Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Year of the Protestor: 2011 A. D.




In 2010, out of all the powerful men and women in the world, TIME magazine selected founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, as their coveted ‘person of the year’. This epitomized the change that had been brought to the world by internet and especially the relatively new phenomena of social networks. If someone was skeptical about this selection, they were to proven utterly wrong in the year 2011.

In 2011, TIME selected a masked person as the ‘person of the year’. It is a very innovative and timely decision to award ‘The Protestor’ the coveted ‘person of the year’ award. He or she may have been Mohamed Bouazizi who died in Tunisia, thus creating the ‘big bang’ which ultimately toppled three long standing dictators and gave immense trouble for many more. He or she may have been a martyr of Tahrir square who toppled Mubarak or of Pearl Square in Bahrain. He or she may have been a person in Aden, Algiers, Amman, Benghazi, Damascus, Rabat or any other Arab city. He or she may have been at an “Occupy Movement” march at any of the dozen cities through which it swept across. He or she may have been a Greek in Athens or an Italian in Rome. He or she may have been a Palestinian and even an Israeli where unprecedented protests occurred last year. He or she may be a Russian who protested against the election irregularities. He or she may have been a Tibetan patriot. He or she may still be languishing in prison in Manama or any other place for protesting. He or she may have been anyone and everyone.

The important factor is the role of the social networks in making the protestor who he/she was to be. If not for them, Bouazizi’s self immolation would have been in vain. People in Tunis, the capital of Tunisia would never have known of the young man who died and the wave of protests created by that event in the provincial areas. When these were known, the people expressed their pent up frustration by taking to the streets. President Ben Ali and his Western supporters were largely caught unawares.

These events started in December 2010 but exploded in January 2011. Soon Ben Ali had fled his country. This success brought about unprecedented protests in Egypt and then across Arabia. Hosni Mubarak also fell soon after and it was because of the Western backing that the rulers of Bahrain and Yemen held on to power. Social media had an integral role to play in these protests. It was the utility of the opportunities given by the social media that made the protestor such a devastating force.

However, the protestor became a tool of the West in Libya where Muammar Gaddhafi would never have been toppled if not for the NATO bombing campaign. Also in Syria the Western countries are in support of the protestors who march against an unfriendly regime. But elsewhere in Arabia, all regimes which felt the wrath of the people on the streets were pro-Western. In the eyes of the rulers and their supporters, these protestors demanded reforms at best and resignation of the despots at worst. Overall it can be said that the protestor took to the streets against their rulers whether they were pro or anti Western. What mattered to them was the fact that they wanted to see the end of the despots in their lands.

The “Occupy Movement” is a new phenomenon in the fight against the global capital. This movement which swept across a number of cities was, and still is, nourished by social media. Arguing that “We are the 99%” they have taken the corporate world by surprise. However, it has yet to be seen if this movement will have a lasting effect.

The protestors were not content with toppling the old order. They wanted to create a new, lasting and more democratic order. Thus, they protested the new Tunisian caretaker government’s slow progress. They are still protesting in Egypt. Libya’s future is extremely uncertain as the protestors were turned in to armed fighters. In Yemen, many people were armed before they began protesting as there is an inherent gun culture in the country. Bahraini people are still protesting against huge odds for democracy. Syria is still unstable. Outside Arabia, the Occupiers are still fighting on and so does the Russians.

The streets are still not calm and the protestor still has a role to play in international politics.



Image: Hundreds of Thousands of Bahrainis Taking Part in March of Loyalty to Martyrs, by Lewa'a Alnasr (Feb 22, 2011) From Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Samoa and Tokelau Skip December 30, 2011.




Images From Top to Bottom:

Flag of Tokelau

Flag of Samoa

From Wikimedia Commons



It was Phileas Fogg and Passepartout in Jules Verne's "Around the World in Eighty Days" who were the first notable people to lose a day due to the International Date Line. Now, it is the turn of two island groups in the Pacific to do the same.

Samoa is an island nation of about 180,000 people and the much smaller Tokelau is a New Zealand territory of just over 1400 people. These islands are in the midst of the International Date Line and could have chosen either this side or that. Samoa chose the Eastern (USA side) 119 years ago when the islands were under effective German rule.

During the First World War, British troops took control of Samoa. Australia and New Zealand became more important to the Samoans as their economies were more integrated. In 2006, 133,000 people of Samoan descent lived in New Zealand.

With the decision taken in May 2011 by the Samoans and adopted soon after by the Tokelau islanders, the two island groups moved from Thursday, December 29 to Saturday, 31 of December. Thus they skipped a day and are now on par with Australians and New Zealanders. Now, they can do business and go to church on the same days. Also the the relatives living in these countries can celebrate important dates in the family, such as birthdays and anniversaries.

However, if you are a inhabitant of Samoa or a Tokelau who happened to be born on a 30th December, you are unable to celebrate your birthday this year. However, if you really want to celebrate, there is still time to connect with a family member in Australia or New Zealand through internet and celebrate on the world wide web.


References

BBC- Samoa and Tokelau Skip a Day for Dateline Change

Washington Post- Moving Pacific Islands in Time: Samoa and Tokelau Skip Across International Date Line

Shining Path is no More, but the Causes still Remain in Peru


From 1980, the terrorist group Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso), officially the Communist Party of Peru-Shining Path (Partydo Comunista del Peru-Sendero Luminoso), waged a bloody campaign against the government of Peru. The group collapsed after its charismatic leader Abimael Guzman-known as Presidente (Chairman) Gonzalo-was captured in September 1992.

The Sendero Luminoso received the strongest backing at least in its initial years from the poor indigenous people of Peru. They were not a factor in Peruvian politics and economy which were dominated by the Whites and the mixed White-Indian (Mestizo) minority. The Indians lived in the mountains (La Sierra) in abject poverty and the Sendero cadres mobilized these marginalized communities. Later, Sendero terror campaign drove some peasant communities against them but until the end they were still the main support base for the rebels.

Although the Shining Path has already faded away, some of the factors which helped their growth still remain. Peruvians, especially the Indians in the Sierra and the urban areas are still living in poverty although things are much better than the 1980s. Still nearly 15% of Peruvians live with an income of less than US $ 2 per day. Just over half of the population lives below national poverty line.

Meanwhile Peru is witnessing the increased oil, natural gas and especially mining revenues flowing in to the country. This has helped it to maintain a positive economic growth despite the global recession in the last few years. Nevertheless, it is still doubtful whether the benefits of the mining boom reach the lower strata of society. As of 2010, unemployment in Lima was nearly 8% and underemployment was over 42%. In the countryside it must be even higher.

Recent years have seen the increasing popular anger directed at the mining projects. In June 2011, protestors even seized a provincial airport in Puno region in Southern Peru. This area is largely inhabited by the Aymara Indians. They protested mainly to preserve scarce water sources, protect their ancestral lands and prevent potential pollution. Meanwhile, violent protests erupted later in the year at Cajamarca against the Conga mining project. The local Quechua Indians in this Northern region are worried about four mountain lakes which are their sources of water. The new ‘left wing’ president of Peru, Ollanta Humala imposed a state of emergency in the region to curb the protests. However, the mining project was later put on hold.

Growing protests against the mining projects and the continuing poverty are factors that can be utilized to mobilize the Indian population in Peru. However, there are three important factors which may preclude the possibility of a resurgence of the Shining Path. Firstly, the government institutions are present in many places in the countryside unlike in the 1970s and 1980s. They are carrying out more development projects than few decades ago. Secondly, the people of Peru still remember the terror of Shining Path and may not be so willing to support a repetition. Thirdly, a charismatic leader should emerge to do what Guzman did from the 1960s, laying the ground work and leading the “People’s War” of the Shining Path.

However, it should be remembered that Guzman did not seem to be a revolutionary, let alone of the caliber he was, in the early years of his career. One cannot be quite assured of the absence of a new Guzman. The challenge faced by the new president Ollanta Humala is to ensure that the wealth is distributed more justly. By this the resurgence of a violent rebellion will be prevented.


Picture: Ollanta Humala (Brasilia, March 2006) by Jose Cruz/ABr. From Wikimedia Commons

Monday, December 19, 2011

The "Dear Leader" Kim Jong-il is no More!

The Supreme Leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), Kim Jong-il has passed away. It ends the 17 year old reign of one of the most secluded characters in contemporary world history.

Kim Jong-il was a mystery from his birth. More correctly, the North Korean regime has made it appear a mystery. According to Russian records, he was born in 1941 in Siberia. His father, Kim Il-sung was leading a Soviet battalion of Korean and Chinese exiles. However, as the elder Kim, North Korea's "Great Leader" was growing older, he took care that his son was going to be a legend. Accordingly, it was claimed that the birth of the "Dear Leader" occurred on the sacred Baekdu mountain, the legendary birthplace of the Korean nation. Also, the birth of this leader had been foretold by a swallow. On that particular day, a guiding star, mystical lights and a double rainbow had appeared over the mountain.

The "Great Leader" took pains to build a log cabin on the mountain and dispatch a team of preservation experts to the Lenin Museum in Moscow to study ways to make new wood appear old. He took every measure to pave the way for a Marxist dynasty.

The unbelievable feats of the "Dear Leader" included giving "on the spot" advice to workers and soldiers and producing six classic operas in just two years, each of them better than any one ever made by mankind.

He was the 31st most powerful man on Earth in 2010 according to the Forbes magazine. At the time of his death he was in 37th place. He was adept in nuclear politics, from the times of his father. He had inherited a isolated failed state relying on Juche, North Korean form of Communism based on self-reliance. His half-hearted efforts to implement Chinese style economic reforms in selected zones, ended in debacles. Kim Jong-il wanted to control the opening up of his country, as he had controlled everything else, including the story of his birth.

However, the "Dear Leader" was unable to control his death. Also, his dynasty may not last his son and heir apparent, Kim Jong-un. Its uncertain if he could even take power as he is still too weak. The "Dear Leader" was ultimately defeated by death and it prevented him from completing the job of securing his son's path to power in the manner his father did for him.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What does the West need in Russia?

President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin at the United Russia party conference, Sep. 2011.

Picture from www.kremlin.ru


Western media has been continuously reporting on the protests in Russia against the United Russia party victory at the recent general elections. One TV channel, FOX News, went so far that they showed footage of 2011 Athens Riots when reporting the Moscow protests. Western media has been relatively quiet about protests in countries like Bahrain. In Russia however, it has been reported that the current protests are the largest after the Soviet Union collapsed.

But, what really does the West need by reporting the protests? In Russia, whether they like it or not, United Russia is the best alternative for the West to have. The West will never want a Communist government in Moscow especially during a financial crisis eating into their own economies. The party ‘Just Russia’ is also a center left group which cannot be expected to tow the Western line. That leaves only the Liberal Democrats as a party with at least some mass support which the West will prefer at the event of the fall of the United Russia regime.

But what if the West does not want any government in Russia? It should be noted that Russia did not have a stable government for a decade after the collapse of the USSR. She went through an economic crisis, a constitutional crisis, a war in Chechnya, unstable Dumas in which at times the Communists were the party with the largest number of seats, all under an alcoholic president with increasingly deteriorating health. In 2001, when Yeltsin stepped down, many Russians must have observed that the only good thing he did for Russia after 1991 was bringing in Vladimir Putin, a virtually unknown figure, to the limelight.

For the next decade, Putin and his United Russia party have dominated the political scene of Russia. Even during the four year presidency of Medvedev, Putin held a leading role as the Prime Minister and may have been the real puppet master behind the scene. Meanwhile he built a personal cult around himself which captivated millions of his fellow citizens.

Ultimately however, this personality cult was being resented by many of the opposition and it was portrayed in the elections held recently, where United Russia barely held on to a parliamentary majority. Since all allegations to the election fraud may not be fabrications, it is not wrong to assume that a totally fair election would have not given any party a majority in the Duma.

Russia under Putin moved from a former power licking its wounds to a major power in international arena. Russia’s opponents hope that a Russia minus Putin will have a weak government which will have much lesser say in international politics. With none of the major political parties being pro-Western, it is the best thing the West can hope in Russia.

The only question is that whether it will be beneficial for the West in the long run. With their economies in dire straits, the West is seeing Russia as a bastion of stability. It is doubtful if the West would benefit if that bastion falls.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Cristina de Kirchner Sworn in for her Second Term as President of Argentina

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, the widow of former president Nestor Kirchner, has been sworn in for her second consecutive term as the President of Argentina. In 2007, she became the first woman to be elected for the post of first citizen in her country, and second woman ever to hold that position.

Born in 1953, Cristina entered politics from the youth movement of the Justicalist party in the 1970s. Professionally a lawyer, graduating from the National University of La Plata, she and her husband avoided politics during the military regime and practiced law. Returning to politics, Cristina was elected to the provincial legislature of Santa Cruz. From 1995, she was a member of the national legislature either as a member of the Chamber of Deputies or the Senate.

Nestor Kirchner was elected to Argentine presidency in 2003 and oversaw the resurgence of the economy of his country after the collapse and riots in late December 2001. By 2007, he was widely popular but did not seek re-election. His wife Cristina won the presidential nomination from their political party, Front for Victory. In the subsequent presidential election, she won over 45% of the votes cast.

Cristina de Kirchner’s presidency was initially marred by protests and falling approval ratings. The new taxation scheme introduced for agricultural exports generated massive protests, initially by farmers and later by other sectors of society. The controversy ended when the presidential sponsored bill was defeated at the national legislature. About 20 members of the legislature from her party defected.

However, in the latter years of her administration, Cristina Kirchner’s approval ratings improved amidst economic revival.

In the foreign policy sphere, Cristina de Kirchner leads what can be termed as a non-aligned path. Argentina is both a member of G-20 and G-77. She continuously challenges the British over the Malvinas (Falklands) issue. In September 2011, addressing the UN General Assembly, Cristina de Kirchner supported the Palestinian request to be seated at that Assembly. Meanwhile, Argentina has cultivated positive relationships with much of the countries in the world, including USA, many members of the European Union, Russia, China and India.

In regional politics, Argentina under Cristina de Kirchner has been an active player in South American integration. Argentina is a good friend of many Latin American nations from the left to the right in the political spectrum. She is a key player in Common Southern Market (Mercosur), Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the recently institutionalized Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). In May 2010, Nestor Kirchner was unanimously elected as the first ever Secretary-General of the UNASUR.

At times, during the first administration of Cristina de Kirchner, there were speculations on who was really running the country-the president or her husband. Then in October 2010, Nestor Kirchner died of heart failure. In the following June, Cristina de Kirchner announced that she was seeking re-election and won the presidency with more than 54% of the votes. It is nearly a 10% increase from her popular vote in the election 4 years ago.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Finally, Belgium has a Government

After a record breaking 541 days, Belgium has a government.

In June 2010, the Belgian election returned an unworkable parliament, with the Flemish Alliance, a Flemish secessionist party winning a plurality of 27 seats out of 150. However, despite this they could not form a government as they were unwilling to work with the Walloon parties.

The francophone Socialist Party (PS) of Elio Di Rupo led the polls in Walloon, winning 26 seats. The PS had an advantage over the New Flemish Alliance as there were comparable Flemish parties with whom he can work, including the Socialist Party-Differently (PS-A), which won 13 seats. After lengthy negotiations and various propositions, finally it was Di Rupo who collected enough socialist and liberal parties to form a government.

The long time it took to form a government underscores the difference between the Walloon and Flemish people in Belgium. None of the major parties has a countrywide support. They are either Flemish or Walloon. After nearly two centuries of post-independence divisions, Belgians are still struggling to reconcile between the two main communities.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Hambantota 2022

The 2018 Commonwealth Games went to Gold Coast in Australia. Hambantota, a late and surprising entry to the race, entering just over a year ago, has been defeated.

Traditionally, the Commonwealth Games was a domain of the 'white' nations of the Commonwealth of Nations. In 1998, Kuala Lumpur held the event successfully. The next time it came to Asia, at New Delhi 2010, it was a debacle before the event got underway.

The Indian fiasco did not help the newly resurgent city of Hambantota. A crucial factor favouring the Aussie city was that they have already put up the majority of the venues for the games. Hambantota is still building up the infrastructure.

However, as the Australian delegation pointed out Hambantota gave a good fight till the end and 27 countries thought it was better than Gold Coast. Gold Coast bid president Mark Stockwell has said that while celebrating victory, he really wanted to pay tribute to Hambantota. He has said that “at times in their presentation, I actually wanted to vote for them because they were so convincing and were speaking from the heart”.

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh also commended the bid from Hambantota and pointed out that if 8 or 9 delegates had changed their minds, Gold Coast would not be hosting the Games in 2018.

The phenomenal development in Hambantota will be carried on, and in a few more years we will hopefully have the bulk of the infrastructure ready. With this as a strength behind us, we will be able to give even a better fight. Meanwhile, we have to contend with the fact that Hambantota, which was devastated due to the Tsunami of December 2004, is now in the limelight for putting up a fight against one of the richest countries in the Commonwealth.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Challenges to International Security

Security, power and welfare are important attributes for the stability of the international system. These are faced by ever present real and perceived threats, which in turn will destabilize the international system.

The very first threat which comes to mind associated with international security is international terrorism. That international terrorism poses grave challenges to the security is an undeniable fact. However, by focusing on this one may forget that there are a number of other and sometimes not so obvious challenges which may pose even a larger threat to the world order. Some of these inevitably nurtures terrorism.

International Terrorism

Let us begin with international terrorism. This was a phenomenon largely unknown to the world until the Palestinians decided to globalize their struggle. The belief that the Arabs could militarily defeat Israel was shattered in 1967 with the Six Days War. This gave rise to a new breed of Palestinian terrorism which spread its wings even outside the small area for which they are in mortal combat with the Israelis.

International terrorism may have two types of groups. Firstly, there may be groups which operate in several countries, as was the case with some Palestinian groups. Also, there may be several domestic groups allied to each other for operational or ideological reasons. This can be seen in some left-wing terrorist groups and Islamic groups.

Al-Qaeda is a relatively new and lethal phenomenon of international terror, now largely but not entirely, eclipsed from the international arena. However, although the outfit has a central core group, it is in effect an alliance of various fundamentalist terror groupings around the world.

Domestic Terrorism

This brings the attention to a more challenging aspect, that of domestic terrorism. A vast number of terror organizations and insurgencies are domestic ones although they may be associated with foreign organizations for various needs. These domestic groups threaten the States where they are active. Mostly these are secessionist or are attempting to seize power. When the security of a State is affected it will have repercussions to the international community, at least in the near vicinity of the said State. There can be no international security without internal security.

Causes of Terrorism

Terror and all other challenges facing the international community are arising due to a number of socio-economic and political factors. The gap between the rich and the poor, class and caste differences, racial, linguistic and cultural divisions all increase the friction points in the societies.

An example of socio-economic issues directing an insurgency is currently seen in India, where despite the economic boom, a Maoist insurrection is increasingly engulfing the countryside. With the economic boom, the gap between the rich and the poor has grown considerably. In addition, India is having its inherent caste divisions still polarizing the society. The insecurity within India can become a regional issue if it goes out of hand.

International Crime

Another challenge to the international community is the increase in international crime. Narcotics trade, human trafficking, weapons smuggling and other illegal activities are growing around the world. Political instability, economic insecurity and increasing interaction among the peoples around the world are facilitating this phenomenal rise.

For instance, political tensions and increasing armed conflicts helped the weapons smuggling to grow out of proportion. Narcotics are also tied to armed conflicts and weapons smuggling as some insurgent groups depend on it for their finances.

Human trafficking is also a growing concern, which has risen to unprecedented levels in recent times.

Political Instability


Political instability is a dire threat to international security, welfare and power. While stability will not be the answer to each and every evil, instability is the nurturer of many.

The breakup of the Soviet Union is an instance where this was seen vividly. When the State broke up to pieces and law and order situation deteriorated, numerous problems sprang up. Economic collapse precipitated an increase in ordinary crime, narcotics usage, human smuggling, weapons smuggling and a plethora of other evils which became grave obstacles for the new republics. The increase of criminal activities in these areas had unfavorable repercussions throughout the world. The Russian criminal world has now spread its tentacles all over the world and so has the criminal networks of Albanian origin.

Rising Racial Tensions

Increasing poverty and political instability has driven citizens of the developing world to migrate to Europe and North America. Also, due to the rise of Islamic terrorism, especially after September 11 attacks, there is an increasing phenomenon of ‘islamophobia’ especially in Europe and the United States. As a result, there is a growing right-wing extremist tendency in these countries. The recent attack in Norway is but one illustration of the tendency. Extreme right-wing political parties are registering historic electoral victories in even very ‘liberal’ societies. While the mainstream political groups do not condone violence, this development is an illustration of the people’s perceptions in these countries.

The Competition for Vital Resources


The industrialization and the rising population of the world drive the nations to compete for vital resources. The fact that many international disputes are in one way or the other connected to petroleum or a maritime boundary is no mere coincidence. The thirst for energy, in the form of the relatively cheap ‘black gold’ has made peoples go to war. The seas and Oceans, with their largely untapped resources are also a point of contention as nations are becoming increasingly aware of the vast potential in them.

Both industrialization and population growth has also rendered the available clean water resources limited. If the industrial pollution of water resources and deforestation are not curbed, a water shortage is predicted to occur in a few decades. There will be less water available for agriculture which in turn will make it difficult to feed the increasing population.

With this impending water crisis, there are considerable tensions between nations and even communities over water resources. This has always been a concern for rulers from time immemorial. However, it is going to be an ever growing concern in the near future.

Global Warming and Climate Change

Recently, the U.N. Security Council declared that the impacts of climate change are a threat to world peace and security. They give rise to natural disasters and other repercussions which will generate a number of challenges including human displacement, the reduction of the availability of water, reduction of agricultural productivity, food insecurity, health hazards, and energy crisis. These can in turn give rise to international disputes, terrorism and other security issues.

Nuclear Proliferation

Nuclear proliferation is causing long standing international disputes between the Western world and countries such as North Korea and Iran. Before the fall of the USSR, the nuclear proliferation of the two superpowers was the main cause of tension. After 1991, with the USSR out of the way, the U.S. seeks to prevent the so called ‘rogue states’ from acquiring nuclear weapons.

A further cause of insecurity is the possibility of a major nuclear disaster due to a terrorist attack or a natural disaster at a nuclear facility. This became a nightmare come true at Fukushima a few months back. In the fallout of Fukushima, the Green Party in Germany, for the first time in its history, was able to form a government at a State in that country.

Conclusion

With all these factors playing a role, it can be stated that global security, welfare and power are challenged by a multitude of factors. However, the root cause of all these can be found in inequalities between the elite and the people or the powerful and the powerless.

References

Billy, B. Racism on the Rise in Europe
Accessed: Sep 06, 2011

Muniruzzaman A.M.N. Climate Change: Threat to International Peace and Security
Accessed: Sep 09, 2011

FAO No Global Water Crisis, but Many Developing Countries will Face Water Scarcity

Accessed: Sep 09, 2011

Federation of American Scientists, International Crimes Threat Assessment
Accessed: Sep 05, 2011

Friday, September 9, 2011

Mao after the Demise of Mao



Image: "Mao Zedong at Tiananmen Gate" by http2007 at flickr


Its 35 years since Chairman Mao Tse-tung of the People's Republic of China (PRC) passed away.

Within a very short time, the PRC itself made an about turn in her policies under Deng Xiao-peng, in what was to be an 'economic revolution' of China. The PRC leadership has almost forgotten Mao's legacy. For instance, five years ago, they chose to commemorate his 30th death anniversary by simply forgetting about it.

Nevertheless, small Communist political parties around the world are adhering to Maoism albeit with little success. Meanwhile, in several countries, insurgent groups following Maoism in general and Mao's "People's War" concept in particular have waged more successful "People's Wars" years after the Chairman's demise. Even today, some of these insurgents are active with variable successes, most notably in India.

Political Parties Adhering to Maoism

Not many classic mainstream political parties adhered to Maoism in the West, with the notable exception of the Communist Party of New Zealand. In many other countries, Maoist parties were formed after the Sino-Soviet split in the 1960s. In South East Asia however, several political parties embraces Maoism in Mao's life time. In Burma and Philippines, these wage an ongoing armed struggle against the respective governments.The Revolutionary Internationalist Movement (RIM) formed in 1984 was a collection of Maoist parties, led by the Revolutionary Communist Party of the USA. It published a periodical, "A World to Win".

"People's War"

More successful exponents of Maoism has been the relatively successful insurgent groups in Peru, Nepal and India. Both the Communist Party of Peru (Sendero Luminoso) or the 'Shining Path' and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)-CPN(Maoist) followed a similar line of action in the early stages of their struggles. There were some politico-ideological preparation carried out in remote areas with little government presence and little development. These were to become base areas of the Maoists once they initiated the armed struggle. Thus, what Ayacucho was to the Peruvians, Rukum and Rolpa were to the Nepali counterparts.

However, later the two groups diverged. Nepali Maoists returned to electoral politics winning the largest number of seats in the Nepali legislature in 2008, 12 years after they started their "People's War". Meanwhile, after nearly threatening the Peruvian government to collapse, the way of the Shining Path 'became dark' after the capture of el Presidente Gonzalo, once again, 12 years after the start of their "People's War". Nevertheless, Sendero Luminoso and some other small insurgent groups are still active in the country. The danger has not passed.

The ideal illustration of the fact that the danger persists is the case of India. The Maoist or 'Naxalite' movement in India was decimated in early 1970s within several years of its emergence. Whatever remained was suppressed during the emergency. It fragmented into numerous factions and some even turned to electoral politics. However, the conditions which gave rise to the Naxal movement were never eradicated. Hence, small hardcore Maoist rebels remained active and by now their movement has grown to such an extent that was identified as the greatest internal security threat India faces.

The general supporter or sympathizer of a Maoist insurgency usually does not have any idea as to who Mao Tse-tung was. Yet, social conditions are such that in certain places they receive overwhelming support of the populace, another important attribute to a successful guerrilla campaign according to Mao.

Mao's legacy of "People's War" seem to be quite alive despite the eclipse of Maoism as a whole, especially when its apparent that insurgent groups which are hardly Maoist also admire and utilize his methods.

Certainly. Mao is still alive and kicking in certain areas of "Maolands".

Sindh to Teach its Children Chinese

Sindh is one of 4 Pakistani states, lying in the South West. It has around 1/3 of Pakistani population, including the bulk of the small Hindu minority. Nearly 50% of the people live in urban areas, including the former capital city of the country, Karachi.

Despite this cosmopolitan nature, Sindh has many problems. Its education system may be better than most of Pakistan, as seen by the literacy level of above 65%, well ahead of the national average. But, problems are there, including the shortage of teachers and facilities. The Sindh government is now adding to it by planning to make Chinese language compulsory from Grade 6 upwards from 2013.

This move, taken by a Commonwealth country's state government, is a surprise. However, it epitomizes the realities facing the world today. Yet, it seems to be a premature action.

The world economic epicenter is moving towards Asia. As erstwhile economic giants and their allies are feeling the pains of a recession, China is rising as an economic giant. The oriental civilizations seem to be returning to what they were centuries ago-the world's wonders. Chinese economy is now having a huge impact not only in Asia, but also on the United States and Europe as well.

Because of these developments, there is a emerging interest to learn the Chinese language, especially the Mandarin dialect. Although it is the most widely spoken language of the world, a very few wanted non-Chinese to learn it. Not anymore.

However, the move by the Sindh government is simply baffling. While they have enough issues to attend to with regards to the education, they have created a new problem as if its no big deal! Teaching Chinese, let alone learning it, is no easy task. To learn it, like any language, constant practice is needed. To a vast number of people who have no idea what Chinese is, it will be an additional challenge.

The students who attend the schools of Sindh have enough subjects to torment them. However, the government thinks otherwise.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Vo Nguyen Giap: The Vietnamese Centurion



Image: Vo Nguyen Giap in 2008 by Ricardo Stuckert. From Wikimedia Commons.


The General who baffled two world superpowers has passed his 100th birth anniversary. Vo Nguyen Giap, the nemesis of the French at Dien Bien Phu and the leader of the Vietnam People's Army (VPA) during the Vietnam war, celebrated his 100th birthday on August 25, 2011.

General Giap is known as a leader who never backed down even against obstacles seemingly impossible to overcome. Born in 1911 to a well to do family, he rose to prominence as a superb military tactician, a fact supported by the defeat of superpowers at the hands of the VPA. Despite being marginalized in political matters during the last few decades, he is highly respected in Vietnam because of his achievements.

Giap had become a Communist while studying at the University of Hanoi in early 1930s. When France outlawed Communism in 1939, Giap fled to China where he met with Ho Chi Minh. He returned only in 1944. By that time, his immediate family had been arrested by the French and had been executed. Such was the regard for human rights the colonial masters had at that time.

Yet, Giap carried on.

In 1945, when the Democratic Republic of Vietnam declared independence, he was appointed as the Minister of Interior. Soon, the Viet Minh forces were at loggerheads with the French troops in Indochina.

Giap played a vital role in the anti-colonial war. The poorly armed Vietnamese troops continuously harassed the better armed French colonial troops using guerrilla tactics.In 1953, the French established a fortified position at Dien Bien Phu, straddling supply lines of the liberation fighters. It was an invitation to positional warfare, which is anathema to the guerrillas. But, Vo Nguyen Giap was not a man to back down. With the help of the supplies from the USSR and People's Republic of China (PRC) and mainly with the help of the Vietnamese populace, the VPA launched the attack on the French fortifications. Some diversionary attacks elsewhere helped the Vietnamese to prepare for the offensive on Dien Bien Phu, which started on March 13, 1954. They battled for position after position. Guerrillas isolated the fortified area from the outside, blocking roads and using anti-aircraft weapons received from the Communist allies to the North to hinder French air traffic. The last French troops surrendered on May 7. It was an ignominious defeat which brought down the French rule in Indochina.

Vietnam War

Vietnam was separated to two parts, North and South, pending elections to unify the two. However, the elections were never held, mainly due to the opposition of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam), which argued that a free and fair election will never be held in the North. Thus began the struggle for Vietnam. Once more, it was a matter of guerrilla tactics. The National Liberation Front of South Vietnam, with the support of the North Vietnam and her allies waged a war to unite Vietnam. Against them were the capitalist camp led by the United States. Regular forces of North Vietnam, USA and her allies were soon embroiled in the conflict. Extensive bombing of North Vietnam and even other areas in Indochina was carried out by the U.S. Still, General Giap did not back down. Mainly using guerrilla tactics, aided by the extremely favourable terrain and generally supportive people, the Vietnamese fought on against the military might of the superpower across the Pacific Ocean. The United States and her allies won almost all the battles and yet were resoundingly defeated in the war. Most of all, the U.S. lost in the home front where anti war sentiments gave rise to radical student protests largely unseen in the country till then.

May be it was Giap himself who summed up the Vietnam war in 1997, when he met his erstwhile opponent Robert McNamara. "The U.S. lost in Vietnam...", he told McNamara, "....because the U.S. did not understand Vietnam". What he could have told is that perhaps the U.S. did not understand General Vo Nguyen Giap.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Kyrgyzstan Celebrate 20 Years of Independence


The Kyrgyz Republic in Central Asia celebrates its 20th independence anniversary. Born in the chaotic last few months of the former USSR, it later became famous for the 'Tulip Revolution'.

Declaring Independence

During early years of the 1990s, Gorbachev's reforms ushered dramatic changes in Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic. In 1990, riots between the ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz broke out in Southern Kirghizia. Later in the year in October, Askar Akayev was elected to the presidency of the republic. In December that year, the Supreme Soviet of the republic changed the name of the Kirghiz SSR to Republic of Kyrgyzstan, removing the Soviet Socialist part, despite still being part of the USSR.

After the August 19 coup in Moscow collapsed, Akayev and senior leaders of the republic left the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). Days later, on 31 August, they declared the independence of the Republic of Kyrgyzstan.

Two Revolutions

Askar Akayev became the first president of independent Kyrgyzstan, which was admitted to the UN in 1992. In 1993, the country was remaned as the Kyrgyzs Republic.

In 2005, Akayev, who was accused of corruption and election fraud, was ousted in a largely peaceful revolution named the 'Tulip revolution'. His successor, Kurmanbek Bakiev, was also ousted by another revolution in April 2010. Ironically, he was accused of similar malpractices to those of his predecessor.

The current president of the republic is the former foreign minister Roza Otunbayeva. She faces a multitude of challenges, including alleviation of poverty of the second poorest country in Central Asia and managing the racial tensions, especially between the Kyrgyz and the Uzbeks. There are also fears of a rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the country.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Russian Election Race Officially Begins


At a meeting with the seven registered parties in Russia on August 29, 2011, president Dmitri Medvedev announced that he has signed an official decree on the State Duma election. It is to be held on the 4th of December 2011.

On that day, Russian people will go to polls to elect the 6th Duma of the Russian Federation. Despite the changes in election laws, there is very little possibility that the composition of the 6th Duma will change from the 5th. In 2007, four political parties passed the 7% threshold to win seats in the Duma. They were:

1. United Russia
2. Communist Party of the Russian Federation
3. Liberal Democratic Party
4. A Just Russia

United Russia, led by prime minister Putin, holds 315 seats.

Although the election threshold has been lowered to 5%, as of now, opinion polls indicate that the other three registered parties (Democratic Party ("Yabloko"), Patriots of Russia and Right Cause) are not going to surpass that. The popularity of the main four parties are also close to the levels in 2007, indicating that the composition of the Duma will not change drastically.

Image: 'Coat of Arms of the Russian Federation' from Wikimedia Commons

Monday, August 22, 2011

Mermaid Dawn: The Battle for Tripoli

It is just a few weeks after the Libyan rebel military commander was assassinated, raising doubts over the unity of the NTC.

Suddenly, the situation has changed dramatically. Rebels advanced with renewed vigor, with support from the NATO air power. Then began 'Operation Mermaid Dawn'.

A general uprising in Tripoli began on August 20. Weapons were brought by boats and delivered to rebel elements. Caught by surprise, the Gaddafi loyalists have lost control of much of the city as of now (August 22, 2011, early afternoon in Libya). Gaddafi's two eldest sons are in rebel custody but the whereabouts of the leader is still unknown. A considerable area of the country is still under Gaddafi loyalists and until he is captured, the rebels will not win the battle.

Even then, a new NTC regime would find it hard to keep Libya united given the heterogeneity of the organization. Also, there is no guarantee that Libya would not become another Iraq. By giving support to the NTC, the NATO wanted to see the back of an anti-Western leader. But, there is every possibility that the fall of Gaddafi brings long lasting unrest in the neighborhood of Europe.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Is London Burning?..

Yes. London is burning. What started as a protest against the killing of a black youth by police at Tottenham has grown so much in intensity that it has become the worst riots in the city in decades. Furthermore, rioting has spread to several cities including Bristol, Birmingham and Liverpool.

Racially inspired violence has been a not so rare event in Europe during the last two decades. Immigrant communities have grievances of discrimination by law enforcement authorities and on the contrary, local right-wing extremists thrive on their anti-immigrant agendas. When unemployment rises these anti-immigration sentiments rise as the locals have to compete with the immigrant communities for job opportunities. As such, these riots are a portrayal of the underlying competition between locals and immigrants.

It's easier to blame the police or the immigrants for the riots. However, there are many opportunists who grab the chance to simply indulge in looting for the sake of their advantage. These people do not have any political motivation but makes it more difficult to re-establish law and order.

Nevertheless, the underlying political issue must not be neglected. Just 3 years have elapsed since the Londoners elected a candidate from the far-right British National Party (BNP) to the London City Council. The BNP vote share was 5.3%. In the recent general election in 2010, the BNP received nearly 2% of the national vote.

All of Europe is observing a resurgence of far right extremism. The gruesome massacre in Norway was a harsh reminder of the truth. In France, Sarkozy came to power on an anti-immigration platform. Ironically, today he is challenged by the far-right and not the far-left. Italy and some other European nations are also going through the resurgence of the right-wing. Hence, the riots in Britain should also be considered as a reminder of the larger European phenomenon, just as the massacre in Norway was.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Where to go Mr. Barack Obama?

Mr. Barack Obama’s foreign policy is suffering from indirection. It seems that by trying to satisfy all, he may alienate many and continue his predecessor’s job of harming the interests of the United States in the process.

Indeed, some of his problems are inherited from his predecessor, Mr. George W. Bush. Strangely enough, the mess in Mesopotamia has become somewhat manageable from the American point of view, but that is because the Americans are pulling out. Also, the focus on Iraq has dropped due to several factors, mainly the democracy movement still sweeping Arabia, the so called “Arab Spring”.

The “Arab Spring”

The “Arab Spring” is something Obama totally lost his way in. Toppling of the government in Tunisia was something the U.S. could not do much about, due to several reasons. But, Obama was unable to manage the Egyptian situation in a positive way for the U.S. and especially for her ally, Israel. From the day Mubarak was toppled, Israel’s anxiety has grown, and rightly so. On one hand, the military regime has taken several steps which Israel did not want it to, including the opening of the border with the Gaza strip. Also, on the other hand, since the Muslim brotherhood is the most organized political entity in Egypt, a post-military government would most probably be dominated by them, which will never be advantageous from the Israeli point of view.

Knowing these facts very well, it is hard to believe that Obama remained silent and let Mubarak fall. It is as if he wanted all these things to happen to Egypt and also to Israel!

Across the Red Sea, Obama was never ready to let Saleh fall in Yemen initially. However, as the situation worsened, the language of the U.S. changed dramatically. Even so, Saleh is still clinging to power. May be the U.S. wanted to arrest the possible rise of Al-Qaeda in Yemen by giving moral support to the anti-Saleh faction. However, Obama should have had the foresight to see that Yemen is always a volatile country. Repeatedly, leaders even in the U.S. are refusing to learn what JFK said about revolutions. Those who make peaceful revolutions impossible make violent revolutions inevitable; especially in a country like Yemen, where gun culture is the norm.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is quite content to be non-committed on Bahrain, another key ally in the region. Why should Mr. Obama seek unnecessary trouble when there are a number of other willing allies to get involved there? In that aspect, the U.S. is losing nothing by being silent while the Bahraini people are suffering the repression of its regime.

Perhaps Mr. Obama should have kept his silence on Libya also. By associating with rebels, the NATO is helping an ‘unknown devil’ to chase away a ‘known devil’. As the recent assassination of the Commander of the rebel forces has once more shown, the anti-Gaddafi rebels are still a mysterious lot. A substantial number of them are said to be Islamists who are sometimes reputed to be associated with the Al-Qaeda. While killing the infamous Islamist leader thousands of miles away in Pakistan, the NATO is content to deal with his henchmen at the doorstep of Europe. Strange politics, to say the least.

Afghanistan

This is a point which Mr. Obama was always going to be in trouble, thanks to the foresight of his enlightened predecessor. By abandoning the battle in Afghanistan, George W. Bush willingly opened up a second front in Iraq. Of course, Obama opened up a third front in Libya. But, there he was quite helpless in a way as he was trying to satisfy the strange alliance of his Anglo-French allies.

Let’s turn back to Afghanistan. It is a matter of back to basics, or back to square one. Either way, it is the same. Despite everything said and done, including killing Osama bin Laden eventually, the fact that the Americans have messed up Afghanistan is undeniable. Barack Obama has further weakened his nation’s position with the all powerful drones. He has alienated Pakistani and Afghan government also. Alienating the latter is an unprecedented ‘achievement’ as whatever one may say, Kabul was more or less a puppet of the U.S. until quite recently.

Ten years on, there is no respite in violence in Afghanistan and actually with the high profile assassinations after the death of bin Laden, the violence seems to be unstoppable in the near future. Unrest is the order of the day in much-if not all-of Afghanistan and also in a substantial part of Pakistan. The Taliban is much stronger than one would have expected after a ten year war with the military superpowers of the world. Furthermore, as recent violence in China show, the Islamist spillover effect may soon affect the other countries in the region.

Due to this unprecedented achievement of the U.S. and her allies-of course the credit should mainly go to Mr. Bush Jr. and not Mr. Obama-the NATO troops are in such a position in Afghanistan that they cannot leave even if they wanted. But the sad part is, they seem to be utterly ineffectual even if they stayed. It’s no wonder that Mr. Obama is searching for a way out of this never-ending muddle he is in.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Nandkumar Patel's Escape: Maoist Attack in Chhattisgargh.


India's Maoists targeted a convoy of the leader of the Congress Party in Chhattisgargh, Nandkumar Patel on July 20, 2011. They blew up a bridge in the Gariyabandh area, just after the convoy passed, but damaged some vehicles following it. Then the rebels fired at the vehicles. Four people were reported dead and five were injured in the attack.

The attacks by Maoists, commonly known as the 'Naxalites' are growing in number. The term Naxalite has been broken from the village Naxalbari in West Bengal, where a peasant uprising erupted in 1967. Initially, the Naxalites were composed of a militant faction of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-CPI(M). In 1969, they formed the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist)-CPI(ML).

Naxalite groups grew in many parts of the country, especially along the Western parts of India. Marginalized tribal groups are the main supporters of these groups. The various groups did not have a unified command. This changed when two of the main Maoist groups, People's War Group of Andhra Pradesh and the Maoist Communist Center of Bihar joined in 2004 to form the Communist Party of India (Maoist). Since then, CPI(Maoist) has become the vanguard of the 'Naxalite' movement, and Naxalites have grown in to such proportions that they have influence in more than 45% of India's land mass. They have created a 'red corridor' from West Bengal to Andhra. No wonder India considers the Naxalites to be the greatest internal threat she faces!

Photo: The "Red Corridor"-Wikimedia Commons

At Last, Something Japan could Cheer about: FIFA Womens World Cup 2011

The Japanese people have something to cheer about for the first time after the March 2011 disaster at Sendai and Fukushima. The Japanese women's team recently became world champions in football after defeating the United States in a penalty shootout. Thus, Japan became the first country in Asia to win a FIFA Women's world cup.

The 2011 Women's world cup was held in 9 venues across Germany. Sixteen nations took part in the event, which culminated at the final at Frankfurt on July 17.

Japan played in the Group B at the preliminary round and won 2 of their three games, going down 2-0 against the English. In the knockout stages, they pulled some fine wins as they progressed. In the quarterfinal, the Asian ladies defeated the host country, Germany, ranked second in the world, courtesy of a goal by Karina Maruyama at extra time. In the semi final, they easily beat Sweden by 3-1.

Nearly 49,000 spectators witnessed the Japanese taking on the formidable U.S.A. team at Commerzbank-Arena in Frankfurt. It was an encounter where fortunes fluctuated between the teams. Morgan's goal in the 69th minute brought the U.S. up by 1-0. But, just 9 minutes prior to the finish, Aya Miyama sent the ball past the best goalkeeper of the tournament, Hope Solo. The game went to extra time.

It was the same story once again. Abby Wambach brought the U.S. back to the top but just three minutes before the close of the extra time, Japanese captain Homare Sawa scored her fifth goal of the tournament. This gave her the golden boot for the highest number of goals scored and her team went on to win in the penalty shootout.

The penalty shootout was where the luck went drastically away from the U.S. team. Hope Solo was helpless and Ayumi Kaihori was brilliant in their respective goals. Americans missed their first three penalties and were finally defeated 3-1 in the shootout.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Unrest in Chile


When one go higher up, he is always liable to fall very rapidly. The President of Chile, Sebastian Piñera is now experiencing such a plunge.

He is almost totally to be blamed for his own plight. When he won the presidential election narrowly, it was taken as a rare incident where the left wing of Latin American country suffered an electoral defeat in recent years. Later, when 33 miners were miraculously rescued, his popularity rose to more than 60%, an all time high up to date. But, his popularity has now reached its lowest ever to date, dangerously approaching the 30% mark.
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The main reasons for this fall of grace is the proposed HidroAysén electricity scheme, by which five dams are to be constructed across two rivers, two on Baker river and three on Pascua river, in the pristine wilderness of Patagonia. This will flood 5,900 hectares of nature reserve. The government gave approval for the project in May 2011 but thereafter has been challenged by massive protests against the scheme.

The president is not a consensus builder like his predecessor, the popular Michelle Bachelet. He was known as a business tycoon before coming to politics and is known for the centralized decision making and his ministers have little power. In such an administration, the leader gets all the credit when everything goes right. But when it goes wrong, he must bear the blame also.

This is what is happening to Piñera today. The president is accused by some for being too close to the company which is engaged in the scheme. Even though the environmental impact is the major concern of the protestors, it is not the only case. The monopolistic power exerted by the energy companies has also been a cause of debate.

Along with this, the ongoing student protests are also a concern for Chile. This is to demand the end of the schools voucher system and to establish a proper public education system. The president's offers have not been able to mollify the students and the crisis continues with no agreement forthcoming.

With things standing as such, politics in Chile is turbulent to say the least.

Photo: River Baker

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Thai People go to Polls

The Thai people have started voting in a landmark election. Of course, in a country which has seen coups and protests as much as and even more than elections, almost every election is a landmark election.

Thailand is, to say the least, a divided country. It is divided over the elites and the poor, the cities and the countryside, the North and the South and even on religious grounds. In mainstream politics, it is divided between the 'two shirts', yellow and red.

The central figure of this division is Thakshin Shinawatra, Businessman, two time elected former Prime Minister and fugitive from Thai justice. In the eyes of the elites he has done the unforgivable, that is the political mobilization and empowerment of the rural poor, mainly from the backward North. naturally, this has turned him into a 'demi-god' like figure in the North.

His original Thai Rak Thai Party and its successor the PPP were both dissolved over allegations of fraud. Now, a re-incarnation of the party in the name of Pheu Thai (For Thai) is back in contest, with Thakshin's youngest sister, albeit a political novice, Yinglick Shinawatra, as the leading figure. They are expected to defeat the Democrats led by incumbent Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

The Pheu Thai intends to grant amnesty to exiled fugitives, a move naturally geared towards bringing Thakshin back to Thailand. Whether the elite, and especially the Army, would stay doing nothing at such a move is contentious. The Army would feel powerless if the Pheu Thai win a sizable majority.

Whatever is the outcome, Thailand would be a divided nation for years to come.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Royal Wedding of Monaco



Photo: Monaco by Salvatore.Freni

Monaco is the world's most densely populated country with the highest life expectancy and the highest per capita GDP. Its size is a mere 2.05 square kilometers and hence is the second smallest sovereign state in the world. From 1297, Monaco has been by the House of Grimaldi and the current ruler is Prince Albert II.

And he was a bachelor until July 1, 2011.

On that day, the prince married Charlene Wittstock, a Zimbabwean born South African. She was a former Olympian swimmer. The prince also has represented Monaco at the Olympics.

Around 3,500 guests, including royalty, celebrities and sports personnel have been invited for 'the greatest party in Monaco' in 55 years, after Prince Albert II's father, Rainier III married in 1956. These guests include the crown prince of Bahrain and the king of Swaziland, a fact largely ignored by many, unlike the case when they were invited for the Royal Wedding of UK last April. Invitees also include many former royalty, including the Empress of Iran.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Bradby Shield


The premier event in Sri Lanka's schools rugby, the Bradby encounter is an annual event between Royal College, Colombo and Trinity College, Kandy. The encounter consists of two matches played in Colombo and Kandy to determine the winner on aggregate. The matches are played on two Saturday afternoons in three weeks. The schools usually engage in another match of the rugby season with a different school on the Saturday in-between.

The encounter was earlier held in August-September. But recently, the Bradby encounter has been advanced to May-June.

History

Royal College, Colombo and Trinity College, Kandy were the pioneers in schools rugby in Sri Lanka. The first Royal-Trinity rugby match was held in 1920. In 1945, the then Royal principal, Mr. E.L. Bradby proposed to have an annual encounter with two legs. He donated a shield for the purpose, which was, naturally, named after him. From that year onwards, the Bradby Shield encounter has been held very successfully as an annual event. The school which wins the shield in a particular year are presented it at a ceremony held just after the second leg and they get to keep it until the next Bradby.

In early years, Trinity College has been more successful in the Bradby encounter. But in the last few decades, the Royalists have turned the tide to their direction. The culmination of this was the 2002 Bradby which they won by a mammoth aggregate of 83-0.

The Venues

The venue of the Colombo leg was used to be the Sugathadasa Stadium for a number of years. But with the completion of the Royal College Sports Complex, it became the venue. The Bogambara Stadium at Kandy is the usual venue for the Kandy leg.

The two legs alternate between the venues every year. So, if the first leg is held in Colombo this year, the next year it will be at Kandy.

The Bradby Express

From the 1950s, it was the tradition for the Royalists to travel to Kandy in an intercity train packed with old boys and students for the Bradby match held there. Hence it was named-what else?-"The Bradby Express." The bradby Express had to be stopped in 1980s due to the security situation in the country. But with the civil war over, the Bradby express made a resurrection in 2010. A special train was booked for the teachers, old boys and students to travel to Kandy and return. Papare bands entertained the Bradby 'pilgrims'. It was continued in 2011 also.


Picture: Royal College wins Bradby 2010 by Chamara Sumanapala

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Egyptian Former Finance Minister Sentenced to Three Decades

In 1961, during his inauguration speech, late president JFK uttered a sentence, by which the whole speech is known today. "Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country."

For a number of years, the finance minister of Egypt forgot this lesson. His leader was Hosni Mubarak, who seemed to be the life time president of Egypt. The nephew of former Secretary General of the UN, Yousef Boutros-Ghali was a confidant of Gamal Mubarak, the son and possible successor of the aging Hosni. He may have had grounds to forget JFK's advise because he lived in a virtual dictatorship where you can enjoy almost any benefit if you are a henchman of the leader.

However, just an eighteen-day revolution was enough to change it all. Yousef Boutros-Ghali fled the country. In early June, 2011, he was sentenced in absentia for three decades for squandering public funds and abusing his authority.

When you do not ask what you can do for your country and ask only what the country can do for you, a day will arrive when you will understand what the country can do to you. But by then, at least for some, it may be too late.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The 2600th 'Buddha Jayanthi'


Today, May 17, 2011, is the Vesak full moon (poya) day. For Buddhists, all full moon days are important but Vesak is the most important day. It marks the commemoration of the birth, enlightenment and the parinirvana of the Lord Buddha. Vesak was recognized as an international holiday by the United Nations a few years back, partly due to the work of the then Sri Lankan foreign minister, late Mr. Lakshman Kadiragamar, a Tamil.

The Vesak festival of 2011 is more important as according to the Buddhist history, it marks 2600 years since the enlightenment of Lord Buddha.

At this juncture, 'Buddhism' plays an important role in man's quest for the truth. Many of man's problems were overshadowed by the bi-polar system and the Cold War until 1989, when Communism and Capitalism confronted face-to-face. After 1989, many thought that everything would be fine and were totally dismayed when it did not turn out to be so. Terrorism, religious fundamentalism and other extreme 'isms', along with the impact on the environment, increasing poverty and other social effects have made man rethink about the civilization he has developed so far.

When this happens, man turns back to religion.

Is Buddhism a religion? Or is it an ideology, just like the other numerous 'isms'? If so, what is the importance of 'Buddhism' in seeking the truth.

Lord Buddha was born in an age where man was seeking the truth. There are a number of religious sects said to have been active in the contemporary world of Lord Buddha. What He taught was fundamentally different from other religious sects. Even today, this fundamental difference is evident. Therefore 'Buddhism' is neither a religion, nor an ideology. There is no other teaching compared to Lord Buddha's teachings.

All other religions and ideologies do not offer the path to freedom from the cycle of birth and death, the cycle of sansaara. They are concerned with improving the worldly lives. All politics and religions are more or less following this general objective of making the world a better place according to their believes. Lord Buddha's teachings tell us the 'way of the world' and the path to freedom from the way of the world, the ultimate bliss called 'nirvana'.

The 2600th Buddha Jayanthi is a very good time to rethink about what Lord Buddha taught and make our path to freedom.

May all creatures attain the supreme bliss of Nirvana!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Death of Osama bin Laden

Obama has declared that Osama is dead.

The manner in which the U.S. authorities have made it public has raised some doubts over the credibility of the news. The U.S. could have done better. But, it really does not matter because bin Laden was politically dead long before he died physically.

The political death of a public figure may or may not coincide with their physical death. People like Che Guevara became more powerful in their deaths than their lives. However, for bin Laden, it was not the case.

Bin Laden was effectively a fugitive for more than a decade. He could find refuge only in Afghanistan, a country he knew like the palm of his hand. But now he was living under the patronage of the Taliban. After 9/11, he had to leave his safe haven and with him fell the Taliban regime. Some leaders of the Talibans never forgave bin Laden and his Arabian cadres for their own demise. The fact that the Talibans have risen back does not change much, as everyone can clearly see that it was the U.S. policies in Afghanistan and Pakistan which made it possible.

It does not mean that bin Laden was an empty figure totally. He had a number of supporters and he still does. His movement, although very much weakened after 9/11, is still active. Once again, it was the U.S. which indirectly helped its resurgence. Before 2003, Iraq did not have Al-Qaeda. After Saddam was toppled, the Al-Qaeda, among others moved in and it was only with great effort and at a great cost that they were suppressed in that country. Al-Qaeda, which was routed in Afghanistan, was given a chance to comeback courtesy of the Americans in Iraq. Also, since the Americans had not finished the Taliban in Afghanistan, the violence there continue. Bin Laden would have been isolated if the Americans had done the right thing at the right time.

Despite these debacles, the U.S. "War on Terror" decimated some Al-Qaeda affiliated organizations and weakened others. Bin Laden himself had to live as a fugitive for so many years. He was nearly a dead man politically.

And the last nail of his political coffin was struck in late December, 2010, in a small country called Tunisia.

Bin Laden had advocated for the removal of pro-Western Arabian despots for years, a feat which his feared Al-Qaeda never even came close to achieve. But, in just a few weeks, two of the strongest despots in Tunisia and Egypt were removed by popular power. What Osama could not do in 20 years was done by the Arabian people in less than 20 days in Egypt. Meanwhile, another despot, in Yemen, is fighting a losing battle to hold on to power. The Arab spring has effectively killed Osama bin Laden politically.

However, it is not the end of the story. What is happening in certain places around the Earth is disturbing to say the least. Al-Qaeda affiliated rebels are said to be a main constituent group of the rebel forces of Libya. Overtly anti-Islamic moves in several Western countries are adding to the troubles.

Osama bin Laden can be resurrected politically and its is the Western powers, more than anyone else, who can determine if they are going to do it or not.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

First Buddhist Monk at a UK Royal Wedding

A Sri Lankan Buddhist monk, Venerable Bogoda Seelawimala Nayaka Thera, is the first ever Buddhist monk to be invited for a royal wedding in UK, and may be in the whole of Europe, ever.

Hailing from the Malwatta Chapter of the Siyam Nikaya in Sri Lanka, Venerable Seelawimala Nayaka Thera is the Director of the London Buddhist Vihara, which has a history of 85 years. Anagarika Dharmapala started the Vihara in 1926.

Chernobyl and Fukushima: Hiding the Truth

Twenty five years ago, Chernobyl, a small town on the edge of the Soviet Republic of Ukraine, became world famous due to a nuclear disaster. It was something the authorities of the secretive regime tried, in vain and totally unrealistically, to hide from the world.

The Utopian Marxist state, the Soviet Union, did not have room for criticism. The Soviet system was the correct system. Capitalism was degrading, despite the fact that the Soviet bloc was facing food and other consumer goods shortages. In such a system, 'accidents', especially of this magnitude can never happen.

Yes, it was true. Accidents of this magnitude may never happen. It happened partly due to negligence. But, in a socialist society, negligence could never happen.

Therefore, the Soviets wanted to hide the big accident from the world. In a world where satellites keep an eye on what happens all over the world, it was never easy. Also, they might have thought that the Geiger counters in the capitalist world were 'degraded' and therefore not working, which was not the case.

Chernobyl once more shattered the utopia of the Soviet system. It made the new and comparatively young General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) think back. Incidentally, Gorbachev himself was reportedly not informed of the magnitude of the whole catastrophe.

Chernobyl was a no confidence motion on the secretive society a few maintained for their betterment. Such a regime could not survive, and it did not.

That was 25 years ago.

Now is the time to turn to the capitalist world. Another disaster, at Fukushima, occurred just over 45 days ago. One should expect the democratic societies to be more open on the matter. Not so it seems.

The Japanese were extremely reluctant to declare the real magnitude of the disaster, which, to their credit, did not happen through negligence. Nature was playing havoc on Japan, but it does not give the Japanese authorities the prerogative of hiding the truth from the world. However, Japan is much more open than the USSR 25 years ago and there was pressure from outside for the Japanese to open up. The IAEA president, himself a Japanese, had to urge the Japanese to be more open.

The Soviet Union had to own up when it was obvious to the outside world that a disaster had occurred. It is more or less the same in the case of the Japanese.

One can wonder, if capitalism and the Soviet style of socialism are the two sides of the same coin! According to George Orwell's The Animal Farm, it is.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa Refuses Invitation to Royal Wedding

Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa has refused an invitation to the royal wedding to be held on April 29, 2011, at Westminster Abbey, amidst widespread criticism. Many human rights organizations and activists had voiced the displeasure at the invitation to a key member of the royal family which crushed the pro-democratic protests in the small island state in a very high handed manner albeit with the help of foreign troops.

This was seen as a case of double standards as the British were extending an invitation to a member of a royal family accused of gross human rights violations while fighting to uphold the same human rights of the Libyans.

The British view was that all royal families were to be invited without discrimination and being an ally, the al-Khalifa clan could never be dropped. But the invitation should have been an embarrassment to the Crown itself. The British may have asked the prince not to attend due to the precarious situation they were in.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Mr Bean will be at the Royal Wedding!



Picture: Rowan Atkinson at the Premier of His New Film,(2007),Jack Pearce

Mr. Bean, the fellow who once knocked down the queen when bowing to her has been effectively given a royal pardon at the behest of the new royal couple to be, William and Kate.

Rowan Atkinson, who plays the role of Mr. Bean from 1990, is one of the celebrities who are invited to the wedding at Westminster Abbey on April 29, 2011. Others include Sir Elton John of the 'Candle in the Wind' fame, Guy Richie and the Beckham couple, David and Victoria.

As the wedding is not a formal state event, elected heads of state will be conspicuously absent while royal houses have been invited. The expected attendance of the crown prince of Bahrain has raised some eyebrows. The royal families have not been discriminated in being invited, despite the current political issues. However, the main invitees are family and friends of the royal couple and numerous charities such as 'Help for Heroes'.

Rowan Atkinson's attendance is justified despite him knocking down the queen once. It was he who blundered his way to prevent the queen from abdicating by uncovering the plot of a Frenchman, Pascal Sauvage, to steal the crown jewels, in the film Johnny English.

May be the royal couple is also seeking the protection of special agent Johnny English!

Arabia on the Move

The rebellion in Libya has overshadowed the uprisings in a number of other Arab countries. The latest protests and crackdown has been seen in Syria, where a anti-Western regime is trying to hold on to power. However, the Arab revolts are neither anti nor pro Western. They are all pro-freedom.

When a fruit seller's protest grew in to a mammoth peoples' uprising in Tunisia, some Western nations, especially France attempted to prop up the falling despot, Ben Ali. The West may have suspected that the fall of one despot may trigger a domino effect in Arabia. Whether they anticipated it or not, they could not keep Ben Ali in power and could not stop the people from rising up against other dictators.

Egypt, a key to Arabia and home to a widely unpopular darling of the West was next to overthrow her dictator. The protests did not stop at ousting Mubarak. He was later detained, his party dissolved and investigations have started on the 'shady deals' of Mubarak era. Mubarak has been held responsible for the deaths of hundreds of protesters during the last days of his reign. In a recent move, Egypt's prosecutor ordered the country's ex-energy ministers detained for questioning over a controversial gas deal with Israel under the rule of ousted President Mubarak.

In Yemen, a staunch ally of the West, Ali Abdullah Saleh, has agreed to step down within 30 days after the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) came to an agreement with him to end the ongoing popular revolt. His allies have deserted him, some of them forming a new anti-Saleh faction, the Justice and Development Bloc.

Meanwhile the GCC is embattled in Bahrain, where they have helped the Al-Khalifa clan to cling on to power by sending in troops. The Al-Saud family has led the way in protecting a fellow Sunni monarch, may be in fear of unrest in their own realm, Saudi Arabia. While the regime in the small island state has secured power, in doing so, it has self inflicted a crushing blow on its legitimacy.

Events in Syria are also moving to a head-on collision. Intense crackdown has been reported. Syria was one of the last places to see a significant protest movement emerging. This has led to speculations whether an outside power was behind in instigating the protests.

In other countries throughout Arabia, things are more or less calm. Leaders all over Arabia were forced to enact political reforms. In some places, such as Yemen, Syria and even in Egypt, the future remains uncertain. In Libya, full scale war remains the order of the day.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

OPEC turns 50

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting countries (OPEC) turned 50 on April 19, 2011. The anniversary ceremony was held in Tehran concurrent with the 16th International Oil, Gas, Refining, and Petrochemical Exhibition.

OPEC was born in 1961 at Baghdad with the participation of five countries: Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. The organization's current members are Algeria, Angola, Ecuador, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela. These 12 members account for 40% of the world's oil production and has 80% of the proven oil reserves.

The establishment of OPEC was the first step of a process which transferred the controlling power of oil production from multinational oil companies to the producing states. Earlier, the companies earned the bulk of the profit from oil. But, oil was gradually nationalized in many Arab and other nations and the countries themselves began to prosper. This became an important factor after 1973 when the Arabs initiated an oil embargo following the Arab-Israeli conflict. It was after 1973 that the Arab nations amassed a huge wealth from oil.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Now its a Small State in Africa


An absolute monarch in his early 40s, who has 13 wives, an unknown wealth estimated at 100 million US dollars and absolute power over 1.2 million of his people. An enviable person indeed.... This is the last of the absolute monarchs in Sub-Saharan Africa, and one of the wealthiest monarchs in the world, despite the fact that his country is one of the poorest.

Introducing.... Mswati III of Swaziland.

Now, police has dispersed protests challenging Mswati III's absolute rule. This is 38 years after the former king and father of the current monarch Sobuza II banned political parties. Reportedly, labour unions organized this protest also with the help of an on-line campaign.

COSATU, the largest trade union in South Africa has stated that seven labor leaders have been arrested. There were reports of several arrests preceding the planned protests.

It is interesting to see that while the "Arab Spring" is becoming more a "scorched summer" with crackdowns, foreign troops, civil wars and air attacks, spring is moving on to new pastures. The "Spring" should not be an essentially "Arab" one. It should be a "Global" one. Otherwise, one may ask, what is the purpose of the so-called "globalization?"

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Demonstrations Organized through Facebook to Demand the Former SL Cricket Captain's Return


Facebook protests have reached Sri Lanka now. On the afternoon of Saturday, 9 of April 2011 (today), a protest organized through the social media network facebook is going to be held at Independence Square at Colombo to demand the return of the country's cricket captain Kumar Sangakkara, who resigned after the recently concluded Cricket World Cup 2011.

Whether the protest, first of its kind in Sri Lanka, turns out to be successful or not can be assessed only after the event. There are a number of speculations as to what the real motive was behind the resignation of the captain of the team which emerged runners up at the World Cup. The explanations given by Sangakkara, or any other authority for that matter, has not been able to silence various rumors. Sangakkara still enjoys wide support among the cricket fans of the country. This is the basis on which the demonstration is held.

The protest has been criticized by some on the ground that there are more pressing issues to protest about facing the country and its people today. However, others tend to think that Sangakkara's resignation is also part of the problem, as they believe that it was a politically motivated decision. Meanwhile a substantial number of the people seem to be quite indifferent on the issue.

However, one important fact to note is that while there are many who argue that 'there are many more pressing issues', no one has been able to organize a protest of this kind. These critics are revealing the incompetence of the themselves while criticizing the organizers of the event.

Personally, this author is not a huge cricket fan. But his opinion is that for the betterment of a sports team, a successful captain must never resign suddenly. If he had already decided to resign after the World Cup, he should have made that clear beforehand, rather than wait till the Sri Lankans lost the final.

The image shows the singing of national anthems before the start of the Quater Final between Sri Lanka and England at R. Premadasa Stadium, Colombo on March 26, 2011. Picture by Ravindu Dissanayake.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Libya and Bahrain: Different Responses of the International Community

The UN Security Council have decided to implement severe measures on Gaddafi's Libya, including a No-Fly Zone (NFZ) which amounts to military intervention on air. As a direct result, the foreign minister of Libya announced an immediate ceasefire although fighting is still reportedly going on.

The move by the UN comes after a period of inaction by the international community. Gaddafi's forces were closing on Benghazi, the rebel stronghold. The ceasefire, if implemented, will be advantageous for the rebel forces.

Several countries of the NATO including France, UK and USA expressed their willingness to contribute to the enforcement of the NFZ over Libya, which is no simple task.

On the contrary, another country which is waging a war against their own people, Bahrain, has attracted only limited condemnation from the international community. Saudi troops and UAE police has invaded the small island to protect the ruling al-Khalifa clan. After another severe military crackdown, the statue at the pearl roundabout has been demolished by the government forces.

In a strong rebuff to the foreign troops who have entered Bahrain in the guise of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Sheikh Issa Qassim, Bahrain's most influential Shia cleric, said during Friday sermon that Gulf troops would have been better off helping Palestinians in Gaza than entering Bahrain.

In another move, the Bahrain government and their allies in the region and in the West are trying to paint a sectarian picture to the whole uprising, stating its a Shia affair against a Sunni regime. While many leaders of opposition are Shia, there are many Sunni opposition figures also in the battle for democracy. Also, its not a surprise even if the majority of the opposition is Shia as more than 60% of Bahrainis are Shia Muslims. However, the uprising is not a sectarian issue and many are not actually trying to oust the king. They were initially asking for a Constitutional Monarchy and only after the crackdown in February did the calls for a republic became strong. But still it is a minority who voice their support for a republic.

With all this happening, the so called international community is turning a blind eye towards Bahrain while preparing to patrol the large air space over Libya.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Stand by Japan!!!

The director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Yukiya Amano, who is incidentally a Japanese himself, has stated that the international community stands by Japan in her troubles. He also stated that the situation is very serious at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Also he has urged the leaders of Japan to disclose more information on the crisis.

The danger level of the accident has been raised to 5 from 4, in a scale of 0 to 7. The nuclear accident has made traveling on the highway from Tokyo to the North East Japan unsafe. This has contributed to the slow rate of relief work in the NE Japan where the people are waging an immense struggle to survive. Their homes have been destroyed. Food and other commodities are scarce. Near freezing temperatures are making it even harder to live.

Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa signed the condolence book at the Japanese Embassy at Colombo and met with the Japanese Ambassador for Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka has promised to help the Japanese people in their distress.

Elections for Local Governmental Bodies in Sri Lanka


Elections for 234 local governmental bodies was held yesterday, March 17, 2011. It was, once more, a landslide victory for the ruling United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) which won in 205 LG bodies. The election was held throughout the island except in Municipal Councils and in LG bodies where there are pending court cases regarding the nominations.

The election saw two important developments with respect to the main opposition parties, the United National Party (UNP) and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna-People's Liberation Front-(JVP). The former, which has been not internally 'united' has seen a small swing of votes towards it compared to the last general election. The latter, which was at its peak of popularity at last LG elections a few years ago, has suffered a total reversal of fortune. Whatever they may say, the fact that they have been rebuffed severely is an undeniable fact. They lost at Thissamaharama Pradeshiya Sabha, the sole LG body under their control for nearly a decade.

As usual, the UPFA rode home largely due to the rural support base. If the elections were held in the larger cities simultaneously, the UNP share of votes would have increased.

Also, the election was a significant development in the return of local civil administration in the Northern Province. Elections were held in the majority of LG bodies in Mannar, Mullaitivu and Vavuniya districts.