SADF Bulletin N.º08 Friday, 31st May 2013 www.sadf.eu
© AP Photo/Gurinder Osan
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António Vieira da Cruz Editor of Think South Asia Policy Advisor of South Asia Democratic Forum
“We are between 2 rounds of parliamentary elections in Bhutan, being a special moment to analyse this fascinating country.”
It is now turn for us to look at Bhutan. Bhutan is a mountainous country comparable to the size of Switzerland, but with around 730 thousand inhabitants and landlocked between India and Tibet, which as we know is ruled by the Chinese. On the date of this edition we are between 2 rounds of parliamentary elections in Bhutan, being a special moment to analyse this fascinating country. Also another issue for which Bhutan is well known is the Gross National Happiness index (GNH), and we are thinking about it as well. In this issue of Think South Asia magazine we have very prestigious contributions indeed. First of all, a detailed country profile of Bhutan done by the South Asia Democratic Forum fellow Mr Marian Gallenkamp, who is a
knowledgeable expert on this country. Dr Siegfried O. Wolf from the University of Heidelberg dedicates his usual column to an analysis of the Bhutanese elections. The EU Delegate of The Family Watch, Mr Antoine Mellado, writes about development and the Gross National Happiness Index of Bhutan and its parameters. Then, 3 promising and talented ladies from Bangladesh honour us with their inputs: Ms Sheikh Nishat Nazmi is a Social Psychology Counsellor and brings to us a very interesting picture of the Families in South Asia in general, Bangladesh in particular; Mst Sabikun Naher from the University of Dhaka writes about the Bangladesh-Bhutan commercial relations and comparative advantages of both countries; and last but not least, Ms Janina Islam Abir also from the University of Dhaka tell
“I am glad to present 2 interviews with 2 Ambassadors who are good friends of South Asia and Europe.”
“Nawaz Sharif won the elections in Pakistan on the 14th of May.”
us about the Shahbag Movement, making a very comprehensive and deep analysis of this historical phenomena occurring nowadays in Bangladesh, which we should know better and follow closely.
Mr Paulo Casaca writes about the murder of Mr Arif Shahid, one of the most important figures of Pakistan’s Kashmiri independence movement, and its worrying consequences to the peace in Kashmir.
Now this is really a enormous privilege that I am glad to present: 2 interviews, 2 Ambassadors, 2 good friends of South Asia: Her Excellency Mrs Ismat Jahan from Bangladesh, and His Excellency Mr Jan Deboutte from Belgium. Both perspectives – South Asian and European – should be appreciated attentively, so that no drop of wisdom escapes from our readings. Without any previous agreement, both ambassadors showed to be fantastic builders of cultural bridges: while Mr Ambassador Deboutte finds a link between the Bhutanese Gross National Happiness and the Greek classical philosophy, Mrs Ambassador Jahan quotes the first non European Nobel Prize of Literature winner, the Bengali Rabindranath Tagore (1913), proving that his poetry and art could be an inspiration to South Asians, Europeans and everybody in this planet.
On the 14th of May there were also elections in Pakistan, where the people expressed the will to have Mr Nawaz Sharif as Prime Minister for the 3rd time in the country’s History. The South Asia Institute of the University of Heidelberg and the South Asia Democratic Forum organised a conference to discuss these elections and in the European Parliament of Brussels. This event resulted in a high-level briefing done by a prestigious set of experts to European policy-makers. You can check their conclusions in the end of the magazine. From the Think South Asia editorial side, I would like to wish to President Sharif all the success, hoping that peace, stability and better living conditions can be achieved in Pakistan with respect to Human Rights and the Rule of Law.
Regarding the peace prospects in Kashmir, we have an attention call article from the Executive Director of South Asia Democratic Forum. 02
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From Bangladesh we received sad news on the last 24th of April, when the Rana Plaza complex collapsed provoking the death of 1129 people. This makes us ask: In a country where the perpetrators
of the 1971 genocide (which killed more than 3 million people) were not brought to justice and several other public crimes occurred, like the assassination of President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, how can we expect that people have care while planning a building? This is why it was important to welcome in Brussels the Bangladeshi Minister of Foreign Affairs, Doctor Dipu Moni. Mrs Moni said that in Bangladesh “the culture of impunity is ending” and the government will do its best to ensure labour safety and rights in the country. We must applaud her courageous statement and support the Bangladeshi authorities in the reinforcement of security and the rule of law. After some Chinese troops crossed the line of control in Ladakh (Kashmir) in April, I was surprised to see the European Parliament discussing on the 23rd of May the February execution of Mohammad Afzal Guru in Delhi. As I said the Think South Asia 6th edition in February, I personally am against death penalty, but this does not mean supporting impunity. Mr Guru was proven to be associated with the terrorist groups Lashkare-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, and participated in the 2001 attack against the Indian Parliament,
killing 7 people and injuring 15. Of course the European Parliament could make the case of banning death penalty in the world... but this case of Mr Guru is far from being the best flag to pick, not to say that it probably sends a wrong message to the international community, as if the EU is supporting impunity for terrorists. I think this is not the case, or at least it shouldn’t.
“Minister Dipu Moni said that in Bangladesh the culture of impunity is ending.”
Two days after this debate in Strasbourg, on the Saturday the 25th of May another terrorist attack happened in the State of Chhattisgarh in India, this time organised by the Naxalite-Maoists. The attackers killed 27 people, amongst them some senior political leaders mainly from the Indian National Congress party. The Naxalite-Maoist insurgency killed already approximately 12 thousand people since its start in 1980 and the Indian police believes it has ties with the above mentioned Lashkar-e-Taiba, as well as with the ISI (intelligence agency also from Pakistan), and their training camps are mainly located in Pakistan, China and Burma.
“The Naxalite-Maoist insurgency killed already approximately 12 thousand people since its start in 1980.”
Finally some good news from Afghanistan. As you can see in the latest document of Reporters Without Frontiers, no journalists were killed in 2012 and arrests of media workers
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“Bhutan ranks 1st among the South Asian countries for freedom of the press.” declined. Nevertheless, violence against journalists did not disappear completely. Also, since NATO will withdraw most of the troops from Afghanistan next year and Taliban are expected to return to the country, there are legitimate doubts if this betterment of conditions for the media in Afghanistan is not precarious.
“The Maldives fell 30 positions in the index due to violence and threats against journalists.”
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Bhutan also gives us positive news. Bhutan ranks 1st among the South Asian countries for freedom of the press, and the 82nd in the World Press Freedom Index. More concerns should be raised to the situation in the Maldives and in Sri Lanka. Although still preserving an orange colour on the map, the Maldives fell 30 positions in the index due to violence and threats against journalists after the coup d’état in March 2012. Regarding Sri Lanka, it still is the last one of South Asia on the list, ranking number 162nd in the world, three positions below Pakistan (159th).
South Asia as a whole got worse for journalists in 2012, and something should be done about this. However these are sad news, we should put them in perspective. South Asian countries scored considerably better than its neighbour countries: - Tajikistan and Burma appear in a red colour with a “difficult situation” for journalists. - Uzbekistan, China, Iran and Turkmenistan in black with a “very serious situation”. To sum up, reasons are not scarce to give a careful look to this edition of the Think South Asia magazine, because in the next editions there will be some changes and surprises. Meanwhile, any articles for submission, comments or critics are very much welcome in: antonio@ sadf.eu
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M.A. Research Fellow at South Asia Democratic Forum; M.A. in Political Science and Politics South Asia, Heidelberg University
“Bhutan is the world’s 136th largest country, roughly the size of Switzerland.”
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The Kingdom of Bhutan, also called Druk Yul, is a landlocked country situated along the southern slopes of the Himalaya. To the North, Bhutan shares a 470 km long border with the Tibet Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China, while its 670 km long border to the West, South and East is shared with the Indian states of Sikkim, West Bengal, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh respectively. With a total area of 38,394 km2 it is the world’s 136th largest country, roughly the size of Switzerland (the world’s 135th largest country). Bhutan’s population is officially estimated at 732,895 (164th), which results in a low population density of only 19/km2 (197th) in contrast to Switzerland’s 194/km2 (68th). The nation’s capital, Thimphu, is the largest city and home to 117,319 people or 16% of the total population. Additionally, another 14.5% of the population is living in urban areas (the largest of which are Phuntsholing, Punakha, Samdrup Jongkhar, Geylegphug, and Paro), while 69.5% are still living in rural areas. Bhutan’s urbanization rate stands at 4.9% and is among the highest worldwide, while its overall population growth rate is moderate (sources vary between 1.2% and 1.8%).
Bhutan is a multi-religious, multilingual, and multi-ethnic country. Although authoritative figures are unavailable, it is estimated that roughly 70-80% of Bhutanese follow a school of Mahayana Buddhism, while Hindus comprise the rest of the population except for very small numbers of Christians, Muslims and followers of the Bön religion. Bhutan’s main ethnic groups are the Ngalops, Sharchops, and Lhotshampa as well as a number of indigenous tribal groups. Together they speak more than 19 different languages, of which Dzongkha is the national language, most widely spoken next to Nepalese. English is mainly spoken in urban areas and also used in schools and official documents. The history of a distinct Bhutanese nation state begins in the early 17th century with the arrival of Ngawang Namgyal, the prince abbot of the Drukpa monastery in Ralung, Tibet. Fleeing from internal rivalries, he soon succeeded in securing the support of or subduing the scattered Drukpa monasteries, establishing a centralized state and introducing a theocratic form of government with a dual administration. Under the title of Shabdrung, he became the head of
state and held the ultimate authority in all political and spiritual affairs, while the Druk Desi and Je Khenpo presided over the worldly and religious branches of the dual administration. While formally in place until 1907, this form of government proved to be highly problematic and ineffective, since the title of Shabdrung was based on the body-, mind-, and speech-incarnations of Ngawang Namgyal. After his death in 1651, which was kept secret for decades, rivalries and factionalism began to impair and paralyze the system, eventually leading to civil-war like conditions. The arrival of the British on the subcontinent and a short but fierce border war over the southern Duars in 1864/65, that Bhutan lost, put further strains on the system and deepened the fault lines between different regional strongmen. Finally, in 1907, the Tongsa Penlop Ugyen Wangchuck, having secured the support of the British, was elected as the first hereditary king of Bhutan, ending the theocratic form of government. In 1910, the Treaty of Punakha between the Kingdom of Bhutan and British India not only secured Bhutan’s independence from the British in exchange for the
latter’s prerogative on Bhutan’s external affairs, but also laid the foundation for possibly the most intimate and closest bilateral relationship of the region. After independence, India and Bhutan sealed their relations with the friendship treaty of 1949, basically featuring the same provisions as the 1910 treaty. India soon involved itself closely with the development of Bhutan, completely financing the first five-year-plans that were introduced in the early 1960s, building the first main roads and the airport at Paro, as well as establishing the Indian Military Training Team (IMTRAT) in Bhutan that provides logistical and training support for the Royal Bhutan Army. As an aiddependent country, India remains the single largest donor for Bhutan and the two nations’ cooperation in large hydropower projects contributes in large parts to Bhutan’s revenue and GDP. In the 1960s and 70s, Bhutan slowly began to end its international isolation by joining various international organizations and becoming a member of the UN in 1971. In 2007, the friendship treaty between India and Bhutan was revised, abolishing the Indian prerogative over Bhutan’s external relations. Although India remains
“In 1910 the Treaty of Punakha between the Kingdom of Bhutan and British India laid the foundation for possibly the most intimate and closest bilateral relationship of the region.”
“After independence, India and Bhutan sealed their relations with the friendship treaty of 1949, basically featuring the same provisions as the 1910 treaty.”
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“The royal government is now actively involved in many international and regional forums, seeking various alliances to promote its causes especially in the fields of development and climate change.”
“Since the 1970s Bhutan has been using Gross National Happiness (GNH) as an alternative and more refined way to measure the overall development in contrast to Gross Domestic Product.”
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to play the pivotal role in Bhutan’s foreign policy, the small kingdom has established itself more firmly in the international arena in recent years. Bhutan now holds diplomatic relations with 51 countries, of which 30 alone were established after the revision of the treaty with India. However, it is still rather selective when it comes to bilateral relations, concentrating on its development partners and other smaller countries around the world, which also means that Bhutan has no diplomatic relations with any of the permanent UN Security Council members and its northern neighbor, China. The royal government has gained much confidence and is now actively involved in many international and regional forums, seeking various alliances to promote its causes especially in the fields of development and climate change. The two most prestigious international activities for Bhutan during the past years were certainly its (unfortunately unsuccessful) bid for a non-permanent seat at the UN Security Council in 2012 and the country’s advocating of including happiness into the MDGs for a more holistic approach to development, which culminated in the UN General Assembly’s resolution on happiness and well-being in 2011. Since the 1970s, Bhutan has been using Gross National Happiness (GNH), a term coined and conceptualized by the fourth Druk Gyalpo, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, as an alternative and more refined way to measure the overall development in contrast to Gross Domestic Product. The concept has come a long way since these days and
has transformed from a mere idea and idealistic alternative to grasp societal development into a highly complex measurement tool that was devised in cooperation with the renowned Oxford Poverty & Development Initiative. In its most basic form, GNH is comprised by four pillars (good governance, sustainable socio-economic development, cultural preservation, and environmental conservation) that have now been subdivided into nine domains: psychological wellbeing, health, education, time use, cultural diversity and resilience, good governance, community vitality, ecological diversity and resilience, and living standards. In Bhutan, every policy is evaluated for its impact on GNH by specially devised screening tools. This unique and groundbreaking adherence to a holistic and just development for all people has shaped Bhutanese politics lastingly, though the notion of happiness and well-being has now caught the interest of governments all over the world, including Europe. Apart from GNH, Bhutan has also drawn stunned attention with its sudden and unique transition to democracy in 2008. Being one of the last absolute monarchies for much of the 20th century, it was again the farsightedness and vision of its fourth Dragon King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who initiated an unprecedented process of democratization from above. Unprecedented, because he apparently relinquished his powers voluntarily and without the Bhutanese people demanding political reform. To the contrary, many people were dismayed
when the king informed them that he would abdicate the throne in 2006, after he had already decreed the drafting of a new constitution and announced elections for 2008. Considering the context of recent regime changes worldwide as well as South Asia’s checkered history with democracy, such a peaceful and orderly regime transformation initiated from the top without apparent pressure or demand for it certainly sticks out. Since 2008, Bhutan is a democratic parliamentary democracy with the king as head of state. The first elections to the bicameral parliament were held in late 2007 (for the National Council, the upper chamber for representing Bhutan’s 20 districts) and March 2008 (for the National Assembly). The kingdom’s first written constitution
was passed by the first joint sitting of parliament on 18 July 2008. In November that same year, coinciding with the centennial celebrations of the monarchy, Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck received the Raven Crown of Bhutan from his father’s hands and became the fifth Druk Gyalpo.
“Since 2008 Bhutan is a parliamentary democracy with the king as head of State.”
During the first legislative period, politicians and people alike have had the chance to familiarize themselves with democracy, its new institutions and procedures, a process that has not been without conflict and difficulties, but which ultimately led to a maturing of democracy. With general elections looming (NC elections are scheduled for late April and NA elections for June/July 2013), the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa Party (DPT) government under Prime Minister Jigme Y. Thinley
“During the first legislative period, politicians and people alike have had the chance to familiarize themselves with democracy.”
© Craig Simons/Cox Newspapers
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“The new government will have to face some tough challenges in the years to come: the still unresolved border-dispute with China that claims strategically important and sensitive areas in western Bhutan that are close to India’s Siliguri Corridor.”
© Craig Simons/Cox Newspapers
“Even when considering the severe structural impediments, difficulties and challenges for development, Bhutan has shown a remarkable success during the past years.”
hopes to repeat its victory from 2008, but is faced with a much broader opposition after three new political parties were founded and registered with the Election Commission of Bhutan in late 2012 and early 2013. The two-round majority voting system in which the first round is contested by all parties and the second round by the two strongest parties from the first round, will certainly force all political parties to compromise, compete for the support of the electorate during the first round, as well as bargain and strike deals between themselves for the runoff. Regardless of who will ultimately win, the new government will have to face some tough challenges in the years to come: the still unresolved border-dispute with China that claims strategically important and sensitive areas in western Bhutan that are close to India’s Siliguri
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Corridor; a latent threat from military outfits like Bodos and ULFA that might again seek refuge along Bhutan’s densely forested southern border; Nepalese extremist organizations from the refugee camps in Nepal that have been implicated in a number of bomb blasts in Bhutan before; a dangerous shortage of rupees that puts heavy strains on Bhutan’s economy which is still in large parts dependent on India; high inflation paired with substantial rates of urbanization and growing youth unemployment. However, even when considering the severe structural impediments, difficulties and challenges for development, Bhutan has shown a remarkable success during the past years and stands likely to continue on its unique way.
Bhutan Election Year 2013: Happiness under stress? On April 23rd, the people of Bhutan went to the polls to elect a new upper house, or National Council (NC), for the second time ever in their country’s history, This marks the beginning of the national parliamentary election process which will be concluded end of June or early July this year with two round of polls for the lower house, the National Assembly (NA). The NA was dissolved on April 20th and has to be reelected within 90 days. Based on a first assessment one can state, that besides some weather related concerns and hurdles, the NC elections went relatively smoothly. Most importantly, they were not disturbed by any remarkable ‘politically motivated’ violent incident or by undue interference by any state institutions or other actors. In short, the elections were free and fair. Without a doubt, a positive development was the increase of the number of nominated candidates which went up from 52 to 67 to get elected in one of the 20 Dzongkhags, the country’s constituencies for the NC elections. This made sure that each constituency, unlike in the 2008 elections, had at least one candidate to vote for. Only the decline in the voter turnout from 53 (2008) down to around 45 per cent (171,544 out of
379,819 registered voters) beclouded the enthusiasm about the positive course of the latest NC elections. Nevertheless, this performance is still a great achievement considering the fact that Bhutan’s democratic procedures are still in its infancy. Leaving aside the fact that these are only plain statistics and that there is hardly any information available on how deeply entrenched democratic norms and values are entrenched in the kingdom’s state and society, many analysts seem to agree that the country is progressing well on the path of democracy. The country’s process of democratic transition is commonly praised for several important reasons. While the state’s shift towards democracy is indeed a unique and laudable process, the context within which it takes place deserves closer evaluation. First of all, one cannot deny that the decision of the king to deliberately give up much of his power to his people –as a ‘royal gift’ that transforms the country from an absolute monarchy into a parliamentary democracy- is a unique phenomenon in the world. The rationale behind such a hypothesis is usually twofold: It should distract from the fact that the establishment of democracy is an elite driven process in
Siegfried O. Wolf
Director of Research of South Asia Democratic Forum; Lecturer in International Relations and Comparative Politics at the South Asia Institute, Heidelberg University, Germany.
“Many analysts seem to agree that the country is progressing well on the path of democracy.”
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“The monarch is in control of the transfer of power and is able to secure a significant role for the royal family in the country’s future.”
“GNH expresses the conviction that all development strategies must contribute to both the material well-being as well as the spiritual, emotional and cultural needs of the Bhutanese people.”
form of a top-down model. As such, it is not an outcome of a social-political movement or a revolutionary act. Additionally, it should also conceal the potential notion that it was a cunning move of the king to voluntarily share power before he gets forced to do it. As such, the monarch is in control of the transfer of power and is able to secure a significant role for the royal family in the country’s future. Second, closely related with the argument of ‘giving up power voluntarily’, there is the persistent statement of the ‘apathy’ of the Bhutanese people towards democracy. More concretely, there is the claim that Bhutanese people are not in favour of democracy since it is perceived as something which does not fit into the Bhutanese culture and traditions. Third, as is pointed out time and again:
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just like ancient Rome wasn’t built in one day, the creation of a democratic system of governance in Bhutan needs time. Therefore, the Bhutanese monarchy intentionally abstained from an overhasty development in order to avoid any undesirable side-effects of opening up the country in socio-economic and political terms. The reason for this is the conviction of the various kings and their administrations that Bhutan is only able to achieve sustainable progress through a gradual approach in tackling the issues of underdevelopment, not only economically but especially politically. Therefore, a highly innovative idea got conceptualized; the so called Gross National Happiness (GNH). As the overarching philosophy of economic growth and socio-political progress, the GNH expresses the conviction that all development strategies must contribute to both the material well-being as well as the spiritual, emotional and cultural
needs of the Bhutanese people. Each modernization strategy must maintain a balance between the material and non-material needs of individuals and society. The GNH is, among other things, calculated on the basis of economic growth; promotion of cultural heritage (i.e. that of the ruling elite); environmental preservation and sustainability; and good governance. Underlying these pillars is the belief that gross national happiness is more important than gross national product. However, happy or not happy, even though the country has demonstrated its ability to hold successful elections, one cannot help but get the impression that the overall ‘feel good approach’ is starting to lose some of its appeal and glamour. Despite the fact that the government-friendly media put in much effort to evoke a democratic buzz in the country, there was a remarkable drop of 8 per cent in the voting turn out compared to 2008. It is argued that this is partly due to the ‘silent emergence’ of social, economic and political rifts among the Bhutanese. These grievances are reflected in the growing polarisation of the society in the country. It is stressed here, that the appearance of polarisation is due to growing disparities based on an increasingly distorted access to economic and political recourses. This phenomenon finds its expression in a slowly emerging rift between the small new urban and educated middle class vis-à-vis the rural population, which constitutes the bulk of the Bhutanese people. In order to understand this, one should keep in mind that politics in Bhutan still remain an exclusive and, as already indicated before, elite-driven
process. However, unlike some authors note in a romanticised depiction of the country’s political system, Bhutan’s political elite does not comprise merely the king and his closest advisors. Rather, elusive politics are characterised by an informal but persistent mutually influencing interaction between the royal family and the newly emerged middle class. This small but growing middle class consists of bureaucrats and an increasingly vocal group of economic entrepreneurs in the country’s few ‘urbanising centres’. Because of their economic interests Bhutan’s middle class was instrumental in the opening up of the country, and are also a driving force behind the ongoing democratisation process. The idea of mutual consultancy in the political decision-making process is nothing new in Bhutan. The origins of it date back to the old Chhoesi system, which was a dual concept of government that prevailed from 1650 to 1907, comprising a temporal head (Druk Desi) and a religious leader (Je Khenpo) as the leading institutions of the country’s socio-political system. It was established by Ngawang Namgyal, the founder of the modern state of Bhutan, and is recognized as a significant landmark in the genesis of Bhutan’s structure of governance. Various aspects of the Chhoesi-system still exist and continue to play a significant role in the country’s development process. This finds its expression not only in the fact that the religious institutions still have a significant say in political decision making processes but also in the notion that political processes are based on power sharing, mutuality and exchange.
“The GNH is, among other things, calculated on the basis of economic growth; promotion of cultural heritage (i.e. that of the ruling elite); environmental preservation and sustainability; and good governance.”
“Religious institutions still have a significant say in political decision making processes but also in the notion that political processes are based on power sharing, mutuality and exchange.”
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“The democratic transition is not a process that was ordered by the king only; it was also initiated and supported by a middle class which is guided by its own interests to enhance democratic enthusiasm in the country.”
“The transition from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional parliamentary monarchy not only emerged from an act of altruism but also from a line of thought driven by realpolitik.”
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The contemporary power sharing got pursued and enhanced through the broadening of the country’s political and economic upper crust combined with the appearance of informal interelite arrangements. This phenomenon can be best seen in the above indicated ‘behind the scenes’ incorporation of members belonging to the middle class, especially of those who received specialised higher education abroad, in the political decision-making. In sum, the democratic transition is not a process that was ordered by the king only; it was also initiated and supported by a middle class which is guided by its own interests to enhance democratic enthusiasm in the country. Without the help of this middle class neither the build-up of functioning institutions not the introduction of meaningful elections would have been possible. After elaborating on the role of the new middle class which has brought to an end the notion that politics in Bhutan are the king’s exclusive enterprise, one should also take the myth of the ‘apathy’ of the Bhutanese people under scrutiny. It is true that in the first phases of the introduction of elections the Bhutanese did not demonstrate overwhelming enthusiasm. Certain political commentators attributed this to a collective state of apathy of the Bhutanese people towards democracy. However, it could be better explained as an expression of prudence about being confronted with something that is not only absolutely new but also constitutes a fundamental change in the political and socio-economic environment. In this context, one must recognize that Bhutan is an extraordinarily remote and isolated place, not only regarding its geographic location but also in terms of its connections with the international community: until 1907, when the
hereditary monarchy was established, Bhutan was completely cut off from the outside world. One of the most significant features of this remarkable phenomenon is that the Himalayan state of the approximate size of Switzerland is in a persistent struggle to keep a balance between state development and maintenance of a suitable but also quite peculiar socio-political structure. Being born in such an setup, ‘ground breaking’ developments among the Bhutanese are not automatically perceived as helpful evolutions of a much missed modernity but also as revolutionary occasions that may challenge their time tested and honoured traditions, norms and values. Anxious about the far reaching consequences, the initial scepticism among the people towards elections and democracy did not come by a surprise. In this context, one should point out that since the first general elections in 2008 Bhutan had witnessed one of its most significant political transitions in its modern history. Since then, the processes of democratisation, like the building up of political parties, development of a parliamentary culture and procedures are leisurely moving forward. The electoral processes in particular are getting more and more entrenched not only into the political system but also in the mind-set of the people, at least among the middle class. On a more cynical note, it seems that the transition from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional parliamentary monarchy not only emerged from an act of altruism but also from a line of thought driven by realpolitik. It was obviously based on a clear assessment of potential trajectories for the monarchy’s viability. Several trends and phenomena indicated a rather pessimistic future for an absolute monarchy in the country.
Heidelberg space © REUTERS/Desmond Boylan
Being surrounded by semi-communist and democratic systems; experiencing a ‘pseudo coup’ in 1964 which involved an uncle of the king and led to the assassination of the prime minister; facing internally the emergence of an opposition (1990s); the debatable integration of the kingdom of Sikkim into the Indian Union, as well as a decline of its image on the international stage because of the expulsion of around 100.000 Bhutanese of Nepali origin; and the appearance of militant opposition like the Bhutan Tiger Force or the Bhutan Maoist Party, the king had to act in order to maintain at least a minimum of monarchical elements in Bhutan’s future political system in order to guarantee the survival of the Wangchuck dynasty. To conclude, with the repetition of the successful 2008 parliamentary elections one can state that democracy has finally arrived in the Himalayan kingdom. As in any other country, a process with such tremendous impact on state and society does not come without any side-effects.
First of all, it created a power vacuum which got immediately filled with the newly emerged largely abroad educated middle class. This was perceived by the politically aware segments of the rural population that the rising significance of this class is or will be at the expense of the traditional stakeholders like village representatives as well as the uneducated, poor population. It is argued here, that this will further enhance the socio-economic inequalities due to a distortion regarding the access to national recourses like governmental posts and national revenues. This conflict will gain further prominence with the continuation of the country’s development especially the untapped national resources in the context of negotiation over a fair mechanism for the distribution of national wealth. The fact that Bhutan still lacks a significant civil society which could serve as an extra-parliamentary mechanism to aggregate interests and demands of the common Bhutanese people further aggravates the challenge of managing social harmony.
“The expulsion of around 100 thousand Buthanese of Nepali origin led to a decline of its image on the international stage.”
“Bhutan still lacks a significant civil society which could serve as an extra-parliamentary mechanism to aggregate interests and demands of the common Bhutanese people.”
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“The problem is not only about a ruralurban divide, it is also of being uneducated and educated.”
“Most important in this context is who will control the armed forces, the king or the elected parliament as well as who owns the country’s most lucrative businesses.”
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However, in order not to further deepen this polarisation the rural population has to be further included into the political process. Until now the people in the more remote areas of the country showed only limited interest in taken part in the elections neither as candidate nor as voter. Therefore, much more has to be done to build-up awareness among the ‘rural Bhutanese’ about the benefits of political participation and the ability to have a say in matters that relate to them. It will be most interesting to observe how far this cleavage will be reflected in the party-focused upcoming National Assembly elections. In sum, one must stress once again that the problem is not only about a rural-urban divide, it is also of being uneducated and educated. This crosscutting cleavage appears especially in tertiary (academic) education. Regarding primary and secondary education the country made already much progress. The fact that a candidature for elections requires a Bachelor degree does not help to improve and to enhance the voter’s turnout. Furthermore, especially women should be more encouraged not only to vote but also to stand up for elections. In the latest NC elections only five out of the 67 candidate’s were female. The fact that Bhutan has more female than male registered voters might have some positive effects on the voter turnout. Since there is no quota for womenin the parliament, an introduction of it might gave an additional impetus for a higher political participation of Bhutan’s female participation. To sum
up, the transition towards democracy is irreversible. The affection of the people towards the monarchy is deep but it also has its limitations. It is therefore crucial that many Bhutanese are familiarise themselves with the new political developments and that they understand that there is no contradiction between exercising democracy and appreciating their king and traditions. Despite the incorporation of more actors in the country’s decision making process, politics in Bhutan remain an exclusive business run by the elite, which got expanded with some new stakeholders. In brief, pro-forma or not, the decision to delegate its executive power could also be also interpreted as a part of a divide and rule strategy of the king in order to save as much as possible of the new status quo for his heirs. Most important in this context is who will control the armed forces, the king or the elected parliament as well as who owns the country’s most lucrative businesses. In other words: who has the power of the purse? If both remain under the king’s authority, democracy is not consolidated. In order to avoid this, the decision making processes should be made more transparent and fully owned by the law makers rather than by elitist groups who greatly influence decision making procedures in consultation with the king. Only a strong parliament, legitimate by a high voter turnout, can prevent the country from informal domains for extra-constitutional influence. If not, democracy in Bhutan will only remain a paper tiger.
Disclaimer: Mr Ambassador Deboutte speaks here in his own capacity, so this does not necessarily reflect the views of the Belgian Foreign Ministry. Think South Asia (TSA): In this edition of Think South Asia we put the focus on Bhutan. How do you assess the role of Bhutan in the region? In your perspective, which are the main challenges and opportunities for Bhutan in the current times? Ambassador Jan Deboutte (AJD): The Kingdom of Bhutan, a small country, geographically situated between China and India and a neighbour of Nepal, is a democratic monarchy. Also, after decennia of an inward looking attitude, Bhutan has clearly decided to open up to the external world. The biggest challenge for Bhutan is to combine economic development with respect for its values based on traditions and structures, including a specific relation between State and Religion. If Bhutan succeeds in coping successfully with this challenge and can create jobs for its young population, it will be an example of democratic evolution for its neighbours. TSA: There has been many discussions about the Bhutanese index of Gross National Happiness (GNH). Some people may say that this is an attempt to deviate attentions from the
economic performance of Bhutan, others defend this is a more humane approach to the development of a country. What are your thoughts about this GNH approach? AJD: Gross National Happiness is a very interesting and valuable concept. Whereas GNP reduces progress of a society/country to a one dimensional economic performance, Gross National Happiness is a much more comprehensive approach. Also, right now, when in the West we are facing an economic crisis, it might be useful to study and maybe apply more the GNH concept than remain exclusively focused on GNP.
Member of the South Asia Democratic Forum’ Advisory Board and a former Ambassador of Belgium to India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
Isn’t it remarkable that in its policy of GNH, the Bhutanese Government is meeting the classical Greek philosophy of Aristotle? TSA: Bhutan and Nepal have comparable realities: landlocked between India and China, they are encircled by two economic and military giants. In both cases India is the main economic partner, and in both cases China has claims over lands in Nepal and in Bhutan. In Bhutan some territories in the north
“Isn’t it remarkable that in its policy of GNH, the Bhutanese Government is meeting the classical Greek philosophy of Aristotle?” Think South Asia
“India is a well established democracy, whereas China is not. Regular diplomatic meetings and less frequent Summit meetings between the two giants will help to increase the reciprocal respect. The territorial disputes will however remain on the agenda.”
“The European Union and its Member States are not sufficiently focusing on the geopolitical developments in and around the Indian Ocean.”
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were even occupied by the Chinese. In which way do you see the India/China relations developing and how will the developments impact countries like Nepal and Bhutan?
AJD: The European Union and its Member States are not sufficiently focusing on the geopolitical developments in and around the Indian Ocean.
AJD: India and China have learned to respectfully disagree on political concepts and policies. India is a well established democracy, whereas China is not. Regular diplomatic meetings and less frequent Summit meetings between the two giants will help to increase the reciprocal respect. The territorial disputes will however remain on the agenda.
I am a strong believer in the theory that the 21st century will be shaped by developments around this part of the world. The importance of this area is also reflected in the upheavals in the countries you are mentioning, for which one should not forget that they have only relatively recently become independent. Without jeopardizing its own values, the European Union should be much more forthcoming with cooperation with these countries.
At the same time, the economic developments are slowing down, at different degrees, in China and in India. This will also have an influence on the respective political stature in the region and in the world. It seems unlikely that Bhutan or Nepal will become a “pawn” in the competition between the two giants. TSA: Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and the Maldives are countries in a turmoil. The conversations for peace in Sri Lanka are delicate, Bangladesh is trialling the war criminals of the 1971 genocide, and the Maldives had a coup in March 2012 which is leading the country towards islamisation by the means of sharia law. What sources of hope for peace did you find in these countries when you visited them?
TSA: In South Asia Democratic Forum we made two deep surveys with Gallup, one in Nepal and the other in Bangladesh (both available in our website www.sadf.eu). It was a good surprise for us to find that the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is considerably well-known among the people and that regional cooperation within SAARC is seen as a potential factor of peace and welfare. What can SAARC do to fulfil this expectations? How can the European model serve the countries of South Asia in this regard? AJD: The European integration process started more than sixty years ago in
very particular circumstances: after a devastating World War with millions of deadly victims and with a new dictatorship rapidly developing in the Eastern part of Europe. One does not wish these dramatic circumstances to be repeated. The European method, concentrating on cooperation in one sector: economy, in order to move on towards the more political integration project, can however be used and adapted to the SAARC area, even if the sizes of the economies - and therefore the interests - are hugely different. TSA: We would like if you could leave here a word about your country, Belgium. What are the prospects of Belgium for Europe nowadays? What kind of businesses may interest to Belgium entrepreneurs in South Asia?
Belgian entrepreneurs are active in many sectors in South Asia, in industry as well as in services. The activities take many forms: sales and distribution office, outsourcing, technical cooperation for specific projects, joint ventures, autonomous companies etc. At the same time, Belgium attracts investments from South Asia, especially from India. This is an interesting development, provided it is intended as a long term investment, which luckily is most of the time the case. I am convinced that the FTA between the EU and India, once completed and implemented, will give a tremendous boost to the exchanges, not just between India and the EU, but also between the EU and the other South Asian countries. Belgium can only benefit from this.
“The European method can be used and adapted to the SAARC area, even if the sizes of the economies - and therefore the interests are hugely different.”
“The FTA between the EU and India will give a tremendous boost to the exchanges, not just between India and the EU, but also between the EU and the other South Asian countries. Belgium can only benefit from this.”
AJD: The European project is THE priority for Belgium, both for the internal and external policy. Belgium is and remains a strong believer in the European integration project, even if the economic, financial and monetary crisis awakes some more Euro-critical voices. As such, discussion about the goals, objectives of the EU and on the need for democratic control are healthy developments. It would be less healthy if the population would be indifferent towards the EU and the integration project.
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Gross National Happiness Index: integration of new parameters in development measures
EU Delegate of The Family Watch
“These quantitative indicators are measuring health, education, good governance, community vitality, ecological diversity and resilience.”
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For a few years there has been a scientific and social trend of searching for new ways for measuring and evaluating development. These new ways of calculating development have been implemented besides the traditional ways of measuring the level of development, for example with the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or GDP per capita. This method is a very partial way of evaluating development as two countries with the same GDP per capita might have very different situations in terms of education, social services, working conditions or climate that makes comparison hard. Therefore, I find the current trend of searching for new indicators, measures and indexes to measure the economical, social and environmental situation of a country very important that should be promoted. The Human Development Index that has been promoted by the United Nations Development Programme is one of the well-known indexes of this kind, along with the Gender Inequality Index measuring the situation of the
women, or the Ecological footprint addressing the sustainability of the economy of a country. These initiatives are originated in different societies with different political viewpoints, having one idea in common: they are trying to measure development in a more ‘human’ way, integrating other values besides the economical data. Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Index is a part of this trend. The indicator was launched by king Jigme Singye Wangchuck and operationalised by the Center for Bhutan Studies and tires to measure the situation of the country in terms of nine different aspects that have influence over the quality of life of the population. These quantitative indicators are measuring health, education, good governance, community vitality, ecological diversity and resilience. The indicator on community vitality is of great importance as it is one of the main variables affecting the quality of life since they heavily depend on the quality of family relationships among other
factors. On behalf of the International Federation of Family Development, we have seen from our NGO experience that promoting initiatives in favour of the family have a positive effect on the well-being of people without affecting the GDP. At the same time, taking the traditional indicators into account, one cannot deny that families have a huge impact on development. As the secretary General of the United Nations highlighted in his Report on the ‘Follow-up to the tenth anniversary of the International Year of the Family and beyond’ (A/66/62–E/2011/429, November 2010) ‘the majority of the Millennium Development targets, especially those relating to the reduction of poverty,
education of children and reduction in maternal mortality, are difficult to attain unless the strategies to achieve them focus on the family.’ Still the very contribution of families to these achievements are largely overlooked, while there seems to be a consensus on the fact that, so far, the ‘stability and cohesiveness of communities and societies largely rest on the strength of the family’. In development policies as in social policies the most cost-effective and innovative policies should be promoted but we shall not forget that we are working for and on behalf of the people and that people are much more than numbers.
“One cannot deny that families have a huge impact on development.”
“We shall not forget that we are working for and on behalf of the people and that people are much more than numbers.”
© AP Photo/Gurinder Osan
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Families in Bangladesh
Sheikh Nishat Nazmi
Psycho social Counselor, Early Childhood Development Resource Center, Institute of Educational Development, BRAC University. (IED-BRACU)
“Extended family is a concept where at-least three generation lives together and shares their home, responsibilities and respects each other.”
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70 years old Abdul Majid Miah lives with his wife, four sons, daughter-in-laws and six grandchildren in same house. They are sixteen in number and live in same house. They are the family. Majid Miah love to spend his time with his grand sons and daughter in terrace where they have a small garden. They have their meals or watch movie together very often. Majid Miah’s sons are working men and all of their wives are busy in managing family. They not only share responsibilities but also share their happiness and sorrows of their life with each other. Children are of different age from infancy to adolescence and they also like to play and spend time with each other. During any festival, elders try to give children same dress according to their size and it makes their festival more colorful. Though Majid Miah’s sons earn, every month they give a certain amount according to their income to their father for family expense and Majid Miah himself also have some source of income. He and his wife is still the in-charge of the family and their every single decision is valued. This is how an extended family looks like and how they share and spend their lives in Bangladeshi context. Family
is the unique social unit even within a community. Every society has their own family structure and this structure is made of the values they live in. Family culture plays the most important role in developing a personality of an individual. It is the family from where a child starts to roam around the world and the first values are fixed. This scenario is very common particularly in Bangladesh, Sri lanka, India and Pakistan. Extended family is a concept where at-least three generation lives together and shares their home, responsibilities and respects each other. This is an ideal family concept according to Bangladeshi culture. So, the basic pattern of an ideal family consist of a man, his sons and grandsons, their wives, unmarried adult sons and daughters. After marriage sons only lives with his family and daughters have to go to live with her in-laws in same house or live with the husband. It also happens that after marriage, the daughters have to cope with their in-laws family culture. Yet, men are the decision makers of the family and women are responsible for managing the family whether she holds other profession or not.
In Bangladesh, currently there are two types of family structure. The term and concept of “family” can have different meanings depending on their background. There are nuclear and extended families. Extended families are almost common in rural and urban areas where as nuclear family concept is a result of urbanization and they are found in urban areas. They extended family system helps to build the connections between members. All members are responsible for children rearing and well being. Each family operates with some basic moral, culture and values define by them. The most interesting thing is that each family holds different culture and values and they are sometime different than the social culture and values where they belong. On the other hand they are similar to global culture and values. ‘‘Discipline” also has different meaning in families. Especially in extended families in Bangaldesh, disciplines are very closely linked with cultural and traditional values. In most cases, extended families are found in middle class strata. Here, children are taught to respect elders and not argue with them. They are also taught to respect authority figures. For shape children’s behavior, shaming is used as a strategy. It also used to promote values.
Emotional bonding among family members is also very high in extended families rather than nuclear family. Parent-child relationship is highly valued. Very young children under age five use to sleep with parents in same bed. It’s very common in Bangladeshi couples to share their bed with their child. It helps to build a deep attachment with parents. This attachment is important to uphold the family system. All these concepts are very co-related with parenting structure. Based on family structure and model, parenting styles varied. A reflection of the family context can be found in the temperament of an individual. A person lives in nuclear family may not be a social person where as a person lives in extended family have more social adjustment capability than them. Likewise other South-Asian country, Bangladesh has a very strong family culture that upholds the social culture as a whole. Bangladeshi people are warm and generous in person and social as most of them still lives in extended family. Family is also responsible to increase tolerance in a person. The idea of brotherhood to combat violence is also a result of obtaining a good family culture.
“In Bangladesh, currently there are two types of family structure: nuclear and extended families.”
“Likewise other South-Asian country, Bangladesh has a very strong family culture that upholds the social culture as a whole.”
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António Vieira da Cruz (AVC): Your country, Bangladesh, is living very special times. The independence war of 1971 was not easy and many crimes were committed, being more than 3 million people targeted and killed because of their religion, ethnicity or political views. Why did the trials only begun now, 40 years later?
Ambassador of Bangladesh to Belgium, Luxembourg and the European Communities
“In 1971 around 3 million people were brutally killed by the then Pakistani occupation forces and their collaborators while over 200,000 girls and women were raped.”
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H.E. Mrs. Ambassador Ismat Jahan (AIJ): Let me start by saying that “ it is better late than never”. And to respond to the question: why the war crimes Trial is being held after so many years ? I would like to reflect a little on the historical perspective of the issue. From the viewpoint of restorative justice, as you may know, for war crimes or crimes against humanity, there is no time limit for trials. There is no statute of limitation for such crimes. The hunt for Nazi war criminals still goes on today. Bangladesh paid heavily for its independence. Around 3 million people – men, women and children, were brutally killed by the then Pakistani occupation forces and their collaborators while over 200,000 girls and women were raped. These are not mere figures but glaring testimonies of the genocide that was launched on
March 25, 1971 and the brutalities that continued throughout the 9 month long liberation war. Following our victory on December 16, 1971 attempts to hold the war crime trials began with the promulgation of the Collaborators Order 1972. The International Crimes (Tribunal) Act was passed in 1973 to prosecute persons accused of committing crimes against humanity, war crimes, violations of any humanitarian rules applicable in armed conflicts laid out in the Geneva Convention of 1949 and any other crimes under international law. Detainees held under the Collaborators Order 1972 were going to be tried under this 1973 Act. Notably, however, through a tragic turn of events , all activities related to the Act came to a grinding halt with the assassination of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975. Following the regime change , the collaborators act was repealed and the accused persons were released from jails. The trials of the perpetrators were thus never completed. Justice to millions of victims therefore remained delayed and denied! The Awami League which came to power in 1996 also did not have the required 2/3 majority in
the Parliament to make necessary legal frameworks to try the perpetrators of 1971 genocide. Meanwhile, the civil society stood firmly behind the Trial. An overwhelming public support for the long overdue trial of the war criminals soon turned into a national demand. As the popular movement got momentum, the trial of the war criminals also became an electoral pledge of the present government which came to power in January 2009. In the same month a resolution on war crimes trial was unanimously adopted by our national parliament paving the way for holding the long awaited trial. The 1973 War Crime Act was reviewed and amended to reflect the developments in international laws and to align with universally recognised standards. Although justice has been denied for over 40 long years ,the present government is resolved to put an end to the era of impunity and bring closure to deep wounds of the victims and to see that justice is being ensured for crimes committed against the nation and its people through a fair, independent and transparent trial under the International Crimes TribunalBangladesh. We strongly believe that the trials of the perpetrators of the crimes against humanity and genocide would uphold universal justice not only for the people of Bangladesh but for the entire humanity. We therefore, urge the international community including the European Union to express solidarity with the legitimate demands of the people of Bangladesh urging the trials of war criminals as a matter of universal principle against war crimes. This
would be the best reparation that we could possibly offer to the victims after these long 42 years. AVC: There are some huge manifestations in the streets of Dhaka and other cities, asking for justice concerning the genocide of 1971 and demanding the end of the impunity for war criminals. Many of the people on the streets are young and born in the 80’s or 90’s, after the massacres. How do you evaluate these very interesting phenomena? AIJ: Generally speaking, the young generation represents the most vibrant and energetic force of any country and are usually known to leave behind indelible marks on the pages of the nation’s history. This is particularly, true for Bangladesh where the youth and the young generation have always played a predominant role in the social, cultural and political reawakening. Their active and spontaneous participation in all our national movements particularly , the Language movement of 1952, the Liberation War of 1971 and against the autocratic rule in 1990 are well acclaimed. You are absolutely right in pointing out that the many, I should rather say majority, of the supporters and participants in the recent peaceful manifestations demanding highest punishments for the war criminals which commensurate with the gravity of the crimes committed, belong to post 1971 generations. They may not have personally witnessed the massacres and genocide of 1971 but many have lost their loved ones. Obviously, there
“We strongly believe that the trials of the perpetrators of the crimes against humanity and genocide would uphold universal justice not only for the people of Bangladesh but for the entire humanity.”
“We urge the international community to express solidarity with the legitimate demands of the people of Bangladesh urging the trials of war criminals as a matter of universal principle against war crimes.”
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“Bangladesh is a Muslim majority country having a good track record on communal harmony.”
“The common people cherishes a society where all religious and ethnic groups can live in peaceful coexistence. This is what perhaps makes Bangladesh unique.”
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is a genuine need to bring closure to their old and deep wounds through proper justice. Their expression of solidarity with the people from all social strata and all walks through peaceful manifestations have set a global example of how youth can reenergise the whole society in uniting for a common cause. Definitely these are interesting phenomena. AVC: The manifestations have a clear anti-extremism message, pointing out the responsibility of powerful groups like Jamaat-e-Islami in the war crimes of 1971. Now, it appears that such big grassroot manifestations against Islamic extremists are unprecedented in Muslim-majority countries. What would you say it makes of Bangladesh a different country from the others in that respect? AIJ: Bangladesh is a Muslim majority country having a good track record on communal harmony. Secularism is a principle enshrined in our Constitution. The Bangladeshis by and large are practicing followers of religions. Notably however, they do not condone any kind of extremism or radicalism in the name of religion. The common people cherishes a society where all religious and ethnic groups can live in peaceful coexistence. This is what perhaps makes Bangladesh unique. I should also add that a strong sense of nationalism runs deep in the psyche of our people irrespective of their religion. This unites them in their common aspirations to promote their cultural and linguistic identity. It is perhaps, pertinent to recall here that in February 1952, in the then East
Pakistan (present Bangladesh) many valuable lives were lost in defense of Bangla, the mother language of the majority, against the ruling regime’s decision to impose Urdu as the only language of Pakistan. The Language movement of 1952 is considered as the precursor of the Independence of Bangladesh. This shows how important language and culture are to our national ethos and values. As you may know the annual commemoration of International Mother Language Day, February 21 by UNESCO celebrating multilingualism is inspired by our language movement of 1952. Bangalees are also basically known to be emotional and poetical, somewhat mystical! Our great poets including Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, national poet Kazi Nazrul Islam as well as some contemporary ones spoke of humanism and harmony in the society. In that sense, we, as a nation, possess a distinct feature. I think, our homegrown secular ideas and openness are an asset in putting up a strong natural defence against any possible extremist infiltration in our society. Referring to your observation on the recent popular manifestations in Bangladesh, I would say that these are not directed against any particular group, religion or political party. It is rather a legitimate protest against radicalism, political use of religion or politicisation of Islam, to speak more specifically. The peaceful rallies and demonstrations of the people have stood in sharp anti-thesis and rejection to the path of violence chosen by the supporters of the war criminals who are
against the Trial. You are right in noting that the manifestations have a clear antiextremism message, pointing out the responsibility of Jamaat e Islami Party in the war crimes of 1971. It is important to note here that the manifestations are not targeting the Party as a religion/ Islam- based political party. They are rather voicing the popular demand for bringing the perpetrators of war crimes to justice, particularly in the context of the well known role of this specific political party in the genocide of 1971. AVC: Shifting the theme, please tell us a little bit of your work with Women Rights, education and empowerment. As a woman Ambassador and as a member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), how do you see the situation of women in Bangladesh in particular and in the context of South Asia in general? AIJ: As a woman, needless to say , I have a natural interest in issues concerning women. Given my long association with multilateral diplomacy and having served in our Missions to the UN in New York and Geneva, I had opportunities to deal with women’s issues on a global level. My present membership of the CEDAW Committee has given me further opportunities to learn about the situation of women in various parts of the world as we review the implementation of the CEDAW Convention by the state parties. It is disquieting to note that women wherever they live, be it in developed or developing countries, share some common challenges suffering discriminations which stems from societal mindset and stereotypes.
The difference may be seen only in degrees and not necessarily in kind. Speaking a little of my own experience as a woman, I should say that I was privileged to be born in a family where boys and girls are not differentiated. My mother, a staunch advocate of women’s rights, was a trendsetter becoming the first woman lawyer of East Pakistan in 1961. She has always being a source of inspiration and role model for me. She viewed education of women as the basic essential for women’s empowerment. We , the sisters, are fortunate to receive equal opportunities for best possible education along with my brothers. My joining of the Foreign Service in 1984 , which was then and still is a male dominant arena, is also an important and interesting turning point in my life. I really do not know if I have been able to inspire the women who have later joined the Service later. I very much hope I did! Now to speak of situation of women in our part of the world. In South Asia as a whole, women now live longer and are better educated; discriminatory laws have been discarded in some cases and national policies are being adapted to systematically pursue gender equality. In Bangladesh also, today, women issues are in the forefront and the government has taken many policy initiatives and legal reforms. The Constitution guarantees the equal rights of men and women. These are important developments , but what is the real situation of women in the region country? Gender inequality still remains a big barrier to progress across South Asia depriving the region of a significant source of
“My mother has always being a source of inspiration and role model for me. She viewed education of women as the basic essential for women’s empowerment.”
“In South Asia as a whole, women now live longer and are better educated; discriminatory laws have been discarded in some cases.”
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“Improvements in our women’s wellbeing is one of the most significant gains in the postindependence era.”
“Women’s organisations and NGOs are making important contribution often in close partnership with the government in promoting situation of women in the country. However, much remains to be done.”
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human potentials. In Bangladesh, as elsewhere in South Asia, gender inequality is deeply entrenched in the overall social structure and traditional attitude towards women. Obviously, it takes time to change social mindset and stereotypical attitude. Things cannot be changed overnight. But it is reassuring to see that things are at least moving and moving in the right direction. Generally speaking, I might say that improvements in our women’s wellbeing is one of the most significant gains in the post-independence era. Women’s development became an integral part of our national development early on. Various economic and social development indicators show that in the last 20 years, Bangladesh has made substantial progress in increasing women’s access to education and healthcare (including increasing life expectancy), and in improving women’s participation in the labour force. Women’s empowerment through micro finance has also progressed well. More striking changes have been seen with respect to girls’ education. Bangladesh reached gender parity in primary and secondary enrolment (MDG targets) earlier than countries at comparable levels of development. Significant improvement has been marked in women’s participation in formal labour force. Over 3 million women are now estimated to work in the RMG sector which is major contributor to the country’s exports. There has been progress in social mobility of women and their presence in all occupation including higher judiciary, administration, police, armed
forces, UN peace-keeping forces etc. In contrast to their striking gains in human development and new economic opportunities, and despite that both our Prime Minster and the Leader of Opposition are women and so is our Foreign Minister, Bangladeshi women in general have not fared that well with respect to participation in national politics. While substantial progress has been made regarding women’s rights and status, there are persistent and emergent obstacles to women’s empowerment. Despite the recognition of the urgent need to end violence against women (VAW), millions of women across South Asia continue to suffer violence both within and outside their homes. The existing gap between legal rights and legislative safeguards available to women and their actual implementation remains a big challenge in Bangladesh, as elsewhere. The women’s organisations and NGOs are making important contribution often in close partnership with the government in promoting situation of women in the country. However, much remains to be done and we still have a long way to go. AVC: The poet Rabindranath Tagore is a symbol of the Bengali culture. This year 2013 we commemorate one century after the Nobel Prize was awarded to him. What is his best legacy to nowadays? How can Tagore inspire the current generations in South Asia and in Europe?
AIJ: Rabindranath Tagore was the first non European to have won the Noble Prize for Literature in 1913. During his lifetime Tagore was celebrated within Bengal as a staunch nationalist and globally as a source of mysticism and eastern wisdom. His deep sense of introspection, imagination, love of music and spirituality, all together made him unique. To the Bangalees, Tagore still remains THE man who had taken Bangla and the Bangalees to a global audience. He reshaped Bangla literature and music. His songs are an integral part of Bangla culture. A strong sense of linguistic nationalism grew around Tagore’s writings, his songs inspired the people to break off the shackles of the British colonial rule. In Bangladesh Tagore is held in high esteem and holds a special place in our hearts. He has been a predominant source of inspiration in all our national movements, particularly the language movement of 1952 and during our war of independence. It is therefore only apt that Bangladesh on its Independence in 1971 chose Tagore’s song, “amar shonar Bangla” – My Bengal of gold, as its national anthem. Rabindranath Tagore was well revered for his views on unity among mankind. He was opposed to any narrow sectarian views. A widely travelled man, Tagore believed in the spiritual unity of the East and West which helped him forge personal and intellectual bonds abroad . His English works and his translations made him famous throughout the world. It is not just his originality and his lyricism that account for the high regard in which he is still held. Above all, he is valued as a profound thinker, a
reformer, a staunch critic of colonialism and a deeply spiritual man. As a thinker he was well ahead of his times. Tagore therefore, not only belonged to the world that he lived in but belongs to the world even now. He will be remembered for all time down the ages. Tagore encapsulates his vision of globalisation, universalisation and selflessness in the poem “Where the Mind is Without Fear”. He states: Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high; Where knowledge is free and the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic worlds; Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit; Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action into that heaven of freedom, let my country awake. This is a timeless poem that transcends boundaries and generations. It speaks of the failings of mankind as a whole rather than a single nation’s doing. It underlines globalisation and the kind of passion needed to stand tall and lead the world and the humanity in the right direction. He delivers an inspiring message with an universal appeal, not just confined to generations in South Asia and Europe only but far beyond.
“Rabindranath Tagore was the first non European to have won the Noble Prize for Literature in 1913. During his lifetime Tagore was celebrated within Bengal as a staunch nationalist and globally as a source of mysticism and eastern wisdom.”
“Tagore delivers an inspiring message with an universal appeal, not just confined to generations in South Asia and Europe only but far beyond.”
AVC: Finally, I would like to ask you to leave a message to the European policy makers reading us in the European Parliament, European Commission, and national governments. How should EU-Bangladesh relations improve?
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“Trade is an important component in EUBangladesh relations with EU emerging as the largest destination of Bangladesh’s export”
“Women comprise the majority work force of our Ready Made Garment sector. This itself has led to impressive improvement in their lives and mobility and to the country’s overall economy.”
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AIJ: Bangladesh-EU relations date back to 1973. Over the years our relations with European Commission have grown manifold. The Cooperation Agreement on Partnership and Development which entered into force in 2001 provided special impetus to the relations in five major areas namely human and social development, good governance and human rights, economic and trade development, environment and disaster management.
of regional cooperation, women empowerment and development. Bangladesh’s role in the international organizations, particularly at the UN as a moderate Muslim country is well known. As one of the highest troop contributing countries to the UN peacekeeping operations, Bangladesh is widely acclaimed. This has also strong potential for expansion of EUBangladesh relations at multilateral levels.
Bangladesh deeply values the important role that the EU plays in promoting the economic interests of the LDCs including Bangladesh especially through the “everything but arms”(EBA) arrangements. Trade is an important component in EU-Bangladesh relations with EU emerging as the largest destination of Bangladesh’s export. Bangladesh also receives development assistance from EU in the field of good governance, socio-economic development and in tackling the impacts of climate change and natural disasters.
Despite our huge population and many socio-economic and environmental challenges Bangladesh has achieved commendable success in maintaining a steady growth rate at around 6%, reducing child and maternal mortality, achieving gender parity in school enrolment and overall poverty reduction and women’s empowerment. To give an example, women comprise the majority work force of our Ready Made Garment sector. This itself has led to impressive improvement in their lives and mobility and to the country’s overall economy.
Bangladesh’s relations with individual EU member states are also cordial and with some of them Bangladesh has significant bilateral cooperation. Engagement with the European Parliament, particularly through the South Asia delegation is also expanding.
Given our long and time tested relations, it is only natural to hope and expect that Bangladesh would receive continued attention as well as understanding of the EU and the Parliament in maintaining an upward trend in the country’s development. As the EU is taking many important initiatives in areas of women empowerment, renewable energy and climate change, I urge upon the EU policy makers and individual member states to bear in mind the following issues and areas of cooperation;
Bangladesh and the EU have commonality of views on many international issues including international security, counterterrorism, strengthening of democratic institutions and practices, expansion
(a) Support programs and policies which empowers women and weaker section of the society with necessary resources and policy measures. It would also call for exercising special caution on the part of EU in ensuring that any policy measures undertaken or recommended by the EU does not directly or indirectly hamper or jeopardise the Bangladesh’s progress in these areas. (b) 48 % people leaves off-grid of electricity. Echoing the UN SecretaryGeneral’s “Sustainable Energy for all” program we would hope that EU’s partnership would help bring more rural families under the coverage of electricity. (c) In keeping with the objectives of the Partnership and Development agreement 2001 provide necessary support to trade capacity building in Bangladesh. The EU may facilitate any trade and economic integration initiative by Bangladesh with neighbouring countries and beyond including through their support in the WTO forum to help Bangladesh alleviate poverty speedily.
(d) EU’s continued assistance in addressing the climate change challenges in Bangladesh. (e) Take advantage of the investment opportunities prevailing in the country. Since 2012 Bangladesh has also become the member of the ASEM. This provides yet another platform through which relations between Bangladesh and the EU as well as with its individual members can be further enhanced. What however, remains in the final analysis, is the importance of mutual respect and understanding of each other’s position. I would stress that which are very key to the promotion of relations. There is a need for more interactions at all level, political, official and people to people. We must thrive for that.
“We would hope that EU’s partnership would help bring more rural families under the coverage of electricity.”
“There is a need for more interactions at all level: political, official and people to people.”
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Bangladesh-Bhutan Relations Introduce a New Dynamism
Mst. Sabikun Naher
BSS (Honors), MSS (running) in International Relations, Department of International Relations, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh.
“In September 1980, Bhutan and Bangladesh signed a bilateral trade agreement granting each other the “most favored nation” preferential status for development of trade.” 32
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‘There are ample opportunities for both the countries in increasing bilateral relations in different sectors including trade, investment, communication, water resources, climate change, education and agriculture.’- Zillur Rahman, the former President of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh
for MultiSectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), Non-Aligned Movement, and Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Both are keen to develop the regional forum into a dynamic and vibrant one and have a common approach to economic related policies in the multi-national forums.
Bilateral relations between Bangladesh and Bhutan are not recent phenomena. It began with the recognition of Bangladesh by Bhutan as country to recognize on 7 December 1971. Both nations have their own strategic importance in terms of trade, agriculture, education, communications and investment, regional integration as well as international integration. The geopolitical importance of Bangladesh is enormously important to accelerate trade and investment for a landlocked country like Bhutan. Bangladesh provides an alternative market, and a source as well as outlet for Bhutanese goods through its major seaports. Over the years, its relation with Bangladesh has reduced exclusive dependence on India and helped Bhutan diversify its trade and political relations. In a same time, both countries are the members of SAARC, the Bay of Bengal Initiative
Historically their relations put together soon after independence of Bangladesh. The Bhutanese foreign minister visited Bangladesh in 1972 for the first time, and issued a communiqué announcing the establishment of diplomatic relations at embassy levels, which was officially established in 1973. Bangabandhu (Friends of Bangla) Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founding father of the nation and the first President of Bangladesh, visited Bhutan in June 1974 that shaped their bilateral ties sturdily. In 1980, both nations opened embassies in their respective capitals. In September 1980, Bhutan and Bangladesh signed a bilateral trade agreement granting each other the “most favored nation” preferential status for development of trade. Then, The King of Bhutan made a state visit to Bangladesh in February, 1984 and opened a new dimension of understanding signed a Protocol to
the Trade Agreement. In a same time, Bhutan and Bangladesh have actively cooperated in the field of flood and earthquake control in 1988 and 2009 respectively. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visited Bhutan in November 2009, reflecting the importance Bangladesh has always attached relations to Bhutan. The four-day visit to Bangladesh of Bhutan’s elected Prime Minister Lyonchhen Jigme Yoser Thinley in December 2011 is significant in many ways. During visit, two agreements were signed viz an agreement on cultural exchange and Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation on health sector. Prime Minister Thinley assured that his country would extend cooperation to meet the power deficit of Bangladesh. And finally, the recent visit of Bhutan’s King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Queen in February, 2013 will further introduce a new dynamism to the bilateral relations and raised the relationship to a higher trajectory in all sectors.
at Nu. 222.4 million, out of which orange exports alone accounted for Nu. 137.5 million about 62 percent of total exports. Orange and apple together constitute 72.5 percent of total exports to Bangladesh. In 2002 export were worth US$ 1.67 million where .027 percent of total exports from Bangladesh and imports from Bhutan amounted to US$ 3.92 million which was 0.0459 percent of Bangladesh’s total imports in 2002. Bhutan imports a wide range of products from Bangladesh. In 2001, garment imports are about 40 percent and Medicine worth Nu.0.9 million of total imports. Melamine, tableware and kitchenware items are 17 percent of total imports. Bhutan’s major imports from Bangladesh include food items, medicine, urea fertilizers, newsprint, dry fish, cellophane, household utensils, ready-made garment and automobile and machine parts. Bhutanese exports constitute fresh fruits, dolomite processed food, soya bean oil, furniture and items of personal effects.
Bangladesh-Bhutan trade dealings are not significant compared with other neighboring countries. According to Bangladesh Bank, Bhutan’s total value of exports to Bangladesh in 2001 stood
Bangladesh exports some manufactured goods to Bhutan and imports edible fruits, prepared foodstuffs plaster of Paris, quartzite, dolomite powder, lime powder, soap stone powder, calcium,
“Bhutan and Bangladesh have actively cooperated in the field of flood and earthquake control in 1988 and 2009 respectively.”
“Bhutanese exports constitute fresh fruits, dolomite processed food, soya bean oil, furniture and items of personal effects.”
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© AP Photo/Gurinder Osan
“Bhutan was permitted to use the Phuntsholing (Bhutan) -Changrabandha (India) - Burimari (Bangladesh) route for the trade with Bangladesh but the more convenient route from Bhutan’s point of view is central Bhutan to Dalu (India) to Nakuganj (Bangladesh).”
“Besides geographical proximity, there are economic and other reasons for Bhutan establishing bilateral relations with Bangladesh.”
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particle board, coal and bituminous, and beverages. Thus Bhutanese fruits such as apples and caneed fruits products bearing the Druk brand name tend to be quite widely available in Bangladesh. Bangladesh imports from Bhutan mainly boulders, dolomite, gypsum, dust coal, slate, graphite, timber and fruit products and exports to Bhutan consumer goods, pharmaceuticals, jute products, newsprint, chemicals, detergents, light machinery. As of 2009– 2010, Bangladesh’s total imports from Bhutan stood at USD 25 million, while its exports to Bhutan accounted for US$ 3 million. Bangladesh constitutes about 5 percent of Bhutan’s total trade, including both exports and imports. Bhutan enjoys a positive balance of trade with Bangladesh. According to Air Services Agreement, in the late 1980s Bhutan started weekly air services to Dhaka. Under an agreement with India, Bhutan was permitted to use the Phuntsholing (Bhutan)-Changrabandha (India)Burimari (Bangladesh) route for her trade with Bangladesh as of January 1998. Under this agreement Bhutan
is using this particular route for its trade with Bangladesh through Indian Territory but the more convenient route from Bhutan’s point of view is central Bhutan to Dalu (India) to Nakuganj (Bangladesh). Since, the validity of 20 year agreement has already expired on 8 September, 2000; it is recommended that, during negotiations between Bangladesh and Bhutan on renewal on this agreement, this requirement is taken into account for specifying the transit route. In January 1984, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed between Bangladesh and India on Gitaldha\Mongalhat rail route as the entry exit points of Bangladesh- Bhutan trade. Besides geographical proximity, there are economic and other reasons for Bhutan establishing bilateral relations with Bangladesh. Regional economic cooperation is extremely important for Bhutan because Bhutan and India share special bilateral relations in trade and development depend on Indo-Bhutan Treaty of 1949. Bhutan’s third country trade currently moves through Kolkata port which always remains congested.
It is easier to them through Mongla port in Bangladesh which is located at a shorter distance compared to Kolkata. Keeping mind this Bhutan interested to start a tripartite transit agreement between Bangladesh, Bhutan and India for smooth movement of Bhutanese trucks to Bangladesh through India and vice-versa. Bhutan has comparative advantage in certain areas like hydropower, tourism potential, textiles and herb-based pharmaceuticals among others. Bhutan is also a party to the Growth Quadrangle Initiative within SAARC, comprising Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN-GQ). These initiatives have tremendously benefited Bhutan’s exports and many other areas of economic development. Regional economic integration has also helped Bhutan in its preparedness towards international integration being sought through WTO membership. Track-II diplomacy bears impotence for a warm relationship. According to Bhutanese education delegation in 1980, the Agreement on Economic and Technical Co-operation was signed between the two governments in
February 1984. Bhutan has benefited in the field of human resource development through Bangladesh government scholarships in medicine, engineering and agriculture. Between 1980 and 1994, 34 Bhutanese students were accepted to study in Bangladesh. The recent visit of Bhutan’s King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Queen in February 2013 will further introduce a new dynamism and higher trajectory in all sectors. Bangladesh also highly expected to uphold this new dynamism with Bhutan in order to instigate regional integration. During the visit, Bhutanese King expressed his hope that a tri-nation Bangladesh, India and Bhutan - will be held regarding exporting hydroelectric power to Bangladesh for helping the country in mitigating its high demand of electricity because Bhutan has the potential of producing 10,000 megawatt of hydroelectric power. King Wangchuck also said Bhutan is keen to increase its relations with Bangladesh in trade, agriculture and power sectors.
“Bhutan has comparative advantage in certain areas like hydropower, tourism potential, textiles and herb-based pharmaceuticals among others.”
“King Wangchuck also said Bhutan is keen to increase its relations with Bangladesh in trade, agriculture and power sectors.”
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Shahbag Movement: the unfinished tasks of Liberation war of Bangladesh
Janina Islam Abir
Student of 3rd year, Dept. of Mass communication & Journalism University Of Dhaka, Bangladesh
“The people’s protest centering Shahbagh begun right after the tribunal announced its judgment on February 5, 2013, demanding capital punishment for all war criminals.” 36
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Recent history of Bangladesh has been defined by struggle for freedom and rights. Following near 200-year colonial rule, its people found no respite from the abuse of their rights and dignity in the newborn Pakistan. The eastern part of Pakistan had to brave slaughters and destructions of all sort by the Pakistani military allied by the local collaborators to win over a country of its own, Bangladesh, in 1971. Yet, in spite of being an independent country its people have been waiting for whole its lifetime to bring to book the perpetrators of heinous war crimes, the crimes against humanity, during the war forced on them. People’s wish for justice revived in 2010, when the government on March 25 that year announced formation of a tribunal to deal with international crimes occurred some four decades earlier. In January 2013, the first verdict of the tribunal came against Abul Kalam Azad. He was sentenced to be hanged till death.
The very second verdict of the international crimes tribunal makes people taking to the streets smelling rats in an otherwise lesser, unjust sentence. Abdul Quader Mollah was sentenced to life imprisonment, despite being found guilty of crimes against humanity in five cases. Thus began the people’s protest centering Shahbagh right after the tribunal announced its judgment on February 5, 2013, demanding capital punishment for all war criminals. Firstly, Blogger and Online Activist Network (BOAN) began a peaceful demonstration at Shahbagh intersection of Dhaka. Endured, the rally was attended by people from all walks of life in a growing number to make it an unprecedented mass. The protesters denied leaving the place, one of the busiest in the capital, until their demands are met by the government. Later ‘Gonojagoron Moncho’ introduced some more demands, specifically: • Capital punishment for all convicted war criminals
• Banning Jamaat-e-Islami and its front organizations as perpetrators of war crimes On February 8, 2013, several lakhs of people joined the rally at Shahbag to stretch it all-over around. It led to an unparalleled gathering of people to push for the demands. No political figure was allowed to address the rally like the other days, to clearly distinguish it beyond any partisan position. Day by day the protest was strengthening. Following Shahbag, the protests spread across the country from the beginning. ‘Gonojagoron Moncho’ was established in different parts of the country. Silence, lighting candle, flying balloons, among others, became the language of the protests. These were held across the country. A blogger and activist of Shahbag movement, Ahmed Rajib Haider was killed allegedly by activists of Islami Chhatra Shibir, student front of Jamaat. Following his killing, a new phenomenon was added to the protest. Anti-Shahbag forces claimed that Shahbag protest is running by atheists who criticize Allah and Prophet Muhammad (Sm) on their blogs, Rajib Haider being one of them. People from outlying areas and countryside were influenced highly by the propaganda. After death sentence of Delwar Hossain Sayedee, another war criminal convicted by international crimes tribunal, a deliberate violence started across the country. Jamaat-
e-Islami activists attacked many Hindu households, temples as well as government establishments. More than a hundred people were killed in the two-week violence including the political activists, police personnel and civilians. Government role ICT verdict against Quader Mollah put people at large in a strong doubt that there must be some compromise between the government and Jamaat. Early slogans of Shahbag protests included, ‘People will not accept the farcical verdict’ and ‘People deny the verdict of compromise’. Quickly, in absence of especially the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, the government somehow gets hold of the control of the protests and safely silenced the slogans against it. Prime minister herself promised to fulfill the demands of Shahbag’s ‘Gonojagoron Moncho’. People largely blamed the government and the protest organizers for the ruling party involvement in the protests. It channeled a large section of otherwise supporters to withdraw. Government was also blamed for politicizing the movement which belonged to the people. During the movement, government also tried to censor the mass media and social networking sites, and finally abandoned the protesters, when seemed worthy. Role of domestic media It has been said that Bangladeshi media had accelerated this protest by giving
“Gonojagoron Moncho introduced some more demands, specifically: Capital punishment for all convicted war criminals and banning Jamaat-e-Islami and its front organizations as perpetrators of war crimes.”
“Jamaat-e-Islami activists attacked many Hindu households, temples as well as government establishments. More than a hundred people were killed in the twoweek violence including the political activists, police personnel and civilians.”
» Think South Asia
“Called and led by the youths, the movement also displayed the patriotism hidden inside the generation that did not see the 1971 war. It was the power that no authority can deny.”
“People are not spontaneously participating in the movement now. The main reasons behind this include government influence, counter protest and its impact on mass people.”
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maximum coverage as some channels telecasted live almost 24 hours in some days. Newspapers dedicated most of its space with supportive, activist-like reports along with special columns and articles in the front pages. Though most of the media supported this protest, some Jamaat backed media houses described this as a ‘showdown of government and anti-Islam people’. Role of domestic Media was controversial as they were not neutral, at any point. Some support this, in uncritical and non-journalistic ways, while some opposed. In every case, media were biased affecting the traits of the profession. Outcomes of this protest Government has brought an amendment to the International Crimes Tribunal Act-2009, by which both complainant and defendant can appeal against a verdict. Cultural dimension of the protest The movement has some shortcomings but the biggest strength of it was People, irrespective of their age, profession, class, ethnicity and religion, showed their support to the movement. Called and led by the youths, the movement also displayed the patriotism hidden inside the generation that did not see the 1971 war. It was the power that no authority can deny.
Although, the demands of the movement are not achieved yet, it gives the nation a new inspiration, add a new cultural dimension to the custom of protest in Bangladesh. Political parties have many things to learn from the movement. Recent situation A lengthy protest cannot always reach its goal. Shahbag protest also lost its dynamic power day by day. People are not spontaneously participating in the movement now. The main reasons behind this include government influence, counter protest and its impact on mass people. However, the protests are still on with ‘Gonojagoron Moncho’ organizing rallies, observing different programs at a regular interval to push for the demands that are as old as the country.
Arif Shahid Murder Harms Kashmir Peace The murder of nationalist leaders in Balochistan has unfortunately become a sad routine. However the news of the assassination of Arif Shahid, the most important figure of Pakistan’s Kashmiri independence movement and widely respected chairman of the All Parties National Alliance which opposes the Pakistani occupation of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, came as a big shock. According to reports by the Pakistani press, Shahid was arrested after a meeting with Held Kashmir, an NGO supporting peace in the region, and released after protest against his imprisonment. Soon after he would be murdered in front of his home on May 13, in a scenario that closely resembles the pattern of elimination of Balochi leaders followed by intelligence agencies. Like many other Kashmiris, Shahid advocated for the unification and independence of the divided former principality of Jammu and Kashmir but he also strongly championed for the rights of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. Gilgit-Baltistan was originally part of the Jammu & Kashmir principality. A
mostly mountainous area, adjacent to the one occupied by China after the IndianChinese war of 1962, it was ceded by Pakistan to China. The remaining part was transformed recently into the new province of Gilgit-Baltistan, and the Pakistani controlled former principality became Azad Kashmir. Kashmir National Party leaders have strongly condemned the murder: “The deceased leader was a true Kashmiri and throughout his life he struggled against those who occupied his motherland. He was a brave soldier of struggle of unification and independence of forcibly divided Jammu and Kashmir.” It is unlikely that the murder of the most prominent figure of Kashmiri nationalism in Pakistan could have been done without the consent of Pakistan’s highest “de facto” authorities and it sends a very negative message on the prospects for peace in this country. Pakistan has been strongly sponsoring the cause of separation of the Jammu and Kashmir province from India. It
Founder and executive director of the South Asia Democratic Forum
“Shahid advocated for the unification and independence of the divided former principality of Jammu and Kashmir.”
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© Mukhtar Khan/AP
“By deciding to open this new front of hostilities, Pakistan’s military leadership sends a chilling message to the country and to the international community.” has been doing so under a pure Islamist agenda, under the assumption that Muslim majority countries or regions – such as the former principality of Jammu and Kashmir – cannot be governed by infidels.
“The assassination of Arif Shahid is a big loss for the peace movement in Kashmir.”
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The apparent truce between Pakistani authorities and the Kashmiri nationalist movement could not last, as the objectives of both are mutually exclusive. By deciding to open this new front of hostilities, Pakistan’s military leadership sends a chilling message to the country and to the international community. For all of those who thought this time we would see power devolved to a civilian government, the message is loud and clear: the so-called national issue will be kept tightly in the hands of the military structure, and it is to be
tackled the way it has been for decades: by eliminating nationalist elites. Whereas in Turkey, authorities seem to have at last come to the notion of the need to respect different national identities, nothing of the sort seems to be happening in Pakistan. And yet, as it was widely demonstrated in history, totalitarian ideologies cannot suppress the identities of people, even when they use the most extreme and shameful strategies, like the physical elimination of cultural and political elites. The assassination of Arif Shahid is a big loss for the peace movement in Kashmir and will render yet more troublesome the prospects for this unstable region of the world. The international community should send a clear sign of regret and disapproval of such an act.
“Elections? Yes. Democracy? Not yet.” Pakistan General Elections 2013: Implications for Europe Post-Election Expert Briefing May 14th, 2013 EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT “Elections yes, but democracy not yet”this was the verdict from European experts following a high-level briefing in the European Parliament this Tuesday, May 14th on the domestic and international impacts of the recent Pakistani general election . “Last Saturday’s general elections constituted the first regular transfer of power between two civilian governments in Pakistan. Undoubtedly, this is a milestone in the country’s chequered political history” – started Dr. Siegfried O. Wolf, Lecturer in Heidelberg University, South Asia Institute, and Director of Research of South Asia Democratic Forum (SADF). Nevertheless, it is not a reason for optimism. “The 2013 elections, with respect to the electoral campaigning process and the election day itself, were the bloodiest elections in Pakistan’s history. More than 200 Pakistanis lost
their life and at least 700 got injured” – continued Dr. Wolf. This message was reinforced by the presentation of the next speaker, Dr. Martin Axmann, former Resident Representative of Hanns Seidel Foundation in Islamabad. He went further, reminding the audience that first, Pakistan is still a military state and second, the likely next prime minister Nawaz Sharif had already held power twice was and had been dismissed twice due to alleged corruption and misgovernment. Mr Michael Meyer-Resende, Director, Reporting Democracy International, proposed a detailed analysis of the technical aspects of the elections. He identified positive aspects including the mobilisation of youth, the increased number of candidates and certain electoral reforms that took place before the election such as the improvement of the role of the Electoral Commission and the involvement of the opposition in appointing its members. However, women voters are still underrepresented in Pakistan.
SADF Team www.sadf.eu
“The 2013 elections were the bloodiest in Pakistan’s history. More than 200 Pakistanis lost their life and at least 700 got injured.”
“Nawaz Sharif had already held power twice was and had been dismissed twice due to alleged corruption and misgovernment.” Think South Asia
Press Release © Fayaz Kabli/Reuters
“Pakistan will continue to expand the economic and political rapprochement with India as well as with the West.”
“Pakistan is still far away from the commonly accepted democratic principles.”
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The following speaker, Dr. habil. Christian Wagner, German Institute for International and Security Affairs, specified the foreign policy options of the new government. According to Dr. Wagner, due to the difficult economic situation, Pakistan will continue to expand the economic and political rapprochement with India as well as with the West. However, he noted that relations with the US might be complicated by the decision by Pakistan’s government choice to open talks with the Taliban and its sharp criticism of US drone attacks. “In order to tackle the domestic and the regional security challenges, Pakistani governments on the national and the provincial level, the governments in Kabul and the United States will need a common threat perception”, – he said. All the speakers concluded that elections are necessary but not a sufficient condition for democratic rule. Democracy is also characterised by the existence of individual rights of protections which means in practice the grant of protection of life, freedom and property. Thus, elections can only
be deemed free and fair in Pakistan when basic fundamental rights and freedoms are guaranteed. Looking at last Saturday’s elections as well as at the electoral campaigning the weeks before election day, the discussion came to the conclusion that Pakistan is still far away from matching these commonly accepted democratic principles. Mr Paulo Casaca, Executive Director of SADF and chair of the event presented SADF’s congratulations and hopes of success to the Nawaz Sharif but regretted the unprecedented level of violence by the Taliban as well as atrocities perpetrated by Pakistani military forces that executed and dumped the bodies of 24 Baloch and Sindh nationalists. Brussels, May 16th 2013
press freedom chart
Very serious situation Sri Lanka Difficult situation Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Afghanistan Noticeable situation Nepal, Maldives, Bhutan
Credits Reporters Without Borders
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