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Hardly accepted positive of the Afghan situation

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All major news channels led by BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera, with local news channels chipping in sparingly, have been broadcasting grim news of the Taliban’s takeover of the entirety of Afghanistan and apparently so easily. Many were the opinions expressed by recognised students of the region and experts; even escaped and trapped ordinary Afghan people. The allied forces and particularly the United States were condemned to the extent of being villains of the debacle, if one may name the huge upheaval thus. ‘Another Saigon’ and ‘fleeing with tails between legs’ have been oft repeated phrases along with mention of the Iraqi and Libyan American instigated disasters. But this tiny living pebble – me – with admittedly limited knowledge, has been desirous of having recognition been given to the humanitarian steps taken by the allied forces who remained till the last in Kabul. The US has been in the forefront of airlifting thousands of Afghans who preferred evacuating and refugee status to living under Taliban rule which they foresee to be no better than previous Taliban regimes.

Here are brief statistics: The US flew out approx 110,000 by Monday August 30, of whom 105,000 were Afghans, the rest being armed services and embassy personnel. Britain’s last flight was on August 28 when they carried their own officers home, while they airlifted and carried to Britain more than15,000 Afghan citizens in two weeks. France airlifted 3,000 which included 2,600 Afghans while Germany helped with moving to safety 5,347 Afghans. Canada evacuated 4,800 Afghans, and Australia 3,454. Many other countries had embassies and /or aid organisations in Kabul and, while removing their officials, included Afghan refugees fleeing in the thousands. To mention a few of them: Italy, Switzerland, New Zealand. India. An Indian BBC woman reporter and senior BBC journalist Lyse Doucet were in Kabul relaying news even on August 31. The Allied Forces’ target was to remove 100,000 Afghans, mostly journos, activists, professionals and their families. (Note: figures given above from Internet were as on August 30)

Historical events

When Afghanistan’s past history is considered, there is no doubt interference by Americans mostly, ignited and kept afire troubles in the country. Let’s very briefly recap, with me referring to an article by John Pilger in Newsclick, August 27, 2021.

“In 1978, a liberation movement led by the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) overthrew the dictatorship of Mohammad Daoud, the cousin of King Zahir Shah. It was an immensely popular revolution that took the British and Americans by surprise. Under the monarchy, life expectancy was 35; one in three children died in infancy. 90% of the population was illiterate. The new government introduced free medical care. A mass literacy campaign was launched. For women, the gains had no precedent; by the late 1980s, half the university students were women, and women made up 40% of Afghanistan’s doctors, 70% of its teachers and 30% of its civil servants.”

However the irritant for the US with the PDPA government was that it was supported by the Soviet Union. President Jimmy Carter’s Secretary of State, Cyrus Vance, later wrote in his memoirs: “We had no evidence of any Soviet complicity in the coup.” But Carter’s national security advisor, Brzezinski, a Polish émigré and fanatical anti-communist and moral extremist, advised caution and action. “In July 1979, unknown to the American people and Congress, Carter authorised a $500 million ‘covert action’ programme to overthrow Afghanistan’s first secular, progressive government. This was code-named by the CIA Operation Cyclone.

Zealots – the mujahedin recruited from all over the Muslim world, were trained in camps in Pakistan run by Pakistani intelligence, the CIA and Britain’s MI6. One of the recruits was a Saudi engineer called Osama bin Laden. The aim was to spread Islamic fundamentalism in Central Asia and destabilise and eventually destroy the Soviet Union.” The Soviets were driven away from Afghanistan and power went to the remaining mujahedin who named themselves the Taliban. Then the Americans began their battle against these terrorists, particular after 9/11.

The recent past from two decades ago

The West and Australia did much to raise Afghanistan and against the Taliban by providing troops, funds and personnel. During two decades they did modernise Afghanistan and protected human rights; women and girls benefited most. This fact has to be acknowledged. America made a terrible mistake with arming the mujahedin, but compensated with the three trillion dollars spent on reforming the mountain nation.

All the good work that Western governments and NGOs have done in the last 20 years may be nullified by the Taliban and other Islamic fundamentalists whom the West nurtured previously. Also the paradox: their efforts to educate girls, bring women into the workforce, provide rights and dignity to women have in all probability been wasted because the Taliban may negate all these advances and take Afghanistan back to the middle ages. And all the good work that Western governments and NGOs have done in the last 20 years may be cancelled out. Yes, a huge mistake was made in the past and sadly its consequences persist. This fact is summed up sardonically by the quote:

” Just remember the USA took four Presidents, thousands of lives, trillions of dollars and 20 years to replace Taliban with Taliban.”

Plaudits – a must

The U.S. military continued right up to the deadline – August 31, 2021 – agreed upon in the peace negotiation between the Taliban and the Afghan democratic government a month or two ago. With planes leaving every four hours from Kabul, notwithstanding a Taliban attack within the airport (29/8), evacuation of Americans (approx 5,400) plus Afghan citizens continued through August 31. International pleas were voiced to extend the deadline, but Biden refused to comply; the date having been set.

Thus the massive humanitarian effort of foreign nations continuing their presence in Kabul with the militants ever ready to attack, to take to safety Afghans who had worked in their embassies or aid organisations in Afghanistan. This should be acknowledged. The granting of refugee status in Western countries and knowing the Afghans would ultimately be absorbed into their citizenry is noteworthy, more so because the countries which have airlifted the most number are the ones who are inundated with refugees trying to get in, the majority being of the Islamic faith.



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Why Small Farms will be the backbone of food security

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The ecological axiom that: ‘Energy flow through a system tends to organise and simplify that system’, is abundantly clear in agriculture. As farms moved from small interdependent units, bounded by fences and hedgerows, to large cropping fields to accommodate machine management, we lose the biodiversity that once existed on that landscape and the biomass that provided the Ecosystem Services. This sacrifice was rationalised through the invocation of economic profit. The economic ‘profit’ gained by subsidies on fossil fuel and uncontrolled extraction from the Global Commons. The ‘development’ of agriculture has become a race to control the commodity market. The farmer ceased to be a feature of the farm. In a telling statement, the farmers of Sri Lanka sent the following statement to the CGIAR in 1998 :

‘We, the farmers of Sri Lanka would like to further thank the CGIAR, for taking an interest in us. We believe that we speak for all of our brothers and sisters the world over when we identify ourselves as a community who are integrally tied to the success of ensuring global food security. In fact it is our community who have contributed to the possibility of food security in every country since mankind evolved from a hunter-gather existence. We have watched for many years, as the progression of experts, scientists and development agents passed through our communities with some or another facet of the modern scientific world. We confess that at the start we were unsophisticated in matters of the outside world and welcomed this input. We followed advice and we planted as we were instructed. The result was a loss of the varieties of seeds that we carried with us through history, often spanning three or more millennia. The result was the complete dependence of high input crops that robbed us of crop independence. In addition, we farmers producers of food, respected for our ability to feed populations, were turned into the poisoners of land and living things, including fellow human beings. The result in Sri Lanka is that we suffer from social and cultural dislocation and suffer the highest pesticide- related death toll on the planet. Was this the legacy that you the agricultural scientists wanted to bring to us ? We think not. We think that you had good motives and intentions, but left things in the hands of narrowly educated, insensitive people.’

The diverse farm had to yield to production monoculture, which was made possible through the burning of fossil fuels. Ironically the burning of fossil fuels is the major reason for the current destabilised climate and threat to agriculture. One consequence of climate change is the predicted rise in global temperatures. If ambient temperatures exceed 40 degrees , which has become the reality in many places even today, food production will be compromised. All the food we eat originates with plants and plants produce using photosynthesis. Photosynthesis, or the capture of solar energy by plants, is done with chlorophyll, the thing that makes plants green and chlorophyll begins to break down after 40 degrees. Landscapes whose summer temperatures go beyond this limit will have smaller and smaller crops as the temperatures increase. The only solution to this oncoming crisis, is to begin introducing trees at strategic points on the landscape.

Trees and all other forms of vegetation cool the environment around them through the transpiration process, which takes place in the leaves. The water absorbed by the roots is sent up to the leaves which release it as vapor, cooling the air around it. Measurements on trees done by research institutions worldwide, indicate that an average large tree produces the cooling equivalent of eight room sized air conditioners running for 10 hours, a cooling yield 0f 1,250,000 Bthu per day. Plantations of trees have been recoded to have daytime temperatures at least 3 degrees below the ambient. This is an important aspect of Ecosystem Services that needs to be considered for adaptive agriculture.

Small farms which produce food with low external energy and maintain high biomass and biodiversity, are the models of food production that can face the climate compromised future before us. Capital, resource and energy expensive agricultural systems could fail in a high temperature future and threaten global food security, we need options. One would be to encourage a consumption and distribution system that facilitates small farmers to enter the market. Another would be to realise the value of the ecosystem services of a farm and develop systems to measure and reward. We are all aware of the future before us. Now is not the time to stand blinking like a deer facing the headlights.

But placing trees in and around cropping areas becomes a problem in large cropping fields designed to accommodate machine management. The management of such trees and hedgerows requires needs that cannot be provided without human management. Agricultural landscapes will need management that will be adaptive to the changing climate. An example would be; small interdependent units bounded by fences and that increase biodiversity and the biomass while providing Ecosystem Services.

Investment in food security, should take climate change seriously. All new agricultural projects should address the heat thresholds of the planned crops. The Sri Lankan country statement at COP 21 stated that :

“We are aware that the optimum operating temperature of chlorophyll is at 37 deg C. In a warming world where temperatures will soar well above that, food production will be severely impacted.”

And that :

“We are aware that the critical Ecosystem services such as; production of Oxygen, sequestering of Carbon, water cycling and ambient cooling is carried out by the photosynthetic component of biomass. This is being lost at an exponential rate, due to the fact that these Ecosystem Services have not been valued, nor economically recognised.”

These statements cry out for the recognition of the role that small farms will have to play in the future. In a temperature compromised future, small farms with high standing biomass, through their cooler temperatures will continue to produce food in heat stressed periods. If such Ecosystem Services can be given a value, it will strengthen the economy of small farms and ensure local, sustainable food production into the future.

Small farms which produce food with low external energy and maintain high biomass and biodiversity, are the models of food production that can face the climate compromised future before us. Capital, resource and energy expensive agricultural systems could fail in a high temperature future and threaten global food security, we need options. One would be to encourage a consumption and distribution system that facilitates small farmers to enter the market. Another would be to realize the value of the ecosystem services of a farm and develop systems to measure and reward. We are all aware of the future before us. Now is not the time to stand blinking like a deer in sheadlights.

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Encouraging signs, indeed!

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Derek and Manilal

Local entertainers can now breathe a sigh of relief…as the showbiz scene is showing signs of improving

Yes, it’s good to see Manilal Perera, the legendary singer, and Derek Wikramanayake, teaming up, as a duo, to oblige music lovers…during this pandemic era.

They will be seen in action, every Friday, at the Irish Pub, and on Sundays at the Cinnamon Grand Lobby.

The Irish Pub scene will be from 7.00 pm onwards, while at the Cinnamon Grand Lobby, action will also be from 7.00 pm onwards.

On November 1st, they are scheduled to do the roof top (25th floor) of the Movenpik hotel, in Colpetty, and, thereafter, at the same venue, every Saturday evening.

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Constructive dialogue beyond international community

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by Jehan Perera

Even as the country appears to be getting embroiled in more and more conflict, internally, where dialogue has broken down or not taken place at all, there has been the appearance of success, internationally. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will be leading a delegation this week to Scotland to attend the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26). Both the President, at the UN General Assembly in New York, and Foreign Minister Prof G L Peiris, at the UN Human Rights Council, in Geneva seem to have made positive impacts on their audiences and, especially amongst the diplomatic community, with speeches that gave importance to national reconciliation, based on dialogue and international norms.

In a recent interview to the media Prof Peiris affirmed the value of dialogue in rebuilding international relations that have soured. He said, “The core message is that we believe in engagement at all times. There may be areas of disagreement from time to time. That is natural in bilateral relations, but our effort should always be to ascertain the areas of consensus and agreement. There are always areas where we could collaborate to the mutual advantage of both countries. And even if there are reservations with regard to particular methods, there are still abundant opportunities that are available for the enhancement of trade relations for investment opportunities, tourism, all of this. And I think this is succeeding because we are establishing a rapport and there is reciprocity. Countries are reaching out to us.”

Prof Peiris also said that upon his return from London, the President would engage in talks locally with opposition parties, the TNA and NGOs. He spoke positively about this dialogue, saying “The NGOs can certainly make a contribution. We like to benefit from their ideas. We will speak to opposition political parties. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is going to meet the Tamil National Alliance on his return from COP26, which we will attend at the invitation of the British Prime Minister. So be it the NGO community or the foreign diaspora or the parliamentary opposition in Sri Lanka. We want to engage with all of them and that is very much the way forward”

INTERNAL FRAGMENTATION

The concept of a whole-of-government approach is indicative of a more cohesive approach to governance by government ministries, the public administration and state apparatus in general to deal with problems. It suggests that the government should not be acting in one way with the international community and another way with the national community when it seeks to resolve problems. It is consistency that builds trust and the international community will trust the government to the extent that the national community trusts it. Dialogue may slow down decision making at a time when the country is facing major problems and is in a hurry to overcome them. However, the failure to engage in dialogue can cause further delays due to misunderstanding and a refusal to cooperate by those who are being sidelined.

There are signs of fragmentation within the government as a result of failure to dialogue within it. A senior minister, Susil Premajayantha, has been openly critical of the ongoing constitutional reform process. He has compared it to the past process undertaken by the previous government in which there was consultations at multiple levels. There is a need to change the present constitutional framework which is overly centralised and unsuitable to a multi ethnic, multi religious and plural society. More than four decades have passed since the present constitution was enacted. But the two major attempts that were made in the period 1997-2000 and again in 2016-2019 failed.

President Rajapaksa, who has confidence in his ability to stick to his goals despite all obstacles, has announced that a new constitution will be in place next year. The President is well situated to obtain success in his endeavours but he needs to be take the rest of his government along with him. Apart from being determined to achieve his goals, the President has won the trust of most people, and continues to have it, though it is getting eroded by the multiple problems that are facing the country and not seeing a resolution. The teachers’ strike, which is affecting hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren, is now in its fourth month, with no sign of resolution. The crisis over the halting of the import of chemical fertiliser is undermining the position of farmers and consumers at the present time.

EARLY WARNING

An immediate cause for the complaints against the government is the lack of dialogue and consultation on all the burning issues that confront the country. This problem is accentuated by the appointment of persons with military experience to decision-making positions. The ethos of the military is to take decisions fast and to issue orders which have to be carried out by subordinates. The President’s early assertion that his spoken words should be taken as written circulars reflects this ethos. However, democratic governance is about getting the views of the people who are not subordinates but equals. When Minister Premajayantha lamented that he did not know about the direction of constitutional change, he was not alone as neither does the general public or academicians which is evidenced by the complete absence of discussion on the subject in the mass media.

The past two attempts at constitutional reform focused on the resolution of the ethnic conflict and assuaging the discontent of the ethnic and religious minorities. The constitutional change of 1997-2000 was for the purpose of providing a political solution that could end the war. The constitutional change of 2016-19 was to ensure that a war should not happen again. Constitutional reform is important to people as they believe that it will impact on how they are governed, their place within society and their equality as citizens. The ethnic and religious minorities will tend to prefer decentralised government as it will give them more power in those parts of the country in which they are predominant. On the other hand, that very fact can cause apprehension in the minds of the ethnic and religious majority that their place in the country will be undermined.

Unless the general public is brought aboard on the issue of constitutional change, it is unlikely they will support it. We all need to know what the main purpose of the proposed constitutional reform is. If the confidence of the different ethnic and religious communities is not obtained, the political support for constitutional change will also not be forthcoming as politicians tend to stand for causes that win them votes. Minister Premajayantha has usefully lit an early warning light when he said that politicians are not like lamp posts to agree to anything that the government puts before them. Even though the government has a 2/3 majority, this cannot be taken for granted. There needs to be buy in for constitutional reform from elected politicians and the general public, both from the majority community and minorities, if President Rajapaksa is to succeed where previous leaders failed.

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