Friday, April 29, 2011

Truth and consequences : Nationalistic fury is good for the government, terrible for Sri Lanka

IN RECENT years the default mode for Sri Lankan diplomats has been a posture of affronted national dignity beneath a mask of outraged, sanctimonious innocence. This week, after the publication of a report by a panel of experts for the United Nations on the final stages of Sri Lanka’s 26- year civil war, some were recalled to Colombo for “consultations”. Maybe they are brushing up their indignant- repudiation skills. The war culminated in May 2009 with the army’s crushing of the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Its climax was marked by ruthlessness and callous disregard for human life. The panel concluded that “there is a reasonable basis to believe that large- scale violations of international humanitarian and human-rights law were committed by both sides”. Since hardly any of the Tigers’ leaders outlived the war, it is the government of Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka’s president, that is in the dock. It is probably too much to hope the government might adopt a fresh approach to these familiar allegations. There were always at least three ways to tackle them. It could, early on, have argued brazenly that the benefits of ending the war outweighed the cost in human life. The Tigers were as vicious and totalitarian a bunch of thugs as ever adopted terrorism as a national- liberation strategy. Or the government could have insisted that its army’s behaviour was largely honourable, but that some regrettable abuses may have occurred, which would be thoroughly investigated. Instead, it chose a third path: to lie, and to lie big. It insisted that it pursued a policy of “zero civilian casualties”. Even as its forces shelled the shrinking “no- fire zone” in which the Tigers held some 330 ,000 civilians as human shields, it either denied it was doing so, or promised to stop and did not. It kept foreign observers out and bullied the local press into silence. The UN report found that “tens of thousands” were killed in January-May 2009 , with most civilian casualties caused by government shelling. The report relates little that has not appeared in accounts by human-rights groups. But it is unusually blunt, perhaps reflecting exasperation at the Sri Lankan government’s obstructive, aggressive tactics. The three-member panel is distinguished enough to shrug off Sri Lanka’s accusations of bias. The chair, Marzuki Darusman, is a former attorney-general of Indonesia. The report calls the conduct of the war “a grave assault on the entire regime of international law designed to protect individual dignity during both war and peace”. The government, however, is now too deeply wedded to its strategy of denial to back down even an inch. It lobbied hard against the publication of the UN report, arguing it would damage efforts at national reconciliation. Now that Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, has ignored its objections, it has whipped up a frenzy of national resentment against the perceived calumnies. This goes down well at home. Standing up to foreign bullying only enhances Mr Rajapaksa’s popularity among the ethnic-Sinhalese majority. Responding to the report, the president has said he would be happy to sit in the electric chair on behalf of his country. A huge turnout is expected for May Day rallies at which he has asked for a show of support for his government. If the report has brought Mr Rajapaksa short-term political benefits at home, he may also conclude that the diplomatic fallout is easily manageable. Sri Lanka is not without supporters. Just days after the end of the war in 2009 , the UN’s Human Rights Council passed a resolution praising its victory, condemning Tiger war crimes and overlooking altogether allegations against the Sri Lankan army. Of its diplomatic allies back then, India is now less staunch. But China and Russia remain firm defenders of the rights of sovereign governments to quell secessionist movements, and do not seem squeamish about the means. They may be even keener, after the UN- authorised intervention in Libya, to show that was the exception to a rule of non-interference. So Sri Lanka will continue to resist calls for any formal inquiry into the war beyond the “ Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission” (LLRC) it established. Though due to report soon, the commission has failed to earn credibility. In the long run, however, the semi- official status the UN report gives allegations of war crimes will haunt this government. The well-organised, far-flung Tamil diaspora will hound Sri Lanka’s leaders when they go abroad, and put pressure on foreign governments to demand accountability. Skilled at exploiting the rivalry between India and China, whose arms supplies helped win the war, Sri Lanka’s diplomats may argue that they no longer need the West. But, proud of Sri Lanka’s democratic traditions, they will smart at being seen as front men for a shoddy dictatorship, engaged in what now looks like a desperate cover-up. After such knowledge, what forgiveness? Though perceived foreign slights may enhance the government’s standing at home, it is there that the concealment of the truth about the war’s end will do most damage. It is not as if there were no witnesses. Some 300 ,000 people know first-hand parts of what happened. When the LLRC held hearings in the north, scene of the fighting, survivors told harrowing tales of loss and asked where missing loved ones were. Without answers, it is hard to see how they can be “reconciled”. Nor does the government show any sign of moving towards a political settlement, to meet the grievances of the Tamil minority that fuelled the conflict. Gordon Weiss, the UN’s spokesman in Colombo during the end of the war, predicts in a forthcoming book (“The Cage”) that Tamil emigration will continue, “encouraged by political stagnation, a lack of rights and rule by fear”. And also by the government’s continued refusal to countenance any serious investigation into how it won the war.

No Place For Minorities In Pakistan

The assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, minister for minority affairs of Pakistan, has posed a few questions for the world community. The persecution of minorities in that country is unabated and calls for immediate intervention from the world powers. A couple of months ago, Salman Taseer, governor of the Pakistani Punjab State was also murdered – for his liberal views against the stringent blasphemy law – in broad daylight. More unfortunate aspect of Salman’s murder is: his bodyguard, who killed him, is showered with flower petals by the onlookers, whenever he is brought to the court for hearings. The draconian blasphemy law has been invariably being used to suppress and blackmail the minorities in Pakistan. Shahbaz Bhatti, who was a Christian and one of the most vocal critics of the said law, had been receiving threats from the ultras for quite some time but valiantly kept on defying the diktats of the extremists; but eventually, he had to pay the price of his fighting for the rights of the minorities of his country, with his life. The suppression of minorities in Pakistan is not a new phenomenon; it started immediately after the state of Pakistan was created. Although, the creator of that country, Muhammad Ali Jinnah declared in the first session of the Constituent Assembly that he wanted the country to become a secular state, yet, the successive military and civilian regimes of that country could not give secular character to the political system. Hindus in the states of Sindh and Balochistan are incessantly being persecuted and their lives, property and dignity are constantly threatened by the zealots. The state of Sindh, in the aftermath of the partition of the country, used to have a sizeable population of Hindus, but due to the religious persecution, the community has been reduced to very small numbers in the said state; most of it has been migrating either to India or has been forcibly converted. Every now and then, the community faces the attacks of the religious bigots and lives under the constant threat of terror. Recently, a group of Hindus coming back from the famous historical shrine of Hinglaj Devi in Balochistan, was waylaid and murdered. The unfortunate fact is, the authorities remain mute spectators and as the reports trickle in, many a times tacitly support the attacks on the community. The intolerance of the Pakistani state is not restricted to the minorities belonging to the other faiths only; even the Ahamadiyas – actually a sect belonging to the majority community of Pakistan – are not allowed to live in peace and are constantly being harassed. Their story of woes started with General Zia ul Haq – the erstwhile military dictator of Pakistan – declaring them non-Muslims, in the decade of seventies. Intermittent attacks by the armed extremist groups on the hapless Ahamadiyas keep on taking place in that country and the successive governments have miserably failed in providing any protection to the said community. The ugly face of the religious persecution was seen again in the Ourkazai tribal agency of the NWFP of Pakistan. The members of the Sikh community were issued notices to pay Zaziya or face death by the Talibani militia. Although, the threats were coming thick and large for quite some time, yet, the government did nothing to save the lives and the property of those Sikh masses, who opted to stay back – at the soil of their birth and their forefathers – in the aftermath of the partition of the country. Many innocent Sikh lives were taken by the religious zealots and the rest of Pakistan and the world community kept on watching the massacre as mute spectators. The Christian minority, which is largely scattered in the Punjab province of Pakistan, is on the receiving end of the constant attacks by the extremist groups. Whenever any incident which is considered to be provocative – by the fundamentalists of Pakistan – occurs in any western country, the Churches and the houses of the Christian minority become targets of the radical forces. Late Shahbaz Bhatti, who was a vociferous critic of some of the provisions of the Blasphemy law, was a dominant voice of the Christian community of Pakistan; his assassination should not only be condemned unequivocally by the world leaders, pressure should be brought on the Pakistani regime to protect the lives, property, dignity and the institutions of various minorities living in that country. The complicity of the government of Pakistan and its agencies like ISI – in attacks on the minorities – is glaringly evident, therefore, trade embargoes against the state which has been sponsoring terrorism from the very first day of its creation, should be brought and the UN should depute the emissaries of UNHRC in Pakistan to safeguard the lives and the properties of the terrorised minorities.

Quest For Peace In Chittagong Hill Tracts

In the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) violent clashes resulting in deaths occur not too infrequently. News report of 20 April says, tribal hill people launched attack and killed three Bengalis on 17 April at Barapilak area in Khagrachari hill district. Land remains the bone of contention in such incidents, and both sides consider these intermittent clashes as the number one problem of the CHT. A Bengali leader of the Sama-adhikar Andolon, Moniruzzaman, observed that much of the problem could be solved if the lands could be given to respective people adding that the government and the local administration are not doing justice to the Bengalis. In reality, numerous foreign and local advocacy campaigns -- a la agitprop -- through online YouTube video and articles are available but the plights of the mostly destitute Bengali settlers are seldom reported.    It is alarming to learn, as the report quotes a letter dated 28 January 2010 , of a Ministry of CHT Affairs official, expressing concern that some NGOs, foreign news media and some Christian countries behind the shield of the United Nations are trying to form a separate Christian state there with the help of some persons. The letter noted that the UNDP, DANIDA, ADB and other international organizations have been investing crores of dollars and running programmes to empower the tribal people, adding that they are trying to establish the tribal people as indigenous people. Surprisingly, the government did not disclose anything on this disquieting matter.    Bengalis were not unknown in the CHT; historically speaking, the movement of a small number of Bengalis from the plain areas to the hilly terrain began way back in the 17 th century on invitation of the Chakma chief. During the pre- 1971 period certain mainstreaming and modernisation effort made positive impact on their life. Education benefited all in general and the Chakmas in particular; the latter's literacy rate rose to 50 per cent-- more than the national average then.    The seed of the CHT problem was sown in the 1960 s (the idea was conceived in 1906) when the Kaptai hydel project was commissioned devastating the homesteads of thousands of the ethnic people. They received another blow in 1973 from no other person than Sheikh Mujibur Rahman himself asked obviously in good faith the CHT leaders to assimilate themselves with the mainstream polity which was straightaway rejected. Precisely two months after the Victory of Bangladesh as a sovereign nation on the world map from the brutal domination of Pakistan, the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samiti (PCJSS) was formed with Manabendra Narayan Larma as its chief on February 15 , 1972. Next year the Shanti Bahini (SB) was formed as its armed wing, whose insurgents ambushed a police patrol at Subalong in Rangamati in early 1975 when Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was alive. A few months later Larma went underground and crossed over to India. Between 1975 and 1977 the SB developed its military organisation and weaponry. The SB began its low-intensity guerrilla war operations allegedly from bases in Tripura in India. In 1977 , they ambushed a Bangladesh military convoy after which defence system increased in the CHT.    There is no gainsaying that the present government, which had signed the CHT Peace Accord, 1997 , did not implement it though it was in power until 2000 ; it is hoped that in its current term the Awami League government will put the accord into operation sooner than later. However, in May 22 , 2009 , the parliamentary standing committee on CHT Affairs at its first meeting in Bandarban signalled a change in approach to the carrying out of CHT peace accord.    Together with the Chakma, Marma, Murong, Tanchangya, Bhowm, Tripura, Lushai, Khumi, Kukis, Mizos etc. there are some 14 ethnic people in Bangladesh who add colour to the demographic mosaic of this country. In many respects the ethnic people need the cooperation of the mainstream Bengalis for their socio-economic advancement. And to realise that golden dream the stepping stone shall have to be peace and harmony among all the citizens on the basis of equitable dispensation of justice. Let humane consideration, and above all, non- violence be the guiding star of the hill people - both ethnic and Bengali settlers.

HIZB UT TAHRIR And Terrorism In Pakistan

Hizb ut-Tahrir is an organisation that believes in the implementation of the caliphate all over the world. It is banned in most countries including Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and even Saudi Arabia. It was, for a short stint, banned in Pakistan Newspapers are awash with reports about leaflets being distributed in North Waziristan by militants warning against any military action. The leaflets proclaim that if the Pakistan Army is allegedly bending over backwards for $ 2 billion in aid from the US, the militants will collect this amount from North Waziristan. It is amazing that this collection drive can be organised to ward off a military operation but not to address the poverty and development issues of the agency. While these leaflets have been covered in the media and analysts are rightly raising alarm about them, there are other leaflets, websites, rallies, blogs and press releases that are lethal in the venom they produce but are below the radar screen. Or perhaps, one should correct oneself. Not below the radar screen but in a sense even ‘allowed’ by at least the judicial authorities. One such poster that adorns the locality right next to Kahuta Research Laboratories (KRL) ground in Islamabad declares, “Cut off NATO supply lines. Let the US die its own death.” About five years back, an honourable judge of the Multan bench of the Lahore High Court ( LHC) ruled about the activities of such an organisation as, “…has shown dissatisfaction on the policies of the [Pakistan] government that is the right of each and every citizen…I am unable to understand as to how distribution of these pamphlets in the general public was termed as terrorism or sectarianism.” The organisation in question is the Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT) and what the honourable judge was ‘unable to understand’ was HT’s stance on democracy, Islamism and Pakistan’ s foreign policy. Since space is limited to really present the HT in its imagined saviour avatar, I will attempt to only focus on its stance on democracy, Islamism and our relationship with our allies. On democracy, HT declares that “ democracy as a system is the rule of people, for the people, by the people. The basis of the democratic system is that people possess the right of sovereignty, choice and implementation. It is a kufr [disbelief] system because it is laid down by man and it is not from the shariah laws.” HT is an organisation that believes in the implementation of the caliphate all over the world. About its interest in working in Pakistan, HT declares on its website, “We do not plan on establishing the khilafat [caliphate] in a weak or small country. We believe the starting point should be in a country that should have certain prerequisites and that includes the ability to sustain itself militarily, based on Ghalaba-tuz-Zan (most probably). One should also understand that for any country to exist, it is not necessary that it should be stronger than all the countries; rather it should be sufficiently strong so that the superpower cannot immediately annihilate it. Pakistan, with its missile capability and strong professional army, is not a soft target. The US knows that Pakistan is capable of retaliating and hurting it more than it is willing to sacrifice. CENTCOM in Doha is within the reach of Pakistani missiles and the Pakistan Air Force. Similarly, the US Army in Afghanistan is virtually surviving on the supplies of petrol and food coming from Pakistan. One should also remember that it took the US a full year of military build up before they could go into Iraq. The Pakistani army is capable of sending more body bags to the US than they could ever imagine. Also, currently, the US army is stretched thin and they cannot recruit people to fight insurgencies let alone a full-fledged war with a nuclear state.” HT is banned in most countries including Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and even Saudi Arabia. It was, for a short stint, banned in Pakistan but since the honourable judge of the Multan bench of the LHC was unable to understand the reasons for the ban, it was lifted. The HT is now free to spread its venom against non-Muslim Pakistanis and states. It has also not spared the Pakistani state and government and is openly challenging the writ of the state. It publicly declares that, “unjust taxes like income tax will be abolished”. We immediately get defensive when we, as a nation, state and government, are urged to “do more”. Our indignation might hold some water if we were able to understand the consequences of allowing such organisations to spread their venom. By way of an example, on November 5 , 2010 , the HT will be organising rallies that “will inform people that the real change is only possible through the establishment of khilafat. Khilafat will sever NATO supply lines within hours of its establishment. It will suffocate the US by joining hands with the people of the tribal areas and Balochistan.” Why the HT has been allowed in the past, and undoubtedly will be allowed in the future, to spread such venom is because their modus operandi involves recruiting extremely well connected and influential people through the opium of Islamism. In such a scenario, one is unable to understand why we continue to be surprised when places of worship, state agencies, government personnel and innocent civilians are continuously targeted in senseless terrorist attacks. If the judiciary is so fond of activism, how about ‘understanding’ the consequences of this dangerous game and banning such outfits, making it at least at least difficult for them to operate.

Nepal's Against India's Dadagiri?

India's External Affairs Minister S M Krishna's sojourn to Kathmandu last week has seemingly ended in a failure. It was said success of his visit largely depended on improving relations with UCPN ( Maoist), largest party in the constituent assembly (parliament) and partner of present coalition government led by Jhala Nath Khanal of UML, and help build consensus of political parties in drafting the constitution and complete the peace process in Nepal.    Media reports suggest that Krishna's hour-long meeting with Maoist chairman Prachanda on April 22 ended in acrimonious arguments. Krishna has questioned the Maoist party's anti-India propaganda, saying its ambassador Rakesh Sood was harassed with shoes and stones whenever he went out of Kathmandu and Indian companies and businesses came under attacks. After the meeting Prachanda said Krishna exhibited keen interest in Nepal's internal matters by India which is simply unacceptable.    He pointed to the Indian minister the facts that they had put his party in great difficulty and compelled to step down when his government sacked Army Chief Rukmangad Katwal and also during the prime ministerial election. " Now, we want relations between the two countries to begin afresh based on a new and equal footing. Neither can Nepal get the new constitution nor will environment become favourable for India by sidelining the largest party in the constituent assembly. I feel that India needs to focus more on these issues than our party's internal activities," Prachanda was quoted as saying by daily Telegraph of Nepal on April 24 under the pungent heading "No More Dadagiri".    It is interesting that Phanindra Nepal, chairman of Unified Napal Nationalist Front, in an open letter to SM Krishan during his visit demanded that New Delhi should return 60 ,000 square kilometre Nepali lands occupied by India. The letter said India's friendship with Nepal is not based on equality and Justice. People have clearly understood India's intentions of controlling Nepal for its own interest.    Prashant Jha, a veteran journalist, writing for the daily Hindu of India on the eve of Krishan's visit to Nepal said his challenge will be to encourage all parties to work together as the constitutional deadline approaches and help build a consensus. " Krishna would do Indo-Nepal relations a lot if he could, at the highest levels and in public, deliver a political commitment that Delhi does not have preference in Nepal domestic politics and any legitimate government will have its full cooperation. This must be followed by instructions to its agencies not to play destabilizing role in Nepal."    But Krishna allegedly took the line dotted by the South Block to trigger chaos and instability in Nepal. It is likely that that New Delhi wants to test the nerve and reaction of Beijing to the situation in Nepal. In the recent past Chinese leaders visiting Kathmandu had categorically stated that China will not accept outside interference into internal affairs of Nepal. Instability in Nepal will impact not only the landlocked country but the South Asia and the entire region. How Beijing acts in dealing with impending instability on its close southern neighbour remains a matter of great interest.    No doubt, India has the largest stake in Nepal's political stability where China is making its inroads in a big way. Krishna returned home leaving the Maoist party beleaguered and political situation uncertain. The tenure of the constituent assembly, extended by one year, ends on May 28. Analysts say, given the wide differences among the political parties, the assembly will not be able to complete its task of drafting the constitution within this time. The coalition government of communist parties - UML and UCPN - is likely to seek further extension of the constituent assembly that failed to write the constitution in three years.    It is said that a faction of ruling UML and other parties, ostensibly prodded by New Delhi, are strongly opposed further extension of the assembly. Alliance of three Madhesi parties - Sadbhavana Party, Terai Madhes Loktantrik Party and Madhesi Janadhikar Forum - said they would not allow extension of the assembly. It has signalled an ominous sign by raising the demand of "complete autonomy and right to self- determination" with threat of street movement from May 2. Observers in Kathmandu said these parties are heavily influenced by New Delhi and the fresh demands were raised at Delhi's behest. This leaves a grim prospect of chaos and conflict to follow.    Jhala Nath Khanal government has proved weak to face such a situation. He was elected Prime Minister in early February with UCPN's (Maoists) support upon a seven-point agreement with its chairman Pushpa Kamal Dhahal ( Prachanda). A Faction within his UML leaning on India sought to scrap the 'secret' agreement. This faction was joined by Nepali Congress known an extension of Indian Congress and Madhesi parties. Because of strong opposition from within his party Khanal could not give Home Ministry to the UCPN as envisaged in the agreement. So, it made UCPN unhappy and as a result Khanal could not yet form a full fledged cabinet. Heading a weak government Khanal is under fire from all sides for growing insecurity, corruption and inflation.    A recent survey carried out by Inter Disciplinary Analyst, a think- tank of Nepal revealed 96 percent people opposed federalism, 57 percent demand Hindu State, 48 percent voted for constitutional monarchy and 43 percent opposed monarchy. It is a clear indication that majority of the people are not happy with the decisions made by political leaders without taking cognizance to their sentiment.    As uncertainty looms large, elderly journalist Madan Madi Dixit writing in Rajdhani daily of Nepal on April 21 said it is simply impossible of completing the new constitution within May 28. "We must embrace fresh election and should elect honest and dedicated candidates - bring in a smaller size of constitution drafting body but concurrently be of inclusive nature. " Who will hold the election if the present government goes with the constituent assembly on May 28 ?