On 2 August 2006, Selig Harrison, a highly-regarded American journalist, wrote an op-ed piece on Bangladesh in The Washington Post (USA) newspaper entitled “A New Hub for Terrorism?” Its opening lines were: “While the United States dithers, a growing Islamic fundamentalist movement linked to al Qaeda and Pakistani intelligence agencies is steadily converting the strategically located nation of Bangladesh into a new regional hub for terrorist operations that reach into India and Southeast Asia.” The US State Department had then declared that it had no specific information on any al Qaeda presence in Bangladesh. Fast forward to 2016. The US has for some time been insisting that hardline militant Islamic organizations (like IS---which did not exist in 2006--- al Qaeda, and Taliban) have been influencing Bangladeshis into extreme radicalization along their philosophies and modus operandi. Staying on that theme, we have witnessed the killings of bloggers, foreigners, people of other faiths and thinking, right up to the Holey Artisan massacre, to be closely followed by fatal attacks on a large Eid congregation. The point of bringing all this up is to highlight the arcane world of international politics, where reality might be, and at times is, an illusion, idealism gets bogged down by the weight of political realism, and, notwithstanding globalization, the nation-state reigns supreme over an international system unmistakably characterized by an unwritten hierarchies of countries. The topic definitely is not one for everyone to be at ease with.
Ambassador Muhammad Zamir, a former senior Bangladeshi diplomat and currently an adjunct Professor in the Department of Media and Communication, Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB), in a series of articles, has attempted, from a practitioner's standpoint, to elucidate upon (possibly demystify) various aspects of international politics in Currents within the International Chessboard. The title of the book itself may provide clues to the reader that he/she is entering a rather esoteric world, although, in reality, it could be that some may find it a ridiculously easy space to comprehend. The author has dedicated the book to “those seeking understanding and peaceful resolution of conflicts.” Amen to that! Unfortunately, though, those looking for pacifism are, more often than not, given a rude awakening by the harsh visage of political realism. He acknowledges that reality: “Geopolitics is…most unfortunately indifferent to wishes. It understands only imperatives and constraint” (“Brazen challenge to Obama and efforts by G-5 plus One by Netanyahu”). Zamir had written the eighty five articles that make up the volume in various newspapers of Bangladesh and other publications.
Zamir has stressed on dialogue as a key means of conflict resolution. This holds generally true even if dialogue does not always result in pacific outcomes, or is used as a ploy to gain time to realize ones objectives in protracted conflicts. In the author's estimation, “Discussion enables parties to explain their viewpoints, find least common denominators and then move forward” (“Discussion is better than confrontation”). And, on an issue of particular interest to the world, one that we dwelt on at the beginning of this review, he stresses on “inter-faith dialogue and in teaching the need to exercise freedom of expression within the framework of morality and cultural and religious sensitivities” (“Responsible use of freedom and tolerance”).
Seemingly, and realistically, unable to escape the imperatives and reality of international politics, Zamir, every once in a while, portrays events as is, warts and all. For instance, regarding the situation in Syria with the US and Russia actively backing opposing protagonists, he points out: “It needs to be understood that the US can blame Russia for this state of affairs, but the Russians are merely protecting their major regional client with the same care the US has always shown to its own client, Israel” (“Big powers divided over Syria”). In an earlier piece, he has written: “Prof. Michel Chossudovsky has already pointed out that Israel is now being treated by the West as a de-facto member of NATO. This has been reflected by the NATO Secretary General…receiving Israel's President Shimon Peres at NATO headquarters….” (“Mideast impasse: Is Obama serious this time round?”). He has written a fair number of articles involving Israel, including this analysis and prognostication: “The cat and mouse game continues between Israel and Iran…there is the continuing imbroglio that has come to a boil due to events unfolding in Syria…. To cap it all are the silent and not so silent threats coming out of Israel” (“The Iran-Israel imbroglio”). Tangentially acknowledging political realism, as well as dialogue, Zamir, in commenting on the Iran and E3+3 nuclear deal, concludes: “Two years ago, Israel had threatened to bomb Iran which would have definitely triggered a major Middle East war. That does not seem probable now. That, in itself, is a major diplomatic achievement” (“Implications of the Iranian nuclear deal”).
The author, who has a degree in law, also deals with cyber technology and its impact on international politics. One observation takes us back to a prescient brilliant English author and the social world of cyber technology that we live in following the Wikileaks revelations and those by Edward Snowden: “References are being made once again to George Orwell and his work --- “1984” with suggestions that “Big Brother” is watching us all the time without our consent” (“US Cyber intelligence operations in quagmire”). And, more specifically, “The vast majority of people who have lost their lives through the use of targeted killing technology are not Americans. They are citizens of different states…. It would therefore be useful to propose a set of policies regarding targeted killings and guidelines for drone usage” (“Covert drone use and the Rule of Law”).
Zamir takes a look at regional organizations, like SAARC, and indulges in what should ideally be: “One needs to view efforts towards greater integration and establishing common South Asian objectives against the following challenges that exist within this region --- militant religions, fundamentalism, majoritarian dominance, acute democratic deficit, poverty, hunger, illiteracy, poor health care facilities in the rural areas (inhabited by the majority of the population), social deprivation, marginalization, systemic exclusion and unemployment” (“Re-evaluating SAARC”). He carries on with another soft politics issue, climate change, especially as affecting Bangladesh: “The whole process of climate change negotiation and the creation of an acceptable regulatory regime are particularly pertinent for Bangladesh, the sub-region and South Asia as a whole” (“Need to tackle climate change with greater commitment”).
Zamir has a special interest in China, the big show of the twenty first century in the face of the established advanced powers, and comments on some of the modalities of its rise: “For the last three decades China has been targeting the opening up of its eastern region to the developed world. Today, it is aiming to use this new initiative to gain access to the big market that exists in the Eurasian continent” (“Chinese “Silk Road” initiative for wider connectivity”). It could be a compulsive pointer to the initiatives of a developing country towards higher achievement , not necessarily as China has done it (and continues to do so), but as an inspiration based on ones one ingenuity and imperatives. The author, who has included several articles related to China, dwells on its relations with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC): “I strongly believe that China shall also take steps to focus not only on trade but also on other mutual investment in each other's regions --- particularly in the peripheral sectors such as shipping, infrastructure, and high-tech goods” (“The new dynamics between China and the Middle East”).
Zamir deals with a wide range of subjects like transnational crime, and believes SAARC cooperation could tackle this situation successfully (“Regional cooperation in SAARC to combat transnational crime”). He returns to the theme of climate change, and then some: “It would…be fitting…that in addition to stressing on India embracing cleaner fuels to fight climate change, Obama also took the opportunity to remind Modi of the government and of every person with regard to religious tolerance and safeguarding of women's safety and dignity” (“Obama-Modi's “Chai-pe-Charcha”). Currents within the International Chessboard should satisfy those who have just a cursory interest in international politics, and could be a springboard for discussion among those who have taken up the subject as a specialist in academia and the vocational world.
The reviewer is an Actor, Professor and Head, Media and Communication department, IUB.