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DAWN - Features; September 27, 2002

September 27, 2002


Judicial probe links ex-PM, others to explosions: DATELINE DHAKA

By Nurul Kabir

A SENSATIONAL report published in a section of the Dhaka dailies late last week, and followed up by others this week, has now become the talk of the town here, pushing the already politically divided society to its limit.

The news item was based on a recently-concluded judicial inquiry into seven bomb explosions at public places that killed more than 70 people in the last two years of the preceding government of the Awami League (AL). Quoting the inquiry committee report, the news said that former prime minister Sheikh Hasina, a couple of her cabinet colleagues and some of her political cronies had planned and executed the explosions for personal and political gains.

However, the Bangladeshi civil society was shocked when eight people were killed in a bomb explosion inside an Ahmadia mosque in Khulna on Oct 8, 1999, and 10 others in the bomb blast at an Udichi conference on March 6, 1999.

But the entire country got panicky when a series of explosions at public places started taking innocent lives in 2001. The series began with the one on a Paltan rally of the Communist Party of Bangladesh, which took seven lives on Jan 20, 2001. Then another 10 people were killed when a bomb went off while cultural groups were observing traditional Bangla New Year celebration at the Ramna Batamul here on April 14, 2001.

The next blast occurred inside the Narayanganj office of the Awami League on Jan 16, 2001, killing 20 people. Ten others were killed in a bomb explosion inside a church in Baniarchar of the Gopalganj district on June 3, 2001. Finally, eight people were killed when a bomb went off at a public meeting in Bagerhat, Khulna district, on Sept 23, 2001, only a week before the last general election on Oct 1.

After every explosion, the government of the day, headed by AL president and former premier Sheikh Hasina, set up a committee to inquire into the matter. But at that time Hasina used to publicly accuse the erstwhile main opposition, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), headed by the present prime minister, Khaleda Zia, of being behind the explosion to ‘discredit’ the then government. Subsequently, Khaleda Zia used to deny any involvement of her party in such ghastly incidents and would accuse the government of failure to ensure security of lives to citizens.

She, on the other hand, used to make pledges in public that if her party was voted to power, she would form a judicial committee to inquire into the incidents. The citizens, sharply divided on political line, would discuss the issue, and draw conclusions as well, in accordance with their respective political allegiance.

After electoral victory in October last year, Khaleda’s administration set up a three-member judicial committee, headed by a high court judge, Justice Abdul Bari Sarker, on Dec 29, 2001. The committee was to make an inquiry about the seven bomb blasts and report to the authorities within three months. The two other members of the committee were an additional secretary and a joint secretary of the ministry of home affairs.

However, the inquiry committee eventually submitted its report on Sept 16 last. And, as said earlier, it identified former premier and now opposition leader Sheikh Hasina and some members of her inner political circle as being guilty of planning at least six of the seven explosions.

Other than Hasina, those who are accused of the crime include Mohammad Nasim, former home minister; Tofail Ahmed, former commerce minister; Dr M. A. Maleque, political secretary to former premier Sheikh Hasina; Sheikh Helaluddin Ahmed, a former League MP and Hasina’s cousin; Shamim Osman, another former League MP; Bahauddin Nasim, an APS to former PM; Sharif Abdur Rakib, general secretary to the Jessore AL; and Hassan Imam, president of the Udichi. The former premier, former home minister, former commerce minister and Hassan Imam were reported to have been directly implicated in the explosion in Jessore that took 10 lives in 1999.

The judicial inquiry committee reportedly observed that Hasina’s administration had planned and carried out explosions to create an atmosphere to enact a law, providing lifelong special security to Sheikh Hasina and her sister. (Such a law was, however, made at the fag-end of Hasina’s rule. But the law was scrapped after the takeover by the government of Khaleda Zia.)

The judicial body also said the police had deliberately, or under directives of the political high-ups of the preceding government, implicated some BNP leaders and activists in the explosion cases. In the Udichi case, the CID had submitted chargesheet nine months after the incident had taken place, in March 1999, against 22 persons, including Tariqul Islam, a vice-president of the BNP and information minister of the present government.

The judicial inquiry committee, which did not find any evidence against the BNP leaders and activists, dropped their names from all the cases. Besides, it recommended legal action against those found guilty of planning and executing the explosions, hoping that meting out ‘exemplary’ punishment to them would put an end to political killings.

However, as soon as the news report was published in Dhaka dailies, the AL reacted sharply. The party, in general, and the former ministers who have been implicated in the cases, in particular, have already rejected the inquiry committee report. They find the report nothing but a document of vengeance against political opponents. A group of lawyers and a section of newspapers, known for their political bias towards the League, have joined the chorus.

The groups opposed to them are almost equally zealous about implementing the inquiry committee recommendations. The government is yet to take a decision in this regard. Whatever decision the government may take in this regard, one can predict for certain that the controversy arising out of the inquiry report would worsen the relationship between the two mainstream political camps led by the BNP and the AL.

Meanwhile, a newly-launched English-language daily that carried two news items, on the basis of the inquiry committee report, in two of its consecutive issues, has reportedly been receiving ghost calls threatening its journalists. In this connection, the paper has already lodged a general diary with the local police station.

Centres of knowledge: FRIDAY FEATURE

By Prof Ziauddin Ahmad

ISLAM is the religion that brought the light of learning to the darkness-ridden world. In the 6th century, Arabia and other parts of the world were largely groping in ignorance, fetish and dogmas. Very few people wee literate. Wars, racial feuds, wine, women and gambling were rampant.

In such an environment Allah the Almighty sent prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the first revelation of the Divine Book was Iqra which emphasised enlightenment and the value of pen as a source of knowledge.

After Hijrat in 622 AD and the construction of Masjid Nabavi in Madinah the Prophet built a platform Suffah — the first educational centre that infused a new life among the Arabs. The Prophet himself taught the Quran and explained the meaning of verses in detail. Later, his companions joined the teaching and the number of scholars rose to 400. The ladies also attended the teaching of the Quran.

As the Madinah state expanded, a number of educational centres sprang in different parts to radiate the rays of knowledge. During the first four Caliphs’ era and then, the Omayyads and Abbasides and Andulasian rulers’ reign, mosques became big centres of knowledge and research where men and women slaked their thirst for learning.

Very closely linked with religion was the zest and verve for teaching and instruction. The spiritual power which the Quran exercised over many nations, led them on, without any extraneous pressure, to an earnest longing to read and this desire, by itself, indeed, spread all over the Islamic world. With this stimulating fervour, elementary schools sprang up without compulsion from above. Not only in the later centuries do we find a school in every small village, or attached to every mosque, but even in the earliest times arrangements to that end were made by the people themselves, and not in Arabia and Iraq alone but in all other provinces that came under the reign of Islam.

Wherever the community employed a regularly paid teacher the benefit of teaching was extended to the poor; even slaves with no distinction were admitted to the school. (Ibn Khallikan). But along with the boys at all levels in some countries even girls were allowed to attend schools. In many and far off places thousands of schools were established with a remarkable Islamic and philanthropic spirit. They laid special stress on teaching Quran, to understand its meaning and contents. Some of them learnt the entire text by heart.

Writing was also associated with reading. Later, grammar, too, was added in the curriculum to explain the meaning of the Quran more explicitly. The education of children was regarded as something sacred; therefore a large number of schools were established in mosques.

From the very beginning, Islam lent the mosque for use as an education centre. It was not merely a place of worship. The Muslim indeed, honours the mosque, but he does not hesitate to use it for any laudable purpose. Thus the indigent traveller there finds a shelter; the sick a hospital. Not infrequently the community used it as a court of justice; for even the administration of justice was deemed something sacred. But next to prayer the most sacred thing is learning (Ilm); for it stands even higher than blind piety.

Thus, then, were the gates of the mosque readily opened for learned discussions on questions of law.

In many mosques there were different halls and annexes intended to serve the purposes of educational lectures. There was almost no restriction on the choice of subjects. If — as frequently happened — the lectures were delivered in the mosque itself, the audience formed a compact circle round the lecturer: (Halqa). No respectable person was debarred; admission was, however, subject to the consent of the lecturer. An eminent historian of Mamluk period, Maqrizi, saw this arrangement at the mosque school, al-Nasiryah, founded in the 14th century at Cairo.

The tradition of the teachers to listen to criticism and to hold discussions on the subject lectured upon compelled them to prepare their lectures with the utmost care, so as to create a favourable impression. Cases occurred of immature teachers resigning from the lecturership at the sight of a profound scholar in the mosque, and devoting themselves to a more through study of their subjects.

But even the silent presence of a learned man must have been inspiring. The close and frequent contact with all and every one interested in learning was stimulating with varied titles and themes of discussion.

Among Muslims, travelling was common in order to acquire vast knowledge and come into contact with learned dignitaries. This spirit brought foreign visitors of repute to important mosques to enlighten the people with new knowledge and information. Mosques became valuable seats of learning.

Elementary school was an adjunct of the mosque, if not the mosque itself. Its curriculum centred upon the Quran as a reading text book, but writing also went parallel to it. With some progress the children were given lessons in Arabic grammar; biography of th Prophet (Seerat), Hadith, elementary principles of arithmetic and poetry. Girls also received education at par with boys.

Imam Ghazzali lectured at Nizamiyah University for four years. In his book, “Ihya-ul-Ulum, in the chapter on learning he has emphasized the necessity of stimulating moral consciousness of the students, thus bringing education into organic relations with profound ethical system.

The Madrasahs were really collegiate mosques or school mosques spread over the entire Muslim World. The most famous of them were founded by Salahuddin and Nuruddin Ayyubi in Aleppo, Hims, Hamah and Ba’labakk. During the Mamluk period the number of such institutions (school and collegiate mosques) multiplied. Next to Nizamul Mulk Tusi, Salahuddin was the greatest builder of academies in Islam. Under him Damascus became a city of schools. the most famous collegiate mosque of Sultan Hasan was in Cairo, there the curriculum was very wide. It included all branches of knowledge and the standard was very high.

In Spain (Andalusia), Al-Hakam established 27 free schools in the capital. Under him the University of Cordova was founded in the principal mosque of Abdur Rehman III, and its fame spread far and wide as an institution of very high standard. It preceded both Al-Azhar of Cairo and Nizamiyah of Baghdad, and attracted a large number of students from all parts of the world irrespective of any colour, race and linguistic distinction, from Europe Africa and Asia. Al-Hakam enlarged the mosque which housed the university.

An unending municipal scam: CITYSCAPES

By Fahim Zaman Khan

HOW does one report an unending municipal scam without annoying the beneficiaries or the self-serving rulers? The ongoing saga in Bagh-i-Ibn Qasim, located below Jehangir Kothari Parade, concerning more than 80 acres of prime Clifton land at Scheme V is one more tale of wholesale fraud, con and swindle of our successive rulers and mandarins of civic agencies. This sad spectacle of pillage and corruption continues unabated even today.

The record of land allotments pertaining to Bagh-i-Ibn Qasim at the defunct KMC or the KDA may be as elusive as grass in that park. The little record in the form of duplicate files available with the estate department may be useful to the extent of renewal of lease, yet nothing contained within them may corroborate what exists on the ground. Nor does anything on the existing statues allow disposal of this precious asset as being currently hatched.

At least on paper the defunct KMC’s original share in the development of Bagh-i-Ibn Qasim was limited to about four acres of ‘Terraced gardens, Aquarium and an Aquatic Park.’ No doubt, an aquarium and terraced gardens were developed by the KMC, however the rooftop was quickly allotted to ‘the Kishtiwallas,’ well known for their Jamaat connection, and so were 3,000 square yards of land out of the space earmarked for an aquatic park. With further allotments of 6,000 square yards, during PB Gillani’s administration and by the KMC councils during the mid-1980s, the fate of the aquatic park was sealed forever. Many old-timers bet their life that the original KMC files missing from the record could be recovered from under lock and key of the promoters/beneficiaries of the Funland that now probably spreads over 20 acres of land that no employee of the City District Government Karachi is willing to measure or document.

The KDA or its masters could not afford to risk their reputation by staying behind the KMC. Several plots of land with a commercial value of more than hundred thousand rupees per square yard were allotted in violation of universally-accepted laws and norms governing sanctity of public parks and playgrounds. For example, ST-1/A was created out of 7,972 square yards of parkland and allotted at the rate of Rs17.50 per square yard for a swimming pool, 25,000 square yards as ST-14 and 20,000 square yards as ST-16 were allotted at the rate of Rs40 per square yard. 4,005 square yards of parkland were allotted as ST-16/A and 18,000 sq yards as ST-16/B during 1992 at the rate of Rs250 per square yard for a museum of modern arts and a school; and 3,000 square yards were allotted as ST-17 for an acupuncture clinic at the rate of Rs30 per square yard.

Many buildings and structures, including a private school and a restaurant, allotted in Bagh-i-Ibn Qasim, remain functional today. The construction of Costa Livina, a highrise project being built on land originally allotted for a revolving restaurant, remains suspended due to litigation. The KDA also cancelled the allotment of 350 shops during 1996, but the six residential plots allotted to federal secretaries and high officials at the KDA nursery located within the boundaries of Bagh-i-Ibn Qasim survived cancellation probably due to kinship.

During 1994, a cash-strapped KDA transferred Bagh-i-Ibn Qasim, along with the rest of the amenities of Kehkashan Scheme V, to the KMC for maintenance purposes. The then KMC administration moved a summary to the chief minister requesting him to direct the KDA to cancel all illegal allotments made on the parkland.

Syed Abdullah Shah, then chief minister, wrote on the summary “I agree with administrator KMC, parkland must be reverted back to the city.” Subsequently, the KDA issued cancellation orders citing violation of clause Nos 6, 8 and 12 of the terms and conditions of the above allotments. The land thus acquired was also transferred to the KMC. However, the aggrieved parties immediately moved the Sindh High Court where luckily Chief Justice Wajihuddin Ahmed decided to hear those petitions himself. The KMC also moved the office of the Deputy Commissioner South to initiate acquisition proceedings for it. The matter remains pending at the Sindh High Court, while the defunct KMC and its successor has been trying to green the remaining acreage.

Last year the KDA recovered from the KMC Bagh-i-Ibn Qasim along with other parks and playgrounds in many affluent areas. The KMC had auctioned the University Road Sunday Bazaar opposite Safari Park during the year 2000 for Rs3 million. Once its control was reverted to the KDA last year this Bazaar was allowed without auction for a mere Rs600,000 and this year for Rs one million.

On 6th June 2002 our Nazim-i-Aala Naimatullah Khan signed an MoU with Sarfaraz H. Rizvi of City Trading and Contracting Company registered in Qatar for the development of a park.

What Mr. Khan and Executive District Officer Brigadier Zaheer Qadri, formerly DG KDA, do not seem to realize that as soon as this agreement is signed the parties aggrieved by the previous cancellation orders shall have a cause to move the Sindh High Court demanding restoration of their so-called cancelled properties killing the plan for a water-cum-amusement park.

After eating up huge spaces between the illegally-allotted plots the ever- enlarging Funland has now opened a gate on the park’s side. The unfolding saga of a water-cum-amusement park could well be a ploy to deprive the people of the city of a precious parkland. It may be a conspiracy by the aggrieved parties who have lost billions and billions of rupees worth of ill-gotten park property that was collectively ours.

High-stake seats in Sindh

By Sohail Sangi

SINDH is an agricultural society and most of its population lives in rural areas where big landlords rule the roost in economic, social and political affairs. Traditional political families are in the arena to impose their dominance once again after the October elections.

In the province there are at least six high-stake seats. Those being contested by PPP, PML (Q) and SDA heavyweights are the most prestigious ones on which the respective parties are focussing their energies to win at all costs. Defeat on these seats will not only mean the loss of face to the candidates but also a loss to their parties. Therefore, these keen contests are drawing the attention of the observers.

Illahi Bux Soomro, former speaker of the National Assembly who recently joined the PML (QA), is contesting from NA-208 (Jacobabad-I0). He was elected from this seat in 1997. Although he is supposed to be very close to Islamabad power circles, this time he was neither offered any role by the Punjab-based parties nor did he get any help for consolidating the anti-PPP vote in his home province.

On the contrary, when it was announced that Governor Mohammedmian Soomro would contest the election from this ancestral seat of the Soomro family, the position of the elder Soomro was further jeopardised. It is said that some most powerful person in Islamabad came to his rescue and the junior Soomro was asked to withdraw from the contest on the assurance that he would continue to hold the post of governor.

Political pundits believe that if Illahi Bux wins the seat, he would be a good choice from Sindh for the prime ministership. However, if that is not so, he would then surely be considered for the office of speaker. That is why the NA-208 seat is regarded as a prestigious one.

Illahi Bux is facing Aijaz Husain Jakhrani, younger brother of Mir Babal Jakhrani, a PPP leader and former MNA, who is an old political rival of Illahi Bux and has been ousted from the elections due to the graduation condition. Although Illahi Bux’s opponent is not a heavyweight like him, he is in hot water because, along with Jakhrani tribesmen, the Ghari Khairo Rajuni Awami Ittehad has announced that it would support the PPP candidate. The Ittehad comprises eight notables of major communities of the area.

NA-198, Sukkur-I, is also an important seat from where Syed Khursheed Ahmed Shah, a trustworthy and active deputy of Benazir Bhutto, is contesting the election. The former deputy leader of the opposition is facing Abdul Qadir Ghumro, a PML (F) candidate supported by the SDA and National Alliance. In the last two successive elections this seat was won by Khursheed Shah. Here in a constituency which includes the Sukkur city, Sakhi Abdur Razzaq, the son of a PPP turncoat Sardar Muqeem Khoso, is also in the field on the ticket of the MQM. The MQM and the PML (F) may evolve a joint strategy against the PPP on this seat.

Seats in Larkana and Nawabshah districts are important not because of the contestants — except Nisar Ahmed Khuhro, Sindh PPP president — but because one is the home district of Benazir Bhutto and the other that of her jailed husband Asif Ali Zardari. The PPP opponents will spend all their energies to get the PPP candidates defeated in these two districts.

The disqualification of PPP Chairperson Benazir Bhutto and the resignation of Nawab Shabbir Ahmed Chandio from the post of Larkana district president had rather dismayed the PPP workers and candidates initially, but now the acceptance of Khuhro’s papers has lifted their morale. It is also speculated that Chandio will be back in the party fold before the election, and this will further raise the morale of the partymen.

Khuhro, being the provincial party chief, may be a choice for the top slot if the party does well in the polls. He is facing Mansoor Ahmed Sheikh of the PML (QA) but does not run much risk.

Although no party chief is contesting election from Sindh, political development shows that there are too many stakeholders in the province. They include the PPP, the Jatois, Pir Pagara and the Shaikhs.

Former Sindh chief minister Liaquat Ali Jatoi is contesting for both Provincial Assembly and National Assembly seats (PS-76 and NA-233) on the PML (Q) ticket. He aspires for chief ministership if anti-PPP setup is implemented in Sindh following the election.

There will be a tough contest between the PPP’s Zafar Ali Leghari and Liaquat Jatoi on PS-76 (Khairpur Nathan Shah).

Leghari may be a choice of the PPP for the top slot in Sindh.

On the National Assembly seat (NA-233, Dadu-III) where the PPP has pitched Rafique Ahmed Mahesar against Liaquat Jatoi, a neck and neck contest is expected.

The name of Imtiaz Shaikh, a bureaucrat-turned politician, is also being mentioned for Sindh’s top slot. The SDA is his brainchild, which was founded and projected for consolidating anti-PPP forces, but this could not work. Shaikh is facing former federal minister Agha Tariq of the PPP on PS 11.

The element of biradarism will also play a vital role in determining the results for PS 11 which has also remained a hot bed of bloody tribal clashes. The district is still at the mercy of old clans and the political parties have failed to make any difference as influential tribal chiefs are very much in.

The PS-69 (Mirpurkhas-VII) seat is also a stake seat as former chief minister Syed Muzaffar Hussain Shah is contesting on the ticket of the PML (F) from his home town constituency. The PPP has pitched Ali Mardan Shah, who was earlier defeated by him in 1993 when he became law minister and then chief minister after the death of Jam Sadiq Ali.

Muzaffar Shah was absent from the scene and had been living abroad for the last four years. It is believed that Pir Pagara has specially summoned him to contest election in view of the inability of his son, Pir Sibghatullah Shah, to do so. Shah is also tipped for the top slot if it goes to Pagara group.

Seats in Tharparkar and Thatta districts are important because Shirazi and Arbab are supposed to be the king’s men and have been claiming to be uncrowned kings of their respective districts. They have been active in anti-PPP campaign recently.

So far Tharparkar is concerned, it is very difficult for the Arbabs to get through in two National Assembly and four Provincial Assembly seats.

It is believed that the Arbabs have smelt a rat about the results of the October elections in Thar district, so they have demanded postponement of the election in this sandy belt on the pretext of drought.

Observers and the people of Sindh are watching these contests with great interest.