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World Press ( 20 March 2021, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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World Press on Bangladesh Birth, Nazi-Fighting Women, Afghanistan and Myanmar Crisis: New Age Islam's Selection, 20 March 2021

By New Age Islam Edit Desk

 20 March 2021

• 50th Anniversary of Bangladesh's Birth

By Mahfuz Anam

• The Nazi-Fighting Women of the Jewish Resistance

By Judy Batalion

• Why Is It So Tough To Leave Afghanistan?

By Mark Hannah

• China Has Detained My Young Children. I Don't Know If I'll Ever See Them Again

By Mihriban Kader

• Foggy Road Ahead In Myanmar Crisis

The Daily Star, Bangladesh


50th Anniversary of Bangladesh's Birth

By Mahfuz Anam

March 19, 2021


A woman walks past a large cutout of Bangladesh's founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as the nation marks his 101th birthday in Dhaka, March 17, 2021.


My generation and others close to it formed the bulk of the Mukti Bahini in 1971. The majority of Dhaka University students of the time were an integral part of it, as it was my distinct privilege. Most joined in the field but many others played key roles while living where they could carry out courageous acts of collecting money, medicine and supplies for those taking up arms. Some from this group carried out dangerous sabotage operations that form part of the heroic tales that we are so proud to recount today. Every turn and twist of the war reverberated in our hearts at that time because someone amongst us—a Mukti Bahini member—were involved in it, either making that "supreme sacrifice" or suffering grievous injury or teaching the enemy a rare lesson in courage and determination.

One such case was of my close friend and neighbour Nizamuddin Azad, son of Kamruddin Ahmed, a politician, diplomat and author of the seminal book "Emergence of Bengali Middleclass". Azad was warm, generous and had a most disarming and hearty laugh, and was the epitome of sincerity and earnestness. We formed our local cricket club, played together and spent all our spare time together, as neighbourhood friends usually do.

I got him involved with the activities of East Pakistan Students Union (EPSU), popularly called Chhatra Union, the preeminent left-leaning student organisation at that time. We would attend all the EPSU activities, especially street processions. But soon, he became far more involved than me. His sterling qualities of feeling for the poor and the downtrodden surfaced brilliantly when, during the terrible cyclone of 1970, he fully immersed himself in the relief work. With time, he involved himself more and more with the underground work of EPSU.

When the genocide started after March 26, 1971, we lost touch with each other, and our joining the war took place at different times and through different routes. He joined the armed unit of Chhatra Union and was killed during an operation. He never received the recognition that he so richly deserved for his sacrifice.

There must be thousands of other similar cases of patriotism, determination, selflessness and supreme sacrifice remaining unsung. Maybe this could be a worthwhile project to be taken up by our Liberation War Ministry on the occasion of the golden jubilee of our independence. I recall Azad on this occasion for all his love for the country and his courage to take up arms and sacrifice his life so that we could all live with freedom and dignity.

Thus, the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh's birth resonates with a far deeper meaning for our generation. We can personally relate to many events and have authentic accounts of many others. We were there at the time of the preparation, the unfolding, the cruelties inflicted by the enemy, and at the conclusion of our freedom struggle. It is also our privilege to have lived through the first half-century of independent Bangladesh—some of it tragic and heartrending, and others most exhilarating.

In these fifty years, we had very hopeful beginnings, like our constitution and first election. Then tragedy befell us through the most brutal and tragic assassination of the Father of the Nation along with his whole family save two daughters, the present PM and her sister Rehana. This was followed by two successive military-sponsored regimes accounting for a total of 16 years. These two regimes gave birth to two political parties—the BNP and JP—that have had their own impact on our political evolution.

The military interlude was followed by 30 years of democracy, triggered by the fall of the autocratic regime of Gen. Ershad. Though freer at first, our democracy became generally restricted to holding elections every five years with the latest ones becoming more and more questionable. This period can be divided into two parts: the first—from 1991 to 2009—during which the governments oscillated every five years between the two rival parties, BNP and AL, and politics was highly combative and mainly consisted of mutual vilification, destructive hartals and boycott of the parliament, making that central institution of democracy all but dysfunctional.

This brand of politics had a terrible impact on our economy with frequent interruptions to all sorts of production and transportation disrupting export, import, retail business and the service industry. It is to the credit of our workers, entrepreneurs and industry owners that they devised ways—like keeping factories open and transporting products at night during day-long hartals—to navigate through the political minefield and somehow keep the economy moving.

The second part—from 2008 to present—saw the gradual demise of our highly acrimonious two-party system. A massive electoral loss by BNP in the 2008 election and its boycotting of the one held in 2014 literally gave the ruling Awami League a walkover, resulting in the latter having an iron grip over all types of political activities. In the following years, nearly all opposition activities became severely controlled and expression of dissent throttled, as aptly epitomised in the enactment of the Digital Security Act.

Contrary to its impact on politics and dissent, the economy told a remarkable story of success with all important indicators foretelling the emergence of Bangladesh as an inspiring case of struggling out of poverty. The graduation to the status of a developing country, though not unique among LDCs, is remarkable considering our large population, limited land and vulnerability to the vagaries of the nature. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina must be credited for having inspired a "can-do" mindset—akin to Barack Obama's "Yes, we can" slogan—galvanising our people, especially women and youth, into an engine of advancement not before seen in post-independence Bangladesh.

However, now is the time to forge ahead and our golden jubilee provides the perfect occasion to think anew how best to move forward. So far, we have made a remarkable journey. The challenge now is to make the coming one more meaningful and more equitable. The future must be dedicated to greater freedom and democracy and also to building a more inclusive society with a far greater awareness of the environment. We cannot continue to destroy the environment for economic gains, which can be ephemeral as harming the nature always proves disastrous.

There is an interesting book titled "What Got You Here Won't Get You There", written by Marshall Goldsmith. It essentially makes the case that future successes cannot be achieved by replicating the thoughts, behaviour and mindset that brought the present ones. Though the book's focus is on individuals, I think it equally applies to nations and countries. For Bangladesh to forge ahead, we must first start by changing our mindset and being fully aware that the global situation under which we developed in the last three decades has completely changed, and will further change in the coming decades in ways that will far outpace anything we can imagine now.

According to the historian Yuval Noah Harari, we have no idea what the job market will look like by 2040, a mere 19 years in the future. Consequently, we have no way of knowing what sort of education we will need to provide to our children so they can fit into that job market.

"The World in 2050", a publication by The Economist Newspaper, looks at the mega-changes that we should prepare for by the middle of this century. It also gives a good idea of which direction we should proceed in.

For us, the population, environment, economy and education should be the major areas to focus on. Population concerns us directly and immediately as we are among the most densely populated countries in the world. We may have managed our population so far but any lowering of guard on its future growth may prove extremely short-sighted. Hence population control, human resources development with a particular focus on women and youth, and health must form a far more urgent priority than it has been so far. The Covid-19 pandemic has made that message poignant and immediate.

We are among the few countries in the world at the frontline of climate change. Most scientific predictions say that 10-15 percent of our land areas will be directly affected by climate change with all its social, economic and human consequences, much of which is mostly unknown. We do not see the mobilisation of people and resources that is necessary to meet such challenges.

On the economy, the prediction is about the future being the "Asian Century", with China, India and Japan playing pivotal roles in it. Bangladesh is strategically placed between the two Asian giants—China and India—and with excellent relations with Japan, we are well-poised to gain from the shift in global economic power to the East.

On education, we have miles to go. Recently, we have fallen into the trap of promoting quantity at the cost of quality. This misconceived emphasis on numbers will prove extremely damaging for us as with the internet, information and communication technology making the world a global village, the standard of education too will become global (it already is in many senses). And the employability of our educated youth will more and more be determined on common and universal educational standards. We are not likely to fare well in that scenario.

While we celebrate our golden jubilee—and there is a lot to celebrate for—we must be fully aware of the arduous tasks that lie ahead. We must face those challenges, not with slogans or rhetoric, but with data-based analysis and well-calculated and sustainable options.


Mahfuz Anam is Editor and Publisher, The Daily Star.


The Nazi-Fighting Women of the Jewish Resistance

By Judy Batalion

March 18, 2021

Noor Inayat Khan, in the uniform of the British Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, is pictured in 1943.

Credit: Imperial War Museum


In 1943, Niuta Teitelbaum strolled into a Gestapo apartment on Chmielna Street in central Warsaw and faced three Nazis. A 24-year-old Jewish woman who had studied history at Warsaw University, Niuta was likely now dressed in her characteristic guise as a Polish farm girl with a kerchief tied around her braided blond hair.

She blushed, smiled meekly and then pulled out a gun and shot each one. Two were killed, one wounded. Niuta, however, wasn’t satisfied. She found a physician’s coat, entered the hospital where the injured man was being treated, and killed both the Nazi and the police officer who had been guarding him.

“Little Wanda With the Braids,” as she was nicknamed on every Gestapo most-wanted list, was one of many young Jewish women who, with supreme cunning and daring, fought the Nazis in Poland. And yet, as I discovered over several years of research on these resistors, their stories have largely been overlooked in the broader history of Jewish resistance in World War II.

In 2007, when I was living in London and grappling with my Jewish identity, I decided to write about strong Jewish women. Hannah Senesh jumped immediately to mind. As I’d learned in fifth grade, Hannah was a young World War II resistance paratrooper. She had left her native Hungary for Palestine in 1939, but later returned to Europe to fight the Allied cause; she was caught and was said to have looked her killers directly in their eyes as they shot her.

That tale of audacity was exhilarating to me. I was the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors who had escaped from Poland; in my family, flight meant life. I had grown up to be a runner in relationships, careers and countries. But Hannah had returned to fight. I wanted to grasp what had motivated her boldness.

I went to the British Library, looked her up in the catalog and ordered the few books listed under her name. One, I noticed, was unusual, bound in worn blue fabric with gold lettering and yellowing edges — “Freuen in di Ghettos,” Yiddish for “Women in the Ghettos.” I opened it and found 180 sheets of tiny script, all in Yiddish, a language I was fluent in. To my surprise, only a few pages mentioned Hannah Senesh; the rest relayed tales of dozens of other young Jewish women who defied the Nazis, many of whom had the chance to leave Nazi-occupied Poland but didn’t; some even voluntarily returned.

All this was a revelation to me. Where I had expected mourning and gloom, I found guns, grenades and espionage. This was a Yiddish thriller, telling the stories of Polish-Jewish “ghetto girls” who paid off Gestapo guards, hid revolvers in teddy bears, flirted with Nazis and then killed them. They distributed underground bulletins, flung Molotov cocktails, bombed train lines, organized soup kitchens, and bore the truth about what was happening to the Jews.

I was stunned. I was raised in a community of Holocaust survivors and had earned a doctorate in women’s history. Why had I never heard these stories?

“Freuen” was compiled for Yiddish-speaking American Jews in 1946 in an attempt to share this stunning history as widely as possible. But in the years that followed, these resistance narratives, like many historical contributions made by women, were sidelined or ignored for a variety of political and personal reasons.

Many women who told their stories in their own communities after the war were met with disbelief; others were accused by relatives of abandoning their families to fight; still others were charged with sleeping their way to safety. Sometimes, family members feared that opening old wounds would tear them apart. And many fighters suffered from survivors’ guilt — they’d “had it easy,” they felt, compared with others — and so in later years remained mostly silent about their experiences.

Several other factors in postwar decades may have contributed to the relative obscurity of this history. In the 1950s, some say, many Jews had trauma fatigue; in the 1960s, the emerging horrors of Auschwitz and other camps became the predominant subject; in the “hippyish” 1970s, stories of violent rebellion were out of fashion; and in the 1980s, a flood of Holocaust books in the United States overshadowed many earlier tales.

My quest to learn more about these women turned into a dozen years of research across Poland, Israel and North America; in archives and living rooms, memorial monuments and the streets of former ghettos. I learned of the scope of Jewish rebellion: More than 90 European ghettos had armed Jewish resistance units. Approximately 30,000 European Jews joined the partisans. Rescue networks supported about 12,000 Jews in hiding in Warsaw alone. All this alongside daily acts of resilience — smuggling food, writing diaries, telling jokes to relieve fear, hugging a barrack mate to keep her warm. Women, aged 16 to 25, were at the helm of many of these efforts. I learned their names: Tosia Altman, Gusta Davidson, Frumka Plotnicka. Hundreds of others

At the center of “Freuen” was a striking testimonial by a woman identified only as Renia K.; it was composed at the end of the war, when she was just 20 years old. Her writing was descriptive, even witty. “For them,” she wrote of the Nazi officers, “killing a person was easier than smoking a cigarette.” I found her file at the Israel State Archives and used the book she published in 1945 and additional testimonies to fill out her story.

Her full name was Renia Kukielka, and she was brought up in Poland in the 1930s in a world of sophisticated Yiddish theater and literature, and some 180 Jewish newspapers. After Hitler invaded Renia’s town, Jedrzejow, and locked her family in a ghetto, Renia escaped and fled through fields. She leapt off a moving train when she was recognized, bargained with the police and pretended to be Catholic. She got a job as a housemaid, nervously genuflecting at weekly church services. “I hadn’t even known that I was such a good actor,” Renia reflected in her memoir, “able to impersonate and imitate.”

Helped by a paid Polish smuggler, she joined her older sister in the town of Bedzin. Before the war, Bedzin had been a largely middle-class Jewish community and a hub for Jewish political parties, which had proliferated in response to the question of modern Jewish identity. A vast network of Jewish youth groups was affiliated with these parties. These groups had trained young Jewish men — and women — to feel pride, live collectively, be physically active and question, critique and plan. They trained them in the skills necessary for “staying.”

After Hitler’s conquest of Poland, the youth groups formed militias. When Renia arrived, Bedzin hosted a burgeoning cell of rebellion organized by secular, socialist-leaning Jewish teenagers and young adults. Those who were forced to labor in Nazi uniform factories slipped notes into the boots urging soldiers at the front to drop their weapons. They constructed workshops where they experimented with homemade explosives and designed elaborate underground bunkers. “Haganah!” was their rallying cry: Defense!

Women who were selected for undercover missions were required to look “good,” or passably “Aryan” or Catholic, with light hair, blue or green eyes, good posture and an assured gait. Renia was one of those chosen. Fueled by rage and a deep sense of justice, 18-year-old Renia became an underground operative, “a courier girl.”

I learned that “courier girls” connected the locked ghettos where Jews were imprisoned. Being caught on the Aryan side meant certain death; despite that, these young women dyed their hair blond, took off their Jewish-identifying armbands, put on fake smiles and secretly slipped in and out of ghettos, bringing Jews information and hope, bulletins and false identification papers, and linking youth resistance groups across the country. They smuggled pistols, bullets and grenades, hiding them in marmalade jars, sacks of potatoes and designer handbags.

As women, they were well positioned to do this work: Their brothers were circumcised and risked being found out in a “pants drop” test. Before the war, Jewish girls were more likely than Jewish boys to have studied at Polish public schools (many boys attended Jewish schools and Yeshivas). They were over all more assimilated than Jewish boys and spoke Polish without the Yiddish accent, making them excellent spies.

They also took enormous risks. Bela Hazan got a job working as a translator and receptionist for the Gestapo; she stole their documents and delivered them to Jewish forgers. Vladka Meed smuggled dynamite into the Warsaw ghetto by passing bits of gunpowder through a hole in the wall of a basement that lined the ghetto border. She later supported Jews in hiding, secretly bringing them money, medical help and trusted photographers to take their pictures for fake IDs.

Hela Schupper, a beauty who’d studied commerce, dressed up as an affluent Polish woman attending an afternoon of theater, wearing clothes she’d borrowed from a non-Jewish friend’s mother. In 1942 she met a “Mr. X” from the Polish underground on a Warsaw street corner, followed him onto a train and into a safe house, stuffed her fashionable jute handbag, and brought five guns and clips of cartridges to Krakow’s “Fighting Pioneers,” who then bombed a Christmas week gathering at an upscale cafe frequented by Nazi officers, killing at least seven Germans and wounding more.

These women were so unlike me — they were the fight to my flight — and I was becoming increasingly obsessed with them.

Renia ran missions between Bedzin and Warsaw. She moved grenades, false passports and cash strapped to her body and hidden in her undergarments and shoes. She transported Jews from ghettos to hiding spots. She wore a red flower in her hair to identify her to underground contacts, met up with a black-market arms dealer in a cemetery, and slept in a cellar, wandering the city by day to gather information. She smiled coyly during searches on the train, and befriended one border guard to whom she “confessed” about smuggling food to distract him from the real contraband that was fastened to her torso with belts. “You had to be strong in your comportment, firm,” she wrote in her memoir. “You had to have an iron will.”

In Vilna, Ruzka Korczak found a Finnish pamphlet in a library on how to make bombs — it became the underground’s recipe book. Her comrade Vitka Kempner put a rudimentary explosive under her coat, slipped out of the ghetto, and blew up a German supply train in 1942. The Vilna resistance fled the ghetto to fight in the forests, where both women commanded units. Their comrade Zelda Treger completed 17 trips transporting hundreds of Jews out of ghettos and slave labor camps to the woods. In a different forest, a 19-year-old photographer named Faye Schulman joined the partisans, participated in combat missions and performed surgery — she was once forced to amputate a soldier’s wounded finger with her teeth. “When it was time to hug a boyfriend, I was hugging a rifle,” Faye said of her wartime adolescence in a documentary film.

Renia, through cunning and luck, managed to fend off prying Nazis and Poles who attempted to turn her in for a reward — until one border guard noticed her fabricated passport stamp. Imprisoned in Gestapo lockups that prided themselves on their medieval torture strategies, Renia was brutally beaten alongside Polish political prisoners. She masterminded an escape, helped by other courier girls who plied the guards with cigarettes and whiskey. Renia was able to slip away, change her clothes and run. Using an underground railroad set up by Jews, she crossed the Tatra Mountains by foot, then reached Hungary hidden in the locomotive of a freight train. The engineer expelled an extra puff of smoke to hide her departure from the engine.

Renia finally arrived in Palestine, where she was invited to lecture about her experience, and she published her memoir in Hebrew in 1945 — one of the first full-length accounts of the Holocaust. But in her life after the war, she remained mostly silent about it. For many female survivors, silence was a means of coping. They felt it was their duty to create a new generation of Jews. Women kept their pasts secret in a desperate desire to create a normal life for their children, and, for themselves. Renia’s family home after the war was not filled with stories of the resistance, but with music, art and tango nights; she was known for her fashionable tastes, and for her sharp sense of humor. Like so many refugees, the resistors wanted to start afresh, to blend into their new worlds.

Some 70 years after the war, I went to speak with Vitka Kempner’s son, Michael Kovner, on the outdoor terrace of a Jerusalem cafe. “She was someone who went toward danger,” he told me. “She didn’t care about the rules. She had true chutzpah.”

Researching these women, I’ve learnt that my family’s narrative is not the sole option for confronting large and small dangers in the world. Running is sometimes necessary, but at other times, I can stop and fight, or, at least, pause and discuss. Renia and her comrades were brave and powerful and paved the way for the generations that followed — not just the Ruth Bader Ginsburgs, but also women like me and my daughters. My children should know that their legacy includes not just fleeing, but also staying, and even running toward danger.

When I left the cafe, I found myself on a quiet side road. I looked up and saw the street sign with a name I would have never recognized a few years before: Haviva Reik Street. With Hannah Senesh, Haviva had joined the British Army as a paratrooper, helping thousands of Slovak Jews and rescuing Allied servicemen. Strong female legacies were all around us; if only we noticed, if only we knew their stories.


Judy Batalion is the author of the forthcoming “The Light of Days: The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler’s Ghettos,” from which this essay is adapted.


Why Is It So Tough to Leave Afghanistan?

By Mark Hannah

March 19, 2021

As his two predecessors did, President Biden has pledged to end the war in Afghanistan. But also as his two predecessors did, he could end up tragically perpetuating it. Outnumbered by a national security establishment fixated on continuing this misadventure, the Biden team will need courage and clarity if it is to finally disentangle America from what has become a futile struggle.

It is fortunate to have an opportunity to do so. Last year, after a decade of negotiation, the United States and the Taliban reached an agreement calling for a complete withdrawal of American troops by May 1. The administration is now attempting to broker peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. That effort should not come at the expense of this commitment. But the administration is reportedly considering a six-month extension of the deployment of American troops. If the United States gets the Taliban to agree to such an extension, those troops become mere leverage in a complicated diplomatic drama. If it doesn’t and delays withdrawal anyway, the agreement that has prevented any U.S. combat casualties for the past year dissolves. Regardless, it will be “tough” to get American troops home by the deadline, as Mr. Biden told ABC News this week.

As vice president, Mr. Biden opposed the surge of troops in Afghanistan in 2010. Last year, he wisely recognized “it is past time to end the forever wars.” His secretary of state, Antony Blinken, asserted two years ago that it was “time to cut the cord” in Afghanistan. This month, Mr. Blinken insisted military action would be taken “only when the objectives and mission are clear and achievable” and “with the informed consent of the American people.” According to polling my colleagues and I have conducted, the American people support the details of the U.S.-Taliban agreement by six to one.

Why, then, is leaving Afghanistan so “tough”?

True, the country presents dilemmas: Despite decades of American intervention and investment, it remains weak and poorly governed. Like other weak and poorly governed states, it could attract violent extremists. This is a real concern but not an impossible one to overcome: Mr. Biden will need to maintain diplomatic ties and intelligence capabilities to thwart groups like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.

There are also real concerns that removing U.S. troops will force the Afghan government and the Taliban to face the prospect of an escalating civil war. But Afghanistan has been stuck in a civil war for decades, well before the arrival of U.S. troops 20 years ago; it’s more than a little egocentric for American policymakers to think they alone can hold the country together.

The bigger barrier confronting the Biden administration may be closer to home. Despite promises to make foreign policy serve the interests of everyday Americans, many of Washington’s decisions are circumscribed by a professional culture among policymakers that normalizes war and idealizes military might. It’s not as if Mr. Biden is being pressured to stay in Afghanistan with a cogent argument; most analysts freely admit that the United States has no plausible path to victory, that the military isn’t trained to midwife democracy and that the Afghan government is grievously corrupt.

Rather, the national security community cannot bear to display its failure. That’s why many who advocate continuing the war are left grasping for illogical or far-fetched justifications. In a meeting of National Security Council principals, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, reportedly made an emotional plea to stay in Afghanistan, after “all the blood and treasure spent” there.

A recent report from the congressionally commissioned Afghanistan Study Group, which advised against withdrawing U.S. troops, shows just how ossified the foreign policy establishment has become. The group’s members argue that the military’s mission should include lofty goals like creating stability, promoting democracy and “shaping conditions that enhance the prospects of a successful peace process.” Their recommendations reflect the unimaginative assumptions and stale rationales that have kept the United States stuck in Afghanistan for so long. And their otherwise impressive bona fides appear to be compromised by an array of financial connections to major defense contractors.

Like General Milley, the report fell for the “sunk costs” fallacy, insisting American troops must stay in the country, in part, to “honor the sacrifices that have been made.” (Listening to the majority of veterans who favor withdrawing troops might actually achieve that goal.) The report couldn’t conjure a vital national interest in remaining and instead came up with only vague claims like: “A stable Afghanistan would create the potential for regional economic cooperation that could benefit all countries in the region, linking energy-rich Central Asia with energy-deprived South Asia.”

Mr. Biden came to office envisioning a “foreign policy for the middle class.” When he tapped Jake Sullivan to be his national security adviser, he insisted Mr. Sullivan judge all of his decisions on “a basic question: Will this make life better, easier, safer for families across this country?”

Staying the course in Afghanistan accomplishes none of this — and Mr. Sullivan seems to know it. He admits as much in a report he co-authored last year, plainly stating the war has “proven costly to middle-class economic interests.” But it’s not easy to construct a foreign policy that prioritizes the interests of ordinary Americans once you’re back among the Beltway herd. If the Biden administration wants to match its policies to its precepts, it will have to buck Washington’s culture of inertia.

This isn’t just about Afghanistan. The people who make foreign policy tend to be walled off from public opinion and all too eager to conform to a bipartisan consensus that favors intervention over restraint. Washington isn’t solely to blame. American voters don’t often prioritize foreign policy during election season and so don’t exert the political influence they might. Fortunately, in recent years, there have been more efforts to constrain American military power, and a new generation wary of war has begun to make its voice heard. All this hasn’t been enough to bring about the end of America’s war in Afghanistan — yet.

Achieving peace and stability in Afghanistan has always been a Sisyphean task, and America’s foreign policy leadership has little motivation to confront the political cost of withdrawal. Even though most Americans favor ending the war, after 20 years, they have become inured to it. Mr. Biden most likely knows a May 1 withdrawal from Afghanistan is not premature but long overdue. Seeking to avoid the political distraction of a troop withdrawal’s potentially messy aftermath, he risks keeping the United States bogged down in a war it cannot win.

President Biden, who wants America to reclaim a humble and sober outlook, is uniquely qualified to get Washington to quit its compulsive continuation of this conflict beyond this spring. Let’s hope he musters the wisdom and the will to do so.


China Has Detained My Young Children. I Don't Know If I'll Ever See Them Again

By Mihriban Kader

19 Mar 2021

When I left my children five years ago, I did it in a rush. I didn’t have time to grab any mementoes, any toys. All I took was a single family photo.

At the time, my husband and I felt we had no choice. As Uighurs in Xinjiang, the Chinese authorities had been harassing us constantly and demanding that we give up our passports. There would be “consequences” if we didn’t. There was also a strict birth control policy. They wanted to do a “body check” on me to see if I was pregnant, and I was.

We had managed to get visas to go to Italy, but we feared there would be questions at the border if we left with all our children at once. So we decided to take my then youngest son, who was still breastfeeding, and leave the four others with their grandparents until they could join us later on. They were between seven and 11 years old at the time.

If we hadn’t left China at that moment, I don’t know if we ever could have. But still we did not imagine how much worse things would get in Xinjiang. After we made it to Italy, the authorities started to target our family. My mother was taken to an internment camp, and my father was interrogated for several days before being taken to hospital. He was 80 years old.

Meanwhile, the children had no one. According to the Chinese government, they were the children of “betrayers”. Our other relatives could not take care of them because they were afraid that they would be sent to camps too.

The school soon noticed that no parents or guardians were present at meetings, so they asked the government to handle these “orphaned” children. They were sent to a prison-like school with 24-hour surveillance. They call these places “orphan camps”.

My children are called “orphans”, but I am still alive.

In November 2019, my father passed away. But that was also the month we received some good news, when the Italian government issued a permit to bring my children to Italy. Informing our children was a risk, because of surveillance of their communications, but we managed to do it in March last year in a video call.

To obtain their visas they would need to travel to the Italian consulate in Shanghai, 5,000km away. They were too young to take such a journey alone, and we couldn’t find anyone to accompany them due to the risks.

One night in May, the Chinese police interrogated my children for two hours. They asked why they kept in contact with their parents. They said this was dangerous, and threatened to take them to an internment camp at the end of the school term. The children were scared. My son was calling us every day, pleading to be rescued. He said he was on a list of people going to an internment camp. With the Italian visa set to expire in August, we had to let the children go to Shanghai by themselves.

We gave them instructions and, with the help of strangers and contacts, they made it to Shanghai. But when they got there, they were refused entry to the Italian consulate. Two days later the police caught them, and they were sent back to the orphan camp.

Until then, I had never given up hope that we would see our children again. But now our situation is desperate. China has detained my children, and if it wants to harm them, it can.

It is a risk for Uighurs to speak out about the human rights violations we are suffering, but we are telling our story in the hope that someone will help us. In the five years since I left my children, I have not stopped thinking about them, even for a minute. Nobody can truly understand what I feel unless they experience this.

I do not know what my children are doing now. I have seen footage of orphan camps posted online, so I know they watch Chinese propaganda films and sing “red” songs in the school. Whenever I watch these videos, I think of my children and the way they’re being educated. How they’re restricted in a small classroom, learning things they don’t want to, separated from their parents, and how they must miss us.

My baby was born in Italy, and we have another that was born here. Sometimes we hold them in our arms and tell them about their brothers and sisters in Xinjiang, and we cry. They ask when they will meet their siblings, and I do not know the answer. At night I wake from nightmares, and I pray to Allah to bring the children back to us. In those times, the only thing that comforts me is the photo of them I grabbed as I rushed out of the door five years ago.


Mihriban Kader is a Uighur Muslim who fled from Xinjiang to Italy in 2016. Her four eldest children were taken into Chinese state custody. She is featured in Amnesty International’s latest report, Hearts and Lives Broken: The nightmare of Uyghur families separated by repression


Foggy Road Ahead In Myanmar Crisis

The Daily Star, Bangladesh

March 20, 2021

Four events on Sunday (March 14) are proving pivotal to the outcome of the escalating crisis in Myanmar.

First, the acting leader of Myanmar's ousted lawmakers under an entity called the Committee for Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), backed by the US, issued a call to arms for the protesters to defend themselves in a "revolution".

Second, unidentified assailants set fire to scores of garment factories in an industrial zone—some of which were Chinese-owned. Both the protesters and the junta are blaming the other for the arson attacks. The incidents followed weeks of "hate" messages in social media over China's opposition alongside Russia when the UN Security Council sought to condemn and impose sanctions on the Myanmar military junta over the February 1 coup.

Third, deaths of anti-junta protesters on Sunday hit a high of at least 39, bringing the total death toll to well over 100.

Fourth, the Tatmadaw, as the Myanmar military is known, has imposed martial law in two townships, one of which is in Yangon. More were underway afterwards.

The upsurge in violence comes as a blow to Asean, which was hopeful of further engaging the Tatmadaw to convince it to open a dialogue with all stakeholders, including the National League for Democracy; and also to allow a humanitarian channel to aid the people as Myanmar already faces an uphill task controlling the Covid-19 pandemic.

Separate initiatives by Indonesia and Thailand, which managed to establish preliminary "trust" with the junta as evidenced by the visit of Myanmar Foreign Ministry representative Wunna Maung Lwin to Bangkok on February 24 to meet Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai and Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, now appear to be in tatters following Sunday's call to arms and the consequent violence.

Greater involvement by superpowers and their taking sides in the conflict could further complicate matters.

The US had earlier initiated a series of sanctions on Myanmar military personnel and stopped the military junta from withdrawing Myanmar's USD 1 billion deposit in New York, as well as a World Bank loan freeze. The US has backed the CRPH, which is now seeking recognition as a government in exile. It is also trying to bring on board the ethnic minorities, including those who have been fighting for independence under a federal principle.

These signals are heightening the challenges for the Tatmadaw to hold the country together and avoid a potential civil war, a scenario which Asean, especially Thailand as well as China, is most wary of. Unlike the 1940s when the Tatmadaw began as the only institution in Myanmar able to build a nation state, now the NLD and its allies have a blanket presence in all parts of the country, although with few arms.

Meanwhile China, with its controversial economic relations with Myanmar plus complex activities along the borders, is poised for greater intervention following Sunday's arson attacks on the properties of Chinese investors.

China had earlier signalled its intention to enter the fray. Foreign Minister Wang Yi was unequivocal in stating: "China and Myanmar are a community with a shared future through thick and thin. China will not waver in its commitment to advancing China-Myanmar relations, and will not change the course of promoting friendship and cooperation, no matter how the situation evolves."

One Thai diplomat, who did not want to be named, expressed his apprehensions. "We are naturally worried because as the conflict intensifies, the reactions from major nations, especially western ones, will increase, with the consequent danger of everything getting irretrievably out of control. As we are seeing, moral support, financing etc to keep the protests going may lead to supply of arms and weapons. The entire environment can lead to this as well as external interference reaching various groups of people, including ethnic minorities to fight the military government, triggering chaos. So, what does this lead to—a problem for Asean, particularly Thailand [sharing long borders with Myanmar]."

"If we talk about patience, we don't want to say if they [the US] have or don't have—but we would like them to have the same objectives and good aspirations for Myanmar. That's what we would like to see," he added.

Thai observers believe that co-existence of the Tatmadaw and the NLD is the best of the alternatives before Myanmar.

And there is nothing better than a return to normalcy. "It's best for them to walk forward together, as it had proven throughout recent years that by sticking together, trying to depend on one another, or even with sporadic conflicts at times, it is the optimum option for their country," Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai had said in an earlier interview with Asia News Network.

Don stressed the importance of dialogue and trust to achieve a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Myanmar.

Thais believe that if the two sides had tried to stay together and accommodated each other and not sought to annihilate the other, the crisis would not have taken place. And if they can nurture the relations as they did in the past several years, it would have created a "special" characteristic in themselves, and the role of the military would have then steadily evolved in tandem with domestic politics, benefiting the people in the process.

The failure at mutual accommodation had precipitated the present crisis, which is escalating by the day.

Amid threats of a civil war and martial law imposed on two townships and more, the chance of the Tatmadaw imposing a nationwide martial law, blocking access to the internet and all communication with the outside world cannot be ruled out.

The Tatmadaw has woven tightly the fabric of the Myanmar nation for long and has become used to being in control of virtually every facet. The soldiers are industrious, serious, brutal, ruthless, and aloof, with distrust of everyone. It is as if the world changed little in the post-colonial time, and everybody is a virtual enemy.

But the world has changed from the time when the military held the country in a tight leash. The people of Myanmar strongly believe that life would be better for them with a democratically elected civilian government, and communication technology.

There is a fear in Asean that the crisis could spiral out of control and become complicated like in some other countries, such as foreign fighters intruding, or the use of drone bombs from outside. Even the Tatmadaw would not be in a position to tackle such a scenario.

A Thai diplomat added that Thailand had not talked to China, but if Beijing offered a solution that could work, it would be welcomed. And Bangkok is open to combining its approach with the Chinese and work together for mutual benefit.

But Thailand maintains that if trust and dialogue can be established without outside interference, it is best for Myanmar because it doesn't have to share the "cake" with anyone.

While several Asean members have supported Indonesia's initiative, they are sceptical of Thailand's approach. "Yes, trust is key, but Thailand is mistaken in thinking that its special relationship with Myanmar could protect the region," one Asean diplomat commented.

Meanwhile, on the ground the military still has the upper hand. A Myanmar source said the Tatmadaw is determined to carry out its objectives, despite the strong and inspired protests. There has been no significant switching of sides by soldiers and police to annul the coup, which is seen as a key determination of the outcome as international pressure has not been effective at the moment.

Some Myanmar analysts believe the best hope right now is to have a free and fair election after a year or two. The key challenge will be how best to hold the military accountable for its promises including maintaining basic human rights, freedom of the press and freedom of information flow. And also to make sure that Myanmar does not become a pariah state so that its citizens can recover from the Covid pandemic. Policy engagements are needed from the international community rather than isolation.

But they conceded that the fate of the NLD is not good unless something can be salvaged. In addition to voter fraud charges, the military is now piling on corruption charges. It is widely surmised that Aung San Suu Kyi's political career is likely over. Some blamed her stubbornness and political naivete for a series of actions leading to the coup.

The events of Sunday have stirred more uncertainty about the end-game, as the competing interests and geopolitics of China and the US further muddy the waters.



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