DHAKA, Bangladesh - In a most unusual, unprecedented diplomatic move, head of Bangladesh's interim government, has warned the West especially the US to drastically cut down its carbon dioxide emissions and has demanded money for Bangladesh to mitigate the effects of global warming in its coastal areas.
In a press conference held on Thursday at the Prime Minister's residence in Dhaka, Fakhruddin Ahmed flanked by his top military commanders threatened to disrupt the world economy if Bangladesh's demands are not met.
"We are going to lose a large chunk of land when the sea levels rise because of global warming. Millions of Bangladeshis are going to be displaced. We refuse to accept this situation acquiescently. We need money to build levees to save our land. And we want the developed countries, especially the US to stop further aggravation of the global warming phenomenon. The oil party should be over, now! If they don't stop the party we will have no choice but to use force to bust it."
When asked to elaborate on plans Bangladesh had to "bust the oil party", the Prime Minister seemed reluctant to comment. After mulling his response Ahmed said, "I don't want to go into specifics, but understand that we are not too far from the Persian Gulf, world's largest oil producing region. We can use our air force to harass oil tankers and disrupt transportation. We have a large expatriate population in the Gulf countries. Who knows, may be those people would sabotage the oil pumping operations? After all what are they (Bangladeshis working in the Middle East) making money for? To one day come back and retire in a country that would be several feet under the sea? And also remember that there are a lot of Bangladeshis in the US and Europe. No one is asking them to do anything, but once the ball starts rolling they may feel inclined to upset oil refining operations in those countries. Bangladeshis will do whatever they can to disrupt the present energy scheme that bodes an imminent, ominous fate for their country."
With a sullen face Ahmed added, "It is a matter of our survival. We are a peace-loving people but now that it has come to a life or death situation we are justified to employ all means to ensure our survival."
With a fleet of Russian made MiG and Chinese built F-6 and F-7 fighter jets, Bangladesh Air Force is capable of striking targets in the Persian Gulf.
When asked what took Bangladesh so long to take such a stand, and told that whatever greenhouse effect had been started would take its toll on the world and Bangladesh, with or without any future reduction in Carbon dioxide emissions, Ahmed said,
"We don't see it a fait-accompli. The scientific forecast regarding the effects of global warming does not mean the world should keep burning oil till we consume the last drop. Global warming is like a disease. If it has been diagnosed it must be dealt with, right away. The earlier it is treated the better."
At one point in the press conference emotions got the better of him when a tearful Ahmed spoke in Bangla, and then provided an English translation for the benefit of foreign correspondents: "You have all the fun, and we get punished! Where is the justice?" The remark was an obvious reference to the fact that countries contributing most towards the intensification of the greenhouse effect of the planet would be least affected by its consequences, and vice versa.
Ahmed also said Bangladesh would form union with other countries threatened by the predicament of global warming.
"I am contacting President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom (of Maldives), President James Michel (of Seychelles), and other heads of states of island nations. We are going to fight tooth and nail for our survival."
When Ahmed's attention was called to the Ethanol production measure of the energy bill passed by the US Congress, he said, "It does not matter what you burn there. It hurts us here. Can we get away from this burning thing, please?"
When asked if Bangladesh had any deadlines for her demands to be met, Ahmed said,
"We need $250 billion dollars to build dikes and we expect this compensation from the US by February 21, 2009. And we want the US to roll back its Carbon dioxide emissions to the 1990 levels by January 1, 2015."
The bellicose press briefing by the Bangladeshi head of the government took place just days after the conclusion of the UN conference on global warming held in Bali where the US was mostly at odds with other countries over the strategy to tackle the impending environmental disaster.
Among the plethora of questions asked in the press conference there was one that dealt with the logistics of 'environmental war' Bangladesh and other nations may wage with the West.
In response to "if Bangladesh would consider getting help from Al-Qaeda?" Ahmed stumbled, and responded with:
"No, not Al-Qaeda, but Greenpeace."
John Passacantando, of Greenpeace USA, known for his strident attitude in promoting Greenpeace's environmental agenda was amused by the Bangladeshi stance.
"We cannot volunteer ourselves for suicide bombing missions, but we can certainly strap people with the right ammunition," Passacantando jovially commented. And not so jokingly, he passed on a tip to the Bangladesh Air Force.
"The world would appreciate if the jetfighter pilots surgically bomb and disable the engines of those oil tankers instead of indiscriminatingly bombing the whole ship. We want to avoid any oil spills."
Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, who at the Bali conference had asserted the global warming situation to be "so desperately serious that any delay could push us past the tipping point, beyond which the ecological, financial and human costs would increase dramatically" said he can understand Bangladesh's desperation.
"But the world does not need another war, and especially in the name of environmental peace. Bangladesh has the option of presenting her case in the International Court of Justice. In fact, I would encourage Bangladesh to file for damages against big oil corporations."
Oil prices have been on the rise since the Bangladeshi press conference. New York Stock Exchange saw an increased activity in the trading of renewable energy technology shares. Chris Cox, Chairman of the US Securities and Exchange Commission, said the federal agency has received complaints that several US and international renewable technology companies have formed a cartel and one of their strategy is to stir controversies about the oil-based economy-one rumor making rounds in corporate circles alleges cartel's collusion in pushing Bangladesh towards such aggressive posturing.
Professor Guy Welbon of University of Pennsylvania, President of American Institute of Bangladesh studies, thinks the belligerent conference needs to be seen in the context of Bangladeshi national politics.
"The present Bangladeshi government being unelected is looking for ways to legitimize itself. Fakhruddin Ahmed as the interim head has aggressively pursued the anti-corruption agenda of this government. He wants to further earn approval and support of his countrymen by challenging the 'external enemies' of the country."
Speaking to Washington correspondents, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said, "It is sad that they (Bangladeshis) are using language that violates diplomatic norms. The US is well aware of the dangers faced by Bangladesh and wants to help her but it is not reasonable to give us any deadline or ask for a specific amount of money.
"As far as the so-called 'oil party' is concerned, it is fashionable to blame the US for all evils. Bangladesh must understand that the whole world has enjoyed the 'party'. Yes, for whatever reasons some countries had more fun than others, but if Bangladeshis did not enjoy the revelry then basically it is their problem.
"Our own airbase in Diego Garcia, not too far from Bangladesh, is in danger of drowning (because of global warming). In fact, we can use Bangladeshi labor to build levees around that atoll. This way Bangladeshis would get employment and would be able to earn foreign exchange for their country.
Answering a question about US's readiness to deal with any military adventure led by Bangladesh, Perino said, "We take all threats very seriously and we will not let anyone disrupt the world economy. We are talking to the Bangladeshi government, but if it unfortunately comes down to bombing Bangladesh back to the Stone Age then we would just have to do it--very unfortunately."
(A.H. Cemendtaur in California and Angelina Matriati in London contributed to this Rioters News Agency Report)