Cultural, International, Political, Religious, Uncategorized

Three concerns about Taliban 2.0

Taliban fighters at the Afghan Presidential Palace

The Taliban have returned to power in Afghanistan. The spectacular fall of the US-backed government has caught everyone by surprise, although for years it was implicitly assumed that the war was lost in Afghanistan. Yet, the US continued its presence and pursued a failed policy of engagement. However, within the past weeks, city after city fell like dominoes to the advancing Taliban forces as the Afghan Army either surrendered or abandoned their posts. This led to the fall of the capital without any resistance. The hasty and unplanned evacuation of the US embassy in Kabul was reminiscent of another ignominious defeat of the United States—Saigon in 1975. Often referred to as the “Saigon Moment”, this came to life one more time, bringing an end to the US military operation launched 20 years ago after the terrorist attacks in the US by Al Qaeda, which was hosted by the then ruling Taliban. The Taliban was dislodged from power in a few weeks and two decades of US presence began.

Since the fall of Kabul on Sunday, the events leading to the moment have been analysed in extensive detail all around the world, and there have been emotionally charged discussions in the Bangladeshi media as well. Many have expressed their delight at the defeat of the US; some praised the Taliban for their success. Since the Taliban blitz began a few weeks ago after US President Joe Biden declared the timeline of the US withdrawal, and it became evident that the Taliban’s victory is all but certain, security experts and analysts of Afghan politics expressed an array of concerns.

These fears have been rejected by those who are optimistic of a new beginning in Afghanistan and want to give the Taliban the benefit of the doubt. They are suggesting that this is Taliban 2.0. Implied in the statement is that the Taliban has transformed. They argue that these concerns are only a part of the anti-Taliban campaign on behalf of the West. These explanations and concerns warrant our attention, particularly now that Taliban rule has become the reality.

A common explanation of the Taliban’s victory is that the people of Afghanistan have rejected the foreign power, as they did the British and the former Soviet Union before. Instead, they have chosen their political representatives. This characterisation of the Taliban as a nationalist force has some merit to it. To some extent, the support for the Taliban among Afghan people can be traced back to their nationalist ethos, but it is not clear whether this brand of nationalism has transcended the deep-seated ethnic divide in Afghan society.

However, nationalist ethos alone does not explain the entire phenomenon; the failure of the US-backed government in Kabul bears some responsibility. The parochial nature of the Afghan elite, the lack of inclusive governance, the incessant factional wrangling among them, the rampant corruption and utter disregard for the larger segments of society—all of this together contributed to the emergence of the Taliban as the alternative. While trillions of dollars of US taxpayers’ money were poured in, there was a disconnect between reality and perception.

The nationalist explanation is also fraught with the problem that the Taliban alone does not represent Afghanistan—those who oppose the Taliban ideology are also part of the national fabric. Afghanistan cannot be imagined without Taliban followers, neither should it be imagined excluding those who do not subscribe to the Taliban ideology. But the most serious inadequacy of the interpretation is that it ignores the political disposition of the Taliban and its record of five years in power between 1996 and 2001.

Explanations of the Taliban’s victory without considering its history and ideological position only offer a partial account, laced with emotion and devoid of the implications. There are those who are elated from ideological considerations, describing the Taliban’s victory as a victory of Islam. Whether Taliban rule is consistent with Islamic precepts is an open question at best. The Ulama have long rejected this claim.

The concerns about the future of Taliban-ruled Afghanistan can be broadly divided into three strands. First, the nature of governance to be introduced within the country. Second, whether Afghanistan will become a safe haven for international terrorist groups. Third, whether Afghanistan will emerge as a threat to regional peace and stability.

Taliban rule during 1996-2001 was marked by the absence of inclusivity in politics and governance. The notion of citizenship was absent, let alone their consent in governance. The basic human rights of citizens were absent. The so-called code of conduct was imposed by force, women’s fundamental rights were taken away, cultural activities were banned, the education system was restricted, and only religious education was given the status of education, and independent intellectual exercise was admonished. These were justified on the pretext of being distinct characteristics of Islam and Afghan society.

A particular interpretation of Islam was imposed as the only authentic and acceptable version. The Taliban did not acknowledge the presence of diversity, multidimensionality, or plurality of Islamic thought. Thus far, the Taliban have not given any indication that they would abandon those practices. This is not only a concern of Western nations, but is widespread among Afghans too. The possibility of such austere measures has already frightened people within the country. Even if the Taliban leadership makes promises, is there a guarantee that their followers will not continue the old practices in different parts of the country?

It is needless to say that Afghanistan was once an al-Qaeda base and training centre. Osama bin Laden went to Afghanistan from Sudan around 1996 and under his leadership, al-Qaeda engineered and implemented attacks on US interests, in the United States and elsewhere. Although the Taliban have assured the United States, China and Russia that they will not allow Afghan soil to be used by terrorist groups in the future, experts on Afghanistan believe that it will continue to maintain contacts with al-Qaeda, and the link is “unbreakable”. Dr Asim Yousafzai, a Professor of International Relations at the University of Maryland and an expert on Afghan politics and security, told the BBC that “no matter how much Taliban promise, their relations with al-Qaeda are still intact and al-Qaeda is fighting alongside the Taliban in battles against Afghan forces”.

Besides, such organisations can emerge without state support. There is no guarantee that the Islamic State or al-Qaeda will not build their bases, taking advantage of a chaotic situation and finding ungoverned spaces. This had happened in Sahel and Western Africa. Whether the Taliban will have the capacity to launch operations against such organisations is quite a valid question, as is the question of whether they will cooperate with any international initiative against such organisations. Will those within the Taliban with more extremist proclivity refrain from patronising the regional or transnational terrorist groups? These are the second strand of the concerns.

The third concern is how much will be the ideological impact of the ruling Taliban in Afghanistan on countries in South Asia and Central Asia. Harkatul Mujahideen (Huji), a Pakistan-based violent extremist organisation, came into being in support of the Mujahideen. Although the organisation was named Huji in 1988, it was already in existence for quite some time. By 1992, it had expanded into a regional terrorist organisation. Its official journey to Bangladesh began on April 30, 1992—after the fall of Kabul. The Taliban’s victory will energise the followers of its ideology throughout the region. In the past 20 years, the Taliban have been able to recruit members without being in power; now, their success is likely to attract more. Pakistan’s Taliban, which have helped the Taliban in Afghanistan so far, will gain further strength, and may seek return of their favour.

It is imperative to highlight and be vigilant about the use of the manufactured threat of terrorism by states in South and Central Asia to justify the persecution of opponents and silencing of contrarian voices. Authoritarian rulers of the region have been using the presence of violent extremist organisations as an excuse to consolidate their power and legitimise the use of various tools of intimidation. Two decades ago, authoritarian rulers around the world joined the bandwagon of the so-called War on Terror as it provided a carte blanche to engage in unlawful acts. It is necessary for the members of civil society and international community to remain vigilant and resist any kind of attempt to take advantage of the situation.

The ball is in the court of the Taliban. It is incumbent on them to behave as a responsible political actor and ensure that Afghanistan is not going back to 1996. It is also imperative to watch what the followers of their ideology are doing. And it is necessary to watch what other governments are doing under the pretext of the Taliban victory.

Ali Riaz is the Professor of Political Science at the Illinois State University.


Political coup-d’etat in the UK

The United Kingdom has fallen. There has been a right wing political coup in this country… . And nobody noticed. We did not notice because it was years in the making. We did not notice because when it came, it came in a blonde wig and a mask of buffoonery. We did not notice because it lied to us and hid its true intent. We did not notice because the foreign manipulation was hidden from us and continues to be hidden from us. We did not notice, because the lies when they were discovered were hidden by more lies, until lack of truth became normal and acceptable. We didn’t notice because it appealed to our basest nature. It cried racist, it cried xenophobe, it falsified a threat to our way of life and blamed others. We did not notice because we accepted all the promises and lies and now we cannot admit to our gullibility. Make no mistake it has been moving steadily and stealthily. Have you not noticed how Parliament has been emasculated and how decisions are now taken by a few in a closed room? Have you noticed how the judiciary is being side lined? Have you noticed how the media are controlled & access to news is restricted? The BBC merely mouths faceless government sources and the papers howl racist xenophobic and government-fed lies? Have you noticed how the police, under cover of COVID, are being encouraged gradually to interfere more and more in our lives? Have you noticed how we are being encouraged to report ‘unsocial behaviour’ in our neighbour’s? Have you noticed how the impartial Civil Service is being packed with yes men and government cronies? Committee after committee is rigged with government-friendly sympathisers. Even now a review of the Armed Services is underway. Have you noticed how every means of objection or complaint is being stealthily closed? Have you noticed the intention to lower food standards, animal & environmental standards and abandon the guarantees of our basic human rights? Have you noticed how measures trumpeted as keeping foreigners out, actually make it harder for US to leave? Finally have you noticed how the government is engineering circumstances under which everyone’s lives will be so much harder and under which we will have so much more to worry about than to complain about our Government. Meanwhile the rape and asset- stripping of the country has already begun, with million-pound contracts awarded to cronies with no apparent expertise, siphoning money from the public purse to the private pocket and delivering nothing. It may already be too late but surely the time has come to cry enough! To stand up against the lies, the manipulation, the takeover of our Society. This government does not govern for the people; this government is governing for itself. It has become an enemy of the people, its actions are treasonous. Surely it is time to demand better, time to “TAKE BACK CONTROL, FOR THE PEOPLE.”

By Miriam Margolyes


Significance of 1.5 degree and 2.0 degrees Celsius increase in global temperature

Today, we are witnessing a lively, sometimes acrimonious, debate over global warming. Science, economics and politics are all mixed up in this debate. One of the outcomes of the debate was the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change, where 195 nations agreed to limit the rise in global temperature to 1.5-degree Celsius by the end of this century. Although lauded by some, many scientists have criticised the Paris Agreement because it understates the actual amount of warming predicted by mainstream climate change models. Furthermore, the agreement falls short on addressing the effects of the potency of green house gases and those that are already in the atmosphere.

Any person with a modicum of intelligence knows that even if emissions of greenhouse gases were stopped immediately, the ones that are already present in the atmosphere would continue to raise the global temperature for hundreds of years. That is because, aside from water vapour, the other four principal greenhouse gases―carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and halocarbons(CFCs/HFCs) can remain in the atmosphere from months to millennia. Consequently, they become well mixed, meaning that their concentration in the atmosphere is roughly the same all over the world, regardless of the source of the emissions.

The potency of a greenhouse gas is determined by what is called the Global Warming Potential (GWP)—a measure of the total energy a gas absorbs over a period of 100 years. The larger the GWP, the more warming the gas causes. With a value of one, carbon dioxide serves as a baseline for GWP of other greenhouse gases. As noted in the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), GWP of methane is 28, which means methane will cause 28 times as much warming as an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide. Nitrous oxide has a GWP of 265, while GWP of most of the HFCs, used as refrigerants, is over 1,000.

Another powerful greenhouse gas, sulphur hexafluoride, emitted from a variety of industrial establishments, has a GWP of a whopping 23,500 and an atmospheric lifetime of about 3,200 years. Its atmospheric concentration has increased by two orders of magnitude since industrial production started in 1953.

In view of the long lifetime and large GWP-values of the greenhouse gases, the overwhelming consensus among scientists is that global warming is unstoppable unless drastic measures are taken sooner rather than later. Moreover, as long as carbon based energy consumption continues, global temperature would keep onrising unabated. In a report released in October 2018, IPCC essentially corroborates this assertion by noting that planetary warming is happening faster than the panel’s scientists predicted and the goal of 1.5 degree rise in temperature would happen much earlier than 2100, unless burning fossil fuels is cut by half by 2030. Most climate models, however, predict a rise of 2-degreeor more by 2100.

The difference between 1.5 degree and 2.0 degree may not sound like much, but changes in average temperature of even a degree or less can have big effects on the climate. As we know, a sub-one degree rise in temperature since 1880 has inflicted significant damage to the environment. A 1.5 degree rise will cause even more damage, while a 2.0 degree rise will push our planet into a new, more dangerous climate domain.

The effects on the climate due to the extra half-degree won’t be uniform across the planet. Some regions will heat up faster than other regions. The tropics would experience the biggest increase in the number of unusually hot days. Deserts will become bigger, hotter and drier. Crop yields would be lower, especially in the sub-Saharan Africa, South east Asia, and Central and South America.

Frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events―wildfires, storms, floods, drought and heat waves due to half-degree differential would increase exponentially, as stated in the IPCC report. Additionally, more water would evaporate from the oceans, which in turn would make the heaviest rains and snowfalls even heavier in many parts of the world.

An additional half-degree of warming could mean more melting of ice sheets, resulting in greater habitat losses for polar bears, whales, seals, sea birds and other polar animals. Loss of ice would produce a bigger rise of sea levels.Thus, an extra half-degree of warming could be significant for small island nations, which are particularly vulnerable to sea level rise and other climate change impacts.

Another victim will be the coral reefs, which act as nurseries for many fishes. Almost all tropical coral reefs will be at risk of severe degradation due to temperature-induced bleaching.

According to the latest IPCC report, without aggressive action, many effects noted above and expected only several decades into the future will now arrive by 2040. Hence, the difference between 1.5 and 2.0 degrees Celsius is a big deal!

So, what should we do now? “Do what science demands before it is too late.” This ishow the United Nations secretary General António Guterres admonished world leaders after poring over a recent report prepared by a group of scientists at the request of several small island nations. The report paints a grim portrait of how quickly the Earth is heating up and how serious the consequences would be.

We can reverse, or at least forestall, some of the adverse effects of climate change by appealing to geo-engineering methods. It encompasses two different approaches using a variety of cutting-edge technologies. They are removal and sequestration of carbon dioxide to lower its concentration in the atmosphere and offsetting global warming by blocking some of the solar radiation from everreaching the Earth’s surface via a space-based programme called Solar Radiation Management.

Until geo-engineering technology are fully developed, their environmental impacts tested and subsequently deployed, we have no choice but to use the available technology for non-polluting, renewable sources of energy like solar, wind, geothermal and fuel cells using hydrogen. Many more clean technologies, such as Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion and Hydrokinetic Energy, will become available in the future. In addition, we have to make a clean break with burning fossil fuels. Changing our lifestyle, albeit painful, is a must, too.

Unfortunately, no alarm seems loud enough to penetrate the ears of the world leaders. While nations argue how to implement the flawed Paris Agreement, the United States and Western Europe are still producing carbon dioxide. However, the highest per capita production of carbon dioxide is in the newly industrialised countries. In the present geopolitical environment, it is, therefore, difficult to transform scientific observations into executable policy.

The author, Quamrul Haider, is a Professor of Physics at Fordham University, New York.

Editor’s Note: Sir David Attenborough, the renowned environmentalist, in his speech at the United Nations climate talks in Katowice, Poland in 2018 said, “Right now, we are facing a man-made disaster of global scale. Our greatest threat in thousands of years is the climate change. If we do not take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.”


Bangladesh, International, Religious, Uncategorized

The ISI’s perilous chess game with the Bengalis: Is it almost over?


By Jamal Hasan

The fallout of political events after the Pakistani Deputy High Commissioner Irfan Raja fiasco is too numerous to mention in this article.  Nevertheless, Bangladesh Premier Sheikh Hasina showed enough courage putting her political life into jeopardy by kicking out the shameless member of a military regime’s diplomatic corps from Bangladesh soil.  She should be given due credit for that.  But the story does not end here.

Last weekend I attended a social gathering in a Maryland town.  Most of the guests I talked to were appreciative of Hasina’s bold political gesture. Interestingly, all the folks were found to be staunchly anti-Awami League and anti-Hasina.  I was amazed to see they came out of their long tenure of indifference toward our spirit of liberation.  I take it as a good development in the right direction.  I felt when the chips were down, the apathetic Bengalis always gathered under the fold of Bengali nationalistic camaraderie.  It was no different this time.

Bangabandhu had a history of sacrifice and uncompromising role in most of his time of political activism during Pakistan Raj.  When he was rotting in jails during much of the period of Ayub era, he did not have a crystal ball that could predict that someday he would be the chief architect of a struggling nation.  He never allowed him to sell himself to the interests of Punjabi oligarchy.  Nevertheless, there is a great probability that an objective account of history will not portray him bigger than what he was. Some of the historical mistakes he committed will be a topic of continuous debate among secular nationalist historians in the days ahead.  One thing was quite apparent that Bangabandhu was the unchallenged leader of the seventy five-million souls during the days of our blood and tears.  But an important segment of history did not get the due exposure that it deserved. That is the Bengali leader’s unfortunate failure in the diabolical chess game that he was playing with the Yahya junta and their cohort the Lord of Larkana, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in the month of March of 1971.

A few months ago, a notable Bengali media person in the Washington region gave me startling information.  He told me that he had a chance to see the veteran journalist K. G. Mustafa on the evening of March 25, 1971, at the premises of Dhaka Press Club.  K.G. Mustafa had strong rapport with Bangabandhu and as an insider he gave his scoop to his acquaintances at the Press Club.  And that was, according to Mr. Mustafa, “Bangabandhu is optimistic about the talks with Yahya and Bhutto and some positive resolution is going to come out tonight.” During this conversation another person was present and he was Mazhar Ali Khan, a liberal and left-leaning Punjabi journalist of Lahore Times.  He gave a completely opposite picture. According to the Lahore Times journalist, the talks failed and Yahya Junta was planning a brutal crackdown on the Bengalis.  When I heard the interesting newsworthy history from the Washington media person, I first could not believe my ears.  As I read the recently published Brigadier Majumdar’s oral history on the web, I had no other way but to digest the bitter truth. I felt probably the Press Club incidence had some credibility.  I am now quoting from Brigadier Majumdar’s memoir published in “Tormenting 1971″‘s web edition []. “….I waited tensely in the evening for the phone call.  At 8 pm, Osmani rang me and said, “Mujib is now reached a settlement with Yahiya.  He has asked you to be patient.”   It seemed Bangabandhu was naive enough by giving the brutal Pakistani military brass the benefit of doubt.  In other words, it was quite possible that Bangabandhu had failed the first chess game against the most notorious clique of the Indian subcontinent, the military junta under the command of General Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan.

Bangabandhu, being the founding father of the nascent nation of Bangladesh had  too big an aura.  Average citizens of the war ravaged nation expected more from him than he could deliver.  Nobody took notice of the limitation of the leader, though.  His primary weakness was trusting people close to him.   Also, he became engulfed with the sweet talks of the sycophants and political operatives who were very aware of the leader’s idiosyncrasies. For example, the collaborator issue put him in such a moral dilemma that he would have been “damned if he became hard on them or not damned if he did not.”   Mind you, I am borrowing this from the famous quotation of US Attorney General Janet Reno after the 2000 Presidential election controversy.

The 16th of December of 1971 gave Pakistan a limited setback.  They did not lose heart so easily.  Pakistani oligarchy knew that they had their first line of defense hiding among the right wingers of Awami League under anything like Khundkar Moshtaque, Shah Moazzem and Taher Thakur. They also had some liking for the old time Awami Leaguers who were nationalists but not as radical as they would desire to see East Pakistan secedes from the union.  And there was no dearth of such Awami Leaguers.  The founding father was hardly uncomfortable when he intermingled with such characters. Sometimes his partisan and big brotherly attitude led him to protect the chickens that were waiting in the wings to kill him.  Second lines of Pakistani fans were found in the different cantonments of Bangladesh where a good number of repatriated army brasses had a negligible passion for Bengali nationalism.  General H.M. Ershad is the symbol of such a constituency. Col. (Ret’d) Shafat Jamil’s thought provoking book depicts this dictator as another Fifth Columnist working for the brutal regime of Yahya Khan during Bangladesh liberation war.

The birth of Bangladesh occurred at a time of heightened Cold War rivalry. As many policy makers of USA saw it in a plain black and white parameter, the struggle of a nation against an oppressive regime was not a factor in formulating US foreign policy direction.  Also, before President Carter’s crusade against human rights abuses the Executive Branches of USA hardly showed any sympathy toward suffering souls where genocide was perpetrated hardly five years ago.   In the eyes of Nixon Administration, the emergence of Bangladesh appeared to be a victory of Soviet Lobby in the South Asian region.  And as the founding father of Bangladesh embraced the pro-Moscow communists to form BKSAL, the alarm bell was raising high in parts of the Pennsylvania Avenue and the Pentagon.

To combat communism, some of the US agencies had allowed having strange bed partners.  That included unsavory characters like Islamic fundamentalists of Pakistan as well.  During much of the 1970’s Saudi-Pakistan-US nexus had a good honeymooning.  When Al-Badr operatives slaughtered the Bengali intellectuals in the heat of the night they knew very well who their guardians were.  Be mindful that Osama bin Laden was being groomed during this time with the blessing of this alignment.

According to the assessment of the Inter-services Intelligence of Pakistan (the notorious military intelligence agency of that country) and the nexus that I mentioned, the formation of BKSAL may bring the Soviets to the doorstep of the Bay of Bengal.  The ISI was more concerned to bring Bangladesh to Pakistan’s fold and the nexus wanted to de-Sovietize Bangladesh polity.  Some of the right wing dictators in the world amassed more wealth and made more terrible human rights abuses than the Awami Leaguers of 1972-1975.  Papa Doc Duvalier of Haiti, Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, Reza Shah Pahlavi of Iran, Somoza of Nicaragua, Batista of Cuba are a few in the list.  In the eyes of US policy makers, Mujib’s sin was not being soft on the corrupt Awami Leaguers, nor his Rakkhi Bahini’s excesses against the armed cadres of Sarbahara Party or Jatiya Samjtantrik Dal.  The danger perceived by many analysts in the land of freedom was Mujib’s coziness with the Kremlin leaders that could allow the Red Bear to a new frontier. So the 15th August seemed to be a historical necessity for quite a few methodical planners.

The 15th of August 1975 was a big victory for the Punjabi clique. They won yet another chess game against the Bengalis.  In Bangladesh, some new faces were emerging who would not mind to be the pawns of Islamabad. Ziaur Rahman was notable in this case.  Although his wife was captive at the hands of the brutal Pakistani machinery during much of 1971, he cared less for his personal predicament.  He very shrewdly worked to enhance the ISI’s agenda in Bangladesh.  As a renowned freedom fighter, he used his Muktijoddha garb and his Podobi, whenever necessary, only to fool the gullible Bengali masses.  But slowly, did he stab the back of the spirit of liberation.   Zia could fool millions of Bengalis but he could hardly masquerade his true identity in front of sensible Bengali nationalists.

You don’t have to be a nuclear scientist to figure out that Pakistani ruling elite got back their lost colony after mid 1975.  They understood as long as subservient Bengali army rulers would serve their purpose the idea of a reunification would not arise.  They were fully aware the wound from a bloody war was still fresh in the memory of millions of Bengalis.  Zia scrapped the 1972 Constitution that included secularism as one of the founding principles of the emerging nation. Zia followed his Fouzi leadership style from the textbooks of his role model Ayub Khan.  During national days of mourning or remembrance, he did not allow the state owned media to utter the taboo word, “Pakistani army.”  He embraced the most heinous Jamaati killers and gave them a new lease of life; he allowed them to organize politically.  He brought a notorious collaborator like Shah Azizur Rahman to a high echelon of state power.  He broke many freedom loving peoples’ heart but gave the Pakistani masters a sigh of relief.  The successors of Yahya regime in Islamabad understood the lost colony had been won again.

During the late 1970’s, as the Soviets invaded Afghanistan the Saudi-Pakistan-US nexus got a big boost up. This was the time when General Ziaul Huq of Pakistan and General Ziaur Rahman of Bangladesh became blood brothers.  The Bengali Zia might have been ashamed to remember his freedom fighting days.  He provided the necessary platform to ISI for conducting its business in Bangladesh.  The Pakistanis got total upper hand in the chess game.  General Ziaur Rahman became the ultimate Trojan Horse of the Punjabi ruling elite.  The ISI had two-tier objectives in Bangladesh. Primarily, in order to give India a good lesson, the shipments of arms under the guidance of the military ruler in Bangladesh were destined to insurgency movements in the northeastern corridor of India.  It goes without saying that Indian rebels got a guaranteed sanctuary on the soil of Bangladesh.   Secondly, the infusion of political Islamic ideology would help diminish the hatred against the Pakistani rapists and killers of 1971.  They were successful in both the fronts.  On the other hand, India did not stay quiet either.  As a tit for tatting, India reciprocated by further fomenting the Chittagong Hill Tracts insurgency.  That did not bring a positive feedback from the Bangladesh citizenry.  Rather, India’s approach backfired and Pakistani clandestine activity got the desired outcome.  The shrewd and power hungry Zia made Bangladesh a hotbed of tussles between India and Pakistan, which went on unabated without public knowledge.  General Ershad simply took the mantle from his predecessor and ran with it for almost a decade.

As Pakistani dark shadow engulfed the whole nation after 1975, Zia’s calculated oratory could appease two patrons.  Off and on, he articulated his stand against “foreign isms.”  Some of the US State Department officials might have perceived Zia as a crusader devoted to thwart socialism or communism. The Pakistani policy makers could have considered it a crusade against secularism.  The ISI operatives did have a serious distaste for secularism, not to say their hatred for left leaning politics.  Ziaur Rahman had a vendetta against Awami League, and the Bangabandhu in particular.  Was it merely because of Awami League’s corrupt politicians’ wrongdoing or its non-democratic formation of BKSAL?  His track record shows otherwise.  Some critics may argue that Zia had shown his grudge against that party for breaking up Pakistan. He methodically transplanted pro-BNP and pro-Jamaati Judges thus making the country’s judiciary subservient to his political philosophy with a slant toward Pakistani interest. No wonder, even today Bangladeshi Judges are too  “embarrassed” to try Mujib killers and they show split decision on Bangabandhu Murder Case.

After the demise of the Soviet empire a positive outcome came into the periphery.  The Saudi-Pakistan-US nexus lost its important component the USA.  Once upon a time, the US policy makers found reliable friends in Islamic fundamentalists but they also realized the need for them was no more.  A direct attack on citadels of secular democracy opened their eyes. Bombing of the World Trade Center or the Embassies in Africa gave them the chill of their life.  In a hurry they realized that pan-Islamists or Islamic fundamentalists were the ultimate enemies of secular West.  This realization, albeit late, came as a blessing in disguise for the secular Bengali nationalists.  The tide has turned and today the common enemy of the Bengalis and USA is the Islamist movement emanating from the hornet’s nest in Pakistan.

During 1975 to 1991, Bangladesh has been governed by the shadow of ISI backed Bengali army dictators. They did not attempt to make the sovereign nation a confederation of Pakistan overnight.  But they proceeded to go in a manner that can be equated with a situation of slow poisoning.  During Zia’s time any questionable artistic endeavor critical to the regime or Pakistani values was surreptitiously suppressed. I can give the example of film director M.A. Samad’s “Surjo Grohon.”   Without any explanation, this film was banned in the country. Also, Zia’s ruthlessness occurred behind the iron curtains of Dhaka cantonment.  After quelling a coup in 1977, he randomly arrested hundreds of noncommissioned officers of Bangladesh Air force.  Many of them were sent to different jails where they were hanged after the verdicts from Zia installed Kangaroo Courts.  Many officers perished from the face of the earth. Their main offense-they were suspected to be a threat to the regime.  Under Zia’s rule, a pattern of purge in the country’s defense services was getting crystal clear to political analysts. In a good number of cases only freedom fighters in various branches of the armed services were singled out to be punished.  During the time of Zia’s gross account of human rights violation, the Amnesty International or any other human rights organizations were noticeably silent.  Was it because of the Cold War legacy, who knows?

Let us now delve into the tidbits of the dynamics of Bangladesh politics after seventeen years rule of the ISI- virus infected Bengali generals. After the ouster of dictator Ershad from the power, the ISI had to be apprehensive. This was more so as Bengali nationalist party Awami League allied with Bangladesh Nationalist Party to kick out the army despot from power. Although Khaleda Zia was no friend of pro-liberation forces of the country, she did not systematically purge Muktijoddhas (freedom fighters) from the defense forces.  I recall notable writer and commentator Hasan Ferdous once pointed out about one interesting aspect of Khaleda Zia administration. According to Ferdous, Khaleda gave four or five key and strategic positions to army officers who happened to be freedom fighters. Tarek Masud, an aspiring Bengali film buff told me in 1995 about the fait accompli of his remarkable documentary, “The Songs of Freedom.”  He revealed to me that at the outset  the Khaleda Zia administration made conspicuous attempt to obstruct the release of this historical documentary.  This powerful camera work depicted the plight of the Bengali refugees and a group of singers’ motivational songs in various refugee camps through out the liberation war period. After a good fight the film maker was successful in releasing the film, which drew big crowd in theaters all across the nation. I have serious doubt if this was ever possible during one time freedom fighter General Ziaur Rahman’ rule.   During Khaleda Zia’s regime, the grass root movement of the Ekatturer Ghatok Dalal Nirmul Committee [Committee to annihilate killers and collaborators of 1971] had the opportunity to mobilize into a formidable movement that left an indelible mark on the national political landscape.  In this case, I would like to hypothesize a comparative scenario.  If Shaheed Janani Jahanara Imam had endeavored to start the anti-killer and collaborator movement in Ziaur Rahman era, she could hardly finish her goal.  Freedom fighter Ziaur Rahman, who sold his soul to the war criminals of 1971 was barely in a position to let the movement flourish.  He would have crushed  the grassroots mass movement by hook or by crook.  I am afraid he would have succeeded in his dubious design not because he was a heartless despot, but he was out there to please his Pakistani bosses.

As before, US policy makers and think tankers are divided on the issue of supporting the current Pakistani military regime.  But the promising sign is, unlike in 1971, the majority of them are not sympathetic to the army brass.   It is mention worthy that ISI’s dark claws have spread to USA and the US capital in particular.  The operatives of the shadowy group are playing game, steadfastly.  They now realize that the offspring of Sheikh Mujib is a bad news for them.  Sheikh Hasina’s temporary tactical alliance with the Jamaatis during the past general election of Bangladesh proved she is a lot more shrewder political element than her deceased father.  In politics, skillfully dealing with the dirty dealers could be a plus point.  Hasina must have been aware of the emerging global movement among expatriate Bengalis who are relentlessly working to put the killers and collaborators of 1971 to justice.  She definitely felt its significance whenever she went out of the country.  These expatriate Bengalis are constantly networking and winning new friends among policy makers and conscientious opinion leaders of many countries that includes Pakistan as well. But she dares not expect unconditional support from the pro-liberation lobbies.
Respect for a civil society and rule of law will be conducive to tightening the bond  between different pro-liberation forces.  There is light behind the tunnel.   In the long run, the Bengali nationalists will be the victors by checkmating the most unsavory coterie of the South Asian region- the military regime of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.  Their influence in Bangladesh is on the wane.  Irfan Raza fiasco is a living testament of that.  Shall I be more discreet?
This essay was published in the Editorial & Commentary section of NEWS FROM BANGLADESH on December 19, 2000.


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Frankenstein on the march

Victor Frankenstein’s creation of a human monster, known simply as Frankenstein, in the 19th century novel Frankensteinor The Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley may be pure fiction, but there is an analogue of that in the modern-day world. However, that fictional monster had been made to disappear in the icy wilderness of the north; but the modern-day monster is firmly embedded with present-day technology and is going nowhere. This newly produced monster is so powerful and ubiquitous that it threatens to take over the human mind, relegate human beings into pawns and control lives. If God is viewed as an all-powerful, all knowledgeable, all embracing entity, then this is it; it is the de facto God.

What is this all-powerful, all knowledgeable entity that overrules human beings? It is, in fact, a human invention of ethereal dimensions. It exists in ethernet – something like fictitious ether which pervades the whole world, the whole universe, but nobody has actually identified it; it exists in cyberspace, but nobody can nail it down to cyberspace; it exists somewhere up in the cloud, in the sky. Doesn’t it sound like a God of some sort? But there is a sharp distinction. It does not go into heaven and hell dimensions. It is quite happy controlling human minds, treating human beings as subjugated animals.

It is the world wide web, abbreviated as www, where information – documents, images, audio and video clips and links, etc – can be accessed by internet by millions and billions of users worldwide. With the astounding progress in computer technology, where miniaturisation and speed of data processing have gone up exponentially higher year after year over the last decade or so, computers have become indispensable tools for human beings. And this computer technology has spawned laptops, palmtops, mobile phones or cell phones and all other gadgets of indescribable variety. All these gadgets are woven together in the internet so that people can do all sorts of hitherto unimaginable things.

Gone are the days when pen and paper were essential items for human beings. Whereas previously people needed to be literate to require pen and paper, now people can use this internet facility without much of a literate background. One can express one’s opinion, such as liking an idea by just clicking into the ‘like’ button. One can express one’s strongly held conviction in 140 characters in Twitter. One can upload images from mobile/cell phones straight into the internet and share them with friends, relations or a wider public right across the world. The opportunities (and pitfalls) are simply boundless.

When all of these processes and activities are put together, they can be described in modern-day terminology as ‘social media’. Social media are the computer based social networks for communicating, sharing and exchanging information between members of virtual communities round the world. There has been an unprecedented proliferation of various types of social media — Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Flickr, Pinterest and many more — each vying for the customs of the general public offered completely free of charge. The more people use their platforms, criss-crossing messages across the world, the happier and richer they become. It is like an open house — come and feast yourself to your heart’s content, given all free!

So, how do these deceptively most generous and charitable organisations employing hundreds of people, if not thousands,across the globe survive without charging users a single penny or a dime? That is the trick of the trade. That is where the Frankenstein simile comes in.

The Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, who established the free network in the 1990s, had the stated purpose to connect people with each other, to empower them, to give them voice, to make them count. Other platform owners also expressed similar sentiments such that people might mistakenly think that they are modern-day angels. But there is nothing called a free lunch.

But these supposedly ‘charitable’ social media organisations are ‘data’ traders. They make you, me and everybody else come and exchange views using their facilities. People are free to talk about anything and everything on earth, as long as it is not racially loaded, terrorist related, brazenly threatening to others, etc. This restrictive clause effectively makes users liable for the propriety of information that is exchanged, not the platform owner. But the platform owner effectively owns the proprietary rights of data, although all of it has been in the public domain. The underlying reason is that the data had been recorded and stored in the owner’s machines and so the owner can do whatever he likes, as long as it does not violate the Data Protection Act 1998 in the UK or EU Data Protection Directive 1995 in the European Union.

When someone clicks ‘like’ on a certain item, when someone puts a small cryptic comment, when someone uploads an image, all these stray items can be put together and a comprehensive picture or profile of that person can be built up. As an example, recently a reporter investigating Donald Trump’s use of psychographics in his presidential election campaign, went to see Cambridge Analytica in London, which devised the methodology of psychographics for the population and applied it to the American population. The head of Cambridge Analytica (CA) told him that by using totally innocuous data, which are all in the public domain, they can create a very good personal profile of a group of people or an individual through using their highly sophisticated algorithm. To show the validity of the CA algorithm, he said that he had produced a personal profile of the reporter – all from data in the public domain. He told him that the journalist was a history graduate from a certain university (he even told him his grade), his family background, his political affiliation, his religious background, his atheistic leaning, his foreign tours, his eating habits, his liking of French wines, Italian shoes, etc. The reporter was literally shocked to bits to see that his life was such an open book. CA knows almost everything about him – his mind, his thinking, his affiliations, etc. And worst of all, he was totally unaware that he had himself given out so much information about himself!

Cambridge Analytica had just collected all stray data and processed them. It is all done by electronic means on an industrial scale. Individual profiles can lead to psychographics and people with similar psychographics can be banded together for political, economic and social purposes. Once CA had completed psychographics, the information on the Trump camp was passed on to publicity and campaign groups and they literally targeted individuals with appropriate pitch, knowing very well their minds, their liking and disliking, their mode of thinking, etc.

These ‘data traders’ are literally sitting on gold mines. Each one of these supposedly ‘charitable’ social media organisations is worth billions, if not tens or hundreds of billions of dollars. Money literally comes falling down on them from the sky or spurts out of the ground.

They are the modern-day Gods – they know the hearts and minds of people, more than people know of themselves. With the knowledge of people’s minds, they can control their behaviour, aspirations, lifestyles, etc, and that is where the power of these Gods lies.

However, I would like to call them Frankensteins. Human beings have created www and www has spawned data collection opportunities through various platforms. Cambridge Analytica is just putting souls into the bodies and thereby becoming Gods. Now these Gods/Frankensteins know more about us than we know about ourselves. They can manipulate our minds, our thinking, our aspirations in such a way that we never thought was possible. We have become their subordinate entities. The Frankensteins have made Britain leave the EU, have produced the most unthinkable and unsuitable American president. Who knows what Frankenstein will do next? Frankenstein is on the march.

A Rahman is an author and a columnist.