Asia in Review Archive (2018)


Date of AiR edition

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4 December 2018

Bangladesh: 11th Parliamentary elections: 786 out of 3,065 nomination papers rejected

(cc) Nomination papers from three contestants from the ruling Bangladesh Awami League, 141 from the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and 38 nomination papers of HM Ershad-led Jatiya Party (JaPa) were rejected by the Election Commission during the scrutiny on Sunday. [Dhaka Tribune 1]

Among those rejected, were all three sets of nomination papers of BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s longtime political arc enemy from, to contest the upcoming 11th general election in three constituencies, which have been rejected on grounds of were rejected because of her convictions in two corruption cases.

Earlier last week, the High Court ruled that people sentenced to more than two years in jail cannot run for election — even if their appeals are pending. The Supreme Court, a day later, upheld the High Court order, making it impossible for the BNP chief to participate in the election. Khaleda was jailed for five years, in February, in the Zia Orphanage Trust corruption case. The High Court later doubled the sentence. The former prime minister was also sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment in another corruption case in October.[Bdnews24 1] [Dhaka Tribune 2]

A total of 2,279 nominations have been accepted by the Election Commission including 78 of the Awami League, 555 of the BNP, and 195 of the Jatiya Party. Appeals against nominations’ rejection can be filled until December 5 and the Election Commission will review them on December 8. [Bd News24 2]

First announced for December 23, the general elections have been postponed to December 30 by the Election Commission. While the European Union said it will not send observers, the United States announced it will send 12 teams of about 2 observers and will fund domestic ones to monitor the high stakes upcoming election. [Reuters]

27 November 2018

Bangladesh: Parties start revealing list of nominated candidates for upcoming elections

(cc) The Awami League has nominated its candidates for the upcoming 11th parliamentary elections. Sheikh Hasina, the current Prime minister, will run for both Gopalganj 3 and Rangpur 6 constituencies. The joint general secretaries Jahangir Kabir Nanak and Abdur Rahman as well and organizing secretaries Muzzammel Haque and Bahauddin Nasim, all of them senior leaders of the party, have been left out of the nomination. [Bdnews24] [Dhaka Tribune]

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Jatiya Oikya Front said they will finalize their candidates by Wednesday, November 28. [Dhaka Tribune 2]

First announced for December 23, the general elections have been postponed to December 30 by the Election Commission. The EC said it will formally invite foreign observers and journalists. [Dhaka Tribune 3]

20 November 2018

Bangladesh: Tension escalates few weeks before general elections

(cc) Last week, violence between a group of BNP activists and police arose in Dhaka while a group was accompanying a candidate to the next general election to pick up election’s nomination papers. The police and media have reported that activists from the BNP set fire to police vans, cars and motorbikes. The opposition party stated that at least 12 supporters were injured, and the police claim that at least 20 officers were too.

Instability and violence are not unusual prior to general elections in Bangladesh. Political unrest during the campaign for the last general elections in 2014, boycotted by the BNP, resulted in several deaths and highly violent climate.

Despite the refusal by Prime Minister Hasina regarding the demand for a caretaker government, the Jatiya Oikya Front, of which the BNP represents one of the major elements, said it will contest the next elections to be held on December 30. [Reuters]

20 November 2018

Repatriation of Rohingya halted as none agreed to return to Myanmar

(cc) In late October, officials from Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed to start the repatriation of Rohingya under the bilateral agreement both countries signed in November 2017. While Myanmar was supposed to receive at the Nga Khu Ya reception center 150 refugees each day starting on November 15, none of the families on the list of 2,251 people to be repatriated agreed to go back as they feared persecution and to be placed in detention camps.

On Thursday, around 1000 Rohingya refugees protested against the repatriation process demanding the recognition of their identity and to be granted Myanmar citizenship. Myanmar does not recognize Rohingya as being a native ethnic group entitled to full citizenship and labels them as “Bengali” to suggest they belong in Bangladesh despite them being present on the Union’s territory for several generations. [HRW] [Reuters] [Reuters 2]

At the 33rd ASEAN Summit, Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi faced numerous criticisms regarding the persecution of the Rohingya minority. As an example, Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia’s Prime Minister accused her of “trying to defend the indefensible”. US Vice-President Mike Pence raised the issue by stating that “the violence and persecution by the military and vigilantes […] is without excuse”. He then said that the arrest and conviction of two Reuters Journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, was “deeply troubling”. [The Irrawaddy] [The Myanmar Times] [The Washington Post]

13 November 2018

Bangladeshi election on 30 December 

(cc) First announced on December 23rd, the 11th general election will be held on December 30th according to the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) KM Nurul Huda who announced the new date on Monday November 12th. [Dhaka Tribune] On Thursday, despite a call from the Oikya Front to postpone the announcement, he had declared December 23 as the date for elections, highlighting the fact that it is a constitutional obligation to hold the election before January 28. [Dhaka Tribune 2]

During the talks with Prime Minister Hasina, the Oikya Front and several other parties have been demanding deployment of army members with magistracy power. While this claim has been rejected by the ruling alliance, Huda announced that the military will be prepared under the Defence Ministry’s “Aid to the civil power” policy and over 600,000 members of various law enforcement agencies will be deployed throughout the country to maintain law and order. [The Daily Star]

The last general elections in 2014 were boycotted by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), a major element of the newly formed Oikya Front, which resulted in pro-government candidates running unopposed for half of the Parliament’s seats. In 2014, more than 440 polling places were closed early because of security concerns and months of violence between the two main political parties preceded the polls. Prime Minister Hasina Wajed maintained the government’s refusal of the BNP’s demand to put in place a nonpartisan caretaker government to oversee the voting, The opposition alliance called for the polls to be delayed by a month, but the CEC announce a postponement of only few days. [Bdnews24]

13 November 2018

Extremist group chief killed by Bangladeshi police

(ls) Bangladesh police killed the chief of the Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) extremist group which is accused of murdering secular activists and foreigners in recent months and years. JMB was founded by Bangladeshi radicals returning from fighting in the Afghan civil war during the 1990s. They waged a campaign of violence across Bangladesh for nearly two decades, targeting religious minorities, foreign aid workers and liberal writers in bomb and knife attacks. Bangladesh police launched a massive crackdown on extremists since 2016, killing more than 80 suspected Islamists and arresting hundreds more. [South China Morning Post]

6 November 2018

Repatriation of Rohingya to begin in November

(cc) After a two days meeting between Bangladesh and Myanmar officials in Dhaka that started on Monday October 29, Myanmar’s deputy permanent secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that the repatriation of Rohingya will start on November 15. The first batch will include 2260 of the 4000 refugees verified as Myanmar citizens. The refugees will be first received at Nga Khu Ya reception center before being transferred to Hla Phoe Khaung transit camp for temporary resettlement. [Myanmar Times]

In August last year, over 700,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh after a brutal crackdown by the Tatmadaw against the Muslim minority ethnic group in Northern Rakhine State. In late August this year, a report of the UN independent Fact-Finding mission qualified the attacks against the minority as being committed with “genocidal intent”.

In November 2017, Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the safe, voluntary and dignified repatriation refugees from Northern Rakhine. While Myanmar officials maintain that they were ready since January, the UNHCR warned that the conditions in Rakhine State are “not yet conducive for returns”. [Reuters]

The international NGO Human Rights Watch has called for the immediate suspension of the proposed repatriation noting that “The repatriation plan was developed without consultation and consent from Rohingya refugees, in contravention of international standards”.  [HRW] A week earlier, during his briefing to the Security Council, the chairperson of the UN fact-finding mission stated that “remaining Rohingya in Rakhine State are at grave risk and conditions are not in place for a safe, dignified and sustainable return of the Rohingya in Bangladesh. Returning them in this context is tantamount to condemning them to life as sub-humans and further mass killing.” [OHCHR]

Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister, Md Shahidul Haque, in response to these concerns stated that “it’s not Bangladesh’s decision. It’s not Myanmar’s decision and it’s not UNHCR’s decision. The return is a decision that must be taken by Rohingyas”. [Bdnews24]

30 October 2018

Khaleda Zia sentenced for corruption; small party alliances ahead of Bangladesh elections

(ls) A Bangladesh court on Monday sentenced former prime minister and opposition leader Khaleda Zia to another seven years in prison on corruption charges. Zia has been in prison since February when she was sentenced to five years for embezzling funds. She served as prime minister of Bangladesh from 1991 to 1996, and again from 2001 to 2006, and is the current chairperson and leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the major opposition party. [South China Morning Post]

Meanwhile, ahead of the 11th Bangladesh National election which will be held in the last week of December, small political parties have been making large efforts to form political alliances. However, political analysts believe that bigger parties will reach out to them to extend their respective alliance before the elections. In 2014, a total of 12 parties of the ruling party Awami League and its alliance took part in the election. Back then, the BNP and its alliance boycotted the 10th national election to demand an election held under a non-partisan neutral government. This time, among the 39 political parties registered with the Election Commission, 19 parties are members of the alliances led by the Awami League and BNP. The rest of the 20 parties do not belong to any alliance. [BDNews24]

30 October 2018

China-Bangladesh cooperation agreements

(ls) Bangladesh and China have signed three cooperation documents after a home-minister level meeting between, as the two countries seek to establish close cooperation and share intelligence on issues like terrorism, transnational crimes and cybercrimes. Bangladesh-China bilateral relations have been elevated to “Strategic Partnership of Cooperation” which maintains a new momentum of cooperation between the armed forces of the two nations, the Chinese delegation said. Moreover, the Rohingya repatriation issue was discussed at the meeting, and the two sides laid emphasis on quick repatriation of the Myanmar nationals from Bangladesh. [Daily Star]

30 October 2018

Book review: “A Broken Dream” by former Bangladesh Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha

(ls) The South Asia Journal reviews the book “A Broken Dream: Rule of Law, Human Rights and Democracy” by the former Chief Justice of Bangladesh’s Supreme Court, Surendra Kumar Sinha. The book portrays the struggle of the judiciary to protect its independence in contrast to the erosion of values in judicial service and political corruption, and makes observations on Bangladesh’s numerous social and political issues including its evolving state of governance. The review holds that ‘Broken Dream’ is a must read for those that are interested in studying the emerging pattern of politics of Bangladesh and how a number of factors, both internal and external, are contributing to its march towards authoritarianism. [South Asia Journal]

23 October 2018

Bangladesh: Rohingya refugee girls sold into forced labour

(cc) The UN’s migration agency, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), reports that young Rohingya girls sold into forced labour are the largest group of trafficking victims in Bangladesh’s Rohingya refugee camps. The report reveals that women and girls in situations of forced labour represent two thirds of the people having received support from the IOM. Traffickers approach them with false promises of work and a better life and “their situation is so desperate that they are willing to take extreme measures, perhaps sacrificing one family member for the sake of the rest of the family”.

Refugees are barred to leave the camps or to work outside of the limited numbers of cash-for-work programs run by humanitarian agencies making them reliant on aid for survival and thus, an easy prey for traffickers.

More than 900,000 Rohingya now live in Cox’s Bazar which has become the world’s largest refugee settlement after 700,000 Muslim Rohingya fled violence in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State last year. [Reuters] [IOM] [Al Jazeera]

23 October 2018

Bangladesh’s Digital Security

(jk) After the passing of a controversial Digital Security Law was earlier this month [A-Times], the cabinet this week “approved in principle” the draft of the Broadcast Law 2018 which is going to “discipline” the broadcast media. The draft aims to outlaw airing false information, fabricated information regarding the Liberation War and rumours in broadcast and online media and carries a maximum sanction of seven years’ imprisonment. Critics see the draft as a problematic barrier to free speech especially regarding the vague language for example where the draft makes spreading “misleading information” punishable. [The Wire]

23 October 2018

Bangladesh’s PM Hasina in Saudi Arabia

(cc) Prime Minister Hasina has visited Saudi Arabia at the invitation of King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud where she had an audience with the King [bdnews24] as well as Muhammad bin Salman, the Crown Prince, deputy prime minister and defence minister. [Dhaka Tribune]

Altogether five memorandums of understanding (MoUs) regarding cooperation in industrial and power sectors were signed including one on defence cooperation. [Dhaka Tribune]

Meanwhile activists called on the Prime Minister to discuss Bangladeshi migrant workers’ rights in the Kingdom as exploitation of Bangladeshi workers, especially women, has been recently reported again. [Dhaka Tribune] [The Daily Star]

16 October 2018

Death Sentence for drug offenses in Bangladeshi draft law

(cc) Bangladesh’s government approved the draft of the Narcotic Control Act which provides for death sentence for producing, smuggling, distributing and using more than 5 grams of Yaba (methamphetamine pills). The draft, which has still to go through Parliament to be adopted, is part of a campaign launched by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to harden punishments for drug crime. Since May, police have killed more than 200 people in a narcotic crackdown. According to Odhikar, a human rights group, a third of the killing took place after the people were arrested. The current maximum punishment for Yaba-related crime is a sentence of 15 years imprisonment. [Reuters]

16 October 2018

19 people sentenced to death, opposition leader to life imprisonment, as new opposition alliance takes shape

(ls/am) A Court sentenced 19 people to death over the 2004 attack against now Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina when she was the opposition leader. Tarique Rahman, now opposition leader, was sentenced to life imprisonment. The court found Rahman guilty of criminal conspiracy and multiple counts of murder over the grenade attack that injured Hasina and killed 24 people. Rahman’s mother, Khaleda Zia, was prime minister at the time. [DW]

In February, his mother was sentenced to jail in a corruption case and is since in Old Dhaka Central Jail.  Rahman is acting as chairman of the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) despite currently living in exile in London and having been sentenced in abstentia in the same case as his mother. [Al Jazeera]

Meanwhile, the small Jatiya Oikya Prokriya party led by prominent Bangladeshi lawyer Kamal Hossain forged a new alliance, the National Unity Front, with the country’s main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) led by Khaleda Zia. The two other partners in the alliance are Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JSD) led by Abdur Rab and Nagorik Oikya led by Mahmudur Rahman Manna, a former Awami League leader. [Daily Star]

The alliance could be seen as a boost against Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government ahead of national elections due in December. Zia is an archrival of Hasina who seeks to return to power for a third time amid opposition allegations that the next elections could be rigged unless a non-party election-time caretaker government is in place. [Washington Post]

9 October 2018

Bangladesh: Abolition of quota system for first- and second-class government jobs

(cc) The government of Bangladesh abolished the quota for first- and second-class government jobs last week. The system, put in place in 1972, reserved 30% of the government jobs for descendant of the freedom fighters, 10% on the basis of district quota, 10% for women and 1% for people with disabilities. This decision follows the recommendation of a government Committee made in September and a series of mass protests that started in February this year. [The Daily Star] [Dhaka Tribune 1]

The government’s decision met strong opposition from the descendant of freedom fighters who blocked one of the main intersections of the capital few hours after the announcement, demanding the reinstatement of the 30% quota privilege. [Dhaka Tribune 2]

Even a student organization that led the protest for reform, warned that only the government will be held for responsible for the consequences of the abolition as they asked for a reformation rather than a cancellation of the reserved seats in government jobs. [Dhaka Tribune 3] [Bdnews24]

9 October 2018

Bangladesh’s national Human Rights Commission organises Roundtable on Rohingya Crisis

(cc) On Thursday last week, analysts and former diplomats met in Dhaka at a roundtable hosted by the National Human Rights Commission to discuss “durable solutions of Rohingyas Crisis”. The speakers urged the government of Bangladesh and the international community to resolve the Rohingya crisis, either bilaterally or multilaterally.  The participants expressed concerns regarding Bangladesh’s relationship with the two regional powers China and India. China refuses the internationalization and maintains that the issue is “in essence an issue between Myanmar and Bangladesh”.  According to a retired Brigadier and now researcher of National security and Defense, Sakhawat Hossain, “None of us know how the crisis will be solved. Myanmar is not going to resolve it unless it’s forced; they are not going to listen”. He insisted that China has more weight on this issue than India and added that “We must convince China, but to convince China is a very difficult task as it has invested more money for a deep sea port in Myanmar”. Azizul Hoque, a former envoy to China called on Bangladesh to support the International Criminal Court to prosecute Myanmar’s military officials.

[Dhaka Tribune] [Irrawaddy]

2 October 2018

UN Human Rights Council to set up an independent body concerning Human rights violations in Myanmar

(cc) On September 27, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a new resolution on the situation of Human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar. The resolution creates an independent mechanism tasked “to collect, consolidate, preserve and analyze evidence of the most serious international crimes and violations of international law committed in Myanmar since 2011”, in order to facilitate future criminal proceedings. This resolution is the product of a joint initiative of the European Union and of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Out of the 47 members of the Council, 35 voted in favour and only three countries, China, Burundi and Philippines, opposed to it, the seven others abstained.  This international body is similar to the International Impartial and Independent Mechanism set up by the General Assembly in 2016 for Syria with the difference that the mechanism for Myanmar will be financed through the United Nations, as opposed to states’ voluntary contributions. The Resolution is following a report by the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar released in August which found evidence of war crimes, crimes against humanity and “genocidal intent” from the Tatmadaw and recommended that the General Assembly should create such international body. The mandate of that fact-finding mission has also been extended by one year. Myanmar government continues to reject the report’s findings which it considers “unverified accusations”. [New York Times] [Reuters]

While the resolution has been welcomed by major international non-governmental organization such a Human Rights Watch and received wide international support [Human Rights Watch], China maintains that this issue should not be “internationalized” and that “the Rakhine state issue is in essence an issue between Myanmar and Bangladesh”. [Reuters] Amnesty International’s crisis director has described the resolution of “serious and constructive approach to pave the way for justice”. [Amnesty International]

11 September 2018

ICC says it has jurisdiction over alleged crimes against Rohingya

(jm) The International Criminal Court (ICC) may have jurisdiction over crimes against humanity allegedly committed against members of the Rohingya people despite the fact that Myanmar is not a State member to the Rome Statute and that China opposes a UN Security Council’s decision. The Court stated that “an element of this crime – the crossing of a border – took place on the territory of a State party (Bangladesh).” The scope of this ruling covers only acts of deportation, but judges said that it should be extended to other crimes such as persecution or inhuman acts that are crimes against humanity. [Reuters 1] [The Guardian]

Myanmar officials said that they were “under no obligation” to respect the ICC’s ruling because it is “the result of faulty procedure and of dubious legal merit”. They added that the allegations were based on “narratives of harrowing personal tragedies” that “have nothing to do with the legal arguments in question”. [Al Jazeera]

Bangladesh asked once again the international community, including specifically the Islamic Development Bank, to increase the pressure on Myanmar to ensure the repatriation of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya. [Reuters 2]

28 August 2018

One year after crackdown on Rohingya, international community demands criminal prosecution

(jm) One year after the violent displacement of Rohingya by Myanmar security forces, labeled as a “textbook example of genocide” by United Nations officials, a U.N. Fact Finding Mission on Myanmar demanded criminal charges in an international court against Myanmar’s army commander and other top generals. The panel, led by Marzuki Darusman, a former Indonesian attorney general, is to present its report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva next month. [New York Times 1] Meanwhile, new footage captured by Rohingya people in the aftermath of the genocidal acts emerged and constitutes further evidence of the events. [New York Times 2]

Despite a Memorandum of Understanding between Myanmar and Bangladesh signed in November 2017, the repatriation of Rohingya has still not started. Rather, since the beginning of the year, 13,000 more refugees arrived in Bangladesh. [Reuters 1] With 700,000 refugees living in Bangladesh and between 530,000 and 600,000 homeless Rohingyas still living in Rakhine State, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) sees the risk that a full generation of Rohingya can be lost because of the inadequate living condition. [Reuters 2]

Several areas in Myanmar (including in Rakhine State) can be visited only with an authorization. Requests by U.N. agencies to grant them a full access to Rakhine in order to observe the situation were rejected by Burmese authorities. [Reuters 3] Meanwhile, 132 deputies from five Southeast Asian parliaments demanded Myanmar to be investigated by the International Criminal Court in a joint statement. [The Guardian]

Meanwhile, the Bangladeshi government considers a new method to implement an investigation mechanism for Myanmar. Taking the example of Syria where the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution establishing the international, impartial and independent mechanism (IIIM), Bangladesh envisions a similar strategy for the case of Myanmar. Such mechanism is meant to assist in the investigation and prosecution of persons responsible for the most serious crimes under international law by collecting evidence, without the involvement of a court or a prosecutor. [BdNews24]

14 August 2018

US-Southeast Asia Naval Exercises

(jk) The US Navy and Marine Corps are currently conducting the 24th annual Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) which includes a series of bilateral exercises with several ASEAN states as well as Bangladesh. This year’s CARAT started with Thai-US Navy exercises back in June and is currently continuing with both Malaysia [U.S. Indo-Pacific Command 1] and Indonesia [U.S. Indo-Pacific Command 2]. Similar training will also occur with Brunei, Vietnam and the Philippines. [Stars and Stripes]

Much of the training is taking place in the South China Sea and includes all claimant states but China and Taiwan.

3 June 2018

Bangladesh´s new war on drugs produced a death toll of over 100 already

(am/jm) At least 108 drug dealers and users are the casualties of the war on drugs launched mid-May by Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. [Xinhua] [Rappler]

Rights activists and the U.S. ambassador in Bangladesh warned about a Philippine-style war where thousands of suspects have been killed since President Rodrigo Duterte took office two years ago. [Dhaka Tribune]

3 June 2018

Bangladesh-India relations: ‘a golden era’ of bilateral relations

(jm) After the recent visit of Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in India, she and Prime Minister Modi emphasized their wish for deepening the bilateral ties with the latter seeing Dhaka-Delhi relationships even going through a golden era. [Dhaka Tribune]

27 May 2018

India’s new stance on Rohingyas as a new regional diplomacy effort

(ot) India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj called for a “safe, secure, sustainable” return of the Rohingya refugees during her visit to Myanmar and reiterated India’s readiness to help Myanmar. Regarding India´s relations with Bangladesh, the new commitment is seen by some observers as a possible shift not only in India’s ties with Dhaka but also concerning its reclamation of a more assertive regional role.

In any case, the Rohingya crisis turns out to be a continuous test of India’s neighborhood diplomacy. Since the crisis emerged in August 2017, India has remained comparatively silent, focusing quite rigidly on the securitization of its own borders to repel the influx of potentially radicalized Muslim fighters. Especially for Bangladesh, despite India’s provision of some humanitarian assistance, India could have contributed more and more positively to the crisis. For India, both Bangladesh and Myanmar are critical for the peace and stability of India’s own conflict-ridden northeast. [The Diplomat]

27 May 2018

Myanmar / Bangladesh: Repatriation struggles

(jm) Bangladesh´s Health Minister, attending the Commonwealth health ministers’ meeting, reportedly asked colleagues to put pressure on Myanmar to start repatriation of Rohingya refugees. [Bd News 24]

At the same day, Myanmar requested neighbor Bangladesh to quickly start the repatriation process as possible, even if only regarding a moderate group of altogether only 2223 persons. [Myanmar Times]

27 May 2018

Bangladesh launches its own war on drugs

(am) Bangladesh’s security forces have killed more than 30 alleged drug dealers over the past weeks with right activists warning a campaign of extra-judicial killings may be underway. [Al Jazeera] “We’ve contained (Islamist) militancy,” said Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheik Hasina to announce: “Now we’ve taken an initiative to save the country from this drug menace.” Thousands of alleged dealers have also been arrested in an aggressive campaign that some analysts have compared to President Rodrigo Duterte’s controversial war on drugs in the Philippines. [Northeast Now] [Dhaka Tribune]

20 May 2018

Bangladesh: US provides $44m additional humanitarian assistance for the Rohingya

(jm) While visiting the Rohingya refugees’ camp in Cox’s Bazar, USAID announced that the United States will provide, through USAID, $44 million in humanitarian assistance, firstly to support the Bangladesh’s efforts in this crisis, but also for other people affected by violence and conflict in Myanmar. This help may be used for providing food, medical care, shelters, and other primordial needs. [Dhaka Tribune]

20 May 2018

Bangladeshi students launch a fresh movement as government fails to honour its promise to abolish quota in government jobs

(am) Thousands of university students in Bangladesh [Al Jazeera 1] are boycotting classes as part of a nationwide protest, with demonstrators blocking the main thoroughfare in the capital, Dhaka, calling again for the abolition of a quota system regulating government jobs.

The latest protest comes a month after Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has announced the abolition of the country’s decades-old quota system used in the recruitment of civil servants after no concrete steps were taken to cancel it. [Dhaka Tribune] [Al Jazeera 2]

Her Cabinet Secretary said a solution regarding the quota system’s abolition would soon be announced. [BD News 24]

6 May 2018

Bangladeshi veteran politician claims no democracy, rule of law, and rights in Bangladesh

(hg) The head of the right Jatiya Party, ex-dictator General Ershad, claimed there is no democracy, rule of law, freedom of speech and people’s rights in the country.  Not long ago, a Jatiya Party MP demanded to resort to extra-judicial killings of rapists. [The Daily Star]

6 May 2018

Bangladesh: Deadly violence and party politics

(hg) The vice president of a small minority party – the Parbattya Chattogram Jana Samhati Samity (PCJSS) – was murdered and another party official wounded by assassins. While the PCJSS is accusing the United People’s Democratic Front, the latter is blaming a quarrel inside the PCJSS. [The Daily Star]

The PCJSS represents various non-Muslim tribal minorities of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, were it has launched an armed insurgency against Dhaka with alleged Indian support until a 1997 peace accord.

Later the same day, a local Awami League leader was killed and 30 others were injured in a clash between two rival groups of Awami League (AL) in the area. [The Independent]

6 May 2018

Nepal/Bangladesh connectivity by new tunnel

(jm) At the third conference of small- and medium-sized enterprises from China and South Asian countries on Sunday, the Nepalese Minister for Industry, Commerce and Supply announced the construction of a tunnel linking Bangladesh and Nepal. [The Kathmandu Post]

6 May 2018

Bangladesh: Pres. Trump assures to keep pressuring for Rohingya repatriation

(jm) In a letter given by the U.S. ambassador to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the President of the United States recognized the Bengladeshi government’s efforts in the Rohingyas crisis and affirmed that his country will keep pressure on Myanmar in order to enable the return of the refugees. USAID President, Mark Green, and the CEO of the Carter Center will visit Bangladesh soon. The ambassador also congratulated the Prime Minister for the women development and empowerment in Bangladesh. [The Daily Star 1]

This support from the U.S.A. comes few days after Sheikh Hasina declared that her government is expecting China, Russia, India and Japan to play an important role into the Rohingya crisis. [The Daily Star 2]

6 May 2018

Myanmar/Bangladesh: UNSC Delegation visit

(jm) A delegation of the United Nation Security Council visited several parts of Bangladesh and Myanmar related to the Rohingya crisis.

A central issue is the lacking part of the overall budget of 951 million of U.S. dollars needed to execute a plan to repatriate the refugees. With the monsoon season, the situation of the Rohingya already worsened.

On occasion of press conference with the representatives of the UNSC and discussions on the role of Myanmar, the representatives of China and Russia were skeptical about the possibility to support a binding UNSC resolution for the time being. [What’s in Blue]

29 April 2018

Bangladeshi brothels and Rohingya sex workers

(jk) One of the many terrible facets of the Myanmar refugee crisis that has put close to million Rohingya in peril, is the human trafficking of vulnerable and often desperate Rohingya women to work in forced prostitution. An investigative journalist has visited the refugee camps and brothels in Bangladesh where more and more Rohingya are being forced to work. Many report they fled the rape of Myanmar soldiers, but now face no better future with both Bangladeshi as well as Rohingya men forcing them to have sex. [PBS]

29 April 2018

Security Council visits Bangladesh and Myanmar; EU extends arms embargo on Myanmar

(ls) The United Nations Security Council will have a firsthand look at the situation of 700,000 Rohingya Muslims who fled a military crackdown in Myanmar and the several hundred thousand who remain in the country’s northern Rakhine State. The U.N. ambassadors have scheduled an inspection of Cox’s Bazaar in southern Bangladesh, where the Rohingya who fled are now living in camps. They also will visit the Bangladesh capital, Dacca, and Myanmar’s capital, Naypyitaw, for talks with government officials before traveling to Rakhine on Tuesday. [The Washington Post]

Meanwhile, the European Union has extended for one year its embargo on arms and equipment against the Myanmar military amid concerns these weapons could be used as tools for ‘internal repression’. The prohibition also covers the export of dual-use goods for use by the military and border guard police and that of equipment for monitoring communications. [Myanmar Times]

22 April 2018

Bangladesh: Concerns over proposed digital security law

(ls) A proposed law in Bangladesh aims at creating harsher punishments for defamation committed online. In the Daily Star, Shakhawat Liton points out that the law would create different standards for traditional media and the internet. Whereas for cases of defamation allegedly committed in traditional media only the persons aggrieved by the content may sue the offenders, in cases of online defamation anybody on behalf of the alleged victim can file a case. In addition, the punishment for online defamation would be higher than for defamation in traditional media. Liton argues that further shortcomings in the bill create a danger for freedom of expression. [The Daily Star]

22 April 2018

Bangladesh/Myanmar: Repatriation of Rohingya paralyzed

(ls) The Bangladeshi government and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) disputed Myanmar’s claim it had repatriated five members of a Rohingya family, saying neither the government of Bangladesh nor the aid agency had any involvement in any such repatriation. Myanmar and Bangladesh agreed in January to complete a voluntary repatriation of the refugees in two years. [Reuters]

15 April 2018

Bangladesh opposition MP: Swift executions of rapists needed

(hg) Amid criticism of extrajudicial killings, a legislator from the oppositional Jatiya Party (Ershad) repeated his calls in parliament to swiftly kill rapists by summary trials to be introduced by amendments of the respective laws, hinting also at  outright extra-judicial killings. [BD News 24]Jatiya Party has been founded by former military dictator General Hussain Mohammad Ershad who seized power by coup d’état in 1982. After the Bangladesh National Party (BNP), the major oppositional party which is headed by presently imprisoned Khaleda Zia, refused to join the 2014 elections, Jatiya Party (Ershad) is the major parliamentary opposition party with around 11% of the seats while the governing Awami League occupies nearly 80% of the seats.

15 April 2018

Bangladesh: Army to safeguard elections?

(hg) The Bangladesh Election Commission´s Chief has suggested the army should be deployed during the next general elections to ensure public safety. [The Daily Star] The proposal highlights the volatile situation in a deeply dived society whose governing regime has been accused to develop into a de-facto one-party state.

15 April 2018

Bangladesh: Government caves in to massive protests

(hg) Facing surging student resistance against a quota system for government jobs in one of the biggest protests Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina faced in her decade in power, the government eventually relented, announcing to scrap the policy.

Due to the controversial quota system, 56 %of all the government jobs are reserved for five % of the country’s population with the 95 % others competing for the remaining 44 %. Students are particularly upset at the 30 % quota for descendants of veterans of the 1971 independence war. PM Hasina – whose father was the architect of Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan – has previously rejected all demands to scrap the quotas. She is constantly appealing to her interpretation of the independence war and postwar time to define political orthodoxy and attack her opponents.

Protests against the quota system had started at Dhaka University, the country’s top university, leaving at least 100 people injured, to quickly spread all over the country. While police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at the Dhaka students, protesters seem to have thrown rocks, vandalized the home of the Dhaka University vice-chancellor, torched two cars and ransacked the fine arts institute before other universities joined the outcry. When protests spread, students blocked railways, disrupted traffic in major cities and finally brought traffic in capital Dhaka to a standstill. [News 18] [NDTV] [Channel News Asia] 

15 April 2018

China and India’s geopolitical tug of war for Bangladesh

(hg) Another perspective on the ongoing battle for influence between China and India in Bangladesh is presented by East Asia Forum in an article analysing areas such as infrastructure investments and military spending. The article stresses that Chinese/Indian FDI still develops only limited tangible results from a Bangladeshi perspective. In terms of military spending, relations are traditionally fostered with China, while India is trying to catch up although Indian arms offers are said to be still being hampered by the reputation of Indian defense products. While India´s cultural influence in Bangladesh is overwhelming, China steadily increases its commercial foothold. The article also links geopolitical competition to domestic politics and highlights that both India and China are widely seen in the country as still taking more than giving. [East Asia Forum]

15 April 2018

Bangladesh-India relations: Enhancing cooperation

(hg) Bangladesh and India have signed six memoranda of understanding (MoU) during a bilateral meeting between the foreign secretaries of Bangladesh and India in Dhaka. [The Daily Star]

Since 2010, over 100 agreements have been signed, including 68 agreements in the last three years alone. Most of these agreements were supposed to initiate cooperation in high-technology areas such as space, civil nuclear energy, IT and electronics, cyber-security, and blue economy. Another important field of bilateral cooperation is countering terrorism, extremism and radicalization. [BD News 24]

Among the newly envisioned projects is the construction of a 129.5 km long oil pipeline between the countries and the set up of language labs in 500 schools as well as an agreement between the countries´s atomic energy departments. [Money Control]

8 April 2018

Bangladesh: University professor suspended for alleged defamation of Prime Minister’s father

(hg) Dhaka University, Bangladesh’s most prestigious university, has suspended a professor for writing a column critical of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s father, as the ruling party, the Awami League, increases to crackdown dissent before the elections upcoming this year.

After the student wing of the governing Awami League staged angry rallies on campus, the professor, Morshed Hasan Khan, was “suspended until further notice”. Referring to an article published in a Bengali daily the university leadership alleges him to have defamed Bangladesh’s first post-independence president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who is Prime Minister Hasina’s father, and having “distorting the history” of Bangladesh’s war of independence in 1971.

In his column, Khan said it was military strongman Ziaur Rahman the husband of BNP opposition leader Khaleda Zia – not Hasina’s father – who declared Bangladesh’s independence, suggesting also that most of the Awami League’s leadership, including Hasina’s father, fled Bangladesh when the war broke out.

Last year 13 high school teachers were detained and remanded in custody ahead of a trial after being accused of sedition for remarks about Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.  [Channel News Asia]

8 April 2018

Bangladesh PM invited by Saudi King to join joint military exercise

(hg) Saudi King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz has invited Bangladesh Prime Minister Hasina to attend the concluding ceremony of the 23-country month-long joint military exercise ‘Gulf Shield-1’ that was participated by Bangladesh as well. A similar exercise led by Saudi Arabia, “North Thunder”, has been held in 2016, with the participation of 20 Arab and Islamic countries.

On March 3 this year, Bangladesh Chief of Army Staff General Abu Belal Muhammad Shafiul Haque visited the Armed Forces Exhibition for Diversity of Requirements and Capabilities (AFED 2018) in Riyadh where he expressed hopes of increasing military cooperation between the two countries. [Dhaka Tribune]

1 April 2018

Bangladesh high court: National anthem in madrasas

(hg) In context of nationwide competitions of the national anthem at educational institutions, representatives of madrasas had claimed before a court that Sharia would not allow any music competition. The court found it unacceptable that students of madrasas would not sing the national anthem and dismissed the petition.[BD News 24]

1 April 2018

Bangladesh: German think tank report becomes political issue

(hg) The Bertelsmann Stiftung, a German-based think-tank, has conducted a cross-country study, its “Transformation Index 2018” on the quality of democracy, governance and market Economy of 129 countries covering also Bangladesh. The report categorizes 58 countries as autocracies and 71 as democracies while seeing Bangladesh as one of five countries having transformed into “new autocracies” besides Lebanon, Mozambique, Nicaragua and Uganda. [The Daily Star]

Welcomed by the BNP opposition, the country´s governing Awami League has dismissed the classification which would be out of touch with reality, claiming those behind the report wanted to obstruct the country’s development. [BD News 24] [Deutsche Welle]

Irrespective the general problems with broad-brushed pictures of complex realities, the report seems to accurately capture a trend of a deeply divided society with mounting repressive structures, serious potentials of political violence and a situation in which the ruling party cracks down relentlessly on an opposition. The categorization of ‘new autocracy’ is problematic insofar as it might divert attention from the fact that the country´s destructive trajectories are unfolding since its early beginnings with both major parties, AL and BNP, having frequently played an ugly role.

1 April 2018

Bangladesh: Invoking the ghost of the past amid a climate of hatred

(hg) On occasion of the country’s national day, Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina unveiled how much the country´s bloody past is still present. Addressing the opposition, she urged that the people of the country need to punish those who still love Pakistan as a matter of national survival. Turning to the roots of the family feud with her rival ex-Prime Minister Khaleda Zia and the nascent days of the Bangladeshi nation, she claimed that the assassination of founder and first President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (Mujeeb) – Hasina´s father – in 1975 has affected Bangladesh greatly. At the same time, Hasina termed her father´s rival Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) founder Ziaur Rehman and his wife Khaleda Zia, Hasina´s arch enemy, as ‘lovers of Pakistan’, thus traitors, saying the duo had grabbed power after the killing of her father Sheikh Mujeeb. According to Hasina, the country´s entire history has changed after the 1975 assassination as the rival BNP tried to make the people forget the events of the 1971 independence war: “They were implementing the agenda of the Pakistani forces,”. With these remarks, Sheikh Hasina underlined once more how much national history and personal hatred are interwoven in Bangladesh’s present constitutional politics, and how deep and irreconcilable the national divide is. [The Express Tribune]

1 April 2018

Sri Lanka-Bangladesh links

(hg) Sri Lanka has called for stronger maritime and air links with Bangladesh to boost bilateral trade and investments and, especially, to link the ports of Hambantota and Colombo with the port of Chittagong in Bangladesh. Announcements like this stands might well be seen as reflections of a new overall dynamic in inter-state relations in the region reflecting a remarkable dynamization in seeking a new order. [Xinhua]

1 April 2018

Bangladesh-China relations

(hg) On occasion of Bangladesh´s Independence Day, Chinese President Xi Jinping said in a message to Bangladesh President Abdul Hamid, “I attach high importance to the development of China-Bangladesh relations,” reiterating the Chinese interest to deepen the cooperation between the two countries and push both´ “strategic partnership” to new heights. China and Bangladesh have elevated the bilateral relations to strategic level during Xi’s visit to Dhaka in Oct 2016, though the governing party still fosters good relations with India. [Dhaka Tribune] [BD News 24]

1 April 2018

Indian-Bangladesh relations: Scandal over annexation remark

(hg) A lawmaker of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of the state of Assam has courted controversy calling the creation of Bangladesh a “great mistake” because of which his state – Assam – has been facing a disastrous “Muslim influx”. Instead, so the lawmaker, India should have annexed the country after the 1971 liberation war. [Dhaka Tribune]

1 April 2018

Myanmar/Bangladesh drug trafficking

(hg) Bangladesh security forces have seized nearly nine million methamphetamine pills (yaba) in less than three months as a massive influx of Rohingya refugees brings increased smuggling from Myanmar. The pills have become an easy source of income also for some Rohingya who act as ‘yaba’ carriers, handing over the pills to dealers on the Bangladesh side of the border who then take them to the country’s main cities. The pills are produced in bathroom-sized labs on the Myanmar side of the border, according to a Bangladeshi counter-narcotic official. [Frontier Myanmar]

25 March 2018

Bangladesh: Opposition leader Zia remains imprisoned

(ls) Bangladesh’s Supreme Court on Monday rejected the release of opposition leader Khaleda Zia on bail, deepening a political crisis ahead of a national election due in December. The 72-year-old Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leader and three-times former prime minister was convicted and sentenced to five years imprisonment last month on charges of embezzling money intended for an orphanage. Zia is a former ally turned arch-foe of Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Her party boycotted the 2014 national election in which Hasina was re-elected, but is expected to contest the upcoming election. [The Straits Times]

18 March 2018

Bangladesh: The hopeless Rohingya refugee situation

(hg) A report on an example for the daily crime and violence in form of gang fights in Bangladesh´s Rohingya refugee camps can be found at Mizzima. It highlights once more the worsening situation of depravation, despair and misuse of and among the almost 1 million interned in these camps. [Mizzima 1]

Meanwhile, despite some more positive government responses in Dhaka [Mizzima 2] Bangladesh finance minister has accused Myanmar of obstructing efforts to repatriate roughly 750,000 Rohingya refugees to their country of origin despite the repatriation deal signed between Myanmar and Bangladesh in November last year. He accused Myanmar to refuse to take back greater numbers of refugees, who on the other side would refuse to return as long as a would have to fear for their lives, adding “[t]hey (Myanmar) are absolute evil”. [Mizzima 2] [Mizzima 3]

The head of an UN fact-finding mission denied visas by Myanmar and a special envoy on human rights in Myanmar who has been blocked from visiting the country, both spoke in Geneva on Monday with Yanghee Lee, the envoy, saying the atrocities in Myanmar would “bear the hallmarks of genocide”. [The Daily Star 1]

Especially some thousands Rohingya refugees living in a no man’s land between the borders who were among the first to flee Myanmar in the wake of a military crackdown on the Muslim minority August last year refused to return to Myanmar without guarantees of citizenship and security. [Mizzima 4]

In fact, Myanmar has indeed only verified 374 Rohingya Muslim refugees for possible repatriation from Bangladesh out of a first list with 8,032 refugees provided by the Bangladesh government as the first batch to repatriate. The Myanmar authorities refused others, because some documents did not include fingerprints and individual photographs and were therefore “not in line with our agreement” as a Burmese police Brigadier-General commented, adding that Myanmar had found three “terrorists” among the people Bangladesh was proposing for repatriation. [The Daily Star 1]

According to an UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide and on the Responsibility to Protect the majority of the Rohingyas wants to return to Myanmar, but only when they are able to do so in safety, dignity and with access to the basic rights including citizenship. “So far, the Myanmar authorities have shown no genuine efforts to allow this. In fact, refugees continue to cross the border.” [The Daily Star 2]

Given the situation as it looks, UN agencies and Bangladesh government have assessed the need for $950 million fund to run relief operations in Rohingya camps for another 10 months with the monsoon soon arriving putting nearly 100,000 refugees at risk of floods and landslide.

The Rohingya camps are concentrated in southern part of the country that records the highest rainfall usually beginning in April and fall heaviest in July, causing the need to relocate those living in high-risk areas to safer zones. [Arab News]

18 March 2018

Bangladesh asks Myanmar to immediately pull back troops from border

(hg) Dhaka has requested Myanmar to immediately pull back its security forces and heavy weapons from the border near to a camp in no-man´s land, housing thousands of Rohingya refugees summoning Myanmar’s envoy to conveyed its “concerns” over the “military build-up” and possibly ensuing escalating tensions on the border. [Mizzima]

18 March 2018

Indian army chief accuses Bangladesh of border subversion causes concern

(hg) General Bipin Rawat remarks on a “planned” influx of people from Bangladesh into the northeast of India was have caused serious taking place as part of proxy warfare by Pakistan, aided by China and Bangladesh have caused concerns in Dhaka. They surprise in an election year with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League (AL) government counting as India’s “most dependable ally” in the region as an observer noted. It is this incumbent government which is the pro-Indian political force in the country while the opposition parties, the BNP included, foster relations with India’s rivals indeed. Moreover, both countries have well co-operated in in tackling terrorism and insurgency, contributing to better cross-border relations which had been difficult overtimes. [The Wire]

The general’s remarks might not lead to an escalating deterioration of bilateral relations but are posing significant domestic issues in both countries. They are putting the Bangladeshi government under certain pressure to explain its foreign policy preferences in an election year and reinforce the observation that the Indian army chief is taking a particular independent and visible public posture. His comments come in a time when India is facing unprecedented shifts in its immediate strategic neighborhood but possibly also affect inter-faith relations as he lashed out also at the domestic Muslim community´s All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) as a part of the alleged ‘proxy war conspiracy’.

Accusations of a proxy war have been prominently made also in Indonesia where former Indonesian army chief General Gatot managed to use an – albeit much more entrenched – proxy war campaign to increase his and the military´s clouts since 2015. India has, however, no tradition of military government but a strong civilian Prime Minister.

18 March 2018

Bangladesh court sentences 39 people to death for political murder

(hg) A Bangladesh court 39 to death for the murder of a ruling Awami League party official in 2014 who was dragged from his vehicle by a mob and hacked with machetes before being shot at point blank range to be burned after being placed back in his car. In November, a court upheld death sentences against 139 soldiers for the murders of dozens of senior army officers in a 2009 mutiny, and last August, 10 Islamist militants were sentenced to death over a failed plot to assassinate Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina by detonating a bomb at one of her rallies. [The Jakarta Post]

18 March 2018

Bangladesh: Alleged police torture

(hg) Severe human rights relations are part of Bangladesh’s deep political rift since years and seem to increase ahead of the elections later this year. Now, a police constable and several members of his unit have been temporarily suspended on accusations that they have tortured a private television channel´s cameraman who had taken footage of an anti-drug operation. [The Daily Star]

Meanwhile, the biggest opposition party BNP announced demonstrations to protest the alleged killing of a local leader of the BNP´s youth wing by other police units. After having been arrested by plainclothes officers on March 6 on the street, he was taken on a three-day arrest on March 8 to be admitted to hospital on Monday morning where doctors declared him dead. The BNP alleges that he died due to brutal torture afflicted on him during arrest. [Dhaka Tribune]

18 March 2018

Bangladesh: Court politics in the War of the Begums

(hg) The latest chapter of Bangladesh’s ongoing story of a deeply divided polity shaped by the hatred between two female party leaders that are opposing each other for years goes on since Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leader, former two-time Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, has been sentenced to five years in jail recently for her involvement in a corruption case.

After a High Court has granted now bail to her in this so-called ‘Zia Orphanage Trust’ corruption case, the Supreme Court stayed the order until Sunday, while another court in the city of Comilla rejected the BNP chief’s bail petition in an arson case ordering police to produce Khaleda before it on March 28 for a bail hearing. Concerning this second case, Zia was arrested only hours after she has been initially granted bail in the above-mentioned corruption case. The arson case is about the killing of eight people due to a bomb attack on a bus in February 2015 during a blockade by a BNP-led 20-party alliance. In its wake, 77 people including BNP Chief Khaleda and four senior party leaders were initially accused with 69 remaining so after the death of three and charges having been dropped against five others. Besides these two cases against the former prime minister there are not less than 33 others in in Dhaka and Comilla. [Dhaka Tribune] [The Daily Star]

An eventual bail denial for Khaleda could give the BNP the reason to boycott the approaching elections later this year again as it did in 2014. [US News]

11 March 2018

Bangladesh minister says refugee repatriation unlikely to succeed

(ls) A senior Bangladesh cabinet minister has accused Myanmar of obstructing efforts to repatriate roughly 750,000 Rohingya refugees, saying it was unlikely the displaced Muslims would ever return to their homeland. Finance minister A.M.A Muhith said the repatriation deal signed between Myanmar and Bangladesh in November would likely fail despite his government’s official stance that the refugees must eventually go back. Bangladesh insists the repatriation process will go ahead, having submitted to Myanmar last month the names of 8,000 refugees expected to return to Rakhine state where the Muslim minority has been persecuted for generations. Rights groups and the UN have warned that conditions for their return are not close to being in place. [Mizzima]

11 March 2018

Bangladesh and Vietnam aim to raise trade to $2b by 2020

(ca/ik) Bangladesh and Vietnam aim to raise their two-way annual trade to $2 billion over the next three years from nearly $1 billion, a business association official said on Monday. Bangladesh mainly imports agriculture products, such as rice and livestock products from Vietnam while it imports textiles and cloths, leather and leather products, plastic products and medicine from Bangladesh. [Prothom Alo]

4 March 2018

Bangladesh’s political polarization may cause another level of resurging Islamist militancy

(hg) Amid Bangladesh´s ever increasing political polarization the International Crisis Group (ICG) warns in a report about growing risks that Islamist militants will exploit the situation with the general elections approaching and the recent Rohingya influx as further facilitating factors. [BD News 24] [Dhaka Tribune]

Meanwhile, the U.S. have designated ‘IS-Bangladesh’ as Foreign Terrorist Organization. [Dhaka Tribune] [The Daily Star]

4 March 2018

India, Russia, Bangladesh signing tripartite pact for civil nuclear cooperation

(hg) As a landmark development India, Russia and Bangladesh have signed a tripartite agreement for civil nuclear cooperation in Moscow aiming at erecting a power station being built by Russia in Bangladesh while India is extending support for capacity building and training of Bangladeshi nuclear scientists. [The Economic Times]

4 March 2018

Myanmar/Bangladesh: Burmese troops amassing at the border

(ls) Myanmar’s army amassed about 200 soldiers and weaponry near the border to Bangladesh, meters away from a makeshift Rohingya settlement. The government of Bangladesh requested the withdrawal of the troops, saying that the movement so close to the border violated international norms. Thousands of Rohingya Muslims have set up a camp on the land between the two countries. While it is still technically Burmese territory, it is beyond the border fence and is dubbed “no man’s land.” [Asian Correspondent]

According to the newspaper The Irrawaddy’s calculations which are based on government and NGOs’ statistics, at least 90 percent of the Rohingya population of conflict-torn northern Rakhine State has fled to neighboring Bangladesh in the wake of the government’s “clearance” operations following Muslim militant attacks last year. The report also describes the destruction of villages and mosques with detailed numbers. [The Irrawaddy]

25 February 2018

Bangladesh: National Stock market shares sold to China, but India needn’t worry and elections will go ahead as planned

(jk) The Bangladesh stock exchange decided in 2013 that it would sell a quarter of its stake to strategic foreign part-ners, looking for both financial input as well as technological and knowledge transfer from a potential partner. Two serious bidders for the stake were India’s stock exchange as well as a consortium from China. With China making a financially more generous offer, the exchange now voted in favour of selling the consortium, but observers also see politics and China’s overall growing influence at play. [Caixin]

At the same time, although unrelated to the sale, PM Hasina has assured visiting Indian journalists that India need not to worry about Chinese influence as her country only seeks aid for her country’s development but will not favour China over India. Relations to India were indeed and remained “excellent” [The Hindu].

With regards to the story of now convicted former three-time prime minister and party leader of the biggest opposi-tion party Khaleda Zia, which AiR has covered previously, Zia has appealed the 5 year sentence, with her lawyers ar-guing that the case was politically motivated. [The Washington Post]

PM Hasnia in the meantime has reassured that the election which is to be held by the end of the year will go ahead as planned and that Zia’s opposition party, the BNP, were free to boycott the election as they have done previously if they so wished [Arab News]. The BNP had brought up a potential boycott recently, sowing doubts of the election taking place as scheduled.

25 February 2018

Indonesia expanding defense business with Bangladesh

(hg) Indonesia and Bangladesh plan to expand their collaboration in the defence business and industrial engagement according to the Indonesian Ministry of Defence following meetings between defence officials from the two countries in Jakarta. In a press release the MoD said that “Bangladesh is interested in buying military products from Indonesia’s defence industry”. [Jane’s 360]

18 February 2018

Bangladesh: A press full of fear

(hg) Steven Butler gives a detailed account on the terrorizing tendencies journalists are currently exposed if they report critically of the government. After the highly repressive legal basis of the tight information laws has been subject of AiR, the blog entry describes a reign of fear among those not loyal to the powers-that-be.

Militant attacks have allegedly decimated a once-thriving blogger community while critical journalist have to fear both Islamic extremists and security officials as well after the country’s political division has also affected the journalist community, splitting the journalist union into two organizations hostile to each other. The entry reports of journalists increasingly under siege and the fear of revenge with an exemplary case of a journalist who “was taken away, hooded, handcuffed and beaten for days, thrown in a ditch, retrieved, beaten some more, and, when he asked for water, was forced to drink urine”. [CPJ]



18 February 2018

Bangladesh: Which direction will the political crisis take?

(hg) Last week former three-time prime minister and party leader of the biggest opposition party Khaleda Zia has been sentenced to five years for embezzlement, her exiled son to ten, while dozens of corruption cases against her are still pending. The convictions are the latest blow against the former governing party BNP favoring the presently governing AL, lead by Khaleda Zia’s archenemy, incumbent Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. See for a background om Bangladeshi politics [AiR 2/2/2018].

When Zia and her BNP ruled the country from 2001 to 2006 the heavily cracked down on the AL opposition. Zia’s now sentenced son and a former BNP home minister are currently also on trial for politically motivated murder during this time. After a military coup initiated interim government, the AL took over under Hasina building up its increasingly repressive power bastion especially since the BNP boycotted the last 2014 elections.
Now, the BNP petitions the High Court to challenge Zia’s conviction and to seek bail for her release in the meanwhile. According to the laws, anyone convicted for at least two years is barred from participating in electoral campaigns for the next five years. Therefore, even if Zia is granted bail she is still disqualified from the polls, even if some seem to indicate the contrary. [Berna News] [Free Press Journal]

Regarding the ongoing power struggle and despite the push ion favor of the governing AL, the effect of Zia’s imprisonment are uncertain. Only one day after found guilty, she appointed her exiled and likewise convicted son to be acting party chief, signaling her will to lead the party from prison through the elections. Two party factions representing divergent options of how to react in the given situation have to be observed now, one advocating the resort to street violence, one aiming at contesting the elections with the latter to be seemingly strong at present.

An election victory of the AL would probably consolidate the Indian – Bangladeshi relations after Prime Minister Hasina and her Indian counterparts have resolved serious boundary problems between the countries.

18 February 2018

Bangladesh and America’s policies towards Indian Ocean security

(hg) Bangladesh seems to be increasingly valued in terms of U.S. security concerns in the Indo – Pacific region given its strategic location and Chinese transactional bids to improve relations despite the improving relations between in Dhaka and Delhi. [The National Interest] [Prothom Alo]

18 February 2018

Asia: Enhancing military defense capabilities

(hg) Heightened geopolitical threats for peace in Asia have been identified as offering significantly growing opportunities by Lockheed Martin according to its executive vice president. [CNBC]

The Pentagon has just released the National Defense Strategy and a Nuclear Posture Review, the Defense Department is preparing now to issue another key document, another Ballistic Missile Defense Review, the first one after 2010. According to an unnamed defense official the document “will take a much harder look at Iran, North Korea and China”, adding: “Each of those countries has made huge strides both in range and lethality since [the 2010] assessment, and the Pentagon’s thinking about the threat, and planning for it, […]”. [Asia Times 1]

While defense spending has actually slowed down in 2017 for Asia as a whole, IHS Jane’s

expects the region to be “the driving force behind long term growth in global defense spending” in its recent assessment. [CNBC]

Global defense spending in 2018 is expected to reach the highest levels recorded since the end of the Cold War according to the annual Jane’s Defence Budgets Report. [The National Interest]

Japan has just approved the countries ever largest annual defense budget in December last year and China and India will also spend significantly [CNBC] while Russian defense spending continued to decrease in 2017, and is now 10 percent lower than in 2015. [The National Interest]

All in all, requests for advanced military systems are clearly on the rise across the entire greater region covered by AiR, made up by South, Southeast and East Asia. [Asia Times 2]

Between 2007 and 2016, according to SIPRI defense data, China had the biggest increase in military spending of 118%, followed by Russia with 87%, and India with 54%. Germany, ranking sixth had an increase of 6.8% followed by France with an increase of 2.2%. In 2015, the US spent about 36% of the total global military spending that year. In 2016, the USA spent 611 billion USD followed by China with 215 followed by Russia with 69.2, Saudi Arabia with 63.7, India with 55.9, France with 55.7, the UK with 48.3, Japan with 46.1, Germany with 41.1, South Korea is 36.8, Italy with 27.9 and Australia with 24.6 billion USD. [The Times of India]

Notably, India´s defense budget broke into the world’s top five now, replacing the UK for the first time and signaling a shift in the military balance between the two countries with India allocating more capabilities to develop its regional ambitions than the UK with the remnants of its global ambitions. [India Post] India´s rival China, however, affords the world’s second-largest defense budget after the US and remains far ahead with three times India’s defense budget. China’s real defense spending increased by nearly 25 per cent in 2016-17, whereas India’s rose by just 2.4 per cent. Since 2000, China has built more submarines, destroyers, frigates and corvettes than Japan, South Korea and India combined. Saudi Arabia, with a defense spending of USD 76.7 billion, came in third to complete the world’s top five behind the US, China, Saudi Arabia, Russia and India last year. [India Post]

In 2016, European Union countries transferred US$2.1 billion worth of weapons to Indo-Pacific nations, nearly the same as the United States ($2.3 billion). Russia was the macro-region’s largest supplier with $3.4 billion worth of arms, while China ranked fourth with $1.2 billion, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. [Asia Times 1]

Meanwhile US Pacific Command Commander Admiral Harry B Harris announced for the U.S. – Indian relations that “[d]efence sales are at an all-time high”. [The New Indian Express]

Singapore’s defense minister just reaffirmed this assessment in his recent Total Defense Day message commemorating the fall of Singapore in 1942 that independence would depend on strong military defense capabilities. [Channel News Asia]

In Bangladesh, military modernization is a long-term objective. Regarding the Air Force  Raihan Al-Beruni points to the need to develop an area denial strategy that he argues is lacking and urges the fast development of a reflected strategy assuming that the Chinese-made J-31 and the Russian Su-57 will dominate the Asian market in the near future. [Dhaka Tribune] 

11 February 2018

Bangladesh: Violence over imprisonment of opposition leader Zia

A court has sentenced opposition leader Khaleda Zia from the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) to five years in jail for embezzlement of money meant for an orphanage. At news of the ruling BNP supporters clashed with police and supporters of the ruling Awami League outside the court and in cities across the country. In the capital Dhaka more than 5000 police had been deployed. Zia slammed the charges against her as politically motivated aimed at preventing her from standing the general election in December against her arch-enemy Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina with whom she has been fiercely rivaling for political dominance in Bangladesh for the past three decades. [The Guardian]

Meanhwile, Bangladesh President Abdul Hamid was confirmed as President for a second term by the election commission after no other candidates were nominated to run in an election. The ruling Awami League, who holds an absolute majority in parliament, had submitted Hamid as candidate. Since the adoption of the system of parliamentary democracy in Bangladesh in 1991, the presidency is largely a ceremonial office. [The Nation PK]

11 February 2018

Bangladesh: A soon-to-be very valuable US ally?

Bangladesh is an often under-exposed country in international politics, but, as this brief piece explores, has a lot to offer as future ally to the Unites States. President Trump’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy could provide opportunities for Bangladesh-US cooperation on issues ranging from counter terrorism to rising Chinese influence in the region. [The National Interest]

4 February 2018

Bangladesh: Repressive security laws and state practices ahead of the 2018 elections

The cabinet of PM Hasina (AL) has just approved the introduction of a new Digital Security Act to the Al dominated parliament. The new law would end even the remnants of a liberal-democratic freedom of expression.

In its section 21 it states that anyone spreading negative propaganda against the Liberation War or the Father of the Nation, using digital devices or instigates to do so, can be sentenced up to 14 years’ jail and with life for a second strike. According to its section 25 up to three years imprisonment await those who has deliberately published “some-thing which is attacking or intimidating or which can make someone dishonest or disgruntled” or who “knowingly publishes or broadcasts false and distorted (full or partial) information to annoy or humiliate someone” or “publishes or broadcasts false and distorted (full or partial) information to tarnish the image of the state or to spread rumor”, all this with five years for the second strike.

Section 28 of the act foresees up to seven years religious sentiments and values are hurt by electronically dissemi-nated information with up to ten years for the second time. The deliberate electronic publication of content “which can spread hatred and create enmity among different groups” may also be punished up to seven years with ten again for the second time. [The Daily Star]

Meanwhile, Human Right Watch (HRW) reiterates that “enforced disappearances have emerged as a key and pressing concern in Bangladesh, particularly since the period leading up to the January 2014 national elections. Over 80 cases of secret detentions and enforced disappearances were reported in 2017, with seven of them killed later in so-called ‘gunfights’, […]: euphemisms for extrajudicial killings.” Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW, claims that: “Secret detentions and disappearances have become a terrifying prospect for Bangladeshis, who fear that any criticism or political affiliation can lead to a knock on the door from the ‘administration.’” In many cases, so Adams, witnesses claim to have identified those responsible as members of the special branch or the elite Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) of the police, or from the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI) of the military. [Human Rights Watch]

4 February 2018

Bangladesh approaching the 2018 general elections amid turbulences

(hg) Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, president of the ruling AL, has now launched her election campaign for the gen-eral elections scheduled to be held by the end of the year. Indicating the ongoing Islamization which also responds to the failure of the country´s feuding major adversary parties, she launched her campaign with a prayer at the holy shrine of a Muslim saint although her party pursues a secular agenda.

Reminiscent of old patterns, the major oppositional BJP, on the other hand, currently faces the trial of its leader Be-gum Khaleda Zia due to a graft case. Scheduled for Feb. 8 it could lead to a life sentence. Together with her son Tari-que Rahman, who lives in London, former PM Khaleda Zia is accused of embezzlement regarding foreign donations to the ‘Zia Orphanage Trust’. [Arab News] [The Hindu]

It should be mentioned at this place, that PM Hasina herself had also been charged with graft and extortion in 2007 before she won the 2008 election, and that these were not the last allegations of corrupt practices under the AL government.

As a reaction to the upcoming trial, the BNP, backed by its Islamist allies, has announced that it would take to the streets if her leader is sentenced. Another crucial issue is the BNP´s demand to reintroduce a politically independent caretaker government during the election period which had been refused by the then also ruling AL against the es-tablished practice leading to election boycott of the BNP in 2014.

There are indications that the AL government might agree to jointly form an all-major party Cabinet comprising also the AL, yet to be headed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, as an alternative to the demanded “election period government”. [The Hindu]

4 February 2018

Background: Bangladesh´s constitutional politics – an overview

(hg) Despite being the world´s fourth largest Muslim country after India with its overall more than 160.000.000 citi-zens, Bangladesh tended often to escape the international attention until its geopolitical location grew recently in significance with many of the world´s great powers shifting their strategic pivot towards the Indo-Pacific region. Re-gionally, Bangladesh enjoys a special attention by three nuclear powers, namely India, Pakistan and China for both, symbolical as well as sheer and important strategic reasons. For India, it is not only increasingly important due to its sea access but also the large land border which, moreover, connects it to the Indian north eastern states, a salient known as the “Seven Sisters” which is ridden by insurgencies. For China, Bangladesh is important as a potential string in its evolving Road and Belt strategy providing access to the Indian Ocean not speak of its potential as a market ex-tension.

Being constitutionally parliamentary multiparty republic, Bangladesh´s political realities are still shaped by the vio-lence and atrocities of the independence and post-independence time. They are ideologically informed by various and often competing notions of nationalism, political Islam, free-market liberalization and socialism, and dominated by highly divisive and often violent dynastic patronage politics. At heart, the bitter competition of two cadre-like po-litical parties and, most notably, their leaders determine an ongoing deterioration of the political culture, human right situation and the outlooks for the maturation of a stable democracy. Since decades now, the enmity between the contending parties, the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, has been constantly deepening due to the hatred between the two woman heading them, having drawn the country into a destructive maelstrom of a ‘Battle of the Begums’ as both are addressed related to their societal status.

The progressive Awami League – AL – which led the struggle for independence and has traditionally styled itself as the true liberation party with a secular agenda. Initially having promoted a one-party led state socialism, it later turned its agenda into parliamentary multi-party socialism. AL´s leader is Sheikh Hasina, the daughter of ‘Mujib’, the country´s founding father and first president. In 2017, Forbes ranked her 30th on its World’s 100 Most Powerful Women list.

The conservative Bangladesh Nationalist Party – BNP – has been formed in 1978 by President and former general Ziaur Rahmanan, who had read out the declaration of Independence on behalf of Mujib. In 1975 Mujib had been murdered by a group of military officers dissatisfied with Mujib´s socialist and un-Islamic policies. This group also in-cluded Ziaur Rahmanan. Although the soldiers tried to kill out Mujibs entire family, two of his daughters were saved as they stayed in West Germany due to a cultural exchange program. The older was AL leader Sheikh Hasina. Mean-while, the BJP, having been initially founded by strongman Ziaur to initially become the new governing party under one party rule, was eventually led by Ziaur´s widow, Begum Khaleda Zia after Ziuar was murdered himself. With its nationalist platform the BNP is opposed to communism and socialism while it integrates an Islamic identity. How-ever, the 15 years after the 1975 coup, the country was dominated by a succession of military dictatorships until the last of them under General Ershad was forced to step down in 1990. Since then, the ‘Begums’ alternated as elected Prime Ministers with Begum Zia serving as Prime Minister from 1991-1996 and again from 2001-2006 to be replaced each time by her arch rival Sheikh Hasina and the AL. During Begum Zia´s second term, several AL MPs were assassi-nated including a former finance minister and, in 2004, Sheikh Hasina herself only narrowly escaped a grenade attack which killed 23 of her supporters including a senior AL leader.
After the BNP government had tried to instrumentalize state agencies like the Election Commission against the AL and with prospects of civil war, the military putsched in 2007, declared a state of emergency, and installed a civilian led non-party caretaker government which however failed to exile the two Begums for the sake of resetting democ-racy. The following 2008 elections were clearly won by the AL led coalition with 57 % of the votes. After the BNP led party alliance could secure only 34 seats, the BNP soon started to boycott the parliamentary sittings and switched to street politics again.

Correspondingly violent were the 2014 elections. With almost all elections since the 1990th having been violent, with governments of both sides having been repressive, and the mutual hatred between the parties, their leaders and supporters only growing, the more moderated elements increasingly withdrew. The 2014 elections, the latest before the new elections approaching this year, were among the most violent in Bangladesh’s history. With the ruling AL in the advantage and one opposition leader having been hanged by the AL led state, they were among the most violent in Bangladesh’s history, characterized by often bloody street battles, ambush and state repression. Before the elections, PM Hasina refused the creation of an impartial non-party caretaker government for the purpose of overseeing the elections, which had become practice in past elections. With the BNP led opposition boycotting the polls and the lowest voter turnout ever, the Al clearly won. Currently, it totally dominates the 350 member house with 274 seats plus 18 seats of its five coalition parties among which the Communist Workers Party is the largest holding 7 mandates. Accordingly, the present AL government faces only a dwarf opposition commanding together 56 seats. The government used its majority to introduce a number of constitutional and legal amendments that further empowered PM Hasina’s government. [Daily Sun] See also [Chr. Michelsen Institute].

4 February 2018

Rising stakes for smaller and middle South Asian states: Bangladesh

(hg) As a relevant element of Asia’s shifting security order and an integral part of the increasingly important Indo-Pacific region, Bangladesh is receiving growing interests by other players such as recently the US, whose Deputy Assistant Secretary of State from the South and Central Asia Bureau just reiterated his country’s commitment to the region and the country as well as Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s visit in Dhaka. [Dhaka Tribune] [The Jakarta Post]

26 January 2018

Bangladesh´s creeping Islamization

(hg) Ridden by bitterly contentious politics since long, Bangladesh is currently witnessing an increasingly repressive religious climate with Islamic fundamentalism on the rise, a phenomenon reminiscent of recent developments in Indonesia.

In January, a blogger who criticized the persecution of Hindus was arrested for authoring blasphemous posts and is now facing seven to fourteen years in prison whereas Islamists have killed about a dozen bloggers over the last couple of years. Generally, both Islamic motivated state repression and terrorism are rising in the country with the world’s fourth largest Muslim population. At the same time, politics are locked in the struggle of two warring family dynasties that are increasingly attempting to seize the Islamic issue. [The National Interest]. This trend notwithstanding, the country has now added a third gender option to the voter forms. [The Diplomat]

26 January 2018

Bangladesh cancels Chinese road construction project on corruption charges

(hg) Bangladesh has cancelled a road construction project with a major Chinese company for allegedly having attempted to bribe Bangladeshi officials. The government has blacklisted the firm from participating in any future ventures. It is the same company that has undertaken so important projects as Pakistan’s Gwadar Port and Sri Lanka’s Hanbatota Port. The case raises the question how the government’s reaction will affects the country’s ties to China in general in the near future. [ANI]

12 January 2018

Bangladesh: Marriage registrars reminded not to wed Bangladeshi nationals with Rohingyas

The Bangladeshi High Court has rejected a petition asking the government not to harass a Bangladeshi national married to a Rohingya woman who recently fled from Myanmar. Under the Foreigners Act, marriages between Bangladeshi nationals and persons from particular areas are restricted and registrars have been advised not to wed Bangladeshis and Rohingya. In addition to the rejection of the petition, the petitioner was also fined for wasting the high court’s time [The Daily Star].