Seven trashes collected by the senses.


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Making a stand, taking a side

Posted in AL, army, BNP, democracy, Islamists, politics, uprisings by jrahman on March 4, 2013

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.


White crow rising?

Posted in AL, BNP, democracy, politics by jrahman on March 1, 2013

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.



Seven trashes collected by the senses.


Remittances and propaganda

Posted in economics, foreign policy, Islamists, labour, politics, West Asia by jrahman on December 22, 2012

I don’t really have much to say about how the war crimes trial is unfolding.  However, I think it’s important to push back against a propaganda being peddled.  According to some anti-trial voices (in facebook, Bangla blogs, newspapers, and even some TV talk show stars), the trial has annoyed the Saudis, and remittances are crashing because of that.

The thing is, there is no evidence of that in the data.  The chart below shows through the year growth in total remittance and remittance from Saudi Arabia.  Do you see the slump in remittance from the kingdom as we approach the trial conclusion? 


(Source: CEIC Asia, smoothed by three month moving average).

There may be reasons to worry about the outlook for remittance — there could be a slump in oil prices, or there might be political turmoil in the Gulf.  We should be concerned with the  human rights situation in the region.  But Saudi annoyance over the war crimes trial is causing a remittance slump — that’s nonsense.


To compensate for the recent hiatus — caused by microcosmic organisms with evil side effects — a double edition of trashes collected by the senses.  Normal ramblings should begin soon.



Posted in 1971, books, comedy, desi fiction, economics, foreign policy, history, India, micro, movies, Rights, thriller, TV, War crimes by jrahman on July 20, 2012

Seven trashes collected by the senses.


The politics of the Trial

Posted in politics by jrahman on February 20, 2012

If you are following David Bergman’s coverage of the trial and remain hopeful about how it will all end, then I salute your upbeat nature on life.  I am a bit less cheery.  I’ve always figured that political theater would be a big part of any trial.  But to call the circus in Dhaka a kangaroo court would be an insult to the Australians.

While there is plenty of blame to go around for why the trial is failing — subject of a post in its own right — it occurs to me that the political fall outs of the trial is not quite as clear cut as one might think.


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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.


Things I’ll look out for

Posted in communalism, elections, India, institutions, politics, Rights, War crimes by jrahman on January 5, 2011

A funny thing has been happening lately.  Opinion editors in Deshi English media, print and electronic, have been approaching me for political pieces.  I suggest an economic or policy piece, they respond ‘yeah, that’s good, but how about (whatever is the headline that week)’.  Beats me why this is — it’s not like I have a good track record of predicting Deshi politics.  In fact, I am not at all qualified or knowledgeable to commentate on day-to-day politics of Bangladesh.  Further, I don’t live in Bangladesh, and have a very dim view of pundits who claim to know Bangladesh better living in London than people back home.

But I have my opinions.  And while I am extremely reluctant to publish them in formal media, I can jot them down in my blog.  In fact, I should record them in the blog, so that you, dear reader, can hold me to account.  However, please note that none of these are predictions.  Nor do I necessarily support or oppose them.  They are all trends or events to look out for in 2011 and beyond.  Some of them will be good, some not so good, and some pretty awful.  But these are the things I’ll keep my eyes on.