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Modi likely to sign 20 agreements during Bangladesh visit

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Agartala/Guwahati: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s two-day visit to Dhaka from Saturday is likely to see the signing of 20 agreements besides talks with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on boosting trade, connectivity and anti-terrorism measures.

Chief ministers of several northeastern states, though they are not accompanying Modi, have requested him to raise the issues of infiltration, border trade and connectivity with Bangladesh.

According to a top Bangladesh government official in Agartala, Modi’s 36-hour stay in Dhaka is likely to see both sides ink as many as 20 agreements.

“Modi’s predecessor Manmohan Singh could not sign the Teesta treaty due to opposition from West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. The Teesta water sharing pact will cast a shadow during Modi’s tour,” Tapas Dey, a known expert on Bangladeshi affairs, told IANS

Dey, who visited Bangladesh this week, told IANS: “Though Teesta has been a most fundamental issue for decades, this time both the Awami League government and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) have agreed that the issue has some internal implications in Indian politics.”

BNP chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia, who refused to pay a courtesy call on Indian President Pranab Mukherjee in Dhaka in March 2013, is likely to call on Modi.

“This time the BNP has been very positive towards the visit of the Indian prime minister. Modi might meet Khaleda Zia on June 7 on the latter’s request,” Dey said.

Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar, who along with other northeastern chief ministers accompanied Manmohan Singh on his Bangladesh visit in September 2011, said Modi’s trip would strengthen bilateral ties.

“The visit is expected to immensely benefit the northeastern states,” Sarkar told IANS. He said it was after Tripura’s pushing that New Delhi agreed to supply 100 MW electricity from a state power plant to power-starved Bangladesh.

Sarkar, a popular face in Bangladesh, said that Dhaka helped “a lot” to tame decades of terrorism in Tripura. He said some camps of northeastern militants still existed in Bangladesh.

Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has urged Modi to take up issues concerning his state with Hasina.

“Modi should take up the matter of boosting water and surface communication between Assam and Bangladesh and introducing rail links to enhance trade and commercial ties. He must also raise the issue of cross-border infiltration,” Gogoi said in a statement.

Meghalaya Chief Minister Mukul Sangma wants more ‘border haats’ (markets) along the India-Bangladesh border.

“Modi can discuss with Hasina about a strategy to develop road connectivity between northeast India and Bangladesh and to use Chittagong port for exports,” Sangma told IANS over telephone.

On June 7, Modi and Hasina would, over video conferencing, jointly inaugurate a ‘border haat’ at Kamalasagar in western Tripura’s Sipahijala district, which borders Brahmanbaria district of Bangladesh.

The ‘border haat’ will be the second in Tripura and the fourth on the India-Bangladesh border. The Indian commerce ministry is footing the cost of the border haats to boost trade in local produce.

Modi and Hasina are to flag off two bus services: between Agartala and Kolkata via Bangladesh as well as between Dhaka and Guwahati via Meghalaya capital Shillong and Bangladeshi city Sylhet.

The trial runs have already been conducted.

Both sides are likely to ink an agreement on coastal shipping and effective use of water ways, on tackling human trafficking, besides operationalizing the historic land (enclaves) swap agreement.

“Setting up Special Economic Zones in Bangladesh by India is likely to be discussed,” a Bangladesh official told IANS on the condition of anonymity.

Noted economist Sekhar Paul told IANS: “Economic cooperation between India and Bangladesh must go hand in hand with strong political support.”

Modi met Hasina on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York in September and at the 18th SAARC Summit in Kathmandu in November.

India shares a 4,096-km border, including 1,116-km riverine one, with Bangladesh, the longest border India has with any of its neighbours.

Besides West Bengal (2,216 km), the four northeastern states of Tripura (856 km), Meghalaya (443 km), Mizoram (318 km) and Assam (263 km) together share 1,880 km of border with Bangladesh. (IANS)

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Rahul Gandhi Points at PM Modi to Vacate the Seat over Gas price Hike

Rahul Gandhi's twitter attack on PM Modi: Vacant your seat over the gas price hike.

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Rahul Gandhi's verbal attack on PM Modi
Rahul Gandhi's verbal attack on PM Modi wikimedia commons

NEW DELHI: Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi on Sunday attacked the Narendra Modi-led central government after the prices of cooking gas was again hiked, asking him to “vacate the ‘Sinhasan’ (post of the Prime Minister)”.

“Mehangi gas, mehanga rashan. Band karo khokala bhashan. Dam bandho kam do. Warna khali karo sinhasan (Expensive gas, expensive ration. Stop making hollow promises. Fix the rates and give employment or else vacate the post),” Rahul Gandhi tweeted attaching a news report of the hike.

Gandhi was referring to the price hike announced by the state-run oil firms on Wednesday.

The prices of the LPG cylinder’s went up by Rs 4.50, while the non-subsidised rates were hiked by a steeper Rs 93 per cylinder.(IANS)

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India will soon ask Malaysia to extradite Preacher Zakir Naik

India will soon approach Malaysia with a request to extradite hardline Islamic preacher Zakir Naik.

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India will Request Malayasia to extradite Zakir Naik
India will Request Malayasia to extradite Zakir Naik. wikimedia commons
  • India will seek the Malaysian government’s help in extraditing televangelist Zakir Naik who faces charges of money laundering and inciting hatred through his sermons broadcast on Peace TV, the foreign ministry said Friday.

Zakir Naik obtained permanent residency in Malaysia 

Officials will approach their Malaysian counterparts with the extradition request sometime within the next two weeks, Indian foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar told a weekly news briefing in New Delhi.

“Any formal request seeking the assistance of a foreign government in cases of extradition requires a completion of the internal legal process involving consultation with other ministries involved in the case,” Kumar said.

“At this stage, we are nearing the completion of this process and as soon as this process is complete we will be making an official request to the Malaysian government in this matter,” Kumar said. “It could be a couple of days or a couple of weeks. But it would be soon and the nature of our request would also be clear.”

Naik fled India a month before terrorist carried out a massacre at a café in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in July 2016. This week, Malaysia’s deputy prime minister said the Islamic preacher legally obtained permanent residency in the country, and that Malaysian authorities would arrest him only if he broke local laws or was found to be involved in terrorist activities.

Naik’s speeches allegedly inspired some of the militants who carried out the siege at the Holey Artisan Bakery café in Dhaka, where 29 people, including 20 hostages and five gunmen, were killed.

In November 2016, the Indian government banned Naik’s Mumbai-based NGO Islamic Research Foundation, which partly funded the Peace TV channel that is banned in India, Bangladesh and several other countries.

Kumar said because the Indian government had knowledge of Naik’s whereabouts, the legal procedures would be tailored to requirements between the two countries in their extradition treaty.

Advocate challenges charges

“Naik is being hounded because he hails from a minority community. The charges that the investigating agencies are trying to frame are all stale and are hardly incriminating,” advocate S. Hariharan told BenarNews in a phone interview from Delhi.

“The charges lack veracity and would not stand scrutiny in the court of law. We will be challenging the extradition and deportation.”

Last week, the Indian government filed a 61-page charge sheet against Naik alleging he was involved in a criminal conspiracy by lauding terrorist organizations. In April, a non-bailable warrant was issued against him in an alleged case of money laundering through his NGO and a shell company.

In Malaysia meanwhile, the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) has urged the government to ignore any request from India to extradite Zakir Naik, Reuters reported.

“For Muslim individuals, even when they won by using arguments and not weapons, like Dr. Zakir Naik, they are considered terrorists because their arguments cannot be countered,” PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang wrote last week in an opinion piece published in Harakah Daily.(BenarNews)

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‘In Absence of free thinking and Freedom of Expression, even Dreaming is a Battle’ : Forced to hide and flee the Country, the Sorry State of Secular Bangladeshi Writers and Bloggers

A report published in May by Amnesty International, the global human rights watchdog, slammed Bangladesh’s government for allegedly failing to protect secular writers against threats and stifling free speech

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Blogger Avijit Roy (left), poses with Ranadipam Basu outside the stall of the Shuddhashar publishing house at the Ekushey Book Fair, in Dhaka in February 2012. Roy was hacked to death by Muslim extremists three years later. Benar News

Washington, October 29, 2017 : Fear still stalks Bangladesh’s secular writers, even though 18 months have passed since the last in a series of brutal killings of activists and intellectuals by religious zealots in that country.

For two of these writers, one who fled aboard and another who chose to stay behind, the killings and an increasingly hostile atmosphere toward non-religious viewpoints forced them to change their lives, as they told BenarNews in interviews.

Writer Sobak Pakhi is hiding out in another South Asian country but he’s too afraid to reveal its name to the public, while colleague Ranadipam Basu is keeping a low profile back home.

“Free thinking and freedom of expression are practically gone now. … I don’t see any immediate hope … even dreaming is a battle now,” Ranadipam told BenarNews in response to a series of email questions.

Both men say they don’t feel entirely safe in their homeland because of a recent spate of murders by Muslim extremists who targeted secularist Bangladeshi intellectuals like them for questioning God’s existence, or using the written word to challenge the emerging influence of religious fundamentalists.

Pakhi is an editor of Mukto-Mona (Free Mind), a leading blog for free thinkers, rationalists, skeptics, atheists and humanists in Bangladesh, which he fled over what he described as the government’s support for those who kill secular bloggers and writers.

“Once they get the chance, they will attack me and then my case will also be considered as an ‘isolated incident’ in a country of 160 million people,” Pakhi told Benar.

“I won’t go back to the country in the future.”

Basu, an author of short stories, poems, essays and children’s books, tried to leave but said he came to see his fate as wed to staying on in Bangladesh. Yet he’s keeping a low profile because he worries about his family’s safety in light of the attacks in the recent past, he said.

Since February 2013, when secular activist and blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider was killed by extremists near his home in Dhaka, at least 10 writers, bloggers, publishers, activists and intellectuals have been slain in machete attacks by Muslim militants. All of the other attacks occurred in a spate that began in February 2015. The last one was the slaying of activist-law student Nazimuddin Samad in April 2016.

‘A lifetime target’

Although their country’s constitution declares Bangladesh a secular nation, both Sobak and Ranadipam voiced concern over what they described as the growing influence of the government’s acceptance of conservative Islamic organizations. They cited the relationship between Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League party with an influential hardline Muslim group, Hefazat-e-Islam.

Pakhi, a graphic designer skilled at video editing, wrote articles about how he grew to doubt religion and became an atheist. In 2008, he saw Bangladesh as a tolerant country.

But as the years went by, he kept writing while facing death threats. He wrote about what he said was disrespect shown to women by religions; the promotion of killings and wars in religions; the use of religious rhetoric to create unstable situations; and the limitations of God and religion.

ALSO READ Bangladesh Saw ‘Significant’ Rise in Terrorism Last Year: US State Department

Threats grew as groups pressured authorities to remove his blog posts. “You do not understand now, but will regret later,” one threat stated.

Pakhi then turned to writing fiction.

“I wrote some short stories, satire and poems about the limitations of the concept of God. I started writing against fanaticism, the backwardness of religion, bigoted matters of mobs and extremism on ‘Facebook,’” he said.

When asked about government action against militants, Pakhi said the nation began targeting them long before the recent attacks on bloggers. He said the first crackdown occurred in 1989, adding that after a series of arrests, the government denied the existence of militant groups and secretly released those in custody for political expedience.

“The militancy issue in Bangladesh might go out of sight again, but my risk will not be neutralized because I am a lifetime target for them,” Pakhi said.

In his view, politics pushed Prime Minister Hasina to maintain a relationship with Hefazat-e-Islam, a fundamentalist group that has called for public executions and posted his picture on a banner. Hasina’s relationship with the group weakens opposition party Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), helping to strengthen her Awami League’s control of government.

“If a few atheist bloggers die or leave the country as a consequence of relationship between the government and Hefazat, it doesn’t really matter to Sheikh Hasina, because the deaths of a few atheists do not create any pressure on the government in a 90 percent Muslim-dominated country,” he said.

A couple of months before fleeing Bangladesh in 2015, Pakhi told an interviewer he had no plans to leave his homeland, adding that militants should be the ones to go. At the time, however, some Bangladesh police officers suggested that he exit the country.

“Whatever the government is saying about providing security to bloggers, those are lies, because after my departure, two bloggers and more than 10 progressive people were killed by militants,” Pakhi said. “I haven’t seen any positive effort from the government to stop those.”

He remains concerned about threats in his new country, but continues to write and refuses to censor himself.

“Several times I have thought about reducing the volume of my writing, but then I asked, why? Basically, keeping silent is frustrating and shameful. I shouldn’t do that. My writing will not be stopped,” Pakhi said.

Threats to free speech

A report published in May by Amnesty International, the global human rights watchdog, slammed Bangladesh’s government for allegedly failing to protect secular writers against threats and stifling free speech.

Amnesty cited a widely reported statement by Hasina that followed the August 2015 killing of secular blogger Niladri Chottopaddhya, who was known by the pen name Niloy Neel.

ALSO READ Meet Tuhin Das from Bangladesh: Poet, Activist and Writer in Exile

“No one in this country has the right to speak in a way that hurts religious sentiment. You won’t practice religion – no problem. But you can’t attack someone else’s religion,” Hasina said at the time. “It won’t be tolerated if someone else’s religious sentiment is hurt.”

Government officials rejected the Amnesty report, claiming it contained recycled information.

“The report is not a reflection of the latest situation in Bangladesh. We cannot accept this,” Civil Aviation Minister Rashed Khan Menon told BenarNews at the time.

Apart from secular writers, journalists in the country have also complained about what they say is a hostile environment for a free press, in which reporters and editors are vulnerable to threats.

On Thursday, the family of a missing Bangladeshi journalist, Utpal Das, held a news conference to plead to the government to help them find him. The reporter for the online news portal Purboposchchim BD News was last seen on Oct. 10, his family said.

The website he works for was one of several local and foreign news outlets that picked up a report on Sept. 23 alleging that the government had foiled a plot to assassinate Sheikh Hasina on Aug. 24. A day after the article came out, government officials issued a statement criticizing the report as fake news.

Survived attack

Basu, the writer who stayed in Bangladesh, survived one of two attacks on publishing houses in October 2015 that killed publisher Faisal Arefin Dipan.

“I can’t remember even a single thing about the attack,” Basu said, adding, “I don’t see any immediate hope coming out of this situation.

“I don’t go out unless it is essential, but whenever I go out, I can’t behave normally and naturally, I get panicked when I see any unknown faces, start fearing that they may attack me,” he said. “Maybe I have lost my trust of other human beings.”

At the same time, earning a living is tough, he said, because publishers don’t want to face the risk of publishing any book he writes.

“I haven’t stopped writing, but I don’t have any platform to publish. I can’t take the risk of publishing through online platforms, as I live in Bangladesh.”

Even though the government has cracked down on militant dens throughout Bangladesh, killing dozens of suspects since a terrorist attack at a Dhaka café last year, Basu said he did not see hope for those like him who remain in the country.

“Secular thinkers are really at a panic to express their opinions. On one side, there are threats and attacks from religious fundamentalists, and on the other side, intolerance and actions from the government to stop free thinking through blasphemy-type laws,” he told BenarNews.

Basu was skeptical that the killers of secular blogger Avijit Roy (pictured) and other non-religious thinkers would be brought to justice any time soon. Roy, a Bangladeshi-born U.S. citizen and author of several books challenging religious beliefs, was hacked to death as he and his wife were leaving the Ekushey book festival, the country’s most prestigious literary event, in February 2015.

“Those attacks were not sudden, emotional actions. There was a long-term destructive plan behind those – a plan to stop secular writers from one side and to create a panic among publishers to not to publish any secular works,” he said.

“A long time has passed, but any practical results of police actions are not visible yet. Therefore, writers and publishers are panicked and as a result, expression of free thinking has been completely stopped, Basu said, adding, “Why those suspected were not arrested or why a trial is not moving, I think only policy makers can answer those questions properly.”

Meanwhile, Basu frets about the security of his family, especially his school-age son.

“Some of my friends, even the media got the wrong impression that I have left the country like many others. I did not correct their misconception over security concerns,” he said. “That’s why I do not appear before media anymore and I can’t imagine revealing my whereabouts by seeking help from police in this unsecured land.” (Benar News)