SACW - 30 Sept 2018 | Afghanistan: Life Under a Resurgent Taliban / Sri Lanka: Rajani’s Questions / Bangladesh: gender pay gap / Pakistan: Media freedom / India: Modi's Faking Love for Gandhi; pseudo-science / Brazil: Women against Far Right / The Satanic Verses - 30 years
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Sun Sep 30 05:37:33 EDT 2018
South Asia Citizens Wire - 30 Sept 2018 - No. 3002
[via South Asia Citizens Web - sacw.net since 1996]
1. Peace activists disappointed at cancellation of talks between Pakistani and Indian foreign ministers in New York
2. Sri Lanka: Rajani’s Questions The Tamil Elite Have Refused To Answer | Rajan Hoole
3. Pakistan: Return of the jinns | Kamila Hyat
4. Free Shaidul Alam Demo outside the UN in New York City held on 27 Sept 2018 - Press release
5. India: Narendra Modi’s Lip Service to Mahatma Gandhi Rings Hollow - Ramachandra Guha
6. India: Dont promote pseudo-science - Text of petition by concerned scientists to state run technical education body
7. India: Starvation and Malnutrition in Jharkhand - Statement of the Right to Food Campaign,
8. India: Cases of assault on journalists from Jan. 2010 to June 2018 a list compiled by Committee Against Assault on Journalists (CAAJ)
7. Recent on Communalism Watch:
- India: How a Botched Investigation Helped Get 6 Accused in Pehlu Khan’s Killing off the Hook
- India : Demand for segregated seats for vegetarian and non-vegetarian passengers in trains in Gujarat
- Khaled Ahmed: How Gandhi was different
- India - Flagrant impunity for the violent mob: Pehlu Khan lynching case - Witnesses ‘fired at’ while going to depose
- India: After 3 years, Akhlaq's lynching by the mob in Dadri - select reports & commentary
- Link to full text of Judgment on the Ayodhya Land Title by the Supreme Court of India (27 Sept 2018)
::: URLs & FULL TEXT :::
11. An economic analysis of the gender pay gap in Bangladesh | Abdullah Shibli
12. Pakistan: Foreign policy: A new direction? Ayesha Siddiqa
13. 'Criminalizing Journalism': Arrest Warrant Issued For Pakistani Journalist | Frud Bezhan and Daud Khattak
14. Afghanistan’s Islamic Emirate Returns: Life Under a Resurgent Taliban | Michael Semple
15. Sri Lanka: A Chinese Company Leaves a Troubled Trail | Sheridan Prasso
16. India: Militarisation diktat to educational institutions - September 29 as Surgical Strike Day to celebrate covert operations
17. Ayushman Bharat Trivialises India’s Quest for Universal Health Care | Jean Drèze
18. India’s classical musicians come under attack | Z.R.
19. India: How Chunni Bai’s death exposes the lie about Aadhaar | Nikhil Dey and Aruna Roy
20. India: A Composite Statement on Three Cases by PEN Delhi and PEN South India Centres
21. Peking University threatens to close down Marxism society
22. The Satanic Verses sowed the seeds of rifts that have grown ever wider | Kenan Malik
23. Brazilian women lead nationwide protests against far-right candidate | Gram Slattery, Gabriel Stargardter
1. PEACE ACTIVISTS DISAPPOINTED AT CANCELLATION OF TALKS BETWEEN PAKISTANI AND INDIAN FOREIGN MINISTERS IN NEW YORK
The Pakistan-India Peoples Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD) has expressed disappointment over the cancellation of a potential meeting between Pakistani and Indian foreign ministers on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York
2. SRI LANKA: RAJANI’S QUESTIONS THE TAMIL ELITE HAVE REFUSED TO ANSWER
by Rajan Hoole
Rains and early gloom harbinger the dying year. Fields are ploughed and sown in readiness for the earth’s renewal and the yield of her bounty. It was at such a time that Rajani Thiranagama was killed by the LTTE twenty-nine years ago. Her questions and aphorisms often challenged our assumptions at their core.
3. PAKISTAN: RETURN OF THE JINNS
by Kamila Hyat
the concept of black magic, jinns and other forces has come back to campuses across Pakistan with something of a bang – like a genie released from a bottle.
4. FREE SHAIDUL ALAM DEMO OUTSIDE THE UN IN NEW YORK CITY HELD ON 27 SEPT 2018 - PRESS RELEASE
(September 27, 2018 — New York) Demonstrators gathered outside the UN General Assembly on September 27 to call for freedom of the press and protection of journalists in Bangladesh. Alam, an internationally renowned Bangladeshi photographer, photojournalist and activist, has been in police custody since August 5, following an interview on Al Jazeera in which he claimed that the broader context of ongoing student protests was pent-up anger at government corruption and misuse of power.
5. INDIA: NOTHING IN MODI’S IDEOLOGICAL TRAINING EQUIPS HIM TO ADMIRE MAHATMA GANDHI - Ramachandra Guha
Mr Modi’s bid to appropriate Gandhi is paradoxical. The prime minister spent most of his formative years in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a hardline Hindu organisation which reviled Gandhi for allegedly being too soft on Muslims. The antagonism between the RSS and Gandhi was at its most intense in the months after August 15 1947, when the subcontinent was freed from British rule but also divided into the separate nations of India and Pakistan.
6. INDIA: DONT PROMOTE PSEUDO-SCIENCE - TEXT OF PETITION BY CONCERNED SCIENTISTS TO STATE RUN TECHNICAL EDUCATION BODY
We, the undersigned researchers, educators and concerned citizens wish to take note of AICTE’s recent initiative about introduction of an elective course on ‘Ancient Knowledge Systems’ as part of its model curriculum. However, we are taken aback by the news story published yesterday that AICTE has chosen to endorse the book titled Bharatiya Vidya Saar by Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan as a reference book for this course. This book makes a number of unsubstantiated claims . .
7. INDIA: STARVATION AND MALNUTRITION IN JHARKHAND - STATEMENT OF THE RIGHT TO FOOD CAMPAIGN, JHARKHAND 28 SEPTEMBER 2018
Exactly a year ago, 11-year-old Santoshi Kumari of Simdega died of starvation while asking her mother for rice. Her family’s ration card was cancelled for not being linked to Aadhaar. In the last one year, at least 15 people have died due to hunger. Of these, 6 were Adivasis, 4 Dalits, and 5 of backward castes. All these deaths happened due to the denial of security pensions or rations from the PDS.
8. INDIA: CASES OF ASSAULT ON JOURNALISTS FROM JAN. 2010 TO JUNE 2018 A LIST COMPILED BY COMMITTEE AGAINST ASSAULT ON JOURNALISTS (CAAJ)
A document released at the National Convention Against Assault on Journalists held in New Delhi (22-23 September 2018)
9. India: Digital version of 1993 report ’Hard Times For Positive Travel’ released by AIDS Bhedbhav Virodhi Andolan
On the eve of ‘World Tourism Day’ AIDS Bhedbhav Virodhi Andolan (ABVA) is releasing the digitized version of its report “Hard Times For Positive Travel” which originally appeared as a hard copy in September, 1993 at New Delhi, India. The document is a Citizens’ Report on the status of travellers with HIV/AIDS. It was prepared by nine ABVA members. The trigger point for this documentation was the inhuman and cruel treatment meted out to a French tourist visiting Calcutta (now Kolkata) who was deported from India on account of being HIV positive.
10. RECENT ON COMMUNALISM WATCH:
- India: How a Botched Investigation Helped Get 6 Accused in Pehlu Khan’s Killing off the Hook | Shruti Jain's report in The Wire
- India: Demand for segregated seats for vegetarian and non-vegetarian passengers in trains in Gujarat
- Khaled Ahmed: How Gandhi was different
- India - Flagrant impunity for the violent mob: Pehlu Khan lynching case - Witnesses ‘fired at’ while going to depose
- India: After 3 years, Akhlaq's lynching by the mob in Dadri - select reports & commentary
- Link to full text of Judgment on the Ayodhya Land Title by the Supreme Court of India (27 Sept 2018)
-> available via: http://communalism.blogspot.com/
::: URLs & FULL TEXT :::
11. WHY DO WOMEN GET LESS PAY THAN MEN?
An economic analysis of the gender pay gap in Bangladesh
The Daily Star
September 23, 2018
How long will women working the same job continue to earn less, sometimes 50 percent less, than men? And when do we expect this gap to go away? One can only speculate, or build models, to get a clearer picture of trends in future employment, wages and salaries, and working conditions. However, all projections indicate that gender wage gap will persist for a few more decades, and in certain professions and jobs. Many academicians are currently working with data, big and small, to get to the bottom of this issue which has existed for ages and has defied all efforts to lower the gap.
The bottom line is, there is no easy and clear solution because to paraphrase Harvard economist Claudia Goldin, the actual “gender pay gap” is far more complex than that math suggests.
The gender wage gap is the difference between gross average nominal monthly wages of male and those of female employees expressed as a percentage of wages of male employees. In Bangladesh, for the same work, gender pay gap was 57 percent in 2017 and 54 percent in 2016, according to one study.
By and large, women earn about half as much as men in Bangladesh; this gender gap is only exacerbated in the informal market where, for example, a male construction worker can make one and a half times more than his female counterpart. Studies show that a Bangladeshi woman earns on average 77 cents on the dollar compared to men. And again, mind you, we are talking about the same job, working the same number of hours.
Fortunately, all studies also indicate that the gender pay gap in Bangladesh has been going down. A recent paper in World Development, an international journal, by Salma Ahmed and Mark McGillivray show that over the period 1999–2009, the gap in average wages between men and women decreased by 31 percent and this is mostly due to better education of women and enforcement of laws. Other studies reveal another parallel trend, across all sectors. Women's wages do not rise as much and often fail to keep up with inflation causing a drop in real wages. For example, if the minimum wage for garment workers, mostly women, is raised to Tk 8,000 as proposed, the real income after accounting for cost of living increases will be lower than the increase in per capita income, which almost doubled between 2013 and 2018.
So, why do women get paid less than men? This question has attracted a lot of attention in international academic literature. Some of the factors include less education, skills, and marriage. However, economists using very sophisticated tools found that 38 percent of the wage gap remains unexplained even when factors such as these are included as “control variables” in the models. In other words, “gender pay gap relates both to women's greater representation in lower-paid sectors such as teaching and health care, as well as the wage differential between women and men in comparable roles.”
Three of the most significant contributors to the wage gap are “the penalty women face for becoming mothers, women's lack of negotiating skills and the bias women face from employers,” according to Olivia Mitchell of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. “The fact that such a large percentage of the gap cannot be explained underscores the need for policies directly targeting discrimination in order to completely eliminate the gap,” argue economists Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn of Cornell University.
Measures to minimise the wage gap in Bangladesh include initiatives that have been working, including access to education for women, enforcement of minimum wage laws, and greater transparency. In addition, some extra steps are called for. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), key policy areas to reduce the gender pay gap are: contracts, promotions and remuneration. Bangladesh still has a long way to go in these areas, according to a study done recently by Manusher Jonno Foundation, in collaboration with others, in the RMG sector. 72.70 percent of the workers in Dhaka and Gazipur said that they did not have a job contract. The situation, however, was comparatively better in Chittagong and Narayanganj.
Other initiatives focusing on reducing the pay gap between men and women centre on the appointment of an in-house equality officer and on training employees, creating inequality complaint procedures and treating each case individually to decide if discrimination has occurred because of any requirements inherent in the tasks to be performed.
The Equal Pay Platform launched by ILO and UN Women is promoting awareness of good practices for eradicating gender inequality in wages, including legislation and mechanisms for dispute resolution; measures to advance women's leadership; wage transparency; and access to data on wages and other benefits disaggregated by gender, ethnicity, and migrant status.
While the Sustainable Development Goals 5 (gender) and 10 (equality) address the issue of gender equality broadly, each country must find its own set of measures to tackle gender wage gap. Bangladesh also faces the challenge of inadequate data to track progress on these fronts. For instance, SDG 10.3 requires us to “ensure equal opportunity and reduce inequalities of outcome, including by eliminating discriminatory laws, policies and practices and promoting appropriate legislation, policies and action in this regard.” But this indicator will be difficult to monitor if we do not have adequate data as the Government of Bangladesh's self-assessment study reported last year. Nonetheless, campaigns to promote education and awareness can remedy some of these shortcomings, too. Bangladesh in collaboration with UN Women can strengthen the latter's advocacy campaign, “Stop the Robbery”, which calls for equal pay and women's economic empowerment as part of achieving full gender equality.
Dr Abdullah Shibli is an economist, and Senior Research Fellow, International Sustainable Development Institute (ISDI), a think-tank in Boston, USA. His new book Economic Crosscurrents will be published later this year.
12. PAKISTAN: FOREIGN POLICY: A NEW DIRECTION?
September 30, 2018
Pakistan under Imran Khan is cozying up with Saudi Arabia for reasons obvious
Prime Minister Imran Khan has kept the state tradition alive by visiting Saudi Arabia for his first official trip abroad. It reminded me of Liaquat Ali Khan, who brushed aside an invitation from Soviet Union over a visit to Washington DC, even though the US was not the first to invite him.
Those were early days of Pakistan. Back then, it was struggling to develop a strategic-dependency linkage with the US. More than six and a half decades on, the newly-elected PM Khan is following the same policy.
The Saudi royals honoured their guest generously that included a visit inside the Kaaba, a gesture that is bound to increase Khan’s currency among his Muslim followers at home. This treatment indicates the Saudis would not allow absence of personal ties with Khan to cloud the relations between the two countries.
It seems the Saudis do not want a repeat of 2008 when they were extremely uncomfortable with Asif Ali Zardari, and labelled him the greatest obstacle to the country’s progress. The US embassy cable published by WikiLeaks revealed that Adel al- Jubeir, Saudi Ambassador to the US, had said, “We in Saudi Arabia are not observers in Pakistan, we are participants”.
Saudi Arabia would not have allowed the Pakistani prime minister to get cozy with Iran; even though Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called Khan on August 8, before Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud made the ceremonial call to the newly-elected PM. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif was the first foreign dignitary to visit Pakistan after the elections.
At this juncture, when Iran is plagued by economic problems, Khan is likely to be more easily drawn to Saudi Arabia. Also, Pakistan is in desperate need of ‘financial injection’ from Saudi Arabia to save it from going to the IMF. Besides, Pakistan has always looked up to Saudi Arabia, for religious identity and cash flow problems.
Soon after Khan’s Saudi visit, fake news started circulating that the Saudis had commited USD10 billion to Pakistan. Finance Minister Asad Umer, however, denied it later.
Saudi Arabia would not have allowed the Pakistani prime minister to get cozy with Iran; even though Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called Khan on August 8, before Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud made the ceremonial call to the newly-elected PM.
Over decades, Pakistan’s financial needs have led to entrenchment of Saudi stakes in the country. And this time it doesn’t look any different. Currently, in Pakistan, the state of both non-development and development sector are worrying. The security establishment alone lost approximately USD900 million in the US aid, a shortfall that the government would like to fill through financial gifts from Saudi Arabia like it had back in 2013. Therefore, the new government clearly seems willing to create strategic space for Saudi Arabia, by offering it a partnership in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
While the previous government had resisted Saudi pressure to overtly commit troops in the Yemen war, the new government may concede space to Saudi Arabia by allowing it to invest in Gwadar. Even before the visit, there was news of Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi investing in real estate in Pakistan’s southern province.
One may question Saudi interest in the Pakistani port of Gwadar — to pursue Mohammd bin Salman’s infamous Vision 2030 that aims at reducing dependency on oil — as this would require a generational change in his country to gather productive manpower. His vision looks more geo-strategic. The Saudi investment would augment Gwadar’s value regarding the Iranian port of Chahbahar. This is where Pakistani and Saudi states see eye-to-eye.
Gwadar’s development has additional benefits for Saudi Arabia, as it may give it access to Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea and also help link up with its interests in Central Asia. Saudi Arabia has stakes in Tajikistan and other Central Asian Republics as well.
While Pakistan’s new leader has voiced his intent to play a role of a mediator in the Middle East, in reality such claims are rather ambitious. Despite the fact that Saudi Arabia is willing to give Pakistan space to cater for its own security, considering the large number of Shias in the country, the CPEC partnership will increasingly impose limits on Pakistan’s neutrality.
The Saudi and UAE investment in Balochistan may result in their greater influence in rest of the country. Already, there are reports of Saudi links with insurgent groups in Balochistan just like it has ties with Taliban in Afghanistan independent of Pakistan.
Pakistan’s southern province is infested with both religious and nationalist militant groups that may benefit from Saudi interests. Also, there are religious groups and individuals in other parts of Pakistan that not only get Saudi financial assistance but also represent Kingdom’s larger political interests inside the country.
Thus, even if Pakistan remains unwilling to fight a war in Yemen, it may end up creating bigger stakes for Saudi Arabia inside Pakistan. Besides the traditional Arab versus Persia rivalry that flows in the veins of the Middle East, the current Saudi partnership with the US and their combined aims of restructuring Middle East’s geo-politics have a lot to do with how it wishes to position itself in South Asia.
Although the Pak-Saudi relationship holds its own set of risks for the master-planner of CPEC, China will not be averse to Pakistan opening more doors for it in the Middle East. The Saudi inclusion in CPEC will not have an impact on China’s relations with Iran. The more the energy resources, the merrier China would be. But there is no doubt that both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia will have to walk on eggshells to keep the internal balance and peace.
In the longer-term, Pakistan will secure what it has hoped for since the early 1950s – a key role in the Arabian Peninsula as a mark of Pakistan’s identity as an Islamic state in South Asia.
The Saudi visit will surely leave a mark on how the government’s Middle East policy will pan out in future.
13. 'CRIMINALIZING JOURNALISM': ARREST WARRANT ISSUED FOR PAKISTANI JOURNALIST
by Frud Bezhan and Daud Khattak
September 26, 2018 15:31 GMT
A Pakistani journalist signs a banner during a protest against the deteriorating security situation for journalists in the country and to mark World Press Freedom Day in Karachi in May 3.
For many, it didn't come as a big surprise when Pakistani authorities went after Nawaz Sharif following the thrice-ousted prime minister's suggestion in an interview that militants active on the country's soil had been allowed to cross into a neighboring rival state to carry out a major terror attack.
But shock ensued after an arrest warrant was issued this week for the messenger -- Cyril Almeida, the journalist who conducted the wide-ranging interview published by the Dawn daily in May.
Rights groups, independent media, and opposition politicians in Pakistan reacted critically to news that the Lahore High Court had on September 24 issued the order, without the possibility of bail, in relation to Sharif's ongoing treason case. Almeida was barred from leaving the country, and the authorities were ordered to bring the popular columnist before judges on October 8 for Sharif's next hearing.
The underlying suggestion is that Almeida is being targeted for simply doing his job at a time when Pakistan's free press is coming under unprecedented pressure from the military -- an institution that has an oversized role in domestic and foreign affairs and which many see as the intended target of Sharif's comments.
Almeida has not yet been charged with a crime and it is unclear if he has been arrested and is being held as he awaits his appearance in court. The formal court hearing on October 8 will determine what charges, if any, might be brought against the reporter.
Sharif faces treason charges for allegedly attempting to defame Pakistan's state institutions in his headline-grabbing interview with Almeida. Prosecutors see Almeida as a facilitator to Sharif's alleged treason.
Sharif told Almeida during the exclusive interview that Pakistan had "two or three parallel governments," a reference to the army's alleged attempts to control Pakistan's political system, and that "there can only be one government: the constitutional one."
Sharif was also seen as insinuating that the military had backed the militants who carried out a series of deadly attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008. The Pakistani military has long been accused of supporting militant groups fighting in India and Afghanistan.
"Militant organizations are active," Sharif said. "Call them nonstate actors, should we allow them to cross the border and kill 150 people in Mumbai?" he added, referring to the November 2008 attacks in which at least 160 people were killed by 10 gunmen over the course of three days. The Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e Taiba was accused of being behind the attacks.
Only days after Almeida's interview was published, authorities disrupted the distribution of Dawn -- Pakistan's oldest newspaper -- across most of the country.
Sharif was dismissed from office by the Supreme Court in July 2017 for allegedly concealing assets abroad and other corruption allegations. He denies any wrongdoing. Allies of the three-time prime minister, who was toppled in a military coup in 1999 and lost his premiership in 1993 when the National Assembly was dissolved, called the proceedings a political vendetta and suggested the army might be behind it.
'Climate Of Fear'
Rights groups and journalists in Pakistan have denounced the court order for the arrest of Almeida, saying it was an attempt to stifle the free press.
"This step has added another sword to the many already hanging over the heads of journalists in Pakistan," Asma Shirazi, a Pakistani journalist and political commentator who hosts a primetime current-affairs show on Aaj News, told RFE/RL.
"First it was the [military] establishment, then banned [militant] outfits, and now the courts," Shirazi added. "This warrant for Cyril Almeida will further increase the climate of fear for journalists and the already existing self-censorship in Pakistan."
Iqbal Khattak, the Reporters Without Borders representative in Pakistan, told RFE/RL that the arrest warrant for Almeida risked "criminalizing journalism."
"Writing a report, story, or an interview is the responsibility of a journalist," he said. "How can one charge a journalist for an interview? This will further cement self-censorship in Pakistan. Who else will dare to speak out or report the truth without any fear when a gigantic media organization like Dawn can face such consequences?"
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), an independent rights organization in Islamabad, said Almeida was "being hounded for nothing more than doing his job -- speaking on the record to a political figure and reporting the facts."
The HRCP said placing Almeida on the Exit Control List and issuing a warrant against him was "excessive."
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), said he was dismayed by the court order. "This adds on to the perception that media is under siege in Pakistan. Mr. Almeida was doing his job -- nothing less, nothing more," he said in a statement.
#IStandWithCyril was trending on Twitter on September 25-26 with many colleagues and politicians backing the reporter.
"Who else will dare to speak out or report the truth without any fear when a gigantic media organization like Dawn can face such consequences?"
"Who else will dare to speak out or report the truth without any fear when a gigantic media organization like Dawn can face such consequences?"
Banned From Leaving
The court order for his arrest is not Almeida's first brush with the authorities.
Almeida was barred from leaving the country in 2016 shortly after he wrote an article about a rift between the government and the military. He left for New York when the government order was lifted weeks later.
Almeida recently returned to Pakistan. The journalist tweeted on September 24 that a warrant for his arrest had been issued and his name was placed on a list of individuals who cannot fly out of the country.
The Lahore High Court said it had taken the measure because Almeida had twice failed to appear in court in relation to Sharif's case, but Dawn said in a statement that the two earlier notices were never delivered.
Stifling Free Press
Almeida's arrest warrant comes as the Pakistani media bear the brunt of unprecedented pressure.
Veteran reporters have been leaving after being threatened, the country's most popular TV station has been forced off the air, and leading columnists have complained that stories that are critical of the army are being rejected by outlets under pressure from the military.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said in a report released in September that the climate for press freedom in Pakistan was deteriorating as the powerful army "quietly, but effectively" restricts reporting through "intimidation" and other means.
The report said journalists who push back or are overly critical of the authorities were attacked, threatened, or arrested. The CPJ also said the Pakistani military, intelligence, or military-affiliated political groups were suspected in the killings of 22 reporters over the past decade.
14. AFGHANISTAN’S ISLAMIC EMIRATE RETURNS: LIFE UNDER A RESURGENT TALIBAN
World Politics Review
Sept. 18, 2018
In 1992, after groups of guerrilla fighters known as mujahideen succeeded in toppling Afghanistan’s communist government, which had been backed by the Soviet Union, they quickly turned on each other, kicking off a civil war. In response, a group of young clerics in the southern province of Kandahar took up arms themselves, promising to restore order and establish an “Islamic system.” The Taliban movement, as the clerics became known, spread rapidly across the south and east of the country until 1996, when they ousted the fractious coalition of mujahideen and conquered Kabul.
For the next five years, the Taliban governed most of Afghanistan. They extended their administration to all parts of the country under their control, which at the height of their power was about 90 percent of Afghan territory. Supreme authority rested with Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, and the Taliban renamed the Afghan state as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
Away from the front lines of continued fighting against the mujahideen, the Taliban were largely successful in restoring security. They were also notorious for harshly enforcing their strict interpretations of religious rules. Afghanistan became increasingly isolated internationally, especially after the United Nations and the United States sanctioned the Taliban for sheltering Osama bin Laden and hosting his al-Qaida training camps. The Islamic Emirate nevertheless remained in place until 2001, when the United States military invaded in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
But while the U.S. war in Afghanistan, now in its 18th year, succeeded in driving the Taliban from power in Kabul, the Taliban never went away, as underscored by their gains against the Afghan military in recent months. Instead, for more than a decade and a half, they have appealed to widespread grievances stemming from rampant corruption under the new, U.S.-backed government, while framing themselves as defenders of the country’s territory, and of Islam itself. They have also capitalized on the failures of the government to re-integrate Taliban commanders and their men into Afghan society.
These strategies have allowed the Taliban to experience a revival of sorts. Today, the Taliban find themselves again in control of much of the territory they claimed before 9/11. In short, they have succeeded in constructing a new version of the Islamic Emirate that the U.S. intended to eliminate.
This is not to say that there has been a complete return to the pre-9/11 state of affairs in Afghanistan. Structurally, there are two main differences this time around. First, the Taliban’s national leadership issues orders from Pakistan, rather than from Kabul or Kandahar. Second, a dualist system has been established in Afghanistan, one in which the Islamic Emirate operates in Taliban-controlled areas while in government-controlled areas—mainly administrative hubs and some areas in the center and north of the country—officials report to the government in Kabul.
The Taliban are now headed by an emir, Sheikh Haibatollah, and two deputies: Mawlvi Yaqoob, the son of Mullah Omar who is responsible for the west of the country; and Khalifa Seraj, who is responsible for the east. The movement shields its leaders from public view but puts out frequent statements in the name of the emir. The statements call for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and the full restoration of the Islamic Emirate. They also assert that the Taliban’s fight in Afghanistan is a legitimate jihad, that the Taliban have no ambitions outside Afghanistan, and that they are open to peace as long as U.S. troops leave.
But policymakers who are looking to make peace a reality in Afghanistan, and who more broadly are trying to grasp how the new Islamic Emirate functions, should not rely solely on political statements and positions taken by the Taliban’s diplomats in Qatar and elsewhere. Rather, they should focus on what the movement has actually done in the areas under its control.
I recently interviewed Afghan field researchers who have access to Taliban-controlled areas and Taliban personnel, in order to understand what life is like under the resurgent Taliban. The researchers have established a track record of accuracy over time, and, where possible, I validated their material by cross-checking with other sources and observers in Afghanistan.
The Rule of Rahm Dil
Afghanistan is administratively divided into 387 districts, within 34 provinces. Analysts have estimated that the Taliban control up to 61 percent of the districts, though this figure is contested. While the Taliban operates “commissions”—in effect, government departments—at the provincial level, few of them maintain a presence at the district level. This enhances the power of men like Rahm Dil, a Taliban uluswal, or district administrator, for Chapa Dara, a Taliban-controlled district in the Pech Valley region of Kunar province in the northeast of the country, bordering Pakistan’s tribal areas. A cleric in his mid-40s, Rahm Dil governs in a manner that seems fairly typical of how the Taliban exercises power nationwide. A close examination of his fiefdom is a snapshot of life under the Taliban today.
The Taliban have succeeded in constructing a new version of the Islamic Emirate that the U.S. intended to eliminate.
You can access Chapa Dara by road from Asadabad, the capital of Kunar. Pickup trucks carrying passengers leave from a bus stop in Asadabad, which is fully under the government’s control, and drive along the main road through Pech Valley, following a river that passes through the district centers of Watapur and Nangalam, which are also government-controlled. There are government security posts along the main road and in the district centers. But for much of the route, Taliban fighters are free to operate along the far bank of the river and within 100 meters of the road.
After a slow drive of about three hours, you come to the last two government security posts that mark the turnoff into the Chapa Dara valley. Once the pickup turns onto the Chapa Dara road, it is in territory fully controlled by the Taliban, though there is no post or checkpoint demarcating any kind of border.
Similarly, Taliban fighters do not man permanent posts along the road. Instead, they conduct patrols. At any point while moving through the valley, the pickup may be stopped and passengers searched and asked to identify themselves.
Rahm Dil generally operates out of the guest quarters of a house close to the Chapa Dara bazaar. His main responsibilities fall under the categories of faisla, which means “decision” in Dari, and jabha, which means “front.” This means he adjudicates disputes among civilians while commanding a fighting force of about 50 men, though he could call on more forces if necessary.
Under the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate, much like under the government based in Kabul, district administrators like Rahm Dil play a quasi-judicial role because people involved in criminal or civil disputes go to them first. If the administrator can offer a fair solution that is acceptable to both parties, the dispute goes no further.
The disputes Rahm Dil hears typically involve issues like land ownership, grazing rights, debts and elopement. He has a district judge, known as a qazi, at his disposal, to whom he can refer difficult cases. But because Rahm Dil enjoys a reputation for fairness—a reputation he clearly values—he is generally able to get the parties to any given dispute to agree to a settlement.
Even critics of the Taliban acknowledge that this system of dispute resolution is efficient, eliminating the need for bribes or lengthy appeals procedures. District administrators like Rahm Dil do charge fees, but these are considered “official” rather than evidence of corruption. For example, when Rahm Dil releases members of the national army his men have detained, he charges 500 Pakistani rupees—around $4—for each day each soldier has been held, a fee that is intended to cover the cost of boarding them. In marked contrast to the Kabul-based government, Rahm Dil and his men do not have a reputation for enriching themselves as they administer justice.
In addition to adjudicating disputes among civilians, district administrators like Rahm Dil function as the main arbiters for Taliban personnel facing difficult decisions. If a Talib in Chapa Dara arrests someone on suspicion of committing some kind of infraction, for instance, he will always quickly refer back to Rahm Dil for guidance on whether to hold, release or kill the person.
The Taliban in Chapa Dara also operate a unit of the once notorious Amr bin Maroof, or religious police. The unit is headed by Mawlvi Abdul Rauf, who is subordinate to Rahm Dil but, unlike Rahm Dil, has a reputation for cruelty. As in the pre-9/11 Emirate, Abdul Rauf and his men enforce the Taliban’s cultural norms, looking out for men who trim their beards, women who breach the strict requirement that they be fully covered in public, and anyone who skips out on attending prayers. Yet the religious police are less powerful than they were before. And in principle, at least, Abdul Rauf’s men offer advice in the case of a first infringement, only resorting to beatings for repeat offenders.
Afghan villagers gather around the bodies of people who were killed during clashes between
Taliban and Afghan security forces in a Taliban-controlled village in Kunduz province,
Afghanistan, Nov. 4, 2016 (AP photo by Najim Rahim).
Residents of Chapa Dara are nonetheless terrified of the religious police. Abdul Rauf has previously served with one of the more brutal Pakistani jihadis, Mangal Bagh, who in 2006 launched his own jihadi movement, Lashkar Islam, styled on the Taliban, close to the Khyber Pass. Abdul Rauf is known to have killed people he’s suspected of being spies. No one doubts that he would be happy to execute adulterers or homosexuals if he ever got his hands on any.
Smartphones and memory cards are a new focus for the religious police—something they didn’t need to concern themselves with as much in the pre-9/11 days. They seize and destroy any smartphones and memory cards they can find because of the devices’ ability to facilitate “moral corruption”—via music videos, for example—and spying. Yet Rahm Dil’s men make exceptions, as many Taliban officials use smartphones and memory cards smuggled into Chapa Dara for their work.
This is just one example of a parallel system of rules at work within the Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan. Another example, one that is more important for most people’s daily lives, is that the religious police and other units of the Taliban generally enforce rules only in public places, like the bazaar, and when they carry out searches along the road. Within the villages of Chapa Dara, social norms and peer pressure normally suffice to ensure compliance with Taliban rules—a deterrence effect magnified by the fear surrounding Abdul Rauf.
The Taliban’s main economic function in Chapa Dara consists of maintaining security, thereby allowing businesses to operate safely. These businesses, including retailers, tailors, carpenters, and dentists, are then taxed to fund the local administration. In keeping with Afghan practice, the Taliban imposes a general tax on production and capital as well as specific taxes on regulated activities, such as transportation.
Public Services Under the Taliban
The Taliban actively involve themselves in the provision of public services, but the actual resources for those services come from elsewhere. In the education sector, the government in Kabul funds schools in the Chapa Dara valley, but Rahm Dil and his Taliban are in effect in control of these budgets. Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education also officially appoints the headmasters and all staff members at the schools, but many of these people are unwilling or unable to serve in a Taliban-controlled area. Therefore, they negotiate arrangements with locals who are able to live and work in Taliban territory. Under such arrangements, the government-appointed personnel remain on the official books, but they share their salaries with those who actually show up to the schools and do the work. Many of these fill-in teachers are members of the Taliban.
In a remote area like Chapa Dara, those who have completed basic instruction in a madrassa, or religious school, are among the most educated people available. Although the curriculum is ostensibly the same one approved by the government, teachers have to practice self-censorship. The Taliban have made it known that they will close down any school that teaches anything they do not endorse; history and even handwriting are subjects that the Taliban have objected to in the past. Meanwhile, Taliban leaders are currently awaiting the arrival of newly printed Islamic Emirate textbooks.
The Kabul-based government has more of a presence in the health sector. For example, a small government-funded health clinic in the village of Badgah, also in the Chapa Dara valley, is staffed with officially appointed personnel. But other, private clinics and pharmacies in Chapa Dara are staffed by ordinary residents. The Taliban attach a high priority to maintaining functioning health facilities because they have a steady stream of wounded fighters. In cases where fighters are seriously wounded, they are referred over the border to Pakistan, where the Taliban’s own Health Commission has a standing arrangement with the Pakistani authorities to treat wounded Taliban in hospitals in Peshawar, Quetta and Karachi.
Unlike their counterparts in Kabul, Taliban personnel are meticulous about obeying authorities and the chain of command.
Rahm Dil also tolerates minor public works projects like culverts and road repairs in his district. Locals refer to the personnel implementing these projects, many of whom are urban-based professionals employed by construction companies or NGOs, as “engineers.” An engineer wishing to work in Chapa Dara must approach Rahm Dil, who determines whether the project in question would threaten Taliban interests before issuing a written permit. In exchange for the permit, Rahm Dil claims a portion of the budget provided by the aid agency or government ministry funding the project. Like the other fees he collects, this is understood as a contribution to Taliban revenue rather than a bribe.
Locals comment that a key difference between the Taliban and the Kabul-based government is that Taliban personnel are fairly meticulous about obeying authorities and the chain of command. The Taliban consider this obedience to be essential to the legitimacy and ultimate success of their jihad. They believe that a breakdown in discipline would threaten their sacred collective purpose.
This holds true even though young fighters in Chapa Dara have little visibility when it comes to what goes on above the level of their district administrator. Rahm Dil is generally accessible to the people he rules and is able to go about his daily business with little interference from above. But he takes his orders from the provincial governor, who, like him, is appointed by the Taliban’s leadership in Pakistan. Anyone with a grievance about decisions made by Rahm Dil’s superiors would have to make the trek across the border to Peshawar or Quetta, where they would struggle to locate and petition members of the Taliban’s Military Commission, higher judicial bodies, the two deputy emirs or even the provincial governors, who spend much of their time in Pakistan.
Stuck Between Two Systems
The frictionless border between government territory and that of the new Islamic Emirate means that trade and the movement of civilians between the two zones continue relatively unimpeded. But anyone venturing into the Taliban-controlled area is still subject to the Taliban’s authority. This is particularly relevant for people serving in the government or Afghanistan’s armed forces, as well as their relatives.
The Taliban are currently pursuing a campaign to encourage government personnel to resign from their posts en masse. As part of this campaign, Rahm Dil can issue a safe conduct letter to soldiers from Chapa Dara who want to desert the Afghan military and return home.
But those who wish to stay in their posts can sometimes be forced to cut ties with their home districts. One soldier from Chapa Dara with close family connections to the Taliban recently sent word to Rahm Dil that he wished to return to the district to get married. But because he was not prepared to desert the military, which would mean giving up the benefits associated with serving, the young man ended up having to marry in Jalalabad, the closest big city, and shift his family out of Chapa Dara.
This policy has significant implications for inequality and social cleavages in Afghanistan. Government service has long been one of the principal avenues of advancement for residents of Afghanistan’s rural areas. By forcing people like the soldier from Chapa Dara to choose between serving and living in Taliban-controlled areas, the Taliban’s restrictions provide incentives for the educated and ambitious to migrate to towns and cities and cut ties with their home villages, reinforcing the country’s deep urban-rural divide. Those who have no alternative stay in their villages and depend on whatever income they can generate from farming, with little prospect of improving their lives. These people are effectively stuck between competing systems—the Taliban or the Afghan government.
This is just one way that the Taliban alienate local populations. Broadly speaking, while the Taliban in Chapa Dara see themselves as a benevolent force that is living up to its mission of implementing an Islamic system based on their own strict rules, it’s not clear that they’ve been able to win over non-Taliban.
President Ashraf Ghani, center, speaks during the so-called Kabul Process conference
at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, June 6, 2017 (AP photo by Rahmat Gul).
Outside Chapa Dara, there are areas where the new Islamic Emirate is more openly contested by Afghans. A system with no local accountability or participation is poorly suited to manage a pluralistic society like Afghanistan’s. Many districts, especially in the north of the country, are multi-ethnic, and the local administration must balance the needs of competing groups. Achieving cohesion can be difficult, and the Taliban have come up short in some cases. In 2017, the sense among Uzbeks—one of several ethnic groups in northern Afghanistan—that they were being excluded from Taliban power structures prompted some Uzbek Taliban fighters in the north to join the self-styled Islamic State.
There are also recurrent tensions in the north between Taliban officials appointed by leaders in Peshawar and Quetta and those who have a local support base. The concentration of power in the hands of an inaccessible Pakistan-based leadership reinforces the tendency of the Taliban to be impervious to important local considerations. For example, earlier this year the leadership prioritized the prosecution of a military campaign in northwest Afghanistan and sent a regional commander there to mobilize for the fight. But the area was severely affected by a drought. Had the Pakistan-based leadership been more attuned to local concerns, they might have made more concessions to civilians who were struggling simply to survive and were therefore unable to bear the burden of conflict.
The perception among at least some Chapa Dara residents that the Taliban are honest also does not hold throughout the entire country. In the northern provinces and in Helmand province, in the south, reports have emerged of Taliban commanders abusing their positions to get involved in the narcotics trade for their own financial benefit. As a general rule, the visible parts of the illicit economy, such as heroin processing labs and drugs and arms bazaars, as well as smuggling routes, tend to be located in Taliban-controlled areas. And while it is correct to say that the sense of purpose among Taliban fighters tends to be much more ingrained than in the government ranks, some in the movement have become deeply cynical and view the jihad as a pretext to pursue heroin dealing and the acquisition of property, new wives and fancy cars. Evidently aware of this problem, the Taliban leadership have recently started to appoint officials responsible for institutional reforms and overseeing the spending and revenue-earning departments.
Navigating Taliban-Government Relations
This new version of the Islamic Emirate reveals much about what an Afghanistan under full control of the Taliban would look like and whether the Taliban have changed since they last ruled the country. The fundamentals of Taliban governance, in Chapa Dara and dozens of districts like it, hardly seem different from the system that was in place in the years before 9/11. Even with the induction of a new generation of Taliban fighters, the movement has largely preserved its political culture, for better or for worse.
Even with the induction of a new generation of fighters, the Taliban have largely preserved their political culture, for better or for worse.
The main achievements of the Taliban in the areas they control include establishing a modicum of security and creating a system of local administration that is less corrupt than the Kabul-based government. These achievements alone may prompt some to flirt with the idea that a nationwide Islamic Emirate might not be so bad.
But a closer look at the realities of the new Islamic Emirate offers plenty of warnings about possible adverse consequences if the Taliban were to further extend their influence. The movement’s narrow sociopolitical base and resistance to any serious local participation or accountability mean that it would struggle to maintain popular support. And the Taliban’s willingness to incorporate the illicit economy into their system of governance suggests that a Taliban-run Afghanistan could be even more crime-ridden than the country is now.
Rahm Dil and his peers across the Taliban’s tightly controlled districts have not faced the challenges of running the large, modern institutions that exist in cities, nor have many of them overseen multi-ethnic districts. And the way they have pursued the aggressive banning of soldiers and government personnel suggests that if they ever had a chance to take over urban areas, they would again cut themselves off from much of the population. These are just some of the reasons to suspect that the relative stability in Chapa Dara could not be replicated across Afghanistan.
When it comes to pursuing peace, places like Chapa Dara offer some sense of what the Taliban might seek in return for a deal. At the grassroots level, the Taliban are proud of their successes in removing predatory or corrupt government officials. They have also used their military and political strength to install their cadre in positions of relative power and influence, whether through taking over the judicial system or assuming teachers’ posts. The Taliban can be expected to try to preserve and extend these gains.
It’s unclear how the Taliban could reconcile peace with the government with their conception of themselves as custodians of Islam—a conception that has shaped the system of rule they’ve developed in Chapa Dara and elsewhere. In the event of peace talks, if the Taliban were to stand by their demand for an Islamic system, there would be a need to develop consensus on what that should look like.
And even if negotiators could do that, there’s no guarantee that Afghans would go along with it willingly. People in Taliban-controlled areas, of course, are not free to express their opinions about Taliban rule, so it’s hard to say how, despite the relative calm in Chapa Dara, the Taliban are genuinely perceived there. At the national level, though, survey evidence indicates that 80 percent of the population has no sympathy for the Taliban.
For now, there are signs of an emergent modus vivendi between the new Islamic Emirate and the Kabul-based government. Yet there are four major factors preventing the government from building on this arrangement.
First, the Taliban remain committed to their violent jihad against the government and use control of the countryside as an asset in that campaign. This includes recruiting and basing fighters in places like Chapa Dara.
Afghan security personnel walk past the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan,
Jan. 23, 2018 (AP photo by Rahmat Gul).
Second, the fact that the Taliban pay no mind to the wishes of the civilian population is important. A national government could not sign off on the Taliban, or any other non-state actor, using violence or compulsion without sacrificing its own legitimacy.
Third, a very real sovereignty issue arises in any kind of dealings between the Kabul-based government and the Taliban. Rahm Dil and his men acknowledge the authority of the Islamic Emirate’s judiciary and leadership, which is located in Pakistan. Given the sensitivities around sovereignty in Afghan political culture, it would be untenable for an Afghan government to accept a local administration that takes orders from bosses on the other side of the border.
Finally, the elephant in the room is terrorism. Taliban commanders claim there are no al-Qaida cells in Kunar province, the home of Chapa Dara district and one of the places where al-Qaida has historically been based. Nevertheless, the alliance between the Taliban movement and al-Qaida is intact. A U.S.-supported Afghan government cannot responsibly accommodate the Taliban without some guarantee that they will help keep out the terrorists.
As frustration grows over the lack of progress toward implementing a nationwide peace process, there has been increasing talk of possible local cease-fire deals. But these deals would run into the same challenges impeding a broader deal between the Taliban leadership and the Afghan government.
Therefore, if Taliban administrators like Rahm Dil really are looking for closer cooperation with the government, they will have to be prepared to make major changes. This would require a level of flexibility that none of the war’s actors have shown. Instead, the most likely scenario is that the war will drag on and the dualist system that has characterized the new version of the Islamic Emirate will remain in place. Meanwhile, the government and the U.S. will bomb the Taliban whenever they catch sight of them, and the Taliban will use the districts they control as launchpads for attacks on remaining government territory. This can continue for as long as the U.S. continues financing the Afghan government.
Michael Semple is a professor at the Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice at Queen’s University Belfast.
15. SRI LANKA: A CHINESE COMPANY RESHAPING THE WORLD LEAVES A TROUBLED TRAIL
CCCC, Belt and Road’s biggest builder, is besieged by allegations of fraud, corruption, and environmental damage.
By Sheridan Prasso
19 September 2018
Christopher Fernando knows the price of rapacious development. It has eaten his kitchen.
Only the sink remains along what was once an outer wall of Fernando’s seafront home on the west coast of Sri Lanka, about 20 miles north of Colombo. Part of his thatched-roof house where the 55-year-old fisherman has lived for three decades suddenly washed away last year. The dredger he blames, like a mythological sea monster ceaselessly sucking the sea bed, is visible in the distance as he speaks. Waves used to wash sand in, he says, but now they only wash it out, tearing away the shoreline—a charge government officials deny. “From the taking of sand,” Fernando says, “everything is being destroyed.”
The sand is being dumped along the coast of Colombo’s business district, where it covers an area the size of 500 American football fields and weighs as much as 70 million Toyota Camrys. It’s the foundation of a development known as Port City Colombo being built by China Communications Construction Co., or CCCC. Plans envision a financial district—pitched as a new hub between Singapore and Dubai—with a marina, a hospital, shopping malls, and 21,000 apartments and homes. The project is part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, an ambitious plan announced in 2013 by President Xi Jinping to build an estimated $1 trillion of infrastructure to support increased trade and economic ties and further China’s interests around the globe.
State-owned CCCC, one of the world’s largest companies with annual revenue greater than Procter & Gamble Co. or FedEx Corp., says its portfolio of 700 projects in more than 100 countries outside China has a value of more than $100 billion. That makes it the largest Belt and Road contractor, according to RWR Advisory Group in Washington, which tracks Chinese investments abroad for government and corporate clients.
It is also one of the most vexed. CCCC and its subsidiaries have left a trail of controversy in many of the countries where they operate. The company was blacklisted by the World Bank in 2009 for alleged fraudulent bidding practices on a highway contract in the Philippines. Malaysia halted two rail projects this year amid corruption suspicions. In Australia, a government investigation published in March said that a CCCC-owned company may have been lax in supervising construction of a children’s hospital, where the water supply was tainted with lead and a subcontractor installed asbestos-filled panels—problems CCCC said weren’t its fault.
The Colombo project has drawn protests over environmental issues and is dogged by worries about the types of businesses it will attract, its governance under a legal structure separate from the rest of the country, and the strain that such a huge development will place on surrounding transport, water, and energy infrastructure.
The list goes on: allegations of mistreatment of railway workers in Kenya and of corruption in Bangladesh. In Canada, the company was blocked in May from acquiring a construction firm on national security grounds. And there have been calls by some members of the U.S. Congress to sanction CCCC because of its alleged role in helping the Chinese military build bases on reefs along a disputed area of the South China Sea—an issue that scuttled the company’s plans in 2015 to raise $1 billion by spinning off its dredging unit in a public offering on the Hong Kong stock exchange.
There’s no shortage of companies, including American ones, that have been accused of bribery and environmental damage when operating abroad. Yet the number and scope of allegations involving CCCC set it apart. “CCCC seems to be constantly pressing the envelope of how countries feel about having a foreign state-owned entity involved in their most strategic assets and critical infrastructure projects,” says Andrew Davenport, RWR Advisory’s chief operating officer. “Recent controversies involving certain of their projects have not helped.”
In an interview with Bloomberg Television at CCCC’s Beijing headquarters in August, Chairman Liu Qitao said changes in government in countries where the company has projects often bring forth accusations of corruption. Liu said CCCC complies with local laws and environmental regulations in all countries where it does business. It also monitors adherence to internal guidelines, he said. Liu wouldn’t comment on what, if anything, the company is doing in the South China Sea.
“We do not allow, nor is there any, corrupt behavior related to any official, because we know that this kind of corrupt behavior is not going to help with the company’s sustainable development,” the 61-year-old chairman said. “And we, as a listed company, are subject to market supervision. If there is corrupt behavior, then the company is finished.”
A CCCC dredging vessel at work on Port City Colombo.
Photographer: Atul Loke/Bloomberg
CCCC is a mashup of several engineering, dredging, and construction companies, two of which date back to the Qing dynasty around the beginning of the 20th century. Another got its start as the road building division of the People’s Liberation Army during the civil war that brought the Communist Party to power in 1949.
In 2005, the government merged two state-owned entities, China Harbour Engineering Co. and China Road and Bridge Corp., to create CCCC and arranged a listing on the Hong Kong exchange. Today, the company has more than 60 subsidiaries and 120,000 employees, according to its website. Most of its projects are in China, and many investments have nothing to do with Belt and Road. CCCC owns an oil-rig design firm in Texas, and one of its real estate units is co-developer of the Frank Gehry-designed Grand Avenue project in Los Angeles.
Despite the company’s global presence, its chairman keeps a low profile and rarely grants interviews to Western media. Trained as a hydraulic engineer at Dalian University of Technology, Liu worked for years at Sinohydro Group, which built the Three Gorges Dam, before becoming president of CCCC in 2010. His official salary was about $120,000 last year, which is in line with those of top executives at other state-owned enterprises.
At most such companies, the Communist Party occupies a central place in the leadership structure, and it’s no different at CCCC. Liu is party chief as well as head decision-maker. In one speech published on a government website, he speaks of turning CCCC into a reliable executor of the party’s vision.
Dressed for the Bloomberg interview in a charcoal pinstripe suit and red tie, his hair combed back, Liu said the Belt and Road Initiative was “proposed by Mr. Xi Jinping based on the concern for the development of mankind, and it invites participation from everyone, not just China but Western companies as well, and aims for shared gains through consultation and cooperation.”
CCCC Chairman Liu Qitao.
By the late 2000s, when China’s economy showed signs of stalling, CCCC began scouting for opportunities in Southeast Asia and Africa. But it ran into a roadblock in the Philippines when a World Bank investigation concluded that a CCCC road building subsidiary was one of seven companies involved in “a collusive scheme designed to establish bid prices at artificial, non-competitive levels” in an auction for a highway contract. The organization blacklisted CCCC in 2009, a ban that lasted eight years. The company said at the time that the allegations had no merit and it had complied with all regulations.
The year the World Bank ban went into effect, the same CCCC road building subsidiary allegedly paid $19 million to a son of the president of Equatorial Guinea to win a highway contract, according to a U.S. asset-forfeiture case filed in Los Angeles in 2013. The lawsuit says some of the money, combined with other ill-gotten gains, was used to purchase Michael Jackson memorabilia, including a signed Thriller jacket and a white, crystal-covered Bad World Tour glove. The president’s son settled the case, agreeing to hand over $30 million worth of properties (not including the jacket and glove). CCCC declined to comment.
The Belt and Road Initiative gave the company a pipeline of new projects, as both Chinese commercial lenders and the government stepped up with financing. Loans from the Export-Import Bank of China and the China Development Bank meant CCCC didn’t have to rely on Western institutions such as the World Bank to fund ports and railroads. Chinese financing also sped up the process of getting complex infrastructure projects off the ground.
As the company’s footprint grew, so did the controversy. Investigators in Malaysia are looking into whether CCCC overbilled for a railroad linking Kuala Lumpur with east coast cities, and whether some of that money went to pay debts incurred by government development fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd., during the administration of former Prime Minister Najib Razak, who’s facing trial on corruption charges. In Bangladesh, the finance minister told reporters in January that CCCC was blacklisted from future projects after allegedly bribing an official involved in awarding a contract to build a 140-mile highway.
Liu said the suspension of rail construction in Malaysia was the result of a change in government this year, that the cost is in line with similar projects, and that he hopes work will resume because it “means a lot for the development of Malaysia.” The allegations of bribery in Bangladesh were a “mistake,” he said. “We are still doing work in Bangladesh. We are not on the blacklist.” Finance ministry officials in Bangladesh didn’t respond to requests for clarification.
Building the Belt and Road
Chinese construction company CCCC has infrastructure projects across Asia, Africa, and Latin America
Data compiled by RWR Advisory Group, a Washington-based research firm that tracks Chinese investments abroad based on media reports, corporate disclosures, regulatory filings, and in-country sources. CCCC projects, represented by circles on this map, are sized by dollar value. They include only projects that have been completed or initiated outside China since 2012 for which a project value could be ascertained. In certain cases, these values may reflect awards to groups of companies or joint ventures in which CCCC was a part. Canceled or pending transactions aren't included. As RWR research reflects only what has been publicly reported, errors and omissions are possible.
The lure of Chinese money is hard to resist for poor countries in Asia and Africa. It’s the cheapest and fastest way to turbocharge an economy, says Sumal Perera, founder and chairman of Sri Lankan construction company Access Engineering Plc, which has worked with CCCC on a number of projects, including building apartments for Port City engineers and technicians. “To work with the Chinese is to be in the fast lane,” Perera says. “I can’t believe state-owned companies have so much dynamism and initiative.”
The hazards of being in the fast lane are obvious in Sri Lanka. In 2010, before there was a Belt and Road Initiative, then-President Mahinda Rajapaksa was seeking to spark development in Hambantota, his rural home district on the island’s south coast, a four-hour drive from Colombo. CCCC subsidiary China Harbour was awarded a contract to build a port in Hambantota, and in 2014 it was granted the Colombo project as well. Now corruption allegations are swirling.
In July, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said authorities are investigating $8.1 million in fund transfers to members of Rajapaksa’s staff during the six weeks before the January 2015 election, when Rajapaksa was running for a third term. The prime minister said the amount included payments from CCCC routed through an account at Standard Chartered Plc.
Foreign contributions to political campaigns are not prohibited in Sri Lanka, and Rajapaksa, who lost his re-election bid in part because of voters’ opposition to the Chinese projects, has denied any wrongdoing. CCCC dismissed as “speculation” that its money funded the campaign, and the Chinese embassy in Colombo issued a statement saying Chinese projects in Sri Lanka adhere to the principles of “extensive consultation, joint contribution, and shared benefits.”
The winner of the 2015 election, Maithripala Sirisena, warned on the campaign trail that Sri Lankans “would become slaves” to the Chinese if the projects went ahead, and he quickly shut them down once he took office. But he restarted both a year later, with even bigger footprints.
His administration invited another state-run port operator, China Merchants Port Holdings Co., to bid against CCCC for resuming construction at Hambantota. China Merchants won the contract after wowing the government with a presentation about making the port like one it built in Shenzhen, China, according to Saliya Wickramasuriya, a senior adviser to both the Hambantota and Colombo projects. As compensation for the switch, he says, CCCC got a tentative commitment for 15,000 acres surrounding the Hambantota port to develop as an industrial zone.
Today, Hambantota handles about one ship a day, not enough to make it commercially viable, and wild elephants regularly breach the perimeter fencing. At a nearby airport, which CCCC also helped build during Rajapaksa’s administration, the only commercial flight was canceled in June because of frequent peacock strikes and low demand.
The government also renegotiated the Colombo project, seeking to address the issues that opposition politicians had raised. It dropped plans for a Formula One racetrack, gave CCCC a 99-year lease instead of outright land ownership, and drafted more than 70 environmental impact-mitigating requirements. It also increased the land area by 15 percent.
The vision for Port City Colombo seems in part an answer to a problem that has long plagued Sri Lanka: Its $90 billion economy doesn’t generate enough employment, which is why the country is a net exporter of labor. Marketing plans tout the 80,000 new jobs the project will create, while computer renderings show 90-story luxury apartment towers, shopping malls, state-of-the-art health-care facilities, and fancy schools, all meant to reverse a brain drain of white-collar workers. Meanwhile, the multimillion-dollar, two-story homes that will line an artificial beachfront and a private marina are designed to lure the wealthy of Karachi, Mumbai, Delhi, and Dhaka—and rich Chinese, too.
“We lost our opportunity to Dubai and Singapore, and now we are trying to catch up,” says Champika Ranawaka, who heads Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development, one of two government agencies involved in approving the Colombo project. He says CCCC is putting up all of the $1.4 billion for the initial phase of construction, which the company says is 70 percent funded by loans from Chinese banks at commercial rates. That, plus an additional $800 million that CCCC is spending to build connecting roads, gives it the right to develop most of the land at Port City to recoup its investment, Ranawaka says. “They’re taking a risk, so they have to somehow earn their money. Their success creates a lot of other opportunities for Sri Lanka.”
The government intends to ring-fence Port City from Sri Lanka’s legal system to facilitate currency movement and create favorable tax and investment incentives. Harsha de Silva, a state minister who once campaigned against the project but is now one of its most vocal supporters, is involved in drafting the separate legal structure. “This must be a top-10 city for doing business in the world,” he says. “Otherwise, what’s the point?” Sri Lanka is currently ranked 111 out of 190 nations on the World Bank’s ease-of-doing-business index.
Opponents of Port City see dangers. They say laws encouraging capital flows will make Sri Lanka a financial bottom feeder, a haven for hidden assets such as India’s so-called black money stashed abroad to avoid taxes. They fear casinos will move in and create the only gambling hub in South Asia—something government officials deny but may not be able to prevent. They’re worried about rising pollution levels and how Port City will get enough water and power. And they question whether the project, which has no committed investors, is a pie-in-the-sky vision of a future that won’t materialize.
“The whole deal is rotten to the core,” says Feizal Mansoor, a member of the People’s Movement Against the Port City, a group of environmentalists, fishermen, clergy, and other opponents. The sand and quarried rock used for the landfill is 100 years’ worth of construction resources being used up at once, he says, and the Chinese should be paying for it. “They’re going to make a 100 percent profit on their capital investment, and we’re going to make a 1,000 percent loss.”
Workers and front loaders at the site of Port City Colombo.
Photographer: Atul Loke/Bloomberg
The biggest cost so far is the environmental damage along a 175-mile stretch of coastline north and south of Colombo and the impact on 80,000 households that make a living from the sea. Sri Lanka’s Environmental Foundation warned two years ago that building Port City would have a “severe and highly detrimental” impact on the coastline, causing erosion and affecting marine biodiversity, fishery stocks, and breeding sites.
Government officials issued a 421-page environmental impact assessment before the project was restarted, stating that studies “clearly establish” that it won’t cause erosion. The report conceded that dredging would temporarily disrupt some fishing grounds and directed CCCC to pay $3.2 million to fund community projects in the affected areas. But officials say that they’re following mitigation guidelines and that critics don’t have any proof to substantiate their claims.
A hunger strike by fishermen in 2016 resulted in an agreement forcing the dredgers farther offshore. But that has barely helped, says Herman Kumara, head of the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement, which represents 17 organizations and unions in Negombo, the center of the fishing industry, north of Colombo. He disputes statistics compiled by Port City officials showing that fishermen’s livelihoods have improved and that fish catches are up. “This is destroying the coast and the coral reefs, and the sea erosion is very serious,” Kumara says.
Travel up the coast and you hear fishermen talk about a 20 percent decline in catch and hardships that threaten to wipe them out. “Our future is now being destroyed,” says Aruna Roshantha Fernando, the president of the All Ceylon Fisher-folk Trade Union and a leader of the hunger strike, who brought an unsuccessful petition to the Supreme Court seeking to stop the Colombo project. “We ask them: If somebody destroys our livelihood, what is your responsibility? They don’t answer.”
Mervin Thamel, secretary of the Indiwara Fisheries Cooperative Society just north of Negombo, says that herring, which used to be plentiful and breed where Port City is going up, are nowhere to be found. “We had to sell our gold” to buy fuel to keep the fishing boat operating farther and farther out to find fish, says Thamel, sitting on his front porch a few blocks from the sea. “We’ve protested a lot,” he says, “but we couldn’t stop it.”
On Christopher Fernando’s stretch of beach, south of Negombo, his next-door neighbor, W. Mary Johanna, laments the loss of two coconut trees that recently washed out to sea. Since she was born here 52 years ago, she says, she never had a problem with erosion—until the dredgers showed up. Now she’s piling up garbage to stop the waves crashing in on her property, where more than 700 square feet have washed away. “It’s difficult to push against the government; they won’t admit they’re causing this,” she says. “What else can we do apart from die? Soon, I’ll just be washed out with the sea.”
—With Anusha Ondaatjie, Dong Lyu, Arun Devnath, Yudith Ho, John Liu, Iain Marlow, Jinglun Zhang, and Cathy Chan
16. INDIA: MILITARISATION DIKTAT TO EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS - SEPTEMBER 29 AS SURGICAL STRIKE DAY TO CELEBRATE COVERT OPERATIONS
SURGICAL STRIKE DAY DIKTAT TO INSTITUTIONS
Modi government has asked higher education institutions to observe September 29 as Surgical Strike Day
by Basant Kumar Mohanty in New Delhi
The Narendra Modi government has asked higher education institutions to observe September 29 as “Surgical Strike Day” and organise various activities, including campus visits by army officials for photo-ops with students.
Criticism of the order has triggered a response that underscores how every non-conformist is being blindly branded a “Naxal sympathiser”, reflecting the mindset behind government-sanctioned labels such as “urban Maoists”.
Eminent sociologist Andre Beteille, who said the government had no authority to instruct people on such matters, was described as a “Naxal sympathiser” by an RSS supporter.
The Centre’s decision to observe the “Surgical Strike Day” comes two years after it said the army had carried out an operation across the Line of Control. The government has told the University Grants Commission to ask the 900-odd universities and 38,000 colleges to celebrate the occasion in a fitting manner and upload accounts and visuals of the activities on the UGC website.
“You may be aware, the Government of India has decided to observe ‘Surgical Strike Day’ on 29th September 2018,” said a letter from UGC secretary Rajnish Jain.
Asked about the order, Beteille said: “I look at it in a very negative light. The government has no authority to instruct people on these matters. The sacrifices of the army are appreciated. But this is not the way.”
He said there are ways to encourage nationalism even though it is not “necessary for everyone to be a nationalist”. Beteille said: “One should be proud of belonging to the nation. But it is not necessary for everyone to be a nationalist.”
Shri Prakash Singh, a Delhi University professor who confirmed he was an RSS supporter, welcomed the order. “It is a healthy move. This will remind the students of the valour of the army and make the students feel proud about the army and the nation.”
Told about Beteille’s views, Singh called the sociologist a “Naxal sympathiser” and laid down a yardstick to measure academics. “Prof Beteille is a Naxal sympathiser. Has Prof Beteille published any paper on Indian culture and glory?” Singh asked.
Betielle is known for his independent and liberal views and has never been counted among Leftist academics, let alone being linked to any Naxalite group.
N. Sukumar, an Ambedkarite who teaches political science in Delhi University, said nationalism was important but should not be imposed. “The feeling of nationalism should come naturally,” he said.
A move to celebrate the army’s contribution is all right but the government and the UGC never bother about the ordinary people’s sacrifices, he said.
“In the last 10 days, 11 manual scavengers have
died in the country while cleaning sewer tanks. So many farmers have committed suicide. What is the stand of the government and
the UGC on such sacrifices?” Sukumar asked.
The UGC letter lists the steps to be taken to celebrate the day and asks students to pledge their support to the armed forces by writing letters and cards in physical or digital format. The letters and cards will be shared with the defence public relations officer and the Press Information Bureau for publicity.
“The physical letters so received can be given to the nearest cantonment or presented to the army officials visiting various colleges for short meetings with students. It will also provide photo-ops for the students,” said the letter.
Asked about the letter and the criticism by a section of academics, the UGC secretary said: “There may be differences of opinion. This has been done as per a government directive.”
The institutions may organise meetings, inviting ex-servicemen who would sensitise the students about the sacrifices made by the armed forces in protecting the borders.
The Bengal government said it would not follow the diktat.
o o o
WITHDRAW CIRCULAR ON SURGICAL STRIKE
Date: September 22, 2018
The circular issued by the UGC under instructions from the HRD Ministry regarding the observance of “surgical strike day” on September 28, is outrageous and objectionable as it seeks to create a jingoistic atmosphere in the country to take forward the political agenda of the ruling party.
It is yet another example of the Government’s utter contempt for minimum democratic norms and respect for the autonomy of institutions in its efforts to push its narrow agenda.
Not only has the UGC, a supposedly autonomous institution, been suborned by the Government to issue instructions to educational institutions, even the media has been told to carry programmes on the surgical strikes thus constituting a direct interference in the freedom of the press. The subsequent statement of the Minister Prakash Javadekar that this was not mandatory is nothing but a poor defence in the face of the strong opposition to the circular.
The circular should be withdrawn forthwith.
17. AYUSHMAN BHARAT TRIVIALISES INDIA’S QUEST FOR UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE
24 September 2018
Little can be done without a massive increase in public health expenditure and a radical revamp of the primary health infrastructure.
Even by Narendra Modi’s high standards, the level of deception involved in the recent launch of the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY) is breath-taking: the prime minister managed to claim that PMJAY is the world’s largest health programme without making any significant financial provision for it.
It may be recalled that PMJAY is one of the two components of Ayushman Bharat, the Modi government’s flagship health initiative. The other component is the creation of 1,50,000 “health and wellness centres”. The finance minister allocated Rs 1,200 crore for these centres in 2018-19. That comes to Rs 80,000 per centre. Essentially, it is just a new coat of paint for the old primary health centres, which are being renamed for the occasion.
The budget allocation for PMJAY in 2018-19 is just Rs 2,000 crore. That is not much more than the previous year’s budget allocation or Rs 1,000 for Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana, PMJAY’s predecessor, which is now being subsumed under PMJAY. In other words, there is virtually no new money this year for PMJAY.
The government claims that PMJAY will provide a health insurance cover of Rs 5 lakh to 10 crore families (about 50 crore persons). What would it actually take to provide this sort of insurance cover? If the beneficiaries spend just one per cent of their Rs 5 lakh quota in a year, on average, then the annual expenditure will come to Rs 50,000 crore. This a very conservative estimate – if the scheme makes it reasonably easy for people to claim their insurance money, the actual cost could easily be twice as much, or more. There is absolutely no indication that the government is willing to spend that sort of money on PMJAY.
According to recent media reports, NITI Aayog experts anticipate the annual PMJAY budget to rise to Rs 10,000 crore or so in the next few years, or something in that range. But Rs 10,000 crore (more than five times the current PMJAY budget) is still chickenfeed for the purpose of providing health insurance to 10 crore families. It comes to Rs 1,000 per family, or Rs 200 per person. For the whole year.
How would you feel if you were told you that your budget for health care this year is Rs 200? An illusion has been created that putting this money in an insurance premium has some sort of multiplier effect. This is not the case at all. Insurance can help to redistribute health expenditure towards those who need it most, but it cannot turn Rs 200 into more. If the government spends only Rs 200 per person on health insurance, that’s the amount of health care an average person gets, that too assuming that there are no transaction costs.
World’s largest health care programme or pie in the sky? Photo credit: Anant Nath Sharma/Flickr CC 2.0
Nevertheless, PMJAY is being projected as “the world’s largest government funded health care programme”, as the finance minister put it in his budget speech. This is very misleading. The term “largest” presumably refers to the proposed population coverage of 50 crore or so, but the wide coverage is achieved by reducing per-capita expenditure to a microscopic level. And even the coverage is not the largest in the world: China’s health care system, with its universal coverage, is much larger. In per-capita terms, public expenditure on health in China is about five times higher than in India.
I suspect that PMJAY actually has little to do with health care, for the time being at least. The real purpose, judging from the National Health Stack documents, seems to be to enable private players to harvest huge amounts of health-related data. It is another instance of what the wizards of information technology call “creating public platforms” (on the back of government schemes) that can be used to develop profitable applications. If that is the purpose, then it makes perfect sense to maximise the coverage and minimise expenditure per person. Maximising coverage, of course, is also a good strategy for the purpose of winning votes.
In short, PMJAY trivialises the goal of universal health care (UHC). Many countries have already achieved UHC, or something very close to it – not only rich countries (including all the OECD countries with the notable exception of the United States) but also many developing countries such as Brazil, Mexico, Sri Lanka and Thailand. This is a historic achievement, well on its way to being replicated across the world. India, however, is yet to initiate a serious debate on this issue, let alone make real strides towards UHC. Social insurance, of course, can be an important part of UHC, and PMJAY, despite its symbolic character today, could possibly develop into a useful form of social insurance. But whatever the approach, little can be done without a massive increase in public health expenditure and a radical revamp of the primary health infrastructure.
Note: The budgetary allocation for PMJAY is Rs 2,000 crore. In an earlier version of this article, it was stated that this figure was for the entire Ayushman Bharat scheme.
Jean Drèze is is visiting professor at the Department of Economics, Ranchi University.
18. INDIA’S CLASSICAL MUSICIANS COME UNDER ATTACK
Hindu nationalists disapprove of the interfaith melodies beloved by some Carnatic vocalists
Sept 28th 2018
IN JUNE Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, spoke of the role that music plays in “breaking all social barriers” in the country. He said that Indian music, an important part of the nation’s cultural heritage, is rich in its diversity and able to unite people regardless of religion or caste. Mr Modi pointed to the “Hindustani music of the north, Carnatic music of the south, Rabindrasangeet of Bengal, Jyoti Sangeet of Assam and Sufi music of Jammu and Kashmir” in particular, as “all these musical traditions set the base of our Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb”: a syncretic Hindu-Muslim culture.
It is a nice thought, but a misleading one, as music has been squarely in the line of fire in India’s culture wars. Right-wing Hindu nationalists consider Carnatic music—composed and sung by musicians from upper-caste Brahman families—to be the last pure corner in the nation’s classical music scene. It relies upon a vocalist’s ability to sing and improvise from hundreds of combinations of chromatic scales, known as ragas. It is affiliated with Hinduism, often drawing on religious poetry which dates back to at least the 17th century (legend dictates that the songs are a direct gift to humanity from the gods). Many Carnatic tunes are bhakti, devotion to a favourite god in the Hindu pantheon, and narrate the god’s story, their kind deeds, adventures and love affairs. Songs about the childhood of Lord Krishna, the most mischievous deity, are particularly popular.
19. INDIA: HOW CHUNNI BAI’S DEATH EXPOSES THE LIE ABOUT AADHAAR
Nikhil Dey and Aruna Roy
On September 27, 2018, a day after the Supreme Court’s Aadhaar judgment, Chunni Bai of Panton Ki Anti, Rajsamand district, Rajasthan died of starvation. She and her husband Uday Singh, both over 75 years old, had not eaten a meal in five days. For two months, they had not received their pensions or rations.
Every time Uday went to the ration shop, the dealer would would send him back empty-handed saying his biometrics weren’t working. The Aadhaar-linked “foolproof” POS machine would fail to authenticate Uday’s fingerprint.
[ . . . ]
20. INDIA: A COMPOSITE STATEMENT ON THREE CASES BY PEN DELHI AND PEN SOUTH INDIA CENTRES
September 22, 2018
PEN Delhi and PEN South India centres join more than 180 writers, academics, artists, musicians, judges and activists in condemning the harassment being faced by musicians of the Carnatic tradition such as T M Krishna, O S Arun and Nithyashree Mahadevan from fringe groups in India and the US for performing songs on Christian and purportedly ‘non-Hindu’ themes.
According to reports, many musicians have received threats from right wing organisations claiming to be ‘Hindu’ organizations, merely for bringing people and religions together on a musical platform. Some of them have been bullied into apologising and have had to cancel concerts. OS Arun, who was invited by T. Samuel Joseph, a long time student and teacher of Carnatic music, to render Carnatic compositions on Christ, was attacked online and pressurised to cancel. Within days, WhatsApp and social media clippings of Nithyashree Mahadevan rendering a Christian song was circulated with disapproving comments. Also, T M Krishna was invited to sing at the SSVT Temple in Washington DC. This was cancelled, according to reports, at the behest of self appointed ‘Hindu’ gatekeepers.
Musician T M Krishna, rejecting all such attempts at coercion, has said, “Considering the vile comments and threats issued by many on social media regarding Carnatic compositions on Jesus, I announce here that I will be releasing one Carnatic song every month on Jesus or Allah.”
PEN Delhi and PEN South India stand in solidarity and express their support for creative artistes who refuse to let their voices be silenced.
PEN Delhi and South India also condemn the arrest of defence analyst and writer Abhijit Iyer Mitra from New Delhi and demand that charges against him be dropped.
Mitra was arrested on September 20 by the Odisha Police, days after his comments on the Konark Temple led to an uproar in the Odisha State Assembly. According to reports, he was granted bail on a surety of Rs 100,000 and has been asked to join the investigation in Bhubaneshwar by September 28.
On September 16, Mitra had posted a video from the temple on Twitter. Pointing to the erotic sculptures of couples in various stages of intimacy at the temple complex, Mitra said: “Can this be a holy place? Not at all. This is a conspiracy against Hindus by Muslims who want to keep us down. Jai Sriram. In our new Ram temple, such obscene sculptures will not be there.” Soon after, in another tweet he clarified that it was a joke. “Jokes aside this temple is just mindblowing,” he wrote. “The sculptures are exquisite & it has a great sense of symmetry & gravitas.” Following the uproar over the remarks, both in the Odisha Assembly as well as outside, he tweeted: “Happy to answer to anyone for my allegedly ‘distasteful’ remarks. Says a lot about the abysmal intellectual Calibre of @Naveen_Odisha’s MLA’s the(y) cant tell satire from seriousness.”
Mitra has been charged under Sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion), 295A and 298 (criminalising acts or words uttered intended to outrage or wound the religious feelings of any individual or class), and 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of the Indian Penal Code.
Mitra’s arrest comes on the heels of an FIR being filed against another journalist in Kolkata ostensibly for tweeting that an upcoming film starring Bengali actor and Trinamool Congress Member of Parliament Deepak Adhikari has been copied from a Pakistani film. For this, Indranil Roy, a film journalist with Sangbad Pratidin, was booked under sections 43 and 66 of the Information Technology Act and Section 505 of the Indian Penal Code on September 13.
PEN Delhi and PEN South India centres express their concerns at such laws being used freely by random individuals and groups and by the state to intimidate and harass journalists, writers and creative artists to curb free expression in India. It reiterates that the enormous wealth of India’s many creative traditions must find expression in the works of different people, no matter what their religion, nationality or background. In India, a thousand – and more – flowers must bloom.
21. PEKING UNIVERSITY THREATENS TO CLOSE DOWN MARXISM SOCIETY
Students continue to back workers in dispute over trade union rights
Yuan Yang and Xinning Liu in Beijing
The Financial Times
24 September 2018
China’s most prestigious university has threatened to shut down its student Marxist society amid a continuing police crackdown on students who support workers in a dispute over trade union organisation.
Under China’s Communist party, Marxism has been part of the compulsory university curriculum for decades. But universities are now under pressure to embrace “Xi Jinping thought” as the president strengthens his ideological control over the nation. The government is also inspecting primary and secondary school textbooks to remove foreign content.
Peking University’s Marxist Society was not able to re-register for the new academic year because it did not have the backing required from teachers, the society said. “Everyone can see what the Peking University Marxist Society has done over the past few years to speak out for marginalised groups on campus,” it added.
The threat to close the society follows a summer of student and worker unrest in the Chinese manufacturing hub of Shenzhen. Students from Peking and other elite Chinese universities were detained for supporting workers trying to organise a trade union at a Jasic Technology factory.
While workers’ protests have become more common in China, the support of a small yet growing student movement has made the Jasic protests politically sensitive.
Zhan Zhenzhen, a member of the Marxist Society at Peking University, was among those arrested in Shenzhen last month. In July, police detained about 30 workers in the biggest such arrest since 2015. In August, police wearing riot gear stormed a student dormitory and took away about 40 students who had been supporting the workers, according to witnesses.
Mr Zhan and the Marxist Society initiated an investigation into working conditions for low-paid workers at Peking University this year. The group said its focus was labour rights, and it gained media attention in 2015 when it published an earlier working conditions report.
The Marxist Society said it had approached teachers in the university’s department of Marxism for support with registration but had been refused, with no explanation.
A teacher from another department had volunteered to register the society but said his offer was rejected by the university’s Student Society Committee.
The university’s Marxism department did not respond immediately to a request for comment. The Student Society Committee declined to comment.
Mr Xi visited Peking University this year to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Karl Marx’s birth. “Peking University is the first place to spread and study Marxism in China. It makes a great contribution to the spread of Marxism and the foundation of China’s Communist Party,” he said at the time.
22. THE SATANIC VERSES SOWED THE SEEDS OF RIFTS THAT HAVE GROWN EVER WIDER
29 Sep 2018
Three decades after Salman Rushdie’s novel ignited Muslim fury and shook the world, we’ve yet to learn the right lessons
An activist from the Pakistan Awami Tehreek party takes part in a protest against the British author Salman Rushdie in Karachi in 2007. Photograph: Zahid Hussein/Reuters
Thirty years ago last week, Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses was published. Rushdie was then perhaps the most celebrated British novelist of his generation. His new novel, five years in the making, had been expected to set the world alight, though not quite in the way that it did.
The novel was, Rushdie suggested, both about “migration, metamorphosis, divided selves, love, death” and “a serious attempt to write about religion and revelation from the point of view of a secular person”. At its heart was a clash of race, religion and identity that, ironically, prophesied the controversy that engulfed the novel and still shapes our lives today.
Within a month, The Satanic Verses had been banned in Rushdie’s native India. By the end of the year, protesters had burned a copy of the novel on the streets of Bolton. Then, on Valentine’s Day 1989, came the event that transformed the controversy – Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death.
The affair marked a watershed in British political and cultural life. There had long been conflicts between minority communities and the state, from the Notting Hill riots of the 1950s to the Grunwick dispute in 1977, to the inner-city disturbances of the 1980s. These were in the main political conflicts, workplace struggles or issues of law and order.
The Rushdie affair was different. Muslim fury seemed driven not by questions of harassment, discrimination or poverty, but by a sense that their deepest beliefs had been offended. Today, such grievance is entrenched in the cultural landscape. Not so in 1988.
The publisher’s response also seems from a different age. The fatwa forced Rushdie into hiding for a decade. Bookshops were firebombed. Translators and publishers were murdered. Yet Penguin never wavered in its commitment to The Satanic Verses. Today, all it takes to make publishers think again is the slightest hint that they might have given offence.
Rushdie’s critics lost the battle, but won the war. The Satanic Verses continues to be published. Yet the argument that it is morally wrong to offend other peoples and cultures has become widely accepted in the three decades since. The fatwa has, in effect, become internalised.
The Rushdie affair was an early expression of what we now call “identity politics”. Back in the 1980s, there was no such thing as the “Muslim community”. Britons of a Muslim background growing up in the 1970s and 80s called themselves Asian or black, rarely Muslim. The Rushdie affair gave notice of a shift in self-perception and of the beginnings of a distinctive Muslim identity.
Many anti-Rushdie campaigners were not religious, let alone “fundamentalist”, but young, leftwing activists. Some had been my friends and some friendships foundered as we took opposite sides in the controversy.
They were drawn to the anti-Rushdie campaign partly because of disenchantment with the left and its failure to take racism seriously, and partly because the left itself was abandoning its attachment to universalist values in favour of identity politics, easing the path of many young, secular Asians towards an alternative worldview.
That path was eased by official policy. Faced with secular militancy on the streets, policymakers – at both local and national level – often turned to religious leaders to act as conservative bulwarks, giving them new credibility. Secular Muslims came to be seen as betraying their culture (they belonged to the “white left”) while radical Islam became not just more acceptable but, to many, more authentic.
Some defenders of Rushdie began wrapping their arguments in the language of identity, too, questioning the very presence of Muslims as being incompatible with “western values”. In the 1990s, the US political scientist Samuel Huntington popularised the term “the clash of civilisations”, a notion that increasingly gained a hearing in liberal circles, particularly in the wake of 9/11. Many came to defend free speech and secularism and Enlightenment ideals not as universal values but as uniquely “western” products; more as tribal weapons in the clash of civilisations than as means of advancing political rights and social justice. It’s a world view that, ironically, mirrors that of the Islamists.
The controversy over The Satanic Verses brought into focus issues that have since become defining problems of the age – the nature of Islam, the meaning of multiculturalism, the boundaries of tolerance in a liberal society and the limits of free speech in a plural world. That, 30 years on, we still blindly wrestle with these issues reveals how little we have learned from the Rushdie affair. And how the lessons we have learned have often been the wrong ones.
Kenan Malik is an Observer columnist
23. BRAZILIAN WOMEN LEAD NATIONWIDE PROTESTS AGAINST FAR-RIGHT CANDIDATE
Gram Slattery, Gabriel Stargardter
September 29, 2018
SAO PAULO/RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Brazil’s major cities on Saturday in women-led protests against far-right presidential front-runner Jair Bolsonaro, who flew home after weeks in hospital recovering from a near-fatal stab wound.
People demonstrate against presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil September 29, 2018. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes
Angered by Bolsonaro’s history of making offensive comments, which includes belittling rape and calling the gender pay gap justified, female protesters used the hash tag #EleNao, or #NotHim, to drum up support for a series of international protests against the former army captain.
Flag-waving protesters flocked to downtown Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo on Saturday afternoon, pouring out of subway trains and into the streets while chanting in unison against a divisive candidate who has led polls for months ahead of the Oct. 7 election, the most polarizing in a generation.
Later, as night fell, television images showed protesters starting small fires and banging drums in the center of Rio.
“I could never be friends with someone who supports a person (like Bolsonaro), who is racist, homophobic and a misogynist,” said Tassia Casseli, who was at the Sao Paulo march.
Brazil's presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro sits on a plane in Sao Paulo, Brazil September 29, 2018. REUTERS/Leonardo Benassatto
Bolsonaro nearly died from a stab wound earlier this month and has been confined to Sao Paulo’s Albert Einstein hospital ever since. He was discharged on Saturday morning, and flew to Rio, where he has served as a federal congressman for nearly three decades, in the afternoon.
In a telling sign of the divisive nature of the election, videos uploaded to social media from Bolsonaro’s commercial flight back to Rio showed some of his fellow passengers clapping and chanting “Legend” when he boarded, while others booed.
“Finally back home, with my family in the warmth of our home. There is no better feeling! Thank you for all the expressions of affection that I saw on the way back and all over Brazil,” Bolsonaro wrote on Twitter. “A big hug to everyone!”
A former army officer who has voiced admiration for Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship, Bolsonaro has won over many with his hard-line stance on crime, unvarnished rhetoric, and a career that has been largely free of corruption accusations.
Yet he has also repelled many others with comments widely considered sexist, misogynist, and homophobic.
Saturday also saw rival rallies in support of the right-winger across the country.
Slideshow (9 Images)
“I never heard him say anything wrong about women,” said Alessandra Sampaio, 39, at a pro-Bolsonaro rally in Rio. “He’s against rape, drugs and in favor of the family. I have two daughters and want the best for them.”
Bolsonaro stirred fresh controversy on Friday night, when he said that he would not accept the result of next month’s election if he loses, adding that he could not “speak for the armed forces commanders.”
Bolsonaro’s relative lack of support among women could spell trouble for a candidate who has become investors’ favorite after embracing free-market policies on the campaign trail.
His biggest rival and likely opponent in an expected Oct. 28 runoff is leftist candidate and former Sao Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad.
Haddad is running for the Workers Party, whose jailed founder, former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, was barred by a corruption conviction. Haddad has surged in recent polls with support from the working class and voters who cannot stomach Bolsonaro.
According to a recent survey by pollster Ibope, 18 percent of women plan to vote for Bolsonaro in the Oct. 7 first round, versus 36 percent of men. In an Oct. 28 second round scenario, among those who expressed a preference, women favored Haddad over Bolsonaro by 47 to 30 percent. Among men 47 percent favored Bolsonaro versus 37 percent for Haddad.
Reporting by Gram Slattery; Additional reporting by Pilar Olivares in Rio de Janeiro; Editing by Alistair Bell and Marguerita Choy
South Asia Citizens Wire
Buzz for secularism, on the dangers of fundamentalism(s), on
matters of peace and democratisation in South
Asia. Newsletter of South Asia Citizens Web:
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