Monday, July 30, 2007

Diary: Week Seventeen

I was very frustrated with a senior copy editor who was doing the page-make-up of Health and Science page for last Wednesday's issue.
As I said in my last diary, I took a long time to finish the story on Attention Deficit Disorder as the patients, parents and doctors responded very lately. But I was happy when I filed a comprehensive story.
After starting editing, the copy editor, who was given the task as my editor was out of town on vacation, came to my desk and said he did not find why should we run a story on ADD now, what's new there in the story.
I also had the same problem when I started writing the story because it is not a new disease
or the book I focused on is also not new. The book was first published in 1989 and the second edition came out in September last year. However, while giving me the assignment, my editor told me it was a new book and the focus would be writing on the book and a little bit about the author who is from Pittsburgh. In fact, my editor didn't know it was an old book.
With all these well in my mind, I tried to make the story interesting by turning it into a story on ADD with latest information available on it, parents, patients and physicians' comment about the treatment method of the Pittsburgh physician,
Dr. Craig B. Liden, comments about the book and Dr. Liden's story about people with ADD.
It doesn't matter how many stories have so far been written about ADD, the readers may need one more story that would give them good insight about the problem, I thought. It is because I, like many people, did not find very good easily-to-read and -understand materials for lay persons about the whole thing. The write-ups available on Websites are either vague or too overwhelming to get what you want to know straight.

So I tried to blend it with whatever I found to make it interesting, but failed to convince the copy editor that there may be one more story on ADD in my newspaper which would 'really' inform people about it.
He held the story for my editor to decide it's fate, and I was also happy thinking that my editor would get my point.
And I was right. My editor appreciated my effort and just added a clause with my intro about starting of new school year. She also called one of the parents to convince her to use her full name in the story but for no result.
I was sure that she was going to cut the story drastically because it was longer than average major stories, but she didn't do so. She also agreed that people would love to read such a story. Bingo!
I started working on the Bangladeshi scientist who received $1 million Grainger Award in February for developing filter that removes arsenic from drinking water. The filter is working very well in Bangladesh which is facing crisis for arsenic in groundwater a lot since the 1990s. Abul Hussam also has a connection with Pittsburgh: he earned
doctoral degree in analytical chemistry at Pittsburgh University in 1982. I sent him an email requesting him to send me materials on his works and whether he has any plan to work in the United States because some parts of the U.S. also have the same problem. In reply, he sent me some scientific reports on his work. But these are academic stuff, people won't love to read these "hard" things. I wrote him that I need to know his follow up works, what he is doing now. I got information from Bangladesh that his team is working to make filters for use at community and industrial level. If that's true, it would make a good story. Although I wrote him last week, he is yet to respond as he was busy preparing his presentation which he was going to make at a scientists' seminar in New York.
Though I didn't get any story published this week, I had a good weekend with Bangladeshi people living in Pittsburgh.
I attended a dinner at the house of one of their house Saturday. The party soon turned into a place for political discussion and took a bad turn when three of them got emotional at one stage. One of them shouted at the top to the two others as they told something about the political party
he supports, and stormed out of the house.
But I had a diversion there as I was singing in the living room. Since I was the singer of the day, I had to sing as long as I could. We also had some chorus on folk songs.
Although it's
not winter, I had a great time visiting mountain resort Seven Springs. Located
approximately one hour's drive southeast of Pittsburgh, it's a year-round resort and convention center offering skiing/snowboarding, snow tubing, sleigh rides, golf, mountain biking, and horseback riding.
Bangladeshi cardiologist Dr. Shamsher Bakth took me there and I'm grateful to him for showing me such a beautiful place. It's stretched over a huge area and has houses near the top from where the skiers start. Dr. Bakth has a beautiful house there with a great view (photo 1 taken from his house).
And the day ended with happy tunes: facing the mountain, we sat at the Seven Springs hotel where a singer with great "bass" performed several beautiful numbers.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

former minister jailed for patronising islamist militants

A former Bangladeshi minister has been jailed for 31 years and six months today for aiding Islamic militants responsible for nationwide terror campaign to impose Sharia law.
Aminul Huq, telecommunications minister in the emergency-ruled country's most recent elected government, and 24 others were convicted and sentenced by a court in the northwestern town of Rajshahi in the first-ever judgment of a case for patronising Islamist militants.
They were found guilty of aiding and abetting the militants of Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) in extorting and torturing people in Bagmara upazila of the district in 2004.

The JMB, that banged to the fore by blating 400 bombs in all but one of the impoverished country's 64 districts on August 17, 2005, has been believed to be the brainchild of some ministers on the cabinet of the immediate past elected government headed by Bangladesh Nationalist Party.
About 30 people were killed and hundreds wounded later in powerful bomb attacks, many of which were carried out by suicide bombers in first such kind in the country.
The militants said their campaign was aimed at forcing Bangladesh to replace its Muslim but secular legal system, which dates back to the British colonial period, with traditional Islamic law.
Although it was open secret to Bangladesh people thanks to the brave investigations of the media, top government leaders denied outright any presence of the Islamist militants anywhere in the country and blamed the media for running 'imaginary stories'.
The government, a coalition of four political parties two of which are religion-based, had denied that senior members of the government had turned a blind eye to the activities of the extremists for political gain.
The government leaders, however, later said they had underestimated the threat from Islamists, and an ensuing crackdown saw some 1,000 JMB members arrested.
Top six leaders of the militant outfit, Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), were executed on March 31 for murdering two judges.
"Incidents of lynching people were almost open and common during the tenure of the previous [BNP-led four-party] alliance government and through such incidents the JMB militants not only took the law in their hands, but they expressed their no-confidence on the law of the land," judge Rezaul Islam said while delivering the verdict today.
Aminul not only blatantly patronised Islamist militants using the police and administration during the previous government's tenure but also barred local authorities to take action against the militants in 2004-05.
Since the open rise of Bangla Bhai-led militant organisation Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) in northern Rajshahi in 2004, The Daily Star in its continuous investigation in the past few years has revealed Aminul's role from the forefront as one of the key patrons of the militants.
Aminul, also former lawmaker of Rjshahi-1 constituency, and Ruhul Kuddus Talukder Dulu, former lawmaker of Natore-2 and former deputy minister for land, jointly patronised the JMB in the region.
Related The Daily Star articles

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Bangladesh ex-PM formally charged for extortion

Bangladesh police today filed formal extortion charges against former prime minister Sheikh Hasina, now in a special jail, along with her sister and a former cabinet colleague who is also her cousin.
Hasina's younger sister, Sheikh Rahana, lives in London, while her cousin, Sheikh Selim, is also now in jail.
Hasina, leader of the Awami League, was arrested at her home in Bangladesh capital Dhaka on July 16 and sent to a house converted into a prison inside the parliament compound.
Selim, former health minister who was arrested in late April, confessed to extorting ($435,000) from a businessman and sharing it with Hasina.

Read The Daily Star article

Muslim Support For Suicide Attacks Down Sharply

Popular support for suicide bombings has dropped sharply across the Muslim world in what could suggest a rejection of Islamist militant tactics among Muslims, Reuters reports quoting a global survey released today.
The 2007 Pew Global Attitudes survey, based on polling data from 47 countries, also showed waning confidence in al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden among Muslims but said the United States is viewed as the biggest threat by a majority of people in Muslim countries.
Read article published in New York Times.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Buddha's hair a sign of friendship

Marking a historic moment of sharing an invaluable possession as a token of fraternity between the two countries, Bangladesh on Wednesday presented Sri Lanka with a few strands of hair said to have belonged to Buddha.
A pagoda-shaped metal urn containing Guatam Buddha's hair was given to a Sri Lankan delegation by custodians of an ancient Buddhist monastery at a festive ceremony at Chittagong Buddhist Monastery as monks in saffron robes chanted religious texts.

"This is a sacred relic of Lord Buddha. We will carry it with high veneration," Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama said after receiving the invaluable relic Bangladesh Foreign Affairs adviser Iftekhar A. Chowdhury.
In return for the relic, called Kesho Dhatu -- which will be kept at a monastery in Sri Lanka's capital, Colombo, for Buddhist pilgrims to pay homage -- Sri Lanka presented a stone slab imprinted with Buddha's footprint and a statue to the monastery.
Ajit Ranjan Barua, chairman of the Bangladesh Buddhist Association, said a Tibetan monk brought the hair to Chittagong in 1930. The relic was preserved in a glass box at the monastery, about 135 miles southeast of the capital, Dhaka.

The barely visible strands of hair can be viewed by devotees only once a year, during a festival commemorating Buddha's birth, enlightenment and death.
In the past, parts of the relic have been given to Buddhist monasteries in Japan, Thailand and Sri Lanka.
Buddha, born as a Hindu prince named Siddhartha Gautama, founded the Buddhist religion more than 2,500 years ago in what is now parts of Nepal and India.
Buddhists now make up less than 2 percent of Muslim-majority Bangladesh's 145 million people.

Diary: Week Sixteen

It was quite a dull week for me, and I did not at all had any luck. Not only that I could not produce any new story, I had to abandon my New York visit plan for something that apparently turned failure.
I was trying
deliberately to reach some ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) patients, physicians, psychologists and teachers as I started the week to finish my story on ADD, which I began by the end of last week. I had a good list of patients and doctors.
Since it's a complex issue and there are myths and misconceptions about ADD, which is also known as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, I was trying to write a comprehensive story and present it in an interesting way.
Although I tried my best to reach them, I called each on the list several times and left messages, no-one of them responded till last Wednesday. And, above all, I did not find their information that much interesting.
I luckily came in touch with the mother of a child patient who turned out to be very helpful and useful.
When I submitted it Friday, I think I submitted a good story.
My wife's sister, who live in INdianapolis, was supposed to come to my place
and her family and pick me up this weekend. We're supposed to go to Niagara Falls. And this is the reason I had to cancel my plan to go to NY with Aresu and Yi Lou.
I was looking for such an opportunity to go to NY and could not catch it when it reached my door. When everything was set, my relatives told me they can't come this week, we needed to defer the tour.
And I lost both.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Bangladesh arrests former PM Hasina

Former Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina was arrested in the capital on Monday and sent to jail to face extortion charges in a move that sparked protests by her supporters in several parts of the country, with police firing rubber bullets at demonstrators in Dhaka.
As there was a huge outcry across the country against the arrest, head of Bangladesh's army-backed interim government, Fakhruddin Ahmed, said no-one in the country was above law.
"Anyone involved in corruption will be tracked down and prosecuted," he said yesterday after the arrest.
Hasina, daughter of Bangladesh's assassinated Liberation Was hero Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, is facing graft cases besides corruption allegations revealed by her top party leaders which say she misused power during her stint as prime minister while her party Awami League was in power (1996-2001).
"She has been arrested on ... charges of extortion and the law will take its own course," Mainul Husein, an adviser to the interim government and head of the law and information ministries, told reporters.
Hasina, who has been leading the party since 1981, has denied the charges and found reasons to consider the arrest as a conspiracy.
"It's a sheer conspiracy to expel me from politics. Neither myself nor my family were ever involved in any sort of corruption," a lawyer quoted Hasina as telling the court.
While Hasina was on a U.S. tour, the government, on April 18, banned her return to Bangladesh. They however withdrew the an in face of local and international pressure and Hasina returned to the country in May.
When Hasina a day before Hasina was supposed to fly to the U.S. to see her expecting daughter, the government put restriction on her flying out of the country, and she was virtually remaining under house-arrest.
After her arrest, police searched Hasina's home, seized her bullet-proof vehicle, two computers and various documents relating to her bank accounts and party publications.
Hasina supporters clashed with police in the capital and tried to stop a motorcade taking her to jail.
The Daily Star story

Diary: Week Fifteen

I rediscovered the amazing hospitality of Bangalee people, and I regret doing it very lately. My stay here might be much more interesting had I come to know these nice people just after I came to Pittsburgh. Now when I found it, I had only six weeks to stay.
I began the week in North Side of the city. I went to interview a local ward commissioner, Peter Ferraro, in Ross Township Monday. One of the nine commissioners of the township, Ferraro has been elected the president of state ward commissioners' association this year.
"I was a democrat just before I became a commissioner," Ferraro said as he was describing his joining Republicans to win in the commissioner election in 1989. While he was protesting against
the then local commissioner's move to construct a huge building, the commissioner asked him to settle the matter after emerging out winner against him, and Ferraro took the challenge. And he joined Republican bloc as the man was a democrat and came out successful. Since 1989, Ferraro is the commissioner of Ward No. 8.
Our (Post-Gazette's north zone reporter Len Barcousky and I) focus of interview was to about the commissioner's future plan about the area and what he wants to do as the president of the state commissioners' association. We were excited that one from our locality became president of the state association. We, however, found out later that another one
from Pittsburgh was elected president a few years ago.
I went to a meeting of Ross township in the night to see how the local units of government work here in the U.S. I was literally amazed to see the decision-making process in the local government level. Most of the agendas were related to housing: construction of garage, splitting a land into two, getting building plans approved, use of certain land for business
purpose etc.
Besides the parties whose matters were to be discussed and their neighbors who may be affected for the projects were there ordinary people. After presentation by the parties, the neighbors can have their floor if they want to make any point.
Then the township, chaired by one of the commissioners who has been elected to chair the meetings for one year, would discuss whether the projects need more works or can be approved. A member of local planning commission, who is an expert about legal aspects and has a very good knowledge about planning, is always there.
If anyone thinks it can be approved, he proposes a motion while another commissioner
seconds it. The 'house' then take decision through voting.
You will not find this practice in Bangladesh. The parties do not have access to such meetings let alone their neighbor or ordinary people. And the decisions come, in many cases, through under-table dealings.
I was also taking photographs for the assignment.
I started working for another story -- this is for the health section -- the next day. This time I was working on Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), a very common biological difference that makes people distracted, has contribution in lack of focusing, hyperactivity etc.
In fact, I got the idea when I found a newly published book on ADD, Pay Attention, by Dr Craig B, Liden, a Pittsburgh-based doctor who has been dealing such patients for more than 25 years.
"I've seen over 9,000 patients with attention deficit disorder problem and say it that people do not have clear idea about the problem," Dr Liden said Wednesday as I was interviewing him at the office of Translation, Dr Liden's publishing house dedicated to work on ADD.

The interesting thing is people have misperception that it is found only among the children and can be understood when they cannot focus in their classes.
"But the fact is, it is found among people of all ages, though it can be noticed easily among the children," Liden said, adding that 40 percent of his patients are adult.
Although it is a pervasive problem, little literature is available on it. And often times people mistake it for 'Bipolar Disorder'.
ADD cannot be totally cured and if it is not treated during the childhood, it can create further health hazards. Obesity, bad food habit, lifestyle, alcoholism are associated with ADD and worsen it.
Saying that only medication is not enough for ADD treatment, Dr Liden is advocating a three-pronged treatment that also includes counseling and involving the family, caregivers
and colleagues in the process of treatment.
I had surprise waiting for me by the end of the week. A Bangladeshi cardiologist called me Thursday over my cellphone to invite me to a music evening at his house in Oakmont the next day. They Bangladeshi community has brought in an Indian Bangalee singer, Shantanu Roy Choudhury, from Kolkata to perform at the program. When I went there, I found myself surrounded by all the Bangladeshi people. They had a lot of questions about current political situation in Bangladesh and I had to answer it because I 'know it better as a journalist.'
However, most of them know about me before I went there by reading my article in Post-Gazette about eBay fraud story. Some of them called me at my office and one of them wrote me email. It was interesting. It was a good evening.
The next evening, I attended Gharoa, a monthly program of Bangalee people from Kolkata where the sing songs, eat dinner together and then again sing songs most of which are chorus in the second part.
As some of them knew beforehand that I sing Lalongeeti, I had to sing two. My audience was very pleased listening to my songs, although I think it was not that good because I didn't sing in last five months at all. These people's sincerity and love for Bangalee culture touched me greatly. They are nice people.
And most important thing is this kind of function or get together strengthens the bond between people of this community. As if they were hugging each other lovingly.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

child revolution!

When no parent or adult person came forward to stop marriage of a 13-year-old girl, her classmates thought it's their duty to rescue her. And the tiny soldiers accomplished in their mission.
The class eight student, who was being forced to marry against her will, was finally saved from marrying off at the tender age.
It was a unique sight for the people of the small town, when some 50 schoolgirls took to the street yesterday demanding that the wedding of their classmate Habiba Sultana, be called off.
Next, they submitted a memorandum to the officer-in-charge (OC) of Sadar Police Station urging him to take action to stop the child marriage.
Read The Daily Star story

Monday, July 9, 2007

More Britons travelling to Bangladesh to train in terror: The Guardian

Significant numbers of Britons are travelling to Bangladesh to train in terrorist techniques amid rising concern among security and intelligence officials about the increasing appeal of al-Qaida's message throughout the Middle East and south-east Asia, Richard Norton-Taylor reports in The Guardian Monday.
"Their concern is compounded by a realisation among al-Qaida leaders of the value of individuals who can enter western countries easily. All eight people arrested in Britain over the failed bomb attacks in London were doctors or medical students and all entered the country legally.

"The arrest in Australia of an Indian-born doctor related to two brothers arrested in Britain show how far links between potentially dangerous individuals are spreading, Whitehall officials say.

"British counter-terrorist officials recently visited Bangladesh to brief their counterparts there, the Guardian has been told. Officials say the number of Britons of Bangladeshi descent apparently prepared to consider carrying out terrorist acts marks a new and worrying development.

"It coincides with the increasing number of young Britons travelling to Pakistan via South Africa in an effort to avoid being noticed by British security officials. Recent terrorist trials have shown how the Britain-Pakistan link has been crucial, with many convicted terrorists having trained in camps in Pakistan.

"The advantage, say intelligence analysts, is that British citizens do not require visas to enter South Africa. Furthermore, the country is regarded as a good market for identity and travel documents. South Africa's intelligence chiefs have played down the country's role as a potential transit route for British-born al-Qaida sympathisers travelling to Pakistan.

"However, Kurt Shillinger, of South Africa's Institute of International Affairs, warned that the country's passport is "one of the world's most abused, available on the streets for as little as £10". In an article titled South Africa: Transit Point for International Jihadists? for Britain's Royal United Services Institute Mr Shillinger warns that intelligence officials privately admit they cannot monitor accurately a swelling immigrant community and the smuggling of people to Pakistan.
"In north Africa Ayman al-Zawahari, Osama bin Laden's deputy, has announced the setting up of al-Qaida of the Islamic Maghreb with the idea of embracing other extreme groups, including Algeria's Salafist movement. In an internet video this week al-Zawahari urged fighters to "hurry to Afghanistan, hurry to Iraq, hurry to Somalia, hurry to Palestine".
"However, Pakistan remains the country posing the greatest threat to Britain's security, Whitehall officials say. One of the problems is the sheer number of Britons of Pakistani descent who visit the country every year - more than 30,000 between the ages of 18 to 35, the group most likely to be influenced by al-Qaida ideology, according to intelligence officials. Another problem is the pressure on the Inter Services Institute, whose priority is to keep the country together and President Musharraf alive rather than monitor British-born Pakistanis."

Read article

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Diary: Week Fourteen

I had an exceptional birthday this year, the only celebration was e-wish from my friends. However, it was global.
I felt some a kind of hesitation to tell anybody that my birthday was on Friday and thought let it be a different one. The day began with a sweet tune. When I was reading poems of WB Yeats Thursday evening, I fell asleep. And I had a dream where I saw all my childhood characters some of whom have started fading a little bit from my memory. I woke up happy, still holding Yeat's books, and saw the 15 minutes of the new day, my birthday, has passed.
I got two of my story cleared that day. One was my piece on eBay fraudulent seller which I wrote for Saturday Diary page. It came out Saturday. My mentor Greg Victor, who is in-charge of the page, is a good editor.
I worked half day and watched movie rest of the day, chatted with my wife and some other friends in Bangladesh and one each in Ivory Coast and Switzerland.
As the week began, I continued my work for the story on Pittsburgh-based charity organization
Brother's Brother Foundation which has so far sent donations medicine, medical supplies, seeds and books to 121 countries. I was writing a feature on this organization's recent receipt of a huge consignment of surgical instruments worth about $4.8 million. They have already sent the instruments to 28 countries. They are starting distributing Crocs shoes this year among people in need in 30 countries.
When I began working for for the story, my editor told me not to make it a big one. But when I submitted a 730-word story to her Thursday morning, she told me to explain several points, write more about the volunteer doctors and the president of the organization. As I reminded her of her instruction to keep it small, she said it's not going to be that big! And when I added the info, it stood 980 words. It was not still that big!
If I submit a story of this size to my bosses in my home newspaper, they'll yell on my face and throw it away. We have instruction not to write more than 500 words if the story is a major one. Otherwise it won't be more than 350 words.
After submitting my story that day, I asked my editor to let me know when she would edit it. I've decided that I would observe editing of my stories closely to find my mistakes. It's more effective and useful for a writer than reading the story after it comes out. The editors explain to you what they want, what not and what they avoid. Besides, you'll also learn about the newspaper policy.
When I sat with her for editing Friday morning, I realized once again that I can't overcome the British tone in my writing. I told her that I have tried all my life to learn and write in British style. In fact, I always have to struggle to forget it when I am writing for my newspaper here. At the same time I have to beware that I don't forget it because I'll have to follow British style when I am back to Bangladesh.
My editor made some changes to make it more like conversation. I love this writing style of U.S. newspapers although there is little scope, unless it's a soft story, to do it in Bangladesh newsrooms. The editors will yell at you: "Can't you say anything straight? Get to the point directly." And you'll have to be economic in terms of using words. You are always and strongly instructed to keep it as small as you can.
However, the story is coming out in the Health and Science page this Wednesday.
With my interest for photography growing, I took another online photojournalism course , again one offered by News University. It's Best of Photojournalism, a course that uses the photos and interviews and video of judges for the Best of Photojournalism
2006 contest, held every year by National Press Photographers Association.
I found the course to be very useful because it lets you know what judges look for to find excellence in the field.
As the judges put their heads together to select a few images from among hundred of photos from across the globe on
25 contest categories including general news, disaster news, domestic, celebrity, environment, international, sports and photo illustration to find the winners and finalists, they make it clear what they look for.
"Every photo must do something to the audience. It would either make you laugh or cry or make you unhappy, make you question what’s going on. It'll speak to u, crawl down your throat," said James Colton, photography editor of Sports Illustrated who is one of the nine judges.
"I would say content, composition and lighting," said another judge, Ricardo Ferro, director of photography EFE News Service while talking about the three most important thing judges look for in each photo.
"Before taking the shot, every photographer needs planing which lens to use. Which angle would be best, which corner to stand and how he would use the
shadow. Although sometimes it is reactive, a photographer needs to have planning," he said.
On lighting, he said the photographers have to create volume with light, so that "the photo jumps out of the page."
The best thing is the judges' comment on the outstanding aspects of some of the best photos. Besides the scrutiny, the huge collection -- more than 1200 world's best images -- is a rich library you get for free!
I feel good and more confident after finishing the course. I think I would take it several times more.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Deja vu, Bangladesh?

Two countries and many common problems, the major one being lack of democracy. It may be a quirk of fate that the journey Musharraf set Pakistan onto could not be fulfilled in eight years but may well be completed by Bangladesh in two, provided the Bangladesh Army stays the course and does not deviate from the "selection and maintenance of aim", writes Pakistani defence and political analyst Ikram Sehgal.
These are still early days, except for a few political hiccups which may be excusable given the political naivety of any military brass in any country, favourable signs point to the "Bangladesh model" becoming a third world success story, an achievement the military can be proud of.

Lessons certainly have been learnt from the Pakistan experience, they have till now generally avoided the mistakes committed. Genuine democracy can only be achieved if the military aims for impartial accountability across the board, the spine of justice duly stiffened by its unobtrusive supportive presence. Secondly, an impartial election commission must carry every eligible voter on the electoral rolls, he (or she) getting the opportunity to vote without any external influence guiding his (or her) choice. Thirdly, an absolute majority of votes cast in any constituency must elect a candidate, the first two candidates having the most votes going head to head with the outright winner getting more than 50 per cent of the votes cast. Lastly and most importantly, the army should stay away from politics. If you are a professional soldier, you may be a brilliant A or B, you will still not know anything of politics.
Accountability being carried out in Bangladesh is not selective but across the board. And it is being done intelligently! A very credible election commission is engaged in an emergent but pragmatic exercise to correct the electoral rolls i.e. add the voters left out in each constituency and remove 'ghosts' who managed to populate those rolls in the thousands. An interaction with Mr Shamshul Huda, the chief election commissioner, and two members of the EC, was extremely informative; one was struck by their sincere commitment and pragmatic approach. When you bring integrity to intellect, you get positive results.
On January 11, 2007 (or 1/11 as it is known) the country was paralysed and close to anarchy. With no hope of reconciliation between the two major political parties, the army reluctantly moved to restore the ultimate authority of the constitution. The BNP-appointed president was "encouraged" to be "born again". Some of the major crooks in the country are behind bars, facing investigation, prosecution and incarceration, the rest of the crooks are in limbo, a doomsday clock ticking away relentlessly. December 2008 is the target date for cleansing the country and for the electoral rolls to be ready, a pragmatic time-table to which both the intelligentsia and the masses agree to, most of them happily, some purists reluctantly. Freed from political dictatorship, the political parties are themselves talking party reform. Only those who want to escape accountability disagree, not enough to have any nuisance value.
The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in Pakistan did excellent work in the beginning. Overly staffed by serving and retired military officers, it ran into difficulties about one year or so into its inception, rumours of corruption became rife. NAB faced a credibility problem because the armed forces and the superior judiciary were kept out of its purview; the "plea-bargaining" concept further eroded its credibility. The final shred of respectability was lost with "selective accountability" targeting only recalcitrant politicians or those businessmen/bureaucrats without good contacts in the regime. Amjad, a brilliant professional of known honesty and integrity, opted out instead of compromising his principles. Despite such discrepancies and a limited horizon, NAB continues to do excellent work.
In a PROBE magazine-sponsored seminar "Fighting Corruption" in the Dhaka Press Club on June 30, one had a chance to "share the Pakistan experience". While Professor Mahbullah gave a sound theoretical analysis, Professor Shamsher Ali made practical suggestions for implementation. Professor Hossain Zillur Rahman eloquently focused on the real issues, his lucid analysis closely approximating the successes and failures of any anti-corruption drive. Major General (Retd) Ibrahim gave an emotion-packed appeal for success of the accountability process. As the Coordinator of the National Coordination Committee for Combating Crime and Corruption (or NCC as the mouthful is known), Lt General Masud Uddin is the point-person designated by the army to lead the extremely successful anti-corruption drive in Bangladesh. Someone once said, "Read between the lines, it tires the eyes less!" Unlike the previous speakers who chose to speak extempore, Masud read out an 18-page statement that seemed to signal an intention to remain engaged over the long-term.
Bangladesh has gone after white-collar criminals without looking at their antecedents, or being impressed by their connections. While General Masud clarified that his task forces (TFs) included specialists from different civilian departments, his insistence on TFs being led by army officers was extremely disappointing. The army has to keep its rank and file from getting involved in civilian functions. The army is inadvertently playing into the hands of criminals who want the streets to react. The mention about "monitoring units" was scary because that is exactly how everything started to go wrong in Pakistan, the army creeping into every conceivable post that a specialist civilian could do far better.
One got unfortunate vibes that Masud, at the cutting edge of one of the most successful accountability in the third world history, represents a school of thought in the army who see themselves as "avenging angels" with a long-term mandate. With limited resources (and limited knowledge) the army has to conserve and concentrate rather than disperse its potential. The "Bangladesh model" will remain successful by focusing only on major criminals, 5000-6000 core individuals involved in the governance or benefiting from it during the last 15 years. The army should also target those in the police, income tax, customs etc who have corrupted the process. Deterrent effect should be the major force! Let us not forget those who have given bribes unless they come forth with evidence, also perjury needs to be targeted. The concerted attack that the army's recalcitrants can make will not be political but economic, the streets reacting to food shortages and rising prices. Hardened white-collar criminals will go scot-free if the army is unfortunately diverted from its primary focus as it tries to cope.
One gets apprehensive if the real intention of the army is different from what has been publicly stated by its COAS General Moeen Ahmed, a man of great professionalism and commitment, and a person one admires for being steadfast in his resolve to keep the army out of politics. Even the present step forward by the army needs a strategy for safe exit. The "Bangladesh model" will make history if the army remains focused and not get inextricably involved.
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