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The Hurs: A Criminalized Tribe in Pakistan

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Meeting president-to-be of Afghanistan and an eight-hour drive to deliver a cake

by Jayantha Perera

From 1991 to 1996, I was the Socio-Economist of the World Bank’s Indus River Left Bank Outfall Drain Project in Sind Province of Pakistan. The Pakistan Government in 1994 proposed to the World Bank to build a reservoir in the swamp-filled depression called Makhi Dhand in central Sind. The project objectives were to encourage irrigated agriculture among scattered, mobile communities and to develop one of the most backward areas in Sind. The name of the proposed reservoir was Chortiari, and my task was to conduct a socio-economic survey among the affected communities and prepare a resettlement and income improvement plan.

In early 1995, Asraf Ghani, a resettlement specialist of the World Bank (who later became the President of Afghanistan), visited the project area on a mission. I met him at Sanghar, a local town not far from Makhi Dhand. Ghani had brought several pieces of hand-held GPS machines. I was mesmerized when he demonstrated how to use GPS to record houses, farms, small ponds, and patches of forest. The field team, Ghani, and I traveled to the Chortiari area by two four-wheel drive jeeps, mainly through high savannah grass.

Upon arrival, Ghani called an impromptu meeting in the shade of the only tall tree in the vicinity. From there, we could see only about ten meters because of the savannah grass that surrounded us. It was a sunny hot day. At two o’clock in the afternoon, the temperature was about 50 centigrade. I was afraid that I might catch the ‘laughing sickness’ – heat attack on jaw movements creating an impression of a laughing person. After the discussion, Ghani wanted to know roughly how many households would be affected by the reservoir. The local irrigation officials were clueless. Then he asked them how many families were in the settlement where we stood. The officials talked to each other but could not even provide an estimate. Ghani climbed the tree with his shoes and scanned the surrounding area. He came down and declared that the village where we were might have about 35 households (after the survey, the final tally of the affected households was 38). We spent an hour discussing the main topics of the socio-economic study and how to deal with non-titled farmers’ claims and absentee landlords in our survey.

After the meeting, I drove back to Hyderabad with Ghani. We discussed the history of Makhi Dhand and its role in various anti-colonial uprisings, its relationship with Afghanistan during the Kalifat movement in Sind. He was happy that he could help the most miserable and backward community in Makhi Dhand escape poverty and marginalized life. I told Ghani that I would stay in the project area with the field team for three weeks. He cautioned me to be safe from dacoits who kidnapped people for ransom.

Sir Edward Cox, in 1909 said that notorious criminals found refuge in its secret recesses because villagers were in sympathy with those ‘Robin Hoods’ and supplied food and other necessities. In 1995, Makhi Dhand had the same notoriety. Then it was known as the breeding ground of dacoits and other ‘miscreants.’ The households were scattered in far apart settlements, and settlers were subsistence farmers and herdsmen. There were no schools or a hospital in Makhi Dhand. The settlers had to go to the nearest town Sanghar for medical help.

The survey team stayed at a semi-abandoned guest house built in the 1890s. The house did not have doors or windows and was built on the principle of cross ventilation. There were two dirty punkas (cloth fans) hanging from the roof in a bedroom and dining area. A cook and a punka vallah (fan operator) arrived from Sanghar to serve us. The punka vallah was a lazy man and pulled the fans for us for about two hours just after dinner. As a result, we suffered through the night the unbearable heat, mosquitos, and other insects. The punka vallah disappeared soon at 10 pm and re-emerged only in the morning. The cook was a fine man with a Sindi cap and a well-preened large mustache. He dressed differently from the punka vallah. He served us parathas with fried okra and local fish for all three meals.

The survey team members were from Sanghar town and knew important personalities in the project area. One of them was the Pir, who lived in Chortiari. His name was Variyam Fakkir. Variyam told me that although people treated him as a Pir, he was only a second-tier Sufi saint who had not yet reached the full Pirhood. He was a religious and political leader. People in the area venerated him as a Sufi saint. He occupied a large land area in Chortiari, and his followers cultivated the land as his haris (tenants).

In the mid-19th century, Pir Wazir claimed that he was a direct descendant of holy men in Arabia. They were the members of the Sufi faction of Islam. He organized the residents in Makhi Dhand and Thar Pakar desert into a close-knit brotherhood called Jamiat. The Jamiat had two tiers: salims – the ordinary people who venerated the Pir and depended on him for their subsistence; second, farqis – diehard Pir followers who formed an anti-colonial revolutionary group called ‘Hur.’ Hur membership in the early 20th century spread to Thar Pakar desert, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Bengal. At that time, devoted landowners and big cattle herders in rural Sind supported the movement. Such supporters were known as khalifas.

Variyam’s great grand uncle in the 1910s and his grand uncle in the 1940s had led the Hur revolts against the British and served long jail sentences. His grand-uncle, Pir Pagaro, went to the gallows in 1943 for high treason. After the Independence of Pakistan, salims and farqis joined together, dropped their resistance to the state, and became settled farmers and cattle herders. Variyam became a strong ‘vote bank.’ No regional or national political party could ignore him in local and general elections.

The residents in the Chortiari project area were proud people. They delighted in talking about their past adventures and bravery, including their century-long resistance (1850 to 1948) to British administration, especially to its Police and armed forces. The residents ascribed their current rampant poverty and marginalized status to the imposition of the Criminalized Tribes Ordinance in 1871. The British used the law and its regulations to control the Hur movement, restrict residents’ freedom, control Pirs, and destroy their property, crops, and animals.

After sunset we lay on charpoys (cots) in Variyam’s compound and listened to his breathtaking stories while drinking hot tea and munching local sweets. We were happy to lie down on charpoys (cots) with rough hemp ropes interwoven into small squares to enjoy the cool desert breeze. After sunset, the compound was dark and we could not see each other. I was scared of dacoits and I thought that they would emerge from the tall grass to kidnap us. Variyam assured us that nothing would happen to us because we were his guests.

In the evenings, a giant comet covered a part of the dark sky. Variyam interpreted its presence as a bad omen and predicted that India might attack Pakistan. He wanted to know when the Chotiari reservoir would be built. Variyam lamented that the construction of the tank would wipe out old archeological ruins and the thick forest cover that sustains local communities for many centuries. He wanted to know our “genuine” thoughts about the proposed reservoir. He told us that he could stop the project overnight by calling his followers to boycott the survey. He laughingly said that dacoits might kidnap me for a ransom of Rs one million because that was the prize the dacoits would demand for a kidnapped foreigner.

I explained to Variyam that when irrigation water is supplied from the reservoir, the people could form into settled agricultural communities. Irrigation water supplies would enable them to cultivate at least two crops a year, giving them a regular household income throughout the year. As part of the project, I told him that basic facilities such as roads, schools, and hospitals would be constructed. Each evening, he repeated his concerns about the state encroachment into the Hur territory. He explained that the British established permanent settlements under the 1871 Act by bringing loyal tribes and communities from Punjab, Rajasthan, and Bengal. In addition, the movement of original inhabitants was restricted, and army posts were erected to supervise them. In some locations, villagers were relocated into new settlements. They could not leave without a pass, and the army roll-called twice daily to check their movements. The justification for such draconian rules was to prevent evil characters from visiting the rebellious Hurs. He wondered whether the same would happen to the Hurs with the World Bank project.

Variyam loved to dramatize from his charpoy how his grand-uncle, as a 12-year boy, led the Hur uprising in the 1930s. In the 1920s, the British found it difficult to maintain law and order in Makhi Dhand. His grand-uncle and followers openly challenged the British rule in Sind. He imitated how the cannons boomed and the sound of firing machine guns. The Delhi Government dispatched platoons of soldiers to Sind to control chaos and Hur attacks on Police stations and government offices. The young Piro Pagaro organized his followers in Thar Pakar and in central Sind and continued to harass the government until the British captured him in 1927. Ali Jinnah, a famous lawyer from Bombay (the future founding father of Pakistan), defended him at a session court in Karachi. He pointed out to the judge that with the imposed draconian laws, the Hur people could not live in Makhi Dhand as ‘human beings.’ The court sentenced the young man to eight years in prison.

When released from prison in 1936, Pir Pagaro rekindled the revolutionary zest among his followers and declared war against the British. The British declared martial law in 1942 and introduced the ‘Special Hur Act’ to deal with ‘miscreants’ under the martial law. Variyam told us that the army and the air force did not spare even their pots and pans after dynamiting and looting their communities. They raided their cattle and goats and stole their gold jewelry. He could not continue his talk as he was distraught, and on several occasions, he wiped his eyes with his shawl. He told us with a broken voice that the British hanged the Pir in 1943 at the Hyderabad jail with several other Hur leaders.

We walked to village settlements with a local guide through tall savannah grass. At some settlements, there were only three or four households. They were poor and hardly had any food at home. Questions about their income, expenditure, and livelihoods did not make sense to them. Most residents wanted to believe that they were pastoralists who moved from one place to another with their cattle. They pointed out that the idea of land ownership is alien to their culture.

Most villagers first refused to talk to us, but when we told them that we were their Pir’s friends, they accepted us and responded to our questions. A man told us not to waste time visiting houses because each household had the same story of poverty, discrimination, and wounded pride. Several old people were waiting for the second coming of Pir Pagaro, who sacrificed his life to redeem the Hurs from their agony and destitution. In that context, they were worried about development programs that the project planned to start in the area with the involvement of the state and the World Bank. One man told us that a descendant of Pir Pagaro in the future would bring sweeping changes including independence and economic prosperity to Makhi Dhand. He opined our patchwork of development might betray his grand plan.

The government officials, who had refused to join the survey, told us that the residents including Variyam did not own any land in the area. The British had confiscated all Hur land under martial law in the early 1940s. In this context, they queried why the state should compensate for the land taken from Hurs for the reservoir. This was the critical issue that I had to deal with in formulating the resettlement and income improvement plan.

One day, I completed an interview with a family before four pm in a remote settlement. I waited with the translator for other team members to return to walk back to the guest house about seven miles from that location. Two unknown young men emerged from the forest and walked towards us. They talked to the translator for a few minutes. Then they approached me and asked what was I doing in their settlement? The translator translated the question and winked at me. I did not know why he winked at me. I told them that we were doing a survey before building a reservoir in the area to irrigate their fields.

One man raised his voice and asked me, “have you obtained our permission to build a tank on our land?”

“Yes, we have already talked to your Pir and several settlers, and they think the project would be beneficial for them,” I told him.

“But you did not talk to us about the reservoir?” He retorted.

“It is our plan to talk to all households before planning the reservoir,” I told him.

The two men talked again with the translator.

The translator told me, “please be careful with these two fellows. They can harm us.”

I smiled and asked him, “where are their guns if they are dacoits?”

My response annoyed the translator. He talked to the two men again. All three laughed, and one man went to a nearby hut and came back with an AK-47 rifle.

The translator told me, “didn’t I tell you to be careful. Now they have an AK-47 rifle. They can take us whereever they wanted to go. Especially they might like to take you with them to get a ransom.”

Fortunately, at that time, the other team members returned. One of them recognized one of the two men. They talked to each other and shook hands. Before leaving us, the gunmen told me through the translator, “do not roam in our area after two pm.” I asked him why. The translator said that “dacoits get active then, and you might meet them on the road as you did this afternoon.”

I told Variyam about my encounter with the dacoits. He thought for a minute. In a sad voice, he said to me that “the problem with my people is their impatience and foolishness in making enemies from outside.” He asked me not to report the incident to the Police or to the officials at Sangar or Hyderabad. He reassured us that no one would harm us while we were in Makhi Dand. In the same evening, he organized a musical party for us and served delicious food. The songs focused on Hurs’ bravery, purity of Sufism, the pan-regional spread of the Hur brotherhood. Sometimes, the singer cried and waited for the audience to respond to his wailing.

I sat next to Variyam, and he told me how his father organized similar evenings and got a special cake from Bombay called ‘Bombay cake’ for such occasions. He vividly remembered the cake. It had a generous sprinkle of dried raisins on top of it and its crust was thick and hard. He said that he had not seen a Bombay cake for about 30 years. He asked me to get a Bombay cake for him. I asked a friend in Bombay to bring a Bombay cake for me when he visited his uncle in Karachi. After three months, my friend delivered a Bombay cake to my residence in Hyderabad.

The cake was large. It was nicely wrapped in a box. My friend told me that the cake would stay fresh for two weeks as a ‘dry’ cake. Purkahn, my driver, and I drove eight hours with the cake to Chortiari. Variyam was delighted to see me and the cake. We ate a small piece of the cake, and I saw tears in his eyes. He wanted me to come back to Chortiari so that he could tell me the whole story of the Hurs. I promised that I would visit him again, and left his house with a feeling of respect and gratitude.



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The wonder of youth

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By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana

The wonder of youth was best on display in the evening of 11 Sept., when two hugely talented teenagers, both unseeded, gave an amazing display of tennis in vying for the US Open title. Of course, I wanted Emma Raducanu, who represented GB, to win but had lingering doubts as her opponent, Leylah Fernandez was more experienced and had defeated players ranked 3, 16, 5 and 2, to reach the final. This was only the second Grand Slam Emma has played in, having to withdraw during the fourth-round match in Wimbledon due to breathing difficulties which made some wonder whether she had the mental grit to stand the rigours of tough competitions. She proved them wrong in a spectacular manner, reaching the final in an unprecedented way. She had to win three rounds to get into the tournament as a qualifier, and won the next six rounds, reaching the finals without dropping a set in any of the matches. By then, she had missed the return flight to the UK which she had booked as she never expected to be in the competition so long!

Sports are so commercialised that many Brits without Amazon Prime subscription were going to miss seeing the first British woman to play in a Grand Slam final after 44 years. Fortunately, in one of its rare good deeds, Channel 4 paid for screening rights and we could join over 9 million Brits on the edge of their seats for two hours. It was well worth it, as Emma won the final again in straight sets, creating yet another record by being the first qualifier ever to win a Grand Slam! In another rare gesture, Amazon had agreed to donate the fee for advancement of tennis for girls.

Emma Raducanu’s spectacular win was witnessed by Virginia Wade, the first winner of the US Women’s title in the open era in 1968, Arthur Ashe winning the Men’s. She was also the last British woman before Emma to win a Grand Slam; Wimbledon in 1977. Fortunately, Sir Andy Murray was able to break the even longer drought in Male Tennis by winning the US Open in 2012, 76 years after Fred Perry’s 1936 Wimbledon win.

It was very sad that Emma’s parents could not be there in person at the proudest moment of their lives due to quarantine regulations. Whilst shedding a tear of joy for Emma Raducanu’s ‘impossible’ victory, I was saddened to think of the wasted youth in Sri Lanka. How things changed for the worse in my lifetime continues to puzzle me.

We belong to a fortunate generation. We had excellent free education which we made full use of. We had good teachers, not ‘private tuition masters’! We could plan our future as we knew we could get a place for higher education as long as we got the required grades. Our progress in universities was not hampered by student’s unions controlled by unscrupulous politicians with warped thinking. I started my practice of medicine a few months after I turned 23 and was a fully qualified specialist by the time I turned 30. I was not one for sports but did writing and broadcasting. Therefore, I can look back at my youth with a sense of satisfaction.

Unfortunately, we lacked a political class with a vision. Perhaps, this happened because most of the politicians except those at the time of independence took to politics by exclusion than by choice. Lucky politicians got ministries, not because of competence or education, but on the basis of caste, creed, religion, etc. There were no shadow ministers in the Opposition and with the change of government another set of misfits became ministers. For some time, the status quo was maintained by senior administrators who were trained for the job after being selected following a highly competitive examination.

Anti-elite campaigners succeeded. Permanent Secretaries became secretaries and Ministers became permanent as long as they did not upset their bosses! No proper planning was done and the slippery slope started. Then came the terrorists; the JVP destroyed a generation of Sinhala youth and the LTTE destroyed a generation of Tamil youth. Now, there is a greater danger affecting some youth the world over––Islamic extremism.

When I started training postgraduate trainees from Sri Lanka in Grantham Hospital, the first thing I noted was their age and started diplomatically finding out why it had taken them so long to get into PG training. I was shocked at the unwarranted delays they faced which were not due to any fault of theirs. All of them were brilliant but the system had failed them. We need to reinstall discipline so that we have schools and universities functioning properly, ensuring valuable years in life are not wasted.

Perhaps, we need to get out of our insular attitudes. There may be some lessons to learn from studying the background of these two talented players. Leyla Fernandez, born in September 2002 in Quebec, Canada has an Ecuadorian father and a Filipino mother. Emma Raducanu was born in November 2002 in Toronto, Canada but moved to the UK when she was two years, with her Romanian father and Chinese mother. Three months before winning the US Open, she got an A star in Mathematics and A in Economics, in the A level examination whilst attending a state school.

These two teenagers, 23 years old Naomi Osaka, whose father is Haitian and mother is Japanese and 25-years-old Ashleigh Barty, whose father is of indigenous Australian descent and mother is of English descent, joined to form a ‘fab-four in women’s tennis, dawning a new era in tennis as the era dominated by the fab-four; Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic of the men’s game is drawing to an end. Considering their dexterity, women’s tennis may become more popular than men’s. Who knows!

It is well known that mixing of genes has an enhancing effect. It is also well established that inbreeding leads to many genetic defects. Perhaps, this is another reason why we should get rid of artificial divisions like caste. Although one would have expected that we would have a more enlightened attitude, the matrimonial columns of any newspaper give enough evidence that archaic institutions are still strong.

It is high time we stopped protecting archaic systems and moved forward. This will give an opportunity for the talents of our youth to be displayed and it is our duty to harness the wonder of youth for the advancement of the country.

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A neutral foreign policy in current context

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By Neville Ladduwahetty

During a recent TV interview, the Host asked the Guest whether Sri Lanka’s Foreign Policy is in “shambles”. The reason for the question was perhaps because of the lack of consistency between the statement made by the President and the Secretary to the Foreign Ministry relating to Foreign Policy. For instance, the first clear and unambiguous statement made by the newly elected President during his acceptance speech delivered in Sinhala in the holy city of Anuradhapura in which the only comment in English was that his Foreign Policy would be Neutral. This was followed during his address to Parliament titled: The Policy statement made by Gotabaya Rajapaksa, President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka at the inauguration of the Fourth Session of the 8th Parliament of Sri Lanka on January 3, 2020, in which he stated: “We follow a neutral foreign policy”.

However, the Secretary to the Foreign Ministry has on different occasions stated that Sri Lanka’s Foreign Policy is “Neutral and Non-Aligned”. Perhaps, his view may have been influenced by the President’s Manifesto, “Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour”, that stated that out of 10 key policies the second was “Friendly, Non-Aligned, Foreign Policy”

The question that needs to be addressed is whether both Neutrality and Non-Alignment could realistically coexist as policies to guide Sri Lanka in the conduct of its relations with other Nation-States. Since neutrality is a defined policy that has a legal basis and has a history that precedes Non-Alignment, there is a need for the Neutral State to conduct its relations with other States according to recognised codified norms with reciprocity. On the other hand, Non-Alignment was essentially a commitment to a set of principles by a group of countries that had emerged from colonial rule and wanted to protect their newly won independence and sovereignty in the context of a bi-polar world. The policy of Non-Alignment therefore, should apply ONLY to the members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Thus, Non-Alignment, being only a set of principles adopted by a group of like-minded sovereign States to protect and preserve their common self-interests, its conduct in respect of States outside the Non-Aligned Movement becomes unstated and therefore undefined. Neutrality instead is a clear policy that defines how a neutral country such as Sri Lanka conducts its relations with other countries, and how other countries relate with Sri Lanka primarily in respect of the inviolability of its territory.

NON-ALIGNED and the NON-ALIGNED MOVEMENT

A statement dated August 22, 2012 by the External Affairs Ministry of the Government of India on the historical evolution of the Non-Alignment Movement states:

“The principles that would govern relations among large and small nations, known as the “Ten Principles of Bandung”, were proclaimed at that Conference (1955). Such principles were adopted later as the main goals and objectives of the policy of non-alignment. The fulfillment of those principles became the essential criterion for Non-Aligned Movement membership; it is what was known as “quintessence of the Movement until early 1990s” (Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, “History and Evolution of Non-Aligned Movement, August 22, 2012).

“Thus, the primary objectives of the non-aligned countries focused on the support of self-determination, national independence and the sovereignty and territorial integrity of States; opposition to apartheid; non-adherence to multilateral military pacts and the independence of non-aligned countries from great power or block influences and rivalries; the struggle against imperialism in all its forms and manifestations; the struggle against colonialism, neocolonialism, racism, foreign occupation and domination; disarmament; non-interference into the internal affairs of States and peaceful coexistence among all nations; rejection of the use or threat of use of force in international relations; the strengthening of the United Nations; the democratization of international relations; socioeconomic development and the restructuring of the international economic system; as well as international cooperation on an equal footing” (Ibid).

These commitments did not deter countries such as India from violating the very principles India committed to in Bandung. To start with, India undermined the security of Sri Lanka by nurturing and supporting the training of non-state actors in late 1970s. Having made Sri Lanka vulnerable, India proceeded to coerce Sri Lanka to accept the Indo-Lanka Accord under which India was committed to disarm the militants. Having failed much to its shame, India violated the principle of the right of self-determination when it compelled Sri Lanka to devolve power to a merged North-East Province. All these actions amounted to a complete disregard and the mockery of the lofty principles of NAM undertaken to protect India’s self-interest. What is clear from India’s actions with regard to Sri Lanka is that when push comes to shove, self-interest overrides multi-lateral commitments.

In a similar vein Sri Lanka too, driven by self-interest, voted in support of UK’s intervention in the Falklands because of the debt owed by Sri Lanka to the UK for the outright grant given to construct the Victoria Hydro Power Scheme, although conscious of the fact that by doing so Sri Lanka was discrediting itself for not supporting the resolution initiated by NAM to oppose UK’s actions. These instances demonstrate that Non-Alignment as a Foreign Policy is subservient to self-interest thereby underscoring the fact that it cannot be a clear policy to guide how a State conducts itself in relation to other States.

Commenting on the issues of limitations imposed by being a Member of NAM Shelton E. Kodikara states: “For Sri Lanka as indeed for many of the smaller states among the non-aligned community, membership of the Non-Aligned Movement and commitment to its consensual decisions implied a widening of the institutional area of foreign policy decision-making, and collective decision-making also implied a limitation of the area of choice among foreign policy options…” (Foreign Policy of Sri Lanka, 1982, p. 151).

Therefore, arrangements with common interests such as those by the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) or Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) or any other group of countries with common interests, are mechanisms whose support and solidarity could be sought when needed to advance causes, as for instance when Sri Lanka advanced the concept of making the Indian Ocean a Zone of Peace, and later in 2009 did so in Geneva. Notwithstanding such advantages, the hard reality is that Non-Alignment does not represent a clear statement as to how a State conducts its relations with Nation-States outside the Non-Aligned Movement. Therefore, it follows that Non-Alignment cannot be considered a statement of Foreign Policy by a State.

THE CURRENT CONTEXT

The statement by the Foreign Affairs Ministry of India cited above that the “quintessence” of the principles of the Non-Alignment lasted until early 1990s, was because the bi-polar world that was the cause for the formation of NAM had ceased to exist with the territorial break-up of one of the power blocks – the USSR. Consequently, the USSR lost its influence as a global power. In this vacuum what exists currently is one recognized global power with other powers aspiring to be part of a multi polar world. In the absence of recognized power blocks the need to align or not to align does not arise because Nation-States are free to evolve their own arrangements as to how they conduct their relations with each other. Consequently, the concept of Non-Alignment individually or collectively is a matter of choice depending on the particularity of circumstance, but not as a general Foreign Policy to address current challenges.

With China attempting to regain its lost territory and glory as a civilizational State following its century of shame, the geopolitical matrix has changed dramatically. The economic gains of China the likes of which are unprecedented alarmed the Western world to the point that the US deemed it necessary to adopt a policy of Pivot to Asia thereby making the Indian and Pacific Oceans the focus for great power engagement. This shift of focus has caused new strategic security alliances such as the Quad to emerge to contain the growing influence of China among the States in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. With the Maldives joining India as the latest members of Quad, Sri Lanka has become isolated; a development that has brought Sri Lanka’s location in the Indian Ocean into sharp focus as being of pivotal strategic interest to great and emerging powers.

It is in this newly formed geopolitical context that Sri Lanka has to formulate its Foreign Policy that necessarily must be fresh if Sri Lanka is to equip itself to meet the new challenges created by a coalition of States to contain the rise of China. One option is to join the Quad. This could mean Sri Lanka distancing itself from engaging with China. The other option is to engage with China to the exclusion of the Quad. Either of these options would cause Sri Lanka to lose its independence and the freedom to protect its core values and interests. Therefore, the choice is not to settle for either option.

These unprecedented circumstances and challenges cannot be countered by harking back to the glory days of Non-Alignment, because major influences of the movement (NAM) such as India, have recently abandoned the original principles it subscribed to when it became a part of Quad. Therefore, although NAM still represents a body of likeminded interests with the ability to influence causes limited only to resolutions that further the interests of its members, it is not in a position to ensure the inviolability of the territory and the freedom of a State to make its

A neutral

own hard choices. It is only if a Nation-State proclaims that its relations with other Nation-States is Neutral that provisions codified under the Hague Conventions of 1907 that would entitle Sri Lanka to use the inviolability of its territory to underpin its relations with other Nation-States. Therefore, the Foreign Policy statement as made by the President to Parliament should guide Sri Lanka in its relations with States because it is relevant and appropriate in the geopolitical context that currently exists.

CONCLUSION

The Foreign Policy of a State is greatly influenced by its History and Geography. Historically Sri Lanka’s Foreign Policy has been one of Non-Alignment. Furthermore, Sri Lanka participated in the Conference in Bandung in 1955; a date recognized as the beginning of the Non-Aligned Movement. Thus, although the geographic location of a State is well defined, the significance of its location could dramatically be transformed by geopolitical developments. The staggering economic revival of China from early seventies under the leadership of President Deng Xiaoping whose philosophy was to hide capacity, bide time and never claim leadership, was perhaps the reason for China’s tremendous transformations both economic and social, to proceed relatively unnoticed.

It was only with the announcement of President Xi Jinping’s policy of the Belt and Road Initiative announced in 2013, that the world came to realize that the power and influence of China was unstoppable. This policy resulted in China establishing its footprint in strategically located countries in the Indian and Pacific Oceans by funding and constructing infrastructure projects. Sri Lanka happened to be one such country. The need for the U.S along with India, Australia and Japan to form a security alliance to contain the growing power and influence of China in the Indian and Pacific Oceans was inevitable.

India’s alliance with the US has shifted the balance in Asia causing China to be the stand alone great power in Asia. As far as Sri Lanka is concerned this new dynamic compels Sri Lanka to make one of four choices. One is to align and develop relations with the US and its allies. Second is to align and develop relations with China. The third is be Non-Aligned with either. The fourth and preferred option is to be Neutral not only with the Quad and China, but also with all other States, and develop friendly relations individually with all States.

The policy of Non-Alignment by a State is an external declaration of intent that a nation would not align itself with either a collective or individual center of power such as the Quad or China, in the conduct of its relations. Neutrality by a State, instead, means not only a statement that it would be Neutral when conducting relations with collective or individual centers of power and other States, but also how such a State expects all States to respect its Neutrality; a policy that would be in keeping with Sri Lanka’s unique strategic location in South Asia. Thus, while the former works outwards the latter works both ways. More importantly, how Neutrality works is governed by internationally codified laws that are in place to guide reciprocal relations.

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Comments on bits of past news; never forget 9/11 and welcome multiculturism

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The Sunday Island of September 12, thank goodness its print copy, showered grist on my waiting-to-word-process wrist. Hence first a couple of comments on titbits gathered from that paper; notwithstanding of great import.

Nuggets of news

‘President to attend 76th session of UN General Assembly’. Good that it is announced, as we dislike being made aware first along the vine of gossip, of visits of VVIPs overseas, which when not made publicly known, smack of underhand secrecy: Whatever for? The page one news item quoted above goes further: “The President has decided to undertake the visit with a least number of delegates in line with his principle…First Lady Ioma Rajapaksa will join the visit at her own expense.” Bravo! Great! Good example to set but hardly followed!

We heard the PM too went a-sojourning, breaking journey here and there. And then we saw pictures of him delivering a keynote address and later at lunch flanked by wife Shiranthi, GL opposite, a few others and second son. His destination? His task? His keynote address could easily have been zoomed as the meeting itself, an interreligious one, was virtual. Contingent? Said to be around 17. Methinks a visit to His Holiness, the Pope was envisaged but there is many a slip between the cup and the lip. No kissing the holy hand for Roman Catholic Mrs MR.

We well remember tales relayed of the huge contingent that accompanied Prez Mahinda Rajapaksa in chartered flights to the Big Apple and cars hired to take most in the group to their various pleasures or business spots. This car-hire alone enriched a Sri Lankan over there. The scattering sojourners would meet at cocktail parties and when the Prez of SL addressed the UN General Assembly. And we poor grounded persons paid for these junkets via taxes extracted.

How we wish the now Prez who sticks to his principles and lives, travels and advocates a simple life of non-extravagance, would extend that sensibility to his Cabinet, for instance. First, slash and send home most of them. Keep around 15, more than enough for a small country like ours, instead of creating separate ministries by divisions such as Batik and clay works, which offered state ministership to another loyalist, when they could come under the Ministry of Industry and Commerce. That is a way of saving money for Sri Lanka.

Another way to reduce forex spending

Sanjeewa Jayaweera who knows what he is talking about, his father Stanley Jayaweera having been an outstanding Sri Lankan ambassador, offers very sound advice when he states, “Sri Lanka should close down most of our overseas missions as a step towards reducing public expenditure.” Cass wonders why this has not been thought of and advocated by opposition groups. The vociferous SJB should drop their stupid lament about banning the import of underwear and talk of a sensible step as advocated by Sanjeewa J: Reduce the number of overseas embassies often created to accommodate supporters and relatives or for personal benefit. An embassy or High Commission was opened during the presidency of Mahinda R in the Seychelles. There is a Bank of Ceylon Branch in that island, Cass believes, with a handful of resident Sri Lankans. How many Sri Lankans are over there? Cass quotes dear departed Sunil of ‘Gypsies’ fame when she mourns: ‘I don’t know why’. But Sunil may have known, with many others, hence his laments in song.

Karu, the statesman, speaks

‘Karu urges President to seize opportunity to rebuild the country together with the Opposition.’ A fairly long write up of what Karu Jayasuriya said, backed by The National Movement for Social Justice, chairman of which he is, succeeding Ven Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera, appeared in the said newspaper. If half the issues Karu sensibly raises are considered and implemented, more than half of Sri Lanka’s woes could be eliminated.

Paid for striking

The teachers’ strike which only helped immensely to spread COVID-19 while they, with nobodies joining in the spree, went protesting all over the island at a most ill-opportune moment on an issue two decades old. They were given full salaries during their long strike of work, work which was greatly reduced for some engaged in online teaching. Curse them Cass swears, all over again, and more their Stalinist leader.

Never forget

Nearly 3,000 people were killed on that day; wars were launched, and the carefree, fearless mood of the US changed with fear creeping in accompanied by a new mood: Islamophobia. This happened on September 11, 2001, on a sparkling morning when men of Al Qaeda hijacked four American commercial flights and two of them ploughed into the upper floors of the twin towers of the Trade Centre in Manhattan. One dove fairly innocuously into the Pentagon and the fourth, domestic flight 93, crashed into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, the hijackers tackled by crew and passengers.

Solemn, dignified ceremonies were held in all three sites of disaster for the anniversary, with Prez Biden and First Lady attending. In Manhattan, pairs of those who lost loved ones read out names and one in each pair expressed personal loss.

I watched the five-part Netflix documentary ‘Turning Point: 9/11 and the war on terror’ directed by Brian Knappenberger; stunned, saddened, and filled with admiration. TV critic Inkoo Kang rates this the best, “most honest and exhaustive retrospective”, of many produced for the 20th anniversary of the event.

Disasters, mostly of terrorism, must not be forgotten. Not only are they historical, but their impact can hardly ever be erased. It is the same with our Easter suicide bombing of churches. 9/11 in America has been avenged, wrongly or justifiably, mostly the latter, in the case of the killing of Osama bin Laden, the brilliant mind turned completely aberrated by a rabid corruption of Islam. Who could think up a plot to ram aeroplanes full of innocent passengers into iconic American buildings?

Bright sparks of joy and celebrations

Cursing, quibbling, prophesying Cassandra of the bitter tongue has been, of late, introducing snippets of glad tidings to her Friday conversation. Here’s one: A boost to multiculturalism which has added colour to the sports field and very much to the tennis court. Two teenaged dahlings played it out at the US Open Women’s Final. (Note: Cass did not use the usual term: ‘battled it out’. No, since the two obviously charming girls played fine tennis, smiling most of the time and exhibiting later they were friends). British Emma Raducanu, from Bromley, Kent, won the cup while Leylah Fernandez carried away the silver tray, both sweetly smiling all the way. They looked real girlish and unsophisticated for western late teenagers. Maybe it’s the mix of blood, and half of it eastern, that makes them so.

Emma Raducanu (born November 13, 2002) moved with parents Ian Raducanu of Bucharest, Romania, and Renee of Chinese descent from Canada to Britain when she was two years old. She skies and races and engages in other sports and seems intelligent too, earning two distinction passes in math and economics at her AL exam. She speaks Mandarin. World ranked at 338, she came up to the quarter-finals at Wimbledon.

Leylah Annie Fernandez, 19, too is of mixed parentage and lives in Quebec. Her father is Ecuadorian and a soccer player and her mother Filipino Canadian. She too is absolutely charming.

Brilliant spot

We are so proud of Dr. Malik Peiris who very recently won the 2021 Future Science Prize dubbed ‘China’s Nobel Prize’, with another Hong Kong-based scientist. The prize carries a cash award worth USD 1 million but more importantly, it was awarded for ground-breaking research on SARS-CoV-2.

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