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India: Diplomacy is the key

Surgical strikes after Uri and at Balakot have not ended terrorism and infiltration has increased despite lockdown. The post-COVID-19 environment may provide a window to restart process

by Ashok K Mehta

For Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the use of surgical strikes has become the new-normal in resolving intractable problems like cross-border terrorism, black money and Jammu & Kashmir. After Balakot, the airstrikes appear to have turned the page in terrorism but in real terms, little has changed. Black money has altered the “colour” and “terrorism” is just on “pause.” The new invisible enemy is COVID-19. Not even a nuclear strike will conquer this pandemic, which only time, more human lives and a vaccine can cure. Preliminary studies are showing how Coronavirus will change the way we live and cohabit. One can only hope that our existential difficulties with Pakistan will ease and end.

The Government and the Indian Air Force (IAF) celebrated February 26 as the first anniversary of Balakot. Exaggerated claims were made to perpetuate the ones made last year without new evidence and factoring the Pakistani perspective. It is too early to begin rewriting the doctrine and call the airstrikes as “game-changer.” Claims on behalf of the IAF have been made mainly by former Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa, through interviews and parts of an internal IAF report that were leaked to the media. His successor, Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria, simply reinforced Dhanoa’s claims through the same medium at a public event titled, ‘Air Power in No War No Peace Scenario,’ organised by the Centre for Air Power Studies, which was presided by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh.

The Pakistan Air Force (PAF)’s perspective came from a conference held at the University of Lahore, which was jointly organised by the Centre for Security Strategy and Policy Research and the Centre for Aerospace and Security Studies (CASS). The event was attended by former PAF Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Kaleem Saadat. A report was published in the British Air Force magazine by Alan Warnes through his interviews with retired PAF officers. The PAF’s response to the IAF air strikes was called “Operation Swift Retort.”

On the most provocative, emotional and in India even anti-national question of hitting the target, the IAF has stuck to its claim that it hit the target, though the Crystal Maze 142M missile, which was to produce battle damage assessment, could not be fired. Last year, among others who expressed doubts whether the IAF missiles were on target, was Ashley Tellis of the US’s Carnegie Endowment and Christine Fair of Johns Hopkins University. The Air Force magazine was more direct: Bombs aimed at a religious boarding school at Balakot…hit wooded area a few hundred metres away…all bombs overshot their targets. The CASS report refers to the mishit as “tactical error and technical inadequacy.” Even so, this was the first time after the 1971 war that the IAF bombed Pakistan at Balakot. Perhaps carried away, Bhadauria described the bombings as “the most significant air action of the IAF in over four decades.” That was a bit unkind to the IAF veterans, who took part supporting the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in Sri Lanka for 22 months, and the sterling precision IAF bombings at Kargil for over three months.

Bhadauria further said that Balakot has shown that you can use the IAF and still have “escalation control.” He was backed by Army Chief, Gen MM Naravane, who said: “For years we were told that if and when air (force) crosses the International Border (IB), it would escalate to a full-fledged war. Balakot demonstrated that if you play the escalatory game with skill, military ascendancy can be established in short cycles of conflict that do not necessarily lead to war.” Elementary, my dear Watson?

In his paper on air escalation control circulated by the US’ Stimson Centre in 2003 after Operation Parakram, IAF’s Air Commode, Ramesh Phadke, argued that limited air operations against Pakistan in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) were possible with minimal escalation. Reason: IAF to PAF air balance ratio at that time was nearly 2.5 to 1. Today, that ratio has declined to less than 1.3 to 1 (IAF 28 squadrons versus PAF 21 squadrons). The CASS report further says that the probability of crisis recurrence between India and Pakistan is high and during a crisis, neither side will be able to guarantee controlling or dominating the escalation ladder.

PAF Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan told the Air Force magazine that one lesson for India is not to use air power “flippantly.” He said Operation Swift Retort was inevitable to demonstrate both the resolve and restraint and was designed to de-escalate. Pakistan has found wriggle room in explaining its nuclear bluff being called. The CASS report titled, “Deconstructing Balakot” reads: “Pakistan’s carefully calibrated response strategy served well in dampening the fears in policy analysis that portray that any attack inside Pakistan’s territory would invoke Pakistan’s nuclear threshold. However, Pakistan, through its retaliation, Operation Swift Retort after Indian strikes in Balakot, demonstrated that it has valid conventional means of deterrence to raise the cost of aggression.”

As someone who has studied Pakistan’s military and strategic thought, I do not recall Pakistan seriously threatening the use of nuclear weapons against an enemy airstrike. The four conditions for that were clearly codified by Lt Gen Khalid Kidwai, the intellectual custodian of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. He had said — and that has not changed till date — that Pakistan would use its nuclear weapons as weapons of ultimate resort in four eventualities: Loss of large territory, especially in Punjab; crippling military attrition; economic blockade; and largescale political destabilisation. None of these conditions was violated by the Balakot airstrikes.

One year on, AFM has said that PAF will be outnumbered but will innovate to outmanoeuvre the IAF. It does not matter what technology the IAF gets, the PAF will have the capacity to defeat it. CASS has said that for the foreseeable future, it will be in retaliatory mode but the threat of the use of force is essential when Pakistan’s support for Kashmir will go beyond political, diplomatic and moral paradigm. Kashmir has been made central to crisis and conflict.

Balakot airstrikes had the potential to escalate and spin out of control. One single factor that enabled the daring and risky operation was a strategic surprise. This is not likely to be replicated. Airstrikes are not the new-normal but a one-off like the ground surgical strikes. Surgical strikes after Uri and at Balakot have not ended terrorism. Infiltration has increased despite lockdown and unprecedented troop density in Jammu & Kashmir.

Pakistan’s support for Kashmir will not cease and despite the internal constitutional changes in Jammu & Kashmir, the dispute will ultimately have to be resolved politically. The post-COVID-19 environment may provide a window to restart the process.

(The writer, a retired Major General, was Commander IPKF South, Sri Lanka and founder member of the Defence Planning Staff, currently the Integrated Defence Staff.)

Sri Lanka: Raising the Borrowing Limit Imperative for Fighting COVID-19

Once the borrowing limit is reached, there will be no legal authority under which public debt can be issued. 

by Mangala Samaraweera

Due to legal complications, there may also be delays in drawing down the $128 million (Rs. 24.4 billion) soft-loan granted by the World Bank Group for fighting COVID-19.

For the period of January 01, 2020, to April 02, 2020, the Government has borrowed Rs. 650.15 billion through Sri Lanka Development Bonds, a dollar-loan from the China Development Bank and primary auctions of Treasury bills and Treasury bonds. Furthermore, Central Bank holdings of Government securities and other data on Central Bank open-market-operations suggest significant direct monetary financing of the deficit. This will add to the sum of government borrowings.

The borrowing limit, approved by a resolution of Parliament on 23 October 2019 for the period 1 January 2020 to 30 April 2020, is Rs. 721 billion. Last year, the Treasury issued 194 billion in bills and bonds between 3 April 2019 and 30 April 2019. Therefore, it is almost certain that a breach of the borrowing limit is imminent.

Once the borrowing limit is reached, there will be no legal authority under which public debt can be issued. As a result, the government may face insurmountable challenges in raising the funds necessary for managing this crisis. Due to these legal complications, there may also be delays in drawing down the $128 million (Rs. 24.4 billion) soft-loan granted by the World Bank for fighting COVID-19.

Therefore, in light of these urgent and unforeseen requirements arising from the pandemic, I urge the government to immediately move a resolution in Parliament to raise the borrowing limit. I am certain the entire Parliament will support such a resolution that responsibly increases the borrowing limit.

( The writer is former Minister Finance, The Government of Sri Lanka)

Covid-19 will forever alter the world order

We went on from the Battle of the Bulge into a world of growing prosperity and enhanced human dignity. Now, we live an epochal period. The historic challenge for leaders is to manage the crisis while building the future. Failure could set the world on fire.

by Henry A. Kissinger

The U.S. must protect its citizens from disease while starting the urgent work of planning for a new epoch.

The surreal atmosphere of the Covid-19 pandemic calls to mind how I felt as a young man in the 84th Infantry Division during the Battle of the Bulge. Now, as in late 1944, there is a sense of inchoate danger, aimed not at any particular person, but striking randomly and with devastation. But there is an important difference between that faraway time and ours. American endurance then was fortified by an ultimate national purpose. Now, in a divided country, efficient and farsighted government is necessary to overcome obstacles unprecedented in magnitude and global scope. Sustaining the public trust is crucial to social solidarity, to the relation of societies with each other, and to international peace and stability.

Nations cohere and flourish on the belief that their institutions can foresee calamity, arrest its impact and restore stability. When the Covid-19 pandemic is over, many countries’ institutions will be perceived as having failed. Whether this judgment is objectively fair is irrelevant. The reality is the world will never be the same after the coronavirus. To argue now about the past only makes it harder to do what has to be done.

The coronavirus has struck with unprecedented scale and ferocity. Its spread is exponential: U.S. cases are doubling every fifth day. At this writing, there is no cure. Medical supplies are insufficient to cope with the widening waves of cases. Intensive-care units are on the verge, and beyond, of being overwhelmed. Testing is inadequate to the task of identifying the extent of infection, much less reversing its spread. A successful vaccine could be 12 to 18 months away.

The U.S. administration has done a solid job in avoiding immediate catastrophe. The ultimate test will be whether the virus’s spread can be arrested and then reversed in a manner and at a scale that maintains public confidence in Americans’ ability to govern themselves. The crisis effort, however vast and necessary, must not crowd out the urgent task of launching a parallel enterprise for the transition to the post-coronavirus order.

Leaders are dealing with the crisis on a largely national basis, but the virus’s society-dissolving effects do not recognize borders. While the assault on human health will—hopefully—be temporary, the political and economic upheaval it has unleashed could last for generations. No country, not even the U.S., can in a purely national effort overcome the virus. Addressing the necessities of the moment must ultimately be coupled with a global collaborative vision and program. If we cannot do both in tandem, we will face the worst of each.

Drawing lessons from the development of the Marshall Plan and the Manhattan Project, the U.S. is obliged to undertake a major effort in three domains. First, shore up global resilience to infectious disease. Triumphs of medical science like the polio vaccine and the eradication of smallpox, or the emerging statistical-technical marvel of medical diagnosis through artificial intelligence, have lulled us into a dangerous complacency. We need to develop new techniques and technologies for infection control and commensurate vaccines across large populations. Cities, states and regions must consistently prepare to protect their people from pandemics through stockpiling, cooperative planning and exploration at the frontiers of science.

Second, strive to heal the wounds to the world economy. Global leaders have learned important lessons from the 2008 financial crisis. The current economic crisis is more complex: The contraction unleashed by the coronavirus is, in its speed and global scale, unlike anything ever known in history. And necessary public-health measures such as social distancing and closing schools and businesses are contributing to the economic pain. Programs should also seek to ameliorate the effects of impending chaos on the world’s most vulnerable populations.

Third, safeguard the principles of the liberal world order. The founding legend of modern government is a walled city protected by powerful rulers, sometimes despotic, other times benevolent, yet always strong enough to protect the people from an external enemy. Enlightenment thinkers reframed this concept, arguing that the purpose of the legitimate state is to provide for the fundamental needs of the people: security, order, economic well-being, and justice. Individuals cannot secure these things on their own. The pandemic has prompted an anachronism, a revival of the walled city in an age when prosperity depends on global trade and movement of people.

The world’s democracies need to defend and sustain their Enlightenment values. A global retreat from balancing power with legitimacy will cause the social contract to disintegrate both domestically and internationally. Yet this millennial issue of legitimacy and power cannot be settled simultaneously with the effort to overcome the Covid-19 plague. Restraint is necessary on all sides—in both domestic politics and international diplomacy. Priorities must be established.

We went on from the Battle of the Bulge into a world of growing prosperity and enhanced human dignity. Now, we live an epochal period. The historic challenge for leaders is to manage the crisis while building the future. Failure could set the world on fire.

Mr. Kissinger served as secretary of state and national security adviser in the Nixon and Ford administrations. This opinion piece first appeared in the Wall Street Journal

Hasina declared first the economic plan for post-COVID19 in South Asia

No doubt, as a primary recovery program Sheikh Hasina declared a worthy one. But she needs to declare more programs because when the Corona crisis will be gone, then not only she and her country but also the whole world will get the proper economic calculation of the loss.

by Swadesh Roy
Writing from Dhaka

The number of COVID-19 affected people in Bangladesh is increasing. Besides, the authority of Bangladesh is getting afraid of the rapidly increasing number of Corona cases in India. In this situation, some of the senior ministers of government are thinking about continuing the lock-down for a few more days. At the same time, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh came in a televised press conference on Sunday, 5th April 2020 where she didn’t utter any word about increasing the lock-down for more. But, she asked people to observe the Bengali New Year which is on 14th April, staying at their homes, not outside. It may be a sign of continuation of the lock-down for few more days as the ongoing declared lock-down is up to 11th April. However, her government declared for continuing lockdown up to 14 April by an executive order. Basically, the press conference of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was regarding an economic incentive program which will act after the Corona math in the economy. In her incentive package, she announced BDT 720 Billion in the three sectors- social security, large scale industries and trading, and small and medium scale industries and trading.

Government of Bangladesh operates several social security programs, such as, giving food without price to the people of below poverty line, supplying the main food, rice at only ten takas per Kilogram for the people of the low-income group, providing monthly allowance for the widow and the elder people of the country. Along with these, the government has taken a massive program for making homes to all the homeless people of the country in this year dedicating the birth centenary of the father of the nation of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Prime Minister has declared BDT 220 Billion for all the social security services. Leaving BDT 220 Billion, another BDT 500 Billion is allotted for industry and business sector. In this BDT 500 Billion, large scale industries and trading will get BDT 300 Billion which will be provided as a soft loan. Large scale industrialists and traders can borrow loan from BDT 300 Billion package for their working capital. The interest rate of this soft loan will be 9%, but the borrower has to pay only 4.5% and the rest will be paid by the government. Simultaneously, the rest amount of BDT 200 Billion will be given to the small and medium scale industrialists and traders as a soft loan. The interest rate is even softer in case of them. They will repay 4% interest, and the rest 5% will be paid by the government following the same procedure.

In her press conference, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina indicated about two major small scale agro-industries of Bangladesh which are now much affected; one is Poultry and another is Fish Farming. It is to mention that Bangladesh places fourth in producing fish in the world and self-sufficient for protein by producing Poultry Chicken. Now, Poultry Chicken is the common protein for the poor people of Bangladesh. So, Sheikh Hasina thinks that after Corona debacle, it is necessary to regain the shape of the Poultry and Fish Firming sectors.

Despite that, when addressing the nation on the occasion of Independence Day (Independence Day was on 26th March but she addressed the nation on 25th March in the evening), she declared 50 Billion as a very soft loan for the garments workers. It is a matter of fact that the garments sector counts above ten Million workers, and 80% of them are women. It is the hard work of these women workers for which the garments sector of Bangladesh claim number one position in South Asia and its world ranking is number three having China in the first position and Vietnam second. On the other hand, for the increase of the supply of the money in the market, Sheikh Hasina gave some directions to her Central Bank for making the banking loan policy easier so that Banks can supply more money in the market. Though, she is a little bit worried about money supply in future. But she thinks that the supply of money in the market is a necessity after Corona crisis for rebuilding the economy and facing the recession.

Sheikh Hasina is the only chief of the government now in the South Asia, who faced the economic recession of the world in 2009. So, she has experience about how to face the recession of the economy. Most of the renowned economists of the world expressed their thought when COVID-19 affect first in the West saying the economic recession will be as like as the years 2008-2009’s recession because of the effect of the COVID-19. After observing the ferocious face of Corona, including IMF, World Bank and all the economic organizations have forecasted that the recession will be worse than it was after the Second World War. As an experienced leader for facing economic recession, Sheikh Hasina came first in the South Asia with her recovery program for the economy from the recession after Corona math.

No doubt, as a primary recovery program Sheikh Hasina declared a worthy one. But she needs to declare more programs because when the Corona crisis will be gone, then not only she and her country but also the whole world will get the proper economic calculation of the loss. The World Bank, ADB, and other development partner organizations will need to make the design on how they will assist all the countries of the world for rebuilding their economy because almost all the countries (Now 205 Countries) are affected by the COVID-19.

As a leader of a small and the highest dense populated country, Sheikh Hasina has come up with an economic recovery plan keeping the loss of Corona effect in her mind. Though, the World specialists think that including Bangladesh, Indian Sub-Continent has to face Corona crisis for more one and a half months from now. So, when Sheikh Hasina came up in a televised press conference with an economic program, she was simultaneously confronting two wars at a time. She has to fight against Corona having a dense population. In addition, a huge number of people are ignorant, not trustworthy towards science rather they believe in the dogmatic medieval concept. For this reason, she had to deploy Army to make them stay at their homes along with maintaining social distancing- the only prevention of the Coronavirus. On the other hand, she will face some multifaceted problems for executing her economic programs, such as, she provided BDT 300 Billion for the big industrialists of the country for the recovery of production of the industries, but in Bangladesh, a huge number of industrialists are loan defaulter. It is an age old culture in Bangladesh that a huge number of industrialists and businessmen take loans from the banks but they never repay it. These culprits will once again try to take their shares from this BDT 300 Billion package. On this note, Sheikh Hasina has to check them strictly, and to be honest, she is alone in this war. It is very tough to get someone beside her in this fight. In 2009, she got a very learned and honest Finance Minister, but after the result of the ten years, she and her learned Finance Minister couldn’t win the battle in cent percent. These crooked businessmen were successful for looting the huge amount of money from the banks. So, this time it is also tough for her to fight alone against them. Instead of that, the administration of Bangladesh is not corruption-free. Rather, many of them are involved in corruption. That’s why, she has to fight more strongly and become successful regarding her economic program to regain the economy after the Corona crisis. However, in Bangladesh, the honest people marked Sheikh Hasina as a daughter of destiny. So, what may come to her, she will win ultimately.

Swadesh Roy, Senior Journalist, Dhaka, Bangladesh. He is a highest state award winning journalist and can be reached at

A Post COVID-19 World Order

A strong doctrine of enforceable reparation must be brought into force to compensate the injured. The United Nations and their agencies must have more monitoring and enforcement powers through tribunals rather than impotent councils and arbitral bodies.

by Dr. Ruwantissa Abeyratne
Writing from Montreal

We are a democracy…we don’t achieve things by force, but through shared knowledge and cooperation
Angela Merkel

When we apply this simple but essential global process in retrospect to what happened to the world with the Covid-19 spread, we see that the exact opposite happened. The last thing we did was sharing knowledge and cooperating with each other. Individual decisions of self interest and churlish decisions for lockdowns without supporting economic and exit strategies were taken based on egoistical and political ideology. The main protagonist, and dare we say, culprit, was air transport which transports nearly 4 billion people worldwide annually. So what went wrong? The following analysis of the air transport scene is not intended to ascribe responsibility or reprehensibility to the United Nations, or its specialized agencies, which seemingly did their best post facto to address the calamitous situation. Rather, it is attempted to make some sense, albeit in a subjective sense, of the way forward in a post pandemic world order.

At the heart of the air transport equation of this issue is the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) – the specialized agency of the United Nations – which has taken tenacious and regular action to engage with the aviation community during the crisis. It continues to do so withing the parameters of its aims and objectives. The issue is how effective these efforts have been. For one, ICAO’s programme, established to respond to the 2003 SARS crisis – called CAPSCA, (Collaborative Arrangement for the Prevention and Management of Public Health Events in Civil Aviation) - however noble its purpose and intent have been, has clearly not been effective enough. This is by no means through a fault of the recommendations in the programme but rather, through the inherent structure that underlies it. The genesis of the fight against the spread of communicable diseases through air navigation lies in Article 14 of the Chicago Convention of 1944, which is the fundamental philosophy and driving force of CAPSCA, and which carries all the legal legitimacy ascribed to a multilateral treaty. The inherent defect of this provision is in the wording itself. A careful and nuanced distinction could be made between the “middle of the road” approach in the words of Article 14:“ Each contracting States agrees to take effective measures to prevent the spread by means of air navigation…” by maintaining close contact with the international organizations concerned. The word “agrees” denotes mere consent to do something that is suggested. Elsewhere in the Convention, for instance in Article 3 c) it is stated that “ No state aircraft of a contracting State shall fly over the territory of another State or land thereon without authorization by special agreement or otherwise, and in accordance terms thereof”. While this is not the only instance in the Convention that the word “shall” is used, which reflects a peremptory command, the absence of such mandate in Article 14 renders it destitute of the compulsory effect needed to obligate States to take immediate action to advise other States to take effective measures in precluding the spread of a communicable disease through air transport.

As for ICAO, there are provisions wherein the Council of ICAO could have taken some action provided there was a flow of information from the origin of the spread in China to ICAO’ headquarters in Montreal. One has to take a hard look at whether ICAO is both equipped and empowered to achieve its aims and objective, as prescribed in the Chicago Convention, the operative provision in this context being that ICAO should meet the needs of the world for “safe”, regular, efficient and economical air transport. On this basis the answer is both in the affirmative and negative. In a general sense, by no means should ICAO be found reprehensible. However ,one cannot gainsay that ICAO is able to agitate the world order by reason of its being a specialized agency of the United Nations which, through its Charter, has empowered ICAO to act on its behalf .

One thing the ICAO Council could have done was to have been more vigilant. When the Covid-19 spread was first made known to the world – an epidemic was reported in the central China city of Wuhan in January 2020, two months before the outbreak became a global health crisis – The ICAO sub-regional office located in China could have alerted the ICAO headquarters in Montreal without delay as that office knew, or ought to have known with earlier knowledge and experience gathered from the 2003 SARS crisis, that the disease could spread rapidly through air transport . Although the primary responsibility of this sub-regional office is to support improved airspace organization and management to maximize air traffic management performance across the Asia Pacific Region, that does not mean that it should not keep its eyes open for any possible implications with regard to provisions of the Chicago Convention. Furthermore, ICAO’s regional office in Bangkok, the primary objective of which is to foster implementation by States of the global ICAO Standards as well as organization’s Regional Air Navigation Plan, in order to provide for the safety, security and efficiency of the Asia and Pacific region air transport network, had a distinct link to Article 14 of the Chicago Convention which speaks of air navigation.

With this knowledge ICAO could have communicated with China the need to take necessary measures, to give full information, in order to alert other States of the possible threat of a viral spread through air transport. The Chicago Convention has, as a mandatory function of the Council of ICAO, the duty to report to contracting States any infraction of the Convention, as well as any failure to carry out recommendations or determinations of the Council. There is no evidence that this process was adhered to. Like everyone else, seemingly ICAO was taken off-guard.

At this juncture, this is all very theoretical and remains water under the bridge. Once this is over, the world will have to recalibrate, as it did after the plague of the 14th Century, the Spanish Flu of 1908 and the Second World War. There would have to be a drastic revision of the world order on the basis that a global crisis would need effective and enforceable global corporation and collaboration. Some of the aspects of this revitalization of the global order would require a new look at the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and their veto powers and the outworn fetishes of purblind tunnel vision of each State which still cling to their Westphalian self service interests couched in the concept of State sovereignty to the exclusion of the interests of other States. The United Nations and its specialized agencies should get together with their member States to carve out principles of State responsibility and accountability for what goes on in their countries that could adversely affect other countries. There should be consequences for delinquent States.

A strong doctrine of enforceable reparation must be brought into force to compensate the injured. The United Nations and their agencies must have more monitoring and enforcement powers through tribunals rather than impotent councils and arbitral bodies. They must be equipped to be the eyes and ears of the world. As history has shown after every pandemic, the world will bounce back economically, and the heavy burden of sovereign debt incurred on account of this killer pandemic will be overcome. But the impotence of a world destitute of the force of accountability will be with us until something is done to ensure each State has global responsibility written into its sovereignty.

Whether this would be possible in a world that is divided and is receding within the boundaries of parochial State interest is another matter.

The Cremation of Muslims Covid-19 victims in Sri Lanka

What can Sri Lankan Muslims do at this moment in time? Unfortunately, Sri Lankan Muslim are divided on this issue. There is not any unanimous agreement among Muslims on this subject.

by Dr SLM Rifai
Views expressed in this article are the author's own

This issue has generated some heated debates among some sections of Sri Lanka communities today. Various media personnel and politicians have been debating this issue in public to create some unwanted social bitterness and misunderstanding. These days social media are full of debates and discussions about this issue. It’s regrettable that we may create a big fuss about this issue. Today, this nation needs the support and cooperation of all communities at this crucial movement to wipe out this deadly pandemic. Security forces, medical professionals and civic servants are working hard, day and night to prevent the spread of this virus. Yet, some section of politicians and religious groups are creating an unnecessary rift on this matter.

This is a health problem. Sri Lanka is blessed with some of the best medical experts (Doctors and health workers). Doctors should decide whether to bury or to burn the dead bodies of the victims. Due to their deep insight and knowledge regarding the infectious diseases and virology, they could decide what to do. They’re educated and trained to be objective in their profession. They cannot read this issue on any racial or religious line, instead they will seek to aid this problem from a medical perspective. They are trained in certain medical ethics and moral principles. They must follow some professional code of conducts in their careers. Neither politicians nor religious leaders could interfere in their profession. They should never mix up their professional ethics with politics and religion. They know well what is best in a critical situation like the one currently.

Sri Lankan government should have sought advice of medical experts on this issue. A team of Sinhalese and Muslim doctors should have studied this issue from an objective medical and health perspective. Yet, politicians want to put their noses in all matters, rather than seeking the advice of experts in their fields. Politicians in western countries follow the instruction of experts and yet, in Sri Lanka politicians influence experts so much so, that they are told what to do and what not to do. I personally, do not think Muslim community would have objected any decision taken by medical professionals on this matter. Sri Lanka has some of the best medical experts. Why don’t they have a say? There is no unanimous agreement on this issue among medical experts. W.H.O (World Health Organisation) clearly says that people's religious rites must be respected when people die by this deadly virus. It clearly stipulates that bodies can be buried or cremated. It states that “the families” needs and social customs for funeral should be respected. If customs vary, each social group should be provided with a designated area, with the relevant materials, to be able to exercise their own traditions with dignity”.

It is reported that the Sri Lankan government has studied the guidelines of W.H.O on this matter. According to the guidelines of W.H.O, dead bodies of corona virus victims could be buried, and many countries bury dead bodies of corona victims. If W.H.O could stipulate that dead bodies can be buried as UK and Italy, why is it that Sri Lanka don’t do the same? It’s because they have created their very own guidelines, so they can cremate the dead bodies. It is reported that the Sri Lankan government too agreed to let the Muslim community bury the corona victims. However, some extreme political influencers have decided to cremate dead bodies of Muslims for some political reason. As far as evidence goes, it could be suggested it was done to punish the Muslim community. This is nothing but a scandal for political revenge on the Muslim community. This is because of their vote who overwhelmed the opposition candidate in the last presidential election. This is a sensitive issue for ordinary Muslims. Nevertheless, the Sri Lankan government has failed to honour the religious feeling and sentiment of Muslim community. This is indeed a political disgrace and humiliation for the Muslim community. Some argue that this is a violation of fundamental human rights for Muslims in Sri Lanka.

This action by this government is a slap on the face for the Muslim community. This government lacks the political will to respect the minorities and honour their religious sensitivity. Sri Lanka will never become another Singapore. If some section of this government is holding grudge to suppress the minorities… It’s sad to say that some section of Sinhalese politicians and media are doing this. Hiru TV and Derana have been doing this for long time. They have been picking up some isolated events and incidents out of contexts to incite violence against the Muslim community. They have been using (cut and paste) tricks to defame Muslims. Unfortunately, some politicians have been supporting these media outlets. This is a violating a fundamental human right of Muslims in Sri Lanka. The final wish of each Muslim on earth is to be buried peacefully in a Muslim burial ground and yet, to deny this basic human right is morally and ethically wrong.

What can Sri Lankan Muslims do?

What can Sri Lankan Muslims do at this moment in time? Unfortunately, Sri Lankan Muslim are divided on this issue. There is not any unanimous agreement among Muslims on this subject. Some argue that Muslim victims of this virus must be buried otherwise, it would be a disrespect to human dignity. Islam tells us to respect the human body after death. Islam tells us to bury it on earth. Muslim community find it hard to absorb the notion of cremation of Muslim bodies. For some cultural, religious and social reasons, they cannot oppose on this. It is the duty of Muslims to fulfil some funeral rituals upon dead bodies. If reliable medical experts’ advice that the performance of these rituals on the dead bodies is detrimental and harmful to communities, Islamic law allows Muslim community to avoid the performance of some funeral rituals. This is a highly unlikely situation.

According to some schools of thought, cremation of dead bodies of Muslims is allowed in Islamic law in some critical conditions. If this is only way to protect human lives, there is no harm in doing this. Islamic law permits to do some unlawful things under compelling conditions. If someone is compelled to do some un-Islamic rituals or un-Islamic practice under some compelling circumstance, there is no guilt for Muslims to do such thing. There are many textual evidences to substantiate this point. If, Muslims are under immense compelling situations, then they can’t help but to obey what government dictates. So, the Muslim community is not sinful in this case if they can’t bury their dead bodies. If It is beyond their control and capability to do so. We are living as a second minority in Sri Lanka, and the application of Islamic law is not always viable in this country. So, we are not asked by the Almighty beyond our limit and limitations. Therefore, we may consider this option if we are forced to do this by coercion. This is to avoid some unwanted rift and communal bitterness. Furthermore, the general philosophy of Islamic law is to always protects human welfare and human interest. Protecting human lives is one of the most important fundamental principle of Islamic law. So, if there is no option for the Sri Lankan government except to burn bodies of corona virus Muslims, the we must cooperate with that move. Yet, Italy in its peak in the corona crisis has allowed for the burial of Muslim victims. Likewise, many other countries too have given permission for Muslim communities to bury their victims. Sri Lanka is not in any critical situation such as Italy or any other European countries. Therefore, allowing the burial of Muslim victims is not yet a problematic issue

99% of Sinhalese people aren’t bothered if Muslims are to be buried, yet some element of far-right extreme political wings and their cohorts are trying to make politics out of it. The Muslim community should not try to generalise this issue or exaggerate this issue. We have been living for centuries with the Sinhalese community. The Muslim community has been immensely contributing to this nation in many ways. This has been duly acknowledged and appreciated by Sinhalese leadership throughout Sri Lankan history.

Sri Lankan communities are united in time of disasters, and calamities. We have seen them during the tsunami and flood disasters. This corona virus has united the entire nation. It’s pleasing to see temples, churches and mosques all are cooperating with one another to abolish this virus. It’s also pleasing to see people of different faiths care about each other in this difficult time. it’s gratifying to see that Buddhist temples are distributing food to Sinhalese, Muslim and Tamil families without any discrimination or prejudice. It’s also wonderful to see that people are coming together as one family in this difficult time. it’s magnificent to see a sense of blooming brotherhood, love affection, kindness and humanism among Sri Lankan communities during this time. Although, politicians are showing their true colours, Sri Lankans are kind and loving. So, this kind of political miscalculation and revenge should not create any communal tension or any unnecessary social problem in Sri Lanka.

Finally, it is reported that some prominent persons and members of some Islamic organization have met his excellency president Gotabaya Rajapaksa to discuss this matter and come to term with it. They have agreed to form a team of committee to study this issue objectively. This is an excellent idea to examine both sides of argument and find some viable solutions. Sri Lanka badly needs unity among all communities to fight this virus. This is a health hazard to this nation. So, we should not play politics with it. the health and welfare of nation should get priority above all communal and political interest. The post corona period will be a challenging one for Sri Lanka. So, unity among all Sri Lankans is a must to survive all economic troubles in coming days. We must be wise and sensible in this difficult time. All communities put the country first beyond all our communal and racial limits and limitations.