Bangladesh, Disasters - natural and man-made, Economic, International, Life as it is, Political

IPCC issued a ‘code red’ alert

Human-induced climate change is ravaging our planet and every country, including Bangladesh, is struggling to deal with its impacts

As the world battles record-shattering heat waves, calamitous droughts, deadly floods and landscape-altering wildfires, a roughly 4,000-page report released on August 9, 2021 by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) spells out, in unequivocal terms, how anthropogenic climate change is ravaging our planet. Prepared by IPCC’s Working Group I and described by its authors as a “code red for humanity,” the report warns that global temperatures will likely to rise by 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2040 if warming continues at the current rate. This is the threshold value agreed upon in 2015 at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris.

Key takeaways from the IPCC report
> Climate change is a reality and it is going to get worse
> Humans are responsible for the “widespread, rapid and intensifying” effects of climate change, and some of them are irreversible
> Extreme weather is on the rise and will keep getting worse
> Oceans have warmed, their acidification has increased, and there has been a drop in Arctic sea ice
> Glaciers are melting at an accelerated pace
> Sea-level rise will be worse than once thought
> We must cut greenhouse gas emissions now, before brutal weather becomes more prevalent and more destructive
> Tipping points, or cut-offs—which, when exceeded, will set off self-perpetuating irreversible loops in the natural world—have a “low likelihood,” but they cannot be completely ruled out

After the report was made public, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said, “The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk.” Many media outlets did not mince words to describe the nightmarish scenario painted in the report about the future of our planet. The frontpage headline in The New York Times read, “A Hotter Future Is Certain, Climate Panel Warns. But How Hot Is Up to Us.” The Atlantic described the crisis with two words: “It’s Grim.” One of the authors of IPCC’s 2001 report told CNN, “Bottom line is that we have zero years left to avoid dangerous climate change, because it’s here.” On the other hand, in an opinion piece in the conservative The Wall Street Journal, a physicist expressed scepticism about coverage by the media. He wrote, “Despite constant warnings of catastrophe, things aren’t anywhere near as dire as the media say.”

Eight years in the making, the report essentially validates the seemingly bleak future that many of us foresaw with trepidation. It also confirms what scientists had predicted even before coal-fired power plants were built. In 1856, American scientist Eunice Foote was the first to describe the extraordinary power of carbon dioxide—the driving force of global warming—to absorb heat. The first quantitative estimate of climate change influenced by carbon dioxide was made in 1895 by Svante Arrhenius, a Swedish scientist and Nobel laureate.

For the general public, physicist James Hansen of NASA sounded the alarm about climate change after his testimony to the US Congress in June 1988 on the detrimental effects of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions. Yet in 1995, the IPCC is on record stating that the ability to connect climate change to human activities is “currently limited.” This time around, the IPCC admits that they can now link recent natural disasters with climate change in a way that they have not been able to before. What an about-turn!

The latest IPCC report is a stark reminder of what we are experiencing today—scorching summers roasting millions of people worldwide, out-of-control wildfires, protracted droughts, widespread famine, killer storms, torrential rainfall followed by cataclysmic floods, and more. These are among the most visible and damaging signs that the Earth’s climate is changing for the worse as a result of burning fossil fuels. And all these weather-related events are happening because the world warmed by a “mere” 1.1 degrees Celsius since the Industrial Revolution. Clearly, with each passing day, these events will become more intense, turbocharged, amplified, and worse.

Thanks to the report, many Republicans in the US Congress, who for decades disputed the existence of climate change, no longer deny that the Earth is heating up because of greenhouse gas emissions. Or perhaps the statement from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—that July was the world’s hottest month ever recorded—forced them to acknowledge climate change. However, they are still unwilling to abandon fossil fuels.

Since the 1980s, emissions, particularly of carbon dioxide, have ballooned to unprecedented levels despite repeated, and at times frantic, warnings from scientists about “civilisation-shaking” catastrophes. Scientists at the International Energy Agency say that emissions of carbon dioxide “are on course to surge by 1.5 billion tonnes in 2021, the second-largest increase in history, reversing most of last year’s decline caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Climate is controlled by how much of the Sun’s heat arrives at and remains trapped near the Earth’s surface. Because the Sun is expected to shine at the minimum for another five billion years, we can envisage no major changes in the incoming heat for many thousands of years to come. Thus, the changes we will see in climate from now until 2050, a cut-off year determined at COP21 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero, will mostly depend on how much of the arriving heat is retained by the Earth’s surface.

Having said that, even if the goals of COP21 are met, the Earth will still be warmer in the future than it is today and the warming trend will continue because it takes a long time for the Earth’s climate to adjust to the changes in its energy budget, resulting from increased greenhouse gas concentrations. Besides, if emissions of carbon dioxide dropped to zero tomorrow, climate change will continue to play out for centuries because the greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere have lifetimes of hundreds and thousands of years. Given this circumstance, we can still keep warming below catastrophic levels by going carbon negative together with zero emission. Carbon negative means removing more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than adding to it.

Climate change and Bangladesh

As for Bangladesh, it is among the countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Although the global share of carbon dioxide emissions by Bangladesh is a meagre 0.21 percent, climate change has already been inflicting untold miseries on its people. The government has identified floods, cyclones, droughts, tidal surges, tornadoes, river erosion, water logging, rising sea level and soil salinity as major hazards that are behind a shift in migration and increasing poverty.

Bangladesh has a hot climate, with summer temperatures that can hit 45 degrees Celsius. In a world that is hotter by 1.5 to two degrees Celsius, heat waves will break new records, with more than half of summers being abnormally hot. Northern Bangladesh will enter a new climatic regime, with temperatures above levels not seen in the past 100 years. In light of this fact, the government is rightfully demanding that industrialised nations, who are also the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, reduce their planet-warming pollution without further delay, compensate poor countries for the damages caused, and fund them so that they can be better prepared for a perilous future.

In the past few years, the Bangladesh government made significant advances in disaster risk reduction. It has constructed a series of multi-purpose buildings that are used as storm shelters during cyclones, significantly reducing mortality. Notwithstanding, the damage and loss of income due to climate change is on the rise. Nevertheless, if Bangladesh wants to become a middle-income country, the government should focus on mitigation along with adaptation, and move away from coal-fired power plants.

On a different note, the amount of methane emitted by Bangladesh is so high that the country is now becoming a significant contributor to environmental degradation. Methane is a greenhouse gas that can cause 28 times as much warming as an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide over a period of 100 years. According to IPCC, the concentration of methane in the atmosphere is higher now than at any time in the last 800,000 years.

Melting of glaciers and ice sheets

A few words about the effects of global warming on one of the primary sources of fresh water are in order here. Out of the 71 percent of water that make up the Earth’s surface, the vast majority, over 96 percent, is non-drinkable saline water in seas and oceans. Just 3.5 percent is fresh water, but a minuscule amount—approximately one percent—are in freshwater lakes, streams and in the atmosphere. The bulk of the fresh water, almost 70 percent, is trapped in ice and glaciers. While most of the ice is in the Arctic, Antarctic and Greenland, some are scattered as glaciers in the mountains around the world.

The glaciers we see today are remnants of the past Ice Age, an alternating period of melting and freezing that lasted about a million years. Yielding only to the warmth of the Sun’s rays, these giant rivers of ice grind their way to the sea, crushing everything in their path, scouring the landscape, shaping mountain peaks and carving broad valleys.

Considered to be the “gold standard for measuring climate change,” glaciers are a natural data bank. In between their thick layers of compacted snow, glaciers hold records of volcanic eruptions, chemicals in the air and changes in the atmosphere. They reflect variations in the pattern of weather and climate over long periods of time.

Glaciers feed many of the world’s important river systems, including the Brahmaputra, Ganges and Indus, and directly or indirectly supply millions of people with food, energy, clean air and incomes. Communities living at the foothills of large mountains use glaciers as a source of water.

Across the high mountain region from the Hindu Kush to the Himalayas, which stretches from Afghanistan in the west to Myanmar in the east, air temperatures have risen by nearly two degrees since the start of the 20th century. In response, glaciers are melting and retreating, permafrost is thawing and weather patterns are becoming more erratic, disrupting previously reliable water sources for millions and triggering more natural disasters. Scientists are worried that the impacts will hit not just those living in the mountains, but also millions of people in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan living in the river valleys below.

Melting of glaciers has another effect. More melting means more water pools in lakes on top of the glaciers or at their lower snouts. Since the late 1970s, the number of glacial lakes across the Himalayas in Nepal has more than doubled. These lakes are often growing so fast and hold so much water that they have gushed through the rock piles holding them back, resulting in devastating floods. Additionally, steep slopes that were locked in place by frozen soil have thawed, causing rockfalls, collapsing terrains, avalanches and mud slides.

Because of global warming, ice sheets are melting at breakneck speed and will continue to melt. Indeed, a historic heat wave in July melted ice in Greenland large enough to flood the entire state of Florida with well-nigh two inches of water. At the same time, extreme flooding from higher sea level will continue to get more frequent, and the sea level itself will continue to rise well into the next century, mainly because of thermal expansion due to the amount of heat the oceans have absorbed so far.

Widespread loss of ice sheets will likely alter climate in other complex ways. For example, their white surfaces help to keep our climate relatively mild by reflecting the Sun’s rays. When they melt, darker exposed surfaces will absorb and retain more heat, thereby raising global temperatures.

It is now a truism that global warming begets more warming. Therefore, the effects of climate change will worsen with every fraction of a degree of warming. Even if we limit warming to 1.5 degrees, the kinds of extreme weather events we are experiencing this year, in winter and summer alike, will become more severe and more recurrent. Beyond 1.5 degrees, scientists say the climate system will be unrecognisable. In all likelihood, it will lead to the disappearance of small island nations and low-lying coastal countries, as well as unleash tens of millions of climate refugees upon an unprepared world.

What will be the response of our leaders and policymakers after they read the IPCC report? It will not be an exaggeration to say that world leaders, who are under tremendous pressure to deliver on promises made at COP21, cannot distinguish the divide between rhetoric and reality. Hence, at COP26, to be held in Glasgow, Scotland later this year, we should not expect any firm commitment from them to save the world. Instead, their speeches will be like the ones given at past climate-related summits—”full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Finally, the well-researched and well-intentioned report on climate change and recommendations for mitigation and adaptation contained therein can, metaphorically speaking, be characterised as a “recovery mission” rather than a “rescue mission.”

Quamrul Haider is a Professor of Physics at Fordham University, New York.

Cultural, Human Rights, International, Life as it is, Political, Religious

America’s one-dimensional policy and its consequences

The United States of America (USA – in short, America) still is world’s number one superpower, but nobody can say how long it is going to last. By all accounts, the end is not too far off. As the adage goes, what goes up must come down. Going up is tortuous, but coming down is simply sliding down or tumbling down.

America had risen to the status of super-power only after World War I, when Allied and Axial powers of Europe and Asia had embarked on annihilating each other, destroyed each other’s towns, cities, industries, infra-structure etc., whereas America escaped with little or no damage to its homeland as the country was physically isolated by two huge oceans, one on each side. Winning the war with such minimal damage and benefitting subsequently from the industrial revival was the root of America’s greatness!

Then came the World War II within a short space of time (within just twenty years). Admittedly, America did not jump onto the European war bandwagon straightaway, not because America had visceral abhorrence of war, but because America needed time to assess which party had the upper hand and in the mean time doing a roaring business trading in arms and ammunition with both the warring parties! Nearly half way down the war, America joined in. With minimal suffering and damage to man and material, she romped home to victory. To save lives of few hundred American soldiers in Japan, she dropped two atom bombs in two cities in Japan killing nearly 200,000 innocent Japanese outright and that made Japan’s surrender inevitable!

After the war, America became the undisputed leader and superpower of the world, not because of her war skills or war sacrifices, but because of her ruthless aggressive stance and no moral inhibition. War is perceived in America as a way to establishing supremacy and enhancing superiority.  

America acquired the mindset that it is the master of the whole world and its dictum must be followed. When Saddam Hussein tried to defy American hegemony, he was a target for regime change. America invaded Iraq on the concocted narrative that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Of course, America supplied chemical weapons and other items which can be called WMD previously during the Iran-Iraq war, but Saddam Hussein destroyed them. Despite his repeated denial and despite international weapon inspectors’ failure to find any evidence of WMD whatsoever, Iraq was still invaded and no WMD of any description had ever been found in that country. But that is beside the point. If America said something, that must be true!

During that invasion of Iraq, a number of Hezbollah soldiers from Lebanon were spotted in Iraq and an American General declared that no foreign soldiers would be tolerated in the country. America does not consider her troops in Iraq as foreign! Moreover, to give a religious flavour to the invasion of Iraq, George W Bush revealed that he was, in fact, asked by God to invade Iraq and he just carried out His orders!

America was not mature enough in the world stage to assume the position of a superpower; it was thrust upon her unequivocally after the WWII. Consequently, American foreign policy became lop-sided and unidirectional. Nearly 40 years ago (in 1979), when Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan to keep America off from its backyard, American’s immediate reaction was to take revenge and drive Soviet Union out. It was a blatant display of America’s superpower arrogance and desire to avenge its cold war rival, the Soviet Union. How best it could be done was not a consideration for the mighty superpower.

Force must be met with force was possibly America’s guiding principle and its unidirectional policy. She started giving large quantities arms and ammunition to the Islamic fundamentalists, called Mujahideen, disregarding the fact that these fundamentalists also vowed to take revenge against the west.  Pakistan, a fundamentalist Muslim country, was trusted with the Jihadi operation and plane load of money from America, Saudi Arabia and Qatar started pouring into that country. American arms industry was also having a bumper period selling arms to the government, who then shipped them to Pakistan for distribution to Afghan Mujahideen. Within nine years Soviet Union had been bled dry and militarily brutalised. The Soviet helicopters could simply be plucked out of the sky by the Mujahideen with American shoulder launching stringer missiles. America boasted when Soviet Union had to withdraw in disgrace saying, “The Soviet Union had been taught a very good lesson”. Pakistan also bragged, “We defeated Soviet Union and that may have caused the break-up of Soviet Union”.

The same Jihadi group (Mujahideen) with Pakistan’s tutelage became Taliban in less than five years and started attacking American and western interests worldwide. That Mujahideen could become Frankenstein and turn the guns on Americans did not come to American heads; driving Soviet Union out was the one-dimensional approach of America. A superpower with such short-sighted blinkered military strategy is unthinkable. Al-Qaeda, ISIS and other Jihadists around the world had flocked in Afghanistan under the Taliban rule. Within five years of Taliban rule in Afghanistan, twin-towers in New York had been blown-up, when the scheme was hatched by al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Islamist terrorists must have felt grateful to America for creating a safe haven for them in Afghanistan.

In fact, Mujahideen, Taliban, al-Qaeda, ISIS, FSA (Free Syrian Army) and many more Jihadi groups owe their existence to American patronage. Money and material were supplied by America through various sources to these groups to fight Russia and other countries who are not in America’s good book. That America was creating Jihadi monsters that may one day devour the creator did not come to its consciousness.

Following the attack on twin-towers in New York by al-Qaeda operatives on the 11th of September, 2001, America embarked on a revenge attack on Afghanistan. America issued a demand to Taliban government within a few weeks of 9/11 attack that Osama bin Laden be handed over to America henceforth. Taliban asked for evidence of Osama bin Laden’s involvement in twin tower attack before he could be extradited. America, with her arrogance and rage, would not provide any evidence and issued an ultimatum. When Taliban rejected the ultimatum, America with Britain and other western democracies invaded Afghanistan in December 2001 and systematically started destroying Afghan government infrastructure and Taliban offices. Within few weeks Taliban had been dislodged from power and America took over the country. But there was no trace of Osama bin Laden, as if he had just vanished into thin air!

A decade later, America’s foremost terrorist, Osama bin Laden had been found, not in Afghanistan but in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Pakistan, who was America’s close ally and confidante and who benefitted from shedload of money from America all these years, had a duplicitous role. Osama bin Laden was killed and dumped at sea, but Pakistan’s role in giving sanctuary to him and then denying his presence in the country remains an enigma. 

For 20 years, America and its allies had been fighting a losing battle against the Taliban. The Taliban with a large number of war veterans from Mujahideen during the Soviet era had been lodging a war of attrition against the west. America, in those 20 years, had been pouring in arms, ammunition, tanks, planes etc as well as training Afghans to fight a modern warfare. But the newly trained Afghan soldiers could not or would not fight against the Taliban and just melted away when faced with Taliban. Now Taliban are in control of Afghanistan with all military arsenal that America had amassed and with all freshly trained soldiers. It may also be pointed out that corruption in the Afghan government as well as among American contractors and arms suppliers was simply unprecedented.     

Now over 32 years after the Soviet Union’s withdrawal, it is American turn to withdraw. During the past 20 years, America gave the most up-to-date arms and ammunition to Afghan forces, which have now become Taliban’s property. If al-Qaeda, ISIS or any other terrorist group does coagulate in Afghanistan, America would have no guts to go back. Taliban have now become too strong to kowtow after owning all the advanced weapons, tanks, planes of various types etc that America left behind. On top of that, America will have difficulty forming a coalition of partners after the present debacle of unilateral decision to pull out, whereas a collective decision was taken to form a coalition in 2001. America may well also remember the great adage ‘Once beaten, twice shy’. Russia may even have the last laugh and say, “American has learnt a very bitter lesson.”

America can now look forward to its time of ‘progressive nationalism’, as Joe Biden professes and huddle back home as Taliban have completely clipped off its wings and even chopped off its fuselage. Within two years of Soviet Union’s withdrawal, that country disintegrated losing a large number of constituent republics. What fate awaits America’s withdrawal is only future to tell. But undoubtedly reputational damage to America due to its financial weakness, reliability and trustworthiness is simply beyond reckoning. It would be a miracle if America can recover from this debacle with its reputation intact. After all, one must remember that when something starts to slide down, it slides down and down, it never slides up.

Dr A Rahman is an author and a columnist

Cultural, International, Political, Religious, Uncategorized

Three concerns about Taliban 2.0

Taliban fighters at the Afghan Presidential Palace

The Taliban have returned to power in Afghanistan. The spectacular fall of the US-backed government has caught everyone by surprise, although for years it was implicitly assumed that the war was lost in Afghanistan. Yet, the US continued its presence and pursued a failed policy of engagement. However, within the past weeks, city after city fell like dominoes to the advancing Taliban forces as the Afghan Army either surrendered or abandoned their posts. This led to the fall of the capital without any resistance. The hasty and unplanned evacuation of the US embassy in Kabul was reminiscent of another ignominious defeat of the United States—Saigon in 1975. Often referred to as the “Saigon Moment”, this came to life one more time, bringing an end to the US military operation launched 20 years ago after the terrorist attacks in the US by Al Qaeda, which was hosted by the then ruling Taliban. The Taliban was dislodged from power in a few weeks and two decades of US presence began.

Since the fall of Kabul on Sunday, the events leading to the moment have been analysed in extensive detail all around the world, and there have been emotionally charged discussions in the Bangladeshi media as well. Many have expressed their delight at the defeat of the US; some praised the Taliban for their success. Since the Taliban blitz began a few weeks ago after US President Joe Biden declared the timeline of the US withdrawal, and it became evident that the Taliban’s victory is all but certain, security experts and analysts of Afghan politics expressed an array of concerns.

These fears have been rejected by those who are optimistic of a new beginning in Afghanistan and want to give the Taliban the benefit of the doubt. They are suggesting that this is Taliban 2.0. Implied in the statement is that the Taliban has transformed. They argue that these concerns are only a part of the anti-Taliban campaign on behalf of the West. These explanations and concerns warrant our attention, particularly now that Taliban rule has become the reality.

A common explanation of the Taliban’s victory is that the people of Afghanistan have rejected the foreign power, as they did the British and the former Soviet Union before. Instead, they have chosen their political representatives. This characterisation of the Taliban as a nationalist force has some merit to it. To some extent, the support for the Taliban among Afghan people can be traced back to their nationalist ethos, but it is not clear whether this brand of nationalism has transcended the deep-seated ethnic divide in Afghan society.

However, nationalist ethos alone does not explain the entire phenomenon; the failure of the US-backed government in Kabul bears some responsibility. The parochial nature of the Afghan elite, the lack of inclusive governance, the incessant factional wrangling among them, the rampant corruption and utter disregard for the larger segments of society—all of this together contributed to the emergence of the Taliban as the alternative. While trillions of dollars of US taxpayers’ money were poured in, there was a disconnect between reality and perception.

The nationalist explanation is also fraught with the problem that the Taliban alone does not represent Afghanistan—those who oppose the Taliban ideology are also part of the national fabric. Afghanistan cannot be imagined without Taliban followers, neither should it be imagined excluding those who do not subscribe to the Taliban ideology. But the most serious inadequacy of the interpretation is that it ignores the political disposition of the Taliban and its record of five years in power between 1996 and 2001.

Explanations of the Taliban’s victory without considering its history and ideological position only offer a partial account, laced with emotion and devoid of the implications. There are those who are elated from ideological considerations, describing the Taliban’s victory as a victory of Islam. Whether Taliban rule is consistent with Islamic precepts is an open question at best. The Ulama have long rejected this claim.

The concerns about the future of Taliban-ruled Afghanistan can be broadly divided into three strands. First, the nature of governance to be introduced within the country. Second, whether Afghanistan will become a safe haven for international terrorist groups. Third, whether Afghanistan will emerge as a threat to regional peace and stability.

Taliban rule during 1996-2001 was marked by the absence of inclusivity in politics and governance. The notion of citizenship was absent, let alone their consent in governance. The basic human rights of citizens were absent. The so-called code of conduct was imposed by force, women’s fundamental rights were taken away, cultural activities were banned, the education system was restricted, and only religious education was given the status of education, and independent intellectual exercise was admonished. These were justified on the pretext of being distinct characteristics of Islam and Afghan society.

A particular interpretation of Islam was imposed as the only authentic and acceptable version. The Taliban did not acknowledge the presence of diversity, multidimensionality, or plurality of Islamic thought. Thus far, the Taliban have not given any indication that they would abandon those practices. This is not only a concern of Western nations, but is widespread among Afghans too. The possibility of such austere measures has already frightened people within the country. Even if the Taliban leadership makes promises, is there a guarantee that their followers will not continue the old practices in different parts of the country?

It is needless to say that Afghanistan was once an al-Qaeda base and training centre. Osama bin Laden went to Afghanistan from Sudan around 1996 and under his leadership, al-Qaeda engineered and implemented attacks on US interests, in the United States and elsewhere. Although the Taliban have assured the United States, China and Russia that they will not allow Afghan soil to be used by terrorist groups in the future, experts on Afghanistan believe that it will continue to maintain contacts with al-Qaeda, and the link is “unbreakable”. Dr Asim Yousafzai, a Professor of International Relations at the University of Maryland and an expert on Afghan politics and security, told the BBC that “no matter how much Taliban promise, their relations with al-Qaeda are still intact and al-Qaeda is fighting alongside the Taliban in battles against Afghan forces”.

Besides, such organisations can emerge without state support. There is no guarantee that the Islamic State or al-Qaeda will not build their bases, taking advantage of a chaotic situation and finding ungoverned spaces. This had happened in Sahel and Western Africa. Whether the Taliban will have the capacity to launch operations against such organisations is quite a valid question, as is the question of whether they will cooperate with any international initiative against such organisations. Will those within the Taliban with more extremist proclivity refrain from patronising the regional or transnational terrorist groups? These are the second strand of the concerns.

The third concern is how much will be the ideological impact of the ruling Taliban in Afghanistan on countries in South Asia and Central Asia. Harkatul Mujahideen (Huji), a Pakistan-based violent extremist organisation, came into being in support of the Mujahideen. Although the organisation was named Huji in 1988, it was already in existence for quite some time. By 1992, it had expanded into a regional terrorist organisation. Its official journey to Bangladesh began on April 30, 1992—after the fall of Kabul. The Taliban’s victory will energise the followers of its ideology throughout the region. In the past 20 years, the Taliban have been able to recruit members without being in power; now, their success is likely to attract more. Pakistan’s Taliban, which have helped the Taliban in Afghanistan so far, will gain further strength, and may seek return of their favour.

It is imperative to highlight and be vigilant about the use of the manufactured threat of terrorism by states in South and Central Asia to justify the persecution of opponents and silencing of contrarian voices. Authoritarian rulers of the region have been using the presence of violent extremist organisations as an excuse to consolidate their power and legitimise the use of various tools of intimidation. Two decades ago, authoritarian rulers around the world joined the bandwagon of the so-called War on Terror as it provided a carte blanche to engage in unlawful acts. It is necessary for the members of civil society and international community to remain vigilant and resist any kind of attempt to take advantage of the situation.

The ball is in the court of the Taliban. It is incumbent on them to behave as a responsible political actor and ensure that Afghanistan is not going back to 1996. It is also imperative to watch what the followers of their ideology are doing. And it is necessary to watch what other governments are doing under the pretext of the Taliban victory.

Ali Riaz is the Professor of Political Science at the Illinois State University.

Cultural, Disasters - natural and man-made, Human Rights, International, Life as it is, Political, Religious, Technical

Taliban – Pakistan’s weapon of mass destruction

Protection against terrorism

The world is horrified at the speed and extent of Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan and the consequent collapse of Afghan military force. Afghan military has shown that it is as strong and stable as the house of cards; when just nudged by Taliban, it starts to collapse and has the domino effect under its own momentum. At this point in time, the 15th of August 2021, Taliban is poised to take over Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, and thereby bringing an end to the American invasion of Afghanistan about twenty years ago and completing the utter humiliation of mighty America.

But Taliban is not the rag-tag of rebel soldiers or tribal gangsters with slings and arrows. Taliban had been put together by Pakistan, made into a fighting force and, above all, the strategy of ensuing battle in Afghanistan had been master minded by Pakistan. Pakistan may be a rogue and failed state, but its military machine is very much functional and ready to meddle in other state’s internal affairs. As Shashi Tharoor, an Indian politician, said some years ago, “The state of India has an Army, the Army of Pakistan has a state.”  

In particular, one would say, Pakistan always had the inclination to fish in the muddy waters of other countries, particularly Afghanistan. Following the coup d’état in April 1978 (Saur Revolution) by the People’s Democratic Party in Afghanistan against its President Daoud Khan, a chain of events was set in motion. America wanted to sabotage the coup to undermine its cold war rival, the Soviet Union; and the Soviet Union in response sent in troops in December 1979 to prop up the collapsing government of the coup leaders.  

That is when Pakistan found enough ammunition to trump up the situation. How could an atheist communist state be allowed to take over a Muslim state, they thundered? Pakistan drummed up support from Western capitalist states as well as Muslim states to avenge the situation. Mujahedeen, a conglomeration of rebel soldiers with Islamist zeal along with some pro-Chinese elements, were formed by Pakistan with the direct help and administrative support of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan back in the early days following the invasion of Soviet Union. Pakistan took the central role in procuring funds from America and other Western states as well as unlimited funds from the oil-rich Arab states. On top of that, the 34-nation Organisation of Islamic States (OIC) gave Pakistan full political and financial backing. In return, Pakistan was entrusted with military training, logistic and intelligence support as well as arms and ammunition to the Mujahedeen.

It was a perfect win-win situation for Pakistan. Almost the whole of Pakistan’s military machine was bank-rolled on Mujahedeen’s expenses financed by Arab states and America. At the same time, Pakistan formed a gangster fraternity with the CIA and American military machine. Mujahedeen had been made into a fighting force much better than that of many third world country. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, was bleeding profusely under the twin attack of the capitalist world and the Muslim world. By 1985, Soviet Union expressed willingness to negotiate its troops withdrawal from Afghanistan, but neither Afghanistan nor America was willing to negotiate. However, in 1988, Soviet Union decided to withdraw from Afghanistan and leave the country to fend for itself. Within a year, the Soviet Union itself was in turmoil and started to break up.

Pakistan was basking in the glory of defeating the mighty Soviet Union. It is said that Afghan war might have contributed, at least partially, to the collapse of the Soviet Union. The ISI’s chief, Gen Hamid Gul, twirling his moustache bragged to the world that his men had brought down the mighty Soviet Union. However, radical Islam and political Islam got a new lease of life and a safe sanctuary in Pakistan. But that was a small price to pay for Pakistan for the wider geo-political victory and the concocted world status. America also in its turn declared that Soviet Union had been ‘taught a very good lesson’ and the ‘job was well done’. But hardly did the so-called victors realise that they had created a monster, a monster of Frankenstein’s proportion, which one day might devour the masters!

After the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union, America considered the job well done and lost any interest in the back waters of geo-political schism. Mujahedeen had been left in the lurch, with thousands of heavily armed soldiers roaming around aimlessly in the streets of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pakistan’s ISI which had initiated and guided the Mujahedeen right from 1979 took advantage of this vacuum. In doing so, Pakistan received financial help and military assistance from Western countries to manage the situation. But that was not enough to Pakistan’s liking and Pakistan started to play a duplicitous role. On the one hand they continued to get American and Western help to disassemble Mujahedeen and on the other hand they surreptitiously helped to re-organise the terrorist groups into al-Qaeda and others groups including Taliban.

The word Taliban is a Pashtu word – the plural of ‘talib (student)’. The Taliban were students who were trained in the strict Islamic fundamentalism, the Deobandi ideology and vowed to follow the strict interpretation of Sharia or Islamic Law. These hardcore Islamists were put together in 1994 along with the remnants of Mujahedeen as Taliban under the tutelage of Pakistan’s ISI.

The stray Mujahedeen fighters started dispersing to various Islamist organisations including al-Qaeda, ISIS (Daesh), other fringe terrorist groups. American exploitation of Saudi oil, the invasion of Iraq, its blatant opposition of Iranian theocracy etc were all the powder keg of anti-Americanism. America’s desertion from the region without any reconstruction was very much resented in the region. America thus became the culprit, the root cause of the suffering of the people of the country and Pakistan fanned the flame of this narrative. 

When Taliban took control of Afghanistan in 1996, America realised that they had created a monster and that monster had been let loose. The erstwhile ally and reliable foot soldiers in the shape of Mujahedeen had become America’s blood enemies. Afghanistan became the centre of world terrorism and al-Qaeda was the main operative. After the 9/11 attack in 2001 on America by al-Qaeda and when Osama bin Laden was tracked to be hiding in Afghanistan, America demanded his immediate extradition. Taliban being the ideological bedfellow of al-Qaeda refused to do so. America along with other Western countries invaded Afghanistan in December 2001 and dislodged Taliban within a year or so. Although most of the Taliban leadership had been killed and its offices had been massacred, but the brain behind Taliban ideology was safely tucked away across the borders in Pakistan.

Taliban had suffered temporary set-back but not destroyed. They were dispersed to outlying areas in the countryside in Afghanistan and regrouped in Pakistan. America thought that with their fire power and sophisticated military machine, they would annihilate Taliban in a short period of time and leave the country with ‘job well done’ after 2001 invasion! But after 20 years (from 2001 to 2021) of blood, sweat and tears, with over 1.3 trillion dollars cost and more than 2,300 American soldiers’ fatality (along with more than a thousand British, Canadian, Australian and other soldiers’ fatality), America lost any appetite to fight with the Taliban and decided to withdraw on the anniversary of al-Qaeda (supported by Taliban) attack on America!   

America announced its intention more than a month ago, which means more than two months before the intended withdrawal date, and since then America had been haemorrhaging in military capability and political credibility. At that time, the expert opinion was that within two months of America’s withdrawal, Taliban may take over the control of the country. Since that time, the time scale of collapse of Afghan government had been progressively reduced and now, one month prior to American withdrawal, the collapse is imminent. American soldiers, about few thousands remaining, haven’t got enough time to evacuate and any soldiers sent to rescue them will themselves be hostage! The collapse of Kabul is worse than Saigon. In Saigon, American soldiers at least had time to evacuate, now in Kabul they have no time to evacuate and they are likely to be prisoners in the invaded land. The superpower is a badly defeated party and Russia is having the last laugh. Russia now even can throw back ‘America had been taught a very good lesson’.

What made Taliban carryout such successful ‘blitzkrieg’ attack, albeit without air power, on Afghan soldiers? There must be unseen long hand of ISI directing and giving tactical advice to invade town after town and then closing in on the capital itself. Even America with its sophisticated satellite navigation, aerial survey and intelligence services on the ground caught completely unaware and now probably hoping to have divine help to rescue the American soldiers.

Pakistan with its duplicity has got the upper hand for the time being. They had been squeezing America over the years with the threat of Taliban to pump money into the country. Taliban has become Pakistan’s weapon of mass destruction. But there is always a time when the blackmail victim would say, “enough is enough, we must confront the menace”. That time has probably come. America and the rest of the world must stand up and put an end to the blatant Pakistani blackmail using Islamic fundamentalism and ensuing terrorism. 

Dr A Rahman MSRP CRadP FNucI

Bangladesh, Cultural, International, Life as it is, Literary

Mita Haque – the obituary

Mita Haque, the eminent Rabindra Sangeet singer

Mita Haque, one of the foremost Rabindra Sangeet singers not only in Bangladesh but also in West Bengal of India had sadly passed away only at the age of 59 at 6:15 am on 11 April, 2021 in Dhaka. It is a great loss, almost irreparable loss, to the Tagore song lovers all over the world. The inconsolable grief of the people of Bangladesh and of West Bengal at her demise is heart rending to watch.

Mita Haque was born on 6th September, 1962 in Dhaka in a very music-oriented family where songs, music, performing arts etc were parts of life. Her father was an enthusiast musical instrumentalist. But the major influence on her life came from her paternal uncle, Mr Waheedul Haque and his wife, Dr Sanjida Khatun, both of them were stalwarts in vocal music. Waheedul Haque must have sensed her talent at an early age in vocal songs, particularly Tagore songs, and encouraged her to follow it up.

As Mita Haque herself reminisced in her later life that even before she could speak, she used to rhyme. When she was about seven years old, she used to listen to elders singing Tagore songs and she would sing on her own a line and then she might forget the next line, she used to make it up and sing! As a small school girl, she was a regular singer at the annual school cultural activities. When she was eleven, she participated at the International Children’s Festival in Berlin in 1973.

She started taking music lessons seriously at the age of 13 from Mohammad Hossain Khan, who was a leading tabla player at that time. Although as a child she used to listen to and sing all varieties of songs such as Atul Prasad songs, D L Roy songs, Nazrul Geeti, modern songs etc, but she was wedded to Tagore songs right from childhood. She said, all other songs were for her to listen, Tagore songs were for her to sing. She embraced Tagore songs, Tagore poems, Tagore’s myriad of literature etc with all her life. Tagore was with her ‘in dreams as well as in waking hours’ (শয়নে স্বপনে).

Although she showed tremendous promise at an early age, she never went to Santiniketan, the school which Tagore family established and Rabindranath expanded for Bengali arts and culture. She learned everything, her love for Tagore songs and music etc, from Waheedul Haque and Sanjida Khatun. In that sense, she was purely a home grown product in Bangladesh

When Shailaja Ranjan Majumdar, a direct disciple of Rabindranath Tagore who worked on making notations in a number of Tagore songs, came to Dhaka in 1981, she along with other budding Tagore singers met him, sang songs for him. Before he left Dhaka, he said to Mita Haque, “Don’t take pride in your achievements and someday you will be a great singer”.

Indeed, she achieved greatness. She was the highest grade Rabindra Sangeet singer in Bangladesh Radio and Televisions. In her relatively short life, she had 14 solo musical albums released in India and 10 albums released in Bangladesh. She received almost all the awards, accolades that there are to receive. She was awarded Shilpakala Padak for Vocal Music, Rabindra Puraskar (Rabindra Prize) from Bangla Academy in 2017, Ekushe Padak for Arts (Music) in 2020 by the Government of Bangladesh. Nearly 15 years ago, she set up a music school called Surtirtha (translated as Centre of Lyrics) to give music lessons to students. She was also the Head of the Department of Rabindra Sangeet at Chhayanat Music School.

Mita Haque was married to renowned actor-director Khaled Khan who died in 2013. She leaves behind her only daughter, Farhin Khan Joyita, who is an accomplished Rabindra Sangeet singer in her own rights.

Lately, for about four years, she was not well. She had problems with her kidney and she had to have dialysis once a week. Few months ago, kidneys deteriorated further and she had to go through dialysis three times a week. Around two weeks or so before her expiry she was diagnosed with Covid-19; although she received best possible treatment, she succumbed to it. Her body was taken to Chhayanat for homage by colleagues, students and the general public within the prevailing restrictions and then taken to her ancestral home at Keraniganj in Dhaka, where she was buried beside her parents’ graves.

Mita Haque gave enormous pleasure to all Bengali speaking people by her melodious rendition of Tagore songs. People will continue to enjoy her songs and admire her enormously. It is said, “Do take heart that a person is not dead while his or her name is still spoken”.

Mita Haque held Tagore in her heart. Tagore wrote poems, songs, verses on all possible human emotions – love, joy, devotion, birth, death, grief, eternity and so forth. Her sad demise would bring grief to millions of Bengali people all over the world, but we can pay homage to her memory by remembering one of Tagore’s songs, which reads:

 আছে দুঃখ, আছে মৃত্যু,

                           বিরহ দহন লাগে !

  তবু শান্তি, তবু আনন্দ,

                           তবু অনন্ত জাগে !

Translated in English, it may read like this:

                 There is pain, there is death,

                               the grieving soul burns.

                 Yet there is bliss, there is merriment,

                              the eternal life runs.

Dr A Rahman is an author and a columnist