The Sunday TimesNews/Comment

6th June 1996



Presidential Commision to probe central region killings

The Presidential Commission of Inquiry into disappearances of persons in the Central Region will conduct sittings from tomorrow till June 21 at the Divisional Secretary's Office, Nikaweratiya.

Nearly 250 complaints that were received will be taken up. The Commission has also received information to the effect that there are eye witnesses willing to speak about the persons who had been tortured and burnt to death near the Nikaweratiya Police Station and Army Camp.

Russia: the big money is on Boris Yeltsin

By Mervyn De Silva

Loyal C.P. apparatchik or dissident intellectual, Leningrad journalist or Kishinev barkeeper the average Russian is ready with a proverb for every occasion and all seasons. That was certainly not true of the Estonian or the Lithuanian in the Baltic states as I learnt on my last visit to the U.S.S.R. just before the great "dis-union" commenced. And Gorbachev the great reformer soon became the man who presided over the liquidation of the Russian empire.

"Dwell on the past and you will lose an eye.. Forget the past and you will lose both eyes" was the wise reply of 76 year old Elena who had been banished by Stalin's regime, and transported with thousands of other dissidents from Odessa to Vorkuta to work in the coal mines. She was responding to questions by British journalist John Thornhill about how she felt about the June 16 election, an election that could not only decide President Boris Yeltsin's fate but Russia's, and indirectly perhaps eastern Europe's. The U.S.-led NATO has clear plans for the region as part of Washington's grand strategy, to create a "unipolar" world. Or so Moscow suspects.

President Yeltsin can be certain of Elena's vote on June 16.

But not, alas, the support of Timor Tokov, a Russian businessman in his mid-thirties. "It seems to me there are two communist parties in Russia today. There is one that retains its name and is full of sincere people defending the poor which I support and then there is Mr. Yeltsin's party which is that of the bureaucrats and the former politburo members." Zyuganov's Communists, he is convinced, will bring greater order and social justice and defend the rights of the individual, for Mr. Tokov, democracy is about the rule of law. "Whether you are a bum or the President, you should be equally liable before the law..."

So far, fair enough. But he does strike one as mixed up idealist. Tokov is full of praise for the "competitive spirit" of private enterprise. And yet he insists that the in-built "welfarism" of the socialist system should be retained. Evidently, there are millions like him in post-Gorbachev Russia, hoping for the best of both (or all) worlds.

In fact, there are two large issues - democracy and economic policy. On parliamentary democracy, we have the wisdom of journalist Sergei Gorsky who has visited Britain and watched the House of Commons in session. How does it compare with parliamentary democracy in his country? "We have only received the freedom of Hyde Park!" he scoffs.

And so to the mighty Red Army. It could say anti-Yeltsin campaigners, rig the elections, and give Yeltsin another term.

Army's role

In any country plagued by choronic disorder or worse, violent conflict, the Army is a critical factor in the big equation. But the importance of the Russian army in the current crisis can be quite easily exaggerated. For one thing, it is not a cohesive force; it has no charismatic leader, certainly none that uses the media, now quite independent and lively, to project his own Napoleonic image. No, there is no "Army candidate" though the secessionist Chechen threat did become a crucial issue - so crucial that President Yeltsin decided he had to visit the battlefront.

The disintegration of the mighty Soviet Union and the economic mess were the two issues that made western analysts feel that President Yeltsin was doomed. And he has a serious challenger in candidate Lebed, who commanded Russian troops in the East, and "resolved" many an armed conflict in the C.I.S., the commonwealth of independent states, constituent members one of the mighty U.S.S.R. So, twenty four hours after he negotiated a ceasefire, Mr. Yeltsin visited the rebel Chechnya to "celebrate" the victory. At a time when Islamic revivalism is recognised as a formidable agent of change, often violent, no Russian leader is conscious of Russia's "Islamic rim".

Some call it the big bear's soft underbelly can ignore the ethnic in foreign policy and regional strategy.

Up to a few months ago, the Russian authorities had referred to Dzhokhar Dudayev, the Chechen leader, as a "bandit". All Moscow needed evidently was an effective "police operation". It took Moscow some time to realise that the challenge was more serious than "getting rid of bandit gangs". As June 16 drew closer however President Yeltsin decided the Chechen conflict had to be resolved, and a personal visit would projet the right image. Too many commentators were talking of Yeltsin's Vietnam; hyperbole true, the damaging nonetheless. "It seems to me that the top brass completely fails to understand what sort of war is being fought in Chechnya," said Alexander Iskandarian, director of the Moscow-based Centre for North Caucasian Studies. The negotiated settlement certainly covered a dangerously exposed flank just in time for President Yeltsin's own decisive battle, for another term.

Free market

If the revolt in Chechnya wounds Russian pride, the economic change hurts more. "Look out of my window on to Gorky Street, and all you can see is foreign signs - for Sharp, Gillette and so forth," he says, pointing to the thicket of foreign advertisements visible from the generous offices, he, (Anatoly Lukianov a leading figure of the C.P.) occupies as chairman of the Parliament's Legal Commission. Yes, the open market policies introduced by the Yeltsin regime has hurt the pocket - prices of imported goods keep rising as well as patriotic pride. So much so, Comrade Gennady Zyuganov, President Yeltsin's main rival according to all the opinion polls, has elected to present himself as the candidate of National Patriotic Front (NPF). Policies have changed too - no nationalisation; and no seizure of private property, not even of these blackmarketeers known as the Moscow "mafia". Not a single candidate has threatened to nationalise property.

But Zyuganov's top aides have spoken of a "leading role" for the State. They also talk of a 'mixed economy', with the State running 'strategic enterprises'. To please the 'new' generation voters ( and thus their parents) he has promised to abolish conscription.

The mass media, increasingly independent and lively, seem to prefer the known devil, President Yeltsin, but will he pass the 50 % mark?

The focus is on the Yeltsin-Zyuganov duel but the performance of General Lebed. Yavlinsky and Federov may decide the ultimate outcome. Meanwhile, we must keep an eye on Vladimir Zhironovsky, the ultra-nationalist, and in my view, the wild card.

He took the best informed analysts in Russia and western think-tanks by surprise when the parliamentary results were announced. He could do it again. The great Czars were succeeded by the commissars who made Lenin's land the other superpower. Today it has been reduced to a one-dimensional "superpower" if that is not a contradiction. Its armed forces, its nuclear arsenal, its vast resources and territory can make Russia a major player in the global power game. Is the Red Army for Yeltsin, for Zyuganov or just cautiously neutral?

The "big money" is on Yeltsin. Like the U.S. and E.U., the World Bank is "backing" the President. World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn did of course say that the timing of his recent meeting with President Yeltsin, his warm words, and a five hundred million dollar loan was purely coincidental. But then he would say so, wouldn't he?

The Yeltsin administration in turn has evidently "softened" its line on a NATO expansion. While standing firm on the question of NATO advancing to Russia's borders Foreign Minister Primakov says Moscow could live with NATO enlargement "under certain conditions."

All this after the first round?

Pakistan hopefu of talks with Gowda govt.

With a new government coming into office in New Delhi, both Pakistan and India are offering olive branches and invitations to peace talks to each other to ease regional tensions.

Causing much concern for peace activists and SAARC idealists are the yet-unresolved problem of Kashmir, which is regarded as the oldest crisis in the post-World War Two era and the nuclear proliferation, among other issues.

The H. D. Dev Gowda government in New Delhi has in its policy statement said that it would give greater autonomy to Kashmir in a bid to solve this issue. But this is far from what a majority of Kashmiris and Pakistan want to hear.

Kashmir issue

To find out Pakistan's response to the approach of the new Indian government on the Kashmir issue, the nuclear proliferation in South Asia, SAARC solidarity and other regional issues, The Sunday Times spoke to Pakistan's Foreign Minister Sardar Aseff Ahmed Ali in a brief interview at his Hilton Hotel room. Mr. Ali was on a two-day visit to Sri Lanka largely to improve bilateral trade and strengthen the friendship the both countries foster and relish.

Mr. Ali welcoming the new Indian government's initial response to Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's offer of friendship and call for peace talks said Islamabad was still awaiting an official response to its offer.

Our Prime Minister has written to Mr. Gowda. I have written to the new Indian Foreign Minister I. K. Gujral. But the initial responses have been what we hear in the media. They were very encouraging. We are for peace. We seek an open dialogue with India. We don't believe in secret diplomacy the Oxford educated Mr. Ali said.

The Gowda government is offering greater autonomy to Kashmir as a solution to the independent and reunification struggle in the region.

But Mr. Ali said neither autonomy offers nor any kind of elections would be a solution to this vexed problem. Only a solution on the basis of a UN resolution, which calls for a plebiscite in the region to decide its future or a solution in line with the Simla Accord would solve the Kashmir issue.

The Simla Accord signed by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the father of Premier Bhutto, and Indira Gandhi of India calls for resolution of issues through bilateral talks while recognising the status quo.

During my one-hour talks with President Chandrika Kumaratunga, I discussed the Kashmir issue. I requested Sri Lanka to use its good offices with India to help solve this issue

Asked whether the Kashmir issue was an obstacle to SAARC developing into a powerful regional organisation such as the European Union or the ASEAN, Mr. Ali said if India resolved this issue with Pakistan, all the other disputes could be solved easily.

It will open the gates for many wonderful things to happen. The entire region would enjoy the dividend of peace. SAARC will truly take off as a powerful regional organisation.


The South Asian Preferential Trade Agreement came into force in December last year. It was pointed out by some analysts at the initial period of SAPTA negotiations that Pakistan because of its threat perception of Indian dominance of regional trade, was dilly-dallying with the ratification of SAPTA. Some even said that Pakistan was more interested in regional trade with the newly independent Central Asian countries and with the OEC (with Iran and Turkey). In fact, the OEC was extended to include the Central Asian Muslim countries last year.

But an optimistic Mr. Ali dismissed such theories and giving trade figures said, We ratified the SAPTA at an early stage. Bilateral trade has already begun with India

Pakistan can offer its oil and gas pipelines from Iran and the Gulf for the benefit of South Asian. This could be extended to India under SAPTA. This has the great potential to make the entire South Asian region economically prosperous, he said.

Nuclear issue

There were reports recently that India was preparing to test its second nuclear device. What will be Pakistan's response in such an event?

Quoting Shakespeare, the 56-year-old foreign minister said the question then would be to be or not to be.

Pakistan and India have gone to war thrice.. But for the past quarter of a century there were no wars despite festering disputes. We see dangerous developments in India. For example, the development of Prithvi missiles, which we see as aimed at Pakistan.

Both the countries have nuclear capabilities and both have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). But Pakistan's position is not only nuclear weapons are bad but nuclear tests as well.

WE are willing to sign the NPT. But it should be done multilaterally with both India and Pakistan signing or both the countries bilaterally agreeing to it.

When asked why Pakistan always cited India as a condition to sign the NPT or the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty which is currently being worked out in Geneva, Mr. Ali said Pakistan had its own nuclear policy.

In contrast to our stand, India has said it would agree to the CTBT provided the treaty is linked to a time-mounted formula. India remains outside the CTBT. This would encourage others to be outside it.

WE conceive the CTBT as having three elements. First, the scope. We have agreed to it. Secondly, the verification. We are ironing out differences and there is intense negotiation going on at the moment. Thirdly, the coming into force of the treaty. This is the most difficult part. Several proposals have been put forward by many countries. But we believe the CTBT should be accompanied by a universal nuclear disarmament.

Lankan visit

The foreign minister's Lankan visit at a time of a major power crisis came as manna from heaven. He offered advice and alternatives to Sri Lanka based on the Pakistani experience. Also discussed was a multi-million-rupee Pakistani credit line offered some two years ago for the development of our railways.

Continue to the News/Comment page 3 - The arbitrary stoppage of NFEP, “Thou shalt not critisize thine own master”

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