Top Bangladesh politician snared in anti-corruption crackdown

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, center, last month launched an anti-corruption crackdown, saying it was necessary to prevent a repeat of the January 2007 coup by the military. (AFP)
Updated 06 October 2019

Top Bangladesh politician snared in anti-corruption crackdown

DHAKA: A prominent Bangladesh ruling party politician with alleged links to the capital’s underworld was arrested on Sunday in a sweeping anti-graft drive championed by the prime minister, amid corruption accusations against her government.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina last month launched the crackdown, saying it was necessary to prevent a repeat of the January 2007 coup by the powerful military, which said tackling corruption was one of its key goals.
The high-profile head of the Dhaka youth wing of Hasina’s Awami League party, Ismail Hossain Samrat, was arrested with one of his associates, Bangladesh’s elite security force said.
“Samrat was arrested over concrete charges,” the Rapid Action Battalion spokesman Mizanur Rahman Bhuiyan said, but did not reveal what he was accused of.
“He has been linked with operating casinos in sports clubs in Dhaka,” a senior RAB officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Local media allege Samrat is an underworld kingpin who uses his political influence to run a network of illegal casinos and extortion rackets.
He is the most senior politician to be caught in the new graft dragnet, which has also nabbed 260 others — including at least three ruling party officials.
As part of the drive, security forces have also sealed off nearly a dozen illegal casinos in the capital.
Gambling is illegal in the conservative Muslim majority country, but gangsters are accused of introducing casino equipment such as gaming tables in some well-known sports clubs.
Immediately after his arrest, the youth wing of the ruling party expelled him for anti-social activities and breaching party discipline.
The government banned him from travel last month.
Last month, Hasina sacked two senior members of the powerful student wing of her party after they were accused of extorting large sums from a state-run university.
Since coming to power for the second time in 2009, Hasina has run the country with an iron fist, cracking down on opposition parties and jailing her main rival Khaleda Zia, who has led Bangladesh twice.
Her government has also tried and executed top Islamist leaders over war crimes.
But in recent months, opposition parties have accused Hasina’s administration and ruling party of unbridled corruption and of extorting money from government projects and laundering billions to offshore accounts.

‘Political reconciliation’ with Pakistan top priority: Afghan envoy Daudzai

Updated 09 July 2020

‘Political reconciliation’ with Pakistan top priority: Afghan envoy Daudzai

  • Pakistan played positive role in US-Taliban peace talks, says diplomat

PESHAWAR: Afghanistan’s newly appointed special envoy for Pakistan has had put “mending political relations” between the two estranged nations as one of his top priorities.

Mohammed Umer Daudzai, on Tuesday said that his primary focus would be to ensure lasting peace in Afghanistan and maintain strong ties with Pakistan, especially after Islamabad’s key role in the Afghan peace process earlier this year.

In an exclusive interview, the diplomat told Arab News: “Two areas have been identified to focus on with renewed vigor, such as lasting peace in Afghanistan and cementing Pak-Afghan bilateral ties in economic, social, political and other areas.”

In order to achieve these aims, he said, efforts would be intensified “to mend political relations” between the neighboring countries.

Pakistan and Afghanistan share a 2,600-kilometer porous border and have been at odds for years. Bonds between them have been particularly strained due to a deep mistrust and allegations of cross-border infiltration by militants.

Kabul has blamed Islamabad for harboring Taliban leaders after they were ousted from power in 2001. But Pakistan has denied the allegations and, instead, accused Kabul of providing refuge to anti-Pakistan militants – a claim rejected by Afghanistan.

Daudzai said his immediate priority would be to focus on “political reconciliation” between the two countries, especially in the backdrop of a historic peace agreement signed in February this year when Pakistan played a crucial role in facilitating a troop withdrawal deal between the US and the Taliban to end the decades-old Afghan conflict. “Afghanistan needs political reconciliation which the Afghan government has already been working on to achieve bottom-up harmony,” he added.

Daudzai’s appointment Monday by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani took place days after Islamabad chose Mohammed Sadiq as Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s special representative for Afghanistan.

Reiterating the need to maintain strong bilateral ties with all of its neighbors, Daudzai said Pakistan’s role was of paramount importance to Afghanistan.

“Pakistan has a positive role in the US-Taliban peace talks, and now Islamabad could play a highly significant role in the imminent intra-Afghan talks. I will explore all options for a level-playing field for the success of all these initiatives,” he said, referring in part to crucial peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban which were delayed due to a stalemate in a prisoner exchange program – a key condition of the Feb. 29 peace deal.

Under the agreement, up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners and around 1,000 government prisoners were to be freed by March 10. So far, Afghanistan has released 3,000 prisoners, while the Taliban have freed 500. Daudzai said that while dates had yet to be finalized, the intra-Afghan dialogue could begin “within weeks.”

He added: “A date for intra-Afghan talks hasn’t been identified yet because there is a stalemate on prisoners’ release. But I am sure they (the talks) will be kicked off within weeks.”

Experts say Daudzai’s appointment could give “fresh momentum” to the stalled process and revitalize ties between the two estranged neighbors.

“Mohammed Sadiq’s appointment...could lead Kabul-Islamabad to a close liaison and better coordination,” Irfanullah Khan, an MPhil scholar and expert on Afghan affairs, told Arab News.

Daudzai said that he would be visiting Islamabad to kickstart the process as soon as the coronavirus disease-related travel restrictions were eased.

Prior to being appointed as the special envoy, he had served as Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan from April 2011 to August 2013.