Listen to the Indian Ocean, undercurrents of a submarine war

By Ameen Izzadeen
On October 31, 2014, a Chinese submarine and a warship arrived at the Colombo Port. As the calm ocean waters surrounding the port were disturbed by the arrival of the two military vessels, the visits sent shockwaves across India’s security establishment and made even the Americans feel that their Pivot-to-Asia policy had been severely undermined.
Adding to their suspicions was the secrecy surrounding the visits of the two vessels – submarine Changzheng-2 and warship Chang Xing Dao. This was more than they needed as evidence to prove their suspicion that Sri Lanka had become a part of China’s security setup in the Indian Ocean. For, Changzheng-2 was the second Chinese submarine to dock in Colombo in as many months. If Sri Lanka had managed to address the concerns of India and the United States over the first Chinese submarine’s visit in September 2014, by saying it was a security measure connected to China’s President Xi Jinping’s visit to Sri Lanka, this time around no explanation could allay their fears.
There was another reason for India’s trepidation: the submarine was docked not in the section designed for military vessels but in a terminal designed and operated by the Chinese.
“This is nothing unusual. Since 2010, 230 warships have called at Colombo port from various countries on goodwill visits and for refuelling and crew refreshment,” Sri Lanka’s then Navy spokesman Kosala Warnakulasuriya said by way of explanation though India and the United States appeared far from being convinced.
Coming to Sri Lanka’s rescue, China’s Defence Ministry said, “It is an international common practice for navy submarine to stop for refuelling and crew refreshment at an overseas port.”
But none of these statements could calm the nerves of the Indians who by then had started to work closely with US security experts to counter what they perceived as a growing security threat from China.
When President Mahinda Rajapaksa was defeated at the January 2015 presidential election, rumors to the effect that foreign forces which were unhappy over Sri Lanka’s Chinese connection were behind the regime change were not confined to just whispers alone.
Probably aware of the regime change capabilities of big powers, the new government in Sri Lanka went overboard in its efforts to assuage the fears of India and the United States. The new government in Colombo downgraded ties with China from special to normal. But a year into office, the Government learned the hard way that it had made a costly mistake by antagonising China, because the much anticipated investments or aid did not flow in to salvage the economy from the doldrums. Now it is once again a case of Sri Lanka going to China for economic assistance and once again we are arousing the suspicions of those powers which are uncomfortable with China’s economic rise and assertive diplomacy with militaristic undertones.
With almost all Chinese projects in Sri Lanka, including the controversial Port City, up and running, Sri Lanka’s renewed love affair with China comes not without its geopolitical consequences. Against the backdrop of claims that China’s blue water navy was seen closer to what India considers as areas under its watch in the Indian Ocean, India and the United States have, in recent months, increased the frequency of their contacts to discuss the threat of China. India, it is said, is pushing for Indo-US cooperation to help each other track submarines in the Indian Ocean.
Last month, US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter visited New Delhi with the intention of making India a strategic partner of the United States. Significantly, one of the places Carter visited while in India last month was India’s Eastern Naval Command, which is home to the bulk of India’s advanced ships, submarines and an aircraft carrier.
During Carter’s visit, the two sides agreed in principle on a deal to allow each nation’s militaries to use the other’s naval, land, and air bases to resupply and pre-position hardware. The agreement appears to signal a major shift in India’s policy of not embracing any major power as a strategic partner. Though non-alignment is long defunct, India has stuck to the middle path foreign policy, continuing to give leadership to developing nations at world forums. But now under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India is taking a major step to open up its military bases to the United States in exchange for access to weapons technology to help it narrow the gap with China.
One of the areas, in which the two countries are working together, is anti-submarine warfare techniques, given China’s submarine and warship deployment in the Indian Ocean.
India has not tolerated the presence of any power in the South Asian part of the ocean. But now the presence of China’s submarines in areas close to India’s territorial waters has set off security alarms in New Delhi.
Indian naval officials say Chinese submarines have been sighted on an average four times every three months. Some are seen near India’s Andaman Islands and Nicobar islands which lie near the Malacca Straits, the entry to the South China Sea through which more than 80 percent of China’s fuel supplies pass.
Reuters quoted an Indian naval source as saying this week that the focus of the next set of joint exercises to take place in the northern Philippine Sea next month would be on anti-submarine warfare. The joint exercises are set to bring together India, the United States, Japan, the Philippines and other nations that see China as a military threat.
India is also preparing to launch its first home-made nuclear submarine in the coming weeks. Christened Arihant, meaning the killer of all enemies, the submarine last month successfully carried out ballistic missile tests in the Bay of Bengal. Also on trial this week was ‘Kalvari’ (Tiger Shark), a Scorpene Class Indian Submarine, designed by French naval defence company DCNS and being built in Mumbai.
In another development, the US has increased submarine and surveillance activity in the Indian Ocean region.
Collin Koh, a submarine expert at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, says, “We will see the Indian Ocean grow in importance, particularly around traditional chokeholds, such as the approaches to the Malacca Straits and the Nicobar islands, so an improved US relationship with the major submarine player in the area, India, is very significant.”
As these developments threaten to turn the Indian Ocean, through which two thirds of the world’s trade move, into a theatre of a submarine war, Sri Lanka cannot afford to turn a blind eye. Sri Lanka played a peacemaker role in the Sino-India conflict of 1962. Can it play a similar role once again?
In the 1970s, Sri Lanka spearheaded a global campaign to get the United Nations to declare the Indian Ocean as a Zone of Peace. Since Sri Lanka’s interests will be best served only if it maintains friendship with all, can it launch a similar campaign now? This should be Sri Lanka’s focus at next month’s Shangri-La defence dialogue in Singapore. China, India, Japan, the United States and other stakeholders will be there.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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European Union kneels before Turkey’s Sultan

By Ameen Izzadeen
What has happened to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan? It appears he has lost his balance and is epitomizing the time-tested political maxim that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Domestically, he is leading Turkey to tyranny, after he elected himself as President while, at international level, he is being seen as a conceited bully. The latest world leader to give into his threats is German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
She apparently undermined Germany’s commitment to liberal values and agreed to the prosecution of a comedian who insulted Erdogan. Comedian Jan Böhmermann is to be tried under an archaic law which prosecutors have not invoked for ages.
Merkel’s move only encourages Erdogan to continue to be a dreaded despot at home and a strong schemer in the Syrian crisis and the refugee problem that has become a humanitarian headache for Europe. He is also demanding that Merkel should make a public announcement that it is wrong to ridicule him. Emboldened, he says “the European Union needs Turkey more than Turkey needs the European Union.”
Böhmermann may be wrong when he, in his late-night talk show, broadcast a poem that portrayed Erdogan as committing sex with animals, “kicking Kurds and beating up Christians while watching child porn.”
The content of the poem, no doubt, is gross and defamatory of Erdogan, however bad he is. It should ignite a debate on the boundary between freedom of expression and irresponsibility or indecency. But the bigger buffoonery is not what Böhmermann performed, but it was Merkel’s decision to reward a dictator. Merkel’s action only underscores the charade behind the West’s commitment to human rights, democracy and liberal values.
The West’s own record in places like Vietnam, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and other trouble spots shows it has little or no qualms about violating human rights and humanitarian laws, when such violations suit its agenda. Also Western nations say nary a word when human rights are violated by their Middle Eastern allies. The United States, for instance, encourage Israel to continue with its suppression of the Palestinian people, instead of taking punitive measures to make the Zionist state pay for its crimes.
The US, Britain, and France turn a blind eye on Saudi Arabia’s excesses at home and in Yemen. They compete with each other to reward Riyadh with billion-dollar arms sales. The West also turns the other way when Erdogan’s actions prop up the terror outfit ISIS. Recent Russian satellite images show bowsers said to be linked to a company owned by a scion of the Erdogan family lining up to fill stolen fuel sold by the ISIS on the Syria-Turkey border. It is no secret that Turkey, together with its close ally Saudi Arabia, also arms Syrian rebel groups allied to ISIS and the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra group. European nations also feign ignorance over Turkey’s culpability in aggravating the Syrian refugee crisis.
This is Europe’s dirty politics, which also manifests in Merkel’s decision to reward a miffed-and-puffed potentate in a bid to protect the European Union’s recent refugee agreement with Turkey. In terms of this agreement, Ankara has agreed to accept refugees turned back from Greece in exchange for more aid, reopening talks on Turkey’s accession to the EU and a liberal visa policy for Turks to visit EU nations. As Erdogan holds Europe hostage to the refugee crisis, the EU will pay US$ 6 billion a year to prop up his tainted regime.
The reward to the wrongdoer comes notwithstanding the European Parliament’s damning report on Turkey’s human rights record. The 2015 report accused the Erdogan regime of “backsliding” on its commitment to democracy, the rule of law, human rights and media freedom.
With powerful countries like Germany genuflecting to the Sultan in Ankara, he becomes bolder by the day to carry on with his abuses at home.
He has been ruling Turkey since March 2003 — 11 years as prime minister and, since 2014, as Turkey’s first elected President. It was democracy that helps him reach the pinnacle of political power, but modern Turkey has not seen in its history a leader who has abused democracy and democratic institutions as Erdogan has. In comparison, even Turkey’s military regimes of the past appear more benevolent.
In recent comments that followed his regime’s crackdown on dissent in the wake of a series of bomb blasts, Erdogan said democracy, freedom and rule of law had no value any longer. And in George Bush style, he declared that those who did not support his government’s efforts to combat Kurdish terrorists were Turkey’s “enemies.” In another preposterous outburst, he said the definition of a terrorist should be changed to include MPs, civil activists and journalists, who, in his opinion, support the Kurdish people’s autonomy call.
He included journalists in his definition of a terrorist, probably, in a bid to justify his suppression of media freedom, the imprisonment of journalists and the takeover of the country’s largest newspaper group that publishes the popular English language newspaper, Today’s Zaman.
On Tuesday, the Turkish police arrested more than 100 people connected to an Islamic welfare movement headed by a US-based Turkish scholar, Fethullah Gulen. The Gulen movement runs a large network of charity organisations, schools, universities, publishing houses, media groups, Islamic banks and businesses in Turkey and more than 100 countries.
Erdogan and Gulen were allies until police and prosecutors opened a corruption inquiry into Erdogan’s inner circle in 2013. Erdogan accuses Gulen of trying to run a parallel government and suspects that the movement’s members have penetrated the country’s judiciary and the police. In one of the shocking scandals that made headlines in 2014, Erdogan was heard in an audio tape allegedly instructing his son to hide tens of millions of euros stored in his house. Erdogan’s son Bilal is under investigation in Italy for money-laundering charges. Bilal is also being accused of profiteering from oil purchases from ISIS.
Erdogan claims corruption charges against him, his family and the government were orchestrated by the Gulen movement.
Erdogan, who last week hosted the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation summit, came to power on a promise to usher in stability and democracy in a country that has seen many a military takeover in its chequered history. His main support base was the country’s conservative majority who saw in Erdogan a savior who would end the oppression of their Islamic culture, which the Kemalists – the then ruling elite – saw as a sign of backwardness and incompatible with the state principle of secularism. The Kemalist regimes banned women from wearing the veil or hijab in public life and controlled religious schools, the clergy and Friday sermons.
Erdogan’s AK (Justice and Development) Party teamed up with the Gulen movement, saying it wants to empower the marginalised majority and alleged that the military, the judiciary and the bureaucracy formed a deep state that directed the affairs of government.
And now, it appears, Erdogan is the Deep State.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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The secret swindlers in Panama Papers: Casting pearls before swine

By Ameen Izzadeen

Most politicians and the politically connected elite have no conscience and we can say this with certainty just as we say that water flows from a high pressure point to a low pressure point. The Panama Papers that dominate world headlines these days only confirm this. If they have a conscience, how could they grab dirty money and stack them in secret accounts away from their home countries, where millions of people live in poverty?
Tax dodgers and plunders, aren’t they? Yes we know that most of them are plunderers, while others, however good they claim to be, are still accomplices in the crime. It is in the silence of the good that evil thrives.
If only the rogue politicians had a conscience, the fact that they are amassing dirty money would have pricked their heart and justifiably deprived them of their sleep. But this does not seem to have happened. They have no qualms about flying to Panama with bags full of dirty money amassed through commissions and other forms of corruption. They are least bothered that the money they stack away belongs rightfully and mainly to the impoverished people of their countries.
Many politicians named in the scandal may say they have done no wrong, because having offshore accounts or companies is not illegal. But there could be questions about its legitimacy and morality.
While the people are told to tighten their belts, the rich avoid paying taxes, politicians rob the people’s purse and drug lords with political connections make billions. Politicians governing the state say the treasury has no money to raise salaries, pay subsidies and sustain social services. Then they borrow billions from donor nations and commercial banks. In addition, they raise funds by selling dollar bonds. Accounts are cooked and half the money obtained through loans and aid is channeled to their secret foreign accounts in offshore tax havens. It is said that the dirty money hidden in secret accounts exceeds US$ 22.9 trillion or some 30 percent of the global GDP — US$ 77 trillion.
Selfish and avaricious, tax-dodging elite and wealth-hungry politicians do not believe in fair distribution of wealth. Coming to the aid of corrupt politicians and treacherous tax dodgers are offshore law firms. One such firm is the Panama-based Mossack Fonseca and the mannequin or the voluptuous model it displays to attract clients is its pledge of secrecy. Its activities came to light because of a whistleblower who leaked the files to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung in August 2015, saying he wanted to expose criminal wrongdoing.
The firm has, for the past 40 years, remained tightlipped as to who its clients are and how it, with the help of big banks, helps its clients to set up shell companies to open secret bank accounts. One such bank was the global giant HSBC. In December 2012, HSBC Holdings Plc agreed to pay a record $1.92 billion in fines to US authorities for banking lapses and allowing itself to be used to launder drug money flowing out of Mexico. In the current controversy, it is alleged that HSBC and Coutts, the world’s seventh largest bank and wealth manager, have asked Mossack Fonseca to create more than 2,000 offshore companies for their clients. Among the other 500-odd banks involved in the scandal are big names such as UBS, Credit Suisse and Societe Generale.
Swiss banks were once the biggest magnet for dirty money. But following decades of allegations that Swiss banks were a hindrance to combat tax evasion and money laundering, Switzerland last year signed deals with the European Union and the Organisation for Economic Corporation and Development (OECD) to cooperate with investigations.
But long before this agreement was signed, Switzerland had a policy of cooperating with foreign governments if the evidence of corruption was overwhelming. One such case was that of Benazir Bhutto, a former Prime Minister of Pakistan, and her husband Asif Zardari, a former President of Pakistan. It is alleged the Bhuttos had received kickbacks from a Swiss firm that was given the contract to inspect goods entering the Karachi port. The money was sent to a bank account of an offshore company owned by Zardari and his foreign lawyer.
Ironically, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whose government pursued the corruption cases against the Bhuttos, himself was exposed this week when the Panama Papers were leaked. Sharif denied any wrongdoing by him or his family members, but the exposé has caused a political storm short of a people’s power uprising in Pakistan.
Pakistan’s cricket legend and opposition politician Imran Khan tweeted: “Only reason ppl open offshore accts through Panama is to either hide wealth, esp ill-gotten wealth, or to evade tax or both.”
In response to the outcry, Sharif in a televised address to the nation on Tuesday said: “I want the truth to be presented to the nation, and for every Pakistani to be aware of the reality behind these allegations.”
It is strange why the Pakistanis who are politically pro-active have not taken to the streets so far. Perhaps, this is because Sharif has appointed a judicial commission to probe the allegations.
But the people of Iceland have no such tolerance for corruption or allegations of corruption. Iceland, the 13th cleanest country on the transparency international index, saw its people gather outside parliament demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson who was one of the 12 present and former state leaders named in the Panama Papers. Admitting, he had connections to a company registered in a Caribbean tax haven, as revealed by the Panama Papers, he resigned on Tuesday.
Among those world leaders implicated in the scandal are Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, whom the West — when it engineered a regime change in 2014 — touted as incorruptible and a man who has Ukraine’s and its people’s interest at heart.
But most Western media, pursuing Cold-War type hostility against Russia, are putting a spin on the Panama Paper revelations to hit out at Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has not been directly named, though his close friends have been.
Also implicated in the scandal are the family members of China’s President Xi Jinping and big names in China’s rising billion dollar state ventures. What is shocking is that in China President Xi is known as an anti-corruption crusader. He has promised zero tolerance of corruption among Communist Party officials and warned that he will go after “both the tigers and the flies”. Since the Panama Papers hit the world headlines, China has curtailed social media discussions on the subject.
If this was a shock, prepare for a bigger shock which will come in early May: The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which together with a group of more than 100 global newspapers and tv channels exposed the racket, on Sunday, is still demining the 11.5 million confidential documents that provide detailed information about more than 214,000 offshore companies and their clients. More names will appear and we will know who these money launders are. Yes Mossack Fonseca is just a tip of the iceberg.
(This story first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Islam betrayed by unholy extremists

By Ameen Izzadeen
The second chapter of the Muslim holy book, the Quran, says believing in the previous scriptures is an essential feature of God-consciousness. Commentators say the verse refers to scriptures such as the Torah, the Psalms, and the Gospels; the Arabic names of these being Thourath, Zaboor and Injeel.
The Quran also says, “and nearest among them in love to the believers wilt thou find those who say, ‘We are Christians’ because amongst these are men devoted to learning and men who have renounced the world, and are not arrogant.”
Yet, on the Christian feast day of Easter Sunday, five days after the Brussels bombs and two days after the Baghdad bomb that hardly got any media coverage, some who call themselves Muslims and identifying themselves as members of Jamaat-ul-Ahrar or the Assembly of Free People, unleashed their unholy horror and killed more than 70 people, mostly Christians.
Their innocent victims, already victimised by the numerous social injustices that have come to symbolise the life of minorities in today’s Pakistan, were spending the evening with their families in a Lahore Park. They might have been probably still hoping against hope that the vision of Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah will one day become a reality and make Pakistan a haven for all its people, irrespective of their religious, linguistic, geographic and ethnic divisions.
Revered by Pakistanis as Quaid-e-Azam or Great Leader, Jinnah, Pakistan’s founding father, in his famous August 11, 1947 speech to the Constituent Assembly said he wanted the new country to be an inclusive and impartial government, with religious freedom, rule of law and equality for all.
He said all Pakistanis would be “. . . first, second and last a citizen of this State with equal rights,” and added that “in the course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.”
But those who are behind Sunday’s terror attack care less for the vision of Jinnah, whom they have publicly denounced as a Kafir or infidel. These unholy killers’ rejection of Jinnah hardly comes as a surprise since they have chosen not to know about Islam’s commands on caring for the minorities and Islam’s early history.
It was the Christian ruler of Abyssinia, the present day Ethiopia, who sheltered the early Muslims when they were fleeing persecution in Makkah, the birthplace of Prophet Muhammad. The terrorists choose not to know this part of history or are half-baked unholy morons. How many of them have taken heed of the Quranic command and read the Christian or Jewish scriptures? If only they had read them, they would surely have found the common thread that bound the people together irrespective of their differences. Take for instance, the virtues of forgiveness in the teachings of Jesus and Muhammad. In Mathews 18-21,22, it is recorded that when Peter came to Jesus, and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him — till seven times?”
Jesus said: “I say not unto you, until seven times: but, until seventy times seven.”
Similarly, a saying recorded in the Islamic source book of Tirmidhi (Hadeeth No. 1949) says: “A man came to the Prophet and said: ‘O Messenger of Allah! How many times should I pardon my servant: The Prophet said: “Seventy times each day.”
Examples of similarities in the teachings of Jesus and Muhammad are galore. Yet the terrorists ignore these similarities and selectively interpret Quranic verses to suit their agenda and justify the killing of innocent Pakistani Christians, whereas a Muslim’s duty is to provide protection to non-Muslims living among them.
These innocent Christians living in Pakistan’s poverty stricken areas have been branded as agents of Zionists and Western Crusaders. For the terrorists, there exists a clash of civilizations — a war between the West and Islam. Interfaith dialogue and coexistence, for them, are alien concepts. So is the rationalistic Islamic school of thought which flourished during the Abbasid Caliphate in the 8th-10th centuries – a period during which the Muslim world was known for its academic achievements and scientific discoveries. Like all religions, Islam also extolls the virtues of love, mercy, kindness and forgiveness, but for heartless terrorists and hardliners, they are simply non-existent.
When the Subcontinent was divided in 1947 into India and Pakistan, the Christians in the parts that became Pakistan decided to stay back, unlike most Hindus who crossed over to India. Today they form about 1.5 percent of Pakistan’s 190 million people, though Christian activists say the figure must be much higher because the government deliberately undercounts them.
After Independence, Christian Pakistanis had very few problems in the Muslim-dominated Pakistan, but the situation began to go bad in the early 1980s due to several reasons. First among them was the rise of Jihadi or holy war ideology in neighbouring Afghanistan in the wake of the Soviet invasion of that country. Pakistan became a main centre for jihadists on their way to Afghanistan, while, for nearly ten years, the United States, its NATO allies, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries funded and fomented the Jihadi ideology.
At the same time, in Pakistan, the then military ruler, Zia ul-Haq, used Islam as a cover to legitimise his illegal seizure of power and launched a programme to Islamise Pakistan.
Also at the same time, the stricter interpretations of Islam made inroads into both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
However, the situation became really bad only after George W. Bush’s war on Afghanistan in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks on the United States. Instead of eliminating the Taliban and al-Qaeda, the United States’ war on terror went on to produce more jihadists. The deaths of thousands of innocent civilians during the indiscriminate NATO bombing and drone attacks pushed many jobless, uneducated youths, especially in the tribal belt, to join extremist groups and seek revenge.
The extremists are a minority in Pakistan or in any Muslim country. Most Muslims, according to a recent Pew Research, do not endorse the extremist’s ideology. ( However, the extremists and the deviants thrive in the silence of the learned. The war is not between Islam and the West. Rather the biggest Jihad is within Islam, and it involves eradicating the deviant ideology, which is spreading like a canker. In the aftermath of the Easter carnage, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made it clear that “spreading lawlessness through arson, anarchy, damaging government property and creating problems for people in the name of Islam and Prophet Muhammad, Peace Be Upon Him, is unacceptable… In-sha Allah, we will carry forward our mission to make Pakistan a cradle of peace, progress and prosperity.”
This is not an easy task with misguided jihadists clinging on to the ideology of Ahmad ibn Taymiyyah, also known as Ibn Taymiyyah. The 13th century sheikh rose to prominence by urging Muslims to rise against the Mongol rulers who occupied much of the then Muslim world. He also declared the Shiite Muslims to be infidels.
His teachings later influenced Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab, the 18th century radical cleric from Najd (part of present day Saudi Arabia) to launch a campaign to purify Islam – a process that gave birth to what is today known as Wahhabism. Like Ibn Taymiyyah, Abdul Wahhab is also a Shiite hater. Today their followers, among them ISIS, are sowing the seeds of hatred instead of Islam’s message of love, mercy, justice and unity.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Get on with the job, forget Rajapaksa’s deep state

By Ameen Izzadeen
The Deep State is an extremely powerful network that controls nearly everything around you. You won’t read about it in the news because it controls the news. Politicians won’t talk about it publicly. That would be like a mobster discussing murder and robbery on the 6 o’clock news. You could say the Deep State is hidden, but it’s only hidden in plain sight. – Author and venture capitalist Doug Casey.
Is a deep state within the government working for the defeated president Mahinda Rajapaksa and his corrupt cabal?
Listening to the speeches of government big wigs makes one wonder whether there is a deep state, working diligently to torpedo whatever measures the present Government takes to lift the country from the abyss that it has fallen into.
Speaker after speaker at Tuesday’s Lipton Circus political stunt talked about a conspiracy behind the recent power failure and vowed to expose the hidden hands behind what they alleged was sabotage.
We do not know whether the talk about a hidden hand is a fig leaf to cover the Government’s shortcomings in running the country’s affairs, be it the economy, budget making, reform-oriented legislation or law and order.
Look at the Lotus Tower. If the 14-month hibernation of the Chinese-funded Port City project, which is now back on track was because of environmental factors and fears expressed by big powers over its possible military-strategic use by China, then why is there no progress on the Lotus Tower project? Towering over all the high rises in Colombo, the partially built 350-meter tall structure – some 50 metres taller than the Eiffel Tower – stands as a testimony to the Government’s lack of progress in infrastructure development. The cash-strapped Government may say it has its priorities and will not rush complete white elephants which the previous government started with ulterior motives. The longer this project remains as a stem without its flower, the more severe the criticism directed at the Government will be. The imposing structure appears on the horizon not only as a colossus carrying its tale of woe to the people taking the Airport Highway to come to Colombo, but also as a symbol of Government inaction.
With a simple tower project being left incomplete, we wonder how long we have to wait to see a significant movement on the much-hyped-about Megapolis project, the Kandy-Colombo highway, the Volkswagen factory and other projects which the Government from time to time announces, apparently in a desperate bid to sustain the fast fading hopes of the people who voted for it in the hope of making Sri Lanka an economic miracle free of corruption, nepotism and dictatorship. We hear people say that corruption or no corruption, things happened during the previous regime. Colombo and its suburbs were so clean that we started looking for waste paper baskets to throw even a bus ticket. But today, the city and its suburbs have lost their lustre. Uncollected garbage and uncared-for-walking tracks, with the dissolved local councils under commissioners doing precious little, speak volumes about the good governance government’s bad practices.
There may be some validity in blaming the defeated Rajapaksa regime for failures or inaction, but it may, in the long run, not go well with the people.
True, when Maithripala Sirisena was elected president with the support of the Ranil Wickremesinghe-led United National Party, the new setup faced the gigantic task of cleansing the bureaucracy and the judiciary of elements loyal to the defeated strongman.
In one of their first cleaning acts, the new leaders got rid of the then Chief Justice, Mohan Peiris, a Rajapaksa lackey who had no qualms about spending the election night with Rajapaksa at Temple Trees. Some changes were also made in the administrative service, while the diplomatic postings were overhauled. But the new government’s effort to rid the state administration apparatus of ‘deep state elements’ is only a job half done. Although often seen as political victimisation, usually every new government in Sri Lanka has played political games with the top administrative positions in a bid to ensure that officials loyal to the defeated government do not scuttle the work of the new government. This sad state of affairs is largely because Sri Lanka is still not a meritocracy, where the right person is given the right job irrespective of his or her ethnicity, religion, caste or political affiliations. It is not like even India where the bureaucracy’s loyalty is to the state and not to the party in power.
So some cleanup is justified in Sri Lanka. Yet the present administration believes that despite the cleanup, some deep state elements are still extending a lifeline to the Rajapaksa cabal and trying to protect them from prosecution for the crimes they committed while in office.
When asked why there was an undue delay in the prosecution of the culprits who robbed the nation though the Police had completed investigations into more than 30 corruption cases and the special presidential commission an equal number, the Government’s standard answer implied the operation of a deep state within key state institutions. The appointment of Jayantha Jayasuriya as the new Attorney General last month instead of Suhada Gamlath, the most senior officer at the department, shows that the Government is on guard against the deep state.
The deep state, whether imaginary or real, is blamed for the students’ agitations, the farmers’ fury, the doctors’ protests and now the regular transformer blasts that lead to island wide power failures. This was why there was a ‘let-us-govern-the state’ plea at Tuesday’s UNP rally.
Given the Rajapaksas’ deftness at skullduggery, as seen in the allegation that they even funded the LTTE to win the presidential election in 2005, the present Government’s obsession with hidden hands or a deep state is understandable. But it should not be made a convenient excuse to justify lethargy or lack of visible development or progress in enacting progressive legislation such as the Right to Information Bill.
Many thought the business-friendly UNP with its economic acumen would revive the debt-ridden economy within a few months. But its leader now cites the world economic crisis due to low oil prices, China’s slow growth and US interest rate hikes as an excuse. This country, while battling a costly separatist war, has shown resilience during times of international financial or economic turmoil. It survived the 1997 Asian financial crisis with little damage and then emerged largely unscathed during the 2008 global economic crisis triggered by the mortgage scam in the United States.
Recently, Premier Wickremesinghe during a speech in parliament described the economy as a patient in critical condition, but expressed hope that the Government would not let the patient die. But what the people need is action, not mere words or investment forums. The Government must take the warning seriously that its good governance slogan is fast losing its magic.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka on March 19, 2016)

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Why this Trumpophobia?

By Ameen Izzadeen
It is an inexplicable irony that New York-based billionaire businessman Donald Trump is winning the Republican race even as the party hierarchy is up in arms against his push to become the next President of the United States, a country that believes that setting the world agenda is its exclusive business and none should have a share in the process.
With each passing day, Trump takes a leap to the unassailable position, increasing the party hierarchy’s fear of being forced to endorse the candidacy of the maverick mogul known for his crude and provocative remarks on building a wall to prevent illegal immigration, denying entry to Muslims, the size of his genitals and menstruating women.
Trump is confident of winning next Tuesday’s Florida primary. Yes, next Tuesday is crucial. If Trump wins Florida, the home state of rival contender Marco Rubio, and Governor John Kasich’s home state of Ohio, which is, like Florida, a winner-takes-all state, he will be assured of the 1,237 delegates needed for nomination at the Republican Convention from July 18-21. It will deal a knockout blow to all other contenders fighting for the Republican Party’s nomination for the race to the White House. If Trump wins Florida and Ohio next Tuesday, it will be a contest between Trump and the Republican establishment’s favourite, Ted Cruz.
The closer he gets to the target, the harsher the campaign within his own party to discredit him. But the one-time reality show star appears unstoppable, with some analysts already predicting that the final battle will be between Trump and Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton.
In what is seen as a desperate bid to slide-tackle Trump as he sprints to the winning tape, the Republican Party’s 2012 presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, fired a salvo ahead of this Tuesday’s crucial primaries in Michigan, Mississippi and Hawaii.
Romney, playing the party’s elder statesman’s role, warned of doom if Trump was elected. “If Donald Trump’s plans were ever implemented, the country would sink into prolonged recession,” he said during a visit to the University of Utah. “If we Republicans choose Donald Trump as our nominee, the prospects for a safe and prosperous future are greatly diminished…. His proposed 35 percent tariff-like penalties would instigate a trade war and that would raise prices for consumers, kill our export jobs and lead entrepreneurs and businesses of all stripes to flee America.”
Romney is not the first Republican leader to slam Trump as a demagogic lunatic or wild card upstart who has no business being the party’s candidate, let alone being President of the country. Besides Romney, all previous Republican presidential nominees who are among the living — George H. W. Bush, Bob Dole, George W. Bush and John McCain – have distanced themselves from Trump and see his candidacy as appalling. In addition, more than 100 members of the Grand Old Party’s national security community signed an open letter threatening that if Trump was elected they would vote for Hillary Clinton who they believe appears a lesser evil by a large margin.
The Republican hierarchy and a section of Corporate America believe Trump is not marketable and will come a cropper when arrayed against a powerful Democratic Party contender like Hillary Clinton. The thought of the presidency going to the Democrats for four more years, after eight years of the Obama presidency, is simply unacceptable.
How to stop Trump was also a topic at the American Enterprise Institute’s annual World Forum, a secretive affair, held recently on Sea Island, Georgia. Taking part in the forum were top executives of Corporate America and some leading neoconservative leaders of the infamous Bush era. Yes, the neocons are in the forefront of the anti-Trump campaign.
As this Tuesday’s resounding Trump triumphs at Michigan, Mississippi and Hawaii show, the more invective the Republican leadership hurls at Trump, the stronger he emerges. Whatever the attacks, be they from the Republican leadership, Corporate America or Corporate Media, the grassroots Republicans, the plebs – mostly the white Americans and evangelists — are with Trump. Also backing him are the Ku Klux Klan and likeminded racists. He symbolises their hope for a prosperous America; he emerges as a man who can deliver jobs. The choice of Trump appears as a reaction to their frustration with seasoned politicians who fail to fulfill their promises.
It was keeping this segment of society in mind that Trump in December last year during a Republican debate advocated a life-for-a-life policy or killing the entire family of a terrorist if he kills Americans. In post-9/11 America, such rants win standing applause. Trump being a businessman knows how to package his products. In a way, Trump’s outlandish remarks are marketing gimmicks aimed at media coverage. He does not spend much on campaign advertisements. He takes maximum advantage through free media for his campaign titled ‘Make America Great Again’.
So why this Trumpophobia? It appears that the fear of Trump stems from his policy statements, which are not palatable to the system which includes Corporate America, the neocons, the hawks, the Israeli lobby and the arms industry that invests in bloodletting in the Middle East.
Despite his beastly remarks such as “water-boarding the animals of the Middle East”, Trump is anti-war. He opposes US military involvement in places like Iraq and Syria. He calls the Iraq war a historic blunder. Although he calls himself an Israeli supporter – a declaration which is regarded as an unwritten requirement for nomination – Trump says he will be a “neutral” honest broker between Israel and the Palestinians in peace negotiations, as Jimmy Carter had been.
He also says he will “get along very well” with Russian President Vladimir Putin, as Richard Nixon got along with the then Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and Chinese leader Mao Zedong — and will not oppose Russia’s war on ISIS.
Though most Americans agree with Trump’s policies, we must not forget that it is the system that runs the United States. The Republican leadership, of course, knows this. If it is the President who really sets the agenda, President Obama would have solved the Palestinian problem, closed the Guantanamo Bay gulag prison, and stayed out of wars on Libya and Syria. However idealistic a President is, there is a limit to what he or she can do. In the past, those who tried to overstep the limit had to pay a heavy price. President John F Kennedy paid with his life, while Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton faced impeachments processes. So why worry about Trump? Already he is sending out signals to the system that he will be obedient and there’s no need to entertain fear. In off-the-record remarks to a newspaper, he is alleged to have said that he would not build the wall.
But the Republican leadership is unconvinced because Donald Trump is unpredictable.
(This story first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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The devil’s brigade won’t allow disarmament

By Ameen Izzadeen
During the Peloponnesian wars (404 BC), sex was tried as a desperate means to achieve disarmament. Athenian women organised a sex strike and even the women of the enemy city states such as Sparta were invited to take part. The women, fed up of wars, refused to sleep with the men, until they ended the decades-long war.
But today quite the opposite is being reported, especially in the Middle East. Hundreds of young women are leaving their families and the security of their homes to become Jihadi brides of ISIS fighters in war-torn Syria and Iraq – a result of these women over romanticizing Jihad without understanding the term’s spiritual meaning. Sex appears to be a big draw for recruitment. Repulsive reports abound of women who are captured during raids or conquests being forcibly married to ISIS fighters or sold in the marketplace as sex slaves.
This article is not about sex. It is about disarmament – a subject that attracts little media attention these days as countries with vested interest are dumping armaments worth billions of dollars on reckless rebel groups. These arms supplying states show scant regard for the adverse consequences, the major ones being regional instability and a humanitarian crisis involving millions of refugees.
Not so long ago, during the Cold War period, disarmament was a major item on the international agenda. While the leaders of the two rival superpowers – the United States and the Soviet Union – met regularly to discuss arms reduction and limitation, the United Nations itself was pushing the disarmament agenda with overwhelming zeal in a bid to eliminate nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
But on February 29 when the three-day United Nations Conference on Disarmament began in Geneva, it rarely made even a news-in-brief item in the news broadcasts of major western television channels. They had allocated much of their air time to analyse the Super Tuesday victories of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Underscoring this lack of interest, the New York Times mistook the disarmament conference for Syrian peace talks in a news item based on what Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told the conference. Later, the NYT carried a correction on its website. For NYT, it was not the event that made news, but Lavrov’s claim that the Syrian rebels possess chemical weapons.
“Chemical terrorism is emerging not as an abstract threat but a grave reality of our time,” Lavrov told the conference, which US Secretary of State John Kerry apparently did not see as sufficiently important to warrant his presence.
Whatever the reason, it is naïve to assume that the United States’ under-representation at the conference was due to a guilty conscience over its concocted claims that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction while it prepared for the Iraq war in 2003. Kerry, a Senator then, opposed the then US President George W. Bush’s plan for the attack.
The build-up to the Iraq war itself was shrouded in deception. Bush presented his case as though he was launching a global campaign for disarmament or a drive to rid the world of weapons of mass destruction.
Delivering his 2002 State of the Union address, Bush declared that North Korea, Iran and Iraq formed an axis of evil, and that the United States would not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to “threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons”.
But far from ridding the world of weapons of mass destruction, the Bush campaign turned out to be a weapon of mass deception and a profit-making venture for the military-industrial complex. US companies like Halliburton, of which Bush-era Vice President Dick Cheney was once CEO, General Electric, Parsons Corp, DynCorp International, Bechtel, and Academi made billions of dollars in profit through military and construction contracts while more than a million Iraqis, including children and women, perished in Washington’s Shock and Awe military onslaught.
It is not an understatement to say that the war industry is a devil’s agent that makes the world bleed. In 1961, US President Dwight D Eisenhower saw this danger. In his farewell address, Eisenhower — in what may have been his prophetic moment — warned that “an immense military establishment and a large arms industry” had emerged as a hidden force in US politics and that Americans “must not fail to comprehend its grave implications”.
But today, most American leaders seem to ignore Eisenhower’s message. No wonder, their country carries the dubious reputation of being a nation at perpetual war. The list of countries that have been devastated by the US fire power is long — and it includes Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Afghanistan and Iraq in Asia, Granada and Panama in the Americas, Somalia and Libya in Africa and the former Yugoslavia in Europe.
As war after war pockmarks the walls of US history, the military budget also expands with more and more taxes heaped on the people. Perpetual war and bigger military budgets also mean larger profits for the arms industry. It is said the US military campaign in Iraq and Afghanistan has cost the US taxpayers US$ one trillion and 673 billion. Every time, a missile is fired, another is made at an arms manufacturer’s factory. So when more missiles and ammunition are fired, it also means more contracts for the arms industry.
The arms industry worldwide stands accused of plotting schemes to push nations into war so that it can profit by selling weapons to warring factions. Arms manufacturers worldwide have sold weapons worth billions of dollars in recent years to the oil rich countries of the Middle East, while Western political leaders who receive campaign donations from arms manufacturers showed Iran as a bogey that seeks to gobble up the Sunni sheikdoms.
It is alleged that the State Department under Hillary Clinton facilitated arms industry donors who supported the Clinton Foundation to clinch weapons deals worth US$ 165 billion. Most of these weapons have been sold to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations — and these US-made weapons kill innocent civilians in Yemen and Syria.
These merchants of death, in their insatiable greed, do not care whether the arms they manufacture reach non-state actors such as terrorists. Take the case of Libya. During the 2011 civil war, weapons from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the US and other western nations flowed abundantly, with pro-arms-lobby Clinton at the helm of affairs at the State Department. These surplus weapons were one of the main reasons why Libya is in turmoil today. A similar flow of weapons has also reached Syrian moderate rebels who freely shared the weapons with ISIS, al-Nusra and other extremist groups. Most of the weapons the so-called moderate rebels and extremists use largely legitimate weapons sold to US allies in the Middle East.
With the greed-driven arms industry profiteering from bloodletting, there is little hope that world peace can be achieved through any UN disarmament drive or moribund conferences. The innocents are caught in a trap and doomed to die violent deaths while the arms sellers carry on their devilry regardless.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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