Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Why Is Phulbari Burning?

It is ridiculous what is happening in Phulbari!

The government as usual handled the situation wrongly. But then people got all frenzied up by the false rhetoric of some extreme left elements!

For those who are not in the know – recently the police opened fire on a bow’n’arrow carrying demonstration at Asia Energy’s (AEC) Phulbari Coal Mine in Dinajpur killing multiple protestors and Bangladesh’s business friendly image! And I fear started a movement in the mould of Kansat.

Rubber bullets or high-pressure water hose are not terms our civil obedience forces know or care to know. Given the abundance of people around everywhere around us, I think we don’t value a human life! One of the persons killed was a 10 year old. How very sad!

At the same time we need to explore the reasons for the protests and the subsequent bloodshed. A group of mostly left leaning economist, environmentalists and politicians under the banner of National Committee for Protection of Oil-Gas-Port is under the mistaken belief that they are intellectuals and are delusional about the depth of their knowledge! Some how we don’t learn from our past and believe anyone who says that they are as big as they are full of hot air!

These so called “intellectuals” are against foreign investment claiming it to be a neo-imperialist tool. I presume they are not in touch with their counterparts in China or West Bengal! Their basic gripe against AEC is that they will export away all the coal that they can dig up. Hmmm - so no one has spoken to them about energy basket diversification I presume! Keeping the coal under ground my friend will not get us anywhere! They are in one hand complaining that the government machinery can’t give us the electrical power we demand and on the other that using natural gas to produce electricity (it accounts for majority of our natural gas usage) is not exploiting the potential of that natural resource; - you cannot stop the country from trying to find other energy sources!

The environmentalists are up in arms about the black soot that will cover North Bengal and about the disaster of “open pit mining” (as opposed to deep shaft mining). Unfortunately they are even further behind the times than our economist friends. Technological advances and environmental impact mitigation strategy (e.g. green belts, specially treated air control system, and water based dust controls) have brought the coal mining industry to a standard that open pit is now a preferred method of mining even in “Green” countries like Germany and Australia.

I personally have had the good fortune of visiting some open pit mines in West Bokaro in India recently. As the video shown on ATN and Bangla Vision will prove me correct, we saw absolutely no environmental issues. Paddy fields and villages side by side next to the quarry sites, both surviving in mutual harmony. Mines, properly managed, allow the environment to flourish and man to prosper. Techniques such as land reclamation make mine areas cultivable again. I stood there in midst of one of the loveliest park with big trees and blooming flowers – can you believe it just a few years back it was a coal pit?

Open pit mining gives us better yield. (Almost 90% versus 20% for deep shaft). There is hardly any loss of human lives (we only have to look at the Chinese mine disasters to see otherwise). And most of all it creates employment and wealth. So what does anyone have to complain about?

Okay let’s see. Do the communist politicians have anything against the fact that open pit mining will make the Chinese Baropukuria mines look unsafe? Do they actually subscribe to an isolationist foreign policy? Are they just ignorant? Or do they just don’t want Bangladesh to progress? Some questions we need to ask folks. And we need to stop paying heed to the raving of lunatics!

Awami League is wrong in supporting tomorrow’s hartal. It keeps bringing out am image my friend Talat keeps reminding me about. In the mid-90s Bangladesh termed as a “tiger” economy was holding a roadshow for investors in Dhaka. Awami League President sat outside the Sonargoan with a placard that shouted, “Don’t invest in Bangladesh”. Forget the populist banter of the past. Business and the profit motive alone will get us out of the runt we are in. Business is no longer the enemy – they are a vital part of the solution to our problem.

Mrs Leader of the Opposition, we don’t believe that the current government will be able lead us out of the mess we are in. But then you are not doing anything to show your leadership, your vision! Please do not take the nation backwards. And certainly do not listen to some misguided egoists who have no clue about economy, politics, environment or development.

Monday, August 28, 2006

No more a BNP supporter

For those of you who don't read the New Age {you must, it is a great paper} below is a letter to the editor published in today's edition. I think for many long term "BNP supporters" this sentiment holds. Unfotunately BNP is failing to realise the erosion of its support base. Specially so amongst a group that they should have made strides in the 18-35 year olds!

On the other hand I don't think AL has been able to attract this base either. And hence the outcome of the next election remains very difficult to predict.

No more a BNP supporter

Today the BNP lost one of its biggest supporters and apologists — ME. While I understand that my one vote probably may not count for much in the upcoming elections, but we supposedly live in a democratic country, and it is my right and privilege as a concerned Bangladeshi citizen to openly criticise what I feel to be just plain wrong in the ruling party’s decision.
For the past 13 years, I have lived in the United States, and watched the political playing field in my country from afar, but in my heart and in my mind, I have always kept its interests and image at the top. Today, I feel a sense of trepidation, coupled with anger towards BNP’s shenanigans. The main trigger event for this has been the move to include former president Ershad into the BNP-led alliance for the upcoming elections. One of the main reasons that in the past I have refrained from supporting the Awami League has been because I always felt to some extent an element of hypocrisy in the AL’s actions. With this decision by BNP, they have now proven what many other people have always said, but I always refused to agree with, that they’re no different. After spending almost nine years from 1982 to 1991 trying to bring down the Ershad government, on charges of corruption, and ineptitude, it does not befit the BNP to ally itself with Ershad. If that is what it takes for BNP to win in the elections, it is just plain wrong. And now, with some of the senior members of BNP complaining, they’re going to remove those members from the party. What kind of democracy is that, where you are forced to comply with every decision of your party, fall in line or be forced out? How is this different from President Bush’s ‘you’re either with us or against us’ statement?
While the BNP joined forces with Jamaat and other religious fundamentalists, and then slowly made every concession to their junior partners in the past five years, slowly but surely eroding our standing as a secular nation, I kept quiet, and even made apologises for them in my discussions with others. When everyone around me questioned the ethics of the party, and branded it as being corrupt at the very top, I made apologies for them. When people accused BNP of protecting and giving shelter to its miscreants and other anti-social elements, while beating and rounding up those of other parties, I sat back and watched. But I cannot any longer. To those of you who care about this party, and care about the country, I say to you, it is time we stopped making excuses for its misdeeds and inaction. I can no longer accept the paradigm that ‘you have to do what you have to to ensure victory, if we do not take these actions, the opposition will’.
Today, you have lost my vote and my support, BNP.
Asif Shah Mohammed
Vanderbilt University

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Difficult days for the Optimist

Sumit made a very pertinant point {see comments of My Love Affair With Dr Yunus} when he wrote :"This is the observation of an optimist :-) I wonder what a pessimist might have to say!"

I thought the above cartoon encapsulated the dilema of an optimist in Bangladesh. (I think the guy on the right even looks like me!)

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Blogging Head

As you might have heard that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has joined the blogging community. His blog is available at http://www.ahmadinejad.ir/.

Give it a look and see. (Somehow it is not compatible on my Mac so I'll see if I can find a PC to look at it from!) Comments soon...

Food for thought: getting our leaders to start a blog. Or atleast get BNP /AL to update their webpages regularly. Maybe we should start one for them called DuiBettiAkBedda.com

Saturday, August 12, 2006

My Love Affair With Dr. Yunus

Nope, no Brokeback Mountain here!

As many who have read a lot of my writings have pointed out, I seem to be making it a habit of attacking Doc Yunus! What has the good Professor done that has irked me? Nothing much! And precisely that is what bugs me.

You see I have very very low expectations from our political leaders. But Dr Yunus I look up to. And I believe so does a lot of us Bangladeshis. Yes he might have done far more than any for my nation. Unfortunately for him that means he has a bigger burden to carry! A lot more responsibility on his shoulders. He does not have the luxury of getting a much-deserved rest after the superb work he has done. He needs to do more. He (and other like him) needs to be more assertive. They need to take charge and provide leadership. It is simply not good enough to suggest remedy. You need to follow it through. Otherwise the job is half done.

When those who you rely on the most, fail to live up to expectations, the hurt is more.

Friday, August 11, 2006

The UnCivil Society

I am sure a lot of you are following BoI Chairman Mahamudur Rahman’s rant against the CPD and some of their trustees. I agree with the popular stance that Mr. Rahman has lost some of his marbles! (Oh if there is an arrest warrant against me, please start a donation drive to pay Rokkunuddin’s fees!)

But as the saying goes “where there is smoke…”. Okay now before you start your barrage against me; let me put a few riders in. I am not questioning CPD’s interpretation of Bangladesh’s economic or social indicators (that I save for another day!). Neither am I saying the self-confessed salesman is an economist guru! (His recent outburst has dropped him quite a few notches in my respect towards him) What I want to shout out is what gives our “civil society” the right to tell me how to lead my life!

A day hardly goes by without the newspaper being full of some “think tank” or the other, some member of the “susil shomaj” commenting on things that define my life –be it the economy, the society, health or wealth. And don’t even get me started with the diplomatic circle who has forgotten the basic tenants of their trade! And somehow we are all hunky dory with this.

Now of course there is nothing wrong with people expressing what is their point of view, but I have this distinct feeling that if I don’t agree with them then I am not intelligent enough or even worse patriotic enough. Democracy is not that! We are so busy shouting that we are not listening. We have lost our basic civility!

Coming back to CPD and its ilk. Some how I cannot recollect something positive out of them recently. Of course the politics doesn’t work, nor does the economy! But what are they doing about it? Put your backside where your mouth is. Do something about it! And seminars in 5 star hotel don’t count. Foreign donors it seems has so much money to put in for talks and business class tickets that no solution will ever be found! Talking about what is wrong is the biggest business going.

Dr Yunus (another trustee) took a stand recently stating that we need “clean candidates” but how did he follow up? Are you running for elections dear Dr? Why not? Neither of the two political parties have our support. So whom do we vote for? Why don’t you have the balls to live up to your words? Being a tease isn’t right.

Maybe it is a good that they don’t get involved. Do we really want to hand over our economy to someone who single-handedly ruined it in the 70s through a program of nationalisation? Or to a finance minister who stood silently by while General Ershad plundered our coffers? Maybe communist economics has the key to our future!

I am no better. Like all of them, I sit in my Gulshan home taking my frustrations on the keyboard of my PowerMac. What have I done to change my reality? What have anyone of us done? Ask yourself. In the heart of our hearts we know we failed to live up to JFK’s famous statement “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

I don’t know Mahmudur Rahman personally. But I think he gives us some hope. To me he encapsulates the desire to turn to good the bad we have. “Make Lemonade with the Lemon the world gives you” said Charlie Brown (or some other cartoon character!) Our so called intelligentsia will never do for the country’s image what the this salesman is trying.

Dear Friends I don’t know the answers to our problems. But is it good enough to just sit back and criticise everything? Yes the Government isn’t working. But we have gotten the government we deserve. If you don’t like what you see do something to change it. Unfortunately I am scared that because it is easier to critic rather than do we will always be busy talking and wallowing in the lost potential of Bangladesh. I am terrified that I too don’t have what it takes to take a stand. Maybe I should apply for a CPD membership.

Isn’t it time we became truly civil?

I am a lying liar!

If you have read my last post – which was in April!! “I am back”, I declared and that too in bold capital. And then like an election manifesto failed to live up to the promise made!

Often I asked myself why haven’t written. (A few of you have asked me the same!) Is it that I had nothing to talk about? No, that’s not correct. There are so many things to talk about – Lebanon; Bombs in the Mumbai Train; FDI in Bangladesh; Poppy’s New Movie [Ranikutir Baki Itehash]; Fire in the Garments Factories; Oli Ahmed Doing Something at last; the list goes on. Maybe I had so much to talk about that no words came out. Sometimes we shout silently! I think I did that the last few months.

But now I can’t keep it in any longer. It has to come out again.

Inshallah I AM BACK!!