This edition of DRI Asia Review probes the causes of the recent anti-Hindu violence in Bangladesh, and the politics of buck-passing and appeasement for electoral gains that seem to fuel rising anti-minority sentiments in the country, even as Dhaka’s leading voices continue to vocally speak out against these trends. We also look at how the U.S. continues to frame climate change as a national security threat. And finally, we offer you a peek into Monte Carlo simulations.
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DRI Asia Review
October 22, 2021dri.thediplomat.com
Bangladesh Burns
Bangladesh’s cynical attitude towards minorities
Dhaka press condemns recent violence against Hindus
Climate change and U.S. national security
Monte Carlo simulations

Welcome to the newsletter of Diplomat Risk Intelligence, the research and consulting division of The Diplomat, your go-to outlet for definitive analyses from and about the Asia-Pacific.

This edition of DRI Asia Review probes the causes of the recent anti-Hindu violence in Bangladesh, and the politics of buck-passing and appeasement for electoral gains that seem to fuel rising anti-minority sentiments in the country, even as Dhaka’s leading voices continue to vocally speak out against these trends. We also look at how the U.S. continues to frame climate change as a national security threat. And finally, we offer you a peek into Monte Carlo simulations.

THE BIG ONE

Bangladesh’s Cynical Secularism
Activists from various Hindu organizations protesting against the recent violence against Hindus in Bangladesh shout slogans outside the Bangladesh High Commission in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, October 20, 2021
— AP Photo, Manish Swarup

The recent series of communal attacks in Bangladesh—one of the worst the country has witnessed in the recent past—which left at least six people dead, injured hundreds and destroyed homes and temples of the minority Hindu community, has grabbed global attention. The US State Department has condemned the violence, reiterating that freedom of religion is a human right. The United Nations as well as rights organization Amnesty International have called upon the Bangladeshi government authorities to take action to end the violence, and ensure protection of the Hindu minority. The attacks were triggered when alleged videos showing desecration of the Holy Quran during Durga Puja celebrations at a temple were posted on Facebook, following which mobs attacked the temple and vandalized the idols.

Subsequently, violence spread to other districts, leaving at least three dead and 60 injured in Chandpur’s Hajigang sub-district alone, apart from targeted destruction of property belonging to Bangladeshi Hindus. Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina during her visit to Dhakeshwari National Temple—traditionally regarded as a hub for the Hindu community—in the wake of the attacks vowed to take “appropriate action” against the perpetrators of violence, following completion of “thorough investigation.” Over the past week, 71 cases have been filled in connection to the attacks and 450 people have been arrested, a number that is likely to rise as police investigations continue.


Number of terrorist attacks on Bangladesh, 2009-2019
— Data: Global Terrorism Database. Graphics: DRI

In a country so saturated with political rhetoric, violence against minorities, particularly Hindus has been an endemic feature. According to Ain o Salish Kendra, a human rights organization operating in the country, between January 2013 and September 2021, there have been as many as 3,710 attacks on the minority Hindu community, which included acts of vandalism, arson, grabbing land and property seizures, and targeted violence. Not surprisingly, the number of Hindus living in Bangladesh has continued to shrink at a steady rate, which if continued unchecked, could result in no Hindus being left in the country by 2046, according to Bangladeshi economist Abul Barakat. The sense of insecurity and feeling of marginalization among Bangladeshi Hindus has been exacerbated since neighboring India passed the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act which not only stirred domestic unrest but also reportedly exacerbated anti-India sentiments in the Bangladesh.

Political polarization has been a persistent feature in Bangladesh’s politics, which manifested itself in the wake of the political blame game that emerged in the wake of the recent attacks on Hindus. The ruling party Awami League’s General Secretary Obaidul Quader alleged that the riots were “backed” by the main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), and accused them of carrying out “mayhem this year across the country in a planned way.” In retaliation, BNP’s Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir alleged that the riots were a part of the Awami League’s “evil designs to overcome the hurdles of the next election.” A Bengali newspaper, Prothom Alo, reports that the executive director of the Bangladesh chapter of Transparency International blamed the constant political blame game as the reason why perpetrators of such violence do not receive due punishment, and also highlighted how the culture of political patronage in the country provokes communal aggressors.

Amid the rich diversity of the region, religion has played a very important role in shaping national identity for most South Asian nations. However, the onset of British colonialism altered the way religious politics operated in the region by pitting the communities against one another to secure their own position, a position referred to as a “divide and rule” policy. Given the complex historic and social context in which Bangladesh emerged, in post-independence Bangladesh, both language and religion has been used opportunistically by political parties for mass mobilization. While the Awami League championed a form of “Bengali nationalism” based on a secular Bengali language, the BNP crafted a “Bangladeshi nationalism” which is based on an Islamist political identity. The original constitution, which emerged in the aftermath of the birth of Bangladesh following the Liberation War of 1971, incorporated a provision for secularism which was deleted through the Fifth Amendment in 1979, and in 1988 Islam was declared the official state religion.

In 2005, the Supreme Court declared the 1979 amendment to be unconstitutional, and secularism was restored in 2011. However, Islam still remains the state religion. The Awami League, constrained by its more hardliner Islamist alliance partners, has to moderate its “secular” stance to satiate the diverse political positions within the Hasina government. Academics have pointed to recent government decisions which include removing some secular poems and stories from children’s textbooks following requests by Islamists, and removing the statue of Lady Justice under pressure from Islamic hard liners, as indicating the “political nature and motivations driving the Islamist concessions…” Nevertheless, Hasina’s stern message to reassure Hindu’s which possibly mitigated a diplomatic crisis with India, does restore some faith in Bangladesh’s secularist credentials.

There is no denying that there have been some positive changes in the living conditions of religious minorities across Bangladesh under the ruling government most clearly evident from the increased share of minorities in government jobs. The country’s State Minister for Information Murad Hassan, in his remarks at a public event, said that the country would return to 1972 constitution “soon.” As the second largest Muslim democracy in the world, Bangladesh is a thriving example of how a Muslim majority developing country can still be a functioning democracy. However, it must address the insecurities of its minority communities and resist the urge to use religion for political ends to ensure communal harmony in the country. And for that to happen, opportunistic political buck-passing for narrow electoral gains must end.

BABEL

Bangladeshi Voices on Violence Against Hindus
A member of ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) participates in a peaceful protest against the recent violence against Hindus in Bangladesh and to demand protection of minorities outside Bangladeshi embassy in Kathmandu, Nepal, Wednesday, October 20, 2021.
— AP Photo, Niranjan Shrestha

In the wake of the heinous attacks on several Hindu places of worship—which soon snowballed into one of the largest communal conflicts the country has witnessed in the recent past—voices within the country harshly criticized the government for its failure to ensure protection of its minority citizens. On October 18, Prothom Alo—a leading Bengali daily newspaper in Bangladesh— published an editorial piece which not only condemned police inaction during the communal riots, but also highlighted the alleged involvement of ruling party members in the attack. On October 20, the newspaper published another editorial piece which opined that the prolonged, sustained nature of the attacks indicates that they are not “riots”—which are generally short lived—but acts motivated by a strong organized power, implicitly hinting towards state involvement in the attack.

The joint editor of Prothom Alo penned an editorial piece, highlighting how it is the mentality and behavior of members from the majority community that determines how minorities in the country are treated, and called upon the youth to raise their voice against such atrocities. Larger regional geopolitics has also shaped how Bangladeshi experts view the recent attacks. A Prothom Alo editorial published on October 18 acknowledged that worrying developments in neighboring India, namely alleged mistreatment of Muslim minorities in the country, impacts Bangladesh but suggested diplomatic protests against such action, rather than people restoring to violence to harm innocent Bangladeshi minority community members.

DRI Report

Afghanistan and Taliban 2.0 Political Drivers, Taliban Strategies, and Domestic Implications

Based on exhaustive in-house research and interviews with 10 leading experts, the report looks at the domestic and international drivers behind the collapse of the Afghan government on August 15 and the return of the Taliban to power two decades after they were ousted. The report also probes Taliban 2.0, the group’s possible economic strategies, as well as the social implications of their return to Kabul.

View Report

FROM OUR STABLE

Climate Change as an International Security Risk
— Flickr, European Space Agency

October 21 saw the release of two important reports on climate security threats. Since taking office in January 2021, U.S. President Joe Biden, in sharp contrast to former President Donald Trump's climate change denial policy, has focused on climate change as a key national security issue.

The first report, the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on climate change, contains both classified and unclassified findings. It is important to note that NIE reports, produced by the National Intelligence Council, are the most authoritative assessments from the United States Intelligence Community, and are overseen by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. This is the first-ever climate change risk report released as an NIE.

As in the DRI's newest monthly Trendlines, “The Soundless Wailing: Water, Climate Change, and Security Risks in the Asia-Pacific,” the NIE too warns of growing geopolitical discord and national security threats brought on by the physical effects of climate change. The second report, released by the US Department of Defense (DoD), the DoD Climate Risk Analysis (DCRA), examines how climate change threats and the efforts taken to mitigate them would affect the United States’ defense posture and its global strategic interests. It is the first-ever DOD report that assesses the growing threat of climate change on DoD's “strategies, risks, plans, capabilities, missions, and equipment.” According to the report, climate change not only augments existing risks, but also creates new challenges against US interests.

In the latest DRI Trendlines, several of these existing risks are examined in the context of the Asia-Pacific, along with certain new challenges, including the record-breaking melting of Arctic sea-ice which has created a new theater of strategic competition. The DoD report identifies key climate hazards such as increasing temperatures, erratic precipitation, and the increased frequency of sudden, adverse weather conditions which have led to a variety of security implications through their effect on the availability and dependability of natural resources. DRI's new Trendlines examines all these various hazards in the Asia-Pacific region, including their primary impact such as conflicts between states over natural resources, and their secondary impact, such as the displacement of people affected by climate change-induced disasters and salinization of arable land.

DRI TRENDLINES

The Soundless Wailing Water, Climate Change, and Security Risks in the Asia-Pacific

In the context of national and international security, climate change acts as a threat multiplier and exacerbates existing issues and geopolitical conflicts such as conflicts between states over natural resources (most commonly, water), migration due to scarcity/sudden extreme weather events (floods, droughts) causing undesirable/illegal influx of “climate refugees,” and conflicts over territories with abundant natural resources (for example, conflicts over upper riparian regions). Climate change will also give rise to new, unprecedented situations which could potentially lead to competition and conflicts among nations. In this edition of DRI Trendlines, we analyze multiple streams of data to show security in the Asia-Pacific stands to be transformed by climate change.

Read excerpt

Access report here

DIGESTIF

Monte Carlo Simulations
— Flickr, Davide Della Casa

Large scale advancements in reducing computational time have led to the development of Monte Carlo methods, a class of algorithms that use repeated sampling and randomness to solve possibly deterministic problems. The Monte Carlo simulation approach arose with Buffon in 1777, who tossed a coin 2,048 times and recorded the results: He observed “heads” in about 50.7 percent of the tosses. These methods have a wide range of applications: from finance and biochemistry to psychology.

In Monte Carlo simulations, a set of outcomes are predicted based on an estimated range of values, that is, they model a possible set of results by leveraging a probability distribution (like a uniform distribution or normal distribution, that is usually the scientists' informed decision based on historical data and evidence), for any variable (such as stock prices) that has inherent uncertainty. With each simulation (or repeated sampling), the results are calculated again and again, each time using different random numbers that satisfy the conditions. With advancements in computational power and speed, the simulations can be performed millions of times to achieve greater accuracy.

An interesting and typical example of Monte Carlo simulations is estimating the value of π. This example is a great way to demonstrate how having a clear function of inputs and outputs can help leverage randomness to obtain a fixed value. Consider a square, with side length 1 (so of area 12=1). Inscribed in this square, consider a quarter of a circle with radius coinciding with the edge length of the square. The area of the “circular quadrant” inside the square is π/4 (since the area of the full circle with radius 1 is π x 12 = π).

Now imagine the square is a dartboard, and an extremely inebriated person is throwing darts, randomly, at this dartboard. We can consider this a uniform distribution over the square, since the probability of the dart falling on any given point of the square is the same. (The randomness of the dart throws is very important: If any given region of the unit square has a higher chance of being hit by the dart, the Monte Carlo method fails.) After a sufficiently large number of darts are thrown (say 10,000), we can count the number of darts that fell inside the circular quadrant to the total darts thrown. And that ratio, times four, is an approximate value of π.

Here’s a really cool simulation that shows exactly how this works, with simulated dart throws.

DRI Research Analysts Rushali Saha and Malvika Rajeev contributed to this edition of DRI Asia Review. Translation of Bengali media articles were provided by an in-house linguist.

Diplomat Risk Intelligence (DRI) is the research and consulting division of The Diplomat, the Asia-Pacific’s leading current affairs magazine.

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