March 2008

Vol 7 - No. 9
























SOUTH ASIA | March 2008







 (Afghanistan and Myanmar in the 
  map are not members of SAARC)


IMF Gives Afghanistan Mixed Economic Review




The International Monetary Fund, on February 20, gave Afghanistan a mixed economic report card, saying the country's overall reforms are on track but corruption and a dramatic rise in opium production pose significant problems. VOA's Barry Wood has more.


The IMF says opium production has risen by 4,000 percent since 2001 and earns Afghan farmers about $1 billion a year. An estimated 93 percent of the world's heroin, made from opium, comes from Afghanistan. Analysts say the Taliban insurgency derives much of its revenue from the illegal opium trade.


The IMF says a mounting anti-government insurgency, instability in neighboring Pakistan and rampant corruption have slowed the inflow of foreign direct investment.


Economic growth, the IMF reports, slowed to six percent in 2007, mainly due to drought, but is expected to more than double to over 13 percent this year. The political environment is described as increasingly complex with the government confronted by multiple and competing demands. Jobs remain scarce and living standards have been slow to rise.


The IMF says foreign aid accounts for a whopping two-thirds of Afghanistan's gross domestic product.


Afghanistan has been rebuilding an economy that was shattered during six years of rule by the fundamentalist Taliban, that was overthrown in 2001_ Since then an estimated four million refugees have returned while NATO-led peacekeepers maintain security in the mountainous territory.


IMF Afghanistan mission chief Mohammed Elhage says trade ties with Pakistan remain strong despite problems.


"There has been some disruption in trade. The trade links between Pakistan and Afghanistan are very strong," he said.


Elhage says Afghan wheat exports to Pakistan have slowed significantly.


Afghanistan is ranked as one of the world's most corrupt countries by Transparency International, a Berlin-based monitoring agency. Because of graft, many aid agencies channel their assistance through non-government organizations, a practice opposed by the central bank. Elhage agrees that an increasing flow of aid should be disbursed through the central government.


"We do support the authorities' objective to have more aid channeled through the central government budget. But again, we need to take into account the institutional capacity and the absorbtive capacity of the central government," he said.


Elhage says privatization of state enterprises is lagging behind and he called attention to alleged corruption in the electricity company, saying no further funds should be disbursed to the company until an audit has been made.


Despite widespread problems, Afghanistan has achieved macroeconomic stability and a stable currency. Its overall economy has doubled in size in the past five years.

[Source: VOA]



WE do not need high profile seminars or World Bank prescription or a series of articles to perceive the hard reality that Bangladesh needs honest, smart, intelligent, educated and energetic leadership to elevate itself to the ranks of the other developed countries of Southeast Asia. Such leaders with vision and drive in some of those countries have worked round the clock to pull their own people from abysmal poverty and disease to build a new country altogether. As a result, they now dominate the markets in Asia, as well as many in the West, as leaders in the global scene.

But where do we stand today? Do we have wonderful stories to tell about our economy, education, research or health care? Whatever the private sector has achieved was possible because of its tenacity and resolve to overcome various obstacles that came in the way. Local administration and hostile international politics were always out there to scare them off.

Despite all that, our private sector flourished over the years. Nevertheless, it needs to be said that holistic growth of a country cannot happen unless the government of the day plays the role of a facilitator, carrying out negotiations at the national and international levels.

For this reason we need politicians who will be able to foresee the future of the country fifty years from today, negotiate effectively at international forums, take pragmatic decisions regarding the burgeoning population and increasing poverty, and take measures to diversify the country's export items. They would never hesitate to control corruption, and would allow all the institutions like the EC, ACC and Public Service Commission to work independently and effectively.

But what do we have in reality? We have politicians who sleep late in the morning or always remain surrounded by packs of hungry wolves. Talk to them and you will find out soon that they have no idea about what potential Bangladesh has with regard to developing the IT sector, which might bring billions of dollars to the country.

Ironic indeed that our politicians cannot think beyond five years. They have no plan with regard to controlling population or alleviating poverty. All they would do is quote from the PRSP. These people have nothing new to say once they run out of script. And if they try to innovate they pathetically end up sounding nonsensical.

Right now our very own Brig. Gen (Retd) Hannan Shah is back in business again. He has picked up that chonga of his and begun to canvass with renewed vigour. He is asking the runaway leaders of BNP to say tawba and accept Begum Zia's leadership and recognise Delwar Hossain as the legal Secretary General, nothing more, nothing less.

He has been saying this in between his frequent visits to jail, and he has started to say this again after coming out of jail. He now thinks that the Chief Election Commissioner has committed a kabira guna (unforgivable sin) by inviting Major Hafiz to a dialogue on the coming election ignoring Khandaker Delwar. But, alas, no one seems to be interested to listen to him.

No doubt, by doing so, Hannan Shah is trying to create the image of a diehard person, possibly inspired by the movie named Diehard. We understand he has his eye on the coveted seat nearer to madam's throne in the Windy Castle. Frankly speaking, he should be considered for a BNP brand "Knighthood." Remember, he used to go knee-deep in flood-water and let the people hear the voice of his netri. But that did not fill their hungry stomachs. They needed food.

It is the same for ZA Khan, Major Hafiz, Saifur Rahman, Delwar or, for that matter, Dr. Badruddoza or HM Ershad. All of them are serving old things wrapped in new wrappers. There is no flash of brilliance in their talk or in their analysis of things. We haven't heard anything to make us want to hear more.

Our politicians react to something rather than act. They cannot preempt things or be proactive. If you do not have the guts to say something, or protest in loud voice a wrong-doing, then you better not be in politics. Very lackluster politics that.

What about those "veteran" politicians in the other camps? Are we all impressed by their wisdom, skill and acumen at a time when politics is passing through such rough waters? If you listen carefully, you will notice that Tofael Ahmad, Abdur Razzak and Zillur Rahman are also saying the same thing in a prefixed frequency over and over again.

If you have heard one, you have heard them all. They either repeat what the "leader" has already said, or they say something incomprehensible and then disown it. Come to think of it! Disowning a statement is an old yet pathetic ploy of our politicians. But by doing so don't they expose the poverty of courage to face one's own self!

So, it would be an understatement if we say that our politicians really sound cacophonous, like old gramophone records that are full of cuts and scratches. Do we have much to expect from them? You have the answer.

And more ...

Amanullah Aman has been transferred from Dhaka Central Jail to a jail in Narayanganj. It came as a reward for his arrogance, or what is popularly called here -- "damn-care attitude" (whatever it means). In mid-February, he was taken to PG hospital for a checkup, but after some minor tests he along with about fifty of his local sengats (hoodlums) walked about the hospital as if he owned the place, and then went to a canteen to have lunch. They ate, they gossiped and they guffawed in presence of some "loyal" security personnel. Aman went back to the prison van when he felt like going.

According to law, by meeting political people, talking to unknown persons on a cell phone and taking food outside, Aman has violated prison law. Don't forget he was a lawmaker himself and had sent many, many people to the same jail for little or no reason at all. There is every possibility of him coming back as a lawmaker (?) in future.

But how safe will laws be in their hands? The manner in which he took law in his own hands speaks volumes about how this new species of haughty politicians disrespect rules and regulations. They are veritably an indisciplined lot that needs to be kept in chains.

The answer to all the problems mentioned above lies in finding honest, dedicated, patriotic, educated and highly intelligent people who would sit in parliament to formulate pro-people policies and guide them on the road to progress.

Shahnoor Wahid is Senior Assistant Editor of The Daily Star.

[Source: The Daily Star]



The Politics of Violence

Tourism will create 100,000 jobs in the 10th Plan.

Is it safe to visit Bhutan? Bhutanese people were never asked this question before. In the aftermath of a number of bomb blasts in January and February, visitors are now concerned about their safety when they plan to visit Bhutan. And this may be something to worry about.

People living outside Bhutan hear words like explosions and Maoists and immediately conjure up images of the violence and bloodshed in the region. The Maoists in Nepal have practically halted governance and crippled the tourism industry. Maoists in India have kept their movement alive over the decades.

The impact of the bombs themselves, five blasts within two weeks, were more psychological than physical. In the context of global experience, they were more wild militancy than hard core terrorism.

Yet we have the discomfort of knowing that the trend is trying to take roots here. If we look at the history of war-torn regions in the world, many began with a single blast. We do not need to lose lives before we start worrying.

It is a movement based outside the kingdom. Our region has a population fraught with numerous political, religious, and socio economic tensions. Today, the media has named at least nine groups that claim to be initiating armed activities against the Bhutanese government. We do not know their credibility and assume that they are currently more of nuisance value than serious threats.

But we do know that they are trying to disrupt the most viable resettlement programme that has been initiated for the reported 100,000 or so refugees in Nepal. They are also training and sending in armed men to try and disturb peace in Bhutan. And they have obviously made contact with individuals in the kingdom.

All this comes at a time when Bhutan is going through a transformation that is widely seen as a unique political experience. It is an act of desperation as these groups see an opportunity to take advantage of the global attention on the kingdom as well as possible tensions within the country itself.

We have always known that the geopolitics of the region will not change. There is little that we can do to influence a region that is home to two-fifths of mankind. Bhutan has been, and will always be, surrounded by dissatisfied groups and militants that are a result of India’s diversity.

Our solution lies within the country. The first step is to make the democratic process work. A stable political system is the best response to any form of turbulence, within or outside the country. And we have no excuse for failure in an environment that is the most safe and secure in the region.

We keep in mind that Bhutan’s transformation is not accidental. It is a part of a larger vision.

The man who strikes first admits that his ideas have given out. 



Viewing Democracy In The Maldives




President Gayoom is today, without doubt, the most hated individual in the Maldives.


In politics, one may possibly surmise that public popularity and the people’s confidence in the President to do a reasonable job would suffice to get him elected.


But when a man is as detested as Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom, irrespective of the millions of dollars he’s prepared to spend on buying the goodwill of the voting population, would they vote for that man?


Would they vote for that man being well aware that the money with which their votes may be bought originally belonged to them before it was stolen? Or would they take his money; cast him out of office? Or is it possible that they would forget the vast array of injustices and the cruelties inflicted upon them in the hell-holes called jails in the Maldives? Would money simply prove to be the century’s equaliser?


During the last two years or so, to an extent, Maldivians had begun to overcome the traditional fear wielded by the Island Chiefs, the Atoll Chiefs, and the President, backed by his tanks, fast attack crafts and troops carrying AK-47s.


With the recent introduction of the multi-party democracy President Gayoom was forced to introduce sweeping democratic reforms, thus indoctrinating changes into an autocratic system, gradually weakening the power structure of a 28 year-old-autocracy.


At the beginning of the campaign to introduce political reforms, the opposition, led by the Maldivan Democratic Party, shortly after the party registration, vowed to launch a civil disobedience campaign. The kick-off, with the dramatic arrest of the party chairperson Nasheed, from the centre of the Republican Square, could not have been executed more brilliantly.


For three nights – Aug. 12, 13, and 14th of 2005, the public and the police engaged in sporadic clashes all over the capital. According to political analysts, had the demonstrations proceeded for just one more night, with the government tottering on the brink of failure and Gayyoom was about ready to be discarded into the dustbin of history.


It was the opposition MDP leadership led by Male’ member of Parliament Ibrahim Ismail and the member for the Addu constituency, Shareef, who foiled the fast gathering momentum of the excited masses because some street thugs assumed to be paid by pro-government figures had warned them of personal repercussions. Thus ended the mini-revolution in 2005 when Gayoom could have been brought down.


While Goliath was needed, the Maldivans produced a lesser man the pro-democracy movement began its descent into its present form: sporadic clashes between the police and a disgruntled public, serving no particular foreseen objective.


The Maldivian Democratic Party led in membership with President Gayoom’s DRP party following behind. Membership differences between these two parties were wide enough to make a marked difference. The poor and the have-nots – MDP – were backed by a few rich philanthropists’ whereas the moneyed class backed Gayoom. The numbers, however, favour the MDP.


Initially, prior to the formation and official recognition of the MDP, the richest man in the Maldives, Qasim Ibrahim, the owner of the Villa Group, chose to side with the democrats but Gayoom had him cut down to size by showing him the inside of the notorious Dhoonidhoo Detention Center.


Then he showed Qasim how he could be broken financially. The government placed a ban on vessels filling his fuel tanks, a large number of rooms in some of his resorts were ordered to remain closed by the Tourism Ministry for no valid reason and Qasim, unable to take the punches, did an about turn and joined Gayyoom’s cabinet as the Finance Minister.


The two other political parties in existence are of minor consequence.


Over a year had passed since the official registration of political parties in the Maldives without an election being held as yet. The excuse by the ruling Gayoom administration: the existing Constitution lacks the legal requirements to facilitate the running of the country in a democratic environment. Hence the formation of a body to re-write the Constitution – filled with elected Gayyoom members in addition to a number of President Gayoom’s personal appointees ensuring the right of way in any direction he chooses.


President Gayoom, who has the second largest defense budget in terms of the percentage of the GDP (according to the CIA Israel spends 7.5%; Maldives 5.5%) flexed his military muscles and the DRP became the rich-man’s ruling political party overnight without the benefit of an election.


The new Constitution remains in its infancy and since the last Constitution took 17 years to write, the people are disheartened enough to believe the present Constitution currently in the process of being written may consume the next 17 years.


The MDP in an effort to find a solution called upon its members to come to the capital Male’ on the 10th of November 2006 (November 11th is the Republic Day) to exert pressure on the government to complete writing the Constitution.


The government decided that this was a disguised attempt at a revolution and publicly banned gatherings on November 10.


On the evening of November 9, Gayoom dropped his bombshell. No one is fully certain how he cajoled, intimidated or whatever, into getting a majority of the members of the MDP Parliamentary Wing to agree that mass gatherings were illegal. Gayyoom even got the MDP Parliamentary Wing’s Vice-Chairperson, Addu Atoll member Shareef ( it is rumored that he is heavily into debt with the Bank of Maldives PLC) to appear on national TV to denounce the planned 10th November gathering.


Had people power been given a chance to work, it’s highly possible that General Gayoom would have been made Private Gayoom in ten seconds flat.


What the future may hold:-


The MDP had been channelling their requests mostly through the Commonwealth, the UN, the EU, Amnesty International and other international organisations to push for democratic reforms.


With the failure of Nov. 10, the MDP had gained a major media victory. However, the world had long been aware of Gayoom as Asia’s longest serving dictator and the methods he used on political opponents and the confirmation wasn’t exactly imperative.


It had taken almost a year and a half to remove the fear psyche from Maldivian thinking. It was done through newspapers, magazines and websites. Several journalists were jailed and almost the entire staff of ‘Minivan’ daily and are under threat of pending court cases. Besides journalists, the MDP administrative staff was kept under arrest for several month, some of them even serving jail sentences today. The MDP Parliamentary Group who were supposed to provide the back-up needed to get members out of trouble, had in fact, done the opposite. They did absolutely nothing.


Had it not been for the Party Chairperson Nasheed (Anni) the MDP would today be history. As the grass-roots members hold him in high esteem and are a hundred percent certain that he isn’t the type to be blackmailed or bought-off, the MDP hasn’t disintegrated to pieces. However, the longer it takes to force Gayoom into an election, the faster the party is likely to disintegrate. If the party is to survive, a complete turn-around in thinking and newer and bolder strategies are required. It is too much to hope for a Boris Yeltsin to climb on the top of a tank and reverse MDP’s waning fortunes.


The DRP is having its own quota of troubles too. Nobody still dares to oppose Gayoom, but the DRP camp is divided into two power units. One led by the Finance Minister Qasim and the other headed by the President’s half-brother Yameen, the Minister of Higher Education.


Gayoom’s current Presidential term expires in November 2008. The man is no longer healthy so even if he decides not to run for office. The next two likely candidates, Yameen or Qasim or maybe even Ilyas, the President’s brother in law to whom Qasim owes his wealth and good fortune, will ensure President Gayyoom’s legacy is protected.


Leaving aside the issues of corruption, there are far too many skeletons in Gayoom’s cabinet for him to earn an honourable place in history, and there is even the possibility he will end up getting lynched by a public mob.


Yet, if MDP can recover their former status, all the DRP’s billions, the guns and fast attack craft at Gayoom’s disposal, being invested to ensure a win in the 2008 Presidential campaign can be defeated. Good judgment of character and the right strategy can work wonders.


[Source: Minivan News] 


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