Contributing Editors: Mohammad Hossain, Dr Nazmus Sakib and Dr Faroque Amin
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By Dr M Abdul Bari
Bangladesh, a historical land of over 170 million people compacted into a small landmass, was paralysed by 190 years of British colonial humiliation. Sadly, after a brief period of post-colonial Pakistani political-economic domination, the country has entered a new phase of Indian intellectual-cultural domination. While the country has recently made good economic progress, its otherwise resilient population is experiencing despondency due to its deeply divided politics and a litany of corruption and moral breakdown. It is now time for Bangladeshis to stand on their own feet with an all-round intellectual, cultural, moral and spiritual revival or ‘Renaissance’. The country desperately needs leaders of positive change from all sectors of life to restore its dignified position in the global community.
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A surprise attack by Palestinian armed resistance group Hamas on Israel was launched at dawn during the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah on Saturday, October 8, 2023. The brazen operation combined gunmen breaching security barriers through land and air and a barrage of rockets fired from Gaza. Saturday’s attack is symbolically significant as it came 50 years and a day after the Yom Kippur War, where Egyptian and Syrian forces launched an almost successful assault in an effort to retrieve territory Israel had taken during a brief conflict in 1967. Operation Al-Aqsa Flood was initiated by Al-Qassam Brigades, the military arm of Hamas, with a barrage of around 5000 rockets targeting Israeli positions, airports, and military fortifications, which served as cover for an unprecedented multi-pronged infiltration of Palestinian fighters via separation fences, motorcycles, motor-powered boats and paragliders beginning at dawn. In this manner, hundreds of Palestinian fighters attacked Israeli military and civilian areas in the southern part of Israel, killing at least 250 Israelis and capturing dozens of Israeli soldiers and civilians as hostages.
The attack clearly caught the Israeli command unawares, and the success of the Hamas operation has been touted as one of the biggest failures of Israeli military and intelligence. Moreover, dozens of Palestinian videos of the commando-style operations, attacks on Israeli military installations, destruction of tanks and military hardware, and hostage-taking have made their mark in terms of psychological warfare. According to Marwan Bishara, Aljazeera senior political analyst, “the damage done to Israel goes beyond the intelligence and military flop; it is also a political and psychological catastrophe. The invincible state has shown itself vulnerable, weak, and terribly impotent, which will not go down well for its plans to be a regional leader of a new Middle East. Images of Israelis fleeing their homes and towns in fear will be ingrained in their collective memory for many years to come. Today was probably the worst day in Israel’s history. An utter humiliation.” By mid-day, Israeli forces had gradually begun re-establishing control, although by the end of the first day, there were still 25 points where clashes between the Israeli military and Hamas were continuing. As in the past, the Israeli occupation forces then proceeded to bomb civilian areas in Gaza, which has to date led to the death of more than 200 people and left thousands injured.
While many analysts are of the opinion that it is still too early to say where this conflict is headed, Israel has threatened to exact heavy revenge, possibly through undertaking severe bombardment and assassination campaigns, leading to great suffering and countless casualties among the Palestinians. There is also the possibility of a land invasion by the Israeli military, but this could become complicated as Lebanese armed militia Hizbullah has threatened to join the war from the North in case that happens. The Hamas operation has received a high level of popular street support from various Arab nations, Turkiye, and Iran, which showcases the unpopularity of normalisation deals that Israel has been trying to pursue with various countries in the Middle East and North Africa over the past several years and could be further jeopardised in the event of brutal Israeli retaliation. Internally, the Netanyahu administration also faces a tough choice either way, a far-right backlash in the event of any response that would seem too weak and the possibility of global condemnation and isolation in the event of a disproportionate response.
References: Bishara, M. (2023, October 7). From hubris to humiliation: The 10 hours that shocked Israel. Breaking News, World News and Video from Al Jazeera. What happened in Israel? A breakdown of how Hamas attack unfolded. (2023, October 7). Breaking News, World News and Video from Al Jazeera.
The 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) was held from September 5 to September 26, 2023, in New York City. The theme of the General Debate was “Rebuilding trust and reigniting global solidarity: Accelerating action on the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals towards peace, prosperity, progress and sustainability for all.” The General Debate, the main focus of every UNGA session, was held from September 19 to September 23 and September 26, 2023. World leaders gathered to discuss solutions to global challenges and explore ways to advance peace, security, and sustainable development. Apart from the General Debate, the SDG Summit was held between September 18-19, where heads of state reviewed the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including ensuring quality education, providing clean water and sanitation, and taking urgent action to tackle the climate crisis.
The High-level Dialogue on Financing for Development was held on September 20, 2023, following the SDG Summit. It provided political leadership and guidance on the implementation of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda - a UN framework for mobilising resources to achieve the SDGs - as well as identified progress and emerging challenges. The Climate Ambition Summit was also held on September 20, 2023, alongside the SDG Summit. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called on every leader from Governments, business, cities and regions, civil society, and financial institutions to step up. The UN chief urged individuals or organisations participating in the event to present credible, serious and new climate action and nature-based solutions that will move the needle forward and respond to the urgency of the climate crisis.
Among the issues discussed in the UNGA General Debate were Russia’s war in Ukraine, lethal floods in Libya, the Palestine-Israel conflict, North versus South economic funding, and climate change, to name a few. Although more than 140 heads of state and government ministers attended the events, there were notable absences of heads of state of France, UK, Russia and China, making US President Joe Biden the only leader of the permanent five members of the UN Security Council to attend. This year marked the first time since the start of Russia-Ukraine hostilities that Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky attended the session in person, where he called on world leaders to show unity in the face of Russia’s continued “aggression” in Ukraine, mentioning that Moscow is “weaponising” food and energy.
References: Staff, A. J. (2023, September 18). UN General Assembly: What to expect as world leaders gather this week. United Nations News | Al Jazeera. Live updates from the UN General Assembly summit of world leaders. (2023, September 22). AP News. Roth, R. (2023, September 18). World leaders gather at the UN this week. Here’s what to watch for. CNN.
At the G20 summit held this year in New Delhi, the world’s 20 largest economies managed to reach a compromise over the war in Ukraine, as reflected in the statement issued at their summit over the weekend, which highlighted the human suffering the conflict had caused, but shied away from condemning Russia for the offensive, and called on all states not to use force to grab territory. Diplomats and analysts said the unexpected consensus in the summit statement on the Russia-Ukraine conflict was welcome and prevented a split in the group, and the addition of the African Union as a new member to the bloc was a victory for host India and developing countries. However, analysts also noted that few concrete advances were made on the core G20 mission of responding to global financial issues.
Considering that G20 members collectively account for over 80% of global carbon emissions, there were hopes of progress on cutting down on fossil fuel usage and increasing the use of renewables to fight climate change. However, despite an agreement to pursue tripling renewable energy capacity globally by 2030 and acceptance of the need to phase down unabated coal power, the final statement stopped short of setting major climate goals. Observers noted that members such as China, India, Russia and Saudi Arabia opposed timetable-set proposals to triple renewable energy capacity by 2030 and cut greenhouse gas emissions by 60% by 2035, preferring to just mention the need for such measures to take place. Alongside the above, the meeting also agreed to address the debt vulnerabilities of poor countries and strengthen and reform multilateral development banks, but without setting any concrete goals.
References: G20 adds the African Union as a member, issues call rejecting use of force in reference to Ukraine. (2023, September 9). CBS News. G20 agrees to pursue tripling renewables capacity but stop short of major goals. (2023, September 11). Reuters. G20 summit agrees on words but struggles on action. (2023, September 11). Reuters. G-20’s Delhi declaration fell short on climate change. (2023, September 22). The Diplomat.
In a move condemned by many, the French government announced just before schools reopened this month that the abaya, a long, flowing dress worn by some Muslim women, would no longer be allowed because it violated the French principle of secularism. Experts have identified this as another instance of policies deployed by the French state to control the bodies and minds of racial minorities and specifically as a tool to exclude expressions of Islam and Muslimness from public life. The Muslim rights group Actions for Rights of Muslims (ADM), had filed an urgent appeal to lift the ban with the state council, France’s highest court for complaints against state authorities, arguing that the ban infringes on “fundamental rights,” such as the right to personal freedom. The court, however, upheld the government ban, rejecting complaints that it was discriminatory or could incite hatred.
The government’s prohibition on abayas, firmly supported by President Emmanuel Macron, has sparked a political debate about secularism in France and whether it discriminates against the country’s Muslim minority. Over the last two decades, state schools have increasingly become the focal point of debates around secularism after a law prohibiting the wearing of purportedly religious symbols in schools was passed in 2004. While the ban encompassed the hijab, Jewish kippas, Sikh turbans, and large Christian crosses, until now, baggy gowns, abayas, and long skirts were regarded as a legal grey area. On the first day of the school year, the education minister, Gabriel Attal, reported that French schools sent dozens of girls home for refusing to remove their abayas or long gowns. Macron had drawn outrage when he supported the abaya ban and vilified opposing Muslim voices by claiming that there is a “minority” in France who “hijack a religion and challenge the republic and secularism.”
References: French court upholds abaya ban in public schools. (2023, September 7). CNN. French court upholds ban on girls wearing abayas in schools. (2023, September 7). the Guardian. Muslims are already excluded from French political life: That’s the real issue in the school abayas row. (2023, September 5). the Guardian.
Consecutive natural disasters struck North African countries Libya and Morocco in the space of four days in September, leaving thousands dead and many more thousands injured. On Friday night of September 8, 2023, a terrible 6.8-magnitude earthquake struck Morocco’s Atlas Mountains near Ighil in al-Haouz province, killing over 2,900 people and injuring thousands more. The earthquake severely damaged areas of Marrakech’s old quarter and decimated several remote villages in the Atlas Mountains. It was felt as far away as Casablanca, Morocco’s largest city, as well as in Portugal and Algeria. While rescue teams from numerous countries were deployed to assist Moroccan efforts on the ground, damaged roads in the rugged terrain prevented rescuers from reaching distant settlements in the Atlas Mountains region.
Just days later, a major flood caused by Storm Daniel caused two dams to burst, which killed thousands of people in the eastern Libyan city of Derna, sweeping away entire neighbourhoods with their residents and washing many bodies out to sea. The United Nations, citing UN World Health Organization (WHO) stats, announced a death toll of around 4,000 people from across Libya due to flooding, also stating that more than 9,000 people were still missing as of September 17. The death toll from the storm, unusually large, was the result of ailing infrastructure which resulted in the bursting of two major dams, and poor preparedness, which exacerbated devastation. Analysts also say climate change may have intensified the storm, which had swept across parts of southern Europe and the Mediterranean coast, killing at least 15 people in Greece, seven in Turkey and four in Bulgaria.
References: Morocco and Libya: How you can help earthquake and flood victims. (2023, September 12). Middle East Eye. Roth, S. A. (2023, September 17). UN revises previous high Libya death toll. CNN. Why did Libya floods result in such a large loss of life? (2023, September 13). Middle East Eye.
Azerbaijani troops backed by artillery strikes took full control of the Armenian-controlled Nagorno-Karabakh after starting the operation on September 17, 2023 to bring the breakaway region under Azerbaijan’s control. Separatist fighters in Nagorno-Karabakh were forced to declare a ceasefire after Azerbaijan’s decisive 24-hour military operation, and the breakaway government unilaterally voted to dissolve their republic on January 1, 2024. The region had been under blockade since December 2022, when Azerbaijan closed down the only road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia, alleging that Armenia was using it to supply weapons to the separatist rebels. While there were fears of a possible ethnic cleansing of resident Armenians at the hands of incoming Azerbaijani military forces, these fears proved to be unfounded after the Azerbaijani state opened a humanitarian corridor for the region’s 120,000-strong population, most of whom are ethnic Armenian, while Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev promised to guarantee the rights and security of Armenians in the region.
Nagorno-Karabakh, though internationally recognised as being part of Azerbaijan, has been a point of contention between Azerbaijan and Armenia for more than three decades, existing as a de facto breakaway republic ruled by ethnic Armenians supported by Armenia. The countries fought two wars over control of the region, which has been accompanied by instances of ethnic cleansing, the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives, as well as forced displacement of local populations. In 2020, a large-scale war between the two countries ended decisively in favour of Azerbaijan, which forced Armenia to give back control of large areas to the south and effectively sealed the fate of the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region.
References: Hundreds of refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh flee to Armenia. (2023, September 25). Al Jazeera. Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. (2023, October 5). Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved October 7, 2023, from Russia expects Azerbaijan, Türkiye to ensure normalcy in Karabakh. (2023, September 25). Daily Sabah.
The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), also known as One Belt, One Road (OBOR), is a China-led global infrastructure development strategy officially announced by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013 aiming to enhance trade and investment connectivity between Asia, Europe, and Africa through the creation of a vast network of railways, highways, ports, and other infrastructure projects. As the primary investor in the project, the BRI has become a significant aspect of China’s foreign policy and global economic influence. While Chinese overseas development financing predates the BRI, it has reached a new level since 2013. China bankrolled an average of $83.5 billion per year in overseas development projects in the first five years of the BRI (2013-2017), a net increase of $31.3 billion per year on average over the five years prior (2008-2012), which quickly captured the attention of Global South leaders, culminating in investments in everything from gas pipelines in Central Asia to ports in Sri Lanka to trains in Kenya. The popularity and acceptance of the BRI can be gauged by the fact that by 2021, over 50 per cent of the low- and middle-income world in terms of population had joined BRI and nearly 30 per cent in terms of GDP.
While membership in the BRI may appear to be a big tent opportunity, some nations such as Russia, Brazil, and Venezuela have attracted a disproportionate share of Chinese development finance funds over time, mainly because of the use of natural resources like oil as collateral. However, if one were to look at the picture in terms of number of projects rather than just the value of funds, low- and lower-middle-income countries in Asia (Cambodia, Laos) or Africa (Democratic Republic of the Congo) have attracted more projects than their wealthier counterparts. Such initiatives are frequently financed with more lenient conditions (grants or concessional loans) and indicate a stronger emphasis on attracting the international public rather than an overt commercial interest. A good example to gauge such behaviour is China’s current engagement with the Taliban government in Afghanistan – China remains heavily invested in the country as part of the BRI, especially in the mining sector, and there are ongoing talks of extending the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to Afghanistan.
Regardless, experts are of the opinion that the BRI will continue to be a major influence on global development and that through the BRI, China is slated to become more engaged in the multilateral system to actively participate in the shaping of the global development agenda, with or without traditional Western actors. A question is whether this growing engagement will also induce changes to the political scape within China itself in fields of human rights and freedom of expression. At the moment, however, considering the Uyghur clampdown and massive state surveillance on common citizens, it appears that little has changed in the political sphere as opposed to the large-scale changes on the economic front.
References: Azzam, A. (2023, September 23). Developing Afghanistan’s mines will uplift afghans. Al Jazeera. A decade down the Belt and Road. (2023, August 31). The Diplomat. Regan, A. S. (2023, September 14). Taliban welcomes China’s new ambassador to Afghanistan in lavish ceremony. CNN.
Relations between India and Canada, which have been strained for some years, are at an all-time low after Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that his country’s top intelligence agency had identified “credible allegations” linking India to the killing of outspoken pro-separatist Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar, 45, in British Columbia in June outside a Sikh temple. The Indian foreign ministry vehemently denied the claim, calling it “absurd and motivated.” The situation further escalated after both Canada and India acted swiftly to expel senior diplomats in reciprocal moves. Later, India’s foreign ministry responded by temporarily suspending visa services for Canadian citizens over what it said were “security threats” against diplomats in Canada. According to India, Nijjar was allegedly the head of a pro-Khalistan organisation in Canada and had been previously accused by the Indian Government of orchestrating targeted killings in India, for which it had unsuccessfully sought his extradition. The diplomatic spat resulting from the situation forced US officials to give statements of support for the Canadian investigation, stating that they were concerned about the allegations of India’s involvement.
Nijjar’s death has shocked the Sikh community in Canada, which is home to the world’s largest Sikh population outside of India, and it is believed that he was killed for his affiliation with the Sikh separatist movement, which calls for a separate independent Sikh homeland (Khalistan) to be carved out of present-day Punjab in India. India considers the Khalistan movement to be a terrorist movement and is wary of the fact that it enjoys a degree of support from Sikhs living abroad in North America and Europe. Historically speaking, while the Khalistan movement began right around the time of Partition, it attained serious support after Operation Blue Star, a 1984 military operation by the Indian army to flush out Sikh militants hiding in the Sikh Golden Temple, which resulted in hundreds of civilian casualties, especially from Sikh pilgrims who were stuck at the religious site. The blowback from the operation resulted in widespread support for the Khalistan movement among Sikhs and led to incidents such as Indira Gandhi’s assassination by two of her Sikh bodyguards in 1984, extensive anti-Sikh pogroms in India, and the infamous terrorist bombing of Air India flight 182 over the Atlantic Ocean in 1985, which killed more than 300 passengers. The anti-minority policies of the far-right Hindu nationalist Modi government have resulted in increasing activity amongst Khalistan supporters outside India, and experts believe that this latest killing will further exacerbate tensions.
References: Kestler-D'Amours, J. (2023, September 25). Unpacking India-Canada tensions amid Trudeau’s bombshell allegations. Al Jazeera. Mogul, R. (2023, September 21). Canada and India are enmeshed in an unprecedented diplomatic row. Here’s how it happened. CNN. What to know about the tensions between Canada and India over the killing of a Sikh. (2023, September 20). NPR.
According to a study published in August, the world’s coldest region recorded the most intense heatwave ever last year. Temperatures in Eastern Antarctica rose by 39 degrees Celsius (102.2 degrees Fahrenheit) above the monthly average in March 2022, according to the study “The Largest Ever Recorded Heatwave - Characteristics and Attribution of the Antarctic Heatwave of March 2022.” The temperature rose to -10C (-14F) on March 18, the hottest day of the heatwave, in stark contrast to the -54C (-65.2F) average for March. Temperatures remained above the previous March record of -31C (-23.8F) for three days in a row, including at night. According to researchers, the heatwave was caused by anomalous air circulation patterns near Australia.
According to the study, the heatwave occurred just after the record sea ice minimum in February 2022. However, sea surface temperature anomalies in the Southern Ocean had only minimal impact on the heatwave’s magnitude. Because of rising global temperatures, sea ice minima reached a new record low in February 2023. The minimum for this year was 20% lower than the 40-year average. According to the study’s author, Blanchard-Wrigglesworth, an increase in the frequency of such incidents over the next 50 or even 100 years may cause repercussions that we did not anticipate. Last month, researchers reported that emperor penguins were perishing at an alarming rate in breeding grounds of West Antarctica towards the end of 2022.