Tag Archives: Bangladesh

A Muslim intelligence chief says little about prejudice in India

Syed Asif Ibrahim

The appointment of a Muslim to the head of India’s internal spook agency, the Intelligence Bureau, has caused a bit of a stir. Syed Asif Ibrahim is the first Muslim to head the Bureau, and given that a lot of its work is directed against Islamists of one stripe or another, there is something symbolic in that. Some have seen this as a shrewd political move by the Congress government, since its main opposition is the Hindu nationalist BJP, which (unsurprisingly) doesn’t get on quite so well with India’s 177 million Muslims (it’s good to have a loyal intelligence man on your side ahead of a general election). But others have seen the appointment as a breakthrough for the Muslim community, which remains under-represented in official positions and fares poorly on almost every development indicator.

I disagree that this marks any kind of significant breaking down of traditional social boundaries. India’s elite no longer faces anything like the prejudice experienced by the country’s poor majority. The equality of castes, religions and genders that was enshrined in India’s constitution has come true for those with enough money to transcend their traditional identities. This has been the case for a long time — look at this example from the 1971 war with Pakistan (from Kapil Komireddi’s excellent article on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons):

None of the men who were leading India’s forces at the time were Hindu. India’s air marshal was a Muslim (Idris Latif); the commander of its ground forces in Bangladesh was a Sikh (JS Aurora); the chief of the armed forces was a Parsi (Sam Manekshaw); and the strategist who planned the capture of Dhaka was Jewish (JFR Jacob).

A similar point can be made about women. India ranked 129th out of 146 countries on the Gender Inequality Index last year. And yet, women are extremely well represented in top positions. The (arguably) most powerful person in the whole country is a woman: Sonia Gandhi, head of the Congress party. The head of the opposition in parliament is female, and women lead some of the most important states: West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and, until recently, Uttar Pradesh.

It is further down the social ladder that discrimination remains a problem. In an almost zero sum world in which hundreds of millions of desperately poor people are competing for minimal resources and scant opportunities, many jealously guard the small social benefits conferred by caste or religion or gender as a way of staying at least marginally ahead of those on the rungs below. These distinctions are often exacerbated by politicians — either intentionally to build a block of guaranteed voters from a certain group, or unintentionally through welfare schemes that are designed to improve the lot of backward groups but which end up hardening those boundaries in the process.

The poor face huge obstacles to advancement primarily as a result of their poor nutrition and education at young ages. Impoverished Muslim communities face even tougher conditions in attempting to break out of their traditionally low status. I haven’t found an extensive bio of the new Intelligence Bureau chief yet — perhaps he worked his way up from the worst of ghettos. I doubt it. In any case, by the time he had made it into the more senior ranks of officialdom, he was already in the rarefied air of the elite – a place where the giddy dreams of India’s founders can actually come true.


India Shuffle: Poverty, Cremation, Mutiny & Deregulation


From today, I’m moving the blog on to Current Intelligence and the name is changing to Subcontinental. You can find it here…

RSS feeds and so forth to follow soon. For the next few days, I’ll keep posting here as well, but I hope you’ll migrate with me.


MAOIST OR KIDNAP VICTIM? – Looks like the story of a media studies Maoist is as unsubstantiated as it sounded yesterday. Chhattisgarh police had accused Lingaram Kodopi of being the mastermind of the attack on a state politician earlier this month. In a tearful press conference at a Delhi University, he described being kidnapped by police last year and held for 40 days without charge as they tried to force him  to become a Special Police Officer (SPO) and fight the Maoists. When he finally got out, he escaped to Delhi. Chhattisgarh is famous for arming a people’s militia, called the Salwa Judum, to fight the Maoists. It has generally been seen as the least effective and most brutal tactic yet adopted in Indian counterinsurgency, encouraging a mounting cycle of violence in which villagers are turned on their neighbours, often against their will. Despite repeated rulings by the Supreme Court and National Human Rights Commission, and promises from the state government, little decisive action has been taken to reverse this policy.

INDIA POORER THAN AFRICA – A new measure of poverty, the Multidimensional Poverty Index, which is being adopted by the UN Development Programme, has found that india’s eight poorest states contain 421 million poor people, more than the total for the 26 poorest African nations.

GREEN CREMATION – India uses 50 million trees a year for funeral pyres, emitting 8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. It’s also a very expensive business for families. Are new eco-friendly crematoriums that use less wood the answer? [IPS]

BANGLADESH MASS MUTINY CHARGES – An astonishing 824 people, most of them members of the paramilitary forces, have been charged en masse for their role in the brutal mutiny of the Bangladesh Rifles in February 2009. There are already 3,500 soldiers facing separate prosecutions in military courts for joining the mutiny, which led to the death of 74 people, mostly officers, in a row over pay and conditions. There have also been rumblings that the mutiny was encouraged by anti-government forces, unnerved by the accession of the secular AL government the month before.over pay and conditions. There have also been rumblings that the mutiny was encouraged by anti-government forces, unnerved by the accession of the secular AL government the month before.

MAOISTS ATTACK MINING CO. – The Maoists have apparently attacked a complex run by the National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC) in the Bacheli region of Chhattisgarh with around 50 men, leading to a battle with Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) troops. This is not the first time there’s been an attack like this – an NMDC bauxite mine in Orissa was attacked in April 2009 and Hindalco’s bauxite mine was attacked in May 2005. This has nothing to do with the fact they are mining in tribal areas, and more to do with wanting all the dynamite they keep there.

FUEL DEREGULATION IS A SCAM – Here’s a proper, hardcore critique of India’s decision to deregulate fuel prices from left-wing journal, Radical Notes. I wish I was enough of an economist to discuss it, but I’m not. Nonetheless, it seems to raise some excellent points, particularly: The government’s main argument is that under-recoveries in state-owned oil companies is bad for fiscal stability and pushes up inflation, but has this point really been proven? Under-recoveries have been effectively absorbed in the past. So is deregulation just about the private sector looking for windfall profits and won’t that have its own inflationary impact, this time more specifically targeted against the poor?

PRODUCTION DOWN – Industrial production grew by 11.5% year-on-year in May, down from 16.5% in April. Is another slowdown on the way? [FT]

IRON ORE BAN – India is considering a complete ban on iron ore exports to help it meet its domestic demand (and to stick two fingers up to China). [FT]

My Bad: Hosein Probably Not a ’99 Hijacker

As usual, things are never as cut-and-dried as the press would like them to be. Most news reports – and this blog – stated that Belal Hosein, the jihadist captured in Bangladesh, was a key figure in the 1999 Indian Airlines hijacking. Today, Praveen Swami in The Hindu says that he was probably not involved in that particular plot. Although he claimed he was shortly after the incident and Dhaka was a staging post for the operation, no Bangladeshis were directly involved according to the intelligence report of 2000. Swami has excellent contacts in the intelligence services, so he’s a pretty good person to listen to.

He argues that the arrest is more important as evidence of the inter-linkages between militant groups across South Asia, and the continuing – perhaps growing – threat to India. Hosein is thought to be part of the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen (JMB) in Bangladesh, which has close ties to Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad in Pakistan. Intelligence officers say the JMB were involved in the foiled plot to bomb US and Indian embassies in Dhaka late last year. According to Swami, the group was in the advanced stages of a plot to strike targets within India.

Also, the International Crisis Group has just released a pretty comprehensive report on the JMB.

Hijacker Jacked, Tiger Caged, Nagas Negotiated

Plenty of action on India’s counter-terrorist front today, offering an insight into just how diverse and complex are the security challenges the country faces.

In Indo-Pakistan jihad nexus news, it appears the Bangladesh secret service, the Rapid Action Brigade, have nabbed a key figure behind the hijacking of flight IC-814 on Christmas Eve 1999. The plane was hijacked by five Pakistanis who flew it to Kandahar in Afghanistan and demanded that India release 3 Islamist militants, which they duly did. The whole incident was a disaster for India, with one passenger being killed, the hijackers all getting away, and the militants they released going on to become big name horror-shows in the terrorist world. Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar, already famous for kidnapping the daughter of the Indian home minister in 1989, went back to Kashmir to use his newly minted status to recruit jihadists. Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh was later linked to the murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl.  And Maulana Masood Azhar went on to found Jaish-e-Mohammad, one of the groups blamed for the 2001 attack on the Indian parliament that brought India and Pakistan to the brink of all-out war. If ever evidence was needed for the not-dealing-with-terrorists rule, then this incident was surely it.

In northeast insurgency news, the prime minister himself has been meeting with Naga rebels to see if they can find some compromise between full autonomy and increased regional powers. After 50 years, you would think the government had made its point that national borders are non-negotiable, but when fights last this long, they tend to have a momentum of their own. Nonetheless, the involvement of the prime minister himself suggests these talks are pretty serious and the rebels at an advanced stage towards chucking in the violence.

And over in good ol’ Blighty, the cops have tracked down Tiger Hanif, who has been on the run for some 17 years for his part in a bomb attack in Gujarat during the horrible sectarian riots that were going on there in 1993. His life had apparently quietened down a bit since then, as the police found him working in a grocery shop.

All pretty good news for the Indians for once. Co-operation not just from militants in Nagaland, but also from their old allies in the UK and most promisingly, continued assistance from their new friends in Bangladesh. It has been a good year for relations with Dhaka, who helped capture top ULFA insurgents and signed a bunch of co-operation deals in January. I’m sure Delhi wishes that all news days were like this.

India and Bangladesh Put it in Writing

Bangladesh and India have signed a series of treaties on extradition and cross-border security that formalise the improved relationship enjoyed between the two since prime minister Sheikh Hasina came to power in late 2008. The past year has seen her Awami-led government crack down on militants which use Bangladesh as a base to attack targets in India, particularly insurgents in the northeast of the country, such as the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA).

Arms seized at Chittagong, Bangladesh on their way to ULFA militants

The turn-around has been profound – Bangladesh has been a vital sanctuary for militants for much of the past two decades, but throughout 2008, the government snatched and handed over several key militants, including Arabinda Rajkhowa, Sasha Chaudhary and Chitraban Hazarika, three of ULFA’s top leaders. Undaunted by the fact he’s the only ULFA leader still at large, army commander Paresh Barua told reporters last week that the organisation would continue to fight against “illegal migrants from Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan.” For all their talk about ethnic sovereignty, what these separatists really hate is immigrants. Of course, Bangladeshis aren’t so bad when they are allowing you to use their country as a sanctuary, but I suppose that’s somehow different.

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