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South Asia’s security worries set to intensify

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Devastating attacks carried out by the anti-Taliban IS-K group at a military hospital in Kabul on Tuesday, which claimed scores of lives, destroy all hopes of South Asia’s security worries ending any time soon. The political and security issues in Afghanistan have always had grave implications for the region and the recent bloodletting is set to underscore this fact as Afghanistan tries to normalize its internal situation in the aftermath of the US troop withdrawal.

The Taliban has been trying to put a brave face on its aggravating security concerns in the wake of mounting challenges posed to its authority by the breakaway IS-K or the Islamic State of Khorasan Province, but it is plain to see that the Taliban rival would continue to pose a grave threat to the internal stability of Afghanistan. Compared to the Taliban it is numerically small but it is often quoted as saying that ‘the Taliban is not Islamic enough ‘. That is, the Islamic fundamentalism projected by the Taliban falls way short of IS-K expectations. Accordingly, the latter could be expected to be increasingly fierce in its opposition to the Taliban.

If the atrocities committed in the name of religion by the Taliban were not enough, we now have the IS-K which is claiming to be hugely disappointed by the Taliban’s bloody excesses and inhumane indulgences. It is aiming at outdoing the Taliban in these gory feats and it staggers the imagination to think of what the IS-K would be doing by way of ‘governing ‘Afghanistan if the opportunity to do so comes its way.

Meanwhile, the Taliban could be said to be hoist on its own petard. It is under the watchful eyes of the West and its lending agencies and would be compelled to go through the motions of meeting the latter’s governing criteria, such as, introducing a measure of the Rule of Law and inclusive governance. On the other hand, it is exceptionally obliged to please its hardline constituency at home and abroad by not straying from the fundamentalist path. The latter pressing obligation will be compounded by the fact that the IS-K would be watching its every move and bringing pressure on it through its extremism to deliver a brand of internal rule that would be every inch ultra-fundamentalist. How would the Taliban resolve this dilemma of the first magnitude? This is the question.

While the Taliban could be expected to be embroiled in these domestic governance dilemmas in the foreseeable future, the IS-K would be exacting greater propaganda mileage than it by showcasing its brand of extremism to a wider international audience of impressionable followers. The IS-K is not just content with occupying the prime seats of power in Afghanistan; it is quoted as aiming at establishing a Global Islamic Caliphate, which would resonate strongly with particularly less-educated and unexposed minds.

However, with these appeals the IS-K is bound to win recruits in increasing numbers from a wide range of countries with religious fundamentalist sympathizers. Besides some Central Asian countries in the immediate neighbourhood of Afghanistan, China is being cited by some sections of the international media as possessing some potential IS-K followers.

However, commentators are not wrong in saying that it is a “rejuvenated ‘’ IS-K that the world is seeing in action at present. As it is, the group is striking with seeming impunity in Afghanistan and its success rate is beginning to be noticeable. The group is said to have launched 77 attacks in the first four months of 2021, whereas 21 attacks were conducted during the same period last year.

To be sure, the world is bound to firm up its defenses against the IS-K and other outfits of its kind to ensure strict containment of their terror operations but it is going to be a world that would be riddled with major security worries. The stabbing to death of British Conservative MP Sir David Amess in mid-October by a terrorist and the knifing of scores of people in a Norwegian town around the same time prove the point.

While South and South-West Asia would be saddled with the most overwhelming of these terror-linked concerns, the rest of the world would not be free of them either. Although states are bound to favour strong arm law-and- order measures to battle the terror question, it will increasingly prove to be a matter of winning hearts and minds. If the increasing number of terror strikes in the West alone are anything to go by, the perpetrators of terror are gaining ground in the battle to win minds or the consciousness of humans. That is, their propaganda or brainwashing is seemingly highly effective.

This calls for equally effective countermeasures of the same kind by the world’s democracies, wherein the human consciousness would be made to strongly inculcate values that are at the heart of the democratic way of life. The propaganda of terrorists would be anti-life, while the conscientizing of humans by democracies would be basically pro-life. This sums up the task at hand for the world’s democracies.

While the West would have its work cut out in this context, it is South and South West Asia that would need to watch out most as the internal conflict in Afghanistan aggravates. Acting in a conciliatory and accommodating fashion towards the perpetrators of religion and ethnicity- based terror, without encouraging them to accept and adopt democracy and its core values, is one of the most fatal mistakes that states could commit in this connection. The Taliban could be considered a test case. If it accepts the principles of democracy and all that this decision entails it could be admitted to the democratic fold. If not, the Taliban regime would need to be ostracized.

However, getting all the external actors concerned to see the issues from the above viewpoint is bound to prove problematic. The US could be said to have effected a timely withdrawal from Afghanistan in its interests. It has shifted its focus to South East Asia. That leaves a power vacuum in South West Asia and it is being filled by China primarily and to a lesser extent by Russia. If these powers could influence the Taliban into ushering in an inclusive government, for instance, that would help considerably in bringing a measure of stability to Afghanistan. But given their policy proclivities, China and Russia are unlikely to play this constructive role. Afghanistan’s agonies are bound to continue.



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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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