Posted in action, Bengal, China, Drama, economics, foreign policy, history, micro, movies, music, people, society, trade by jrahman on November 23, 2012

Seven trashes collected by the senses.


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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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Transit is worth less than the medal

Posted in economics by jrahman on July 27, 2011

The medal accepted by Sonia Gandhi on behalf of Indira Gandhi is valued at about 90 lakh taka.  I embellish a bit when I say that transit facilities that Bangladesh is giving India will be worth less that.  That’s just to get your attention.

And now that I have it, let me point out that transit is not going to be worth much to anyone for a long time to come.  Note, that’s the total surplus generated by the transit, not how the surplus is divided between India and Bangladesh.

According to this Prothom Alo report, investment of about 50,000 crore (500 billion) taka is needed before the full benefit of transit can be reaped. 

Let’s put all of this in context.

Total investment in 2009-10 (last year of full data) is 1730 billion taka, which is composed of 1400 billion taka in private investment and 330 billion taka in public investment.

Let’s say this infrastructure development is going to be 50-50 private public split.  That means, before transit can work, public investment will have to be 580 billion taka.

Over the past two decades, public investment has grown by 4% a year in real terms.  At that rate, even if the government invested in nothing else, it wouldn’t be until 2025 that it will have invested enough on this infrastructure.

The point about these numbers are not ‘oh look it’s going to cost a lot of money’.  The point is, we just don’t have the capacity to absorb this kind of investment in the timeframe we are talking about.  Even if the Indians were paying hefty transit fees, we were all fully satisfied about the state of relationship between the two countries, and the Indians agreed to finance these projects at zero interest loan, to build this in infrastructure any time soon is simply beyond the capacity of Bangladeshi institutions. 

And this is according to a panel that has people like Sadiq Ahmed, Rahmatullah and Mustafizur Rahman — not exactly your rabid anti-Indian rabble rousers like Mahmudur Rahman. 

Anyone excited about transit should find something else to tickle their fancy.  This ain’t worth your time and energy.

Update 28 July 12.10pm BDT: A longer write up on the issue is here.

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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. 


Still don’t believe the hype

Posted in foreign policy by jrahman on February 3, 2011

The idea was to do a post on 13 January, marking the first anniversary of the Hasina-Manmohan summit. But January 2011 had been a very eventful month, with the dramatic re-emergence of BNP as a force to be reckoned in Bangla politics, the bursting of the DSE bubble, unabated border killings, and the furor over the movie Meherjaan consuming a lot of energy.  So the anniversary post never happened.

But I still want to write about the Indo-Bangla relations — the idea is to do a number of smaller blogs covering different angles.  The one today echoes what I said in January 2010:  don’t believe the hype.

I think the past year amply supports my contention.  Nothing really of substance has happened, in one direction or other, since the summit.   A year on, still don’t believe the hype.


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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Indo-Bangla relations

Posted in foreign policy by jrahman on September 24, 2009

The Bangladeshi Foreign Minister recently visited India, and the Prime Minster is supposed to visit New Delhi shortly.  This follows a highly publicised visit by the Indian Foreign Minister in February, after the new government took office in Dhaka, but before the Indian election.  There are media speculations about a ‘package deal’ being negotiated resolve various outstanding issues. 

There is no foreign relationship more important for Bangladesh than that with India.  Therefore, whatever is in this deal (if a deal is indeed being negotiated), it is imperative that it is scrutinised carefully.  And every conscious citizen — regardless of technical expertise, political affiliation, or access to the media — has a responsibility to participate in the discussion.  Indeed, a discussion needs to happen in India too, because if Bangladesh develops a permanent antipathy towards India, the consequences will be bad for everyone.

Any discussion on this topic should begin with two points.  

First, this need not be a zero sum game.  Bangladesh’s gains do not have to come at India’s expense, or vice versa.  India and Bangladesh are not locked in some Manichean, existential conflict.  Win-win solutions are possible on all the issues.

Second, it is easy, and pointless, to spend endless amount of time in a dialogue of the deaf discussing how one country has never done the right thing by the other. 

This post is an attempt to summarise the issues, with some tentative views.  They are by no means exhaustive.  Nor are they beyond debate.  In fact, I am actively soliciting debate.

With the long introduction out of the way, over the fold are what I think the issues that need to be resolved.


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