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Big power aspirations defining main contours of global political order

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If the general expectation was that political multipolarity would be a chief defining feature of the post-Cold War global political order, this has not come to pass substantially. For around one and a half decades after the crumbling of the Cold War in the early nineties the US occupied global hegemon status but today it is no longer in a position to perpetuate this position on account of China, for example, emerging as a major world political, economic and military power.

However, it would be accurate to say that while we are not having full-blown political multipolarity, global political power continues to centre around a few major powers and their alliances. Their strategic moves and machinations, in the main, broadly define the contours of the present world political order. However, the same is not true of world economic power. Unlike political power, global economic power could be said to be increasingly multipolar, with the Asia-Pacific region in general and ASEAN in particular proving more than a match for Europe and North America, for instance. More so why an ‘Asian Age’ could be said to be upon us.

The complex picture that has emerged as regards global political power impresses on us the importance of the VUCA concept, that is, Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity, as a tool for understanding current realities. Comparatively, the Cold War decades offered us very few conceptual challenges. The Cold War and its compulsions, in the main, defined the world political order in those times. Shifts in international political power, for example, could have been understood in terms of the pressures and pulls of the power struggle between the main protagonists, the US, the USSR and their allies.

In contrast, what we have today is a world political situation that goes well beyond bipolarity and its comparatively simple contours, although political multipolarity is yet to emerge in significant measure. It is a much more nuanced political order that could not be understood in terms of neat conceptual categories. We are called upon to have a complex awareness of current political realities to meet the intellectual challenges of the present.

Currently, Central Asia is a focal point of international political tensions. A popular uprising against the Russian backed authorities in Kazakhstan has been apparently put down ruthlessly and Russian troops are a prominent presence in the country, helping in maintaining ‘law and order’.

However, Central Asia is more or less the backyard of both Russia and China and each of these powers is seeing the region as their exclusive sphere of influence. While both these major powers have a common interest in blunting the influence and power of the US and its allies globally, they are competing with each other for substantial power over the Central Asian region. However, China is at present opting to use economic means in the main, through its Belt and Road initiative, to achieve this aim to a degree.

In the case of Russia, it’s a question of harking back to the times when it had complete control over the region as an integral part of the erstwhile USSR. Judging by the present moves of Russia in the Ukraine and Belarus, it would like to have Central Asia too as a region of exclusive influence and control in consideration of what it describes as its security concerns. The perception that the US and NATO are closing in on it in Eastern Europe set the stage for Russia’s military intervention in the Crimea a few years ago and the same consideration is prompting Russia to bolster its influence and power in the Ukraine and Belarus. They are the veritable gateway to Germany and Western Europe and this factor enhances their appeal for Russia. Besides, they border former prominent states of the USSR, such as Poland, which are today in the NATO fold.

In the case of both Russia and China, Central Asia needs to be nurtured as a buffer against creeping Islamic fundamentalism and ethnic separatist forces that could have destabilizing consequences for themselves. With regard to the latter concern, there is an Uighur community presence in almost all the Central Asian countries and this is of particular concern for the Chinese. In this connection, the Chinese would like to have a close eye on Kyrgyztan and Tajikistan, which border it.

Likewise, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan border Afghanistan, and these states were perceived in the decade of the seventies by particularly Russia as possible conduits for Islamic fundamentalism. In fact, one of the reasons for the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 was the fear that it could be a bridgehead of Islamic fundamentalism. Accordingly, Afghanistan needed to be kept under control.

While legitimate security concerns may be driving the Russian political leadership to thus wield power and influence in countries and regions that are seen as central to Russia’s national interest, it needs to be also factored in that President Putin may be needing to bolster and expand his support base at home by being seen as working towards re-establishing Russia’s former prestige and power as the head of a federation of politically connected republics.

The same goes for President XI Jinping. Seeing the need for being in power for long, he too would like to be seen as working earnestly towards establishing China as a foremost world power. China’s moves over Taiwan need to be seen in this light. Xi could be seen as egged-on by the vision of a united China.

Curiously, although the Cold War is seen as history today, some of the expansionist designs and aspirations that drove its main protagonists seem to be living on. The US and its allies are bent on bolstering the power of their former spheres of influence in Europe, while Russia too could be said to be re-kindling its interest in the former constituent states of the USSR. China is looking to expand its global influence as well but its means to achieve this are mainly economic.

Thus, it could be seen that global politics are continuing to be driven by a few major powers, but in this renewed struggle for world political supremacy, the West could be said to be having the edge over the East by virtue of the fact that India and the US are firmer allies today. Needless to say, given its obvious strengths India has emerged as the state to be wooed by today’s expansionist powers.



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UK support for govt.’s pragmatic reconciliation process

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Lord Ahmad with GL

By Jehan Perera

The government would be relieved by the non-critical assessment by visiting UK Minister for South Asia, United Nations and the Commonwealth, Lord Tariq Ahmad of his visit to Sri Lanka. He has commended the progress Sri Lanka had made in human rights and in other areas as well, such as environmental protection. He has pledged UK support to the country. According to the President’s Media Division “Lord Tariq Ahmad further stated that Sri Lanka will be able to resolve all issues pertaining to human rights by moving forward with a pragmatic approach.” The Minister, who had visited the north and east of the country and met with war-affected persons tweeted that he “emphasised the need for GoSL to make progress on human rights, reconciliation, and justice and accountability.”

Prior to the Minister’s visit, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had announced in Parliament that his government had not violated nor would support “any form of human rights violations.” This was clearly an aspirational statement as the evidence on the ground belies the words. Significantly he also added that “We reject racism. The present government wants to safeguard the dignity and rights of every citizen in this country in a uniform manner. Therefore I urge those politicians who continue to incite people against each other for narrow political gains to stop doing so.” This would be welcome given the past history especially at election time.

The timing of Lord Ahmad’s visit and the statements made regarding human rights suggest that the forthcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, commencing on February 28, loomed large in the background. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights will be presenting a written report on that occasion. A plethora of issues will up for review, including progress on accountability for crimes, missing persons, bringing the Prevention of Terrorism Act in line with international standards, protecting civil society space and treating all people and religions without discrimination.

The UK government has consistently taken a strong position on human rights issues especially in relation to the ethnic conflict and the war which led to large scale human rights violations. The UK has a large Tamil Diaspora who are active in lobbying politicians in that country. As a result some of the UK parliamentarians have taken very critical positions on Sri Lanka. Lord Ahmad’s approach, however, appears to be more on the lines of supporting the government to do the needful with regard to human rights, rather than to condemn it. This would be gratifying to the architects of the government’s international relations and reconciliation process, led by Foreign Minister Prof G L Peiris.

REACHING OUT

In the coming week the government will be launching a series of events in the North of the country with a plethora of institutions that broadly correspond to the plethora of issues that the UNHRC resolution has identified. War victims and those adversely affected by the post war conditions in the North and livelihood issues that arise from the under-developed conditions in those areas will be provided with an opportunity to access government services through on-the-spot services through mobile clinics. The programme coordinated by the Ministry of Justice called “Adhikaranabhimani” is meant to provide “ameliorated access to justice for people of the Northern Province.”

Beginning with Kilinochchi and Jaffna there will be two-day mobile clinics in which the participating government institutions will be the Legal Aid Commission, Office for National Unity and Reconciliation, Office for Reparations, Office on Missing Persons, Department of Debt Conciliation Board and the Vocational Training Authority to mention some of them. Whether it is by revising 60 laws simultaneously and setting up participatory committees of lawyers and state officials or in now launching the “Adhikaranabhimani” Justice Minister Ali Sabry has shown skill at large scale mobilisation that needs to be sustained. It is to be hoped that rather than treating them as passive recipients, the governmental service providers will make efforts to fulfill their need for justice, which means that the needs of victims and their expectations are heard and acknowledged.

It will also be important for the government to ensure that these activities continue in the longer term. They need to take place not only before the Geneva sessions in March but also continue after them. The conducting of two-day mobile clinics, although it will send a message of responsiveness, will only be able to reach a few of the needy population. The need is for infusing an ethic of responsiveness into the entirety of the government’s administrative machinery in dealing with those problems that reaches all levels, encompassing villages, divisions, districts and provinces, not to mention the heart of government at the central level.

The government’s activities now planned at the local level will draw on civil society and NGO participation which is already happening. Government officials are permitting their subordinate officials to participate in inter-ethnic and inter religious initiatives. It is in their interest to do so as they would not wish to have inter-community conflicts escalate in their areas which, in the past, have led to destruction of property and life. They also have an interest in strengthening their own capacities to understand the underlying issues and developing the capacity to handle tensions that may arise through non-coercive methods.

BUILDING PEACE

Many of the institutions that the government has on display and which are going to the North to provide mobile services were established during the period of the previous government. However, they were not operationalized in the manner envisaged due to political opposition. Given the potency of nationalism in the country, especially where it concerns the ethnic conflict, it will be necessary for the government to seek to develop a wide consensus on the reconciliation process. The new constitution that is being developed may deal with these issues and heed the aspirations of the minorities, but till that time the provincial council system needs to be reactivated through elections.

Sooner rather than later, the government needs to deal with the core issue of inter-ethnic power sharing. The war arose because Sinhalese politicians and administrators took decisions that led to disadvantaging of minorities on the ground. There will be no getting away from the need to reestablish the elected provincial council system in which the elected representatives of the people in each province are provided with the necessary powers to take decisions regarding the province. In particular, the provincial administrations of the Northern and Eastern provinces, where the ethnic and religious minorities form provincial majorities, need to be reflective of those populations.

At the present time, the elected provincial councils are not operational and so the provincial administration is headed by central appointees who are less likely to be representative of the sentiments and priorities of the people of those provinces. In the east for instance, when Sinhalese encroach on state land the authorities show a blind eye, but when Tamils or Muslims do it they are arrested or evicted from the land. This has caused a lot of bitterness in the east, which appears to have evaded the attention of the visiting UK minister as he made no mention of such causes for concern in his public utterances. His emphasis on pragmatism may stem from the observation that words need to be converted to deeds.

A video put out by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office confirms a positive approach with regard to engaging with the Sri Lankan government. In it Lord Ahmad says “the last three days illustrated to me that we can come together and we can build a constructive relationship beyond what are today with Sri Lanka. We can discuss the issues of difference and challenge in a candid but constructive fashion.” Lord Ahmad’s aspiration for UK-Sri Lankan relations needs to be replicated nationally in government-opposition relations, including the minority parties, which is the missing dimension at the present time.

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Yohani…teaming up with Rajiv and The Clan

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I know many of you, on reading this headline, would say ‘What?’

Relax. Yohani, of ‘Manike Mage Hithe’ fame, is very much a part of the group Lunu.

But…in February, she will be doing things, differently, and that is where Rajiv and the Clan come into the scene.

Rajiv and his band will be embarking on a foreign assignment that will take them to Dubai and Oman, and Yohani, as well as Falan, will be a part of the setup – as guest artistes.

The Dubai scene is not new to Yohani – she has performed twice before, in that part of the world, with her band Lunu – but this would be her first trip, to Oman, as a performer.

However, it will be the very first time that Yohani will be doing her thing with Rajiv and The Clan – live on stage.

In the not too distant past, Rajiv worked on a track for Yohani that also became a big hit. Remember ‘Haal Massa?’

“She has never been a part of our scene, performing as a guest artiste, so we are all looking forward to doing, it in a special way, during our three-gig, two-country tour,” says Rajiv.

Their first stop will be Dubai, on February 5th, for a private party, open-air gig, followed by another two open-air, private party gigs, in Oman – on February 10th and 11th.

Another attraction, I’m told, will be Satheeshan, the original rapper of ‘Manike Mage Hithe.’

He will also be a part of this tour (his first overseas outing) and that certainly would create a lot of excitement, and add that extra sparkle, especially when he comes into the scene for ‘Manike Mage Hithe.’

Yohani and her band, Lunu, last performed in Dubai, a couple of months back, and Satheeshan, they say, was the missing link when she did her mega internet hit song – live, on stage.

There was a crowd to catch her in action but it wasn’t a mind-blowing experience – according to reports coming our way.

A live performance, on stage, is a totally different setup to what one sees on social media, YouTube, etc.

I guess music lovers, here, would also welcome a truly live performance by Yohani de Silva.

In the meanwhile, I’m also told that Rajiv Sebastian plans to release some songs of the late Desmond de Silva which he and Desmond have worked on, over the years.

According to Rajiv, at this point in time, there is material for four albums!

He also mentioned that he and his band have quite a few interesting overseas assignments, lined up, over the next few months, but they have got to keep their fingers crossed…hoping that the Omicron virus wouldn’t spike further.

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Multi-talented, indeed…

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Thamesha Herath (back row – centre) and her disciples (students)

We all know Trishelle as the female vocalist of Sohan & The X-Periments, so, obviously it came to me as a surprise when it was mentioned that she is a highly qualified Bharatanatyam dancer, as well.

What’s more, she has been learning the skills of Bharatanatyam, since her kid days!

And, to prove that she is no novice, where this highly technical dance form is concerned, Trishelle, and the disciples (students) of State Dance Award winning Bhartanatyam Guru, Nritya Visharad Bhashini, Thamesha Herath, will be seen in action, on January 29th, at 4.00 pm, at the Ave Maria Auditorium, Negombo.

Said to be the biggest event in Bharatanatyam, this Arangethram Kalaeli concert will bring into the spotlight Avindu, Sithija, Mishaami, Nakshani, Venushi, Veenadi, Amanda, Sakuni, Kawisha, Tishaani, Thrishala (Trishelle), Sarithya, Hewani, Senuri, Deanne and Wasana.

In addition to her singing, and dancing skills, Trishelle has two other qualifications – Bachelor in Biomedical Science, and Master in Counselling Psychology.

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