December 31, 2007

Creativity, Innovation and Law

A video that everyone with an opinion on VoIP should watch.

December 21, 2007

Markets as Solutions for Everything?

An old TIME magazine article that I came across the other day has this to say:

“The power of markets, it turns out, has something to say about practically everything. We see it at work on Wall Street, which absorbs the collected wisdom of millions of investors and expresses it as stock prices. Prediction markets now let people bet on everything from sports scores to election results to the expected capture of al-Qaeda bigwig Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi…

“…Consider the investigation just launched in Washington over an apparent leak at the Department of Homeland Security in which insiders seem to have tipped off relatives about an alleged threat to the New York City subway system. Outrageous behavior? Perhaps. But get those "insider traders" into a market, and everyone will have access to that information. Insiders have a motivation--money, at the basest level--to distribute their knowledge”

Read the rest here.

Certainly an interesting idea and one I do not subscribe to fully. I would be highly interested in the Islamic debates concerning such “prediction markets” given that they are akin to gambling if not gambling itself.

December 16, 2007

শুভ বিজয় দিবস

On the 37th anniversary of the birth of our Republic from the ashes of a badly-run Tyranny that had just committed Fratricide from which there is no return, we find it in pretty bad shape and as ever hope for the best.

From the blogs:

If you want to know the state of Bangladesh right now, read this.

If you want to know the history of Bangladesh's bloody birth, read this.

If you want to know our darkest fears, read this.

And if you dream of a better Bangladesh, this blogger invites you to spell out exactly what you would want to see in such a country.

Lastly, the least I can do, for all those who lost their lives in '71 so that today we the living can live with dignity and say with pride that we are Bangladeshis, is to remember their sacrifice. Below, with Mash's permission, I have copied from his blog the testimonies of those who saw their loved ones taken away, their lives shattered and their families broken. All for the "sin" of being the wrong colour and speaking the wrong language. Today we hear from some quarters - both criminals and their apologists - a lot of bluster about "Islam" and "Bangladesh". Those who defend the killers of innocents have no moral authority to talk about these two things while defending them. Those who killed innocents have no moral authority to talk about these two things under any circumstances whatsoever.


Credit goes to Dr. Ziauddin Ahmed for compiling these testimonies.

We salute those who spoke of such tremendous loss with so much courage.


Pakistan army killed my father

It was a dark day in the history of genocide, March 25th 1971. A deathly hush had fallen over the bustling capital city of Dhaka, as Pakistani soldiers, armed to the teeth began their systematic and brutal blood bath of the Bengali army, navy and air force personnel , followed by mass executions of civilians; professors, doctors, lawyers and other professionals and university students were targeted . The city was terrorized as squads of Pakistani soldiers forced their way into homes in the middle of the night, dragged their targets out, before their screaming families and shot them in cold blood, checking them off their death list.

The Pakistani terror squad quickly spread to the neighboring cities, burning villages to the ground on the way, shooting escaping civilians; men, women and children, as they ran out of their burning homes. By that time all news of the genocide operation was controlled by the Pakistan army and the propaganda machine was in full force, along with a complete curfew. Electricity and water was turned off along with all communications.

Major M.A. Hasib stationed in Comilla cantonment, a city approximately 60 miles from Dhaka, was making arrangements and looking forward to a civilian life, after devoting a 21 year career to the Pakistan army. He had opted for an early retirement, because he had been superseded for promotion to Colonel twice. He was disgusted with the treatment of Bengali officers by the Pakistani army, who routinely and deliberately, used the concept of the glass ceiling and kept the Bengali officers in their midst at lower ranks. Hearing of the atrocities committed by the Pakistani soldiers, from the news on BBC radio, his wife feared that he was imminent danger. But he comforted her. Believing that since his early retirement was approved and came into effect only ten days earlier and that he had been a loyal army officer all his life, they had nothing to fear from him, thus no harm would come to him and his family. But the Pakistani death squads were taking no chances.
They came for him on the morning of March 29th 2007, as he sat down to breakfast with his family and huddled together to listen to BBC news on the transistor radio. He was my father, Major M.A.Hasib. Four armed soldiers escorted into a jeep at gunpoint. That was the last time he was seen alive.

My mother and two small sisters were later thrown into prison camp, where they witnessed and suffered the atrocities committed by the Pakistani soldiers.
My father’s brutal end came to light after Bangladesh became independent. An eye witness, a barber whose life had been spared, because his services were needed by the Pakistani soldiers, told authorities a brutal tale of torture and murder and led authorities to seven mass graves, only a short distance from our house, with 500 bodies, all blind folded, their hands tied behind their backs, shot by firing squad.

He was my father, Major M.A. Hasib. He was forty two years old.

Rukhsana Hasib, Holland, Pennsylvania


They killed my two brothers

My brother Shahidullah Kaiser was a famous journalist, novelist and also an associate editor of a daily news paper.. He was very respected for his relentless work and activism for Bengali language movement and other cultural activities to inspire the nation. At the end the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971, the Pakistan Army and its local collaborators initiated a plan for killing the leading Bengali intellectuals. As a part of it, Mr. Kaisar was rounded up on 14 December 1971 only 2 days prior to the liberation of Bangladesh.. He never returned, nor was his body found. It is assumed that he was executed along with other intellectuals. My other brother, Zahir Raihan, a notable film-maker, writer, novelist and cultural activist who was in India helping the liberation war and returned immediately after the liberation on 16th December. He was a man of enormous courage and integrity. When he heard the news about Mr. Kaiser, he unknowingly entered to an enclave of Pakistani army and its collaborator who had not surrendered their arms despite the official surrender of Pakistani army. Zahir Raihan could not come back and is body also was never found. He disappeared on December 30, 1971 trying to locate his beloved brother. The wives of my brothers went through so much hardship and pain in raising their mostly minor children. My family waited many years hoping that they might come back as prisoners of war, but our tears were dried up pain remain the same.

Shaheen Shah, New York, New York


They tortured and killed my father Mr. Serajuddin Hossain who was executive editor of a daily newspaper Ittefaq

It was almost at the end of the 9 months of war and struggle for independence on 10th December 1971. After midnight in during the blackout, curfew at 3:30 a.m. we heard knocking at the door! We woke up; my brothers at the living room lit the light and looked outside. They recognized our landlord, who asked to open the door. My brothers thought the landlord and his family was in danger, may be my father could help them, so my brother tried to open the door and in lighting speed a barrel of rifle got in, some one screamed "hands up". In thundering speed near about 10 armed men entered in the room. Most of them were in masks. Keeping living room people at gunpoint they were asking their name one by one in Urdu language. Then they took them to out side verandah, where the whole family of our landlord stood in gunpoint. By that time I rushed to my father’s door to let him know that the embodiment of death, Pakistan army and Razkars, Al Badrs were there. We had a great confidence that if my father came out and reveal his identity then they would not do any harm to us. Armed Razkars, Al Badrs and army personnel entered the bedroom of my parents and rushed to my father and asked his identity in gunpoint. My father only could say, "Serajuddin Hossain, Executive editor of daily Itte…." A harsh voice screamed "hands up, Auo hamara saath’ (Come along with us). My father could not wear his shirt (Panjabi), he was just wearing a t-shirt (Sando Genji), and Lunghi – the traditional Bengali casual dress, he was bare footed and holding a torch light in his hand. They brought him out and hurriedly told us to go to inside of the room and shut the door, they threatened us not to look through windows or even try to follow them; they would shoot if we did not follow the instruction! My father at that point only was asking to take his torch light from his hand. One of my brothers went and got the torchlight. One of armed persons asked for a piece of cloths at one point, I handed over him a gamchcha (towel). Then they walked away, under the severe December cold they took my father barefooted wearing only Lunghi and sleeveless Sando Genji. We did not see our beloved father any more!

What happened next? The scaffold fields of Rayer Bazar and Kata Shur revealed the aftermath of that kidnapping. Innocent unarmed Bengali people’s tragic fate exposed the brutality and tortures of the Pakistan army, which is unmatched in human history! Their crime against humanity is evident in all over Bangladesh. I can not wipe out that memory for a moment. I can not go further, I can not imagine what happened next, I wish my father could escape that inhuman torture and cruelty of Pakistan Army, Razakars and Al Badrs, which were evident in found dead bodies of those thousands scaffold fields scattered all over Bangladesh!

Fahim Reza Noor, New York, New York


Pakistani army killed my two brothers and friends

Malnichara Tea Garden is just in the outskirt of Sylhet town in Bangladesh. Its lush green plantation canopied by the giant rain trees is a sight to see from the roadside on the way to the Sylhet Airport. In 1971 April 6th it was no different, except the Pakistan army was moving into Sylhet town after taking control of the Airport. On their way they systematically killed people to occupy the land. The green tea plantation turned into a killing field with the blood of unarmed innocent Bengalese.

We do not know exactly what took place in those eventful hours but we came to know later that whoever was living in Malnichara Tea Garden that day was executed. My brother the acting manager Shawkat Nawaz was in charge of the tea plantation when the management of the company evacuated a non Bengali manager from Malnichara for his safety. During the non-cooperation movement which started after 1st of March 1971, when the President of Pakistan Yahia Khan postponed the commencement of the newly elected National Assembly, my other brother Shah Nawaz along with two of his friends arrived at the garden for a visit from Dacca. All of them including the household helpers living in the bungalow were killed. We did not know about their whereabouts until sometimes in October of 1971 when our father, Noorul Hossain personally made a trip to Sylhet and came to know their fate, that they were all killed by the Pakistan Army. Before that we were even told that they may have taken shelter in India.

After the liberation of Bangladesh, when I visited Malnichara Tea Garden along with our family. I saw remains of the bodies which I recognized by their worn-out garments, lying in a ditch inside the tea garden. The shirts they were wearing still had dark patches on them with bullet holes. These brutal killings and murders by the Pakistan army were never put on trial. They were never punished for killing innocent unarmed civilians.

My brother Shawkat Nawaz was the friendliest person ever lived on the face of this earth. He could make friends with anyone in no time. He was a natural talent. He could pickup any musical Instrument and play just by observing someone playing. He never took any art class but he could draw or paint without any effort. The most tragic part was that he was engaged to be married and his wedding date was yet to be announced.

Everything changed on the night of 25th March, 1971 when Pakistan Army came down upon the innocent people of Bangladesh and killed them to occupy and rule violating all human rights. In his last letter to his youngest sister, Shawkat Nawaz wrote- "This is the defining moment for us Bengalese to be truly independent once for all". He did not see the independent Bangladesh, but he and thousands of Bengalese laid down their lives to become martyrs for an independent Bangladesh for us to live in free country.

Hasan Nawaz, Wilmington, Delaware Ayesha Fazlullah, Paoli, Pennsylvania (sister)


Pakistani army killed my father

My father Mr. Tarikul Alam was the traffic officer of Pakistan International Airlines in the district of Jassore. He was picked up by Pakistani forces from his office on April 27 th, 1971, and then he was taken to a remote area and shot to death. They put my father’s body in hurriedly dug out hole and left. My mother was looking for him for three days. She then learned from local villagers of a dead body found in a hole. My mother identified my father’s body. He then received a proper Islamic burial on April 30th.

I was 9 years old and my younger brother was 7 years old at the time when our father was killed. We grew up without the love and care of our father and my mother took on the burden of raising her two children without her loving husband.

Sabina Ahmed, New Jersey


Pakistani army killed my father, we never found his body

My father Mr. Syeed Raisul Kadir was the District Adjutant of Ansar in the district of Jhinaidah. He was picked up by Pakistani forces from our residence in the first week of December, 1971. My mother and other family members looked for him everywhere. However, as of today, we did not find his dead body or his grave, and not know what happened to him.

I was 11 month old and my younger brother was 29 days old when our father was killed. We grew up without the love and care of our father and my mother took on the burden of raising her 4 daughters and one son without her loving husband.

Nawrin Kadir, New Jersey


Pakistani army killed my father and shot and left me to die

It was 15th April in 1971 in the city of Chittagong , Pakistani army came to our house and asked my father to go with them to treat some patients. My father Dr. Ashraf Ali Talukdar was a surgeon in the Police Hospital. He told them to bring the patients to the hospital where he can treat them properly. They did not listen and became very rude and dragged him out. I am the oldest son and was 18 years old first year medical student. They also dragged me out and drove us blind folded for some distance. When they opened our eyes, we found ourselves in a room filled with blood every where. In no time they started shooting at us. My father died instantly and I got hit in my shoulder and started bleeding profusely. They hit my abdomen with bayonet and I stopped moving and pretended dead. They loaded us in a truck which was filled with about 30 dead bodies and drove us to the river. They threw all the bodies to the river and me and my father fell on the bank. Next day the villagers came down and took me to their house. A doctor came and started intravenous fluid to resuscitate me from the shock. I was there for few days and then I was taken to a hospital inside India crossing the nearby border. My father was buried there by the villagers. My mother and my younger brothers lived a dreadful life during the 9 months of war. I recovered slowly but developed restlessness. All through my life this haunted memory drives me crazy. I am always restless and in swinging mood… Even for a moment cannot think back.

Dr. Masudul Hasan, New York, New York


They killed my father inside the hospital

My father Dr. Shamsuddin Ahmed was chief and Professor of Surgery at Sylhet Medical College in 1971. He was always involved in many humanitarian activities and organizing medical profession through out his life. When the Pakistani army started the Genocide on 25th march of 1971 the whole city was overwhelmed. The main medical college hospital was filled with people with bullet injuries. Panic stricken people including all the doctors of medical college started evacuating the town. My father decided to stay in the hospital with the wounded but sent his family including his old mother away to the village. My mother principal of the Women’s College decided to stay at home, so if needed can go to the hospital incase of any help needed for the hospitalized patients. One young physician, an ambulance driver and a male nurse also stayed with him in the hospital to take care of the causalities. The genocide and killing intensified in the city and more injured people started filling the hospital. My father and his team had to remain inside the hospital for continuous 3 days due to curfew. On April 9th the Pakistani army entered the hospital and shot my father point blank including the other members of the team and some patients inside the hospital. Next 3 days due to curfew no body knew what had happened. During few hours of curfew break, my father’s uncle went in search of him and found him and others dead inside the hospital compound. He with the help of some family members and friends hurriedly buried them inside the hospital compound. The life changed suddenly to my mother, my grand mother and five of my siblings. My father was the only son and my grief stricken grand mother died within a year. My mother became very sad and kept herself very busy with her college and raising us single handedly. She never talked about those days until very recently. My brother and sisters still find very painful to reminiscence any memory.

Dr. Ziauddin Ahmed, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


Pakistani army killed my dad

My father Mr. Golam Kibria Pathen was working in Bata Shoe factory at Tongi, adjacent to Dhaka City in 1971. We are from Brahmmon Baaria of greater Comilla area. From the beginning of our freedom fight my father actively involved himself in our march towards freedom. He helped the freedom fighters and allied force, sheltered them in our house and later he turned to freedom fighter and fought against Pakistani army. At the fag end of our freedom fight on 4th December around noon time a Pakistani Army Major came to the Bata Shoe factory and in front of the British Manager the Major shoot my father point blank and thus killed my beloved father. I was only 7 years old at that time and I was the eldest son of the family. Wink of an eye we turned orphan! Later, one of the freedom Fighters Mr. Masud, who was known to us, found my father’s dead body at the bank of the Bhirab River. Without having our father we had to struggle all through our life to survive. We could not recover from that loss.

Selim Reza Pathen, New York, New York


My brother was an innocent victim of genocide in 1971 in Bangladesh

Like any family in Bangladesh, when we grow up and take the charge of our life we always look forward to come to assistance to our parents. My brother Shahid Mansurur Rahman laid his life in the same way. Being a graduate in Agricultural Science he was planning to pursue further studies. But for the sake of the family he took a job in a Tea Garden-which was owned by West Pakistani group. During the Month of March/1971 he was having a family vacation with us away from his job. But when he learned that the Pakistani manager left the garden, he decided to go back to the garden to help the poor laborers. We could not stop his allegiance to the duties. Once the Pakistani Army took over the control of the Chittagong (the port city of Bangladesh)–they arrested him. Took him to their custody without our knowledge. They tortured him. For days and nights he was without food or water. They tried to get some information about the whereabouts of freedom fighters, which he had no idea. The Ruthless Pakistani Army finally shot him to death. My father tried in vain to rescue his body.

All we know like all other Shahids (Martyrs of our Independence Struggle) — his soul, his body and his blood is a part of this new nation–who wants to thrive on its own culture, history and dignity.

Aminur Rashid RPh, Lakewood, NJ


Pakistani army killed my brother

My brother was killed by Pakistani Army Thirty-Six years ago, on a morning of March 26, 1971; the first day of Genocide, some of the bravest and most enlightened sons of Bangladesh made their supreme sacrifice for the cause of dignity and freedom. Teachers, students, and professionals, were picked up from their residences, blindfolded and taken them in front of Iqbal Hall and British Council, within the area of Dhaka University, to be tortured and slaughtered. Selective killing went on side by side with mass killing. The history of Bangladesh has been made by the brave people who sacrificed their lives in 1971.The genocide at Dhaka University Teachers Quarter, apartment 12 F, is one of the thousands "My Lai Massacres" in Bangladesh.
My elder brother Shaheed Syed Shahidul Hasan, 28, along with another young University lecturer were brutally shot dead by Pakistani Military, in side the teachers apartment, when they were having breakfast. Later they took the martyrs’ bodies to Iqbal hall’s field where people including, Teachers, student dead bodies of teachers and students of Dhaka University were laid side by side ;the martyrs’ bodies were left there for two days till after the Curfew break for few hours on 27th March. The family and friends then secretly recovered some of the bodies. My brother Shahidul Hasan‘s body was quickly buried in near by graveyard; Afterwards, Pakistani Military started shots and fire with their artillery, demolish the remaining martyr’s bodies.
The genocide committed by its forces in Bangladesh on the night of March 25, 1971. And the morning of 26th march 1971, under a carefully thought-out scheme decided to eliminate hundreds of leading lights of different professions with the purpose of destroying the intellectual stuffing of an emerging free nation. The nine-month-long genocide began with the killing of Dhaka University teachers and culminated in the killing of intellectuals

Hundreds of thousands of people laid down their lives to secure independence for the country. Now, it is our turn to make sacrifices to get the country back on track and put it firmly on the ideals that they fought with their lives for. Their gallantry and sacrifices are soul-lifting and an undying fount of idealism and patriotic inspiration.

Dr. Syed Hasan Mamun, Boston, Massachusetts


They killed my father and our family was ruined

My father Dr. Shakhawat Hossain was the physician and working at Jessore Hospital at the time of our freedom fight. My father and his colleagues helped and secretly treated the injured freedom fighters and some how that news was leaked; due to that the brute Pakistan Army came and killed my father along with his 4 colleagues on 5th April 1971. We did not get my father’s dead body. Among 5 sisters and 2 brothers I am the youngest one and I was only 2 years old at the time of this tragic event. My mother could not absorb the shock and turned abnormal right after the killing of my father. My mother died in 1974. The tragic and premature death of my father was the devastating blow to our family. We not only turned orphan rather became refugee – could not stay in one place. Our family life was torn apart for the hardship due to loss of our father. It is not easy to look back.

Farhad Hossain, New York, New York


The Pakistani army killed an elderly physician

Saturday, May 29, 1971, Bogra Cantonment, Bangladesh. A day, a date, a place, connected to an event that will be remain forever seared in the memories of my wife and her relatives, for it was the event that robbed them of a patriarch of the familyher maternal grandfather, the well known Dr. Kosiruddin Talukdar, physician and humanitarian par excellence. On the morning of that fateful day, a Pakistani army jeep screeched to a halt in front of the residence where he had been temporarily staying with his wife for the last few weeks. His own large and spacious two-storey brick and concrete residence, White House, had been shelled by the invading Pakistan Army, ransacked, looted, and subsequently set on fire resulting in loss or destruction of all its contents as were his office and pharmacy, several weeks earlier.

He had returned to Bogra a few days short of three weeks from a village deep in the rural regions surrounding the town, set up a temporary clinic and began seeing and treating patients again. An extremely active person even at his age, 71, he loved the opportunity to practice medicine and enjoy the daily parade of patients into his office. Earlier like everyone else, he and his family members had fled the town in fear of the marauding and destructive Pakistani Army that advanced towards the town. However, once Bogra was occupied, the Army set about its pacification program trying to lure as many of the former inhabitants to return to their residences.

The two soldiers who had knocked on the door simply stated that he was being taken away for an inquiry into his alleged clinical treatment of suspected members of the Mukti Bahini. As the aged physician prepared to leave, he took off his watch and handed it to his wife. Several hours later, villagers who lived near the cantonment area brought the ghastly news of his brutal murder that they had the opportunity to witness, to his wife. Earlier in the day, they had noticed a jeep come to a halt along the roadside leading into the cantonment area. The soldiers had taken a single person out of the jeep, pushed him into the roadside ditch, and after bayoneting him and firing six shots into his fallen body, left. As soon as the soldiers disappeared from sight, the villagers rushed to the location of the brutal murder and someone instantly recognized the town’s most famous doctor. They gently removed his bloodied shirt and buried him according to Muslim funeral rites. Later in the day they located where his wife was residing in town and related the final moments of the doctor’s life. They returned the bloodstained shirt too.

It was early evening, May 29, 1971 when the telephone rang at my wife’s home in Dhaka and life would never be the same again.

Dr. Faruq Siddiqui, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

December 13, 2007

Humour: President's Pardon Inspires Some Others

December 12, 2007

Tacit Takes A (em)Bedded Reporter to Task, Tasneem Khalil Takes the Government to Task

At times like these when you don't have enough time to blog, it's really good to have other people do the job for you.

Tacit has written a(nother) fierce little piece on the state of the Daily Star today. Best quote for my money:

We don’t know what Mr. Manik is getting out of prostituting his journalistic ethos to our army generals, but we hope, for his sake, that he set his price high... he should also remember the ultimate fate of all those who have sided against democracy and freedom in Bangladesh. Remember, and maybe reconsider.

Also worthy of notice: Tasneem Khalil's cutting piece on the hypocrisy of this government.
Best quote:

In post-1/11 Bangladesh: a human rights advocate is a criminal, an university student is a criminal, a professor is a criminal, a politician is a criminal, a democrat is a criminal, a jute-mill worker is a criminal, a journalist is a criminal, a tea-stall-wallah is a criminal, a cartoonist is a criminal, a garments worker is a criminal, a hungry survivor of cyclone demanding relief is a criminal…

And one might add, war-criminals are sacred deities whose aura of serenity is protected by the government from the rude shocks of a sedition case.

December 11, 2007

চলেন আমরাও সরকারকে মাফ করে দেই

প্রিয় গণপ্রজাতন্ত্রী বাংলাদেশের তত্বাবধায়ক সরকার এবং তাদের দেশপ্রেমীক সাহায্যকারী,

আমরা - বাংলাদেশের অসহায়, বুদ্ধিসম্পন্ন, দেশপ্রেমী জনগণ - আপনাদের মাফ করে দিলাম বছরের শুরুতে এতো ফালতু কথা বলে ও মিথ্যা অঙ্গীকার করে আমাদেরকে বৃথা আশা-আকাঙ্খা দেবার জন্যে। শধু মাফই নয়, যেন আপনাদের চাকুরি না চলে যায় এর জন্যেও বিশেষ করে ব্যবস্থা নিলাম।

একজন অতিউত্তেজিত, বাগ্বহুল উপদেষ্টা যদি ক্ষমা চায় আমাদের কাছে, তাহলে তাকেও হয়ত ক্ষমা করতে পারি।

আপনাদের মামাবাড়ীর নয়, নিজের স্বাধীন দেশের একজন স্বাধীন নাগরিক।

December 09, 2007

একজন শ্রমিকের স্মরণে

র‌্যাংগস্‌ ভবন নিয়ে অনেক কিছুই বলা হয়েছে। দুর্নীতির প্রতীক, ক্ষমতার অপব্যবহারের কালো স্তম্ভ, ইত্যাদি। ব্লগর ব্লগরও অনেক হয়েছে। আজকের খবরে দেখলাম যে সেই অখ্যাত ভবন ভাঙতে গিয়ে ২৫ জন আহত এবং একজন নিহত।

র‌্যাংগস ভবনকে নিয়ে সরকারের এই সিদ্ধান্ত অনেকে সমলচনা করেছিল, অনেকে নীতিগত ভাবে সমর্থন করেছিল, তবে বেশীর ভাগ মানুষই বিধ্বংসী উল্লাসে মেতে উঠেছিল। আজ একজন সাধারণ শ্রমিক মারা গেছেন সেই কাজ করতে গিয়ে। দুর্নীতি নয়, মাত্র দুর্নীতির এক প্রতীক ধ্বংস করতে গিয়ে।

তার পরিবারের কাছে জবাবদিহি করতে কে বা কারা এগিয়ে আসবে আজ? কারা আজ তার বাবা-মা বা ভাই-বোন বা ছেলে-মেয়েকে বোঝাবে কেন তাদের আপঞ্জনের মৃত্যু ঘটেছে? রাজুক? সুপ্রীম কোর্ট? ধ্বংস কাজের মূল ইঞ্জিনিয়ার? যারা তেজগাঁও বিমানবন্দর ব্যবহারের জন্যে অধৈর্য হয়ে যাচ্ছিল? না কি আমরা, যারা সেই বিধ্বংসী উল্লাসে মেতে উঠেছিলাম?

ইন্নালিল্লাহে ওয়াইন্নাইলাহে রাজিউন।

December 08, 2007

When Things Got Surreal

As we approach the end of the third month (on December 17th) of cartoonist Arifur's incarceration, we note that the media is still awfully silent about his predicament. What we put down to mere infighting within the coalition of diverse interests that is the CTG has resulted in an innocent man denied justice. All because of the rumblings of disenfranchised or alienated beings for whom practising their religion always boils down to making someone or the other miserable.

Against the backdrop of the media and the religious elites' complicity then, it would take something really bizarre - bordering on the unbelievable - to outdo them. Behold this story from the Daily Star which I reproduce fully below. Read it and weep mortals! Your puny little brains cannot comprehend an "emergency" so necessary and an "anti-corruption campaign" so complex that it requires the jailing of an award-winning cartoonist while simultaneously praising the corruption-eradicating efforts of cartoonists at a gathering organised by those honourable members of the servile civil society who are ostensibly a watchdog against corruption.

What happens when the watchdog gets too buddy-buddy with the very people its supposed to be watching?

Saturday, December 8, 2007 12:13 AM GMT+06:00

Front Page
'Allow cartoonists' freedom for exposing corruption'
Staff Correspondent

Speakers at a meeting yesterday said instead of limiting the freedom of speech the authorities concerned should rather ensure an atmosphere conducive to cartoonists uncovering diverse aspects of corruption.

“At present, the cartoonists do not seem to have the opportunity to work freely, whereas they can make a huge difference in exposing corruption and corruption suspects,” said Rafiqunnabi, a noted artist and cartoonist who is popularly known as Ranabi.

“The authorities concerned should take necessary measures for a cartoonist to be given a free rein,” he said adding that a cartoon can portray a situation from a refreshingly different point of view.

“Besides, we cannot deny the cartoonists' role in bringing the corruption suspects to trial,” observed the creator of Tokai, the character representing the street urchins of the capital.

He was speaking at a five-day exhibition titled “Cartoon against Corruption”. Transparency International, Bangladesh (TIB) has arranged the show at Drik Gallery in the city's Dhanmondi area as part of their efforts to organise a social movement against corruption.

Inaugurated by Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) Chairman Lt Gen (retd) Hasan Mashhud Chowdhury, the function was addressed, among others, by Duncan Norman, deputy high commissioner of the British Embassy in Dhaka, and rights activist Sultana Kamal.

“Currently, freedom of speech is limited in many ways. But we believe it is a duty of the citizenry to put finger on places that require attention. And we will continue calling for an atmosphere where the people can contribute to rooting out corruption from the society,” said Sultana Kamal, also a former adviser of the caretaker government.

Duncan Norman said that people's participation in the exhibition shows that the message is getting across.

Speaking as the chief guest, Hasan Mashhud said, “If you fight corruption with the spirit you've done the cartoons against corruption, I have no doubt that we will win over corruption with ease.”

The inaugural session was moderated by TIB Executive Director Iftekharuzzaman.

The works on view on the first day came from the contest titled “Corruption and General People.” A total of 747 cartoons were submitted for the competition arranged for the second time by TIB. Of those, 56 were selected for display.

The judges included cartoonists Shishir Bhattacharya, Shahrier Khan and Ahsan Habib.

The ACC will launch a year-long campaign against corruption on December 9, the international anti-corruption day. In association with TIB, it will work to organise a social movement against corruption.

December 06, 2007

Give Me Strength

A certain barrister-cum-magician-cum-conspiracy theorist has claimed that no private citizen can file a sedition case against another in the wake of sedition cases being filed against WAR CRIMINALS. Apparently this "belittles Bangladesh". Source: BDNEWS24, too sleepy to link right now.

In the annals of our history, only one other barrister has been as slimy, evasive, partisan and so firmly in the pockets of pure evil as this man. His name was Moudud and the current barrister's name is only three letters away from that.

The outrage will hit tomorrow. On the papers, on the blogs, on the mouths of ordinary citizens. Only the utterly deluded cannot decide what "belittles Bangladesh" more: that its freedom fighters' motives were openly questioned or that a case has been filed against the questioner. I humbly mention once again: without those freedom fighters, Bangladeshi jamaatis would be licking the boots of their Pakistani brethren and the Ittefaq would have been printing in Urdu by now with a Pakistani in charge.

Before I go to sleep, I will pray to the Almighty to give me strength to bear this sort of "black is white" logic. I will pray long and hard.

December 04, 2007

Miscellaneous Notes on UV Fertilizer Post

On my Unheard Voices post on the fertilizer issue, I focussed only on the fallacy of abandoning a "card system" in favour of a "slip system" and expecting this to have any real effect on the ease with which farmers can access fertilizer. In other words, the transaction costs associated with getting fertilizer have increased, even if the monetary price has remained the same (tk. 4800/MT).

There are many other points of interest in this issue. This is a hasty blog post, so corrections welcome. Briefly and in no particular order:

  • Scheduled banks asked by BB to provide "all out support" for .... wait for it.... FERTILIZER DEALERS! Source: New Age, fourth story down. While in principle this is a wonderful initiative to increase the SUPPLY of fertilizer, the empirical evidence suggests that it does not translate into higher DEMAND for fertilizer since the farmers also need credit in order to consume the fertilizer BEFORE the harvest that brings them money. Source: Amader Shomoy.
    Question: Why is the government so bad at loaning out small amounts to poorer constituencies and NGOs so good? Donor backing, stronger collection policy, better screening methods, political pressure to forgive loans, what?

  • Importers' woes and readers' confusions: While the AMM Shawkat Ali op-ed talks about how the present absence of subsidies - that were granted to private importers in 2005 and then withdrawn by the current government - has led to a decrease in imports (indeed, he alleges that importers have refused to import any more unless their "unpaid" subsidies were paid to them); the New Age Xtra article tells us that the decrease in import is due to the amount of red-tape involved in handling such imports. But here's the excerpt:

    Red tape is also a problem as it hinders the swift import of fertiliser into the country. According to officials of BCIC, the paperwork often necessary for import of fertiliser is unduly long. ‘The requests for fertiliser import are submitted via the Prime Minister’s Office. After the requests are filed and processed, the Prime Minister’s Office starts looking for funds to finance the imports. The entire process takes about three months,’ says a BCIC official.

    Clearly, either the New Age is reporting old news or the PA editorial is wrong and subsidies for importers are very much alive. So have subsidies for importers been withdrawn or not? Who knows? Not two leading national dailies within days of each other.

  • This segment caught my eye too from the New Age Xtra report:
    The farmers in turn blame the dealers for creating an artificial crisis to raise the prices, suggesting that there is hoarding and price tampering going on in the market. Field visits revealed that dealers and traders made the situation complicated in some areas. ‘If you ask a dealer for fertiliser, he will readily tell you that there is no supply. But if you offer additional prices, say Tk 300 to Tk 500 for each sack, the same dealer will manage it for you ,’ said a farmer in Natore town as he was rushing from one shop to another for urea

    As a firm believer in the laws of the market, this says one of two things to me: 1) there is no competition in the marketplace, which might be a result of institutional/geographical/seasonal factors and/or 2) the dealers are not making enough. Given that the entire operation is a government-run deal where the dealers' profit margins might have been estimated as constant despite inflation, both might just be true. Additionally, if readers leave other suggestions as to what is going on in this particular segment, I'll be oblidged.

  • 600 suspected. 25,000 suspended. 14,400 appointed? Last year when a similar crisis was taking place, a lot of blame was put on the BNP and its alleged appointment of party men to dealerships.

    When the CTG came to power this year, they identified 600 dealers in the Northern areas for "creating artificial crisis".

    Apparently their response was to suspend 25,000 small traders (same as "dealers"?). To replace them, the government "is determined to create 14,400 sales centres across the country" (New Age Xtra piece).

    And who shall get the responsibility of maintaining these sales centres and how shall they be chosen? The Independent back page report (July 18th) which was the only source I could find where the initial decisions were reported says this:

    The committee will prepare work plan through examining various options like recruiting dealers who fulfil some criteria, like age being over 18 years and capability to run the business having fertiliser-stocking arrangement.

    No scope for "political" influence there, right? I mean, "politics" begins and ends with Awami League and BNP.

  • Random reports of smuggling as a bad indicator of crises. Purely speculative. As Leela mentions in her latest post on the fertilizer issue, she has recently seen reports of smuggling into Burma and India. And as Saif pointed out, as long as there is a price differential between Bangladesh and its neighbours thanks to subsidies, there is always an incentive to smuggle. However, the report I saw in Naya Diganta indicated that there was at least ONE instance of smuggling INTO the country. Which means that - in some areas - there is a higher price to be had by SMUGGLING more expensive fertilizer from India than by selling subsidised fertilizer within Bangladesh. Which basically means that the shortage is real, and not as some people would have you believe a media creation or the fault of farmers failing to queue up.

Thanks to Saif and Leela for posting on this issue and forcing me to think. Saif's clarity on these matters of simple economics is something I envy. And I'd like to echo Leela's caveat that we are all basing our concerns and analysis on the newspaper reports that are woefully inadequate. I will however try and read through the CPD report when I have time and do a blog post if its interesting.

December 02, 2007

Fertiliser, Media Coverage and an Advisor Completely At Sea

Correction: The first segment translated from the Amader Shomoy report had a vital error in it. It read that farmers were not used to buying fertiliser on credit. It should have read that they are not used to buying fertiliser with cash. The correction has been made, and the segment makes more sense now. We regret this error and blame it entirely on lack of sleep and the pressures of infrequent buses in remote areas.

Update: Saif has responded to my hints/goading with a superb post on subsidies to farmers, the best way to enforce them and why they might be fuelling smuggling to and from India. (All this while completing an academic paper due tomorrow: a true blogging hero! Good luck with the paper Saif.)
Also worth checking out is Leela's post on fertilizer subsidies in Malawi also at Addafication.
I have very little idea as to the difference between the old distribution system and the new one. If/when I receive such information, I might do a blog post on it. I leave such things to the experts. This is a blog post about the media coverage of and government response to the shortage of fertiliser in some areas.

Media coverage

On 30th November, Naya Diganta was reporting about unrest near UNO, dealer and other government offices with the headline "Riots over Fertiliser" and the sub-headline "Crisis(?) in world markets because of India and America; government will directly import urea; strikes in many areas". Ok, so the sub-headline is expected given their ideological slant vis a vis India and America, but true to a certain degree from the little I know about the demand for urea. Blame the increased demand for corn for ethanol production. I have no issue with the rest of the report, which is accurate to its headline. There is a tangential point of interest which I'll highlight later.

Move over to the Amader Shomoy report on the same issue, from the same day. Headline: "Who will provide the 2000 crore taka needed to buy fertilizer?", sub-headline: "Farmers are getting trapped into debt after borrowing at high interest rates from banks, NGOs, credit unions and money lenders". The rest of the report is filled with anecdotal reports - which have their value, I admit - but which hardly makes for good economics analysis of debt. And the sub-headline makes you think that the debt trap is the problem.

But once you keep reading, you come across interesting tid-bits that one feels should have made their way into the headline. Things like the second paragraph:

We have come to know that no one is used to buying fertilizer with hard cash, even though they are associated with the agricultural sector. So even this year, no one was prepared. But the government's slip system and the directive to distribute fertliser through dealers has made cash necessary for the farmers

Or take the last line of the second-last para:

Kofil Uddin Ahmed, the chairman of Bangladesh Fertilizer Association, said that 28 lakh MT urea are sold for 1680 crore Taka and 10 lakh MT TSP, MOP and DAP fertilisers for 2000 crore Taka. Of this amount, farmers usually have a credit of 2000 crore taka with fertiliser dealers and businesses. They repay this amount after harvesting and selling their crops. But under the government's new system of distribution, farmers are not getting the opportunity for this sort of credit.

Now this is a sorry piece of journalism right here. When the meat of the report says that the government's new system "has made cash necessary" and no one is used to this, the sub-headline leads any casual reader in a completely different direction, implying that the blame lies with the providers of credit (ie. banks, NGOs, credit unions and of course the infamous "moneylender"). That the new system itself is new and completely surprising to the users (ie. the farmers) is something that only readers who have read through this confusing jumble at least twice will understand. Or those readers who have gone through the Naya Diganta ...

It is part and parcel of a strategy of trying to shift the focus of whatever is going wrong thanks to the current CTG onto convenient scapegoats. In this case, the less powerful bureaucracies such as the Rajshahi Krishi Unnayan Bank and of course, the "NGOs". Throw in a completely irrelevant quote about farmers affected by the cyclone and how that is affecting crop yield, and you get a picture of big, bad urban institutions and rich rural moneylenders all trying to screw over the poor little farmer.

Yet, the meat of the report - indeed, the part with the most clarity - puts the blame firmly on the government's new system for the farmers' woes. And the Naya Diganta report on unrest simply confirms it. So the question to ask: why such a horribly misleading sub-headline after an eye-catching but mystifying headline?

The Naya Diganta report ends by listing a bunch of people held for smuggling fertilizer - FROM India, INTO Bangladesh (Am I reading this right?). No doubts interesting things can be said here about arbitrage and the ethics of arresting people for bringing fertilizer illegally into the country at a time of shortage. *looking pointedly at Saif from Addafication*

Afterthought: The Daily Star meanwhile ran this story today. There was no mention of any disturbance or riots yesterday. If this were the BNP-Jamaat government, the DS would probably have had the name and individual bios of each and every protesting farmer (obvious exaggeration for unsuccessful comic effect). Now that itself is not a problem by me. What is a problem is this complete lack of consistency in journalism and accountability.

Waking Up and Smelling the গবর

Meanwhile, as regular readers may remember, a few days ago Mrs. Geeteara Chowdhury had me yearning for the good old days when every report of unrest from the .... uhhh "peripheries" of Dhakastan was dismissed as "media creation". For those (few) who appreciated the sarcasm then (I really didn't miss it because she actually said that reports of a fertiliser crisis were "media creations"), here is Mrs. Chowdhury yesterday from Dinajpur singing a slightly different tune:

‘Excessive control of the government has created problem in making easy availability of fertiliser,’ she said referring to the agitation and road blockade by the farmers in different parts of the country.
‘We are seriously mulling over measures to ensure smooth supply of fertiliser. The problem will soon be resolved, the adviser said.

She also gave Dinajpur some tips on how to increase tourism.

But I am completely sure that this government is taking measures to ensure smooth supply of fertiliser. If the figurative bullshit they have given us so far could somehow be metamorphosized into its literal form then Bangladesh could even afford to export some fertilizer to India and America.

December 01, 2007

পুকুর চুরি

Shahidul Alam on the Guimet Exhibition farce:

Ten crates containing rare archaeological treasures of Bangladesh have been bundled out of the national museum and are said to be bound for Guimet Museum in Paris, via flight AF 6731 (dep: 1205 Saturday 1st Dec 2007). Preparations had been made to secretly remove the items through a shipment order by the French Embassy made to Homebound Packers and Shippers. Trucks and forklift arrive secretly in museum in early hours of morning... was Mark’s comment “I do not think that professionally-run museums would lend an object if it had no accession number” that got me going. The appendix listing the items, obtained by court order, was a farce. The number of items varied in different reports. We managed to obtain the French internal listing which had 20 more items than the Bangladeshi list. These had been obtained in a joint excavation (France and Bangladesh) in Mahasthangar, and were all marked ‘reserved’. Items had been clumped together without individual listing (e.g. ‘93 punch-marked coins’). Insurance value was sometimes missing. The basic documentation of a normal museum inventory, like period, condition and markings were missing. A large number of items had no accession numbers. And this was a listing of the most precious items belonging to Bangladesh, many of which Bangladeshis themselves had never had the opportunity of seeing! Not even the nation’s leading scholars, researchers historians or archaeologists. Certainly, it was the Bangladeshi side that should have provided these details, but with UNESCO stressing ‘due diligence’ on the part of the borrower, to accept such a precious consignment on the basis of such flimsy documentation, was fishy. More importantly, there was no way in which even the most diligent officials could verify that the objects lent, were indeed what had been returned.