Monday:  March 23, 2015

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus


(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)



Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler



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Entries in Karachi (2)


Pakistan: The Pitfalls of Being a 'Strategic' Ally (PERSPECTIVE)

By Themrise Khan

(HN, November 15, 2010) - Recently, I was transporting two brave ladies visiting Islamabad from Baluchistan province to their scheduled destination. They were key informants for a research project I was involved in and I took the opportunity to continue my discussion with them en route. The conversation was intense and horrific, as they recounted stories of violence and bloodshed in their hometowns.

Baluchistan, Pakistan’s largest and most neglected province, is fast turning into a minefield of political terrorism - far removed but just as lethal as the extremist violence that has pervaded other parts of the country over recent years. It is one of the many internal conflicts that now plague almost all parts of Pakistan.

On the way back, my taxi driver who had been silent throughout the exchange, curiously asked me what I was doing with the two ladies. After briefly explaining my work, he expressed his shock at how the situation had deteriorated in Baluchistan.

“These are very brave women”, he remarked. He was equally impressed with the fact that in Quetta city, shops opened promptly at 9am and closed at 6pm, whereas everywhere else in the country, business doesn’t begin till at least noon. The fact was evident as we drove by lines of shops with their shutters down at a time nearing 11am. “We say we are God-fearing here but we are not”, he commented. 

The conversation gradually gave way to his own frustration with the current state of the country. He was decidedly unhappy with the present government, to put it mildly. But he also seemed fairly unhappy with the previous one as well. “If (former President Pervez) Musharraf wants to start a political party, why doesn’t he do it here? Why is he starting it all the way in London?” he asked.  “Everyone wants to steal from us but give us nothing in return." School girls in Baluchistan: among Pakistanis paying the price of instability. CREDIT: Michael Bociurkiw/HUMNEWS

But there did seem to be some things he was pleased with. The Chief Justice, because “he is clamping down on many aspects of bad government”; with the media, “because they have exposed all the corruption” and with (retired Pakistan cricketer and politician) Imran Khan, “because he is the only leader we have”.

The point of this extended anecdote, is to try and make sense of why Pakistan is still such a big deal to the rest of the world, given we now suffer from three complex maladies everyone would gladly steer clear of: insecurity, economic instability and weak governance.

Perhaps not the most obvious choice for a country of “strategic importance” for world super powers, recently suffering from their own complex maladies. Even a stranger choice for being wedged in between one nation in the west falling apart at the seams and another on the east that keeps growing more powerful by the day. Most analysts argue that’s exactly why Pakistan is so “strategic”.

Of late however, the usual arguments to support this claim are not really holding so true.

Domestic issues within the country, be they of peace and security, human rights and justice or economic blood-letting, have taken us far, far down the list of countries with even a bite-size of potential for economic growth or peace-building. This year, Transparency International listed Pakistan 34th on its Corruption Perception Index, up eight places from last years 42nd spot. 

The corruption argument aside, the global financial crisis is sending rich countries of the world to those that can make it richer. Pakistan, unfortunately, cannot help in that department, considering we have always been positioning ourselves at the receiving end - flood disasters notwithstanding. Which is why Pakistan did not even warrant a pit-stop on US President Obama’s Asian (read Indian) recent tour. It's as simple as that.

But surely being a “strategic” ally must have some benefits for the country? Apart from the Kerry-Lugar financial settlement, most of which is going to the Pakistani military, they say there cannot be peace in the region without a stable Pakistan. 

Most of all, Pakistanis want their country to be stable.

According to the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies, suicide bombings, drone attacks and political and sectarian violence have cost the lives of over 3,000 Pakistanis and over 7,000 injuries in 2009 - a figure 48% higher than 2008. These are not casualties of an active war per se, but innocent bystanders, daily wage earners and security guards, women and children. People who leave for work in the morning and just never come back home. In Karachi, just political and sectarian target killings have cost the lives of almost 250 people this year alone. 

But while we suffer domestically on a daily basis, this is the exact fuel the world needs to continue their “strategic” support to us. The murders and deaths of hundreds of Pakistani’s (and Afghans) warrants the presence of thousands of troops, international agencies, military resources and aid in Pakistan. 

The conclusions one draws from this that if Pakistan were ever stabilized, many people in many countries would be at a loss over what to do next, not to mention out of a job. And so we continue to be “strategic”, “important” and of course, “unstable”, until the next violence-ravaged nation emerges to take the crown.

But where in this cycle of dependency do people like the women of Baluchistan, or the taxi driver in Islamabad come in? In an ideal world, they should be the ones calling the shots, making the decisions, being the watchdogs. But in this world, when the word on the streets is that basic economic survival is now a luxury only the very rich can afford, how can anyone expect them to play any part in turning the tide? 

And so sadly, they remain nothing more than key informants in the larger scheme of things. 

But this is probably where Pakistan’s biggest strength lies. In a country where almost 80% of the population is a captive audience to self-destruction with no exit strategies, the tide is bound to rise sometime. It remains to be seen whether this will be while Pakistan is still “strategically important” to its “allies”, or when we realize how “strategically important” we are to ourselves.

HUM Contributor Themrise Khan is a Karachi-based writer

Postscript: As I write this, an enormous blast has ripped through Karachi’s financial centre, shaking my own house almost 5 miles away. This is the second such attack in the city in the space of a month, joining hands with the pall of political violence that also pervades the city. This is hardly the “stable” Pakistan that everyone eulogizes about. In situations like this, it is hard to think about the US, India or the Taliban as the culprits. The issue may be international in nature, but the damage is purely domestic. We had better rise now before there isn’t much left of us.



By Themrise Khan in Karachi

(HN, August 21, 2010)  --- “It’s such an exciting time to be in Pakistan.” This is a line one hears time and again from every new arrival of foreigners that lands at Islamabad airport. From the US Secretary of State, to the new foreign service employees at an embassy, to the newest international media correspondent, Pakistan seems to be the new land of opportunity.

Except that this opportunity doesn’t really work for us too much, considering we were declared the most dangerous country in the world last year and now, because of natural disasters, are at our absolute lowest point. Sadly, Pakistan is being mined by the rest of the world as an example of how good it can get when it gets really bad.

Unlike most other developing nations that have abject poverty, corrupt economies and poor leadership, Pakistan has still managed to hold onto some semblance of normalcy in its daily suffrage. There is still a sense of survival (just barely), social decadence and just plain old resilience amidst the madness of militant terror and disastrous flooding.  Supposedly this is what makes Pakistan ‘exciting’ for outsiders.

In the age of global communication, there is nothing that doesn’t get out. Not even top-secret documents on America’s war in Afghanistan. But some things don’t get out by agenda. One of these is how the global media wants its audience to view countries like Pakistan. Portrayals include a state that colludes with Islamic militants to encourage global extremism; a country rife with civil and ethnic angst that abuses its justice system; a country constantly plagued with preventable and mismanaged natural disasters. And oh yes, a confused nation of elite party-goers all juxtaposed against the women in black (burqas). Pakistan’s stereotype has come a long way. While most of these claims are admittedly true, is that all there is to us?

Over a year ago, I did a story on the sudden rise in the almost permanent presence of foreign media networks in Pakistan since the Afghanistan invasion in 2001.The bottom line was that the war on terror was the only news that was worthy of the presence of almost 100 foreign journalists in Islamabad. Nothing else figured on the agenda. No economics, no culture, no society, no people, except for those affected by the suicide bombings and drone attacks, or those displaced by army action in the tribal areas and lately, by natural disasters.

To give benefit of the doubt, dirt sells and news is business after all. Even our local television feeds the international media with its tales of graphic horror. We don’t give much airtime to anything else either. But one would expect more from the international media networks, since it is one of the very few ways people abroad have to form an impression about countries like Pakistan. All the more reason the stories going out should show more than just one face of the nation.Foreign journalists fuel "mediocrity and one-dimensionality" CREDIT: Michael Bociurkiw

But the reality is, that there is extremely limited interaction of the foreign media with the ‘real’ Pakistan, with global headquarters dictating what should and shouldn’t be news.

In a country of 170 million, only a handful of ‘key’ persons are introduced to a journalist’s brief international posting. Most of those belong to the elite English-speaking and civil and state bureaucracy. Its not newsworthy enough to venture into other more mundane areas like the informal economy, agriculture, performing arts or local initiatives. Frankly, if its not related to terrorism, its not a story. So what ends up is a life primarily ensconced in Islamabad, mixing with the movers and shakers. There is not even a meager attempt to visit the nether regions of the country to show the world how we really live, both good and bad. Last I checked, journalism was about breaking boundaries, leaving your comfort zone and opening minds to different ideas and opinions. I guess I haven’t checked the latest in a long time.

Even with the coverage of the current flooding, the focus remains on how inept our leaders are (which they are) and how aid is waiting to be mismanaged (which it is). But what about what many are trying to do single-handedly? Ever since the earthquake, if there is one thing Pakistanis (barring the feudal and political elite), have been known for, its plunging into the middle of a natural disaster to do all they can. Doesn’t the world deserve to see that side of us for a change? And then they say we suffer from an international ‘image deficit.’

The perception is further fuelled by the presence of the international diplomatic community, supposedly to ‘foster meaningful relations’ and ‘help end poverty.’ The goodwill doesn’t reach further than the diplomatic enclave as its so much easier to spend money sitting in a cubicle surrounded by barbed wire and your very own panic room. After all, that’s how they do it in Afghanistan and Iraq and see how much good its doing there.

So despite best intentions, the perspective remains skewed, to the networks (and its representatives) benefit, but to our own detriment. The slap in the face is a foreign correspondents ‘observation’ of (a very politicised) Pakistan, in hardback edition.  Three years in a city, and they know the country better than we do apparently.

Journalism unfortunately, is now a well-paid job that can get you around the world, complete with furnished homes, domestic staff and your very own ‘king of the hill’ attitude.

But the mediocrity and one-dimensionality of live international broadcasts from residential rooftops in Islamabad, does eventually show through. Case in point – a message sent out to all invitees last year by one foreign correspondent after a high-profile suicide bombing in Islamabad, in response to a scheduled party hosted by another foreign journalist in the same area that night: “if we cancel the party, the terrorists have won.” Senseless loss of life right outside your doorstep, but the party must go on. Now that’s what I call true dedication to the cause of journalism.

I guess they don’t make them like Robert Fisk anymore.

---HUMNEWS contributor Themrise Khan is a freelance social development consultant based in Karachi who occasionally dares to venture into the Pakistani media. This column originally appeared in The Dawn Online.