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Youth, Women Hold the Key to Sri Lanka’s Prosperity

MD Staff

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photo: World Bank

In 2017, Sri Lanka had an estimated 497,000 job vacancies. Critical skills mismatches between the qualifications job seekers possess, and the expectations of employers, have left key industries like tourism feeling the pinch. With the country currently reporting high rates of youth unemployment, the figures underlined the importance of the reform agenda in Sri Lanka.

In a discussion held to mark the launch of the World Bank’s latest edition of the Sri Lanka Development Update [SLDU], panellists noted that when it came to job creation, the island was grappling with complex and interlinked challenges that spanned the spectrum from education to legislation. As technology forced rapid evolution in the world of work, youth would drive change.

We need youths to be at the forefront of creating jobs…We need them to push policy makers, the private sector and the public sector to lift hurdles in their way so they can get on with being tomorrow’s employers and innovators,” said Dr. Idah Z. Pswarayi-Riddihough, World Bank Country Director for Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

As Sri Lanka strove to increase its exports, the island’s workforce would be thrown into competition with global players. Ralph Van Doorn, senior economist and one of the author’s of the SLDU said: “We think that the job agenda is the competitiveness agenda – if you become more competitive, you will create more and better jobs.

Below are highlights from the hour-long panel discussion, moderated by economist Kithmina Hewage.

Realising the potential of women and youth

The SLDU notes that Sri Lanka needs to create jobs opportunities appropriate for its labor force, in particular for youth and women. In 2017, the unemployment rate for those between 15 – 24 years old stood at 18.5 percent – as compared to just 0.9 percent for those aged 40 and over. Among all age groups, women were more at risk of unemployment than men.

The way our tertiary system is structured now, it cannot react to fast enough to changes in the markets. We need to figure out models which can help us produce graduates demanded by the market,” said Dr. Nisha Arunatilake, Director of Research at the Institute for Policy Studies, sharing her conviction that finding a role for the private sector would inject resources and drive innovation in the education system. She emphasized that this must be done while ensuring equity and access to education for all.

Prof. Dayantha Wijesekera, former Vice Chancellor of Open University and University of Moratuwa, suggested that by reintroducing once popular apprenticeship schemes and making course admission criteria more flexible, universities could better support students willing to add new skills and knowledge to their resumes. “We should have more and innovative methods of attracting youth to the already adequate facilities for vocational training, rather than spending more money on infrastructure,” he added.

While such reforms would help young people across the board, more needed to be done to ensure women joined the workforce. The expansion of quality subsidised or community-funded childcare is critical, said Ganeshan Wignaraja, Chair of the Global Economy Programme at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Centre. He added that the level of harassment women faced on public transport and in the workplace was shocking and called for a strong, well-considered response from the state and from employers.

Addressing the legal and policy constraints creating bottlenecks

Critical to creating confidence in foreign investors and improving Sri Lanka’s business environment will be updating Sri Lanka’s labour laws. “Reform to the labour law is essential,” Ayomi Fernando, Industrial Relations Advisor for the Employers Federation of Ceylon noted, adding that efforts have long been underway to update and simplify the relevant laws, some of which date back to 1950s.

Quite a few of them pose huge restrictions to employment generation, to people moving jobs,” she said, explaining that investors naturally baulked.

The laws also weren’t made with the modern market in mind – for instance, many local offices must now consider the working hours of colleagues in other timezones, for which no allowances are made. The rising numbers of freelance and part-time workers, and those wishing to work from home were also not addressed, creating challenges for employers and employees both.

Meanwhile, SMEs in Sri Lanka’s large informal sector needed incentives to formalize said Ralph, pointing out this would in turn give them access to institutional support, market linkages and financial backing that could help them grow. Studies estimate that 60 percent of all employed people work in informal work arrangements. Here, reforms could pave the way for extending the protection of labor laws to such employees.

Designing protections for the most vulnerable

One of the fastest ageing countries in the world, Sri Lanka faces a demographic transition that will leave the country with fewer earners and a larger proportion of dependents. Highlighting that pensions were one of the key deciders for job seekers, Ganeshan pointed out that there was a pressing need to create viable alternatives for the private sector, perhaps by allowing reputed private pension providers to set up shop in Sri Lanka. Ralph added that it was important to gradually expand pension coverage and to increase portability of pension schemes to reduce the bias to public sector employment and protect informal sector workers.

The panel agreed that Sri Lanka’s existing social protection programs lack adequate coverage, and need to be better targeted. Currently, upon retirement private sector employees receive inadequate pension benefits, a lump sum payment at retirement or no pension at all. “Pension reform, as we age, will become the number one issue, otherwise I fear the country will face a crisis of old age poverty…” said Ganeshan.

Ayomi cautioned that the gender aspect of the issue should not be ignored: “One real problem that we have with pensions in Sri Lanka is that they are linked to employment, and what we are seeing is that 50 percent of females never work and they are the ones who live longer – they live eight years longer than men – and they are ones who don’t have access to pensions. So pension reforms should delink pensions from employment.”

In the end, the panel agreed that neither the public sector nor the private sector could rescue the economy alone. “We need to build financial literacy and encourage people to plan for their old age,” said Wignaraja. “The state cannot do everything, not in the macroeconomic situation where we are. I think it’s time that people woke up to this reality.”

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South Asia

Indian Nuclear Explosions of May 98 and Befitting Response

Dr. Anjum Sarfraz

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India started nuclear program soon after independence. The Atomic Energy Act was passed on 15 April 1948, leading to the establishment of the Indian Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC).  The Prime Minister (PM), Jawaharlal Nehru declared: “We must develop this atomic energy quite apart from war indeed;I think we must develop it for the purpose of using it for peaceful purposes. … Of course, if we are compelled as a nation to use it for other purposes, possibly no pious sentiments of any of us will stop the nation from using it that way.” Indian intentions to develop a nuclear device for military use under the garb of ambivalence were there since independence. Dr. Homi Bhabha was the first secretary who is considered the founder of this program.

The IAEC established a new facility   in January 1954, the Atomic Energy Establishment, Trombay (AEET); later in August 1954 the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) was created with Dr. Bhabha as Director to function directly under PM. The AEET facility was renamed asBhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) in January 1967 after the death of Homi Bhabha. On May 18, 1974, India conducted an underground nuclear test at Pokharan in the Rajasthan desert, codenamed “Smiling Buddha.” The government of India claimed it a peaceful test, but it was actually part of an accelerated weapons program. The world reaction was not strong as expected.  United stated and Canada criticized the test as they had provided aid to India for nuclear project which was supposed to be for peaceful purposes. Later on due to violation of understanding between two countries, Canada withdrew assistance to India.  Chinese stance was that it would affect the stability in South Asia. After this event, Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) was established which gives guidelines to regulate the transfer of sensitive nuclear material. However, India continued pursuing vigorously its nuclear program to develop weapons of mass destruction. 

During election campaign in February 1998, the Bhartia Janata Party (BJP) had announced in its manifesto that if elected it would seek to “exercise option to induct nuclear weapons”. The PM, Atal Bihari Vajpayee of BJP, gave orders to conduct nuclear tests on 11 and 13 May 1998. A total 5 nuclear devices were exploded. The Indian PM, very proudly claimed that India has become sixth nuclear weapon state and should be treated by the world. Indian stance towards Pakistan drastically changed. The senior Indian hierarchy started giving provocative statements against Pakistan. The Indian home Minister L.K Advani said, “Islamabad should realize the change in the geo- strategic situation in the region and the world. It must roll back its anti- India policy especially with regard to Kashmir.”  The Corps Commander in Indian occupied Kashmir held an unprecedented news conference and advocated his plans to attack Azad Kashmir across the LOC. The world reaction to Indian nuclear explosion was not as strong as envisioned. Extracts from the President Clinton speech from CNN broad cast of 12 May 1998, are,“I am deeply disturbed by the nuclear tests which India has conducted and I do not believe it contributes to a safer 21st century. The action by India not only threatens the stability of the region, it directly challenges the firm, international consensus to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.”The other major world powers also showed reluctance in penalizing India.

2.The Pakistan atomic energy program was started much later as compared to India. The Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) was established in 1956 to participate in Atoms for Peace Program announced by the US administration. The program continued at slow pace for peaceful use till detonation by India in 1974. This strategic development was perhaps the first that pushed Pakistan in the direction of nuclear tests in May 1998.  Dr A Q khan joined the program  in 1976and founded the Engineering Research Laboratories (ERL) later renamed Khan Research Laborites ( KRL)  at Kahuta near Islamabad, with the exclusive task of indigenous development of Uranium Enrichment Plant.  According to Carey Sublette, “Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons Program Development,” Nuclear Weapons Archive, January 2, 2002, the nuclear program of Pakistan developed speedily in 1980s and it had conducted the first cold tests of its nuclear device in 1983. According to Presseler amendment of 1985, Pakistan was required to get a certificate from the President of USA that it did not possess nuclear device for getting economic and military aid from USA, which was not signed by the President in 1990. Hence the aid to Pakistan was stopped. It happened soon after former USSR left Afghanistan.

3.On 11 may 1998 when India conducted first 3 nuclear tests, the PM of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, was on official visit to Kazakhstan. The Defense Committee of the Cabinet(DCC) convened on 13 May was chaired by PM, attended by the federal ministers and three services chiefs (Gen Jahangir Karamat was CJCSC as well). Dr. Samar Mubarakmand represented PAEC in place of Dr. Ishfaq, the chairman who was abroad, and Dr A Q Khan, the KRL. At closing of the meeting it was informed that India has conducted another nuclear test. The political, military, economic and technical considerations were obviously discussed thread bare. The political and military leadership was on the same page in the decision making process. Gohar Ayub the foreign minister present in the meeting writes in book, “Testing Times”, page 35, that when Raja Zafar ul Haq asked General Jahangir Karamat for his views, he said “we could match India, but the decision to do so would have to be a political one”. Dr. Samar Mubarakm and gave ten days’ time for preparations to conduct the tests. The site and tunnel had already been selected.

On 18 May, after a lot of deliberations with different segments of the society and the opposition parties, the PM gave go ahead to Chairman PAEC to test nuclear bombs on 28 May 98.   This was a unanimous decision of national importance. The government and military leadership, opposition parties, and general public were firmly on the same page.  The PAEC team headed by Dr. Samar under the supervision of Army Corps of Engineers sealed the tunnels on 25 May. On the evening of 27 May the site was made ready for tests and conveyed to PM. Seventeen days starting from 11 May when India conducted first test till Pakistan responded on 28 May were very critical for the PM, Foreign office and GHQ. They were mulling over ways and means to allay the international pressure in the form of sanctions, and attimes lucrative offers for economic aid in lieu. The President of USA called, PM several times to convince him not to go nuclear.

On 27 May a day before nuclear detonation he called our PM several times. A presentation by the participants of War and National Defence Courses,(1997-98), was scheduled on 28 May at 1000 in National Defence College (NDC) now NDU for the PM which was attended by the ministers and services chiefs.  The writer of this article was undergoing war course and present in the auditorium. The topic words to affect was “Should Pakistan Conduct Nuclear Explosions or Exercise Restraints”. Points against the detonation were, weak economic conditions, will further worsen after slapping of economic sanctions.  Points given by the panel to conduct explosions were much stronger. The panel concluded presentation saying, “Now or Never”. There was a big applause.  The environments prevalent in the auditorium, and smiling faces of the senior hierarchy indicated that Pakistan will carry out nuclear tests very soon. The same evening at 3:15pm, Pakistan gave befitting response to 5 Indian nuclear explosions conducted on 11 and 13 May 98, by exploding 5 nuclear bombs and sixth on 30 May at 11:55am. After successful explosions the PM claimed that Pakistan has become seventh nuclear state.  

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Is PTM Genuine to its Cause?

Syed Nasir Hassan

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Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) v/s Sate is a fiery tale which none can anticipate how it will end. Sparked from the extra judicial murder of model aspirant Naqeeb Ulllah Mahsud on January 13, 2018, the movement continue to get a constant hype on the political spectrum of Pakistan. Initially named Mahsud Tahafuz Movement turned into Pashtun Tahafuz Movement when the case was put forward to the court and Rao Anwar was arrested. However, things got transformed as PTM started taking a constant nudge with the state. From the protest in front of press club in Islamabad, in 2018 to different rallies across country things shifted vigorously. PTM’s defiance is mainly pointed at criticizing the military institution and falsely blaming the institution for their plight. But the question rises that is PTM another mainstream political movement subjected for the elites rather than addressing the actual issue? And are they trying to internationally politicize the issue in order to demoralize the efforts of Pakistan?

On April 29, 2019, DG ISPR Maj Gen. Asif Ghafoor, military spokesperson, addressed PTM leadership and apprised them that the time has come when legal actions is mandatory to be taken against them. He further claimed that the financial records makes the existence of PTM skeptical as they are directly being funded by the foreign factions from neighboring countries  for their protests and rallies.  He was also of the view that PTM is being used by the foreign factions to instigate instability when Pakistan has achieved relative peace. However, the fact should not be neglected that the Government of Pakistan and military establishment acknowledges the demands put forward by the leadership of Pashtun Tahafuz Movement. At various points both, government and military, tried to engage with them in a collaborative manner. Recently on April 16, 2019, Senate Special Committee met the PTM leadership along with the MNA Mohsin Dawar. Even before, when the movement was in its early phase military was the first one to engage with them. When a request was put forward by the PTM leaders to meet military in order to express their grievances, it was agreed. Meeting was held between PTM delegation of 15 members and DG, ISPR Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor on Feb 08, 2018, in which apart from primary demand of justice for Naqeeb Mahsud there were other 4 demands. The military showed consensus on all of them. But the duality of the PTM should not be unremembered as on one side it engages with the government and the military but at the same time the constant barraging on the state and its institutes continues through social media. Things got more complicated as the tone of PTM got discordant day by day. The relentless spewing of hate and impudent comments against the state and its institution clearly show as on whose side PTM is. Movement is kind of drifting away from the true cause when the anti-state and separatist slogans and hymns are openly vocalized in the rallies and are now directed to demoralize the standards of army rather than demanding the rights.

With constant efforts from both government and military the PTM appears reluctant to develop a consensus. Keeping this whole saga in mind One might consider that either PTM leaders are not well negotiator or they don’t want to negotiate and the picture is much larger then it seems.

In 2018, a commission was also formed to facilitate PTM which included high ranks from the military and reputable civilians. State was persistence in facilitating the PTM grievances. DG ISPR also highlighted in his briefing that in order to remove landmines, a team was formed and is currently putting every effort at their disposal. The team had cleared 45 percent of the area and in pursuit of the task 101 Jawans had lost their lives. State constantly acknowledges the demands of PTM but PTM and its virtual diaspora have failed to acknowledge the efforts made by the state.

Pashtun makes up to 15% of the total population of Pakistan. What will happen if this number of population, a province indeed is brought in confrontation with the state? It will be enough to vandalize the socioeconomic fabric of Pakistan. Pashtuns of Pakistan have always been delicate segment of Pakistan as they were in the crossfire between Pakistan’s efforts against eradicating terrorism. It makes them soft target and vulnerable to be used by animosities against Pakistan. The point to ponder is that despite the efforts, and acknowledgement of their grievances by the state why this matter is getting more intense whereas the fact should not be forgotten that both parties are on same line in terms of addressing the problem. The only way this can be resolved is when the PTM stop being patsy against Pakistan and show real concern to give solace to the Pashtun community rather than exploiting their grievances

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RSS: Grim Reality under the Secular Veil of India

Syed Nasir Hassan

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Religious extremism is not something novel to mankind. Between 132-136 CE, Romans faced the confrontation with the Jews. A Jew extremist, Simon Bar Kokhba, led the revolt against Romans known as Kokhba Revolution. He succeeded in establishing a Jew state which lasted for just three years, ultimately falling again in to Roman hands.

Under constitutional veil almost every other nation has some sort of religious or ethno extremist factions in their ranks with mass support. India too, which claims to be a true secular model in the subcontinent has their own version of extremist militia and what is worth worrying is that it is well organized and well structured.

RSS or Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is an extremist Hindu vigilante militia which is being nurtured by many political hands. It came into existence in 1925 by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar – a Hindu nationalist. Initially it was established to retaliate against the British raj and Muslims and unite Hindus to devise a Hindu Rashtra (Hindu nation) but in post-independence scenario it became a blot on the secular veil of India. Indian Constitution makes it a secular country but RSS finds it against the norms of Hindustan. It is not the RSS which shifted its discourse but it was India which became a secular state by constitution. Even before the inception of RSS various Hindu nationalist emphasized on the existence of solely Hindu nation. Vinayak Damodar Savarkar,the founder of Hindu nationalist ideology Hindutva (an ideology which aims to form hegemony of Hindus) stated that there is a dire need of a solely Hindu nation.

RSS was banned three times in its post-independence continuity. First it was banned in 1948 after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by a Hindu nationalist. The interesting fact is the man named Nathuram Godse, who murdered Gandhi, was not an active RSS member at that time but was once. In 1975 RSS came into scrutiny again when Indra Gandhi banned extremist organizations and imposed emergency across the country, and then in 1992 when dispute over Babri masjid erupted and it got demolished.

But what is making the organization function with full momentum? The organization has a fully functional website where one can recruit itself in the organization. Its proper hierarchical order makes it worth worrying as there is a National leader and then there are Regional leaders to oversee the local dealings. It also conducts daily quasi military exercises in parks and open spaces. On many occasions, the members of RSS were involved in the lynching of Muslims and lower casts Hindus. RSS’s Cow protection squad was constantly involved in various incidents during Modi’s reign.

Indian Prime minister, Narendra Modi, during an interview revealed that the personality and the discipline he has, RSS played a major role in shaping it. He also said that he became part of the organization at very young age. RSS also played major role in the putting the throne of Delhi under the Modi’s feet and is again playing a major role in running his election campaign for upcoming elections.

The institutionalized structure of the RSS makes it unique as it has a Cow protection squad, women wing, Labor union and a farmer union to outreach mass population. On its website, they claim that they have more than 50,000 shakhas, a Hindi word for branches, in villages and different cities across the country. Utar-pardesh, a city with largest population in India and major electoral club in the lower house; it is reported that there are 8000 shakahs only in UP which are there obviously to influence the elections and win majority in the house.

Embedded hate against Muslims and other minorities is not something new, in fact, it is in the core beliefs of the organization. M.S Golwalkar, the second Sarsanghchalak (head of RSS) wrote a book named Bunch of Thoughts which comprised of the lectures he had given to shakhas over the country. In his book he wrote that internal elements pose far greater threat to national security than outside aggressor. Golwalkar than identified three major “Internal Threats: i) Muslims; ii) Christians; iii) Communists. Not just this, in an article published in THE HINDU on November 26,2006 it was revealed that the murder of Mahatma Gandhi was somehow celebrated by the RSS. Moreover, giving reference to the secret documents which he had seen the writer divulged that Golwalker had called a meeting on December 6, 1947, where RSS workers of Govardhan, a town not very far from Delhi. As per the police report regarding the meeting, assassination of the leading persons of the Congress was discussed to create terror and panic among the public and to get hold over them. Just after two days. Golwalkar again addressed several thousand RSS volunteers at the Rohtak Road Camp, Delhi. The police reporter notified that the RSS leader had clearly said that Sangh would not rest content until it finishes Pakistan and if anyone was a hindrance in their way they would not spare them either whether it was Nehru’s regime or any other.

Having such militant Hindu organizations flexibly working without any state censorship and proliferating into Indian society is a threat to Indian secular dream. Aimed at making India a purely Hindu state such far-right groups in subcontinent will make exclusive societies rather than inclusive. Intra-state tensions will continue to mount. Which will create the so-called nonpolitical groups like RSS propagating into the Indian society through political interference and can make India’s future bleak. With such intra-state terror groups Indian vision for secular and inclusive India will remain a chimera.

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