Photo: Amran hussain

2012: A tour d’ horizon

Brig Gen Shahedul Anam Khan, ndc, psc (Retd)

2012 started with positive news in so far as the trial of war criminals is concerned. Prof. Golam Azam, alleged to be the main architect of the killing of Bengalis during the Liberation War, was taken in by the police. He was soon indicted and the trial was in progress. As for the ICT it has finished the trial of Saidee, and is likely to deliver its judgement soon. Unfortunately, a controversy was created about ICT Tribunal-1 when it was revealed, by the Economist, that the Chairman of the Tribunal had been involved in discussing the trial with another person outside the court.

A discomfiting news for the nation was that of a failed attempt of a coup in the army. However, it was, luckily, nipped in the bud while still in the conspiracy stage.

The Supreme Court delivered a landmark judgement when it ruled in its full verdict in the historic case on the Seventh Amendment to the Constitution that declaration of martial law was an act of high treason against the state. However, we could have done without the judiciary -- legislature row. It started with a comment of the Speaker in the House on which a High Court Judge passed a ruling terming it seditious. It led to statements and counter statements, and the MPs eventually calling for the impeachment of the said judge. Judicious handling of the issue by the Speaker prevented the matter from going out of hand.

In the diplomatic and bilateral front, the most crowning achievement for Bangladesh was winning a landmark verdict at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, which sustained claim to 200- nautical-mile exclusive economic and territorial rights in the Bay of Bengal rejecting the claims of Myanmar.

We had quite a few things to feel happy about in the economic front.

In spite of the global downturn, which had caused strain on the country's economy too, and during which many other countries had experienced even negative growth, Bangladesh recorded a GDP growth of six and half percent. In fact Bangladesh was among the top five in the list of countries achieving the highest GDP growth rate last year. Global rating agency Moody's found a number of positive aspects of Bangladesh's economic condition -- steady growth trends, a positive external sector, stable exchange and interest rates, and the momentum in reforms, to name a few.

Although there was a slump in the overseas employment sector in the early part of the year it picked up later and remittance reached a new high of 12.885 billion USD up to November which was predicted to reach 14 billion USD by the year end.

The RMG sector was in the news for more than one reason. It witnessed a significant growth in export and there is more good news for it. And this happened in spite of the many limitations and hindrances, including hartal, shortage of power and electricity, and workers' unrest. It fetched in the region of 20 billion USD and is likely to rise, according to experts, to around 45 billion by 2020. The RMG sector came to international focus in November when a devastating fire in a garment factory caused the death of 111 workers. A government inquiry revealed that the fire was an act of sabotage, but did not absolve the owners of the responsibility for the deaths. It is feared that sporadic disturbances and poor working conditions in many factories may affect the huge prospect in the RMG sector.

In the agriculture and food sector we had reached near self-sufficiency. However, at the early part of the year 2012, a potentially dangerous situation of price of rice/food grains going out of control was averted by the timely market intervention of the government through OMS and import of rice.

In the power sector, notwithstanding reservations about the rental power policy that had caused fuel price to shoot up, power output increased considerably, but could not match the ever-increasing demand. The shortfall was felt in the urban areas during the harvesting season in the summer, a situation which the people in the cities had borne gladly. The fuel price was jacked up thrice in the course of the year, and we hear the government was contemplating another hike early 2013.

A disturbing trend has been the issue of subsidy to various sectors. Reportedly, energy and power sectors has surpassed agriculture and social sectors in getting subsidy, which, economists aver, may harm the marginalised people through the hikes in price of essential goods. And this was very evident in the market place.

If the economic front, was something that one could take some comfort in, the political front saw a ratcheting up of political heat. The opposition continued to boycott the parliament, and the political programmes that petered out due to police action in the end of 2011 was renewed with more vigour from the start of 2012.

The issue of how the next parliamentary election was going to be held had dominated political discourse and the opposition activities the entire 2012. All the opposition activities had been predicated on this particular issue, except towards the latter part of the year when both the BNP and Jammat assumed a hostile attitude, that was not to be seen heretofore, when the Jamat-e-Islami included the release of the under trial war criminal as one of the reasons for calling hartal.

At the beginning of the year one noticed a degree of toning down of BNP position on the issue of caretaker government (CTG) when it declared its willingness to talk on the matter in any forum. And great expectations were generated from the meeting of the BNP led by Begum Zia with the Honourable President. However, regrettably both the BNP, which stressed on CTG and not the EC to run the next election, and the AL, stuck to their rigid stands.

The first of several BNP programmes, in this instance a 'grand rally', in mid-March virtually saw a hartal imposed by the government, which in its effort to foil the rally had caused a virtual standstill of the country. Despite the use of the entire state machinery and the AL cadre to thwart the rally, and the capital being put virtually under siege, the BNP organised a well attended rally.

The disconcerting aspect was to see the ruling party cadres become appendages of the law enforcing agencies, a trend that had continued throughout the year. The newly appointed home minister's call to the BCL and Jubo League to resist Jamat and Shibir cadres had added further incentive to the party appendages for indulging in unchecked violence, the last of which was the killing of Bishwajeet who was mistaken for an opposition activist.

What surprised everybody was the sudden change in the attitude of the Jamat, who resorted to attacking the law enforcing agencies. The fact that such incidents occurred in many places and at the same time indicates that the actions were well planned and had particular motive. Surprising too was the apparent helplessness of the police against the Jamat and Shibir assaults. Apparently, the fact that a verdict on Saidee case was likely soon had made them resort to violence in order to foil the trial.

The month of December saw a ratcheting up of violence by the Jamaat and the 14-Party alliance in enforcing hartal. The four programmes witnessed unnecessary violence destruction of private and public property and deaths.

It would not be wrong to partly attribute the opposition violence to the government's policy of not to allow political space to the opposition, as evidenced by the fact that any effort by the opposition to bring out a demonstration or rally was broken up by the police. And during every hartal one saw the BNP leadership cloistered in the party office by the police the entire day. The issue was compounded by the AL calling its cadres to counter the opposition programmes.

The CTG issue will hog politics in the next year also. The very sane pronouncements from AL and BNP from time to time, for the need to dialogue, were scuttled by the exchange of vitriol between them. With the BNP announcing its intention to intensify its movement against the government and the AL vowing to be on the streets till the next Independence Day, the prediction at best is one of very uncertain dénouement.

Although the country saw zero activity of extremists or clandestine groups, the general condition of law and order remained much to be desired. Political or enforced disappearances and extra judicial killings by the law enforcing agencies had drawn international criticism. Happily, incidents of crossfire deaths reduced very significantly during the latter half of the year. But high profile abduction like Ilyas Ali's and murder of Sagar and Runi remain to be solved. Reports of various rights groups of home and abroad have only borne out our performance in the Human Rights front.

Grameen continued to be in the government focus and in the news too, and the Bangladesh Nobel Laureate continued to be disregarded by the government, evident from his absence in state functions. And the PM's suggestion to nominate him as the WB president must have been seen as a cynical joke. In an apparent attempt to clip the wings of the Bank the government approved a proposal for amending the ordinance that gives more power to the Chairman to choose the MD of the Bank. However, an MD is yet to be selected.

The year unfortunately turned out to be year of scams. The Transparency International report only bears out our poor performance against corruption and our effort to establish transparency, opacity and honesty in the activities of public and private institutions. Even the finance minister had to acknowledge that there was corruption at the higher levels of the government.

The way the Padma loan issue has turned out so far, the ACC having filed cases against seven persons, including three Canadians, gives the impression that the government has caused a very important national development programme to suffer just to protect one person. And the ACC has done all it can to obfuscate the issue. One is not certain at this stage whether the loan will go through or not.

The share market scam had a severe impact on the financial sector, apart from forcing a few small investors to take their own lives. Despite the recommendations of the inquiry committee the government has not taken any action against the allegedly guilty party. And the finance minister's comment that they are too hot to touch only proves complicity of some politically connected in the scam.

Banking scams had surpassed all previous records, both in terms of the volume of money siphoned off and also in the number of banks involved in the scams, the biggest of which was the Sonali Bank-Halmark scam. To top it all, the government does not have any idea of more than Tk.2,000 crore taken as loan by a very little known business house by a very small branch of the bank.

The Destiny scandal has put a question mark on the function of multi-level companies. The directors of the companies having at last accepted that tree plantation scheme was indeed a swindle, that ripped off a large number of poor investors. It is apprehended that much of the ill-gotten money of the company may have been siphoned off outside the country.

On the diplomatic front we had two high profile visits, both in the month of May.

Photo: Star Archive

The US Secretary of State paid a visit to Bangladesh when she signed the joint Statement on US-Bangladesh Partnership Dialogue. And apart from calling on the PM she also met the leader of the opposition, Prof Yunus and Sir Abed. The first ever US-Bangladesh dialogue was held in Washington stressing on cooperation on regional integration. In April Bangladesh and US held their first-ever security cooperation talks in Dhaka. All these indicate that despite the Yunus issue and HR situation in Bangladesh US will move ahead.

The then Indian Finance Minister, now the Indian President, visited Bangladesh, for basically two purposes. One was to bring to close the joint celebrations of the 150th birth anniversary of Noble Laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore, and the second was to evaluate the status of implementation of the agreements in the Manmohan-Hasina joint declarations of 2010 and 2011. However, very little progress has been made by India to follow through its part of the agreements. The visit was also to convey the message to the political parties that India was not oriented to any particular party in Bangladesh. Khaleda Zia's India visit evinced keen interest in the public but only cynical comments from the ruling party. That visit might have dispelled the perception in India that BNP was an 'anti-Indian' party.

Bilateral relations between Bangladesh and Myanmar witnessed a degree of tension caused by the Rohingya issue that flared up due to anti-Rohingya activities in the Rakhine state of Myanmar. Bangladesh came under international pressure to allow refuge to the fleeing Rohingyas, which, for strategic compulsions, it did not.

One hesitates to predict how things would evolve in 2013. As we bid farewell to 2012 we hope that 2013 will certainly usher better news for us. We certainly hope that the potential impasse in the political front would be addressed with equanimity by the two major parties and the country would be spared the repetition of October 2006 and all that followed thereafter.

The writer is Editor Op-Ed & Strategic Issues, The Daily Star.


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