Myanmar in the
map are not members of SAARC)
Climbs to Top of 'Afghan Idol'
pain, no gain. I came by the vote of the people of
Afghan Star Finalist
a first for post-Taliban Afghanistan, a woman from the
conservative Pashtun belt is one of the top three contenders in
the country's version of American Idol.
detractors decry the fact an Afghan woman has found success singing on
television, while others - younger Afghans - say the show is helping
women progress. Under the Taliban regime that was overthrown in 2001,
women were not even allowed out of their homes unaccompanied, while
music and television were banned.
her hair tucked under a wispy blue headscarf, Lima Sahar brushes off her
critics, saying there can be no progress for women without upsetting the
pain, no gain," she told reporters on Wednesday in Kabul.
beat out 2,000 other hopefuls who auditioned for the third season of
Afghan Star. Today, the six-month-long TV show will name the final two
contestants, based on votes sent in from viewers via text message. The
format is the same as American Idol, although the shows are not
conservative cleric's council has protested to President Hamid Karzai
over Afghan Star and Indian dramas shown on Tolo TV, the country's most
the situation that we have in Afghanistan right now, we don't need a
woman singer. We don't need Afghan Star. We are in need of a good
economy, good education," said Ali Ahmad Jebra-ali, a member of the
council. "If Lima Sahar wins Afghan Star, how can she help the
poor? This is not the way to help the Afghan people."
Baran Khan, a farmer from Kandahar - the Taliban's spiritual birthplace
and the city Sahar now calls home - said a Pashtun girl singing on TV
goes against the country's culture.
is also affecting the minds of other good girls. She should stop
singing," said Khan, whose three sons and two daughters told him
about Sahar's success.
says she's just the latest in a long tradition of Afghan artists -
albeit in a more modern form.
are historical and cultural in our country. Artists have been around a
long time," Sahar told a news conference this week. "I came by
the vote of the people of Afghanistan."
hundred supporters lined up to get the three finalists' autographs at an
event this week in Kabul. One of the fans, Shohabidin Mohammad, called
Afghan Star part of a democratic revival for Afghanistan.
and men's rights are equal. There are no problems," said Mohammad,
dressed in a bright colored shirt, brown hipster hat and a gold necklace
that dangles a tiny Quran.
three finalists represent each of Afghanistan's three main ethnic
groups: Pashtuns, Hazaras and Tajiks. Mohammad, who is ethnic Hazara,
said he doesn't believe ethnicity should play a role in the vote. But,
he acknowledged somewhat sheepishly, he will vote for the Hazara
beside Mohammad was Abass Nariwal, a fan of Sahar's. Both are ethnic
Pashtuns. Another of her fans, Nematullah Khan, is a 25-year-old student
at Kandahar University.
took a bold step. She has a lot of courage," Khan said.
"Whether she wins or not, she's a good example for our youth."
Star has become one of Afghanistan's most popular TV shows, gathering
large crowds around TVs in restaurants and homes.
singers perform in front of a studio audience and three judges, and past
winners have been given recording deals. A woman finished fifth in the
show's first season, but no female has risen as high as Sahar.
other two finalists are men.
winner this year will take home around $5,000 - a king's ransom in
Sadiqi, the show's host, said Afghan Star has been a runaway hit that
shows the world the "peaceful face of Afghanistan".
finalist, Hameed Sakhizada, a 21-year-old Hazara with a mop of black
hair, said that before the show he was "an ordinary person going to
now I feel like I'm the representative of a nation," Sakhizada
other finalist - and perhaps the odds-on favorite judging by the number
of fans seeking his autograph this week - is Rafi Naabzada, a
19-year-old ethnic Tajik wearing a white leather jacket, who calls the
show "a symbol of unity".
Star belongs to all Afghans," he said. "My idea is not to get
votes from just my tribe.
the Elections: The Next Step
most of us, would-be political pundits, agreed on was that we do not know
the psyche of the Bhutanese electorate. Not only did we not have a
precedence of a polling pattern, the campaign process itself was an
unprecedented scenario. We were right in the sense that some of us,
reasonable folks, read it a little wrong.
We can now come up with a dozen theories on the reasons for Druk Phuensum
Tshogpa’s landslide victory on March 24. But the basic message we
received from our electorate was not new. The Bhutanese people have always
said they were happy with things as they were. They have said it again.
we are also disappointed that we do not have a stronger opposition, but
it’s time now to move ahead.
from the day-to-day running of the government, the new leadership has the
responsibility of making democracy vibrant and credible in Bhutan. With
the elections behind us, we have to start on the foundations of what His
Majesty the King, in a royal kasho last week, described as a political
system that will foster the spirit of our people and further strengthen
our unique nation in a rapidly changing world and time.
of course, is not our goal. It is a strategy to achieve good governance.
It was in his wisdom that His Majesty the fourth Druk Gyalpo envisioned a
Bhutanese democracy as the best path to good governance. We saw it in the
DYTs, GYTs, plan meetings, 10 years of a transitional cabinet, and finally
his abdication. With the advantage of hindsight, we understand what His
Majesty meant when he said that the destiny of the nation lies in the
hands of the people.
is good governance the goal. It is a path to Gross National Happiness, the
overriding inspiration from where we have drawn the principles and ideals
and priorities that kept Bhutanese society together over the centuries. In
that sense, the elections, democracy, and good governance are just
milestones on the path to GNH.
National Happiness is the source of the priorities and provides the
perspective of the 10th development plan starting this year. Both the
political parties had already aligned their manifestos with the overall
Plan. The DPT manifesto is practically a GNH charter. There’s work to
Majesty the King said that, if the nation succeeds, the people will be the
winner. The team that we have entrusted, with serious expectations, must
now help us to win.
Editorial in Kuensel Online]
Lanka and Maldives fall Victims to
Regional and International Hegemonic Powers
SATHEESAN KUMAARAN (IDN) *
in the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka and the Maldives often fall victims
to regional and international hegemonic powers that strive to bring
the entire Indian Ocean rim under their control for their own
economic, political and security gains. Unless the peoples of these
countries realize the dire consequences of such action the hegemonic
powers, in the form of indirect imperialism, will infiltrate these
countries and severely threaten their sovereignty.
Lanka dominated trade with the atoll state until the early 1970s,
providing 65 percent of Male's imports from the South Asian region
(India's share was only 32 percent). 10 percent of the country's
export was to Sri Lanka, whereas another major neighbour India's
share was a negligible 0.03 percent. As of 1988, it was Sri Lanka
and not India that had a greater involvement with the
Maldives—economically, diplomatically, politically and culturally.
well as sharing the waters of the Indian Ocean, Sri Lankans and
Maldivians also share close ties in the areas of history, culture
and language. To a greater extent, regional and international powers
have a vested interest in both countries, while these two states
have no choice but to depend on those powers for the sake of their
own survival. These two countries are, in fact, being used for
imperialist exploitation, and the locals are barely aware of the
importance of their respective countries. The first Prime Minister
of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, correctly advocated that his nation
build a strong blue-water navy to control the entire Indian Ocean.
The ensuing governments worked hard to fulfil the Nehru’s vision,
and now India has one of the most well-equipped and well-manned
navies in the world.
Lanka and Maldives have been considered as crucial since time
of Sri Lanka’s position in the Indian Ocean, the country is
attractive to those powers who have vested interests in Asia: Japan,
China, India, Pakistan, Iraq, Russia, Britain, and the United
States. These regional and international players have sought to have
influence over Sri Lanka’s economy, security, and politics. Much
of the present concern is due to the fact that Sri Lanka is located
in a vital sea lane where ships travel between western,
south-eastern, and eastern Asia. As the demand for oil and gas
grows, international players increasingly view the Middle East and
South-East Asia as vitally important and need to ensure the safety
of the sea lanes through which gas and oil resources are
transported. In addition, the need to combat terrorism requires
increased security and new coalition partners.
the Maldives, its geo-strategic position is a cause for its
vulnerability which increased in the wake of militarization of the
Indian Ocean and the culmination of Super Power rivalry in the 1970s
and the 1980s. In this context, President Gayoom stated in 1982: "Let
us not forget, the Portuguese invaded us because of strategic
position. Many covetous eyes are focused on us right now for
the same reason."
Maldives’ geo-strategic position has figured in its friendly
relations with India. In the cold war period, one of the
cornerstones of India’s regional security policy was warding off
extra-regional powers in South Asia. India considered any such
involvement as inimical to its regional interests. In the 1980s, Sri
Lanka sought to use its strategic location in the central Indian
Ocean (buttressed by a natural harbour, Trincomalee) by involving
external forces to neutralise the India factor in the island’s
security or gain an insurance against its vaguely formulated
perceived threat from India. No doubt, in this context, India’s
behaviour in the region and Sri Lanka’s foreign policy postures
had contributed to each other’s security concerns.
Sri Lanka became independent in 1948, these powers, concerned about
their own economic and security interests, exercised direct
influence in Sri Lanka. Japan and China were, and continue to be,
especially interested. In eastern Sri Lanka, where dozens of ships
pass through the port city of Trincomalee every day, a Japanese
company has constructed a base where ships are repaired and
maintained. China operates fishing and ice factories. As the Chinese
scholar, John W. Garver, rightly points out, "the aim of the
Chinese is to establish and expand political and security relations
with the countries of the South Asia – Indian Ocean region (SA-IOR)."
Even though he did not elaborate on the specific contributions of
Sri Lanka and the Maldives to China, it is evident that China is
keeping a close eye on Sri Lanka. Garver further states, "the
Chinese want to ensure the safety of China's sea lines of
communication across the Indian Ocean." It is also
important to note that China gifted to Sri Lanka apart from the
BMICH, the Sirimavo Bandaranaike International Exhibition Hall in
the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo, worth American $5.2 million. In
2001, when he visited Colombo for the purpose of laying the
building’s foundation, the Premier of China emphasized that China
would remain Sri Lanka’s true friend forever.
international powers are active furthering their interests through
munitions deals and indirect military intervention. China -- along
with Pakistan -- is one of the leading suppliers of arms to Sri
Lanka, which are used to fight the Tamil Tigers.
Indian intelligence wing is very uneasy about the developments of
military ties between Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Sri Lankan leaders
maintain the practice of visiting New Delhi following the conclusion
of deals with Islamabad because Sri Lanka does not want to
antagonise India. It is natural for diplomats and politicians in
Colombo to be in India’s good books not because they think Sri
Lanka is inferior to India, but because Sri Lanka fears that if it
antagonises India, India will support the LTTE. It is a well known
fact that India, with the attitude of elder brother and giant
elephant has a hand in the prevailing instability in Nepal and
Bangladesh, as well as other countries in south Asia, especially
Pakistan. One classic example is the issue over water. India does
not want to allow waters flowing through India into Bangladesh
during the summer, so it keeps the canals closed to irrigate its own
crops. In the winter, India opens the canals, allowing the river
waters to flow into Bangladesh, causing heavy Bangladeshi casualties
and totally destroying their agricultural industry. Because
Bangladesh earns a high income per capita through their agricultural
industry, the results of this flooding severely affect its financial
stability. India wants to keep all seven countries, and Afghanistan,
under its thumb.
knows the sinister intentions of New Delhi very well. It would only
take a matter of days for India to create instability in Sri Lanka
should Colombo refuse to pander to its whims and fancies.
was India that assisted Tamil militants of Sri Lanka to fight for
Eelam. But, when the LTTE did not listen to the orders from New
Delhi, India set out to degrade the LTTE militarily and
diplomatically, blaming the LTTE for every single bomb blast that
took place in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, even though
the blasts had nothing to do with the LTTE. India wanted to brand
the LTTE as a terrorist organization on its soil and elsewhere, and
was the first to ban the LTTE. Other countries followed suit, such
as the U.S., Canada, Australia and the European Union.
these events have brought Sri Lanka and India closer. But, although
they cooperate with each other, Sri Lanka is still paranoid that
India will turn hostile one day should it cooperate with other
countries, such as China or Pakistan. Undeniably, India is a big
brother in the region and has the potential to become one of the
world’s superpowers. However, India is worried about China's
influence in the region because China has good relationships with
Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka’s self styled Marxist party, JVP, is
pro-China and anti-India. India believes that the Chinese influence
in Sri Lanka will help China monitor the activities of the Indian
navy in the Bay of Bengal and the Palk Straits.
powers intervene in various ways. Even though Iraq is now under the
control of the U.S., it once flourished in many sectors as a secular
country under the leadership of the late Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi
government helped some of the villages in the eastern part of Sri
Lanka, where there are large settlements of Muslims. Sri Lankan
Muslims claim that the first Arabic settlers in Sri Lanka were
Hashemites, a migratory tribe who left Arabia in the seventh century
because of persecution following a change of the ruling dynasty.
However, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, a Sri Lankan Tamil member of
the Executive Council of Ceylon, believed that the Sri Lankan
Muslims, including those settled in the north-east (the traditional
homeland of Tamils in the island), originated from South India and
were Tamils who embraced Islam. Many scholars also supported
Ramanathan’s point of view. The Arabs, well-known traders, used to
make trips between West Asia to Southeast Asia. They always wanted
transit points to stop over before continuing the passage between
the two regions in Asia, so they used the shores of the Maldives,
Sri Lanka, and southern Indian states, such as Kerala and Tamil
Nadu. The Arabic traders when they stopped over in those countries
married local Tamil women. The Muslim villages in eastern Sri Lanka
where they settled had pure Tamil names, like Kaanthankudi,
Saainthamaruthu, Maruthamunai, etc. This clearly supports
Ramanathan’s argument that the Muslims of Lanka are not direct
descendants of Arabs, but Tamils converted to Islam. However, these
locals continue to live under the myth that they are direct
descendants of Arabs. The modern day Muslims of the East managed to
lure the Arabs to get political and economic support to build their
villages. Saddam Hussein helped Lankan Muslims financially. As a
result, one of the villages in the Batticaloa district of eastern
Sri Lanka was named after Saddam Hussein. Many other Arab countries,
including Saudi Arabia, still support the Lankan Muslims.
has played important roles in Sri Lanka, directly and indirectly,
because Sri Lanka was one of its former colonies. Britain cannot
maintain a hands-off policy with respect to the civil unrest in Sri
Lanka, as the British government believes it has a moral obligation
to resolve the conflict. Since Britain is home to 300,000 Tamils, it
is also under intense pressure from its local Tamil community to
directly intervene in the conflict that was a result of, the British
Empire in the first place. Britain continuously urges the warring
parties in Sri Lanka to have genuine peace talks. Former British
Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was to be appointed the special peace
envoy for Sri Lanka, but the move was abandoned, and he was
appointed the special envoy for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
One cannot forget that many Tamil militant groups gathered in
Britain in the early stages of their military campaign.
also has vested interests in the area. Russia sees Sri Lanka as an
important partner, as long as Sri Lanka gets along with neighbouring
India. Russia was one of the few countries that sent aid to Sri
Lanka after the tsunami. Russia, without a second thought, sent a
military air force plane with goods. It is natural to assume that
Russia still cooperates with India closely, and that both countries
share military technology since Russian technology is still present
in the Indian Ocean in the form of Indian warships, planes,
submarines and radar.
United States has vested interests in Sri Lanka in terms of
security. Sri Lanka's strategic location in the Indian Ocean makes
it a useful site for air and naval exercises. The United States
provides special military training to Sri Lankan armed forces to
fight the Tamil Tigers. Although, the U.S declared recently that it
would stop providing military aid to Sri Lanka, senior officials
recommended that the U.S. administration resume aid to Sri Lanka.
Raja Mohan, an Indian journalist, observed that American policy
towards South Asia changed in both intensity and quality after the
attack on the Twin Towers in New York in 2001_ The United States
wants Sri Lanka to be an important partner in fighting terrorism and
started to focus on the deeper conflicts that have long troubled the
region. When UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and former Presidents
Clinton, and Bush, Senior, visited Sri Lanka in 2005, they were
prevented from seeing some areas affected by the tsunami of 2004
because those areas were controlled by the Tamil Tigers. Like the
UK, the U.S. wanted to appoint former president Bill Clinton as the
peace envoy for Sri Lanka. That move was also cancelled due to local
political reasons. The U.S. evinced a keen interest in eastern Sri
Lanka, especially in the port city of Trincomalee. This move did not
make neighbouring India happy, and, as a result, India signed the
Indo-Lanka Accord (1987) not allowing any foreign countries to set
foot in Lanka’s soil without India’s consent. But, because India
has got closer to the United States, especially since September 11,
2001, India does not worry too much about the United States.
Maldivian government maintains political neutrality and, therefore,
cooperates with all countries. The Maldivian population has good
relations with Pakistan because both countries share the same
religion. It has a pro-India policy, and does not want to alienate
China. In 2001, Maldives and China signed a deal allowing China to
establish a naval base in Marao for the purpose of countering the
rise of Indian and American naval forces in the region. This will
definitely give the Maldivian government headaches in years to come,
as India and the United States do not want a Chinese naval base on
the Maldivian soil; however, the Maldives agreed to the deal because
the nation needed the economic support from booming China.
future, the Maldives may be a battleground for the major
international players. Russia wants to have good relations with the
Maldives so that it can conduct naval exercises with its Indian
counterparts. The Americans are also active in the area.
Historically, during the 1960s and 1970s, because the United States
wanted to keep the Russians and Chinese at bay, it decided to
establish a base at Diego Garcia. The chain of islands near
Mauritius and Madagascar are still under the control of the British
Queen. The British and American navies conduct daily exercises
between the Middle East and Diego Garcia.
the major players, including the United States, Britain, Russia,
Iraq, India, Pakistan, Japan, and China, aspire to have direct
influence on Sri Lanka and the Maldives. One reason is that these
countries are located in the Indian Ocean, a location considered
significant for economic, security and political reasons. Other
reasons include the importance of oil and gas resources and their
safe transportation, and the need to make new alliances in the new
era of terrorism and counter-terrorism. However, it is up to the
citizens of these two countries to decide whether they compromise
their sovereignty for the sake of good relations with these powers.
holds B.Sc. (Biology), Honours BA (Political Science) and MA in
Integrated Studies with the specialization in International
Law and International Relations. This was first published in
The Midweek Review (The Island February 27, 2008). E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
State department designates HuJI-B as ‘foreign terrorist outfit’:
The United States State Department on March 5, 2008, labelled the
Harkat-ul-Jehad-al-Islami Bangladesh (HuJI-B) as a foreign terrorist
organisation (FTO). The outfit was previously put on the list of 'Other
Terrorist Oragnisations' in 2003 by the US. A press release to this effect
by the State Department said, "The leader of HuJI-B signed the
February 1998 fatwa sponsored by Usama bin Ladin that declared American
civilians to be legitimate targets for attack. Since then, HuJI-B has been
implicated in a number of terrorist attacks in Bangladesh and
abroad." Signed by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the
Executive Order 13224, criminalises providing material support to HuJI-B
by US citizens or people living under US jurisdictions, and freezes all
HuJI-B property and interests in the US and in areas under US
jurisdiction. The designation also enables the US to deny visas to HuJI-B
representatives, and requires US financial institutions to freeze assets
held by HuJI-B. Meanwhile, the Bangladesh Home Ministry said on March 6
that there has been no operation of the HuJI-B in the country and the law
enforcers were on alert to check against the resurgence of the outfit.Daily
Age, March 6, 2008.
parliamentary elections on March 24:
Elections to the first-ever parliamentary elections in Bhutan will be held
on March 24, 2008, when an electorate of more than 318,000 persons will be
electing 47 members to the National Assembly in a two-party contest. The
polls are the final step towards putting in place a democratic
constitutional monarchy a year after the Himalayan Kingdom completed 100
years of monarchy. The royal family and religious leaders will not be
exercising their franchise as they are to remain above politics. The two
parties in the fray are Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (Virtuous Bhutan Party) and
the People’s Democratic Party, which, between themselves, have put up 10
women candidates out of 94. Counting begins shortly after polls in the 865
polling stations that start at 9 a.m. and are over at 5 p.m. The results
will be compiled the same evening and subsequently sent to the National
Council Centre in Thimphu. They will be officially submitted on March 25
to King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk. Elaborate security arrangements
have been made for the elections with the Royal Bhutan Police being
assisted by the Royal Bhutan Army in maintaining law and order. The border
with India was sealed on March 23 and would remain to be closed to any
movement till a day after the elections. The
Hindu , March 24, 2008.
kills five suspected Maoists:
Bhutan police said that they have killed
at least five suspected Maoists in various operations over the last week.
17 suspected Maoists have also been arrested in the recent raids,
officials said. An unnamed senior Bhutanese Police official said they had
raided two small Maoist camps in the jungles in the south of the country
and arrested at least eight Maoists, including a ‘commander’, along
with weapons. BBC,
March 12, 2008.