Sri Lanka's image ought to improve
Jehan Perera in Colombo
Sri Lanka ought to be well positioned to successfully project itself as a country that is recovering now that over a year and a quarter have elapsed since the end of the war against LTTE. The war left tens of thousands of internally displaced persons who still remain destitute. Indian International Film Awards in May went off without any security hitch, which showed the world that Sri Lanka was once again a safe country for tourism and investments.
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Despite such successes Sri Lanka's international image is still accompanied by a question mark. The end of the three decades long war ought to have brought a sparkle to Sri Lanka's image. There continue to be controversies that have dogged the country and spoilt its international image.
The latest incident that is harming the country's international image is the one involving a ship carrying 492 Tamil refugees, including women and children, and which entered Canadian waters. While Canadian media has given front page prominence to the story, other international media has also been following it. The influx of refugees in such large numbers and outside of established individual asylum procedures poses political problems in the countries to which those refugees seek entry.
At the end of the Vietnam war, in the late 1970s, many thousands of Vietnamese fled in small boats to countries where they could seek safety and asylum. They were followed by Cambodians who fled the despotic Pol Pot regime.
The Sri Lankan government has every reason to be displeased with this development that puts the country in a negative light, as a country from which people are willing to flee at any price, including their lives. The government's position is that with the end of the war there is a return to normalcy, no terrorism and the prevalence of the rule of law. The boat people however give another message that is more convincing to the international audience as their perilous journey is itself evidence of what they escaped from. The Canadian immigration official hearing the case of the 492 Sri Lankans have permitted the media to come and listen to their evidence.
The fact that so many people are willing to flee Sri Lanka at grave risk to themselves is a negative reflection on what is happening today in the country. The refugees will obviously claim a maximum of harassment and that their lives will be at risk if they are returned to Sri Lanka. No government of a self-respecting country will wish its citizens to flee and claim refugee status in other countries. The Sri Lankan government is no exception in this regard, and is cooperating with other international governments to prevent human trafficking. Ironically some of the statements of government spokespersons have made the claims of the refugees appear real.
For instance, in their bid to discredit the sincerity of the claim of the refugees to foreign asylum, government spokespersons have claimed that those aboard the ship are LTTE members, and hard core ones at that. There is evidence that the ship that arrived in Canada is part of an LTTE-linked human smuggling operation. But to say that the Tigers might be trying to regroup in Canada, a country that has historically been a large source of their fund-raising is unlikely to influence the outcome of the decision that the Canadian authorities will make. In a similar incident in October 2009, 76 Tamil refugees arrived on a ship to Canada where they were held but eventually released after none were determined to belong to the LTTE.
While this tactic of linking the refugees to the LTTE might work within Sri Lanka, it will not work so well out of Sri Lanka, where those adjudicating these claims and counter claims are not under Sri Lankan government influence. Further, government spokespersons have said that they are arresting LTTE cadre at a high rate in the welfare centres in Sri Lanka, numbering no less than 1500 in recent weeks. Such statements can be shown by the fleeing Sri Lankan refugees to be evidence of the dangers that await them should they be returned to Sri Lanka as they too may be considered to the Tiger operatives and imprisoned.
After the end of the war Sri Lanka has much to commend itself to the world. Unlike its neigbouring countries of South Asia, Sri Lanka has been totally free of terrorist attack. The government has been improving its relations with the United Nations after it plummeted with the death fast by a government minister regarding the appointment of an UN advisory committee on war crimes. The numbers of internally displaced persons in the camps has been further reduced. The UN recently reported that it helped 852 out of more than 70,000 Tamil refugees based in India to return to Sri Lanka in the first half of this year. Although these figures may be small in relation to the total refugee population, the UN also stated that more than 1000 refugees in India returned on their own which indicates improvements on the ground.
However, the government has to so much more to improve its performance with regard to two important issues if it is to turn around world opinion. It needs to show evidence of systematic progress in the resettlement of internally displaced persons. At the moment it appears that the government is satisfied with simply getting them to leave the welfare camps. But this is not enough. They need to be provided with houses to go to and to viable means of livelihood. Although the Indian government pledged to build 50,000 houses for the displaced persons, there has been a failure to facilitate its implementation on the ground. Land for the housing projects and lists of beneficiaries have not been identified by the Sri Lankan government even though more than three months has passed since the Indian offer was made. The appearance of neglect on the part of the Sri Lankan government arouses concern that its interest is more in putting more military bases in the North than in caring about the welfare of the people.
Pak floods and Russian heat-wave
linked to climate change?
In Pakistan there are drowned homes and millions of lives set adrift by floods, in Russia wheat crops have been shrivelled by drought and devoured by fire. Some scientists think the floods and the fires could be linked.
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This time it seems the culprit is not climate change, but a persistent pattern of waves in the high-altitude flows of air called jet streams.
Yet Harry Hendon, of the Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research, and a member of the global panel of scientists on monsoons, said he was not sure that the changes in the jet streams alone could have caused the quantity of rain dumped on Pakistan - the panel was in discussion and would release its assessment. Here is what some scientists have said.
The jet stream link
Jet streams play a fundamental role in the earth's weather and are used by forecasters to predict storms and cyclones and their intensity, says the "Understanding Weather" section on the website of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
Jet streams move from west to east, and can also move north and south, pushing excess heat from the equatorial regions towards the poles, "and in turn bring cold polar air southwards".
In the northern hemisphere summer of 2010, meteorologists picked up a persistent pattern of waves in the jet stream, which had also formed during the preceding three summers.
"This jet stream pattern led to flooding in the UK during June and July 2007, and to further wet summers over western Europe in both 2008 and 2009," said Michael Blackburn, a research scientist at the National Centre for Atmospheric Science at the University of Reading in the UK, whose suggested links between the Russian drought and the Pakistan floods appeared in the New Scientist on 10 August.
"We do not know the origin of the persistent pattern of waves in the jet stream this summer," he said. "Such patterns are part of the natural variability of the atmosphere that leads to weather variations over weeks, months and seasons."
The waves "appear as a succession of northward and southward meanders of the jet stream. The northward meanders are ridges of high pressure that give cloudless skies and, in summer, hot temperatures at the ground. Conversely, the southward meanders are troughs of low pressure that give cloud and rain."
Meteorologists picked up a "large and persistent northward meander of the jet stream" over western Russia, which drew warm air far northward from the Mediterranean Sea and formed a "so-called 'blocking' anticyclone, with record high temperatures across the region," said Blackburn.
Cyclones are regions of low pressure in which the winds spin anticlockwise in theánorthern hemisphere and clockwise in the southern hemisphere; an anticyclone is a high pressure system in which the winds circulate in a direction opposite to cyclones.
In the eastern half of the northern hemisphere, meteorologists found that cold air had been drawn southward towards the Asian monsoon region. "This has moved the jet stream further south than normal, in a trough that has crossed the mountains over northern Pakistan, intensifying the monsoon rains there," said Blackburn.
The trough strengthened in the last week of July, at the same time that "a monsoon depression moved west from the Bay of Bengal, taking moisture-laden air across northern India and into northern Pakistan, beneath the jet stream trough," he explained.
"It appears to be this conjunction of events that led to the intense rain over northern Pakistan on 28-30 July, and the subsequent flooding that has spread south along the Indus River."
Not just the trough
However, Hendon noted that "the blocking ridge and associated trough to the north of Pakistan was well established before the floods." He said he felt that a combination of an unusually warm Indian Ocean - La Ni˝a - with an active monsoon and an "episode of the monsoons known as an 'intra-seasonal variation', caused the rather heavy downpour in Pakistan".
An intra-seasonal event originates as a "region of large-scale enhanced convection over the equatorial Indian Ocean". It then moves into the monsoon and causes the rain to fall in some parts, while simultaneously suppressing it in others.
This event, known as a Monsoon Intra-seasonal Oscillation (MISO), usually moves between 20 and 25 degrees north, but this time it moved to 30 degrees and even further north, said Hendon, agreeing that this could have been caused by the "blocking anticyclone" identified by Blackburn.
Hendon said it was not yet clear "how well we can predict such events, and ... how such events are preconditioned on such things as La Nina, and even the enormous ridge causing the heat wave in Russia - this is what our panel wants to assess."
Blackburn said the "weather in other regions has also been affected by the disturbed jet stream; further east, intense rain over parts of China at the start of August appears to have been associated with the 'next' trough in the pattern, while earlier hot weather in Japan was associated with a ridge still further east," he pointed out.
"West of the Russian anticyclone the trough over western Europe strengthened and extended to the Mediterranean in early August, leading to intense rain and flooding over eastern Germany on the 6th[of August]".
Scientists are cautious in their response to suggested links between the atmospheric anomalies and climate change. "It is not possible to attribute individual extreme weather events such as the Russian heat-wave or Pakistan floods to global warming," Blackburn said.
Nevertheless, higher temperatures mean warmer air, which holds more water vapour, so peak rainfall can be expected to increase as temperatures rise.
R. Krishnan, a scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, who has been studying the impact of climate variability on the Asian monsoon, said a long record of heavy rainfall events over Pakistan would have to be examined before any conclusion about the role of climate change could be drawn.
Factors on the ground must also be taken into account in any assessment. "In the case of Pakistan, hydrologists have drawn attention to changes in river management and water use over time," Blackburn said.
"These affect the severity of flooding resulting from any given amount of precipitation - in addition, the scale of human impact, and therefore the scale of the emergency relief and longer-term recovery, increase with increasing population," he pointed out.
"Pakistan, in common with many developing countries, has seen its population double over the last 30 years, following annual increases of around 3 percent in the 1970s."
-Third World Network Features
Pakistani politicos don't believe
in what they profess
Last Sunday the Muttahada Qaumi Movement (MQM) chief Altaf Hussain created a stir in the country with his call to the army to step in and remove corrupt politicians.
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The MQM party is the second largest in Sindh and is in coalition with the ruling Pakistan People's Party, both at the centre as well as in the Sindh province.
Although a number of Pakistani politicians swear to stand by democracy it now looks they may not sincerely believe in what they publicly profess. The reason may be quite simple. In all their life since 1951 they have not seen true democracy at work, and do not recognize the true shade of an upright tree of democracy, or pluralism. Quite simply, the leadership here is without vision and also insensitive.
One can see the result of this kind of deviant national politics reflected in the sad faces of people who have not known the value of true freedom.
About 20,00,000 citizens have come out from the throes of the great deluge of 2010, losing their kin, children, cattle, and have also seen homes and farmlands go deep down under water. Yet after two weeks of marooned state and staying under open skies, the people are openly complaining that their government had done very little for them, and generally speaking there is no security of life or from natural calamity or even violence as it happened at Sialkot the other day when two young boys were publicly thrashed to death in front of a crowd that seemed to enjoy the horrific game.
The common perception is that the public feels cheated out of the pledge given to them by the founder of the nation, Mohammed Ali Jinnah in 1947. However, his promise took a back seat after his death. Since that time politicians of every hue and variety have ruled the roost [for about 31 years- the military also for 32 more years] irrespective of the fact whether Chowdhuries (Punjab), Vaderas ( Sindh), Sardars (Baluchistan) or Khans from the K-P. The feudal group of each of the five provinces have brawled for their especial type of loaves and fishes, even at the cost of the division of the country. In the process they abandoned 300,000 non-Bengali citizens with the logic that they were not born in Pakistan. These people who consider themselves as legitimate Pakistani citizens continue to remain stranded in Bangladesh. A French-like revolution is needed in Pakistan, said Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) Chief Altaf Hussain. Hussain said that MQM would support army generals who take steps against the feudal system. He said this while addressing a workers' convention. The MQM chief said that Pakistan's foreign policy is comparatively weaker than the Indian policy. He said that Pakistan's officials shop from foreign countries, while Indian officials work for their country.
Could it be that Altaf wants to deviate from the democratic credentials he has maintained so far in running an efficient and subservient party machine? Or has the party machine in Sindh prompted this new thinking in the wake of everyday shooting down of innocent lives in Karachi city. If this be the case, MQM is as active as its adversary party, the ANP. We also need clear answers whether Mr Altaf's call is related in any manner to the plight of stranded fellow citizens who remain uncared at the Geneva Camp in Bangladesh. But the MQM or the government to which it is in coalition has raised no voice until now to lessen the rigour of this unfortunate lot of Pakistanis.
There must be some weightier reason for the MQM chief to make this public invitation. Analysts are asking whether some one or some serious factors have motivated Altaf to make this call.
India prepares for a two-front war
This is n't just a change in military doctrine - it's a reflection of America's declining power in Asia.
There is one country responding to China's military build-up and aggressiveness with some muscle of its own. No, it is not the United States, the superpower ostensibly responsible for maintaining peace and security in Asia. Rather, it is India, whose military is currently refining a "two-front war" doctrine to fend off Pakistan and China simultaneously.
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Defending against Pakistan isn't anything new, and Delhi has long viewed China with suspicion. But in recent years India has been forced to think more seriously about an actual armed conflict with its northern neighbour. Last year Beijing started a rhetorical clash over the Dalai Lama's and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visits to Arunachal Pradesh state, which China claims as its own. In the two years before that, Chinese border incursions into India almost doubled. Not to mention China's massive military buildup and concerted push for a blue-water navy.
In response, the Indian military is rewriting its so-called "Cold Start" doctrine. Cold Start's initial intent was to provide the armed forces with more rapid and flexible response options to Pakistani aggression. The Indian military believed that its ground forces' slow and lumbering mobilization after the 2001 terrorist attacks on its parliament played to Pakistan's advantage: International opinion turned against decisive Indian military action. Delhi also worried that its plan to send in heavy forces to weaken Pakistan was unrealistic and might well trigger a nuclear response.
So Indian strategists searched for military solutions that would avoid a nuclear response but still provide a rapid retaliatory punch into Pakistan. The resulting doctrine was built around eight division-sized "integrated battle groups"-a combination of mobile ground forces backed by air power and tied together through an advanced system of sensors and reconnaissance capabilities. The Indian Army would advance into Pakistan and hold territory to use as leverage to end terrorist attacks launched from Pakistani soil.
But as China has grown more aggressive, Delhi has begun planning to fight a "two-front war" in case China and Pakistan ally against India. Army Chief of Staff General Deepak Kapoor recently outlined the strategy: Both "fronts"-the northeastern one with China and northwestern one with Pakistan-would receive equal attention. If attacked by Pakistan and China, India will use its new integrated battle groups to deal quick decisive blows against both simultaneously.
Kapoor's strategy: Gulf to Malacca
The two-front strategy's ambitions go even further: In the long term China is the real focus for Indian strategists. According to local newspapers, Gen. Kapoor told a defence seminar late last year that India's forces will "have to substantially enhance their strategic reach and out-of-area capabilities to protect India's geopolitical interests stretching from the [Persian] Gulf to Malacca Strait" and "to protect our island territories" and assist "the littoral states in the Indian Ocean Region."
Of course the existence of a new doctrine does not make it an operational reality. But a cursory glance at India's acquisition patterns and strategic moves gives every indication that India is well on its way to implementation.
Delhi is buying and deploying sophisticated command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance networks; supersonic cruise missiles; lightweight towed artillery pieces; and new fighter aircraft with supporting electronic warfare and refueling platforms.
India has already bought C-130J aircraft from the U.S. for rapid force deployment. The navy is planning to expand its submarine fleet, to acquire three aircraft carriers, and to deploy them with modernized carrier-based fighter aircraft. In addition India plans to deploy fighters and unmanned aerial vehicles at upgraded bases on the Andaman and Nicobar islands in the eastern Indian Ocean.
India is not looking for a fight with China: It simply understands it is prudent to develop a military that can deter Beijing. President Obama's accommodating stance toward China and his apparent lack of interest in cementing partnership with Delhi have focused Indian minds, as have his failure to invest in resources his Pacific commanders need.
While America has a strong interest in sharing the burdens of checking China's expansionism, it should be concerned when its friends react in part to a perception of American weakness and Chinese strength. Ultimately, the U.S. is the only country with the power and resources to reassure its allies they need not engage in costly arms races with China. But first the U.S. must identify Chinese military power for what Asian allies know it to be: a threat to peace in Asia.
The writer is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. Courtesy: Wall Street Journal, New York