As could have been expected the Biden administration is coming under heavy criticism at home and among some sections of the international community for what is seen as a botched withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. On the domestic front, it is the political Right that is proving the Biden administration’s harshest critics.
Some of these criticisms centre around accusations that the Biden administration pulled out the US’s remaining troops in Afghanistan with hardly a care for their safety and of having compromised US national security considerations in South and Southwest Asia in the process. Generally, the withdrawal has come to be seen as considerably precipitous, unplanned and careless.
Besides, Biden is being charged with not having been sufficiently caring for non-military American lives and for those of the US’s Western allies in Afghanistan, in addition to not being protective of those sections among the local Afghan public who cooperated with the US over the years during the “war on terror”. Among the latter are intelligence operatives who worked closely with the US army. The perception is that quite a few of these cooperative sections were left behind in Afghanistan to be at the mercy of the Taliban.
Besides these strictures of a specific nature, the general perception has been steadily gaining ground among sections of US and international opinion that the Afghan people were left to their devices in the face of an inevitable Taliban take-over of the country, which is seen, of course not without reason, as being deeply inimical to the wellbeing of Afghans.
Former US Secretary of State Leon Panetta could be considered as having spoken for the US Right when he said in an interview with a section of the international media that the prime responsibility of a US administration is to protect American lives anywhere. He said that although it is true that it was the Trump administration that initiated talks with the Taliban and finalized a withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, it was up to the Biden administration to ensure that the withdrawal was effected with utmost care and judiciously. It should have been sparing of US and other lives and should have had its focus on upholding the honour and dignity of the US. However, the Biden-supervised withdrawal did none of this and compromised the standing of the US in the world community.
While such charges could be considered as integral to the usual politicking between the principal political parties of the US, there are policy issues in these arguments and counter-arguments that should not be allowed to pass unnoticed by the analyst. One is the question of the US’s standing as a world power and its reputation. Although not elaborated on by Panetta, besides the botched nature of the recent US troop withdrawal, what is also at issue here is a decision by the US to withdraw militarily from a theatre of conflict that is central to the stability of the South and South West Asian regions. Currently, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is taking a considerable amount of the flak as well for the US’s seeming blunder in South West Asia.
Afghanistan was coveted by almost all the principal powers of the modern world over the decades. First it was Britain in imperial times, followed by Russia and the US. As indicated in this column on previous occasions it is the central strategic location of Afghanistan that accounts for this unusual interest in the country on the part of the major powers.
Simply put, Afghanistan is at the geographical cross roads to a number of the world’s foremost states: China, Russia, Iran, India, Pakistan and a score of Central Asian states that define the contours of the current international political order. Besides, Afghanistan is resource-rich and would prove a treasure trove for those powers that are intent on being on a growth fast track.
Accordingly, what is the message that the Biden administration would be sending to the US and the world through its troop withdrawal? The administration is indicating that it is beating a hasty retreat from a highly coveted prize in South Asia and that it is tamely allowing the US’s rivals, such as China and Russia, to occupy centre stage in Afghanistan. This amounts to a foreign policy defeat for the US.
No doubt, there are potential political costs for the Biden administration through this decision. But there has occurred a seemingly curious US decision in another region of strategic and economic interest to most major powers, while all this is happening in South Asia. That is the US decision to remove its missile defence systems in Saudi Arabia; its strategic partner in the Middle East and the Gulf.
This move by the US amounts to leaving its ally Saudi Arabia vulnerable to attack by its rivals for power in the region. But the decision by the US was a shrewdly calculated one that took into consideration its economic and security interests. The measure indicates that the Gulf and the Middle East are of waning interest to the US. Like Afghanistan they are arenas of chronic and wasting conflict that would not serve the US’s best interests in the long run.
Instead, the US would prefer to bolster its military and economic presence in the Asia-Pacific region. This is taking the Barrack Obama thinking of having a “Pivot to Asia” to its logical conclusion. The Asia-Pacific, which is home to ASEAN, is pivotal to world economic growth and the US would rather better its economic prospects there rather than engage in unending wars in other parts of the world.
Thus, the US, the so-called mightiest democracy, trying to showcase liberal values, runs the risk of being seen as having betrayed a suffering Southern country in the form of Afghanistan and of leaving it in the hands of an intolerant fundamentalist outfit that has no qualms in resorting to terror. Besides, it could be seen as tamely giving way to China and Russia in Afghanistan.
Politicos junketing while ordinaries are sinking in COL mire
There was a pall of silence over who accompanied our President to the Big Apple for the Big Meeting of the United Nations. Hence our curiosity was roused, minds scratched around for news. Cassandra WhatsApped a good friend of hers now living in California and asked her whether she knew who accompanied our Prez.
We thought in these hard times only the very essential and relevant to the occasion VIPs would be taken along: a lean contingent would be Prez Wckremesinghe’s orders. Cassandra hurried to her computer and googled. Plenty on President Ranil Wickremasinghe’s address to the UN General Assembly on 21 Sept., which was on the theme, “Rebuilding trust and reigniting solidarity and its relevance to Sri Lanka’s recent challenges.” Reading many articles Cass gathered that Prez RW had dealt with the country’s economic and other travails; global geopolitical landscape; climate action taken and to be taken; carbon reduction et al in his address at UNGA.
It was stated in one article that the Prez was accompanied by Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Sabry, Secretary to the President E M S B Ekanayake, Foreign Secretary Aruni Wijewardena and other senior officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. So, she rested her mind that no extraneous hangers-on had accompanied the Prez.
Then came a newspaper write up that MPs Rohitha Abeygunewardena and Mahindananda Aluthgamage were in the contingent – stalwarts of the SLPP. What use were they in the context of the topics on which the Prez made his UN address? Were they experts on any issues that would have been discussed at side meetings? Experts on economics, geopolitical matters, climate change, balance of world power? NO! It seemed to be a pure (or rather impure) peace-making gesture and to keep quiet two demanders for Cabinet positions.
Sops to Cerberus in the way of a plane ride to and from, and a stay in one of the more expensive hotels in the Big Apple? Can you believe that the MPs and two die-hard Pohottu MPs and previous ministers want a joy ride and will do anything to get one? Also, that we poor Sri Lankans, suffering such slings and arrows of bad fortune in a bankrupt country with soaring prices to be paid for even the water we drink, food we so niggardly eat and electricity we so sparingly use have paid for these two to junket? We have to fork out taxes, even those with nothing to show as assets. And where does a huge amount of this collected money go? To pay for pleasure junkets for those we feel have no right to go to the UN General Assembly.
When Mahinda Rajapaksa was the President, he would take a huge group of persons who in the majority were completely redundant and of no use at all to these UN General Assembly annual gatherings. A worker in the UN in New York commented that most of those who went along dispersed soon after they had landed, in a fleet of cars hired for the visit, making a vehicle-hiring Sri Lankan in the US rich. Most of them were not even present when the Sri Lankan president made his address.
At least, they could have helped to reduce the mass of empty seats in the UN Assembly hall. Thus, it was surmised that he was repaying his catchers for being loyal to him – at our expense. No dissent, whether loud or soft, then. No one dared question why or wherefores. No one wanted to be taken on a white van ride; or worse, taken on the final journey. Cassandra must add here that a couple of brave women journos did speak up.
And to think there was a replay of this junketing in 2023, though reduced, under a Prez who understands well the plight the country is in and the need to save every rupee of government money. However, junketing was offered at the country’s expense. And by order of Prez RW. The two mentioned are very rich politicians.
Cassandra experienced a happening that showed her how wary people are now, and untrusting. It is a natural outcome of the type of person the Sri Lankan is thought to be in these much-changed times. Do you remember when even in Middle East airports the Sri Lankan passport was treated with utter disdain and suspicion? Cass recalls that en route to Britain she had her passport and other Sri Lankan travellers’ passports confiscated on entry to the airport in Dubai and handed back only when the plane was re-boarding. She squirmed with embarrassment and resentment, but realised it was all because Sri Lankans had behaved shamefully dishonest and thus all Sri Lankans were branded untrustworthy.
Cass bought some tickets to enjoy a singing and dancing of Julius Caesar. The thousands she gave the young girl were found to be short. Saying she would get the balance from her driver, she instinctively took the tickets and was about to step out when she noticed the consternation of the box office girl. Suspicion, she realised, that she would not return. Cass apologised, placed the tickets on the counter, went out to get the Rs 500 needed and then, retrieving her tickets, commented it was so sad that the young one could not trust this old dame. She assured her it was no fault of hers; she was doing her duty, but people nowadays had killed the trust that was a given in years gone by. Even an absolutely honest and honourable person, grey-haired maybe and dignified, is treated with suspicion. What a sad state of affairs! But we ourselves are to blame since cheating and dishonesty are strong features of the present-day islanders of the Pearl of the Indian Ocean.
Use heart, know heart
By Dr Mohan Jayatilake Consultant Cardiologist
Every year on the 29th of September, World Heart day is observed to raise awareness about cardiovascular disease (CVD), which is heart diseases and strokes. As heart diseases are a leading cause of death in the world people must be educated about them and the timely prevention to achieve this goal. World Heart day commenced in 1999 through the joint efforts of World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Heart Federation (WHF).
The theme of the World Heart Day 2023 is “Use Heart, Know Heart” emphasizing the importance of healthcare worldwide. This year’s campaign focuses on the essential step of knowing your heart first. The World Heart Federation has created this day to raise awareness about cardiovascular diseases.
The key message of World Heart Day this year aims to encourage people to look after themselves, others and nature as well. Putting a coordinated effort to improve ones’ own lifestyle and diet and motivating others to do the same can lead to a reduced number of CVD cases.
Heart diseases and strokes are the worlds’ leading cause of death claiming 17.9 million lives every year. According to WHO statistics 82% of deaths coming in from low and middle income countries are due to lack of resources.
Since a healthy heart is the gateway to a healthy life it is important to ensure the health of your heart. With the growing number of heart patients worldwide it has become a cause of concern since of late.The day is observed by organising events worldwide to make people aware about the warning signs of heart disease so that people can take steps accordingly to avoid this disease.
Together with members of WHF spread the news that at least 80% of premature deaths from heart disease and strokes could be avoided if main risk factors such as heavy smoking, unhealthy diet, reduced physical activity (sedentary lifestyle), stressful lifestyle, psychological issues, hypertension, diabetic and heavy alcoholism are controlled. Being obese and overweight, BMI (Body Mass Index) more than 25, is found to be one of the main risk factors that may harm your heart. Air pollution also can lead to coronary artery disease and stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer as short term and long term effects.
Fortunately now we have almost come out of COVID 19 pandemic which caused more vulnerable patients having severe cardiovascular events.
Events of the World Heart Day 2023
There are numerous events at the national and international level promoted by WHF. They disseminate information and hold discussions of various heart ailments at different platforms. Some of them like posters, podcasts and forums are quite popular. The day is marked by providing free fitness check-ups, fundraises, walks, runs, concerts and sporting events. All such events encourage people to stay active and be aware of their health.
Global leaders recognise the urgency to give priority to prevention and control of heart diseases and other non-communicable diseases (NCD).Which include cancer, diabetic, and chronic lung diseases.
How to contribute to observance of the event on World Heart Day
By undergoing heart health check at a center near you.
By managing your weight and keeping BMI index under control with less than 25.
By trying to stay active through different physical activities
By attending seminars to learn about different life saving activities like CPR
By attending fitness lectures and lessons of healthy living
According to this year theme also, use your heart for the betterment of others’ heart, by taking following steps to reduce the burden of heart disease. Stop smoking – Cigarette smokers are 2 to 4 times more prone to get heart diseases and strokes than non-smokers. Passive smoking inside the house will also harm your own heart and your family health, causing cardiovascular disease.
Avoid alcohol – Stressful conditions in life can lead to use of alcohol and smoking. Meditation, yoga, music or involvement with any other aesthetic will help to minimize stress and to move away from alcohol.
Healthy diet at home
Limit saturated fats and trans fats
Limit salt and sugar intake
Consume plenty of fruits and vegetables
Unhealthy diet is one of the main causes of obesity, diabetic and cardiovascular diseases. Rapid urbanisation, changing lifestyle and easy access of fast food have made the dietary pattern unhealthy.
Animal products mainly beef, pork and poultry with skin, mutton, lard, butter, cheese carry lot of saturated fats. Avoid having trans fats which are in baked, processed and fried food items, certain margarines and spreads. Take lean meats, poultry without skin, low fat dairy products, fish and nuts with vegetable oil in moderation.
Adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderately intensive physical activity or at least 75 minutes of high intensive physical activity per week. Families should limit the amount of time spent in front of TV or continuous reading to less than 2 hours a day in a seated position. Exercises should be a regular part of life.
World is now facing visible epidemic of obesity. It affects your cardiovascular health and also affect your wellbeing.To lose weight, do regular exercises, have healthy diet, cut down starch and sugar and alcohol. Have plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Psychological health can affect your cardio vascular health. Regular exercise and practice relaxation, reading, being with friends and family, adequate sleep, various hobbies maintain the positive attitude towards stress free life.
Know your numbers
Visit your doctor or health care professional, check your blood pressure regularly and take steps to control it and take regular medication.Know your cholesterol- high cholesterol is another factor for cardiovascular disease. Check regularly and control with dietary measures and medication. Know your blood sugar- Diabetic is another major factor for cardiovascular disease. Diet control, medication and professional advice required to control it.
Know your warning signs
To know the symptoms of CVD will help your survival because earlier the treatment better the chances of survival. Chest pain of tightening or burning in nature with pain radiating down the upper limbs or to the neck and jaw or back, associated with sweating and nausea are your warning signs.
Sudden weakness of limbs, slurring of speech, deviation of mouth, double vision could be due to a stroke. Knowing these symptoms and seeking urgent medical attention allow you to get treatment early to prevent life threatening complications.
Take your medicine regularly and correctly
If you are already diagnosed with heart disease or with stroke, taking your medication regularly will reduce another similar episode in future.
Breast feeding and lifelong health
Breast feeding is the best form of nutrition for newborn and infants according to WHO. Increasing public awareness is important. Infants who are breastfed tend to have lower cholesterol and blood pressure as well as lower rates of obesity.
Both undernourished and over nourished early in life can increase the risk of developing cardio vascular diseases. Maternal obesity during pregnancy has been associated with obesity in children which also increase the cardiovascular disease risk.
As always our emphasis will be on improving heart health across all nations in adult male and female as well as children. By adopting lifestyle changes, people all over the world can have longer and better lives through the prevention and control of heart disease and stroke. This was highlighted on this most important day to persuade people on maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Pride from Buddhist perspective
By Dr. Justice Chandradasa Nanayakkara
In Buddhism, the word mana (Pali) connotes the idea of pride, arrogance, vanity, or conceit, etc. Although these words are used synonymously and interchangeably, subtle differences in meaning are to be found between them. Pride is defined as an inflated state of mind arising out of such things as accomplishments, wealth, knowledge, fame, etc. People tend to evaluate their abilities, qualities, and other achievements by comparing them with those of others. This attitude of comparing one’s achievements and other characteristics tends to evoke pride in people.
According to Buddhism, these comparisons with others can take one of three forms. (a) thinking I am superior to others (seyya mana) (b) thinking I am equal or as good as others. (sadisa mana) : (c).thinking I am inferior to others (hina mana). Pride is an extremely powerful latent tendency that is difficult to overcome and can exist even in those who have attained all the first three stages of enlightenment that is sotapanna, anagami, and sakadagami. It is only on attaining Arahatship that the last vestige of the fetter of pride (mana samyojana) can be eliminated.
When pride arises in a person he sees others having lower qualities, less possession, less fame, and accomplishments, etc. Pride can propel a person to dizzying heights, or tear him apart. It is one of the ten unwholesome mental factors that shackles a person to samsara and an endless cycle of suffering (vissudimagga).
Pride is so deceptive that people are often oblivious to it. It can inconspicuously and insidiously seep into our thinking until we are completely absorbed in it ourselves. As an extremely latent tendency pride lies dormant until it comes in contact with the five sense objects. Pride as an unwholesome emotion is considered an obstacle to spiritual growth in every religion and it is something that Buddhists should strive to avoid.
Pride stems from attachment which is one of the greatest sources of suffering. Pride pervades all orders of society from the highest to the lowest. Prideful people’s yearning for validation and recognition is so pronounced in our society that they try to get a sense of self-worth by promoting themselves on social media platforms and posting their pictures, awards, and other accomplishments. Their main objective is to boost their egocentrism and show the world that others cannot measure up to their achievements. Prideful people generally do not acknowledge pride in themselves but are quick to recognise and condemn pride in others.
Pride clouds the mind and manifests in unwholesome thoughts and actions. According to Dhammapada. “we are the result of what we have thought. It is founded on our thoughts. It is made up of our thoughts. If one speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows one, as the wheel follows the foot of the ox that draws the wagon”.
In Buddhism pride has been compared to a fragile bamboo bridge. (Yo manam udabbadhi asesam nalasetum va sudubbalam mahogho so bhikku jahati or aparam urago jinnam iva tacam puranam). He entirely blots out conceit as the flood demolishes a fragile bamboo bridge. – such man gives up the here and the beyond, just as a serpent sheds its worn-out skin. Human pride is just as fragile and shaky. Pride may easily be upset by a whiff of public opinion, hurt by any fool’s snide remark, or hurled down deep by defeat, failure, or misfortune. (nyanaponika)
No human demeanor is more open to contempt and criticism than pride. Pride arises from an egocentric evaluation of oneself in relation to others. Whenever pride arises in a person it deludes his mind and fails to see things as they truly are.
Beneath every manifestation of pride lies self-esteem. It is the conviction of superiority over others. It is the feeling that we are what they are not, or that we can do what others can’t do. Success in early childhood may sow the seeds of it. The praise of relatives fosters it. Once planted, it grows. (Brian Fawcett). Over time, you develop the habit of comparing yourself with others. But it is important to remember that no human being deserves any more or less respect than another regardless of title, wealth, fame, etc.
Pride can also serve a positive, productive purpose, but it has a dark destructive side too. There is nothing wrong with feeling satisfaction when a person achieves some goal in life such as being successful at a competitive exam, when promoted to a higher echelon in one’s field of work, or when he is praised for some work or mental quality. In this instance, pride is considered wholesome as it is aligned with his own merits.
Praise within limits, from a knowledgeable person can be stimulating and encouraging as it motivates him to a higher level, but if it stimulates his ego and allows his accomplishments to define who he is, it is something to be deplored. In these situations, claiming pride beyond what is deserved can easily develop into arrogance or becoming self-centered. Even if one were to achieve success in some field of activity there is no reason whatsoever to feel conceited and arrogant. Moreover, pride in a positive sense helps a person to behave in moral, socially appropriate ways in their social interactions. However, it is important to bear in mind that success in a given field is likely to breed pride and arrogance, and failure to do so may breed pessimism and depression.
They say pride goes before destruction. Pride and arrogance are obvious in many political leaders and people in leadership positions. Proud leaders become immune to their deficiencies and weaknesses. They present themselves as flawless and impeccable. When people in leadership positions are consumed excessively by pride widespread suffering could ensue. Pride in a leader can also be the cause of misery in a nation.
Pride in a general sense relates more to our opinion of ourselves on the other hand, vanity to what we would have others think of us. Vanity is self-absorption in one’s appearance, qualities, accomplishments, etc. is sometimes referred to as narcissism. This infatuation based on attachment to one’s self-image is identified as Mada (Sanskrit) in Mahayana teaching.
Self-absorbed people believe that their looks and appearance will remain the same and carry them through life. Today, people particularly women who are steeped in vanity spend an enormous amount of money on grooming products such as anti-aging creams, lotions, etc., to enhance their beauty. They also resort to other procedures such as facelifts and plastic surgery to counteract their age.
Vanity is detrimental not just to the person displaying it, but also to those around them. It is considered a hindrance for both Buddhists and people who belong to other religions, as it is decried by every religion. Vanity is a delusion that compromises sanity. For a person caught up in vanity, throwing off the chains of attachment would be difficult.
Buddhism teaches that the world and everything in it are illusory and impermanent, even the very looks and appearance over which people obsess are subject to the same law of impermanence and eventually wither and fade. It takes persons with tremendous abilities to do away with vanity when it is ingrained in them. Self-absorbed people tend to pay attention to other people’s shortcomings and weaknesses rather than their own. They usually fail to notice how much their actions hurt the people around them.
An antidote to pride is humility or modesty which is a forgotten quality of the contemporary world. Today, the virtues of modesty are becoming lost in our world, as immodesty is becoming widespread. At the same time, moral purity and values are on the decline. People are losing sight of the importance of modesty and the significance it should hold in their lives. A modest person does not boast of his own merits or achievements. He would rather feel embarrassed if anyone eulogizes him in his presence never exalt himself and becomes prideful when others compliment him.
Most people associate humility with a lack of self-esteem and a lack of confidence in one’s abilities. Humility is a quality found in a wise person with many qualities. They say when the tree is loaded with fruit its branch bends towards the ground. Similarly, a modest person is always attentive to people and never poses as an important person. By being humble we do not denigrate ourselves and jettison our self-esteem. As a legendary British writer, C.S. Lewis aptly says “True humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less”.
In Mahayana Buddhism humility is one of the precepts. it is a wholesome state of mind in which we focus on our positive qualities and accomplishments to justify a sense of superiority and not look down on others. Humility forbids ascribing to ourselves greater worth than we possess.
Pride can affect even people who lead a spiritual and religious life. Any pride that arises in connection with the practice of Dhamma is also deplored in buddhism. It is called spiritual pride.
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