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Power and sovereignty issues come to the fore in Afghanistan

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“More and more strength to those women and other vulnerable groups that are mustering for their rights in Afghanistan right now.” This is likely to be the wish of progressives everywhere. The enormity of their courage could be gauged from the fact that they are in direct confrontation with the Taliban who are no champions of fundamental rights. Now more than ever before, women’s organizations the world over and international progressive opinion need to rally round these protesting sections in Afghanistan.

Such support is crucial in consideration of the fact that sovereignty-linked questions are coming to the fore in Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban’s return to the country as rulers, thanks to the US’s scruples over withdrawing from Afghanistan regardless of the human costs it entailed. As pointed out in this column last week under the heading, “US-China Cold War intensifies in the wake of Taliban return”, countries are not obliged to scramble to accord recognition to the Taliban regime in view of the fact that it did not come to power through democratic processes.

This rule applies in particular to countries of the South and South West Asian regions that are claiming democratic credentials. This is in consideration of the fact that it is the countries of these regions that would be interacting most closely with the Taliban regime from now on. As said in last week’s column, those countries claiming to be democratic that do recognize the Taliban regime currently run the risk of exposing themselves as fake democracies.

However, the Taliban could gain some legitimacy by first forming an inclusive government and by thereafter going for a free and fair election, where the onus would be on the Taliban to prove that the majority of the Afghan people are supportive of it. In the absence of these basic requirements there is no way in which the militant organization could claim that it is the legitimate government of Afghanistan. Power to rule or sovereignty cannot flow from the barrel of a gun in the world of democracy. Accordingly, the Taliban lacks the sovereign right to rule right now.

In this connection, it was most intriguing to hear a Sri Lankan “expert” going on record as saying, among other things, that an effort by Sri Lanka to recognize the Taliban regime “could give a wrong signal to both the Tamil and Muslim communities in Sri Lanka as well as the international community”. No explanation has been given by the speaker as to what this “signal” is. Besides, it is both daft and dangerous to refer to communities in their totality in consideration of the fact it is only microscopic armed formations within the communities in question that have opted for armed militancy against the Lankan state.

As commonsense would dictate, the vast majority of the members of the relevant communities are living in peace with the rest of the Sri Lankan people. Such “experts” should restrain their tongues lest they aggravate Sri Lanka’s ethnic and religious tensions.

Meanwhile, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan has opened a power vacuum in South West Asia. The possibility is strong of China filling this vacuum before long but that could have India in particular worried. This accounts for India making diplomatic contact with some members of the Taliban leadership in Doha recently. India is compelled to strike some sort of working relationship with the Taliban on account of its need, among other reasons, to ensure that China does not warm up excessively towards the Taliban. As a principal state of the South and South West Asian regions, India is facing the challenge of staving off moves by another notable world power in the form of China to infiltrate the regions concerned.

Given its instability, Afghanistan would be exceptionally coveted by China since external economic assistance would be high on the Taliban’s foreign policy agenda. Such moves by China would compel India to redouble its efforts to go to Afghanistan’s assistance in the area of nation rebuilding in particular. Accordingly, India and China would be in a degree of intense competition to wield influence in Afghanistan in the days ahead.

US military incursion into the global South has, no doubt, been a principal trigger to intensified conflict and war in the hemisphere over the decades but such armed involvement has been only one principal trigger in the chronic instability of these invaded states. With regard to South and South West Asia in particular the observer is obliged to come to grips with the extremely slow pace of progressive political change in these countries. Specifically, democratic development has been notoriously snail-paced. It is these realities that should have the democratic world worried in relation to the Taliban return.

An interesting poser that surfaces at the moment is what formations of the powerful, such as the G7, would be doing in the days ahead with regard to developments in Afghanistan. For instance, would the grouping be attaching strings, such as the adherence to democratic principles by the Taliban, for the extension of economic assistance to Afghanistan. The G7 would need to hurry because, besides China, other notable powers, such as Russia, Iran and Pakistan, would be redoubling their efforts to bolster the Taliban regime. Accordingly, big power games in Afghanistan are unlikely to end in a hurry. As pointed out in this column on previous occasions, Afghanistan’s strategic location has been making her the cynosure of the eyes of the powerful over the decades. This interest cannot be expected to dim in the foreseeable future.

Equally interestingly, how would the foremost agencies of the UN be reacting to developments in Afghanistan? Would the Taliban be expected to tread the path of democracy as a condition for crucial UN development assistance? What would be the stance of the UN Security Council members to these events? Could they muster a united policy among themselves on Afghanistan? Would Afghanistan be allowed by them to drift in the direction of Myanmar?

These questions and more cry out for answers. The hope of most progressives is likely to be that the wellbeing of the Afghan people would be attached top most priority by all the relevant stakeholders. That is, the legitimate interests of the powerless majority in Afghanistan should be made to prevail over all else.



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Covid-19 vaccination: Is it the proverbial ‘Silver Bullet’?

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Dr B. J. C. Perera

MBBS(Cey), DCH(Cey), DCH(Eng), MD(Paed), MRCP(UK), FRCP(Edin), FRCP(Lon), FRCPCH(UK), FSLCPaed, FCCP, Hony FRCPCH(UK), Hony. FCGP(SL)

Specialist Consultant Paediatrician and Honorary Senior Fellow, Postgraduate Institute of Medicine, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka.

In this emerald isle, people take to any form of vaccination, like the legendary ducks take to water. Offer them a vaccine against anything and they will take it; at least most of them would do so. The vaccine antagonists and anti-vaxxers are extremely few and far between, so as to be almost a virtual non-entity. With a very high literacy rate, and a population that is prepared to take heed to the hilt, the axiom that dictates ‘prevention is better than cure’, it is the absolute dream of the experts in the public health scenario that there is unmitigated abiding interest on the part of our populace to get vaccinated against COVID-19. It has been said that vaccines do not save lives but vaccination most definitely does. Vaccines have to be given to people for them to produce the optimal effects. A receptive population to such a notion is indeed, a much-fancied reverie of all health service providers.

In such a background, it is most laudable that Sri Lanka is going pell-mell, even in an impetuous rush, to vaccinate her population against COVID-19, at what could best be described as at break-neck speed. Even given the spectacle of an insufficiency of adequate stocks of the coronavirus vaccines to freely vaccinate the population, the authorities are making the very best of the situation. We must, of course clearly appreciate the steps taken by the Government and the Ministry of Health in this initiative. The tri-forces, the Army in particular, have to be congratulated, in playing the lead role in organising a scheme of things to administer the vaccines in an orderly fashion. TAKE A BOW; ALL OF YOU, you are indeed giving the very best of yourselves in this endeavour.

Well, the goal is to somehow secure a high enough herd-immunity to defeat the virus; most definitely a commendable final goal. The currently prevalent mantra is to vaccinate, vaccinate, and vaccinate even more. Yet for all that there is much misinformation and an infodemic doing the rounds, especially on social media, about widespread speculations on loss of sexual prowess, impotence, subfertility and infertility, as undesirable effects of the COVID-19 vaccines. THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO SCIENTIFIC BASIS FOR ANY OF THESE IMPLICATIONS. NONE OF THE CURRENTLY AVAILABLE COVID-19 VACCINES DO ANY OF THIS. It is just stupid covidiocy on the part of a few anti-vaxxers. It has induced a lot of young people to refuse the vaccine. This is a crime against humanity to spread such falsehoods. It is absolutely crucial to realise that the current vaccination drive is just a very important one of quite a few things we can do to try and keep the coronavirus at bay.

We have seen the fantastic results of immunisations against ‘child-killer diseases’ in paediatric healthcare. This author, as a young junior doctor, was witness to the ravages of the much-feared childhood diseases that killed or maimed scores of young children even in the second half of the last century. Those diseases such as tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough, polio, measles, Japanese encephalitis; just to mention a few that took scores of young lives of yore, are a thing of the past now. Adequate vaccination has completely wiped them out. The last case of childhood polio in Sri Lanka was seen just around a quarter of a century ago. The young junior doctors of today and the current lot of medical students have not seen any of these dreaded diseases.

In the child healthcare scenario, vaccination has become the panacea for all ills in the above-mentioned diseases. In the same vein, it is quite reasonable to expect the coronavirus vaccines to provide a similar end-result. However, is it really so? It is a most lamentable fact that it is perhaps not quite so.

There is a well-recognised fundamental difference between all the vaccines that are used to prevent the much-feared childhood diseases of the past and the currently available vaccines against the coronavirus that is causing the current pandemic. The vaccines against all those childhood diseases COMPLETELY PREVENT children getting the disease!!!, period. Well, if the recipients are protected against getting the infection, it is the end of the story; a definitive conclusion of the matter in hand.

However, right up to just a few days ago, none of the currently available vaccines against COVID-19, were thought to be able to COMPLETELY PREVENT anyone getting the disease to any appreciable degree. How they work is by reducing the severity of the disease and by preventing the deaths. So…, the basic end-result characteristics of all the currently available COVID-19 vaccines were thought to be quite different to the standard vaccines against all other infective diseases. One could still get the disease in spite of being vaccinated against COVID-19 and would still be able to spread the illness to others.

Yet for all this, there seems to be a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel. In a most recent scientific publication in the New England Journal of Medicine, released as recently as 22nd September 2021, an interim analysis of a large study conducted in 99 centres of the USA has shown significant protection against CONTRACTING THE DISEASE as well as AGAINST MORE SEVERE DISEASE AND DEATH by the mRNA-1273 (Moderna/Spikevax) vaccine, administered as two doses 28 days apart. Vaccine efficacy in preventing Covid-19 illness was 93.2%, the effectiveness in preventing severe disease was 98.2% and the efficacy in preventing asymptomatic infection, starting 14 days after the second injection, was 63.0%. Vaccine efficacy was consistent across ethnic and racial groups, age groups, and participants with coexisting conditions. No safety concerns were identified.

Be that as it may, added to all our problems, now there is the daunting spectacle of the various types of variants and mutants, ranging from Alpha through delta, even to Epsilon and most recently to a particularly nasty strain called ‘Mu’, of the coronavirus which could cause problems even in the fully vaccinated. We still do not understand completely the potential impact of these more virulent strains in vaccinated people.

However, a case in point in relationship to these facts is the presently dominant situation in Israel. That country, one of the fastest in vaccination and most-vaccinated nations in the world, in spite of almost the entire population being vaccinated, is having some problems at the present time. By mid-March 2021, Israelis were partying as lockdowns ended and by April, masks had more or less vanished, turning the tiny country into a tantalising glimpse of a post-pandemic future. However, the crafty blight of a coronavirus seems to have come back with a vengeance. From a few dozen daily cases in early June 2021, even zero on June 9, new daily COVID infections twice hovered near 6,000 very recently, the highest daily rate in six months. Having won early access to supplies of the BioNTech/Pfizer jab in exchange for sharing nationwide data on how mass vaccination drives affect the pandemic, Israel is a closely watched indicator of a country where well-inoculated developed economies are heading.

As new infections soared, so did the long tail of hospitalisations in Israel. Even though the unvaccinated were five to six times as likely to end up seriously ill, the vaccine’s protection was waning fastest for the oldest; the most vulnerable, who got their first jabs as early as December 2020. At this rate, health officials predicted at least 5,000 people would need hospital beds by early September, half of them with serious medical needs, twice as many as Israel is equipped to handle. The current Prime Minister of Israel was honest with Israelis when he announced a new measure just a couple of weeks ago, whereby the government was trying to cushion the blow. On August 1, it had started offering people, over 60, a third shot of the Pfizer vaccine, embarking on its own public health experiment as it tumbled into an unpredictable fourth wave. So far, 775,000 people have taken their third shot and doctors say they can see antibody counts rising measurably within days of the third jab.

For Israelis, the booster shots are a reminder that they are still on the frontier of Covid-19 vaccinations. They celebrated when they were the first to get jabbed, cheering Pfizer as lockdowns ended in March 2021. Now, they are the first to experience the limits of the vaccine and the first to accept a long-whispered inevitability: the need to give regular booster shots to stay protected.

All these facts tend to bring into sharp focus, again and AGAIN, the undoubted importance of time-tested manoeuvres of avoiding crowds, maintaining a social distance of at least one to two metres, wearing suitable and effective masks; even double-masking, and repeated washing of hands, as our own personal weapons against this dastardly blight. Vaccination against COVID-19 will probably not be the panacea for all ills in combating this pandemic, although it would be a very powerful tool in the hands of the authorities in their quest towards victory over this disease. It will certainly not be the ultimate ‘SILVER BULLET’ against the disease.

If there is a lesson to be learnt from Israel today, it is this: corona, in fact, is not over; perhaps not for quite a while. This summer was just an intermission. Next may come winter., sadly perhaps, a winter of discontent. We do hope to high heaven that it may not be so for this beautiful and much-treasured Motherland of ours.

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Proposed Parakrama Samudraya walking path devalues ancient heritage

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By Eng. Thushara Dissanayake

The construction work of the proposed walking path on the Parakrama Samudra tank bund was suspended after the protest of a group of Buddhist monks. Whether it is appropriate for monks to intervene in this matter is a different issue and the objection is admirable because many remained silent over this issue of national significance.

Since then many views, both pros and cons, on the proposed walking path, have been expressed by various parties. Experts in the engineering field express views on the safety of the dam after the proposed construction, which meddles with its existing riprap, the structural arrangement that prevents bund erosion by wind-generated water waves. Some others, including local administrative level officers and politicians see this as essential development for the area. However, technical issues can be resolved at any cost, and I am more concerned about the facts whether this track is a genuine necessity and the possible subsequent damage it can inflict on the historical value of the tank and the image of the great King Pararamabahu.

The objective of a walking path is to help people maintain their health, not only by engaging in physical activities like walking and jogging but also by allowing them to be with nature. While walking and jogging, can improve physical health, a serene, natural environment can improve mental health. If we take an area like Polonnaruwa, which is not as urbanized as many of the major cities in the country, there are ample places that offer the above-mentioned benefits. Further, neither visitors of the area nor residents will use it as a walking track, and an observation platform would be sufficient, if people need to stay safe from traffic that moves along the bund. Therefore, this type of project would no doubt be a white elephant that ruins millions of public money.

There was a time when the leader of the country went about erecting clock towers at every junction. Soon after they were built many of them showed the wrong time due to inferior construction work, resulting from corruption, putting the public in difficulty. Unlike those days, today there is no need for clock towers as everybody has the exact time since everyone has a mobile phone, more accurate than a wristwatch. We have to come to terms with the reality that what we value today would become obsolete tomorrow in the fast-changing world. Who is to say that these walking paths would not become obsolete in the future given the fact that lives of people are becoming complex and busy, and people may turn to indoor gymnasiums and exercise machines?

Moreover, a closer look at some of the already constructed walking paths would reveal that the selection of locations for such facilities was ill-informed, without proper evaluation as they remain under-utilised. One such example is the track that has been constructed in Badulla urban park which is popularly known as the Wawul Park. This park is located on the edge of three main playgrounds of the city; Vincent Dias ground, cricket ground and football ground. The track is blanketed in thousands of droppings of bats that inhabit the trees of the park, the odour of it so foul that it is very difficult to reach the track. Every day hundreds of people walk in the aforementioned playgrounds while the walking path remains abandoned.

Coming back to the topic, after the walking path is constructed, as per the usual practice of the country, a huge plaque will be erected on the bund mentioning the names of politicians who suggested, advised, supervised, participated and declared open the track. There will probably come a day in future when our children, who visit the Parakrama Samudraya, would say that the tank was constructed by this and that politician. Alas! The statue of the Great King Parakramabahu, who had a great vision to manage the water resources of the country, will be disregarded.

Way forward

Before making any structural changes to heritage sites, opinion should be sought from experts and other stakeholders as well. According to personal experience, when I last visited the place a few years ago, people who visited the tank needed no walking path, but being travellers from remote areas, there was a crying need for other basic facilities. They required shelter, water, facilities to have their meals, dispose of waste safely, and a proper waste collection system, among other things.

In addition, a mini auditorium can be constructed at a suitable place in the vicinity, that has audio-visual facilities to educate children about the history of the tank. A model of the reservoir can be used to explain its components and operation. Then our children will not take this amazing Parakrama Samudraya, that they are endowed with today, for granted but learn to appreciate the great vision and dedication of their ancestors in making this marvel a reality.

Let me conclude with a poem I posted on my FB page sometime ago, with its translation.

There is a huge plaque at the end of the tank bund. It reads that the politician is akin to King Parakramabahu. The river downstream overtops with the sweat of the people who built the tank. Still, the people who built the tank are of no value)

(The writer is a Chartered Engineer. This article is based on his personal views and does not reflect those of the organisations where he holds positions)

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Antics of State Minister and Pohottu Mayor; mum on chemical fertiliser mistake; The Ganga – a link

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Reams have been written in all local newspapers; much comment has traversed social media and persons have been bold to call for justice on two absolutely unrestrained and yes, evil, SLPP VIPs who have recently been dancing the devil as the saying goes. These evil doers seem to be pathologically unable to control themselves and behave as human beings: heads outsised with hubris and apparently bodies often pickled with liquor.

Very succinct comments have been made on Lohan Ratwatte, one being: “a leopard never changes his spots” referring to the many crimes supposed to have been committed by him, and the other that he is a gem of a man who may make a jewellery heist soon enough. He has the audacity to say he did nothing wrong in barging into two prisons; in one to show off to pals the gallows and in the other, to brandish a gun and place it against the heads of two shivering Tamil prisoners. All done within the week when world attention was focused on Sri Lankan human rights violations directed by the UNHRC

Cass’ comment is that Lohan Rat was committing hara-kiri (minus even a trace of the Japanese spirit of self sacrifice) and taking the entire country on a suicidal mission through his inability to hold his drinks and destructive hubris and murderous inclination. Cass particularly favoured Don Mano’s summation in his comment on the unlawful prison intrusions in the Sunday Times of September 19. “Any semblance of a shabby cover-up to enable Lohan Ratwatte to retain his position as State Minister of Gems and Jewellery will not only endanger the economy by depriving the nation’s dollar bare coffers of a GSP benefit of nearly 2.7 billion dollars, but will risk putting 21 million Lankans from the frying pan into the fire and test their tolerance to the core.”

The visit to the Welikada prison by the State Minister of Prison Reform and … was said to be with some men and one woman. Identities were kept under wraps and confusion raised by making the dame a beauty queen or cosmetician. But who she was, was soon known along the vine of gossip. One report said the person in charge of the prison or its section with the gallows, cautioned Lohan Rat and tried to dissuade his advance with friends in tow since the lady companion was in shorts and them walking through where prisoners were, would cause a commotion. But no, the State Minister advanced to show off the gallows with his short-shorts wearing woman companion and imbibing mates.

Cass is actually more censorious of this woman than even of the State Minister himself. Is she a Sri Lankan, so vagrant in her woman-ness? Doesn’t she have even an iota of the traditional lajja baya that decent women exhibit, even to minor level nowadays? Is associating with a State Minister and his drinking pals such a prized social event? Shame on her! She, if people’s assumption of identity is correct, has boasted political clout and been elevated by it too. Such our young girls! Do hope they are very few in number, though this seems to be a baseless hope as social events unroll.

Pistol packing – correction please – toy pistol packing Eraj Fernando is aiding the ex State Minister of Prison Reform to deface, debase and deteriorate Sri Lanka in the eyes of the world. He is interested in land and not in gallows or scantily clad gals. With thugs in tow he trespassed a property in Bamba and assaulted two security guards. Repetition of an incident he was embroiled in – a land dispute in Nugegoda a couple of weeks ago. He was taken in by the police and before you could say Raj, he was granted bail. What quick work of police and courts.

As the editor of The Island opined in the lead article of September 20: “The Rajapaksas have created quite a few monsters who enjoy unbridled freedom to violate the law of the land.” A convicted murderer known for his thug ways was presidentially pardoned a short while ago.

The good thing is that people talk, write, lampoon, and draw attention to these heinous crimes and do not seem scared for their necks and families. White vans have not started their rounds. And very importantly the memories of Ordinaries are not as fickle as they were. Wait and see is their immediate response.

New fad – jogging lanes on wewa bunds!

Some monks and men gathered recently on the partly torn up bund of Parakrama Samudraya and had the foolish audacity to say the bund needed a jogging lane. Tosh and balderdash! Then news revealed that other wewas too were being ‘attacked and desecrated’ to construct jogging lanes. In such remote rural areas which even tourists do not visit? Is there illicit money-making in this activity? Otherwise, no explanation is available for this sudden interest in farmers’ and toilers’ physical well being. They get enough exercise just engaging in their agriculture, so for whom are these jogging lanes?

Sharply contrasting persons

As apposite to the former two, are superb Sri Lankans up front and active and giving of their expertise, albeit unobtrusively. Consider the medical men and women and their service to contain the pandemic; farmers who protest to ensure harvests are not damaged too severely by false prophets who won the day for the banning of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and weedicides. The latest blow and justification of what so very many agriculturists, agrochemists, have been saying all along – organic is good but to be introduced very slowly; without importing compost from overseas, is the Chinese import containing evil microorganisms. Experts have categorically stated that chemical fertilisers are sorely needed for all agriculture; more so paddy and tea; and if used prudently cause no illness to humans or injurious side effects.

The four experts who comprised the panel at the MTV I Face the Nation discussion monitored by Shameer Rasooldeen on Monday September 20, agreed totally on these two facts and went on to say that it must be admitted a hasty decision was taken to stop import of chemical fertilizers. We listened to the considered wise opinions backed by true expertise of vibrantly attractive and articulate Dr Warshi Dandeniya – soil scientist, of Prof Saman Seneweera from the University of Melbourne, Prof Buddhi Marambe – crop scientist, and Dr Roshan Rajadurai – media person of the Planters Association. Listening to them, Cass swelled with pride and told herself see what sincerely-interested-in-the-country’s welfare eminent scientists we have in this land of rowdy politicians and uneducated MPs. They labeled the sudden banning of chemical fertilisers and insecticides and pesticides as “very dangerous and causing irreversible harm. It is not too late to reverse the decision, even if admitting fault is not possible.”

Garlic

Oh dear! The stench! Never ending series of scams; executed or approved by politicians and all for illicit gains. Even the tragedy of the pandemic and suffering of much of the population does not seem to have curbed selfish lust for money.

Focus on the Mahaweli Ganga

Interesting and deserving of thanks. Chanaka Wickramasuriya wrote two excellent articles in the Sunday Islands of September 12 and 19 on the Mahaweli Ganga, imparting invaluable facts of the present river and its history, as for example which king built which wewa or anicut. He ended his second article by hoping the waters of the great river will feed the north of the island too: “Maybe then this island will be finally uplifted. Not just from north to south, but across class and caste, language and philosophy, and political partisanship. Hopefully driven by a newfound sanity among its denizens, yet symbolically attested to by the waters of the Mahaweli.”

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