Press Release Summary = TIME magazines current issue is already in circulation. It was already known that in the Asian edition of TIME, Bangladesh comes as the cover story. Many of the international media will try and take excerpts from the contents of this story, and we can only hope that, most of them will use these for producing positive ones for Bangladesh.
Press Release Body = TIME magazines current issue is already in circulation. It was already known that in the Asian edition of TIME, Bangladesh comes as the cover story. Many of the international media will try and take excerpts from the contents of this story, and we can only hope that, most of them will use these for producing positive ones for Bangladesh. It was extremely unfortunate for Bangladesh that in past it got lots of bad campaigns in the western media. Name any of the big newspapers in the West. They are just looking for any loophole in governance or economic growth in this small nation in South Asia. They are rather reluctant in publishing anything good about Bangladesh, for reason unknown. The fact that Time magazine was running a cover story on Bangladesh had not been a very well-kept secret, nor was the fact that, after what seemed to be a long line of negative stories, that the current one portrayed Bangladesh, and the alliance government, in a very positive light.
It may be recalled that the writer of the report titled 'Rebuilding Bangladesh', Alex Perry was the man who published another article in 2002 titled 'Deadly Cargo', in which he depicted Bangladesh as a safe haven for Islamic terrorists, including al-Qaeda. In 2004, the government again had a similarly infuriated response to the Time magazine piece \"State of Disgrace\" that painted a certainly one-sided but in truth depressingly accurate picture of the extortion, toll collection, and other lawlessness rampant in Bangladesh.
The Bangladesh foreign ministry poured scorn upon the piece and issued a rejoinder, suggesting that it had been a politically motivated hit-job aimed at undermining the country, and pointing the finger of accusation across the border:
\"The timing of the report, the sources quoted its narrow focus and harsh conclusions point to a highly motivated report. It follows upon the heels of another slanted story \"Deadly Cargo\" by Alex Perry, which sought to smear Bangladesh as a radical Islamic fundamentalist state. Is it an odd coincidence that both the correspondents were based in New Delhi?\" What has always been interesting about the government response to negative stories in the international media is the rather far-fetched belief that the stories are some kind of diabolical conspiracy against the government hatched by its enemies. It is not enough to accuse the publications concerned of shoddy or sensationalistic coverage, which in fact is often the principal reason behind poor or incomplete reporting, but it must also accuse them of being part of a coordinated plot to discredit the government, and by extension, the country.
Why Time magazine, or The New York Times or the Far Eastern Economic Review for that matter, would be part of an anti-Bangladesh conspiracy has always remained unclear. Hopefully, the recent cover story will have at least have had the effect of removing Time magazine from the sin of publishing bad reports on Bangladesh, most of which were, unfortunately too motivated and biased..
It is a distinction of sorts, to be the cover story of the popular American weekly 'Time' magazine. A subject qualifies to be selected for this on the basis of topicality and importance. It can be a success story, a catastrophe or a combination of both. Bangladesh made it to the cover of 'Time' for things both good and bad. Even then, the right balance has not been struck, it seems. While some issues have been highlighted, others, equally important, are missing or have been underplayed. In his story titled 'Rebuilding Bangladesh', Alex Perry wrote, As Lutfozzaman Babar, Bangladesh\'s Home Minister, tells it, the call he\'d been awaiting for months came at 3 a.m. on March 6 while he was grabbing some sleep in a Singapore hotel during a whistle-stop tour of Asia. \"It\'s him, it\'s Bangla Bhai,\" came the voice of a commander in the Rapid Action Battalion (R.A.B.), Bangladesh\'s ťlite antiterror squad. \"He\'s surrounded.\" Babar, the leader of a government drive to rein in Islamic militancy, was instantly awake. \"Don\'t shoot! Don\'t shoot!\" he urged. \"We need him alive. We need to know what he knows.\" Bhai, whose real name is Siddiqul Islam, was the prime target in the government\'s crackdown on terrorism. A veteran of the mujahedin war against the Soviets in Afghanistan who later drifted through the Middle East as a nightclub bouncer, Bhai had returned to Bangladesh to help found two extremist groups. Over the past three years, he was believed to be a central figure behind a host of bombings, assassinations and suicide attacks that culminated last Aug. 17 in 500 near-simultaneous explosions across the country. It wasn\'t a surprise, then, to find that Bhai had no intention of meekly surrendering. When an R.A.B. officer opened the door of the house where Bhai was hiding in the northeastern village of Rampur, Bhai opened fire with a pistol, grazing the man\'s temple. Then, with the house surrounded, Bhai detonated a bomb inside, apparently hoping to kill himself and his assailants; he succeeded only in setting fire to the house. Looking charred and raw-skinned, he was led out of the burning building and pushed into a waiting truck.
Babar put in a triumphant call to the secure red phone in Prime Minister Khaleda Zia\'s office. \"She was very excited,\" he recalls. She still is. In an interview with TIME, Zia purrs over how the war against radical Islamists is going. \"We\'ve broken their back,\" she says. \"We will catch all of them. They\'ll get life sentences, or death.\" Zia can be forgiven for a little crowing. At the best of times, governing Bangladesh is one of the toughest political challenges on earth. Its 144 million people are crammed into a country the size of New York State, with 70 million of them living on less than $1 a day. As the world\'s biggest delta, Bangladesh is also plagued by floods and cyclones, and by the steady poisoning of tens of millions of people who drink water contaminated by naturally occurring arsenic. Man hasn\'t done Bangladesh many favors either. The country was born from the ruins of East Pakistan 35 years ago after a war of independence in which India-backed nationalists-unhappy at being ruled from what was then West Pakistan-fought Islamists loyal to Islamabad. Three million people were slaughtered in eight months before the Pakistanis conceded. Those were the days before truth and reconciliation commissions and international criminal tribunals, and the world left Bangladesh largely alone to heal and rebuild. Success has been limited. Democracy is strangled by a poisonous political war between Zia\'s right-of-center Bangladesh National Party (B.N.P.) and the left-leaning Awami League. Rejecting any notion of bipartisanship, both parties seem to keep the nation perpetually on the verge of chaos, alternating between state repression or crippling national strikes aimed at toppling the government, depending on who is in power. With politics often reduced to little more than a big brawl, violence infects much of daily life. Gangs armed with barbers\' razors roam city streets, extortion is widespread, beatings are routine. A TIME reporter who traveled to Rajshahi to interview a lawyer found on arrival that the man had been murdered. Bangladesh\'s courts, police and bureaucracy, moreover, are so weak that the country has come last in Transparency International\'s world corruption index five years in a row. Zia\'s most popular initiative has been forming the R.A.B., a police force that draws support in part for its willingness to kill. \"It\'s been a crazy few years since I\'ve been here,\" says Larry Maramis, the U.N. Development Program\'s deputy resident representative. \"The country could easily have fallen into being labeled a failed state.\" The scale of the Aug. 17 blasts-when hundreds of bombs were detonated in an hour-demonstrated how close Bangladesh could have come to falling apart. The ingredients for disaster were all there. While the country was founded on secular principles, a Western diplomat in Dhaka says it \"has become noticeably more pious in the last few years\" due to an explosive growth in radical madrasahs funded by Middle Eastern charities. It doesn\'t help that Bangladesh lies on a gun-smuggling route from East Asia; in April 2004, police discovered a boat in the southern port of Chittagong unloading enough AK-47s, grenades and ammunition to fill 12 trucks that were presumably destined to deliver the ordnance to insurgent groups in Bangladesh and possibly beyond. Responding to scattered reports of Islamic fighters from overseas using Bangladesh as a safe haven, the then U.S. State Department coordinator for counterterrorism, Cofer Black, warned in the fall of 2004 that the country could become a \"platform to project terror.\" Until the August bombings, however, Zia\'s government had denied the presence of Islamic extremists in Bangladesh. The opposition accused her of avoiding the issue because two hard-line Islamic parties, the Jamaat-i-Islami and Islami Oikya Jote, were partners in her ruling coalition. Zia insists the government\'s inaction was merely due to a lack of information. \"We did not know they were there,\" she says of the militants. \"After the Aug. 17 bomb blasts, we knew.\" And they acted. Zia made combating the insurgency the defining mission for Home Minister Babar and the R.A.B., formed in 2004 from 9,000 top officers in the military and police. The Bangladeshi authorities solicited forensic help from the FBI and Scotland Yard, which was particularly interested in a May 2004 bomb attack that injured British High Commissioner Anwar Chowdhury; the R.A.B. also exchanged information with Interpol and Western intelligence agencies. Meanwhile, Zia demanded, and received, public support for an antiterror drive from Bangladesh\'s religious leaders and from her Islamist coalition members. The government also targeted bank accounts operated by suspect Islamic foundations in order to cut off funding to terrorists. In addition to Bhai\'s capture, this antiterrorism campaign has led to nearly 1,000 arrests over the past eight months. Five of the seven top leaders of one terror group, the Jama\'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh, have been caught, including Bhai\'s alleged co-conspirator Sheikh Abdur Rahman. Only two months ago, says the Western diplomat, \"I was telling people back home it was just a matter of time before we had the first car bomb or first attack on a foreigner.\" The \"nightmare scenario that could have unhinged the entire country,\" he adds, was for terrorist attacks to escalate during what is already expected to be a tense general election in early 2007-but that now seems \"pretty remote. What we\'re seeing looks like the implosion of the entire [militant] organization.\" Bangladesh, dubbed in the 1970s by Henry Kissinger as a \"bottomless basket,\" is making surprising progress on other fronts, too. According to the U.N.D.P., the country now scores higher than neighbor India on several key barometers of social development, such as infant mortality, child vaccination, and employment of women-a striking turnaround over the past decade or so. The country\'s much-praised microcredit scheme, operated by the Grameen Bank, has lent an average of $120 each to 5.8 million people. And the government says 100% of young children are now enrolled in primary school, and that girls at last have equal access to education-goals that Zia, as a woman leading a conservative Muslim nation, had made a priority. \"If we want to progress as a country, to remove poverty and spread awareness of family planning, we have to give [girls] equal rights,\" she explains. The economy is looking up, too. GDP has grown by at least 5% for three years running, and the Asian Development Bank predicts that growth will hit 6.5% in 2006. Foreign direct investment rose from $138 million to $454 million in the first six months of last year compared to the same period the previous year. The number of cell-phone users rose by 144% in a year. And Goldman Sachs has rated Bangladesh as one of 11 developing nations that, in the long term, could emulate the success of China, India, Brazil and Russia. Mahmudur Rahman, Zia\'s executive chairman of the Government Board of Investment, can scarcely hide his delight, describing Bangladesh\'s recent economic success as \"nothing short of a miracle.\" That might be overstating it. But Christine Wallich, World Bank country head, says that in the past 12-18 months international opinion has indeed gone through a sea change. Bangladesh, she says, is now seen as \"the little engine that could.\" Dramatic proof of that comes in plans by India\'s biggest business group, Tata, for a $2.5 billion investment in Bangladesh in steel, gas, coal and power. If it proceeds as planned, that would exceed the total foreign direct investment the country has attracted since independence. Wallich says the effect on Bangladesh of such a vote of confidence would be \"transformative.\" Group chairman Ratan Tata says that while the deal makes good business sense, he hopes it could also kick-start the country. \"If somebody doesn\'t make a move,\" he told TIME, \"Bangladesh will always remain where it is today. Somebody has to make a leap of faith.\" Salim Chaklader, 45, is part of the rising tide of Bangladeshis who have escaped from subsistence living and joined the happier ranks of the urban middle class. Born in a village outside Dhaka, he and his family moved to the capital in 1973 and set up a shop importing cloth from Thailand and China. The family now has six shops and 40 employees, and Chaklader hopes to send his two sons, 18 and 16, to university. \"We\'re pretty confident of the future,\" he says. His conviction is echoed by Alan Rosling, executive director of Tata Sons and a prime mover behind Tata\'s investment in Bangladesh. \"There is poverty,\" he says, \"but there\'s also a fast-developing middle class, which makes it an attractive market. People tell us we\'re taking a big risk. But we\'ve had a long, hard look at Bangladesh and while, yes, there are issues, there\'s nothing we see there that we don\'t see in most countries.\" Rosling, deep in negotiations with the government over Tata\'s investment, is coy about specifying the \"issues.\" Chaklader is less diplomatic. None of his confidence in the country\'s future, he says, derives from its political leadership: \"It\'s small businessmen like me that boost growth. I\'ve given a living to 40 families. The politicians just get rich.\" To the average citizen, claims Chaklader, the primary function of the state can seem to be extracting bribes. \"I pay a $30 bribe for a telephone line. I pay another $50 bribe for my trading license. When I put my children in school, I had to give a $100 \'donation.\' These are not people that are thinking about the progress of the country.\" Chaklader fingers corruption, and the sharply uneven development that accompanies it, as the main cause of militancy. The swanky new apartment blocks, gelato houses and Thai restaurants in Gulshan, Dhaka\'s smartest neighborhood, he says, are a cause of frustration and alienation for many less fortunate Bangladeshis. Indeed, Jamaat-i-Islami explicitly appeals to that dissatisfaction in its party literature, casting its leaders as \"honest men\" working for a more equitable distribution of wealth. \"A lot of people are deprived,\" says party spokesman Mohammad Kamruzzaman, \"and so our support is increasing.\" The bilious feud between Bangladesh\'s two leading women also hobbles the country. Asked about the hostility between her and Awami League leader Sheikh Hasina, Zia replies: \"Ask her.\" For her part, Hasina accuses Zia of everything from staging \"a drama\" with the militant arrests to secretly being behind an attempt to have her assassinated in 2004 when a bomb killed 22 people at an Awami League rally. Politics in Bangladesh has always been a highly personal and perilous blood sport. Zia\'s husband, former President Ziaur Rahman, was assassinated in May 1981; Hasina\'s father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, leader of the independence movement and the nation\'s first free government, was killed along with much of her immediate family in a military coup in 1975. This history of personal tragedy has intensified the distrust and recriminations that characterize Bangladeshi politics. In March, Zia took a TIME correspondent by helicopter to a public rally at Pabna, a town west of Dhaka, to witness the popular support she attracts. The crowds were indeed impressive, even adoring, throwing themselves over fences, spilling into rivers and falling out of trees as they raced to catch a glimpse of the Prime Minister. But the day was also notable for the extravagant venom of Zia\'s speeches. She accused Hasina\'s party of bringing terrorism to Bangladesh, running a national network of criminal \"godfathers,\" and being linked to the arrested militant leaders. In an interview the previous night at her home in Dhaka, Hasina spoke of Zia as the mastermind behind the Islamist conspiracy-\"it\'s her baby,\" she said-and accused her Bangladesh National Party of torture, murder and rape. Needless to say, each of the women dismisses the other\'s allegations. The price of this political hatred is incalculable because the instability spills over into the economy. \"It\'s the single biggest issue holding back development,\" says the World Bank\'s Wallich. Even the Board of Investment\'s Rahman agrees: \"The intensity of the political rivalry is definitely hurting the nation.\" It erodes faith in state institutions, which are co-opted into the fight at the expense of governance. The gloves-off bitterness also makes almost anything acceptable in Bangladeshi politics. Both the B.N.P. and the Awami League employ violent student wings, and both parties have wooed fundamentalists over the years to help defeat the opposition. Many B.N.P. members even allied themselves publicly with Bangla Bhai in his earlier days when he became an underworld hero by allegedly killing extortionists operating in the country\'s lawless western badlands. Asked about these embarrassing links, Home Minister Babar is visibly uncomfortable: \"You have to understand that this was only local criminal activities. Bangla Bhai was fighting criminals. It wasn\'t jihad then.\" Perhaps the biggest cost of the political feuding is that 35 years after its bloody birth, the country\'s tortured soul remains unhealed. Neighbors, colleagues, even members of the same family who support different parties commonly refuse to speak to one another. Truth is often lost in the chasm between these divisions. Depending on who you talk to, the arrest of a journalist is an attack on press freedom or the welcome detention of a professional blackmailer; a new flood-defense project is evidence of good governance or of pork-barrel corruption; even tax evasion can be hailed as a good thing if it keeps the money out of a particular government\'s hands.
Bangladesh may never truly leave behind this legacy of bloodshed, corruption and distrust. But in what was once one of the sorriest places on earth, there is new hope. From the slow but marked gains in foreign investment to Zia\'s decision to fight Islamic militancy head-on, Bangladesh has achieved progress that few outsiders, or even Bangladeshis, believed possible a few years ago. \"All we need,\" says University of Dhaka Professor of Economics Abul Barkat, \"is five years of good governance, and we\'d be away.\" Surely no nation ever deserved it more. TIME also published an interview of Bangladesh Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia, where they wrote, Bangladesh\'s Prime Minister Khaleda Zia entered politics after the 1981 assassination of her husband General Ziaur Rahman. In a rare interview with Western journalists, Zia, 60, talked to Time\'s William Green and Alex Perry in Dhaka about corruption, her political nemesis and her campaign to crush the threat of militant Islam. This is the extended transcript of that interview. Tell us about the crackdown on Bangladesh\'s Islamic insurgency. Zia: We have arrested so many. There are two or three big leaders left. We will get everybody. It\'s possible because people are with us. Even religious leaders are not supporting them. We have broken their back. How big a factor was pressure from abroad? Zia: We have very good relations with the FBI, the U.S. and Interpol. We are working together. But this is from me. I told my home minister to catch all these people. They are terrorists. They are using the name of Islam, but they are not good Muslims. You took a while to act. Zia: We did not know they were there. After the August 17 bomb blasts, we knew. And we cracked down on them. Some leaders face a death sentence. Many have been given 40 years in jail. [But] Bangladesh is not a rich country, my priority is health and education, and we do not have the technology. The terrorists have modern weapons, but the police did not. Does having hardline Islamic parties in your coalition compromise your position? Zia: Our allied parties are fine. They know we have to catch the terrorists. People say members of your Bangladeshi National Party had links with [insurgent leader] Bangla Bhai. Zia: Only the opposition says this. There are no B.N.P. members [involved]. If anybody is involved, not only B.N.P. members, but anybody, we will take action. Opposition leader Sheikh Hasina told us the insurgency was your \"baby\"? Zia: No, no, it\'s not my baby. It\'s their baby. When I took over, the country\'s law-and-order situation was very bad. People were very afraid. Nobody could sleep. Nobody could come out of their homes. We inherited terrorism from them. Why the mutual hostility with Hasina? Zia: It\'s not mutual. I want to be friends. I\'d be very happy to meet her. We have to [be] together [to] resolve problems. I wrote a letter. But she did not receive it. If she really wants to cooperate, tell her she can come. But if she does not want to, I cannot help it. Where does this friction come from? Zia: Ask her. That\'s what she says. Zia: Many times I have invited her, but she did not turn up. She says the difference between the two of you is ideological, not personal. Zia: That means she does not believe in democracy. I believe in democracy, and in democracy we sit and talk to everybody. Do you think the deadlock stymies development? Zia: We\'re not fighting, we\'re working. We have many development programs. If you go to the countryside, you\'ll see good roads, bridges, homes, electricity, women\'s education. I am doing all these things. [Our] development work is not hampered. But when [the opposition] calls countrywide strikes, despite promising not to, then development will be hampered. I can\'t do anything about that. What about corruption? Zia: After people come to Bangladesh, they [realize] the law and order situation is [actually] very good. This is all propaganda against Bangladesh. There are some disgruntled newspapers and journalists doing this. TIME magazine also, you did the same thing. If Bangladesh is so bad, how come Bangladesh is doing so well in health and education? How come so much investment is coming? Our growth rate is 5.8%. Everywhere in Bangladesh, [people] lead a good life. Nobody goes without food or clothes. Everybody has access to education. They get proper health care. There is no hunger. What else do you want? As a woman in an Islamic country, is women\'s education important to you? Zia: Girls\' education is very important. If we want to progress as a country, if we want to remove poverty, if we have to spread awareness of family planning and bring down population growth, we have to educate them, give them equal rights. Women have to prove that they are no less than men. I am trying to end [the] dowry [system]. That will only happen when women start working as professionals. Our country is conservative, but people have accepted my programs. People accepted me. This is big.
You smile when you say that. Zia: I want to do something for the people of my country. Especially women and children. People will remember me for that. Your entry into politics was under unfortunate circumstances. Zia: When my husband was killed, I did not get involved. I did not want to. But party leaders started consulting me and I had to join due to public pressure, and when the army was ruling our country. It\'s very hard to be in politics in our country, but I got people\'s support. It\'s exactly the same [with my son]. People want him. Bangladesh isn\'t the easiest country to govern, either. Zia: I am a human being. [Sometimes] I feel like giving up. But people have shown their trust in me, I can\'t let them down. You always have to connect with the people to be in power. How do you beat the stress? Zia: Nowadays, I am grandmother. I have three grand-daughters. I get some time to look after my garden. I look after my house too. The interview of Begum Zia shows clearly about her firm commitment to combat Islamist militants. She is not going to spare anyone, who would use the good name of Islam for terrorism. This is something many of the Muslim nations needs to learn. Bangladesh being one of the poorest nations in the world has successfully shown the courage and commitment in eliminating Islamphobia. Everyone will agree, this is not any simple task. Even look into the remarks by the advisor of Board of Investment, who scarcely hided his delight, describing Bangladesh\'s recent economic success as \"nothing short of a miracle.\" Or, may be the most effective figure in Bangladesh cabinet, Lutfuzzaman Babar. The young and most dynamic home minister is working tirelessly to combat terrorism and Islamist radicals, while he is living personally a very low profile life. He is not hungry for press coverage or playing drums to promote his success stories. Even a child in the country is aware of the excellent achievement of Rapid Action Battalion, an elite force lead by Babar. When Khaleda took over power from Bangladesh Awami League in 2001, the entire country was virtually under the garb of notorious crime and terrorism. Extortion was almost becoming as main source of income for some section of derailed people. But, Babar was the man to crack down these elements. He did not think twice even to arrest an MP belonging to the ruling party, for alleged involvement in extortion. After the establishment of RAB, country's law and order situation has greatly improved. Now, people are leaving the breath of relief.