What could be a better way to communicate the stories ingrained in our hearts than through paintings? While words can convey emotions to a certain extent, the language of colours and brush strokes is universal. In paintings, meanings are not lost in translation, which is the case for written expressions, as no two languages are equal. They speak through the boldness of colours, and through it, we read their inscribed meanings and the messages they are trying to deliver; for this reason, and the mere fact that one does need the ability to read to comprehend the message inscribed in painting, Rickshaw art over the last five decades proved to be a popular medium of transmitting messages to the general audience. This form of art has declined in recent years, facing competition from digital printing. In the past baby taxis used to be painted as well, however, in contemporary times, baby taxis have been replaced with CNGs, painted in monotonous green, and Rickshaw art has been replaced with revenue-generating posters and advertisements. This recent developments calls into attention greater need for their preservation since urban folk art is a crucial component of Bangladesh's cultural heritage; they not only decorate Dhaka's streets with its robust colours but also engrave precepts to instill positive changes in society. While Rickshaw art is fading from the streets, the craftmanship of rickshaw painting is also becoming a rarity. But their preservation is crucial as they are an important aspect of urban folk art and are embedded in the public psyche as a conveyor of moral messages. Bearing in mind that such art forms play a key role in the local cultural heritage, the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands organized a five-day art workshop, where contemporary visual artists, alongside artists from gender-diverse communities and Rickshaw painters, narrated untold stories of a marginalized community – the gender diverse community – whose stories unfurl layers of complex identities that most of us are unaware about. The gender-diverse community, dwelling along the margins of society, consist of multiple communities and identities, and the paintings currently on display at Drik capture this plurality. These have been painted, reviving the Rickshaw art form. It is their stories that the ongoing exhibition, "Words from the Heart", showcases. As I visited the workshop, I was quite enthralled to see people of multiple genders work together under the roof, narrating the tales of their struggles, success, coexistence, and celebration of their beauty. The final products that I witnessed at the exhibition bring to life these narratives. It illustrates various stories of gender-diverse communities, more prominently, their complex sexuality and the challenges they encounter in their day-to-day lives, and some of the paintings call into question our inherent notion of gender, i.e., the way we perceive it in binary. Surovi's painting, 'Supposed to be a Normal Life', paints the multiplicity of transgender identities, the different beliefs manifested within them and their coexistence. Transgender refers to any individual whose gender-related identification or external gender presentation does not align with their birth sex, and the painting shows the evolution of their identity. It discloses that the identity of a transgender person is in the process of becoming. It is not constant or a given like cisgender – people who identify with the behavioural standards associated with a particular biological sex. For instance, a male identifies as being a man.
Here, in the world’s most populous region, there is a crisis slowly unfolding that involves the earth beneath our feet. The soil that has been producing the food we eat and supporting the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of farmers and others, is under threat. Often referred to as the "Skin of the Earth," soil acts as a silent steward, supporting the production of 95 percent of the food we eat in this region. It retains water, serves as a habitat for animals, and plays a key role in regulating our climate by storing more carbon than all the world's forests combined. But the ability of our soils to provide these ecosystem services are increasingly threatened due to decades of soil degradation and water scarcity, caused by overuse and misuse. Soil and water rely on each other, and that’s critical to feed a hungry world. Here, in the Asia-Pacific region, some 90 percent of our freshwater is consumed in agricultural activities alone, considerably more than the 75 percent used by agriculture, on average, worldwide. Yet, more than three-quarters of the Asia-Pacific population is now grappling with water insecurity. Much of this has been caused by mismanagement of our water and soil resources. Unsustainable practices have exacerbated the situation, contributing to the loss of biodiversity in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, and further challenging the resilience of agrifood systems facing extreme weather events. The fact that soils are not a renewable resource makes their preservation an even more urgent matter: it can take up to one thousand years to form one centimetre of soil, and this same centimetre can be destroyed in only a few minutes through careless acts of degradation. In order to better understanding the close relationship between soil and water, is a critical necessity for countries to work domestically and cross-borders to ensure wider sustainable development in the Asia-Pacific region. There are answers While pressure on this soil-water-food nexus is increasing, reversing the degradation is still possible. But we all need to take responsibility. We all need to act. Together, we must promote soil and water management at all levels. We can all do our part by changing habits to preserve fresh water each day. Meantime, policy makers and other stakeholders can collaborate in implementing sustainable soil and water management practices. This involves planning and action to ensure more efficient use of fresh water, promoting sustainable use of fertilizers and pesticides, employing appropriate irrigation methods, including the ways we drain and pump water, and pay more attention to monitoring related data – such as soil and groundwater salinity levels. Indeed, all land users, particularly farmers and smallholders, need training in sustainable soil and water management and that means inclusive access to technology transfer. Implementing sustainable soil management practices is both possible and crucial for transforming our agrifood systems, making them more resilient to extreme climate events. By doing so, our soils can become richer in carbon and can hold more water, benefiting the interconnected relationship between soil, water, and plants. This not only improves the overall health of the region's environment, but also enhances its ability to mitigate the effects of climate change. Research has found that Asian soils have the capacity to sequester 180 megatonnes of carbon per year, if sustainable high-carbon input soil management practices are adopted. World Soil Day Addressing soil degradation requires comprehensive domestic and international efforts involving government policies, research initiatives, and awareness programmes. Initiatives like the Glinka World Soil Award and the King Bhumibol World Soil Day Award, launched by the Government of Thailand, acknowledging the late king's dedication to sustainable soil management and its role in food security and poverty reduction, serve as exemplary models of localized endeavours. These efforts aim to recognize and encourage sustainable soil practices, fostering awareness and responsible management. Indeed, it is why we circle the 5th of December on our calendars each year to mark World Soil Day, to remind everyone of soil’s importance to us all. Hosted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Global Soil Partnership, strives to enhance soil governance and promote the practice of sustainable soil management for food security, climate change adaptation and mitigation, and sustainable development. In a world hungry for solutions, FAO is sowing the seeds of sustainability, emphasizing the importance of understanding, and addressing the complex nexus between soil health, sustainable agriculture, biodiversity conservation, and essential ecosystem services. In doing so, we aim to help countries achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and achieve better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life for all. As we navigate the multiple challenges of recovery from the pandemic, conflicts, and the need for systemic agrifood systems reform, celebrating World Soil Day should extend beyond 5 December, calling for collective action and a daily commitment to safeguard the Earth's lifeline – our soil. It’s literally our bread and butter. Jong-Jin Kim is the assistant director-general and regional representative for Asia and the Pacific at Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
A farmer in the Niger whose fields have dried up due to the heat. A father in Palau who does not know whether his house will still be standing when his children are grown up – or whether the rising sea levels will swallow up his village. Mayors in Spain, Germany or Lithuania who have to find a way to protect their towns and cities from a water shortage and ever more dangerous floods. Regardless of which country you look at in the world, one crisis is evident everywhere: the climate crisis. This crisis is the greatest security challenge of our age. It affects us all – with varying degrees of severity but with the same relentlessness. What gives me hope is that we have the knowledge, the technology as well as the instruments to contain the climate crisis together. What we need is political will. In 2015, the international community showed this will and paved the way for a new, climate-neutral world by adopting the Paris Agreement. Almost 170 countries set themselves ambitious climate targets back then. The expansion of renewable energies has accelerated dramatically. However, when we come together for the Climate Change Conference in Dubai in a few days’ time, we will also know: We find ourselves in a race against time – and we have been too slow to date. The forthcoming COP is a huge opportunity to pick up the pace, an opportunity which we should seize together by forming alliances among countries at the forefront of climate action. For in Dubai we will be carrying out the Global Stocktake agreed in Paris for the first time. This will allow us to review our progress towards reaching the targets set in Paris and to determine where we have to step things up. Germany believes that three points are key here. First of all, we should hugely ramp up the global energy transition by 2030. For every tonne of CO2 a country emits harms us all. According to the International Panel on Climate Change, we have to work together to decrease global emissions by at least 43% in the course of this decade. Every percentage point reduction in greenhouse gases means fewer droughts, fewer floods and fewer lives lost. In the EU, we have set a course for climate neutrality by 2050 with the Green Deal. In Germany, we have pledged by law to become climate neutral by 2045. However, the energy transition is a global task. That is why we are working to ensure that a joint agreement is reached at COP 28 on tripling renewable energies, doubling energy efficiency and gradually phasing out fossil fuels. By doing this, we also want to make it clear that the transition towards an energy system largely free of fossil fuels has begun. Secondly, our best tool for tackling the climate crisis is solidarity. That is why we are standing shoulder to shoulder with those who have played the smallest role in bringing about the climate crisis but are now being hit hardest. Three years earlier than announced, Germany has increased its annual contribution to climate finance to more than six billion euro from its budget funds. In so doing, we are playing our part in the industrialised countries’ pledge to make available 100 billion euro for climate finance – and we are confident that this pledge will be fulfilled by the end of this year. We know that the climate crisis is already having effects which can no longer be reversed. That is why we are also pressing ahead with adaptation to climate change and providing special support for developing countries. The contributions of all donors for adaptation should be doubled to 40 billion US dollars by 2025 at the latest. Germany intends to play its part in reaching this target. At the last Climate Change Conference we agreed to establish a loss and damage fund and we recently fleshed it out in Abu Dhabi. Our task now is to confirm this agreement at COP 28 and to fill the fund with money. To achieve this, it is key that the funds go first and foremost to the most vulnerable states and that all states with the means to do so contribute to the fund. Naturally, this includes the industrialised countries. However, it also includes those states which have earned a lot of money with fossil fuels or have enjoyed high growth rates in the last few years. We all have an obligation. That is why, thirdly, we want to invest in our partnerships at COP 28. We know that the conditions necessary for a successful energy transition and climate action are different in each country. And that the radical change which the green transformation will entail can only work if it is socially just. We will support our partners to this end. We can all benefit because every investment in solar panels, in green hydrogen or in heat insulation technologies is an opportunity for growth, new jobs and a secure energy supply. For this reason, we are expanding climate, energy and development partnerships. They will enable both sides to learn from each other and will benefit both sides. After all, no country should have to decide between development and climate action. Every society has its own path to follow. It is important that we all have the same goal: a climate-neutral and resilient future in which our children can live in security and prosperity. During the coming days in Dubai, we will have an opportunity to set out on this journey together. We should seize this opportunity. Annalena Baerbock is the Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Germany
Pakistan has begun to expel all undocumented foreigners which include 1.7 million Afghans, one of the biggest groups of immigrants living there. The Government has said that it can no longer afford to provide shelter to so many who are also law and order threats. However, observers also read worsening relations with Talibans as one cause which they think will make it even more negative as Afghanistan has no resources to handle them either. Government of Pakistan had publicly announced that undocumented foreigners had to leave by Nov. 1 and around 200,000 Afghan nationals had left over the past two months. Heartbreaking scenes of farewell including Afghan children hugging their Pakistani school friends one last time have been in the media. Trucks piled high with baggage of departing Afghans standing on the border is a common sight. The scene in Taliban-led Afghanistan is serious as it can’t accommodate and feed such a large population. Apparently 15 million Afghans are already in a food insecure state which will now increase. Meanwhile, the west has been using aid cuts and international relief groups as a tool against the Taliban government. Afghan refugees in Pakistan are facing a long era of such suffering which began after the Soviet invasion and subsequent wars. Since the latest take over in 2021, over 600,000 refugees have taken shelter in Pakistan. While Pakistan has housed many despite their own resource difficulties, the Afghans have faced discrimination at work and socially and the Pakistanis feel threatened by the prospect of job loss. Some have held them responsible for the rise of drugs smuggling and terrorism. It’s no different from refugees elsewhere including Bangladesh. The Rohingyas in Bangladesh is a near at hand comparison. While many Afghans are choosing destinations to migrate other than Pakistan, reaching there isn’t easy. However, after the fall of the US backed government in Kabul, a deluge of people came to Pakistan and it has never been happy about them. Pakistan has said that it’s not targeting Afghans but all undocumented refugees including migrants and refugees from Iran, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka. However, Bangladesh has not been mentioned yet though one must wait to see what happens next. The number of such undocumented refugees is not known but their existence is public knowledge. Islamabad has not yet said anything about them yet. Global Scapegoats ? Some believe that Afghans are being used as scapegoats as Pakistan battles a major economic crisis and resurgence of terrorist activities including by the Afghanistan-based Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Pakistan’s military establishment has endorsed the move, so its official policy. There is an element of crocodile tear shedding in the international space for the Afghans as the US backed and promoted a hugely corrupt and incompetent regime to run the country in its name which basically prepared the background for the Taliban’s return. Pakistan too was part of it and it’s these multiple international politics that are contributing now to the crisis of deportation that Afghans are facing in Pakistan now.
The world is at a tipping point. The pandemic left a toxic legacy of spiraling poverty, debt distress, and inequality, all amid a worsening cost-of-living crisis. Even more alarming is climate change, a long-term existential threat that is already wrecking lives and costing billions. Recent climate-related disasters are a tragic foretaste of the world that awaits if we don’t act now to prevent these immense and overlapping threats, or polycrises, from defining our future.Multilateral development banks (MDBs) like the Asian Development Bank (ADB), of which I am president, must do more and act faster to overcome these crises and help people—while there is still time. Business as usual isn’t an option, especially in Asia and the Pacific where nearly 70 million people have fallen back into extreme poverty since the pandemic, and which accounts for more than half of the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions.We need bold action to deliver the estimated $3 trillion needed annually by 2030, according to the G20, to tackle global challenges and revive progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).The G20 believes MDBs can help deliver this finance by wringing every last dollar from their balance sheets. I agree, and at ADB that process is well underway. In September, we announced capital management reforms that include optimizing our prudential level of capitalization.These reforms unlock $100 billion in new commitments capacity over the next 10 years. They expand the bank’s annual new commitments capacity to more than $36 billion—an increase of approximately $10 billion, or about 40%. This will make up to $360 billion available over the next decade to expand our climate investments, spur momentum on the SDGs, and increase our support for economies still suffering from pandemic impacts. Importantly, the reforms are designed to ensure ADB’s AAA credit rating is safeguarded.This is part of a series of innovations ADB has made to expand its lending capacity. In May, ADB announced the Innovative Finance Facility for Climate in Asia and the Pacific, which allows donors to guarantee parts of the existing sovereign loan portfolio on ADB’s balance sheet, allowing ADB to leverage and generate $5 in climate finance for every $1 of guarantees. ADB has also entered sovereign exposure exchange agreements with other MDBs to reduce portfolio concentration risks.And it won’t be our last step. I see this as another advance on a continuous path of reform that all MDBs must take to respond effectively to rapidly evolving challenges like global warming.To meet these challenges head on, MDBs need to take urgent actions across three fronts.First, it is vital that MDBs expand their capacity to mobilize private investment for climate and sustainable development programs. MDBs are uniquely placed to catalyze the move from billions of dollars in development finance to the trillions needed, by leveraging their balance sheets to generate private investment at all stages of the project cycle.This includes promoting policy development upstream to create an enabling environment for private investment, creating bankable projects midstream through advisory support, and financing projects downstream to crowd in private capital.Second, as many countries can’t afford to take on debt after spending to manage pandemic impacts, they need to raise more funds domestically. The G20 estimates that two-thirds of the required $3 trillion for global challenges can be raised through domestic revenue mobilization and local finance.Economies must mobilize more tax revenue, modernize tax authorities through digitalization, and cooperate to ensure a fair and well-functioning international tax system. Environmental taxes are one way to increase domestic revenue and contribute to low carbon development, while a more efficient value-added tax (VAT), including VAT on the digital economy, could be a key source of income for developing countries. Countries should also revisit policies on fossil fuel subsidies.Finally, financial innovation must continue. ADB is working to deepen the region’s domestic capital markets. Stepping up the use of blended finance will crowd in private investment. De-risking instruments such as credit enhancement products through guarantee schemes and insurance can unlock capital for climate action, as can instruments such as thematic and sustainable bonds.We can further promote climate action by engaging with evolving carbon markets. ADB’s Climate Action Catalyst Fund provides relevant mitigation projects with upfront carbon finance through the purchase of carbon credits under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. This complements our ongoing work to help our members develop the policies and skills needed to participate in carbon trading.Crises can escalate quickly. We must move even faster to reduce the pain they cause and help secure a bright future for our region and beyond.Masatsugu Asakawa is President of the Asian Development Bank.
To the editors and reporters reading this, a simple question: Should a country, especially one that calls itself “leader of the free world”, preach and practice something on their own soil and do a 180 in some countries like Bangladesh? The founding fathers of the United States found the idea of press freedom so important that it is protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. Now consider if that matches the recent remark of the US ambassador to Bangladesh, when during a TV interview he said that media in Bangladesh could also come under the purview of US visa restrictions. Just a year back, on the occasion of International Press Freedom Day, before a section of editors and journalists, US Ambassador Peter Haas had said, “To the editors and reporters here today, I have a simple message: Yours is a noble profession.” Little did the editors and journalists, who took part in the event, know how the ambassador – despite his sermons and much ado about his country’s stance on freedom of expression – would change his tune. His remark on possible visa restrictions on media has concerned editors and journalists, with many calling it “intimidation.” Media in Bangladesh may also come under the purview of US visa policy is what the envoy gleefully said during an interview with Channel 24. This was described by some senior journalists as an “affront to the freedom of press.” The ambassador’s announcement on possible visa restrictions on media seemingly sparked a row between those upholding and supporting secular liberal values, and hardliners and radical groups. Pro BNP and Jamaat social media activists and leaders even lashed out at certain media outlets and named a number of journalists for their critical reportage on the parties. BNP-Jamaat leaders including Rumeen Farhana, BNP's international affairs secretary, spared no time in hailing the US ambassador’s remark on including media in the visa restrictions and named a number of private television channels that BNP has boycotted. Zahir Uddin Swapon, convener of BNP’s media cell, echoed Rumeen with reposting a photo of a senior journalist with the text: “US visa restriction policy at work?” Basherkella, a pro-Jamaat-e-Islami X (formerly Twitter) account, also tweeted that Haas “is a true friend of Bangladesh.” This particular social media account made news for running what the minority Ahmadiyya community called a “hate campaign” against them. Despite this round of salvo going on, the US Embassy in Dhaka, on September 25 – in sync with what the ambassador had said – reasserted: “We are applying the [visa restriction] policy in a balanced way against anyone [undermining the democratic election process in Bangladesh] – regardless of being pro-government, opposition party, members of law enforcement agencies, members of the judiciary, or media persons.” The post also contained the video interview of the ambassador. Meanwhile, asked specifically about the inclusion of media under visa restrictions during multiple press briefings, the US State Department has repeatedly refrained from mentioning media. It is not difficult to decipher that encouraged by the US ambassador’s announcement, BNP and radical groups went on an overdrive to settle scores with media outlets that are not portraying them favorably in their reportage. It would also not be an overstatement to say that the US embassy reiterating the ambassador’s remark works as a shot in the arm for them. Two leading platforms comprising of editors have expressed their concerns and sought explanation from the ambassador. A statement from Editors Guild said: “We want to know what triggered the ambassador to go for hectic activism to disparage Bangladesh media. The statement of the US ambassador is not transparent enough and it needs a clear interpretation.” “The statement of the ambassador to expand visa restrictions on journalists can be seen as an attempt to silence the voices of the people, and impose unseen censorship on the media, which contradicts the principles of freedom of expression and press freedom, the main pillars of democracy and governance,” read the statement. Meanwhile, in a letter to the ambassador, Mahfuz Anam, president of Editors’ Council, wrote: “Frankly, this remark has created confusion among us and hence our request for a clarification.” Referring to Haas’ statement that visa restriction “is not based on anything else but their actions,” Anam pointed out that media’s “action” is writing or broadcasting, and wanted to know if visa restriction will be based on what a journalist writes or broadcasts. “If so, then doesn’t it come under ‘freedom of expression’ and ‘freedom of press’? How will it be used in case of media? What are the factors being considered?” – he wrote. Then came a response from the envoy, which seemingly failed to provide any clarification or assuage the journalists’ concerns. Bewildered by the response, as many as 190 eminent citizens, including rights activists, journalists, writers, anti-war crimes campaigners, and minority community leaders expressed disappointment over Haas’ justification for visa restrictions on media and journalists, saying that it did not offer “substance”. Over the last 15 years, while the number of media and journalists both witnessed a significant rise, the work environment also saw a topsy-turvy path. Glaring abuse of the former Digital Security Act is another blot, but nothing justifies Haas’ stance to include media under visa restrictions. But what underscores danger in all of this is the ambassador being hailed as a “hero” by hardliners and radical groups – evoking memories of 1971 when the US administration sided with the Pakistan army that unleashed a genocide to stop the birth of the youngest nation in South Asia. In most Muslim countries where US has tried to bring their version of “democracy” by removing what they felt were autocratic regimes, ended up bringing Islamist radicals to power. Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan – the list is long. The doyen of democracy ends up promoting the worst of radicals at the expense of nationalist governments who won’t take Washington’s dictation, it seems. It is clear that Haas with his initial statement that rattled the media ahead of the national election made a mess and after facing backlash, is on a mission to take on a neutral look. But his explanation does not support the objective. Sukharanjan Dasgupta is a Kolkata-based commentator and author of “Midnight Massacre” on the August 15, 1975 coup. Views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.
There was a time when the ULFA made parts of the Northeast look more like the American Wild West in John Wayne movies. After every outrage, ULFA gunmen would slip away to their hideouts in Bangladesh and there wasn't anything India could do about it. There were days when all of India cringed: after a shoot out between security men of Bangladesh and the Border Security Force, the bodies of dead Indians were returned, their wrists and ankles were ties to a bamboo pole as if they were slaughtered deer. There was a time when getting a Bangladesh visa was difficult- this correspondent truthfully replied that the task at hand was conducting an inter-school quiz in Dhaka for an international publisher and in the time available, attack something as palatable as smoked hilsa and go shopping for saris for the wife. The official, seething with anger, asked: "If there's a border clash, won't you cover it?" The visa request was, expectedly, denied. All this seems several lifetimes ago, but it was just before this Sheikh Hasina (she turned 76 today) era, beginning 2009. It's like last night's bad dream after a hearty breakfast and a convivial chat. India breathed easy: the ULFA camps are a distant memory, the border firings one hears about are along the Line of Control and both sides believe in what diplomats quaintly call people to people ties. Ask the average Indian about Bangladesh and the answer will be "Sheikh Hasina's government is a friend." And rightly too. Bangladesh has done some heavy hitting for India. Before a SAARC meeting in Islamabad, Dhaka brought up the terrorism issue and the resultant security problem. India followed. After a terror attack in Dhaka, Sheikh Hasina pointed out that violence, particularly during Ramzan, was unacceptable. When I interviewed her a year later, she spoke out strongly against violence and corruption. "Look at me. They've killed my father, my mother, and my brothers. What good is money?" She also showed her sensitive side. "Why do you criticise Aung San Suu Kyi so much? She's suffered so much. She's been in jail; she couldn't even go and see her husband when he was dying. I ask people to be more compassionate." In the Sheikh Hasina years, Bangladesh has done better than India in some areas. It is certainly not an international basket case. The enclave issue has been sorted out. Only Teesta remains and both sides know why it hasn't got done. Finally, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sheikh Hasina have a good working relationship. Then, there was Pranab Mukherjee. Days after he took over as President, in 2012, he showed me a copy of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's unfinished autobiography, the only one in Delhi at that time. Sheikh Hasina had signed it with the words: "To Dada and Boudi." He said: "Joy (Sheikh Hasina's son) brought it over. Mukherjee was Sheikh Hasina's "Dada" or elder brother "You're breaking protocol," Pranab Mukherjee said to her when she called to congratulate him after his election to the Lok Sabha. "Protocol rakhen (Forget about protocol)," she replied. She can be very charming. When she heard, before an interview about my late father -- Basanta Chowdhury from Deep Jwele Jaai (1959) movie -- a matinee idol in his time, she said: "Oh really! I have seen all his films. Today, a lot depends on Sheikh Hasina. And a lot of people in India would wish her "Happy birthday" with many more to come. Srinjoy Chowdhury is the national affairs editor at Times Now. This opinion editorial was originally published in Times Now. Views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.
As Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina turns 77 and the nation, once ravaged by corruption and terrorism, looks back on a “golden decade of development” she has presided over, comparisons are being drawn over her legacy and her political rival, former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia’s. Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia are repositories of two distinct legacies — often naively and simplistically described by the western press as the “Battle of the Begums.” The two women are as different in their personal lives as night and day. Hasina is deeply spiritual and religious, socially conservative, but politically secular while Khaleda is socially outgoing, the usual military “madam”, but whose politics is closely linked to political Islam. The Hasina-Khaleda battle is not one of personalities alone. It is more about the legacies they carry forward. Hasina upholds her father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's legacy of national liberation and the dream of “Sonar Bangla” (Golden Bengal). This is the legacy of the fight for independence from Pakistan amidst the worst genocide in South Asia, and one of the worst in the world. It is also one of painstaking national reconstruction amidst insurmountable odds. Khaleda has lived up to the legacy of her late husband, General Ziaur Rahman, Bangladesh's first military ruler who turned the clock back on the country's “unfinished revolution” by setting in motion a process of re-Pakistanisation which culminated in his successor General Ershad declaring Islam as the “state religion of Bangladesh.” Bangabandhu's 1972 Constitution established secularism as a cardinal value for Bangladesh's nascent polity. Military rulers Zia and Ershad overturned it and introduced the primacy of Islam, as they legitimised the defeated forces of 1971. The military rulers set up their own parties but needed the Islamist radical groups like the pro-Pakistan Jamaat-e-Islami as allies to marginalise the Awami League. Hasina has now presided over Bangladesh's “Golden Decade of Development” after Khaleda’s half decade rule in the early part of the century. Hasina has notched an unprecedented economic turnaround that makes Bangladesh an emerging Asian Tiger from a “Basket Case” (as referred to by Kissinger) after Khaleda had reduced the country to the “second front of Islamist terror” in South Asia by presiding over a sharp surge in violent religious radicalism that one usually associates with Pakistan. Hasina has been described by the BBC as the “voice of the vulnerable” in the global effort to tackle climate change after her role in the COP26 summit and “a force” by the Washington Post for her economic model of inclusive growth that is more focused on human development and distributive justice and less on pure growth statistics and wealth creation. Khaleda’s is a legacy of unbridled corruption under whose shadow, son Tarique Rahman created a culture of kleptocracy. Leaked US embassy cable held him “guilty of egregious political corruption that has had a serious adverse effect on US national interests” and called him a “symbol of violent politics.”Under Hasina, Bangladesh's GDP growth surged past 6 percent per annum and an estimated 50 million Bangladeshis have been elevated to the middle-income group. There was a slump in the poverty level from 38 percent in 2006 to 24 percent in 2013. Bangladesh's per capita income has soared to $1,602, past its giant neighbour India, with the poverty rate slumping further to 22.4 percent. From power generation to road building to the completion of the 6 km railroad bridge on the Padma river, Bangladesh had gained from Hasina's single-minded zeal to develop critical infrastructure that spurs industrialization and an export-driven manufacturing economy. The signature statistics of the Khaleda Zia era were the simultaneous bomb explosions in almost all the districts of Bangladesh. Look at the big headlines of the Khaleda era: “Cocoon of Terror”, “Deadly Cargo”, “The Next Islamist Revolution”. Now, those of the Hasina era: “Bangladesh: The next Asian Bull case”, “Life Begins at Fifty for Bangladesh”, “Unstoppable Bangladesh” and so much more. The difference between what the two legacies have to offer is obvious and the choice made by Bangladeshis for the last whole decade points to what most in the country want. The Pakistan model of a close unholy nexus between the state, the military-driven deep state, the radical religious groups, a section of big business and foreign powers seeking to use the country for its own strategic gains has come a cropper. Pakistan's descent into a failed state since the 1971 debacle has been steady, notwithstanding the country becoming a nuclear power. The brief experiment with that model during the Khaleda regime early in this century brought disaster for Bangladesh with Islamist terrorism, which had gained its initial ground during Khaleda's first tenure in the 1990s, gaining much ground. As Hasina proceeded to prioritise economic and human development after her return to power in January 2009, she had to also launch an all-out campaign to stamp out these hydra-headed terror groups, which obnoxiously keep multiplying even as core factions fall apart under tough state response. She was dead right in realising that the fight to root out Islamist terror and stamp out the linkages between some Indian rebel groups and a part of Bangladesh's security establishment (again following the Pakistani model) was as important as the pursuit of development goals and preparing the country to withstand adverse impact of climate change. The best of long-term vision can be ruined if law and order suffer and terrorism takes root. Hasina's task in pursuing her development goals were considerably impeded not only by the proliferation of terror groups from the previous Khaleda Zia regime but also their close linkages with parties in the BNP-Jamaat led alliance. Her determination to go ahead with the 1971 War Crimes trials, a pre poll promise to her people, got some top war criminals turned opposition leaders in the crosshairs because of the substantial evidence that existed against them for their involvement in the 1971 atrocities. Many of Hasina's detractors saw in the trials an attempt to decapitate the opposition and elements in the West started crying foul over the legality of the War Crimes Trials. Hasina persisted and did what her people wanted her to do. Put an end to the culture of impunity that stemmed out of the Pakistani atrocities and was then carried forward through the 1975 coup and the 2004 grenade attack on Hasina herself when she was in opposition.The Khaleda Zia legacy grows out of the Pakistani military culture of total annihilation of opponents. So, if the Pakistanis went about the systematic and total annihilation of the Bengali intelligentsia in the last days of the 1971 to deprive the new nation of its brains, the 1975 coup aimed at eliminating the entire Bangabandhu family including elements of the extended family. The 2004 grenade attack on the Awami League rally, planned meticulously but executed shoddily, was an attempt to eliminate in one stroke the entire senior leadership of the Awami League which was gathered with Hasina on the makeshift podium. Hasina would have failed the nation if her government did not pursue the perpetrators of these horrific crimes. She did not, even when accused by the Western human rights brigade who opposed the due process of law unfolding in Bangladesh during the War Crimes trials or these other massacre cases but are shy to acknowledge the 1971 massacres as a genocide, despite copious accounts by diplomats like Archer Blood. In short, the Khaleda legacy, that rests its legitimacy with falsehood is a “Legacy of Blood”, the apt title of a bestseller by celebrated journalist Anthony Mascarenhas, who detailed the 1975 coup and the patronage that General Zia and later his wife extended to the perpetrators of the coup by giving them diplomatic postings. If the Khaleda legacy is one of blood and more blood (the BNP's petrol bombings that burnt countless innocents to death), the Hasina legacy is one of development and growth, one of upholding the glory of Bengali language and culture (like her father, she delivers her UN speeches in Bangla) that gives the nation its unique identity. The choice is obvious. Would Bangladeshis, who are outwardly mobile and hugely dynamic both at elite and grassroots level, not want the success formula of a moderate Islam centric secular polity to anchor the national economic and human development to continue with a professional military guarding national frontiers and the police and paramilitary ensuring internal law and order? And a foreign policy which balances all major powers and neighbours intelligently to foster the key goal of national prosperity? As the countdown to the next parliament polls begins, amidst Hasina's efforts for enactment of a minority commission and some of her partymen demanding a return to the 1972 secular constitution, Bangladeshis will have to take a call.Sukharanjan Dasgupta is a Kolkata-based commentator and author of “Midnight Massacre” on the August 15, 1975 coup. Views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.
People who grew up or bloomed in the 70s are also in their seventies now and so many are departing in this fateful decade. Every day we hear the bells ring and it always rings for thee. There will never be a decade like that, the first after liberation when the world was very difficult but also the most promising and fateful. It was a time when people hoped and dreamed, even if in black and white images. Things could only get better felt everyone. The class or group that felt this intensely was the cultural activists and writers. The shackles had finally been shed and the inevitable dawn waited. They saw culture as an essential ingredient of political life and that often congregated at the center of the Bangladesh universe, the Dhaka University. At the shanty tea stalls in the campus, the small kerosene wicker lamps would flicker in the evenings. The best and the brightest sat discussing how the world was going to change and they would do it. And one of the stars of many conversations was Syed Saluddin Zaki who passed away on the 18th of September last. Zaki bhai was 77 and had been ailing. To many who knew him it would almost seem like an excuse for dying. People like him are supposed to go on and on. The 70s The war was just over and the smell of victory was in the air, physical and real. And the Dhaka University campus saw an explosion of cultural activities. Of course a small minority went to politics of the extreme variety but most went slightly Left anyway, the flavour of the day mixing social justice in the perfumed garden of independence. In the University, DUCSU was in the Chhatra Union, the students’ wing of the Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB). It was always called “harmonium party” because of its focus on cultural activities. So the environment that was, wasn’t just politics, increasingly getting angrier but cultural activities as well. But it wasn’t just Salahuddin Zaki bhai. M. Hamid, Nasiruddin Yusuff Bacchu, KM. Harun and many others too. And together they could make many conversations and activities glow. The 70s saw the rise of the film society movement and many came from the theatre world which was in full swing. Zaki bhai’s play on post 1971 life was a searing indictment of the situation. An FF deeply frustrated with it all, says, “my hands feel empty.” He was referring to a hand which once held a gun that gave him an identity but in the play it became a symbol of the helplessness many felt as challenges grew. Zaki bhai spoke for many. Pune and afterwards Zaki bhai and Badal Rahman who later produced “Emile’r goyenda bahini” (Emile and the Detectives) both went to Pune to learn more about the art of film making and returned after getting degrees. They perhaps returned to a slightly changed world that had changed somewhat but the DU campus was a bastion of the 70s culture. It was also changing but perhaps we noticed it less because the campus scenario had sort of lazy, still hanging onto dreams ambience. It was where the greatest influence on the young wasn’t Marx or Tagore but Shareef Miah, the man who ran the iconic tea stall canteen of Dhaka University selling cheap snacks and a space to dream. I remember an evening adda at that canteen as the wicker lamp cast shadow and light. Zaki bhai had been busy the whole day and asked for two singaras instead of the usual one. “Haven’t had lunch”, he explained, sipping the sugary tea and munching the dough rolled snacks. I consider the moment almost symbolic of his time and our era. Missing lunch was common, making it up with two singaras was common too. There was no takeaway number to call and order a fancy on the run lunch in those day, as one spent the evening in a shoddy canteen discussing dream projects. Later But the 80s were a time not just of change but assimilation too. Zaki bhai’s most remarkable film was also his first, “Ghuddi”. The film story was based on an FF who suffers from PTSD and later falls in love with Shuborna Mustafa. Nasiruddin Yousuff Bacchu bahi was also in it. It bagged two National Film Awards. Zaki bhai won for the Best Screenplay and Shafiqul Islam Swapan for Best Cinematography who is also an FF. He later did important official jobs in the media including DG, BTV and so on but his later creative outputs were less. Ghuddi defined his cinematic works. He continued to be active but that sense of the 70s mission and ' ‘two singara” attitude was less. It’s inevitable and affects all of us. But as the 70s faded away, the new decades brought new challenges and rewards for many. And he had done his bit for his time. So farewell Zaki bhai, you did so well but what you did even better was lead a life which embodied the cultural ethos and history of the 70s. Best wishes and see you soon.
As I entered adulthood into the world of banking more than a decade ago, I remember that I used to wonder why my father, a business man, always used to maintain his bank accounts at the traditional, not so digital at the time, government banks only. I, on the other hand, had my preferences set for private sector bank accounts offering a range of easily available services starting from ATM cards to credit cards to internet banking. Then few years ago, I started making an effort to become more financially conscious about where I choose to bank at, when my widow aunt’s last bit of savings were frozen for cash out due to one of the infamous banks at the time defaulting on payments to many many of their powerless and innocent clients due to the bank’s insolvency to pay out due to a huge corporate loan scam investigation. I would not like to take a position here as to who used to make the better judgment call as to the credibility of banks to trust their money with - my father with an affinity to trust state-owned banks or me with the affinity to trust my money at the hands of foreign renowned banks. But what does run an alarm to many is the thought that the new digital bank guideline may open up the doorway to a pool of small fish investors with lot less lower paid-up capital that they need to put up as opposed to conventional banks, putting their clients at a whole array of risks to face if things go down the wrong lane. For instance, Bangladesh Bank has set the minimum capital requirement for a digital bank at BDT 125 crore, while for conventional banks, it is BDT 500 crore. Some fear that what’s even more worrying is that digital banks will apparently make it easier to access loans and the due diligence checks might not be adequate. And the fear may not be unwarranted since quiet a number of financial institutes have made a scam name for themselves when entrusted with loan disbursements. Few have also expressed concerns that all digital banks in Bangladesh are set to operate as Public Limited Company (PLC), and they would like to know more about the exposure that this may put clients towards volatilities in the stock markets. Others worry about the readiness of cybersecurity systems in the country when hackers can steal a billion overnight. At home, many women and the elderlies in particular may also be vulnerable to misuse of their control over money from unauthorized friends and families unless appropriate biometric safeguards are put in place. On the other hand, not only has the digital bank guidelines gained interests of existing banks, financial institutes, mobile financial services and fintechs, but from ride-sharing companies to e-commerce sites to pharmaceuticals to hotels and gas pumps, everyone seems to want a stake as an expert to do business in this new financial sector in question. The Executive Director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue’s (CPD), Dr. Fahmida Khatun, recently shared that the minimum limit of paid-up capital was also one of the key reasons for companies without any experience in handling banking services to line up for opening up digitalbanks. The macro-economist also questioned whether the Bangladesh Bank has adequate preparations to regulate such banks. In contrast, columnist Afsan Chowdhury points out that allowing existing commercial banks in the competition may not seem fair and ethical, since what is stopping traditional commercial banks from already giving their clients digital services? Other issues that are not yet clear are what would be the transferability of the financials within the digital bank systems? Will the digital banks be allowed to monopolize on consumers’ money like our existing mobile financial service (MFS) platforms also? While I love using bkash for example, I don’t like the fact that when I sometimes have to pay up to someone with a Nagad account for instance, inter-exchange of money between the two MFS is not possible, which have also costed me higher transaction costs a few times due to double burden to pay up. Yes, more and more digitalization of the financial sector would be a welcome move to consumers, especially to those of the digitally literate. But instead of aiming for financial inclusion via unchartered domains, what may be more essential may be for the brick-and-mortar state owned banks to bring themselves up-to par with the digitalized banking platforms and services already being offered by many of the private sector banking arena. Expansion of the portfolios of digital service offerings by the already existing and successful MFS operators may also bring in more to the pot of rural-urban financial connection in the country tapping into their already existing extensive networks, rather than expecting people to learn something new overnight also. Another thing I find interesting about the inclusivity of MFS services for example is its network of agents that many at times help bridge the gap among the not so digitally literate. Even when it comes to banks, I like having the option to have a branch to show up at when in need of trouble shooting. Such may also point out to the need for a more hybrid solution in place than going completely paperless and office-less in the name of cost-efficiency and smart banking. Mehzabin Ahmed is a development professional.