Mukti

Trust, but verify

Posted in army, Bangladesh, democracy, history, politics by jrahman on January 10, 2019

Ataur Rahman Khan was a veteran politician with the unique achievement of becoming both the Chief Minister of East Pakistan and the Prime Minister of Bangladesh.  He achieved the first in the 1950s, when his Awami League commanded a majority in the provincial assembly after the 1954 election.  His government was dismissed in October 1958, when Iskander Mirza and Ayub Khan declared martial law.  He remained steadfastly opposed to the Ayub regime, but formed his own party — Jatiya League — after Sheikh Mujibur Rahman pipped him to the AL leadership.  He was arrested by the Pakistan army in March 1971.  He joined neither the Mujib nor the Zia regime, and was elected as an opposition MP in both 1973 and 1979.  A key member of the BNP-led alliance against the Ershad egime, he was considered a principled, seasoned counsel to the political neophyte Mrs Khaleda Zia.  I don’t know if she ever asked why he became the prime minister under HM Ershad’s military dictatorship.  But Mr Khan’s quip to a journalist was that he joined the general to help him shed his uniform and promote democracy.

I was reminded of this politician during a recent political adda where couple of online activists had come up.  Both of them staunchly self-identify as progressive, and would have been described by the so-called ‘pro-1971’ folks as fellow travellers.  One has been in exile since exposing the Bangladeshi army’s link with jihadi extremists when BNP was last in power.  The other, a vocal Shahbag reveller, is in hiding because of his criticism of the current regime.  Both of these men actively supported the Jatiya Oikya Front.  And some of my so-called ‘nationalist’ friends aren’t quite sure of the bona fide of either activist.  It occurred to me that my own record can be questioned too.  And more importantly, as we hunker down for a potentially long period of totalitarianism, how do we choose trusted allies?

One way to choose allies we can trust is by applying some form of litmus test — such and such can’t be trusted because of attending Shahbag, or supporting the 1/11 regime, or once sitting in the same table with Gholam Azam, you get the idea.  One problem with this approach is that it can become dogmatic quite quickly.  And what is the correct litmus test anyway?

An alternative approach might be to ask two sets of questions.  First, consider the person’s stated aim.  What do they say they want?  Why do they want it?  How do they propose to get it?  Second, are their actions consistent with their stated aim?  If they can explain in a satisfactory way that their actions are consistent with their aim — and note, its their aim, not ours, we don’t have to agree with their aim — then perhaps they can be given the benefit of the doubt.  If they can’t, then they are likely to be an opportunist.

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A monetary history of Indo-Bangla acrimony

Posted in 1971, economic history, economics, history, macro by jrahman on July 15, 2012

In a western magazine’s story covering the liberation of Dhaka in December 1971, a Pakistani officer is reported to have quipped that the Indians didn’t know what they were getting into.  Another story from the same time showed that the Indians knew exactly what they were getting into, and was anxious to get out — an Indian general was quoted as saying the ‘Indian liberators’ wouldn’t overstay to become ‘Hindu occupation forces’.

It didn’t take long for a sharp rise in anti-Indian sentiment in the ‘Bangla bazaar’.  While there are many reasons for this turn of events, I will discuss one particular cause: ‘the war booty’ factor.  Even before the ink in the Instrument of Surrender dried on 16 December, there were complaints that the Indian army was ‘looting’ the new country.  Over the following couple of years, a perception developed that India was ‘draining resources’ from Bangladesh.  And the Mujib government’s alleged complicity in this contributed to his demise.

Much of this stuff is perceived, and the perception is well known to anyone familiar with the period.  However, what is perhaps far less appreciated is that there is a solid economic basis for that perception, an economic basis grounded in exchange rate and money supply.

Using the research of Akhtar Hossain (an Australia-based Bangladeshi economist), I explain it over the fold, and speculate about a couple of things.

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