Problems in Bangladesh and the Global Pattern

By Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
March 7, 2004

“Fresh ideas”, freethinking concepts are not from out of this universe. From the ages immemorial, liberty and freedom have been thwarted back, whatever progresses have been made are resisted, repeatedly, around the globe, by orthodoxy and even by the so-called “secularists” who would not relinquish or share their power in greater extent for the betterment of the whole.

The strife in Bangladesh is perhaps not a local phenomenon. Bangladesh is part of our world. If you look closely, remarkable pattern emerges from various nations’ on going problems, which is strikingly similar to Bangladeshi problems, oppositions’ allegations of government censorship, etc. Here is one example from Russia that I find familiar in Bangladeshi context:

“What democracy? The ordinary Russians may mumble while huddling around a heating furnace, or standing in a line for baked bread, but albeit in lower tone. Vladimir Putin’s Government has stranglehold on virtually all Russian news media, newspapers, television and radio. The editors, program producers, journalists are being threatened with legal actions unless they implement self-imposed censorship. There are allegations that, whoever crosses the line in criticizing Putin’s increasingly autocratic rule, may be in danger of losing their dear life or livelihood.” [Source: ]

Bangladesh probably has better freedom of press, at least from the autocratic Russia, but according to various international and our national organizations, our nation is one of the most dangerous nations for the journalists and freethinkers. Without establishing the fundamental of any democracy, the freedom of expression of the people, where journalists, writers and others can express their views, however radical they seem to be, our progress would be limited.

The on going oppressions of Palestinians by the Israelis while the world feels helpless to watch, is a reminder of our collective failure, our global leaders’ inability in putting aside partisan visions for the oppressed Palestinians. These can be translated into other local, small to large-scale conflicts related to minority oppressions around the globe, but not being reported by the big media in appreciable quantity. Here is an excerpt from one of my articles published in the Palestinian Chronicle recently:

“Behind the security and threat pronouncements, there are other motives that Israel does not want the world to know. It is about its unyielding control over the vital water resources, fragmenting the Palestinian communities, forcing hundreds of thousands of Palestinian men, women and children living in small enclaves that the wall is purported to achieve. And its eventual design is creating more wretched circumstance for the millions of Palestinians, entrapped by this wall’s conniving zigzag pattern, incising deep into the occupied lands, so that, in years to come, Palestinians are forced to accept their inevitable fate, their complete eviction from their ancestral homes for the purpose of a greater Israel. [Source: ]

I would propose that it is our overall global inability in addressing the questions of increasingly widening gap between the rich and the poor, have and have not, is one of the fundamental issues that we have bungled, which are causing resentments, and these resentments are being manipulated by the exploiters, once again, for creating more tensions among the ethnic groups, political parties, even between the nations.

Here is a quote from one of my earlier articles “Understanding Terrorism and Freedom”:

“The following lines of Mr. Wade Davis presents the above idea in further accessible language, “The voices of the poor, who deal each moment with the consequences of environmental degradation, political corruption, overpopulation, the gross distortion in the distribution of wealth and the consumption of resources, who share few of the material benefits of modernity, will no longer be silent. True peace and security for the 21st century will only come about when we find a way to address the underlying issues of disparity, dislocation and dispossession that have provoked the madness of our age. We desperately need a global acknowledgement of the fact that no people and no nation can truly prosper unless the bounty of our collective ingenuity and opportunities are available and accessible to all.”” [Source: ] I would recommend you to read the article in full.

For the case of Bangladesh, what we must do are the following:

1. Land Reform: It was proposed way back in 1950s, and promised by many past leaders, but never been materialized effectively. We have gross inequity where only a few possess vast amount of lands, whereas the majority don’t possess anything. That creates anger, which transmutes to violence in many forms.

2. Strict and effective Population Control: Though we have progressed on this critical issue, we must enforce this, urgently, if Bangladesh wishes to retain any viability as a successful nation-state in the global arena in the foreseeable future.

3. Undertaking projects in dredging rivers that would lessen our yearly misery from floods: Every year millions and millions of dollar amount of properties are ruined from recurring devastating flood, scores of innocent people die, animals and livestock perish. Yes, there are unsolved issues with the neighboring nations, mostly India and Nepal, that need to be resolved regarding the water sharing issue, but there are the acute needs for undertaking effective engineering projects that could alleviate flood problem to a great degree if our rivers and other smaller tributaries are excavated, soil erosions are checked in the river banks and other vital issues that the folks who reside in the villages around the river knowsthe best.

4. Developing Oil and Gas sector with non-partisan vision: The demands for oil and gas will not be infinite. There are upcoming new technologies; new fuel will be coming to the market soon. We need to get the best outcome, after fulfilling our domestic needs, but at the same time, benefiting economically by selling our oil and gas in regional or international basis, so that the profits can be invested stabilizing the free market with developing new industries or maintaining the old ones, with the prudent government monitoring role.

5. Getting a long-term solution for Arsenic Crisis in Bangladesh: Quoting from my article published earlier last year: “The World Health Organization (WHO) calls it the “biggest mass poisoning of a population in history”. There are millions of Bangladeshis exposed to poisonous arsenic from drinking water. Even rice and other crops irrigated with toxic water are in question. The rise of cancer, ulcers, gangrene, and painful warts are reported from various corners of Bangladesh those are directly linked to arsenic poisoning. WHO says that within the next decade one-tenth of all deaths in southern Bangladesh will be due to this arsenic crisis. That is about 20,000 deaths per year……The major obstacle is to developing and marketing the water purification equipments that can be affordable for all Bangladeshis. “ [Source: ]

6. Establishing a non-partisan judicial system that can oversees any breech of conducts, even by the highly influential political leaders, without bias, and without being put under unlawful pressures for the favorable verdicts.

7. A well-paid and efficient police force: This can be achieved if the political parties, especially, the government does not influence on police investigations, does not prevent police from apprehending thugs and goons who are under government or other powerful entity’s protections.

8. Keeping our students, the next generations of our leaders, our engineers, doctors, our civil servants, from violent student politics. Here is a few excerpts from one of my earlier articles on this issue published in various places: Most of us are very much aware of the golden history of our heroic students’ self-sacrificing contribution in the past for their ceaseless pursuance of democratic goals or for their forthright protests against any oppression. 21st February 1952 shall always remain in our heart, the rousing inspiration the students of 1950s and 60s produced in then East Pakistan, is unforgettable. Similarly, the path toward our liberation war in 1971 was greatly supported by the student movements in those times of our national pride. Students played the vital role in Bangladesh’s post-liberation democratic struggle against the multiple military and autocratic regimes, which ultimately lead to the spontaneous overthrow of the last military dictatorship of Hussein Muhammad Ershad. Many known and unknown student politicians’ blood has paved the pathway toward our now almost a decade of successive democratically elected governments.

The arguments for and against banning the current form of student politics in Bangladesh both have their own merits. I agree that it’s not only the student politics that is to blame. The proponent for the student politics says that why condemn the victims rather than acting on the cause. Good arguments there. However, like all other criminal activities in every sector of our Bangladeshi society, the criminal acts are prohibited by the effective laws rather than trying to solve all the causes of socio-economic problems in one single session. If we say that we will keep this monstrous rogue form of student politics continue to make mayhems in academic and non-academic arena of Bangladesh until all the roots of the problems are decimated, that will be a serious mistake.

Student politics is indisputably linked with teacher politics. Many of our teachers, professors are completely biased in their political views. There is nothing wrong in supporting a particular political party or ideology. That’s what democracy is for. But it does become a serious problem when the mentors of the academic institutions, the respected professors completely ignore their professional oaths to uphold the neutrality in their dissemination of lights of learning for their innocent disciples.

For that matter when we are talking about this, the issue of appointing the lucrative posts of Vice Chancellors in various Universities must be non political. Each time a new government takes over, the old VC and important administrative staff in various academic institutions in Bangladesh are shown the red card, the pink slip or a long Salaam while they are escorted toward the exit door. The new favorites replace the old posts with the full backing of the ruling party to wage the propaganda war, to "fix" the ideologies "fabricated" by the opposing groups. Students learn from their teachers. And this is what our students are learning from each successive government, the full-blown partisanship that is supported by the unrestrained muscular thugs and drugs and guns habituated delinquents. [Source: messages/3801]

The following excerpt is taken from my article published in Alochona magazine in the August of 2001, just before the last Bangladeshi parliament election, the title of that article was, “Bangladeshi Politics, Steamy Carrots and Yummy Roshgollas”: “From their thickened spectacles hanging on the tip of their pointed and flattened noses, invisible party accountants are scrutinizing their account balances of money needed to keep happy their big happy family of rented mercenaries. The sacred directives have already been sent to local thugs with another list of names and addresses of opposition party activists and leaders, they must be eliminated before the final showdown. The execution of that sanctified plan has already begun with picturesque precision from both quarters. It’s like a big chess game. You take my pawns here, I’ll take your pawns there, and our queens and kings, rooks, bishops and knights of the game must be protected before the final face-off. On some rare occasions, major powers will also be sacrificed for the strategic gain. Unfortunately, in chess, one cannot switch its side in any standard game while it was being played. In Bangladeshi politics, the game has more dimensions and angles than a mere board game like chess can offer. Party switching and flip-flopping of ideas are the normal business of any sunny day. It’s all about getting into that earthly paradise of power, the medium and the ride isn’t important. Materializing the dreams of devouring country’s output of national GDP is." [Source: ]

The irony is, even if Bangladesh takes all the positive steps, still perhaps we won’t be able to solve core problem, reducing the widening gap between the rich and poor in Bangladesh. And the reason is that there are unfair trade issues in the global scale. Here are a few excerpts from another of my article: “The poorer nations lack the resources to compete with the richer nations. And the individuals in these poor nations are in further dejected form. Their government can’t provide them subsidies that the richer nations are able to provide to their farmers, their producers, and their manufacturers of various kinds…….it does not matter a great deal on how much progress the poor nations can make in creating viable investment climate, “if you find that the opportunities that are generated by them are hugely restricted” due to trade barriers imposed by the richer nations, all the good deeds of World Bank or other institutions and the sincere efforts of the poorer nations to get rid of poverty will never work. The aspirations of poorer nations to be independent, to elevate themselves in respectable contributing status in the world economy will always be frustrated by trade distortionary policies. And this is a central issue that the richer nations must look hard at if they wish to see an equitable world where poverty is reduced and the depressions and angers of the poor are replaced by hopefulness toward progress." Read the full article from the following source: Trade Protectionism and Poverty:

Free market is essential for economic development in Bangladesh, but it is not treating “free market” policy, even the unfair ones, as another form of sacred scripture, will achieve positive developments. Here is one excerpt from my review on Joseph Stiglitz’a book on Market Fundamentalism:

“Controversy over rapid privatisation: A notion prevalent among the mainstream economists of these days is that government is intrinsically inefficient in managing business or any large-scale profit-generating enterprises. According to them, private companies or corporations are more efficient, in the long run, managing any specific business. However, there are problems in IMF and World Bank’s “Market Fundamentalism” approach. These international financial institutions believe that privatisation should be achieved rapidly. So much so absorbed IMF and the World Bank in their orthodoxy perception of rapid privatisation in developing nations are that they maintain a scorecard system in which they evaluate on how fast a given nation is able to privatise their business infrastructure. The faster a nation is able to meet IMF/World Bank’s “conditions”, the higher score they are awarded in that all-important scorecard…..Developing nations’ share of poor people are many folds higher than the economic mighty United States; the underprivileged peoples’ enormous sufferings in developing nations can effortlessly be understood when rapid privatisation is enforced upon them without establishing any fair competition regulatory bodies whatsoever. The concept of privatisation itself is not a negative one; it does have beneficial effects on the market and the government. But Stiglitz argues that “privatization needs to be part of a more comprehensive program, which entails creating jobs in tandem with the inevitable job destruction that privatization often entails. Macroeconomic policies, including low interest rates, that help create jobs, have to be put in place.

Corruption in Government and the private sectors are pervasive in many Third World nations. With its long circuitry tentacles, corruption has invaded almost every social stratum in those of these nations, which are going through transition process toward privatisation. In the non-privatised nations, before their market liberalisation process began, government officials usually “either skim off the profits of government enterprises or award contracts and jobs to their friends.”

IMF/World Bank and other passionate proponents of rapid privatisation firmly believe that privatisation would eventually eradicate corruption after withstanding the short-term increase in corruption in the private sector. They believe that “once private rights were clearly defined, the new owners would ensure that the assets would be efficiently managed, thus the situation would improve in the long-term even if it was ugly in the short term.”

Stiglitz clearly disagrees with this conventional view held by many economists, and specially by IMF and the World Bank. He argues that” without the appropriate legal structure and market institutions, the new owners might have an incentive to strip assets rather than use them as a basis for expanding industry. As a result, in Russia, and many other countries, privatization failed to be as effective a force for growth as it might have been. Indeed, sometimes it was associated with decline and proved to be a powerful force for undermining confidence in democratic and market institutions.” [Source: ] “IMF claims that when a poor nation goes through economic downturn, it can ask its foreign investors “to make up for a shortfall in domestic funds.” Stiglitz is particularly harsh and sarcastic on this issue; he labels it as “laughable”. This claim of the IMF is clearly disproved in the aftermath of the global financial crisis that began in 1997. Stiglitz chuckles, “the IMF economists were supposed to be practical people, well versed in the ways of the world. Surely, they must have known that bankers prefer to lend to those who do not need their funds; surely they must have seen how it is when countries face difficulties, that foreign lenders pull their money out – exacerbating the economic downturn.” Premature capital market and trade liberalisation before establishing appropriate financial institutions increases instability that is awful for economic growth, and also, most significantly, “the costs of the instability are disproportionately borne by the poor.” [Source: Weekly Holiday, Link: ]

There are more to say, perhaps in other time, but the central theme should not be mistaken. Problems facing Bangladesh are not unique, with a notable exception like arsenic crisis and perhaps yearly flooding problems and a possible few others. Bangladesh is entrapped in the dynamic global process, may that be from unfair form of globalization, degrading human rights, minority oppressions, political instability, acute shortages of resources, etc., and all these problems cannot be solved with single silver bullet. Incremental steps need to be taken, and the very first step would be addressing the increasingly difficult to solve the have and have-not issue, impartial judicial process and establishing real democracy not the ones pampered by the plutocrats or oligarchs only. There is still time for building a better Bangladesh, and Bangladeshis should do all they can in achieving that long cherished dream, but in the same time we must recognize our limitations due to international issues, like unfair trades, water issues, human rights, and the global power struggle, these are all enmeshed in the same picture.


Mahbubul Karim (Sohel) is a freelance writer. His email address is: