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Sheikh Hasina lauds land boundary agreement with India at UNGA

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NewsGram Staff Writer

United Nations:  Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina proclaimed that the India-Bangladesh agreement on enclaves has set an example for the world in solving bilateral problems.

Speaking on Wednesday at the United Nations General Assembly, Hasina said the implementation of the land-boundary agreement “brought to a peaceful end the lingering humanitarian situation” of 50,000 stateless residents in 162 enclaves.

“By doing so jointly with India, we have a unique precedent for the world,” she said.

Hasina listed terrorism along with climate changes as the twin greatest threats to the sustainability of human civilisation. She recalled her personal experiences saying that she had been the target of 19 terror attacks and her father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and her mother had been killed by extremists.

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“My government, therefore, maintains a ‘zero tolerance’ policy to all forms of terrorism, violent extremism and radicalisation,” she said.

“We are steadfast in tackling the extremists and the anti-liberation forces who remain active in destroying the democratic, progressive and secular ethos of our nation.”

Hasina also reiterated her determination to punish war criminals – an issue to which some Western nations have been lukewarm. In the spirit of upholding peace and the rule of law and ending the culture of impunity, Hasina said, “We are pursuing the culprits of war crimes, crimes against humanity, rape and genocide committed during our 1971 Liberation War.”

(With inputs from IANS)

 

 

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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)

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India Gives $4.5-Billion line of credit to Bangladesh for development projects, Signs first-ever pact on Defense cooperation

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced an additional $500 million in credit for Bangladesh to buy military equipment from India during the visit to New Delhi by Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi shakes hand with his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina at the Presidential Palace in New Delhi, India, Saturday, April 8, 2017, VOA

New Delhi, April 8, 2017: India and Bangladesh signaled deepening ties Saturday as New Delhi committed a $4.5-billion line of credit to Dhaka for development projects, and the two countries signed their first-ever pact on defense cooperation.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced an additional $500 million in credit for Bangladesh to buy military equipment from India during the visit to New Delhi by Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Calling India a “long standing and trusted development partner,” Modi said that the new credit lines “bring our resources allocation to Bangladesh to more than $8 billion over the past six years.”

Both leaders reaffirmed their close ties during the Bangladeshi prime minister’s first visit to India in seven years, with Modi speaking of a “golden era” in their friendship and Hasina saying their friendly ties would benefit South Asia.

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The two countries signed 22 agreements, including one on civil nuclear cooperation that aims to help Bangladesh develop its civilian nuclear program.

Many in New Delhi see the deal for defense cooperation over the next five years as the key breakthrough that will help reduce Bangladesh’s reliance on China for its military needs.

Worried by the growing Chinese influence in its neighborhood, New Delhi has made a concerted push in recent years to grow strategic ties with neighboring countries. Bangladesh’s purchase of two submarines from China last year deepened those concerns in India.

Calling the defense pact a feather in India’s cap, Sukh Deo Muni, a South Asia expert at New Delhi’s Institute of Defense Studies and Analyses, said,“India does not want China to consolidate defense ties just next to its belly, that is true.”

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Although the political opposition in Bangladesh has denounced the pact, independent analysts in Dhaka was optimistic that it will help achieve balance.

“Approximately 80 percent dependency at this moment you see on China, so it should be brought down. That actually reduces our vulnerability,” said Abdur Rashid, Executive Director of the Institute of Conflict, Law and Development Studies in Dhaka. “If one is interrupted we can depend on the other.”

A new rail link between the Indian city of Kolkata and Khulna in Bangladesh, and a bus link between Kolkata and Dhaka also were inaugurated, while another old rail link was restored to coincide with Hasina’s visit. The Bangladeshi leader said the greater connectivity is vital for the region’s development.

A key water-sharing agreement that Dhaka has long pushed for, however, eluded Hasina.

Although New Delhi favors such an arrangement, opposition from West Bengal state in India, through which the Teesta River flows into Bangladesh, has prevented the two countries from clinching a deal.

As Modi assured her of his commitment to conclude a deal, the Bangladeshi leader sounded a note of optimism. “I believe we shall be able to get India’s support in resolving these issues expeditiously,” said Hasina.

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The two countries have had a close relationship since 1971, when India helped Bangladesh gain independence from Pakistan following a bloody nine-month war. (VOA)

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How Modi won over Bangladesh

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New Delhi: With India backing the hanging of war criminals by the Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League government, there has been a paradigm shift in the mindset of the Bangladeshi people.

However, the change was obvious. It was Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his expert team of foreign ministry diplomats who worked relentlessly to improve India’s image in the subcontinent.

Progress on outstanding bilateral issues got hindered by bureaucratic inertia and lack of political will on India’s part. Bangladesh has repeatedly sought an Indian response to its demand for the removal of tariff and non-tariff barriers on Bangladeshi products. Little diplomatic steps were taken on the Land Boundary agreement and on a water-sharing agreement for the Teesta river.

Under the last Manmohan Singh-led regime, India failed to meaningfully reciprocate Bangladesh PM Hasina’s overtures. Meanwhile, the India-Bangladesh cordiality under Hasina faced flak from the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) which has never failed to lambaste the government for perceived subservience to India.

A $1 billion loan deal with the Hasina government, the largest line of credit received by Bangladesh under a single agreement was not enough to win the hearts of the Bangladeshis, who claimed that India’s one-sided withdrawal of Teesta water would turn their country into a desert.

Modi’s success in marshalling the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) in Parliament has undoubtedly settled a 41-year-old border dispute with Bangladesh which facilitated the exchange of enclaves between the two countries.

Modi’s dynamic foreign diplomacy has embalmed the Bangladeshis who were duly upset with the slow pace in the implementation of these agreements.

Notably, both sides signed a number of deals including enhancing connectivity to ensure greater people-to-people contact during Modi’s visit earlier this year. Modi and his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina flagged off the bus service between Kolkata and Agartala via Dhaka and the Dhaka-Shillong-Guwahati bus service.

The two countries also inked a coastal shipping agreement to facilitate sailing of small vessels from India to various ports in Bangladesh which now go via Singapore. India will also push for the involvement of Indian companies in setting up of ports in that country.

The issue of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) Motor Vehicle Agreement also featured in the Modi-Hasina dialogue. The agreement, sans Pakistan, is likely to be inked soon.

India feels improving connectivity with Bangladesh will help in linking the North Eastern region with Southeast Asia. And with the positive approach from Bangladesh, the issue will see the light of the day very soon.

(Picture Courtesy: www.dailyamin.com)