The Sunday TimesNews/Comment

13th October 1996




Afghanistan- containment of Islam

President Boris Yeltsin's National Security adviser warned: "If Taleban, backed by Pakistan, reaches the borders with Uzbekistan and Tadjikistan they will wipe away the Russian border posts, and see the road to the north set free", reported Farhan Bokhari, and Islamabad-based Pakistani journalist in his report on the wider implications of the Taleban Islamic movement's stunning success in Afghanistan.

Yes, Moscow has cause for anxiety. The Moslem republics of the CIS, the Commonwealth of Independent States, Russia's soft underbelly, has been exposed to the direct threat of a militant Islam on the march.

While it was brave of reporter Bokhari to name Pakistan, the far more significant factor would surely be the response of Iran, the authentic home of a revolutionary Islam. Iran's spiritual guide, Ayatollah Ali Khameni pointed an accusing finger at Washington. For India, this may have been a window of opportunity... another chance to identify an American-Pakistani connection. But we have not seen any official statement yet.

More surprisingly, Moscow has remained silent so far. Twenty years ago, right here in Colombo, it was the Cairo-based Middle-East correspondent of Pravda, Mr. Yevgeni Primakov (now Foreign Minister) who suggested that I should visit some of the central Asian republics on my next visit to Moscow. Tashkent in any case was the first stop-over on Aeroflot's route to Moscow.

I did visit three of the Moslem republics and found a world quite different to Moscow and Leningrad. The question now is whether Islam will prove the stronger allegiance. That certainly would be a question on which the State Department, the CIA, the "area experts" and all analysts of the dynamics of the Islamic revival, would now concentrate.

Right now, Iran evidently is concerned about both the ideological and the strategic... the deviationism of Taleban, and its external linkages and sources of support, money and arms.

From Algeria and Sudan to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, it is the "Islamic threat" which invites the close attention of American strategists and foreign policy planners. The political crisis in Israel has de-stabilized the entire region, a region that has not lost its strategic importance to the US-led western alliance.

For Russia, the threat posed by the crisis, is direct and far too close for comfort. For the sole superpower which is now inclined to see crises and regional instability in an increasingly global perspective, the Afghan turmoil is no high priority item on the Clinton agenda. The margin of victory on November 5 concentrates the presidential mind, and engages the attention of the White House campaign managers and advisers. There is no cause for 'Red Alert', just alert, and that only because of militant Islam is on the march. The White House hopes Boris Yeltsin will remain Russia's President.

Chechen challenge

Whether Mr. Yeltsin remains Russian President or not, the rise of Taleban will be seen by policy makers in Moscow as a 'security threat'. Not because of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenia, Kazakhastan or Kyrghistan but Chechnya.

The Russian army was defeated by the separatist Chechen guerrillas, whatever security chief Alexander Lebed or the High Command may claim. In the present context, we need to remember two facts: (i) By the 18th century the Chechens had accepted Islam, (ii) The Chechens resisted Russian intrusions and occupation. The Chechen resistance was led by brave Muslim fighters like Imam Shamil, defeated finally in 1859. But the resistance went on. Valiant fighters like Maulama Khalid Baghdadi are honoured to this day.

It was in 1944, that Stalin took the extreme step of "deporting Chechens en masse to Kazakhastan and Kyrgystan. Nearly a quarter million Muslims died, says a Malaysian commentator Raja Abdul Razak. In the light of current developments this connection should be kept in mind, since Chechnya was part of Chechen-Ingush ASSR. The ASSR stood for "Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republics", part of the Soviet Union but "autonomous." It was only after the collapse of the Soviet Union did Jauhar Dudayev proclaim Chechnya "independent".

And Chechnya did have elections on Oct. 27, 1991 and Dudayev was a former general of the Soviet Air Force, a fact that his old comrade Alexander Lebed, President Yeltsin's chief trouble-shooter, and National Security Adviser, would have appreciated.

Mosques were banned, until 1979 in the Soviet Union and Islamic movements could not possibly operate freely, the same commentator reminds us.

Russian response

Apart from Islam, the human rights record of Taleban has invited immediate protests from the US. But American concern cannot of course match Russian fears and anxieties. Just in case, Washington associates Taleban with the Islamic revolution led by Ayatollah Khomeini in the Shah's Iran, the new regime in Kabul has emphasized a distinction that it hopes President Clinton's advisers will appreciate.

The Taleban is "Sunni" whereas the Iranian is "Shiite". This special effort to dissociate itself from "Islamic fundamentalism" was made after it dawned on the new leadership that in the six-member Shura (governing council) all six were Muslim clerics.

The foreign ministry lost no time in assembling the foreign correspondents who had rushed to Kabul, the big story of the week. A career officer, Mohammed Stanakazi of the foreign ministry assured the press that rumors of Kabul becoming a new center for "exporting" fundamentalism or terrorism, were meaningless, and should be ignored. Was it true that the new regulations required women to stay away from work, and all girls' schools to be closed?

"Big rumors" was the answer. In fact, the spokesman added, women working in hospitals had received permits. Despite such assurances, western correspondents were convinced that "a system where women and girls would be strictly segregated from men" could be introduced soon. Mr. Stanakazi took pains to convince the foreign media that the new regime would not allow "people to make trouble in other countries, and we expect the same from them."

Despite these official assurances, Amnesty (London) accused Taleban of "seizing up to 1,000 prisoners in house-to-house searches in the capital". But the Amnesty press release used the words "reign of terror."


But the ousted President Burhanuddin Rabbani has already launched a counter-attack... after a quick (tactical?) deal with Uzbek warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum, an Uzbek nationalist who is certainly no Islamic militant. In this knee-jerk response, the new partners show their common fear and hatred.

Both Russia and the US will surely see nothing in this new alignment that could possibly endanger their security/foreign policy interests. For Moscow, security means the containment of Taleban or better still its end, and for the US and Russia, an armed confrontation of Taleban, and hopefully its end as a military force.

With President Clinton trying hard to contain both Islamic fundamentalism and Jewish extremism in an Israel swept by violence, Washington and Moscow would probably see a convergence of security interests.

This was the authentic terrain of 'the great game'. Let us watch the new not-so great game.

Sri Lanka and El Salvador

'Cheer them on'

Stephen S. Rosenfield

We journalists turn to trouble as to the sun, and as a result we are prone to kissing off the good news or to covering it scantily or with a show of knowing skepticism. I am prompted to make this dreary confession by encounters with two delegations attending last week's annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Both Sri Lanka and El Salvador are commonly placed, when they are remarked on at all, in the class of countries miserably burdened by strife or poverty. But the two deserve to be called honor graduates, or at least partly so, of this hapless class. And they are not alone.

The particular achievement of Sri Lanka, the tear dropping off India, is to have preserved and extended market reform and the welfare state even while engaged in protracted cruel battle against minority Tamil separatists. The Tamils have yet to make a plausible internationally accepted case for statehood, as distinguished from a fairer deal. But the Tamil "Tigers" have dragged out the struggle, hoping to shred the people's patience and the government's will.

The government has stayed in the field. With recent victories, it hopes to have driven the Tigers out of their last town and into the jungle. Meanwhile it offers to devolve power upon regional councils, an approach it believes would soak up the residual Tamil-speaking sea in which guerrilla fish have swum.

This much is familiar. What's often overlooked is that, through some decades of unrest leading to civil war, successive democratic governments have promoted the economic growth and restructuring and the social programs that have made Sri Lanka the most advanced market, economy of its region and its best-performing society in per capita income, health, mortality and human development in general.

What other country has done so well politically, socially and economically while carrying a comparable military load? It is so that Sri Lanka has some nagging human rights problems. But most of us recognize that countries so burdened, which also serve their people and hold a political door open to their foes, get a certain slack for the excesses their soldiers may be drawn to commit in the course of battling terrorism.

El Salvador represents its own triumph of national endeavor over international in attention. It is widely considered a country still struggling to clamber out of the deep pit that the Cold War and a seemingly ineradicable culture of violence and poverty left it in. The news is that El Salvador is making notable progress. It may not be the "miracle" that some of its spokesmen and promotional literature proclaim. In the four years since the United Nations knit up a government-guerrilla peace, however, it has made itself a showcase of revival on contemporary post-Cold War lines.

In 1982 I spent a week in forlorn wartime El Salvador wondering how much suffering a country could inflict upon itself - and whether its evident entrepreneurial talent could again be unleashed. Now it's happening. El Salvador is putting behind a war even deadlier than Sri Lanka's and is moving to fit itself out - rather on Chilean lines - for the new global economy. The bank and fund last week used El Salvador as a model country of its sort for precisely that passage. If only Russia, scarcely more encumbered, had shown half its drive.

I'm not claiming that, globally, things aren't going so badly after all. A pessimistic diagnosis of Third World prospects pretty much prevails these other days, and it is not wild. But particular countries and particular groups of people are working at development; they have available to them a global market system, including private and public banks, universities and other idea-sharpening places. We should pay more attention to the success stories, see where their experience can be replicated, lend a hand when we can (Congress could give El Salvador's exports tariff "party" with Mexico's) and at the very least cheer them on. - Washington Post

Special Report

Preme to Sirima: I'll be the crow you be the king coconut

With the end of the Satan Peramuna spearheaded bus strike through the intervention of former State Minister, A.J. Ranasinghe his next step was to build a rapport between the then President, Ranasinghe Premadasa and Opposition leader, Sirimavo Bandaranaike . 'The Sunday Times' publishes secret tapes of conversations between Mr. Ranasinghe and others regarding the possibility of forming a National government:

Conversation 1
Between President R. Premadasa and Mr. Ranasinghe.

AJ: Did you get that letter?

RP:Yes, if people get some relief we would be satisfied.

AJ:That's right.

RP:That's my only hope.

AJ:That's a good idea.

RP:Tell her that this is my motive. If she has faith in us that's enough.

AJ:She believes us

RP:Tell that I don't have any other motives.. I am ready to give up any friend. Or even strike a friendship with any of my enemies. Tell her.

AJ: I thought of an idea. Even seetha (Mr. Ranasinghe's wife) told me to invite her for a dinner at Auckland House.

RP:But repairs have not been completed.

AJ:Once they are completed.

RP: But, better than dinners, there is some magic to be done. If our minds are pure others will not be bad. It all depends on what you sow,. We will reap what we sow.. You cannot plant, spoil it, and expect a good growth.

AJ: I told her to think about it. She said she thought you were a cunning person. I said you were not cunning, but a sincere person. I said I am not going to tell the good and bad about you, but for her to make her own judgment about you. She then said she felt that you were genuine. I told her don't listen to tales.

RP: I told her I came to know about this through you.

AJ:So she is happy, otherwise she wouldn't have called and told me.

RP:Then on the Foreign policy, I gave India tight. I said this was not only my idea, but also Ms. idea. I proved that quoting a speech of Ms., delivered at the Felix Dias (Bandaranaike)'s lecture, during the time the Accord was signed. There she said that powerful forces left this region not for other powerful forces in the region to dominate our countries.

Ha, ha ha.. (laughter)

you read that speech and see .The Daily News has carried it.

RP: I have a poem which you could give her when Gabosingho's grandson, A.A.Premachandra Perera, one of our friends married. recited a poem, one of them is,


RP: That's one, the other one is,


AJ: When did you recite this.

RP: This is when Premachandra Perera was getting married. You mentioned about a comparison, like a pair of pigeons, that's why I mentioned this to you.

RP: Tell her that when you told me about the parable, I said that was not correct. Say that I said that I am like a crow near a king coconut. [both laugh]

She will be taken up by that. She is compared to the king coconut, we will lower our position and praise them. They are from the walawwas,. Sure we should give them this position. We want to do our job, tell her that you told me about the parable and then I said that it is not correct. The correct one is that " I am like the crow, close to a king coconut" I am the crow and she is the king coconut.

Conversation 2
Between Ms. Bandaranaike & A.J.Ranasinghe

AJ: Good morning madam, I am Ranasinghe.

MS. B: Good morning, have they found that person?

AJ: Who madam?

MS. B:. Weliwita.

AJ: No, even I checked up with the JOC.

MS. B: Aiyo, then they may have killed him.

AJ: They are trying to trace him, but no clue.

MS. B: No, but they kill and burn, then how to find out? They put tires and burn.

AJ: He had his own problems. He had a love affair, he was in debt to some of the businessmen also. He did not have proper dealings. So don't know the reasons they killed him. Even Gen. Ranatunga and STF Chief Karunasena, also looked into the matter. They said no trace of the man. You get wheels within wheels.

MS. B: That's the point.

AJ: Madam, that letter, tell him, to send today. I can give it to the papers.

MS. B: He is meditating. For the past two weeks he is meditating, I will remind.

AJ: President rang me up. I told him that I saw both of you like a pair of birds the picture published in the papers. Then the President said it was not like a pair of birds, but he was like a crow perched on a king coconut tree. [ both laugh ]

Ms. B: So I am the king coconut. He had quoted from my speech.

AJ: That's good, better speak direct, I am very happy, everything is for the country.

MS. B: Have you got any reply from the JVP?

AJ: No, no response so far, I am trying .

MS. B: Try and see. You see the LTTE responded immediately, why can't the JVP?

AJ: That's the thing.

MS. B: They say they are fighting to get the IPKF out. If they want to get the IPKF out they should go to Jaffna and fight. . Should admire Prabhakaran and he killed them also, thousands were killed. These fellows the jvp, are fighting in the south and killing thousands of sinhala youth. What's the meaning of this? They say they are fighting because of the IPKF who are here. If they had joined hands with the LTTE they could have driven the IPKF out, without killing sinhalese in the south. I can't understand this.

AJ: We are also trying to settle it, like we settled the transport strike. Now this we can't trace, we have no contacts.

MS. B: We are trying to stop the killings. They are killing our own sinhala Buddhist youth, isn't it?

AJ: That's the point.

MS. B: Even the Sinhalese are getting killed here.

AJ: Even if the army kills, it is the Sinhalese that are getting killed.

MS. B: That's the thing. Our girls won't have anybody to marry.

AJ:That is right.

MS. B: I told Mr. Hameed yesterday that we also may have to follow Muslim marriage customs. He was laughing.

AJ: I am happy that all have got together. All will meet at Auckland House. One day I will take you there.

MS. B: Not at this moment.

AJ: We should go and see. it.

MS. B: There are beautiful things there.

AJ: I am told there are 13 rooms in it.

MS. B: Yes, there are a large number of bed rooms, sitting rooms.

AJ:That's a good investment, without paying hotel bills.

MS. B: yes.

AJ: Madam, there was a good speech made by the Prime Minister before meeting you.

MS. B: Earlier I had been in parliament as well.

AJ: I told the president there was a meeting at Sirisanghabo vidyalaya, Veyangoda in 1956, and a large crowd came there. In my speech I said that he became the Prime Minister not only on his luck, but because you got a gem from Ratnapura. I said that I knew you before him. Then he said that if he knew that I was known to you, he would wouldn't have married you. Can you remember that?

MS. B: yes.

AJ: I told president this, madam, he was telling me that he did know that you loved the country so much and we want to work for the country. I told that madam you too would have understood it. OK Madam.

MS. B: Right.

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