ahmpg.jpg (4341 bytes) News Opinion Features Business Sports

The European Union Declaration on Sri Lanka

By K. Godage
The Council of the Foreign Ministers has issued the following Declaration —This is the second in recent weeks. I shall confine myself to a comment on this second Declaration.

This is about the most shockingly bad ‘Declaration’ that has ever come out of the European Union, which has issued no less than statements on the conflict in Sri Lanka. It is unbelievable in tits naivetŽ and worse is that it is also condescending and patronizing in the extreme.

Take the first indent for instance—-Whilst we appreciate their "deep concern", it does seem quite patronizing. Who could be more concerned than us, about the impact of the war on this country. The war has not been of our making, the LTTE has reneged and stabbed us in the back every time we sought to end it through a cease-fire and negotiations. What may I ask have they done to close the tap on the LTTE. Prof Peter Chalk of the University of Brisbane recently wrote "Curbing the LTTE’s transnational network will require concerted international collaboration. LTTE’s operations are global, they necessarily require a global response.

By permitting the LTTE to open offices and establish representation Western countries have unwittingly blessed the group’s political and military agendathe generally unrestrained liberal democratic freedom that the LTTE has been allowed to enjoy in these states has enabled the group to slowly buildand develop a complex, multi layered and truly integrated global support structure which has become increasingly difficult to detect and root out."

What has the EU countries done, but to give the Fascist LTTE succour and permit them to operate out of their countries? Only recently have they begun to consider making it a criminal offence to conspire (or do any thing in pursuance of it) to commit any act to destabilize a foreign country from within their countries . The West has not been serious in helping this democratic country to counter the insurgency.

The West has no economic interests of any value after the Socialists nationalized every foreign undertaking in this country-so why should they care. Would Britain have permitted India to destabilize this country in the early eighties had the Tea Plantations been owned by British interests? No way.-

The second indent refers to ‘Both parties" they are equating a democratically elected government with a Fascist terrorist group which is seeking to dismember the country and which, by their own admissions (shall cite those instances anon) has committed horrendous atrocities. Where is the commitment to safeguarding Democratic values and Human Rights that they have enshrined as Article 1 of the Cooperation Agreement between the EU and Sri Lanka ? Further, Instead of asking the legally instituted government which is fighting an insurgency to cease hostilities, the EU should have asked the insurgents to stop making war against the state. What may I ask is the position of Turkey which has associated itself with this statement? -Are they prepared to cease hostilities against the PKK? let us not have double standards.

Governments in Colombo have twice been tricked into cease-fires and negotiations by the LTTE-which had merely wanted to buy time to regroup and attack as subsequent events have proved. Dr. Stanley Kalpage and I were repeatedly warned by no less a person than Rajiv Gandhi himself, when the LTTE was negotiating with the Premadasa administration, that the LTTE was not serious and were only buying time—-Premadasa never listened.

It is the LTTE that has consistently sought to win their separate state through the barrel of a gun—-governments have wanted a "peaceful resolution’ of the dispute but have been compelled to counter the LTTE militarily.

Indent three: we once again see the same offensive situation, where no distinction is drawn between the elected democratic government’ and the fascist secessionists.

Indent four: I find nothing objectionable.

Indent five is absolutely preposterous."The EU regrets the restrictions on civil liberties." I am certain that every responsible citizen understands why they became necessary. I hold no brief for the government but as a citizen I am indeed fearful of a total breakdown of law and order as has happened many time in our recent history. Does the Council of Minister know of the explosive situation that obtains in this country and the reasons that have compelled the government to restrict civil liberties in the interest of public security? What an unbelievably irresponsible statement.

Let us pause to record what our Supreme Court had to say on this matter. The SC in its judgement stated " Having regard to all circumstances I (Justice Amerasinghe (with the other two brother judges concurring) am of the view that the restrictions imposed were not disproportionate of the legitimate aim of the regulation, namely the furtherance of the interests of national security within the meaning of Article 15(7) of the Constitution and that a fair balance between competing interests has been struck".

Whilst a censorship on military (bad) news may be justifiable in the circumstances, the blanket censorship is moronic. As for the restrictions on civil liberties, is it that the EU is stating that it fears the abuse of these powers and / or are they stating that repression already exists? They are iof course entitled to their perceptions however unfortunate.

As for the ‘Declarations’, I, more than most others in this country-(and that includes the Diplomatic corps here), am aware of how these statements or ‘Declarations’ are ‘processed’. I was there when the Office of European Political Cooperation was first established and worked closely on occasions with its first Director Ambassador Januzzi. I am fully aware of how the so called "Experts group’ functions-I believe it is today referred to as the CCASI. The reports sent by Embassies/High Comm to their respective Foreign Offices are the sent to their Permanent Representations in Brussels—-and the men or women ‘Desk Officers’ at the Perm Representations to the EU, meet and work on a draft prepared by the country holding the Presidency at that point of time. The statement goes back into the ‘system’ and is circulated among the Foreign Ministries and comes back for final formulation, to the meeting of the experts and then the statement goes to the Council of Ministers.

The present Demarche-throws light on an important fact——what is contained therein is the common view of the Embassies of EU countries represented in Colombo. They are of course wholly entitled to their views but it does show that there is a serious breakdown in communications between our Foreign Ministry and the ‘Political officers’ of these Embassies in Colombo. They seem surely to be influenced by the opponents of the government and the government is losing by default. Perhaps the Minister having been out of the country, and the three able DGs being in charge of ‘other work’—-this situation may have resulted in the Political Officers or the Heads of Missions not being able to have meaningful consultations with Ministry officials. "There is no one willing to talk to me" was a complaint once made to me by the Ambassador of an important country. There are two senior Ambassadors attached to the Ministry, whose tours were prematurely terminated merely because they reached 60(their replacement from outside the service had also retired from Service-the SLAS-on reaching 60!—brilliant); they could be designated to meet the Ambassador’s stationed here and Ambassadors visiting from Delhi for regular briefings.

WHAT I FIND MOST OFFENSIVE ABOUT THIS PARTICULAR DECLARATION IS THAT THERE IS NO CONDEMNATION OF THE LTTE. WHAT PRAY DOES THAT MEAN? ON WHOSE SIDE ARE THEY?

The Council of the European Communities issued its first statement on the situation in Sri Lanka on 25th February 1986. Since then they have issued over ten ‘Declarations’ The Declaration issued after the Indian violation of our airspace in 1987 was most revealing. The countries of the European Community, with their eyes on big business deals with India, did not condemn India’s violation of our sovereignty nor the use of force, The EC Council of Ministers merely called upon "all parties to resolve problems through discussions". They did not have the guts to take on India. This became most evident when the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, scrupulously avoided making any statements on the situation in Sri Lanka, after the Indians came on the scene and the Accord was signed. After October of 1987, when hostilities commenced between the IPKF and the LTTE, pro LTTE organizations worked extremely hard to get the Parliament or the Council of Ministers to condemn what they claimed were IPKF atrocities but they were unsuccessful. The Community knew on which side the bread was buttered.

It may be useful for the Minister of Foreign Affairs to address these Ambassadors and find out what their problem is and where they stand in this conflict. We need to take the EU seriously. This government has neglected the EU-we transferred our able Ambassador back without a replacement and the position of Head of Mission to this important station has been vacant for almost eight months now. What is this message we send out? How do we expect them to take us seriously?- The EU is the world’s largest trading block. It our most important trading partner and the EU is in partnership with us —-assisting us in many of our development projects. The European Commission is represented here and I can state without fear of contradiction that I take great pride in having conducted single handedly a ‘war’ with the Commission of the EU, to have them establish this office here.

Our policies seem strange to me. We have for a wholly unbelievable reason established a Mission in Poland! What in God’s name have we to do with that country?-We are not represented in Southern Europe——our relationship with Portugal is 495 years old-we do not have a Mission there but we establish a Mission in Poland!

To another related matter, I have been given to understand that there would be a Resolution coming up before the European Parliament. There is much excitement here in certain circles about it——despite the fact the European Parliament is at long last emerging as a player on the European scene—-we need not loose much sleep over this ‘Resolution’. This Parliament, though it is a directly elected Parliament it has very limited powers.

The Resolution relating to the situation bn Sri Lanka would come up under the Agenda Item ‘Urgencies’ (about an hour and half of Parliamentary time is allotted at each Session-Parliament meets once a month for one week in Strasbourgh)-a large number of resolutions relating to Human Rights, international affairs. major incidents and catastrophes including natural disasters -would be taken up. The resolution on the situation in Sri Lanka may get all of five minutes-they are not binding on the Commission or the Council of Ministers. They help create public opinion and the LTTE will definitely use any resolution against Sri Lanka for its propaganda purposes. Once again we loose by default-we do not have an Ambassador in Brussels who could either have headed it off or had it amended favourably.

The European Parliament has passed no less than twelve Resolutions on the situation in Sri Lanka over the years, some condemning in unequivocal terms the horrific massacres of the LTTE. Their interest originally stemmed from the increasing number of so called refugees from this country. Human Rights violations by the security forces were also focussed upon. The impact of these Resolutions has been as great as that of a bird chirruping during a thunderstorm. The European Parliament is essentially a ‘talking shop’ where everybody, including the ‘functionairs’ have a jolly good time at the expense of the European taxpayer.

As for the Demarche itself and its implications-what may I ask is the role the EU wishes to play in the settlement of this conflict?


Sri Lanka - God abandoned?

Major Siddharth Chatterjee
(Retd), Sena Medal Ex 10 Para Commando, as part of the IPKF

An ancient Chinese aphorism appropriates the embattled time in Sri Lanka, producing images conflicting and contradictory. The Yin and the Yang, the passive and active principles that govern the universe, opposites yet as entwined as Siamese twins. Both elements- the positive and the negative conspired to drag the events in opposing directions, but at a heavy cost to a beleaguered nation. The positive being the gallant stand of the Sri Lankan Army against all odds and the negative being that God and India have both chosen to abandon them. "Rajiv Gandhi proposed a toast to South Asian History with the political champagne of Sri Lanka". He wanted to get the Sri Lanka accord implemented and therefore sent in the IPKF as cannon fodder to represent Mr. Gandhi’s desire to be elevated to the pedestal as a world leader of a regional super power.

The Indian Army returned humiliated and suffered further battering to their self esteem at the hands of the Tamil politicians of India. This they accepted with quiet and dignified fortitude. As a young officer I began to question our long held myths about our indomitably and resilience, as well as our political morality. We returned home to an uncaring nation, with nearly 1300 dead and over 3000 wounded, and we returned great respect for the skills of the combat troops of Sri Lanka, an army of limited man power and resources . We as officers of our Armies have talked and drank at bars together, telling stories one last time; the stories of the officers mess, of our training in Indian military institutions, of the jungles of Vavunia and Mullaitivu and the urban landscape of Jaffna, of the raids and our respective operations, the ordeals and pleasures of careers spent together in that special fraternity of the uniform and shared danger.

I wish to remind my country men that many a time at our hour of need during precarious combat situations between the IPKF and the LTTE the Sri Lankan Air Force and the Artillery came immediately and robustly to our assistance and helping to dramatically reverse potentially disastrous situations, as well as prompt responses to assist in evacuation of our casualties from the combat zone, whenever requested .

The Sri Lankan Army deserves all our respect, gratitude and admiration. These are men who have proved worthy of their calling, and I pray that their fortunes reverse and they are able to inflict on the Tamil Terrorists(not Tigers, as tigers have honour too), a final decisive blow, that puts the LTTE in the dust bin of history. It is a period that calls for strong nerves, single-mindedness (of purpose) and intuitive convictions that success can still be yours after these reverses. They are men of sterling character, and I hope they overcome and demolish the LTTE, this organization of pathological tyrants and killers.

India, has today abandoned Sri Lanka, for which there will be a price to pay, the poetic hand of justice spares none. "Do not forget the secessionist politicians of Tamil Nadu". A careful analysis of the history of the problems of this beautiful country can be traced back also to the Machiavellian plots hatched against this island nation, by Mrs Indira Gandhi and her Tamil allies in Tamil Nadu.

Here we cry blue murder about Pakistan’s support to Kashmiri militants, and thousands of our troops have been killed over the years. Each mother, each wife, each daughter mourns in tormented memory the loss of a loved one and we have felt the pain and agony of Kargil. Are the mothers, sisters and daughters in Sri Lanka any different? We have behaved no differently with Sri Lanka, infact by the record of our conniving and cruel politicians who wasted no effort in creating turmoil in Sri Lanka, we should also be declared a state that sponsors terrorism.

There is still time to correct the mistakes of history, and possibly redeem ourselves, honourably. We must stand by the Government and the people of Sri Lanka at this hour of need, and support them in the fullest measure, even if it means committing our own forces once again to safe guard the territorial integrity of a nation state, and a member of SAARC. I appeal to the Prime Minister and the Parliament, not to abandon Sri Lanka.

Finally we would do well to remember the words of Longfellow: " Though the wind mills of the God grind slowly, yet they grind exceedingly small Though with patience he stands apart waiting, with exactness grinds he all".


Is drip irrigation viable in Hambantota District:
Some food for thought

by Dr. N. Senanayake B.Sc
(Agric), Ph.D

Irrigated agriculture can be considered as one of our ancient cultures. Its unique features such as designing and durability of systems are praiseworthy even today. In the ancient past the rain water that fall on to this noble land is never reached its ultimate destination, the sea, without serving the Sri Lankans either for agriculture and/or for their domestic use. The ancient civilization had a network of reservoirs overflowing from one to another and ultimately reaching the sea after serving the mankind. However, in the recently developed Irrigation projects planners and/or implementers have made enough mistakes so that the projects are not able to commission hundred percent. Two good examples could be given. One is the left bank of Uda Walawe Irrigation project where the land area at the tail end is not receiving the projected results

. The impression of old settlers as to the reason behind this is, that the proposed course of the (upper part) left main channel was changed subsequently, because of a politically well-connected businessman was in the danger of splitting his property in to two sections. Hence he was able to convince the politburo to redirect the channel away from his property which resulted in the lowering of heading capacity of the lower reservoirs by about 10-12 feet. The other example is the Kirindi Oya Project, which was built after destroying a large network of small tanks which was functioning in the area, and the reservoir cannot be filled to its capacity due to less rainfall on the catchment area. Here again the project planners’ illusion by the incorrect data given to them on rainfall, evapotranspiration etc. at planning stages.

Though we are very conversant in irrigated agriculture we do still make wrong conclusions probably because of wrong consultations and or political interference. Irrigation per se is supposed to provide the water requirement of cultivated crops, replenish the evaporative demand of the exposed surface and the water table, maintain proper soil structural conditions for deeper and better root development. It also help the plants for adequate nutrient absorption through releasing the fixed and adsorbed minerals and bringing them to equilibrium state with the soil solution by the natural forces acting in the soil. It helps to wash out the excess soil nutrients, which comes up along with the capillary flow due to evapo-transpiration pull from the exposed soil surfaces. There are several methods of providing irrigation water to the crop. They could be divided broadly in to three: surface irrigation, overhead irrigation and sub surface irrigation and each of these methods in turn can have several application methods.

These methods on the other hand has their own deficiencies and efficiencies. Choosing the correct method for a particular situation depend on the efficiency factors, source availability and most importantly the micro environment where it is applied to have a very efficient application method. For example an overhead irrigation method, namely sprinkler irrigation cannot be used in an environment where the ambient temperature is very high and the small water droplets gets evaporated before reaching the soil surface. In the same way surface flood irrigation may be of little use in a very sandy soil and percolation rate is very high for which situation a frequent sprinkler irrigation method is more beneficial.

Drip Irrigation

Drip irrigation is one of the available overhead irrigation methods. The salient feature in this overhead irrigation method is the very high resource use efficiency or more properly, the water use efficiency and application efficiency. However, the overhead costs are high in this method and the farmers in the third world countries cannot afford or very few could effort. Therefore-state intervention is inevitable if one to popularize this method. In Sri Lanka there appears to be a recent trend in advocating this method of irrigation and a project proposal is underway to implement it in the Hambantota district. Further, scientists have predicted scarcity of water in the world not only for the irrigating purposes but also for domestic use. This could be further aggravated by the global warming which processes will increase evapo-transpiration demand for water. Hence this move by any country is commendable in order to use the scarce resource very efficiently.

In this method of irrigation water which will carry through pipes laid out in the field is applied to the base of the crop itself with special nozzles which drip the water to the plant base. Thus the daily requirement of water is given to the plant at a rate less than the percolation rate though there is still water movement within the soil by mass flow and water potential gradients acting within the soil mass. In other countries, it is a very popular method in green houses and in the field, it is always combines with muIching. However, as any other irrigation method, it also has its limitations on application such as high capital cost though water application efficiency is very high. Further, it emphasizes on the water requirement and the transpiration demand of the crop assuming the evaporation demand in the soil is minimal because of mulching and there is no percolation loss. Thus in the field it could be used as a supplementary irrigation method with mulching or in areas where there is a good water balance (inflow/outflow) through out the year. However, in general, selection of an irrigation method for a particular environment should be done based on its merits and demerits.

Sri Lanka is an island and the Hambantota is the driest southern district where the annual rain fall is less than 800 mm per year. Ten year average annual rainfall is 1139 m.m. It lies within the 30 m MSL contour which also refer to as the coastal plain. Therefore, the water table in the area is also fairly high (close to the root zone) and invariably salty due to the sea water around. Being in the coastal belt the area also affected by the high tide and low tide all-round the year. With the global warming there is also a possibility of rising mean sea level which could aggravate the situation further in the near future. Further the ambient temperature is also high in the area (32.3OC) as a result of which the evapo-transpiration demand is high. Figure below gives the comparison of the water inflow/outflow over the year (ten year averages at RARDC, Angunukolapalessa).

The figure shows that the monthly rainfall will exceeds the evapo-transpiration demand only in three months (one month very marginal) of the year and in nine months of the year there is a deficit of water, which will be countered by the water available in the lower soil layers (water table), if no irrigation is provided. Water in the lower soil layers moves upward through capillary movement due to the transpiration pull which invariably carry the soluble salts and deposits in upper soil layers as the water gets evaporated from the soil surface.

This upward movement of the salts could be washed down only during two months of the year. Another important yearly phenomenon in the area is the salt influx which will carry to the land mass by the ‘land-ward wind movement’ during the day. Further if one to study the soil types available in the district, specially in the major irrigation project Kirindi Oya Irrigation Project, the low humic gley soils found in the moderately flat lands or bottom lands which drain the peneplained land surface are characteristically greyish in colour and the sub soil consist of calcium carbonate concretions 2 to 3 feet below the soil surface. The Siyambala series of this soil group has been also identified as solodized solonetz and is generally unsuitable for most type of cultivation. This soil types are therefore threatening as there is a possibility of developing salty conditions, if no adequate irrigation is carried out to bring down the calcium carbonate that moves up to the upper layers. Thus, crop intensification in the area should go hand in hand with adequate irrigation facilities also.

The table below also shows the other important climatic parameters, which have their effects by increasing the evapo-transpiration, demand, thus, depleting the water availability and hence the water balance in the area as a whole. The high wind velocities in the area, during the yala or dry season are popularly known as the ‘kachchan winds’ because of its dryness. Hence, the drip irrigation per se has to be carried out at a high rate of application especially in the dry season.

Recommending drip irrigation in the field in the Hambantota district is risky and therefore should practice much more cautiously as there can be detrimental and suicidal results in the long run. It may be lucrative in the short run but with the changes that could occur in the soil catena over time; salinity and/or alkalinity could even lead to the abandoning of the whole land mass from agriculture.

If one to use drip irrigation in the area it should be done with some sort of mulching to curtail the salt movement upwards which practice is going to be very expensive and/or the mulching materials are unavailable. Otherwise, the salts in the lower layers of the soil will move up and their deposit in upper layers near the root zone could results in the development of salinity/ alkalinity. This may not happen in two- three years and will take still a greater period of time depending upon the microclimatic conditions; high temperature, high wind velocity etc. in the area. Add to this problem is that in Sri Lanka we do not have research data on drip irrigation and also the salt movement within the soil catena for any part of the country. Hence the decisions were to be taken haphazardly through trial and error which may not be conducive for a high cost involved project implementation.
(The author is the former Deputy Director (Research) at RARDC, Angunukolapalessa)


On the way to Buddha Bhoomi and back

by Bandula M. Abeyewardene
On March 27, 2000 I was blessed with the opportunity to embark on my pilgrimage to Buddha Bhoomi in India, a fulfillment of a sacred dream I had been nursing over the years. As the Sri Lankan airbus UL 191 descended on the New Delhi international airport, it warmed the cockles of my heart no end. Among the important places of tourist interest the tour party was fortunate enough to visit was the sprawling and imposing Indian legislature, the Indian Gate and the museums depicting the lives and times of perhaps the greatest Indian that ever lived excluding Bodhisatva Siddharta, the most venerated demi-god Mahatma Gandhi and of Indira Gandhi, that indomitable Indian Prime Minister whom the Indians adored.

A brilliant Indian sculptor’s work portrays the entire life of Ghandiji, spanning his early childhood to his ultimate assassination by a religious fanatic. But the highwatermark of this inimitable masterpiece of sculptural excellence reflected in the scenes where the Mahatma fought the might of the imperialist big wigs to win independence for India. Visitors were highly impressed with what they saw at the Indira Museum. It was all simplicity and unostentation. It was Indira’s Private residence, and her living room cum study, dining room etc. were symbolic of an all pervading austerity which we do not usually associate with leaders of countries. Surely the Indians can take pride of the fact that they ride in vehicles, all made in India. Even in the capital city of Delhi it was as difficult as finding a needle in a haystack to spot a car which was not Indian made, again signifying to no small measure, the eschewing of opulence in the almost total Indian social fabric.

The journey from Delhi to Agra was not in anyway uncomfortable thanks to the luxurious coach we travelled in. Our hearts sank as we saw the board put up at the periphery of the vast premises where the Taj Mahal stood. Entrance fee of Rs. 500/- for the foreigners. Yes, we were indeed foreigners although we did not feel that way, mingling with the rest of the Asian communities which had converged there. Our irrepressible and determined tour leader working in harness with an expert Indian guide, summoning all the ingenuity at their command, conducted us through the entrance gate to this wonderful spectacle built in the name of eternal love, disguised as Indian citizens. The modus operandi to see the Red Fort too was the same and everybody was happy, not excluding our foxy Indian guide, who pocketed a cool 350 rupees for his trouble. The hawker invasion in Agra was something we had never encountered before. It was at the Delhi Bazaar that we learnt our first lessons in bargaining and honed this art and skill to our advantage wherever we stopped to do our marketing. The persistence of the hawkers was unbelievable for they would even follow you for the better part of a quarter mile to sell their wares. Correctly guessing that the tour party was from Sri Lanka, they hawked’ the names of Jayasuriya Atapattu and Ranatunga to ‘ inveigle’ us into purchasing their little knick-knacks.

From Agra it was a nearly 12 hour journey to Lucknow the capital city of Uttar Pradesh and then to Kushinagar, Sravasti, Rajgir, Nalanda and Bodh Gaya . For the first- timers to these parts of India it was a revelation to behold and have a passing glimpse of life in the above-mentioned parts of India. It soon became evident to all of us that here was where the poorest of the poor in India lived. Shacks and hovels seen in abundance signalled the all pervading poverty. It was a common sight to see both cattle and goats living cheek by jowl with humans. We were intrigued by the conical shaped stacks of straw mixed with cowdung kept out to dry to be used for cooking meals during rainy days. Boys in their early teens employed in various trades and also earning their own income kept us wondering if these children had ever seen the inside of a classroom. However, we spotted a few schools in these parts. One of them imparting education to primary class children by the roadside covered in a virtual dustbowl resembled a compartmentalized row of shops.

I believe almost the whole of India including its most indigent areas can justifiably boast the grand strides made in the sphere of transport. There was the common Bajaj trishaw, but other contrivances like the bigger version of the tri-shaw, camel drawn spacious carts comprised the bulk of passenger transport . It was mind-boggling to see the smaller version of the Bajaj carrying as many as 9 passengers and the bigger one an unbelievable 20 adults precariously packed to sardine standards. We saw open trucks loaded with sand on the top of which were seated men, women and children. Even in the few buses we saw in areas where mainly the poor lived, had specially carved out ‘ seats’ on the roofs where the passengers rode sans any qualms or embarrassment. But all my life the largest fleet of lorries ever seen was in the States of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. They were carrying lorry loads of goods produced in the country from one State to another. A rare traffic jam caused due to an accident made us stay put inside the bus for nearly 10 hours! Thousands upon thousands of lorries remained stationary on either side of the road-four deep. Buses too were aplenty in cities such as Delhi, Agra and Patna. Despite the heavy movement of traffic what puzzled us was why the traffic cops of India have not found it important for motor cyclists and pillion riders to wear helmets. Yes, helmets were conspicuous by their absence.

A fellow female pilgrim’s pertinent observation was if I had set my eyes upon more than just a handful of young girls and young women in the countryside. True enough, it dawned on me. It may be that these young women were shunning the limelight with their older mothers and grandmas ever prepared to take up the outside chores.

From Sravasti it was a long journey to Sonauli a town sandwiched between the Indian and the Nepali borders. As we approached a bridge on our way to Sonauli our driver got off the bus to pay what is called a Toll tax of Rs. 30/- which took us Sri Lankans by surprise . But the Tax was Rs. 70/- before using the 5 1/2 km bridge over river Ganges. Crossing the border to Nepal was not as easy as we had thought, having paid a staggering Visa fee of Rs. 2200/- each. We noticed that our driver was in apparent discomfort accosted intermittently by police and Immigration Officials demanding certain mysterious payments. However our tour leader with his extra sensory cunning and artifice succeeded in getting the gerrymandering officials to cough up every rupee fleeced.

Our post-pilgrimage journey commenced from Gorakpur railway station to Chennai. Our tour organizer apologised profusely for his egregious blunder when assuring us that the train journey was going to be of only 1 1/2 days whereas we later realized it was going to be a tedious 02 1/2 days. However, we soon came to terms with this shocking predicament. To the first comers to Chennai, the sprawling city itself with huge shopping malls, its evident opulence and sophistication, fashionable shoppers, ubiquitous restaurants serving South Indian fare which tickles the Sri Lankan palate, the multiplicity of transport facilities and above all the near dismantling of the language barrier we had experienced earlier, presented a rosier picture of Chennai which was actually beyond their expectation.

But the writer’s crowning moment of ecstasy was the ride in the Ambassador India’s pride in her motor car industry, the unostentatious and simple vehicle built by the Indians for the Indians, including Presidents, Prime Ministers, Ministers et al.

Finally, all of us who were fortunate enough to visit Buddha Bhoomi have nothing but praise and bagfuls of gratitude to the gallant ‘pilot’ of our luxury coach Mr. Varma, who drove us safely for the better part of 3000 Kms all by himself!.


US policy in South Asia: The road ahead — Part II

Remarks of the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Thomas R. Pickering, at John Hopkins on US Policy in South Asia

(Continued from yesterday)
Those ties were further limited by Pakistan’s pursuit of generally poor and protectionist economic policies, aggravated by widespread corruption, which sharply reduced the scope for bilateral cooperation in trade or investment, as it has also elsewhere in the region.

Most recently, we have been greatly concerned by Pakistan’s support both for the Taliban in Afghanistan, in whose territory the now notorious Usama bin Laden finds shelter, and for militant groups that are escalating violence in Kashmir. Finally, of course, there is the serious departure from democracy caused by the October 12 military takeover last year.

All these concerns, I must emphasize, do not argue for walking away from our longstanding ties with Pakistan.

Quite the opposite; they make continued high- level engagement all the more urgent.

It is in this context of historical friendship, current concerns, and desire to keep open lines of communication now and in the future that the President decided to include Pakistan on his visit last month and that we continue our contacts and work with Pakistan.

Let me touch on five issues where a very brief look ahead at our agenda with Pakistan is in order: nonproliferation, narcotics, democracy, economic reform, and terrorism.

On non proliferation, I have already outlined both our main objectives, and our main means for pursuing them.

I would just add that several leading Pakistanis have publicly pointed out that signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty would promote Pakistan’s own security interests — and, as the President said in Islamabad, "the whole world will rally around" Pakistan if it does exactly that.

In Pakistan’s long competition with India, this would be a striking first step. It could turn the competition from a downward spiral of malevolence to an upward one of benevolence.

The President and Musharraf agreed, in this context, to reinvigorate our security and non-proliferation dialogue.

In that regard, we look forward to Strobe Talbott and Foreign Minister Sattar meeting very soon.

In the counternarcotics field, we applaud Pakistan’s progress toward eliminating poppy cultivation and look forward to enhanced cooperation. With the impact Afghan opium and heroin have on Pakistan itself, certainly this is an area where we urge Pakistan to encourage the Taliban to take action.

So too, we urge our friends in Pakistan to continue to do all they can to deal with the scourge of terrorism in their own country, in and from Afghanistan under the Taliban, and wherever else they can help.

On the issue of Pakistan’s return to democracy, we welcome General Musharraf’s announcement that local elections will be held by next year. We also believe that his pledge this week to protect human rights for all Pakistanis, and in that context to prevent or prosecute so-called "honor killings" of women, is another initial step in the right direction that we hope others in the region will emulate.

We very much hope also to see more.

Pakistan needs restoration of freedom of association and assembly and an impartial judiciary.

In particular, we urge General Musharraf to move quickly toward a clear road map for a real rebirth of democracy, including fully functioning political parties and a free and fair national election at the earliest possible date.

In the economic sphere, we are encouraged by Pakistan’s apparent intention, at long last, to reform its policies and institutions, work to root out corruption, and resolve international commercial disputes.

Here again, as we look toward the future; actions as always will speak much louder than words.

I believe that Pakistan has a last chance to save itself from economic stagnation, or worse.

If it makes the right moves in this area, we and the international economic community will be prepared to lend appropriate support in offering its people prospects for a better life.

President Clinton’s televised address to the people of Pakistan during his visit addressed many troubling concerns in our relations, including the view of some that U.S. policy in South Asia and elsewhere is anti-Muslim.

On the contrary, the President affirmed the major examples of solidarity with Muslim populations in key regions of the world.

He personally "stood with the people of Bosnia and Kosovo, who were brutalized because of their Muslim faith."

He has "been privileged to speak with Palestinians at their National Council in Gaza."

He has "mourned with Jordanians and Moroccans the loss of their brave leaders."

At a White House ceremony marking the end of Ramadan this year, the President recalled, a Muslim imam cited the Koranic message that God created different nations so that we might learn from each other, not despise each other.

Let me now turn to another country visited by the President: Bangladesh. In less than thirty years of independence, this nation of more than 120 million people has managed to transform itself, against great odds, into a model both of a moderate Muslim democracy and a grass-roots based economic development.

Bangladesh set an example for the entire region on non-proliferation by ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in March.

The President’s visit, the first ever to Bangladesh, celebrated these achievements and, more importantly, set the stage for more.

Follow-up efforts are already underway in several important areas.

As with India, we look forward to working with Bangladesh in launching an international Community of Democracies effort in Warsaw, Poland, in June. Bangladesh’s participation in this important initiative — as well as its own free and fair exercise of the right to vote in national elections next year — offers yet another opportunity to support Bangladesh’s democracy.

While in Bangladesh, the President met with both Prime Minister Hasina and Opposition Leader Zia and urged them to avoid the politics of confrontation and to strengthen the spirit of compromise and cooperation necessary in any democracy.

We also want to work with Bangladesh to develop its economic potential, and a big part of that means bolstering our increasing trade and investment relationship.

Those ties have grown dramatically in the past several years.

American investment, mostly in the energy sector, will soon approach $1 billion, with Bangladeshi garment exports to the United States nearing $2 billion a year.

These sectors are economically significant, and in the case of energy, there is the added potential for the development of regional cooperation.

But it is clear that we can expand beyond these sectors to areas such as telecommunications, financial services, and infrastructure.

The key will be renewed commitment to economic reform, and cooperation between investors and the government in keeping the investment pipeline running smoothly and efficiently.

We want to see Bangladesh’s economy thrive, but we also want to work with Bangladesh as it addresses its many environmental and social challenges.

We have launched a creative "debt for nature" pilot project designed to preserve the unique tropical forests of the Bangladeshi coast.

We are supporting World Bank efforts to deal with the serious problem of arsenic contamination of groundwater.

Similarly, we will be working together to extend to additional sectors Bangladesh’s successful efforts to end child labor in its garment export industry, and to lift people out of poverty with small-scale private enterprise development through micro-lending, especially to women.

Reviewing the U.S. relationship with these three largest countries of the region just visited by President Clinton, one can extrapolate several broad themes of our engagement for the future: economic reform; social development; and integration into the international mainstream on nonproliferation and peaceful conflict resolution, among others.

But there is also one overarching issue — democracy.

Scholars and diplomats alike are increasingly convinced that democracy is the best promoter for the greatest measure of progress in all of these other areas as well.

That is why, in preparing the President’s trip and in looking ahead today, we attach so much importance to the strength of democracy in both India and Bangladesh, and to the restoration of civilian, democratic rule in Pakistan.

And that is also at crucial ingredient of our overall approach to this entire region — including development in some of its smaller but still significant states, in which the future of democracy is among the important interests we pursue.

Sri Lanka

To take one example, we strongly support the democratically elected government of Sri Lanka’s arduous campaign to resist separatist violence, and its bold offer to negotiate new arrangements for the Tamil minority an the island through peaceful political means.

While we are disappointed at the continuing violence in the North of the country, we are encouraged that both the government of President Kumaratunga and the leading opposition party are coming closer together on a joint approach on autonomy for the northern and eastern parts of the country, home to most Sri Lankan Tamils.

We offer our support for this approach, while calling upon Sri Lankan government forces to adopt the strongest measures to prevent civilian casualties and human rights abuses.

We hope that the military reverses suffered by the Sri Lankan government in the Jaffna peninsula earlier this week will not derail its efforts to settle this dispute on honorable terms. Another case in point is Nepal.

This country, which this year proudly celebrates its first decade of full democracy, confronts a violent Maoist insurgency and severe poverty.

We support the government’s admirable efforts to stay on the path of democracy and development.

I would also note that Nepal’s sense of civic engagement extends well beyond the country’s borders, as demonstrated by Nepal’s frequent participation in peacekeeping operations and in providing humanitarian assistance to thousands of refugees.

At the other end of this spectrum, unfortunately, is Afghanistan.

There have been some small and scattered improvements lately in the Taliban’s egregious treatment of women and girls, and we remain open to dialogue with Taliban representatives on this and all other urgent matters.

On the whole, however, this is a regime which, by its behavior at home and abroad, has isolated itself from virtually the entire world, and increasingly from its own people.

In the long run, only a representative government that includes all parts of the Afghan community can bring peace to this tragically tortured land. This will require the participation not only of the Taliban and the Northern Alliance, but also of other Afghans inside and outside the country.

The United States is encouraged by the efforts of Afghans around the world to contribute to the search for peace.

We believe Pakistan can exert considerable influence on the Taliban and support its initiative to find common ground with Iran to work together on a peaceful solution of Afghanistan’s civil war.

Unfortunately, we see little movement on either front at this stage and the international community is, once again, beginning to look at what steps it can take to address our multitude of concerns in Afghanistan — terrorism, narcotics, human rights, and ending the two-decade long conflict.

The U.N. Security Council, in Resolution 1267 last year, unanimously imposed targeted sanctions because of the continuing presence in Afghanistan of Usama bin Laden and terrorist training facilities — sanctions that affect only the Taliban and principally its leader, while providing unimpeded humanitarian access for all the people of Afghanistan.

Just a few weeks ago, the Security Council prefigured further action if bin Laden is not brought to account.

And last week, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, by consensus, not only condemned Taliban policies but also called upon all nations to stop supporting them.

The isolation of Afghanistan will only increase unless steps are taken now to address the international community’s deep concerns.

To return for a final moment to a broader view of the region, all across South Asia we see some of the most important challenges of this new century in play.

They range from the universal striving for democracy through the gamut of global security, technological innovation and economic growth, to environmental and other issues that will define our interdependence in the coming years.

In some of the largest countries of the region — which are also among the largest in the world — the promise of this new era is correspondingly great.

In others, while we currently have great cause for concern, we are determined to maintain the kind of engagement that offers the best hope of advancing our interests, and those of a more peaceful and prosperous planet.

The goal is certainly worth the effort: I hope to see a South Asia with no more conflict, no more fissile material for use in weapons, and no perceived need to test nuclear weapons; with Kashmiris engaged creatively in a future of peace and prosperity, working in ways that bring Pakistan and India closer together.

My vision includes prosperity, with a common market and open borders, with local and Central Asian energy resources available to all and where the militaries work together to solve regional problems and contribute to world peace rather than to arm and plan for war against each other.

Late next month, I hope to travel to the region to pursue these and other issues further.

South Asia is destined to play a growing part on the world stage. American engagement in the region is sure to increase in intensity in the years ahead.

The active involvement of all of you here today will be an essential element in ensuring that we conduct this engagement successfully.

We expect, and very much desire, a great future for the region, its people, and its relationship with the United States.

I deeply appreciate your being here today and your kind attention and I look forward to your comments and questions on these important issues.

(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.)
Concluded

Up
ahmpg.jpg (4341 bytes) News Opinion Features Business Sports