… indefinitely until unavoidable “real life” issues are sorted out.
Ask for a piece on Pakistan and Bangladesh during December and you’re likely to get something about the 1971 wars — note the plural, because the eastern part of the subcontinent simultaneously experienced an inter-ethnic civil war and ethno-communal cleansing, genocide, inter-state conventional war and a war of national liberation, all climaxing in the crisp Bengali winter of 1971. Naeem Mohaiemen’s seven part series is an example, covering many aspects of that fateful year.
Let me skip 1971 in this post. Instead, I’ll begin by marking the other December anniversary, one that will have a particular relevance for Pakistan and Bangladesh in 2013. And I’ll note the parallels between the post-1971 developments in the two wings of former United Pakistan.
I discussed the theory of Islamic finance in the last post on this subject. Here is a nice summary of the difference between Islamic and conventional banks’ approaches to risk.
The above is from work done by Maher Hasan and Jemma Dridi, two IMF economists, on how Islamic banks performed during the global financial crisis (and the period leading up to it). In a 2010 working paper, they use bank level data from 120 Islamic and conventional banks from eight countries* over the period 2007-10 to explore why Islamic banks might have performed differently during the crisis.
To mountains of the moon
Alvarez survived that night, and partly thanks to Shankar’s care, was on his feet within a couple of weeks. Another week later, he said it was time to move on. Shankar knew what he wanted. He said: Do you remember what you said that night? About the yellow diamond?
The old man had been silent about his past after the first night. In fact, most of the time Alvarez just sat there silently. He replied: You know, it’s not that I haven’t thought about it. But are you brave enough to chase the rainbow?
Shankar: May be I am, may be not. Only one way to find out. If you’re game then I’ll wire the company today to find a replacement for me.
Alvarez: Wire them then. But think about it first. Prospecting more often than not leads to nothing. I know an eighty years old who found nothing — but every time he claimed to have come close. Spent his entire life prospecting Australian deserts and African veldts.
Delwar Hossain Sayedee, an Islamic preacher and a senior leader of Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh, the country’s largest Islam-pasand party, was sentenced to death on 28 February for war crimes committed during the 1971 Liberation War. Within hours, Jamaat cadres and activists clashed violently with police and law enforcement agencies. Scores have been killed in some of the worst political violence the country has experienced in recent years.
Five other senior Jamaat leaders, including its current and former chiefs, are being prosecuted for war crimes committed in 1971. Another leader was sentenced to life imprisonment on 5 February. That sentence triggered what has come to be called the Shahbag Awakening—a month of largely peaceful gathering of tens of thousands of people in the middle of Dhaka. A key demand of the largely government-supported Awakening is to ban Jamaat.
Will the Jamaat be banned? The ruling Awami League has a three-fourths majority in parliament, while the Jamaat is a key ally of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party. A general election is expected before the year is over. So there are complex political calculations involved. Meanwhile, even if the party survives, how will it perform if its top leaders are convicted (and possibly executed) for war crimes?
Although violence seems to have subsided, things are far from normal in Bangladesh. Family members of Awakening organisers or war crimes trial witnesses are being killed. Hindus and other minorities remain terrified. The prime minister is yet to address the nation. On the other hand, violence has subsided, and with partisan finger pointing, some sense of normalcy is returning.
I could have titled this post after the Monty Python classic, because it is something completely unrelated to Shahbag, Jamaat-e-Islami or war crimes trial. And it’s a ‘good news story’ post.
According to the government measure, about half the people (48.9% to be precise) were below the poverty line in 2000. By 2010, less than a third (31.5%) were officially considered poor. By World Bank’s estimates, the proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day fell from 58.6% to 43.3% in that decade. The share of people living on less than $2 a day also fell in that period. These are shown in the chart (data: World Bank World Development Indicators).
And a host of other indicators of human welfare suggest that the last decade saw unprecedented improvement in living standards. Under governments of both the major party as well as a technocratic one, despite natural disasters and political upheavals including a de facto coup and jihadi violence, tens of millions of people escaped dire poverty.
That is an undeniable good news.
But what actually led to the decline in poverty?
I argued in the last post that Bangladesh is back to politics-as-usual. Whereas I was surprised by the Shahbag Awakening*, needing a reassessment of a lot of my priors, nothing like that is needed to analyse politics-as-usual. I can use my mental model of politics — including the key players and their objectives, incentives and strategies — to analyse the situation. That doesn’t, of course, mean the analysis will be necessarily correct. But even when I get things wrong, I can update my views with the latest infromation as long as the basic framework of my analysis is intact.
An analysis of unfolding events since Friday makes for some rather uncomfortable conclusions for me. And yet, there are times when one ought to make a stand, even if it means taking a side. I believe now is such a time. Over the fold is why this blog rejects tomorrow’s hartal.
In pre-modern Europe, no one had ever seen a black swan. So they had a Latin expression — rara avis in terris nigroque simillima cygno — meaning ”a rare bird in the lands, very much like a black swan”. Then they discovered Australia, where black swans are a-plenty. A Bangla equivalent of the whole thing perhaps would be white crow. In South Asia, crows are black. But Australia is home to the white crow.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb popularised the term in his 2007 book The Black Swan. His own pithy summary of the thesis is thus:
What we call here a Black Swan (and capitalize it) is an event with the following three attributes. First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme ‘impact’. Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable.
Are we seeing a black swan / white crow event in Bangladesh? Let’s think about it systematically.