in the hands of law enforcers claimed more than five hundred lives over the past five years, according to the human rights watchdog Odhikar. The home minister in parliament gave a slightly lower but far from comforting figure of 373. What looks further unpardonable about these incidents is that they are not probed and the perpetrators are not made accountable for the killings.

It is futile to argue that the victims were all hardened criminals running fugitive from justice. To deny a citizen his right to a fair trial is a complete negation of the very concept of rule of law. Our justice delivery system may be dilatory or even flawed but this does not give the law enforcers the right to short-circuit the process. Immunity of law enforcers in this regard may create much future complication. If they are not accountable on the question of human life how can they be made accountable in other fields? Reform of the police and the law enforcers is in the air, it is being demanded by the enlightened citizenry that the police change their mindset which was moulded under the past colonial and autocratic rules and reorient themselves as friends of the people and protectors of their rights. What we are seeing instead is that the police are allowed to become thoroughly scornful of human rights. The country’s image abroad as a democratic country will be further dwarfed, more strictures will be passed on the country by international rights bodies and the goal of strengthening the rule of law will recede further. Extrajudicial killings are a national shame.

April 23, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Press statement on inquiry into custodial deaths of BDR men, proper investigation, fair and transparent trial

28 March 2009

It is reported that those accused of mutiny and murder in the BDR Headquarters will be tried under the Army Act in a military court, although different ministers of the government have been making different statements. The act of rebellion is covered by the general amnesty, but murder, rape and looting are punishable offences. We expect, therefore, that a proper investigation and a fair and transparent trial will take pace and those found guilty will be punished.

However, as the BDR is under the Ministry of Home Affairs and not the Ministry of Defence it is logical to expect that the trial of BDR personnel will take place in an ordinary criminal court. A lengthy and cumbersome trial process can be avoided by using a Speedy Trial Court or a Special Tribunal. Legal experts are not in agreement regarding the legality of the use of a military court under the circumstances. Even if the use of such a court is legally valid, its legitimacy and transparency remains questionable. Legality is not the only measure of justice. In order for justice to be done, justice has to be seen and understood to be done. Hence it is critical that the trial and investigation be conducted in a manner that leaves no room for questions from any quarters. We think that the decision regarding the trial court and legislation should be taken after careful consideration of these issues.

In the meantime, at least 6 BDR personnel have died in mysterious circumstances causing public anxiety and concern regarding the investigation process. The mention of blood clots in the inquest report of Lance Naik Mobarak Hossain who died on 22 March 2009, points to the use of inhuman torture during interrogation. The use of torture in the interrogation process is not only a violation of human rights, as Bangladesh is state party to the Convention Against Torture it is both illegal and a punishable offence. We demand an independent enquiry into each of these deaths.

The families of BDR personnel are passing their days in a state of insecurity and uncertainty. The government must remember that it has duties towards them as well, especially as the investigation is ongoing.

Finally, we want to ask why the FBI who has failed to prevent the worst terrorist act in recent times on its own soil has been called in. Besides loose comments from different quarters on the nature of the incident and who may be involved is not helpful, it can only obstruct the investigation from taking its own course and become an obstacle in the path of justice.


Shireen Huq,

women’s movement activist

Rahnuma Ahmed,


Professor Anu Mohammad,

economist & university teacher

Dr. Shahdeen Malik,

lawyer & university teacher

Khushi Kabir,

NGO leader

Kamal Lohani,


Dr. Zafrullah Chowdhury,

health rights activist

Professor Perween Hasan,

university teacher

Professor Firdous Azim,

university teacher

Mohiuddin Ahmed,

economist & writer

Zakir Hossain,

NGO activist

Samia Afrin,

women’s movement activist

Shahidul Alam,


Maheen Sultan,

women’s movement activist

Rina Roy,

human rights activist

Lamia Karim,

university teacher

Shaheen Anam,

human rights activist

Saydia Gulrukh, anthropologist

Nahar Ahmed,

photographer & women’s movement activist

Zakir Kibria,

Executive Director, BanglaPraxis

Sayeed Ferdous, anthropologist

Mirza Taslima Sultana, anthropologist & university teacher

Sayema Khatun, anthropologist & university teacher

Sadaf Noor,

anthropologist & university teacher

Nasrin Khandoker

anthropologist & university teacher

Tarek Omar Chowdhury, writer


Bashirul Haq,


Shipra Deori,

women’s movement activist

Habibun Nessa,

lawyer and women’s movement activist

Mozammel Huq,

development banker


 Further Resources:

Govt should heed calls for probe into post-BDR rebellion deaths (NewAge editorial, March 30, 2009)

Inquiry into custodial deaths of BDR men demanded 

March 30, 2009 Posted by | Media Release, Statements | Leave a comment

A defining moment?

NewAge, March 30, 2009

The Durbar Hall photographs seem to have distracted public attention away from the deaths of several BDR soldiers. According to Amnesty International, there are credible reasons to think that four of these deaths were caused by torture. Surely, the timing of the release of these photographs, like the surfacing of many other events and innuendoes, is a mere coincidence? Rahnuma Ahmed* wonders

‘UNEASY lies the head that wears a crown,’ wrote Shakespeare. She is still haunted by memories of ‘grenades and bullets’, said Sheikh Hasina recently (New York Times, March 13, 2009). It was an obvious reference to the attempt on her life outside the Awami League central office during the Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led four-party alliance government. An attack that left two dozen dead. In early February, before the BDR rebellion occurred, the prime minister had to move from her Dhanmondi residence to Jamuna, the state guesthouse, far more secure. According to newspaper reports, international intelligence sources (US, UAE, Pakistan) had informed the government that Sheikh Hasina’s life was at risk from global terrorist organisations working in league with local militant groups.

Uneasy too, it seems, lies the head that has lost a crown. Ex-prime minister Khaleda Zia also has reasons to fear for her life. Ministers and lawmakers belonging to her government, Ruhul Kuddus Talukdar Dulu, Nadim Mustofa, Mizanur Rahman Minu, Alamgir Kabir, had reportedly extended patronage to JMB militants. Its top-ranking leaders had been arrested during her reign. Although the executions had taken place during the caretaker government period, rumours say, JMB militants view it as a betrayal. One that they have not forgiven. (They had wanted to speak to the media, but it was a wish that remained unfulfilled. Who knows what beans they would have spilled?) Rumours say JMB militants are biding their time.

Leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami, too, must be losing sleep as legal procedures for holding war crimes trials are increasingly worked out by the government. As a sidenote I cannot help but wonder about the US administration’s offer of help. Surely, it does not extend to extraditing Henry Kissinger, the-then US secretary of state, who had supported the Pakistan army’s campaign of genocide in 1971?

Regarding the BDR uprising, widespread public apprehension still remains: will we ever get to know the truth? Will we ever learn why, what happened, did happen? The commerce minister, Lt Col (retd) Faruk Khan, coordinator of three ongoing investigations, has since retreated on his earlier comments of JMB’s links to the Pilkhana carnage. These, we were informed, were based not on probe findings, but on ‘personal observations’. This was soon followed by a bit of wrangling with CID officials over whether video footage, containing evidence of the rebellion, had been recovered or not. Now that that is more or less settled, photographs have surfaced of the Durbar Hall meeting, in, of all places, Facebook. A selection has been printed in some of the leading dailies. How did they get there? The ISPR (Inter-Services Public Relations) surprisingly said they are ‘not aware of such pictures.’ More discerning minds, besides commenting that they ‘raise more questions than they answer,’ have pointed out that there is a central story line to the photos and the captions: that the BDR officers had not fired the first shot.

The Durbar Hall photographs seem to have distracted public attention away from the deaths of several BDR soldiers. According to Amnesty International, there are credible reasons to think that four of these deaths were caused by torture. Surely, the timing of the release of these photographs, like the surfacing of many other events and innuendoes, is a mere coincidence?

Civil-military relations: replacing history with naiveté

SOON after the Pilkhana carnage, I happened to watch a talk-show on a private TV channel. The discussant was a senior retired army officer, also a freedom fighter. In the light of the carnage, he said, three things should no longer be mentioned: command failure, intelligence failure, and corruption (in the army). I add to this list, ‘accumulated grievances’, one that I have come across elsewhere.

They hardly are.

But the more I think about it, the more evident it becomes that he was advocating an erasure of history. The history of our army’s intervention in politics, including the two years of army-backed Fakhruddin rule.

It is difficult to follow his advice, especially as I listen to audio-tapes (the ban on YouTube having been lifted) of the March 1 encounter between angry army officers and the prime minister at Senakunja. Apologists have pointed out that the rudeness on display is understandable. Grief-stricken at having lost so many of the best and brightest, the emotional outburst of the officers was only to be expected.

But, of course. Particularly since bereavement in Bangladesh is neither individuated, nor is it a private affair, as is the norm in western societies. Launch and ferry disasters occur regularly, and one often sees bereaved family members crying out at the injustice: at Allah, for not having been merciful; at launch owners, for having been criminally negligent; at district officials, for their laxity in conducting rescue operations. But their aggrieved tone beseeches. It implores. It is that of a supplicant unlike that of the army officers at Senakunja.

Although the BDR rebellion was, in an objective sense, a fratricidal conflict (to quote from the prime minister’s moving address to the nation, ‘brother against brother’), it quickly took on the overtones of a civil-military conflict since the government had opted for a political (negotiations), instead of a military resolution to the rebellion (storm Pilkhana and ‘crush’ the rebels).

Emotions, too, are embedded in larger structures of power, and powerlessness. And although the voices of our respectable army officers refer to a senior-junior division within the officer ranks, to a division between power-hungry army elders vs juniors who are mere pawns in their power games, in the final analysis, this division gets over-ridden. What emerges is a collective voice, a voice that does not take cognisance of the fact that the person whom they address is no other than the one overwhelmingly voted to power by the nation’s electorate, to lead the nation. To embody and represent the collective will of the people. And this ability to not take cognisance is deeply embedded in a particular history of power. It is a history that cannot be denied or wished away, however much one may wish to do so. It is the history of the army as a contestant of state power. As a usurper of state power. As a wielder of state power. One that is, after all is said and done, based on its monopoly of coercive force. One of the questions raised, rather plaintively, amra ki emon shujog-shubidha pai? (After all, what benefits and facilities do we get?), speaks of a detachment from the social and material realities of Bangladesh. To civilian ears, it cannot sound anything but naive. And it is the entrenchment of these vocal officers (since only three splices of the Senajunja meeting have been made publicly-available) in a history-less space, one that is not materially grounded in the structures of either society or state, that in a sense, reinforces civilian perceptions of the army as an exclusive and isolationist group.

It has served to not only deepen the civilian-military divide but paradoxically enough (or, maybe not) to garner support for civilian power and authority.

A blurring of the civil-military divide in India and the US

IT IS generally assumed that military rule occurs only in third world countries, it is caused by weak political institutions, competition between political and military elites for power. But things are not as simple as that. Let’s take a closer look at two of the largest democracies in the world, India and the United States.

There is evidence of growing militarisation in neighbouring India, but this has been caused not by the weakening of political institutions, nor because of changes in civilian-military relations at the formal, institutional level. Sunil Dasgupta argues that two trends, the growing internal security role of the military, and the growing ‘militarisation’ of political, technical and administrative leadership, have resulted in a blurring of the civilian-military divide.

And, in the case of the United States, although state power rests with civilians, it is an acknowledged fact that the nation is ruled by the military industrial complex, interestingly enough, a term popularised by president Eisenhower, the general turned politician. Eugene Jarecki, author (The American Way of War), filmmaker (Why We Fight) and public policy thinker, in a recent interview says, once upon a time Clemeceau had said that war should not be left to the generals. But in the last eight years, it was civilians (Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Condoleeza Rice) who brought the world to one of the most dangerous points witnessed in our human history. It was civilians who told the generals to shut up.

Eisenhower had said in his farewell address – and Jarecki adds, think about this in the 9/11 context – in meeting crises whether foreign or domestic, whether great or small, there is a recurring temptation to feel that some spectacular or costly action could prove the miraculous solution to all difficulties. But the real answer to crises is to seek a balance in, and among, national programmes. There is no such thing as perfect security. It has never existed, it never will. In opting for spectacular or costly actions, we can destroy from within what we are trying to protect from without.

The nation’s subalterns

Lessons to be learnt
 THE majority in this nation are subalterns: peasants, garment factory workers, jute mill workers, indigenous peoples protesting against coal mines that will uproot and destroy means of livelihood and ways of life, people lacking basic healthcare, schools, women wanting to be free of sexual harassment, and many, many others. We have lessons to learn from the Pilkhana tragedy. The real answer, as Eisenhower had reminded us, lies in seeking a balance in, and among, national programmes. Not in chasing after a mirage of perfect security.

*Rahnuma Ahmed is an anthropologist based in Dhaka. Contact:

March 30, 2009 Posted by | Dispatches Notes & Remarks | Leave a comment