A few old men

Posted in Bangladesh, democracy, elections, history, politics, Uncategorized by jrahman on December 4, 2018

A corrupt, selfish elite rules over you, an elite in cahoots with foreigners, to whom the nation’s assets and future is being sold; and the lying media and rootless intellectuals stop you from seeing the truth; and yet, you sense the truth, that’s why you flock to the leader; even as the enemies of the people demonise him for not echoing their sophistry, you feel he tells it as it is — that he will kick the elite out, drain the swamp, lock the corrupt up, kill the criminals, and fix what ails the country; and make no mistake, it’s not hard to fix things, it’s just the knavery and perfidy of corrupt elite that need to be rooted out, and the leader will do just that; and he has proved it, hasn’t he, in his remarkable career as (business tycoon or mayor or army officer or whatever); he will make the country great, because he is truly of the country, like you are, and unlike those footloose elite who will flee the land with their ill gotten wealth if things get tough.

In recent years, variations of the above have reverberated from Washington DC to New Delhi, Warsaw to Brasilia, and Istanbul to Manila.  And politics around the world has been shaken.  There appears to be one exception — there doesn’t appear to be a Bangladeshi strongman on the scene.

There might have been.  After all, charges of corruption and ‘selling the country to foreigners’ can be laid quite easily against the current regime in Dhaka.  And historically, Bangladeshis have proved as susceptible to the cult of the leader as any other people.  So there might well have been a would be strongman leading the opposition.

Curiously, as Sherlock Holmes might have said, strongman in Bangladeshi politics is a dog that didn’t bark.


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How about Bangladesh?

Posted in China, foreign policy, India by jrahman on April 30, 2012

The folks at AoD have thrown the gauntlet — they want a conversation.  Well, I don’t have anything terribly original to say about ministers or MPs or ex-MPs or their drivers, whether they are with or without jobs.  Nor do I have anything to say about the return of hartal.  But I think I can say something semi-intelligent about Purboposhchim’s take on foreign policy.

The blogger observes:

Consider that two of our neighbours are China and India – high growth countries with large populations. Over the next century these two countries will grow more powerful and their ambitions will grow with them. There will be opportunities for cooperation and for conflict.

What should the Bangladeshi foreign policy be in response to this ‘new Great Game’? 

Purboposhchim says there are two options: one, “play one against the other” (the Afghanistan option); or two, “make ourselves indispensable to both” (the Switzerland option). 

Of course the blogger is pumping for the Swiss route.  And I suppose if there is a choice between those two options, I would also choose the Swiss —  who wants to be Afghanistan?

It’s just that I don’t think the premise of that choice is particularly sensible.


Liberty or death

Posted in history by jrahman on December 5, 2011

Earlier this year, Pakistani nuclear black marketeer AQ Khan created a bit of a storm over his observation that ‘the purpose of a nuclear weapon is to deter aggressions, such as the ones Pakistan faced in 1971’ — that’s my translation of what he says in the video below, Urdu is a foreign language to me and I’m happy to be corrected).

The cyberspace is, of course, as close to a free speech utopia as we can get.  Notice the hilarious (to me, at least) ape-like chest-thumping of the person who posted the video.  That vulgar Pakistani nationalism was matched by equally crude Bangladeshi (and I suspect Indian, haven’t checked) exercise of comparative phallic measurements.  In the process, sadly, an interesting discussion was missed.

What follows over the fold is an attempt at that discussion.


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Clueless elephant, hidden dragon

Posted in China, economics, foreign policy, India, macro, trade by jrahman on September 14, 2011

Despite the two countries’ shared history and geography, India is not even among Bangladesh’s top-ten foreign investors. India may have close political ties with its eastern neighbour. But China wins the economic competition in Bangladesh hands down. China is Bangladesh’s biggest trading partner, as well as its primary supplier of military equipment. And it seems that not a month goes by without Chinese companies winning contracts to build power stations, roads, telecoms and other infrastructure in Bangladesh.

That’s from Tom Joehnk’s piece in the lead up to Dr Singh’s Dhaka trip.  Let’s see if we can unpack that a bit more.


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A cold peace

Posted in foreign policy, India by jrahman on September 5, 2011

In January 2010, when Bangladeshi prime minister visited New Delhi, our media gave it an extensive coverage.  In India, not so much.  And here is Diganta’s number crunching, making essentially the same point more generally.  As Bangladeshis await the arrival of Dr Manmohan Singh and company, there is once again a blanket coverage of India related topics in the Deshi media.  The usual Indophobe crowd is up to the hai hai chorus.  And then there is a much bigger contingency of hoi hoi party.   Ignoring the hypersensitive vernacular media, let’s focus on the sophisticated lot in the Daily Star.  Even there, the India relation is crowding out other issues.  And the pieces coming out in that paper make essentially two (not mutually exclusive, but separate) points: it’s India’s turn to give (example: Shahedul Anam Khan), or we’ve got to stop being paranoid about India and do things maturely like it was under Mujib (example: Rehman Sobhan).

Here is a crazy idea: how about a cold peace with India?  What do I mean by ‘cold peace’?  Let me echo this excellent articulation by Diganta:

I personally think that policy-makers in Bangladesh should not involve in much of ‘friendships’ with India due to the asymmetry between these two countries. Bangladesh built its Garments sector without much help/opposition from India. The rest of the world (may be USA, Europe and Japan) still plays more part in developing Bangladesh than India does. Bangladesh should continue to invest in relationships with these countries.

India is a competitor of Bangladesh in global scale and it has more hungry people to feed. Bangladesh has little to gain by co-operating with India as India has little to complement shortages of Bangladesh – such as infrastructure, industralization or capital. The only area where both might co-operate for a win-win solution is IT/Software – something that’s never talked about.

At the same time, Bangladesh should not enter into a state of enimity too, due to the asymmetry mentioned earlier. Because of geography and difference in size and population, any kind of enimity may come hard on Bangladesh.

However, the political parties in Bangladesh are engaged to color any of India-centric issue with positives of 1971 or negatives afterwards. The problem is – the India-centric issues are ubiquitous – they’ll keep coming – as Bangladesh is virtually surrounded by India. The issue of river-water or killer BSF didn’t arise with other countries, but Bangladesh does not share rivers or borders with any other countries as it does with India (in terms of magnitude). So, more issues might send entire Bangladesh political space into a couple of downward spirals – one smaller positive and the bigger other negative – and every possible move afterwards might be calculated in terms of Indian gain or losses instead of calculating loss or gain of the country itself. Unfortunately, that will let India play even more important role in Bangladesh – something that Indian politicians want and Bangladesh people don’t want. A similar attitude towards India sent Pakistan into dire straits – first it engaged itself in a war in Afghanistan, then tried the same in Kashmir and at the end terrorism is back to Pakistan.

The ideal policy is “you do your stuff, I’ll take care of mine”. The need of the hour is an “easy relationship” with India – issues will be dealt with mostly transparent ways, if required, under International treaties and with suggestions from International bodies. However, I didn’t see any such moves from current Govts towards that direction.


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Mujib in March

Posted in history, people by jrahman on March 17, 2011

(This was supposed to be posted on 7 March, but Sheikh Sahib’s birthday is as good a day).

This is a speculative, and perhaps provocative, post.  Speculative because what I say is not something I can back up with data, or even citations.  And provocative because it is about one of those issues that Bangladeshis have been debating for the last 40 years.

In this post, I state why I believe Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s decisions in March 1971 were correct given the circumstances.  I do so by exploring two issues — what did he want, and how he wanted to achieve it.  Along the way, I discuss highly controversial questions like why he did not declare independence on 7 March, or why did he not slip out of Dhaka on 25 March to lead the resistance.

Let me be upfront about the fact that I do not believe my views are the absolute truth on this matter.  Not only was I not alive in March 1971, I do not know anyone who was in Mujib’s inner sanctum and was privy to his thoughts in that fateful month.  In fact, other than Dr Kamal Hossain, I don’t believe there is anyone alive who has that kind of knowledge.  Therefore, while I am happy to elaborate on why I believe what I believe, I am also comfortable in acknowledging alternate views, and am open to be pursuaded to those views.

Long disclaimer out of the way, let me get to the point.  I contend that Mujib wanted a constitution based on the 6-points, and he wanted to achieve that without a military confrontation.  I contend that these were the right objectives, and that given what he might have reasonably known, his decisions 40 years ago were correct.


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Crazy and not-so-crazy theories about l’affaire Yunus

Posted in people, politics by jrahman on March 6, 2011

It’s hard to get away from the Yunus Affair.  The Awami League’s actions have angered a lot of its long term allies — see UV.  And the way this has been executed could well have implications for the economy — I plan to write on these more formally. And I’ll do at least one more post on the political consequences of this (I know I’ve been promising a lot of posts — what can I say, talk is cheap). This post covers possible explanations behind the government’s actions that is making the Prime Minister and her government look petty and vindictive.

Over the fold is a bunch of theories that I’ve heard floating around.  I am yet to form a view on which is the most sensible.  And I do not subscribe to many of the views presented.


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Indo-Bangla relations — who cares?

Posted in foreign policy by jrahman on February 25, 2011

Not even two months in, this has already been a very eventful year.  The Yunus saga, DSE crash, border killing, municipal poll, the Meherjaan controversy, Arab revolutions, World Cup… so many things to write about, and only so little time to write anything meaningful after you’ve absorbed the information.

Amid the din, the first anniversary of the Hasina-Manmohan summit got crowded out.  I planned to do a longish post in January.  That didn’t happen, and I thought of a series of shorter posts.  That doesn’t seem to be working all that well either.  This is an attempt to change that — second part of a four part series on Indo-Bangla relations.

The short answer to the question in the title is: the foreign policy establishment of Bangladesh does, a lot; but the Indian foreign policy establishment, by and large, doesn’t.   That asymmetry if care is very much rational, and it matters a lot. 


After the empire falls

Posted in sports by jrahman on February 18, 2011

After the empire falls, smaller successor states fight it out for supremacy.  A period of instability and chaos ensues.  Amid that chaos lies the possibility of a new power, a new paradigm.  That makes these very exciting times, especially if you are an underdog.

I could be talking about the Romans and Europe, or the Mughals and India, or the Gallactic Empire a long time ago, far, far away.  But I am really talking about cricket.

When I was young, the West Indies ruled the cricketing world.  Greenidge-Haynes opening, Richards and Lloyd in the middle order, and a series of pacers — Roberts-Croft-Garner-Holding-Marshall.  Blackwashing the English twice, unbeaten for 27 matches in the early 1980s — growing up in a left-progressive household in the pre-satellite TV Bangladesh, they along with Bob Marley were our anti-imperialist heroes, first superstars from the third world, master blasters!


The number, not the name

Posted in economics, foreign policy, politics by jrahman on November 11, 2010

A few weeks ago, I struggled to understand the economic logic behind not charging Indian vessels for using our waterways.  Since then, I’ve been doing some digging around.

First, I talked with an international trade expert who used to work in the OECD.  It turns out that there is no economic logic at all.  However, there are some technical details pertaining to international trade laws and protocols — a subject well outside my area of expertise.  So it’s important to understand what we can and can’t charge.

But the second point is more important.  I’ve been digging around for numbers.  We were told earlier that transit will be associated with our growth rate rising from 6% to 8%.  I’ve been trying, unsuccessfully, to understand where these numbers came from. 

It’s the second issue — numbers — that’s much more important.  Can we have some discussion on this.


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