Deshi workers in the Kingdom

Posted in economics, labour by jrahman on May 2, 2013

Recently, The Economist published: “Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia: The revenge of the migrants’ employer,” on their website. The article tracks data over the last few years of Bangladeshi migrant workers to Saudi Arabia. The data is what it is, and it is fair to say that the sources can be trusted.

However, The Economist’s take on the matter, where the lower number of Bangladeshi workers migrating to Saudi Arabia can be attributed to retaliation by the Saudis to the war crimes trials (WCT) in Bangladesh that are now seeking the death penalty for leaders of Jamaat, may or may not be true. It’s not the only possible story. And I am not even sure it’s the right story. If one analyses the same data from a different perspective, the interpretation can be very different.


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How soon is now?

Posted in AL, BNP, democracy, dynasties, elections, music, politics, rock by jrahman on June 5, 2012

It’s an iconic 1980s song, played in the stereo systems of many a nerdy college kid over the past decades.  Along with Hanif Kureishi’s work, apprently it’s among the best commentary on the Thatcher era England.  It was also one of the themes of this classic Aaron Spelling drama.  And now, it seems to be a great commentary on Bangladeshi political scene. Reading the Economist’s recent editorial and news story on Bangladesh, I kept recalling Morrissey’s matter-of-fact statement:  when you say it’s gonna happen “now”, well, when exactly do you mean? see I’ve already waited too long, and all my hope is gone.


Of the Sheikh Up and the impossible Sheikh Off

Posted in politics by jrahman on August 17, 2011

In 2002, about a year after 9/11, October 2002,Alex Perry wrote an article in the Time magazine called ‘The cargo of death’Deadly Cargo‘.  The article alleged that in the aftermath of the ouster of Taliban, a group of hardcore Al Qaeda operatives (including Al Qaeda number 2 Ayman Al-Zawahiri) landed in Cox’s Bazaar coastChittagong, basing themselves in the Bangladeshi territory to wage jihad in South and Southeast Asia.  Within weeks of the publication, Bali was rocked by suicide bombing around the same time.

A few months later, Bertil Lintner wrote a coverstory for the now-defunct Far Eastern Economic Review titled ‘Bangladesh: a cocoon of terror’.  With a blatantly orientalist image of Tungi’s Bishwa Ijtema as a visual aid, the piece argued that Bangladesh was on the verge of being taken over by the radical Islamists, and the government was either turning a blind eye, or worse, elements within the government were promoting the jihadis.  Within months of this article, Bangla Bhai and JMB appeared on the scene, followed by assassinations of Awami League leaders, and serial bomb explosions around the country.

Whether the stories written by Perry and Lintner were correct or not, by 2006, ‘Bangladesh had a jihadi problem and the BNP government was incapable of dealing with it’ became the conventional wisdom.  Even when Bangla bhai and co were captured, this image didn’t change.  It’s not that the government didn’t try.  Perry was invited back in the country, given access to RAB commanders, the then prime minister gave an interview, and lent her helicopter — Perry in fact wrote a cover story in Time in mid-2006 praising the Khaleda Zia government for turning Bangladesh around.

But reputations, once made, are hard to change.  BNP was considered incapable of dealing with the jihadi menace, and that was that.  And even if they were not 100% accurate, the Perry-Lintner articles, by describing what were about to hit Bangladesh, contributed to the reputation that BNP failed to shake.

Four recent articles in the Economist — India and Bangladesh: Embraceable You (a news report), Bangladesh looks back: misusing the past (an online blog post), The poisonous politics of Bangladesh: reversion to type (editorial), and In the name of the father (opinion essay) — are likely to similarly cement the reputation of the Awami League government, and particularly the prime minister.

These articles — very likely written by Simon Long, Tom Joehnk and Adam Roberts and/or James Astill — allege that Sheikh Hasina is becoming increasingly autocratic, settling personal scores against real and perceived opponents, using the war crimes trial as a political weapon, rewriting the constitution to rig the next election, and building a cult of personality around Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.  I have been following Bangladesh for over a decade now.  Never have I seen any Bangladeshi leader receive such sharp personal criticism.  Whatever factual accuracies of each specific point, collectively, the extremely unflattering image the prime minister acquires will be hard, if not impossible, to shake off.

Meanwhile, the articles have definitely led to a shake up among the Dhaka chateratti.  From usually sensible Afsan Chowdhury to reliably nonsensical Syed Badrul Ahsan have taken shots at the Economist.  But so far, most of them either seem to miss the big picture, or are written on the basis of fantastical conspiracy theories.

This is an attempt to cover some points that I haven’t seen made elsewhere.


The India connection

Posted in foreign policy, politics by jrahman on August 7, 2011

The Deshi chatterati is abuzz with two Economist articles (here and here — also see this post).  A few weeks ago, it was Manmohan Singh’s weird comments.  Are the two connected?

And why are Dr Singh and so many other senior Indian leaders visiting anyway?  Yes, yes, I know — long live, or victory to, Indo-Bangla friendship and so on.  But seriously, why take the trouble to come to Dhaka?  I mean, Dr Singh doesn’t need to sign anything as far as transit is concerned.  Ditto for geting ULFA leaders.  Surely no one goes to Dhaka for the sight seeing (my Delhiwallah readers, Dhaka is every bit as ugly as your newer suburbs, and has little of the charm of Lutyens and Shah Jahan’s cities).

So, what’s going on?

Over the fold are four wild, unsubstantiated, contradictory speculations.  The reader should take the previous sentence very seriously.  I have no inside knowledge, nor any reference.  But hey, what else is a blog for except to write one’s crazy ideas?


ফুটপাথে ইকোনোমিস্ট

Posted in books, society by jrahman on December 24, 2010

ইকোনোমিস্ট ম্যাগাজিনের বড়দিন ডাবল সংখ্যা, বছরের শেষের ছুটিটা এইটা ছাড়া কল্পনাই করতে পারি না. একটা না একটা লেখা থাকবেই যেটা নিয়ে চায়ের কাপে তর্র্ক জমে উঠবে.  কয়েকটা লেখা থাকবে যা সম্পুর্র্ণ নতুন কিছু একটা ভাবাবে.  যেমন এই লেখাটা, পিএইচ্ডি না করার দুঃখ ভুলিয়ে দিচ্ছে.

কয়েক বছর আগের কথা — সাগর পাড়ের এক ছোট্ট গ্রামে ছুটি কাটাতে গেছি, ডাবল সংখ্যা কেনা হয়নি, পুরা ছুটিটাই মাটি. তাই সেবার যখন অমর বললো যে ও আসার সময় ঐটা কিনতে ভুলে গেছে, একটু চিন্তায় পরে গেলাম.  ঢাকায় যে ডাবল সংখ্যা পাওয়া যায় তা জানি — Bookworm থেকে কিনেওছি কয়েক বছর আগে.  এবার অমর লন্ডন থেকে আসছে ভেবে ওকে আনতে বলেছি, আর ও আনবে ভেবে আমিও Bookworm এ যাইনি.

এখন কি করা?  অমরকে বললাম দিল্লী এয়ারপোর্ট  থেকে কিনতে.  ও বললো দিল্লী এয়ারপোর্টের বইয়ের দোকানে ইন্ডিয়ার পোস্টকার্ড আর কামসূত্র ছাড়া নাকি কিছুই পাওয়া যায় না!

পরদিন নিউমার্কেট থেকে ফেরার পথে মনে পড়ল ঢাকা কলেজের কোনায় একটা ম্যাগাজিন স্টল ছিলো না?  উইজ্ডেন পাওয়া যেত সেখানে.  অন্যান্য বিদেশী পত্রিকাও পাওয়া যেত — কয়েকটার মধ্যে বিশেষ রকমের ছবিও থাকত.  গাড়ি থামাতে বললাম.

অমর সন্দিহান. দিল্লী এয়ারপোর্টে পাওয়া যায় না, ঢাকায় এই রাস্তার পাশে ফুটপাথে পাবো?  একদিকে হাড়িপাতিলের দোকান, আরেক দিকে বাসষ্ট্যান্ড.  আসলেই পাবো?

অবশ্যই পেলাম.

ইকোনোমিস্ট তো ছিলই.  টাইম ম্যাগাজিন, নিউজউইক, মায় ফরেন এফেআর্স আর রোলিং স্টোনস ও ছিলো (যদিও পুরানো সংখ্যা).

ফুটপাথের ম্যাগাজিন স্টল জিন্দাবাদ!

ফুটপাথের ম্যাগাজিন স্টল বলে মনে পড়ল, এই লেখাটা পড়ে দেখুন — বহুদিন আগের এক শহরে নিয়ে যাবে.

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