FEATURED PHOTOS AND STORIES

Friday:  August 15, 2014

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)

LINKS TO OTHER STORIES

                                

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 Pakistan (30)

Wednesday
Jan022013

As attacks on aid workers continue, Pakistan progress jeopardized (REPORT) 

(Video: UTubeMaill)

(HN, 1/2/13) - Thousands of villagers on Wednesday held a mass burial for seven health workers - five of them women, who were gunned down by militants, in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa's Swabi district, Pakistan, on Tuesday. The killings are the latest in a series of persecution of aid workers in the contentious tribal area.

The dead had been working for the private Pakistani aid group Support With Working Solution, in the northwestern district Swabi, at an immunization centre where children are given anti-polio vaccination. The police said two men on a motorbike followed a van taking the workers home, intercepted it near the village of Sher Afzal Banda where militants opened fire with assault rifles. One child, aged 7 to 8 years, miraculously survived.

Nobody has owned responsibility for the attack, though its suspected that Pakistani Taliban could be behind the strike, since they oppose the vaccination campaigns and Taliban militants affiliated to the Al Qaeda global terror network have been attacking charity and aid workers across the country in recent weeks.

Last year, 15 health and aid workers were killed in Pakistan, making the country one of the most dangerous in the world for aid workers, according to the British-based group Humanitarian Outcomes. Most were women. Development sector experts now express concerns that those working on the ground will shy away from assignments. 

MAP: Swabi district, Pakistan/Wikipedia)“In the past, local volunteers, be they teachers, medical workers or social mobilizers, considered themselves safe and worked hand in hand with foreign aid workers and paramilitary personnel in even the most dire of circumstances,” says Hassan Belal Zaidi, a development and communication specialist, based in Islamabad. “But now, it would not be unreasonable for them to think twice and even refuse to travel to remote parts of the country if they know there is a chance they may get shot.”

Support With Working Solution has suspended its activities. The organization runs dozens of health and education projects, including polio vaccinations, in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Health and education programs, particularly those for girls, are seen as being at particular risk.

Fazal Dad, whose daughter was among the dead, said she always proclaimed, 'Father, if I am not guilty no one can harm me'.

The attack comes days after nine people working on an anti-polio vaccination campaign were shot dead in a series of attacks and forced the United Nations to temporarily recall staff and suspend an immunization campaign from Pakistan, one of just three countries in the world in which polio remains endemic - at least 57 cases were registered in 2012, and there are now concerns about a record number of deaths from measles in the south.

The World Health Organization last year warned Pakistan that it could face travel and visa restrictions and sanctions imposed by other countries if polio continues to spread.

An umbrella organization of 200 aid groups Wednesday demanded greater protection in Pakistan, and they vowed to continue working in order not to encourage “those who are opposed to progress”.

“We have to stand up and foil the nefarious designs of anti-state elements who are bent upon destroying the fabric of civil society,” said the Pakhtunkhwa Civil Society Network; asking for government protection for charity workers “vulnerable to the menace of terrorism”.

(Video: No stranger to tragedy, on July 11, 2012 the Pakhtunkhwa Civil Society Network buried another.)

Additionally, on December 22, Bashir Bilour, a senior minister in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and eight others were killed in a suicide attack on a political meeting claimed by the Taliban. More than 35,000 people have been killed as a result of terrorism in the country in the last twelve years.  

Imtiaz Iltaf, police chief of Peshawar, said officers were preparing a strategy to protect aid workers.  “We are in a state of war. The whole country is facing an insurgency, so we are revising the present security steps and working on a new strategy,” he said.

The recent attacks are likely to further frighten people from working with foreign and Pakistani aid and development organizations, says Bushra Arain, chairwoman for the All Pakistan Lady Health Workers Welfare Association, which counts more than 100,000 registered members.

“We are the backbone of Pakistani health sector. If the attacks continue, with the state showing the inability it currently is demonstrating in stopping us from being targeted, we will stop working,” Ms. Arain says.

“If the attacks by the Taliban continue, there will be widespread de-motivation amongst aid workers, which I am already witnessing,” Mr. Hussain of the Pakhtunkhwa Civil Society Network says.

--- Reporting based on sources, agencies, HUMNEWS.

Friday
May112012

"Rise of the Lilliputians" (REPORT) 

(Video AJE reports on the most recent `Non-Aligned Movement' summit in 2009, Sharm el-Sheikh/Egypt)

By Colum Lynch

They are called the S-5, or the "Small Five", a group of small and middling UN member states that have been informally meeting since 2005 to try and chip away at the unchecked powers of the P-5, the UN's dominant, permanent five members of the Security Council.

And they are heading for a confrontation next week with the five big powers -- Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States -- over an initiative in the General Assembly aimed at pressing the P-5 to voluntarily cede some of their powers.

On May 16, the S-5 will press for a vote on a resolution before the UN General Assembly that calls on the veto wielding powers to refrain "from using a veto to block council action aimed at preventing or ending genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity." It also requests that in cases where a permanent member ignored the General Assembly's advice and exercises its veto, it should at least explain why it did so.

(PHOTO: Jordan's Ambassador to the UN, Prince Zeid bin Ra'ad)The push for a vote comes at a time when the UN Security Council has faced criticism for acting too slowly to contain the escalating violence, and in the wake of two key powers, Russia and China, having cast vetoes twice to block an Arab League initiative aimed at ending the violence in Syria and that would force President Bashar al-Assad from power. Russia, which has argued that its diplomatic strategy stands a better chance of lessening the violence, has been among the sharpest critics of the S-5 initiative, characterizing it as an affront to Moscow, according to a senior diplomat involved in the negotiations.

The veto power has long been a source of resentment among the UN's broader membership, who believe that it places the big powers above the law, shielding them and their friends from the edicts they routinely enforce on the rest of the world.

But for the United States, Russia, and other big powers, the veto represents the most important check on international intrusion into their spheres of influence by a sometimes unsympathetic majority. The United States, for instance, has routinely used its veto power to shield Israel from Security Council measures demanding it show greater restraint in its dealings with the Palestinians.

China and Russia, meanwhile, have exercised the veto to block condemnation of friendly countries, including Myanmar and Zimbabwe, from condemnation for committing rights abuses.

A number of economic heavyweights and emerging powers, including Brazil, Germany, Japan, India, Nigeria, and South Africa, have been clamoring for a greater say in the council's deliberations, leading to several proposals that would expand the 15-nation Security Council and grant a number of rising powers a permanent seat.

The S-5 -- Costa Rica, Jordan, Liechtenstein, Singapore, and Switzerland -- realize that they have no hope of ever becoming big powers with permanent seats on the council. So they have devoted their efforts to pushing for reforms in the way the 15-nation council does business.

(PHOO: Switzerland's Ambassador to the UN, Paul Seger) Indeed, their recommendations on the use of the veto are a part of a broader menu of suggestions, including more P-5 consultations with states that aren't serving in the Security Council, that they intend to put before the General Assembly as a way to encourage reforms in the way the council works.

The sponsors say they are confident that they will have support from more than 100 of the assembly's 193 member states. But the P-5 have made it clear they want nothing to do with it, arguing that the UN Charter intended the victorious powers of World War II to manage threats to international security. While the vote would not be legally binding it could serve to ramp up political pressure on the big powers to change.

Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the United Nations, and top diplomats from Britain, China, France, and Russia met with the S-5 on Wednesday in an effort to get them to back down.

Rice also pointed out that there were many other countries, not only the P-5, that have expressed opposition to a General Assembly vote. Another bloc of countries, known as the Uniting for Consensus group, which includes countries like Italy, Pakistan, and Argentina, also oppose a vote -- saying that it would distract from efforts to negotiate an enlargement of the Security Council.

Rice, who did most of the talking, told the group that while they recognize their pioneering effort to reform the council, their resolution would actually undercut the efforts to make the council more transparent. Rice asked them not go ahead with the resolution, according to Paul Seger, Switzerland's UN ambassador.

"They tell us don't put that resolution to a vote; it's infringing on the prerogatives of the Security Council, it's disruptive and could jeopardize the overall reform of the Security Council," Seger told Turtle Bay. "My sense is that they are afraid that certain prerogatives, certain acquired rights, are being questioned for the first time."

Mark Lyall Grant, Britain's UN ambassador, told Turtle Bay that the UN Security Council has undertaken many of the reforms being sought by the S-5, but their decision to bring the matter before the General Assembly would likely result in a "divisive vote that sets back the overall cause of reform."

"The Security Council must be always able to adapt and operate with flexibility in order fulfill its responsibilities under the Charter to meet the evolving challenges to international peace and security," he added in a statement. "But for that effectiveness and adaptability, it needs to be confident in its own decisions and procedures. It ultimately must remain the master of its own rules of procedure, as stated in the UN Charter."

Seger and other members of the S-5 say they are not looking for a fight -- but they also say it's unfair for the Security Council to ask other states to send their peacekeepers into harm's way, as Switzerland has in Syria, without including them in informal council deliberations on the situation there. The group, meanwhile, has marshaled a series of legal and political arguments to bolster its case that the majority of UN membership should have some role in advising the 15-nation council. They invoked Article 10 of the U.N. Charter, which permits the UN General Assembly to make recommendations to the Security Council, except in cases where the council is managing an international "dispute or situation".

Jordan's UN ambassador, Prince Ra'ad Zeid Al-Hussein, told Turtle Bay that there is also a legal case to be made that the UN Charter itself places limits on the rights of the council's permanent members to veto council action aimed at preventing mass killings. He argued that while the council bears "primary responsibility" for the maintenance of peace and security it also requires decisions be made in "conformity with the principle of justice and international law." Genocide and mass slaughter, he said, are certainly not in conformity with those principles, he said.

(PHOTO: Russia's Ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin)"We don't want to go up against the P-5," Seger added. "We don't question the right of the veto we only ask them kindly: Would you consider not using the veto in situations of atrocities, crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide?"

Seger, who also serves as chairman of the UN peace-building commission for Burundi, recalled an invitation to brief the Security Council on a visit he had made to that Central African country. He briefed the council on his findings, and then was asked to leave as the council went behind closed doors for its own discussions on the matter.

"I asked Churkin, 'could I maybe just sit there, be a resource person?'" Seger said, referring to Russia's UN envoy Vitaly Churkin. "He said, 'No. We cannot open the council consultations to outsiders: It's never been done and it will never be done in the future.'"

- This article first appeared on Colum Lynch's `Turtle Bay' page on Foreign Policy. Follow the writer on Twitter @columlynch

Monday
Apr302012

NGO's Under Threat in Pakistan After Red Cross Official Beheaded (REPORT)

(PHOTO: British Red Cross worker Khalil Rasjed Dale killed in Pakistan/The Australian)

(HN, 4/30/2012) - A Yemen born, Scottish UK citizen and senior official of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Dr. Khalil Asjad Dale, 60 who had been kidnapped in January in southwestern Pakistan, was killed by his captors and his bullet-riddled body was beheaded and found in an orchard near Killi Umar, on a road leading to the airport in Quetta on Sunday.  Dr. Dale was engaged to be married to a nurse, Anne, in Australia.  He changed his name from Ken when he became a Muslim.

Dr. Dale had been taken by unidentified armed men from the Chaman Housing Complex in Quetta earlier this year.  Police said they received some tips about the presence of a dumped bag and when it was opened a body was found in it that was later identified as that of Dr. Dale.  

The body was “fresh” and had been slaughtered, said doctors at the Civil Hospital where his body was taken for autopsy.  A letter recovered from his pocket said: “This is the body of Dr. Khalil Asjad who had been kidnapped four months ago and was killed because our demands were not accepted.”  Demands that included a $30 million ransom.

The note further said "we (Taliban) claim responsibility for his murder. We will release video of this killing as the organization did not fulfill our demands despite repeated warnings."

(Video ICRC)

The ICRC has been active in Pakistan since 1947, providing humanitarian services in the field of healthcare, in particular physical rehabilitation.  Director-General Yves Daccord said, "We condemn in the strongest possible terms this barbaric act".  

Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province, lies close to the Afghan border and for decades has hosted thousands of refugees from that country. The Red Cross operates clinics in the city.

"All of us at the ICRC and at the British Red Cross share the grief and outrage of Khalil's family and friends. We are devastated," Daccord said, adding that the aid worker - who had worked in Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq for the ICRC - was a "trusted and very experienced Red Cross staff member".

The ICRC had announced a reduction of its activities in Pakistan just days before Dale's abduction with the closure of three of its centers in the restive northwest. But after Dale's abduction, the organization vowed to continue its work in the troubled country.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said London had tried tirelessly to secure Dale's release. "This was a senseless and cruel act, targeting someone whose role was to help the people of Pakistan, and causing immeasurable pain to those who knew Dale," he said in a statement.

Pakistan also condemned "the barbaric act" and vowed "to bring the perpetrators of this heinous crime to justice".

Officials of the Balochistan government said they had already asked all foreigners working with NGO's and UN organizations to restrict their movements and not to go anywhere without informing the provincial home and tribal affairs department.

Much of Balochistan and the tribal regions close to Afghanistan are out of Pakistani government control, and make good places to keep hostages. Ransoms are often paid to secure their release, but such payments are rarely confirmed.

Abductions are `Common'

The parents of five kidnapped employees of the Balochistan Rural Support Programme (BRSP), a foreign NGO, were collecting donations by setting up a fund raising camp at the Bacha Khan Chowk to pay over Rs220 million as ransom to the captors for their release. "Please help us so that we can pay the ransom and secure the release of our children," said one banner at the fund raising camp.

Meanwhile, five persons were killed in separate incidents of violence in different localities of Balochistan on Sunday. Unknown armed men opened fire on a motorcycle carrying a man and his son near Hub city, killing them both. In a separate incident in Dast Goran area of Kalat two persons were killed in another firing attack.  Also, unknown men blew up a portion of the 16-inch diameter gas pipeline in the Pirkoh area of Dera Bugti district on Sunday. On Saturday night, unidentified men blew up a portion of the Quetta-Taftan railway track damaging a portion of the track passing through the Ahmadwal area of Noshki district. 

Last August, a 70-year-old an American contractor, and director in Pakistan for J.E. Austin Associates, Warren Weinstein, was kidnapped from his house in the Punjabi city of Lahore. Al-Qaeda claimed to be holding him and said in a video he would be released if the US stopped airstrikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.

(PHOTO: Swiss couple Olivier David Och & Daniela Widmer wave at the Qasim base in Rawalpindi, March 15, 2012/Telegraph)A Swiss couple Olivier David Och and Daniela Widmer  who were seized last year by the Pakistani Taliban were released in March. An Islamist extremist group said a ransom had been paid, but the Swiss and Pakistani government denied the claim.

Dr. Dale, of the Red Cross, had previously been awarded the MBE for his humanitarian work overseas by the British government.  "It's unbelievable what they've done to Ken," a friend and former colleague, Sheila Howat, said. "It's soul-destroying. For someone who has ... devoted their life to caring for others - it's just so wrong. Ken was an absolutely lovely person who saw good in everybody. He wanted to make the world a better place for people who had nothing."

---HUMNEWS, agencies

Wednesday
Apr182012

Islamic States Announce Own Media Channel (REPORT) 

(PHOTO: Opening ceremony of the Information Minsiters meeting of the OIC, Gabon/IINA)(HN, April 18, 2012) - Today, Information Ministers of the member States of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) started the 9th Islamic Conference of Information Ministers (ICIM); a three-day meeting in the capital of Gabon, Libreville hosted by President Ali Bongo Ondimba.

The group is focusing its attention on  "Information Technologies in the service of peace and development” at the Conference Palace in Democracy City and is being attended by a group of ministers and delegates representing 57 member countries.

Morocco who is Chair of the 9th session, and other member representatives, made speeches in which they stressed the importance of the meeting being held during a time characterized by "a multitude of challenges in the world in general, and in the Muslim Ummah world in particular.  

Speakers urged broadcasters to counter stereotypes about Islam and Muslims in the Western media and asked that the adoption by the Seventh Islamic Conference of Culture Ministers held in Algeria in December of a resolution to create a new Islam media channel, be implemented as soon as possible.

Already the organization has been working on a comprehensive plan to combat prejudice against Islam and Muslim communities with a view to developing campaigns to foster respect for cultural and religious pluralism and diversity, while raising awareness of the positive contributions of Muslims to promote tolerance and understanding.

The OIC Secretary General Ekmelddin Ihsanoglu said, "We are keen to have an OIC outlet to present to the world the true picture of both the Islamic civilization and religion."

The Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) is also taking part in the conference and Dr. El Mahjoub Bensaid, presented how the organization can support the new OIC media efforts by offering training to journalists.

Concern by the Ministers centered on information programs which would support, in particular, the Palestinian cause and the issues of the sovereignty of Jerusalem, (Jerusalem is known in Arabic as Al-Quds) and Al Aqsa mosque, as well as highlighting the role of the African continent in Islam. A high priority for the group is in restructuring the process of the International Islamic News Agency (IINA) and the Islamic Broadcasting Union (IBU), opening of OIC media offices in member countries and activating cooperation between the OIC and the Global Digital Solidarity Fund. The group is entertaining proposals for the establishment of an OIC Muslim journalists union, and the launching of an Islamic TV satellite channel to be called "OIC".

Malaysia is among 10 countries which have been selected to study the proposed establishment of an Islamic television station that will act as an important platform for highlighting Islamic issues and which will discuss Muslim issues globally, countering coverage that discredits Islam.

Besides Malaysia, the committee will be represented by Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Gabon, Senegal, Nigeria, Morocco and Mauritania.

The first meeting of the committee is scheduled to take place at the OIC headquarters in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in the middle of June.

The Gabon resolution says negative news in some Western media has resulted in stigmatized stereotyping, racial discrimination and victimization directed against Muslims. Stressing that the Islamic faith is based on the core values of peace, tolerance, moderation and peaceful co-habitation with all other religions and beliefs, the OIC labeled the emergence of Islamophobia as a “contemporary form of racism and xenophobia motivated by unfounded fear, mistrust and hatred of Muslims and Islam which manifests itself through intolerance and hostility in adverse public discourse.”

“As such, Islamophobia is an affront to the human rights and dignity of Muslims,” the resolution claimed.

THE PLAN

The Gabon conference has short, medium and long term goals for putting in place an action plan to fight Islamophobia it said.  It is asking member states to create funding for media campaigns, and discourage using expressions such as “Islamic” fascists or “Islamic” extremists for criminal terrorists. The OIC underlines the importance of developing Muslim's own narrative on daily issues such as the environment, climate change, social justice, development, poverty, etc.

For the medium term, the resolution asks member states to implement media literacy programs in schools to combat misperceptions, prejudices and hate speech. It aims to utilize success stories in the Muslim world “as a means to show that the interests of Muslims are similar to the rest of the world when it comes to democracy, good governance and human rights.” The resolution even plans to create awards for excellence in unbiased journalism, reporting, photography and publishing.

According to the long term goals of the OIC media resolution, professional media people in member states are called to “develop, articulate and implement voluntary codes of conduct.” It sets up scholarship programs for Westerners to study in the Muslim world and encourage reporter-exchange programs between the Muslim world and the West in order to disseminate this information throughout media outlets.

--- HUMNEWS

Monday
Apr022012

India: Leading the way on polio, energy innovation (PERSPECTIVE) 

(PHOTO: Polio victims in Kishanganj, India/TOPNEWS.IN) By N R Narayana Murthy and Ted Turner

India celebrated an historic milestone earlier this month when the World Health Organisation announced there had been no new cases of wild polio virus for one year.

That leaves only three polio endemic countries: Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.

To understand the scope of this achievement, consider that 20% of all births worldwide today are in India. According to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), one child is born here every 20 seconds, and each has to be vaccinated in order to completely wipe out polio - from the most rural outposts to shanty towns in urban hubs and everywhere in between.

The achievement is a validation of the work of the United Nations, the public and private partners of the Global Polio Eradication initiative, the Indian government, and the people of India, all of whom united to solve what seemed like an insurmountable problem.

The victory over polio is also evidence that fast-growing nations like India can embrace economic development and sustainable development at the same time. India`s transformation on many fronts gives us reason to believe that nations can overcome disease and environmental degradation to become healthier, wealthier, and more environmentally sustainable.

It is estimated that India will soon surpass China as the world`s most populous country. As India grows, it is bringing millions of people out of poverty and into an emerging middle class. How India grows can show the world that harnessing innovative technologies, using sustainable energy sources, and engaging a young generation is a proven path to prosperity.

India is working with the UN to tackle these issues on a global scale. UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon is championing two new initiatives - Every Woman Every Child and the Sustainable Energy for All Initiative - because access to energy and improving women and children`s health are fundamental to achieving all our development goals. India is an example of how a commitment to these two goals leads to results.

A bright future for India begins with increased efforts to promote safe motherhood. According to USAID, today, India accounts for more maternal deaths than any other country in the world; avoidable complications during pregnancy and childbirth kill approximately 67,000 Indian women annually. These unfortunate statistics are a reality in part because many Indian mothers are still in their teens; nearly one-third of all women deliver a child before the age of 20.

The Indian government has committed to promoting maternal health and family planning, pledging to spend $3.5 billion per year on improving health services, especially women`s and children`s health. India`s ministry of health has announced it is strengthening efforts in the 264 districts that account for nearly 70% of all infant and maternal deaths. The government is implementing a Mother and Child Tracking System, which tracks every pregnant woman by name for the provision of timely antenatal care, institutional delivery and postnatal care, and immunizations for newborns.

Innovations in health are being matched with a bold effort to find new sources of energy to meet India`s growing demand. According to the UN, more than 280 million people in India lack access to electricity, and millions more suffer from unreliable and intermittent service. When Indians don`t have access to energy, they cannot improve their health and economic opportunity.

(GRAPH: Solar roof water heater/Watersystemz.com)In Bangalore, rooftops are dotted with solar-powered water heaters - now mandatory on all new structures. Underserved communities are experimenting with clean energy solutions. The UN Foundation, for example, through its Practitioner Network for Energy Access, is working with a range of businesses and civil society organizations in India to catalyze the delivery of micro-grid and stand-alone energy solutions to communities that lack access to electricity.

In India`s rural communities, clean burning cookstoves can provide a safer way for millions of people who live off the electricity grid to cook meals without emitting harmful smoke into their homes. The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves has extended an invitation to the Indian government, as a leader on this issue, to be a leading national implementing partner in scaling up the market for clean cookstoves and fuels.

India`s leadership on sustainable energy is crucial because developing countries around the world want to replicate India`s success. India is now developing ways to bypass the plight of many developed countries, which rely excessively on a fossil fuel-based energy infrastructure. It also helps India fulfill its obligations to future generations for clean, sustainable energy sources.

India will have the opportunity to showcase its progress to the world in June when delegates from around the world gather in Rio de Janeiro for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.  As governments and civil society groups gather to talk about the future we all want, there are lessons to be learned from India`s approach to development and innovation.

To be sure, India`s embrace of sustainable development will take decades to realize. The size and scale of its challenges are enormous. But India doesn`t accept these challenges as intractable, and neither should the world. There is impressive evidence that India can achieve both economic development and sustainability at the same time. That`s good news for India and good news for the world.

-- Murthy is an industrialist and Turner is a media entrepreneur and philanthropist. This opinion piece first ran in the Times of India.

 

Thursday
Mar012012

Pakistan and Iran: Pipelines or pipe dreams? (REPORT) 

By Kamal Hyder

(PHOTO: Daily Times of Pakistan)

Two weeks ago, the leaders of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan met in Islamabad for the third round of a periodically held trilateral summit.

Iran and Afghanistan, however, have as much to discuss with Pakistan regarding those countries’ bilateral relationships with Islamabad as they do with each other.

As such, Hamid Karzai, the Afghan prime minister, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, held separate bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the larger summit with their Pakistani counterparts, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and President Asif Zardari.

Afghanistan’s concerns were fairly straightforward: with the United States seeking an honourable exit from the war in Afghanistan, and the impending talks with the Taliban set to take place in Qatar facilitating such a move, Karzai was concerned about the fate of his fragile government, and the role Pakistan would play to stabilise or destablise his country. 

Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, took the stance of blaming regional turmoil on external influences, a thinly veiled dig at the United States. Faced with the prospect of ever-tightening sanctions against his country from the US and the European Union, Ahmadinejad wanted guarantees from Pakistan that a gas pipeline deal that has been in the works for several years will not now become victim to US sanctions.

This deal has already been subject to opposition from the US, of course, Initially, the pipeline was to run from Iran, through Pakistan, into India – making it the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline. The Indian government, however, pulled out in 2008, after the United States stepped in and promised the country it would offer it entrance into the club of nations allowed to trade in civilian nuclear technology, in order to meet India’s ever-growing energy demands.

In exchange, Delhi was asked to drop its plans to co-operate economically with Iran.

At the time, Pakistan demanded that the US offer it the same deal. Washington refused, suggesting instead that Pakistan modify the IPI plan and use Turkmenistan as its natural gas source – creating the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) project. Given the unstable security situation in Afghanistan, however, that plan never took off, and Pakistan instead signed a nuclear energy co-operation deal with China.

Iran pipeline challenges

Security challenges, however, are not limited to Afghanistan. If an Iran-Pakistan pipeline is to be built, it will pass through Pakistan’s restive Balochistan province. Nationalists in that province are fighting for an independent homeland, and Islamabad alleges that they are doing so with Indian support.

The Balochistan issue is a touchy topic with Pakistan, and US-Pakistan relations have been rattled in recent days by the passage of a non-binding resolution in the US House of Representatives condemning a Pakistani crackdown on what the state calls "insurgents" in that area.

Balochistan, then, is a stick the US can use to beat Pakistan within the public sphere, were it to move forward on any pipeline deal.

Regardless, Pakistan has assured Iran that it will indeed move forward on its proposed pipelines, no matter what the obstacles are. Iran has also proposed barter deals with Pakistan to buy a million tons of wheat and 200,000 tons of sugar in exchange for fertiliser and iron ore. It has also offered to provide Pakistan with 80,000 barrels of crude oil on a deferred payment basis, and aid in laying the pipeline required to transport said oil.

The US, meanwhile, has warned that the pipeline deal is in direct violation of its latest round of sanctions against Tehran, and could prompt sanctions on Pakistan.

With Pakistan’s economy already precariously balanced between massive external debts and struggling industries, any new sanctions could push it over the edge.

The seriousness of the threat of sanctions prompted Pakistan’s political and military leadership to head into a crisis meeting, reassessing the country’s options.

Pakistan already buys the bulk of her oil from countries in the Gulf, particularly from key ally

Saudi Arabia. As such, it would appear that the country’s relations with those countries, as well as the threat of sanctions from the United States, would be enough to  convince it to hold off on the deal with Iran.

Despite the tough talk, then, it would appear that for now at least, the pipeline deal is more of a pipe dream.

- Originally published by AlJazeera under Creative Commons License 

Thursday
Feb232012

The Slide Towards War (PERSPECTIVE) 

By Conn Hallinan

Wars are fought because some people decide it is in their interests to fight them. World War I was not started over the Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination, nor was it triggered by the alliance system. An “incident” may set the stage for war, but no one keeps shooting unless they think it’s a good idea. The Great War started because the countries involved decided they would profit by it, delusional as that conclusion was.

It is useful to keep this idea in mind when trying to figure out whether the United States or Israel will go to war with Iran. In short, what are the interests of the protagonists, and are they important enough for those nations to take the fateful step into the chaos of battle?

Israel’s Political Problem

According to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran is building nuclear weapons that pose an “existential” threat to Israel. But virtually no one believes this, including the bulk of Tel Aviv’s military and intelligence communities. As former Israeli Chief of Staff Dan Halutz said recently, Iran “is not an existential” threat to Israel. There is no evidence that Iran is building a bomb, and all its facilities are currently under a 24-hour United Nations inspection regime.

So from a strictly security perspective, Israel has little reason to go to war with Iran. But Israel does have an interest in keeping the Middle East a fragmented place, driven by sectarian divisions and dominated by authoritarian governments and feudal monarchies. If there is one lesson Israel has learned from its former British overlords, it is “divide and conquer.” Among its closest allies were the former dictatorships in Egypt and Tunisia. It now finds itself on the same page as the reactionary monarchies of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC): Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, and Oman.

Iran is not a military threat to Israel, but it is a political problem: Tel Aviv sees Tehran’s fierce nationalism and independence from the West as a wildcard. Iran is also allied to Israel’s major regional enemy, Syria—with which Israel is still officially at war—as well as Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, and the Shiite-dominated government in Iraq.

In the Netanyahu government’s analysis, beating up on Iran would weaken Israel’s local enemies at little cost. Tel Aviv’s scenario features a shock-and-awe attack followed by a UN-mandated ceasefire, with a maximum of 500 Israeli casualties. The Iranians have little capacity to strike back, and if they did attack Israeli civilian centers or tried to close the Strait of Hormuz, it would bring in the Americans.

Of course, that rose-colored scenario is little more than wishful thinking. Iran is not likely to agree to a rapid ceasefire; it fought for eight long years against Iraq, and war has a habit of derailing the best-laid plans. A war between Israel and Iran would be long and bloody and might well spread to the entire region.

Iran’s leaders dispense a lot of bombast about punishing Israel if it attacks, but in the short run there is not a lot they could do, particularly given the red lines Washington has drawn. The Iranian air force is obsolete, and the Israelis have the technology to blank out most of Tehran’s radar and anti-aircraft sites. Iran could do little to stop Tel Aviv’s mixture of air attacks, submarine-fired cruise missiles, and Jericho ballistic missiles.

The United States and Its Allies

For all its talk about how “all options are on the table,” the Obama administration appears to be trying to avoid a war. But with the 2012 elections looming, could Washington remain on the sidelines? Polls indicate that Americans would not look with favor on a new Middle East war, but a united front of Republicans, neoconservatives, and the American Israeli Political Action Committee is pressing for a confrontation with Iran.

Israeli sources suggest that Netanyahu may calculate that an election-season Israeli attack might force the Obama administration to back a war and/or damage Obama’s re-election chances. It is no secret that there is no love lost between the two leaders.

But the United States also has a dog in this fight. American hostility to Iran dates back to Tehran’s seizure of its oil assets from Britain in 1951. The CIA helped overthrow the democratically elected Iranian government in 1953 and install the dictatorial Shah. The United States also backed Saddam Hussein’s war on Iran, has had a longstanding antagonistic relationship with Syria, and will not talk with Hezbollah or Hamas. Tel Aviv’s local enemies are Washington’s local enemies.

When the Gulf monarchs formed the GCC in 1981, its primary purpose was to oppose Iranian influence in the Middle East. Using religious division as a wedge, the GCC has encouraged Sunni fundamentalists to fight Shiites in Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria, and largely blocked the spread of the “Arab Spring” to its own turf. When Shiites in Bahrain began protesting over a lack of democracy and low wages, the GCC invaded and crushed the demonstrations. The GCC does not see eye-to-eye with the United States and Israel on the Palestinians—although it is careful not to annoy Washington and Tel Aviv—but the GCC is on the same page as both capitals concerning Syria, Lebanon, and Iran.

The European Union (EU) has joined the sanctions, although France andGermany have explicitly rejected the use of force. Motivations in the EU range from France’s desire to reclaim its former influence in Lebanon to Europe’s need to keep its finger on the world’s energy jugular.

Setting the Stage for Tragedy

In brief, it isn’t all about oil and gas, but a whole lot of it is — and, as CounterPunch’s Alexander Cockburn points out, oil companies would like to see production cut and prices rise. Another war in the Persian Gulf would accomplish both.

Iran will be the victim here, but elements within the regime will take advantage of any war to consolidate their power. An attack would unify the country around what is now a rather unpopular government. It would allow the Revolutionary Guard to crush its opposition and give cover to the Ahmadinejad government’s drive to cut subsidies for transportation, housing, and food. A war would cement the power of the most reactionary elements of the current regime.

There are other actors in this drama—China, Russia, India, Turkey, and Pakistan for starters, none of whom supports a war—but whether they can influence events is an open question. In the end, Israel may just decide that its interests are best served by starting a war and that the United States will go along.

Or maybe this is all sound and fury signifying nothing?

Israel, the West, and the Gulf Cooperation Council share many of the same interests. Unfortunately, they also share the belief that force is an effective way to achieve one’s goals.

On such illusions are tragedies built.

Conn Hallinan is a columnist with Foreign Policy In Focus. His work can be read at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com and middleempireseries@wordpress.com

Originally published  by Institute for Policy Studies licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.

Thursday
Dec012011

A New Low in Pakistan-US Relations (BLOG/REPORT) 

By Kamal Hyder in Asia 

Pakistanis have staged anti-NATO protests across the country in recent days.The attack took place in the dead of the night, and for more than two hours, American helicopterspounded a well-known and marked Pakistani post.

The Pakistani army frantically tried to convey to NATO, ISAF and the US high command in Afghanistan to stop the attack, but their pleas fell on deaf ears. By the time it was over, more than 24 soldiers lay dead, including officers, and over a dozen wounded.

The Pakistani post, known as Volcano, was where the two sides held their flag meetings. As such it was no secret, and under rules of engagement along this tricky frontier, the Pakistani side had ensured that all its posts were carefully marked in order to avoid being hit by mistake.

I myself spent several nights in the lonely posts where for the last 10 years Pakistani soldiers have manned a difficult border.

As far as I could see, small fires kept the troops warm, and also gave out their positions dotting the boundary line that separated Pakistani troops from US-led multinational forces operating on the Afghan side of the border.

Ironically it was the Americans who asked Pakistan to deploy troops on this border when they launched their invasion of Afghanistan almost ten years ago.

Hundreds rounded up

The main purpose of the deployment was to deny al-Qaeda fighters a chance to escape the bombardment in Tora Bora.

Pakistan rounded up hundreds of those fighters as they crossed the border into its territory. But while many were arrested, many others managed to filter into Pakistan. It was physically impossible for anyone to seal this border.

As the battles raged in Afghanistan and the Taliban made a dramatic comeback, the Americans were confronted with the prospect of a defeat or a protracted conflict, one they could ill afford given the poor state of their declining economy.

Whatever the arguments for or against the Afghan war, some debated that the end game was already in sight; but others warned that  the end itself could prove to be more elusive.

Unable to find a quick solution to the Afghan quagmire, the US started looking for scapegoats. The "blame game" was now targeted against Pakistan.

After the operation to kill Osama bin Laden caught everyone by surprise, tensions started to mount on other fronts.

The Americans now wanted Pakistan to go after the Haqqani network and launch an assault in North Waziristan.

The Pakistani military was already battling the Pakistani Taliban in several areas, and was in mood to be sucked into yet another conflict.

Legitimate concerns

The military had legitimate concerns about the country’s eastern border, where the bulk of the Pakistani army was deployed after the Mumbai attacks, when India deployed her troops on its border with Pakistan.

No one was sure how long the uneasy relationship between the US and Pakistan would last, until things came to a head in the first week of May. The attack against bin Laden embarrassed the army, and despite quick congratulatory messages from the Pakistani prime minister, it rattled a paranoid government in Islamabad.

That government sent a letter to the US, a memo which became known as the "Memogate" scandal. It whipped up a storm in Pakistan and threatened the Pakistan People's Party-led government. The opposition shouted treason, and wanted a proper enquiry.

But while relations with Washington dipped, the Pakistani government chose a pro-American Pakistani journalist turned politician, Sherry Rehman, as the new ambassador to Washington.

The Americans were pleased, it seemed, in spite of the turbulence of the recent past, including wild accusations by senior US military commanders who blamed the Pakistani military for colluding with the enemy and playing a "double game."

But if the Americans thought the Pakistani civilian leadership, said to be the most corrupt in the country’s history and without any moral authority, was going to rein in the military establishment, then they were wrong.

The attack on the post in Mohmand agency proved beyond doubt that the people of Pakistan stood behind their proud army and were willing to go to battle with anyone who dared to strike across her borders.

Constant insult

The constant insult of the CIA-led drone strikes had already encouraged the anti-US sentiment, and a chain of events reinforced the opinion that the US was not to be trusted and that the country should reconsider the controversial alliance in the so called war on terror which brought death and destruction on Pakistan.

Even though the people wanted a swift retaliation after the strike, the country’s establishment was of the opinion that diplomatic means were the best option.

To begin with they closed the logistical route through Pakistan and asked for the closure of the Shamsi airbase in Balochistan, from where the US drones carried out strikes inside Pakistan.

The base was provided to the UAE, and the UAE then passed it on to the US under what was a verbal agreement sanctioned by the military government of Pervez Musharraf.

That led many to question the competence of a so-called democratic government which, according to senior US sources, even sanctioned [also by verbal agreement] the continued strikes inside FATA.

How on earth was it possible that a second country could give away to a third country a leased base, without consent from the first country?

Pakistan was alarmed by the ferocity of the strike on Volcano, but the country’s president sent out his own message fearing for democracy and asking his supporters to beware of the threat to democracy.

The people of Pakistan and its its military forces, however, wanted to protect their country and their sovereignty first.

Originally published by AlJazeera under Creative Commons Licensing 

Friday
Nov252011

South Pakistan Flood Victims Still Struggling (NEWS BRIEF)

(HN, November 25, 2011) - Three months after the worst floods in southern Pakistan's history, nearly three quarters of a million people remain displaced in Sindh and Balochistan provinces, and a third of the affected area remains under water.IDPs at a relief centre at the Sindh Technical Education & Vocational Training Authority College in Badin. Credit: IOM

According to aid agencies, of some 800,000 homes severely damaged, some 328,000 were totally destroyed.

Pakistan's government believes that up to twice as many households may have been affected. 

A recently released aid cluster report estimates that just over half of affected families have received tents or plastic tarpaulin shelter kits.

Thousands of people are still living in the open with little or no shelter facing falling temperatures with the onset of winter," says International Organisation for Migration (IOM) Pakistan Emergency Manager Tya Maskun.

"Shelter cluster agencies have about 45% of the funding that they need, but most of that money is focused on emergency shelter. We calculate that we are only meeting about 10% of the need for NFIs like kitchen sets, blankets and sleeping mats, most of which were swept away in the floods," she adds.

- HUMNEWS staff, IOM

Monday
Nov072011

No Eid for the Children of Sindh (REPORT) 

By Kamal Hyder in Asia 

Photo by Al Jazeera

This year Pakistan was hit by yet another wave of floods and, once again, millions of people in the country's Sindh province saw a deluge the like of which they had not seen in living memory. The rains pounded the rich agricultural districts of the province and exposed the depth of the corruption that plagues this country. Many dubbed it as a man-made disaster rather than a natural one.

Despite the fact that there were ample warnings of an impending disaster, the authorities seemed ill-prepared to cope with the catastrophe. Entire villages were destroyed and people were forced to flee and seek refugee on the embankments of the roads where they used their quilts and cotton sheets to set up shelters.

Three months on, and despite the fact that some people have been rescued from the floods, thousands remain without adequate shelter. And most of the rich farmers have made for the cities to live in their villas.

As I arrived in Mirpur Khas, I saw thousands of women begging for food outside the home of a political leader from the ruling party. He was nowhere to be seen, and after waiting for hours, they went back to their makeshift shelters on small islands surrounded by stagnant water that engulfed graveyards and public parks.

The large mango trees growing by the roadside were already drying up because of the stagnant water and the cotton crop was completely destroyed. The excessive water still inundating the fields made it virtually impossible to plant the wheat, which is the country's staple diet.

When the poor farmers left their villages, they took whatever wheat they had with them. It seems this year there will be acute wheat shortages and that could lead to a famine-like situation in a province ruled by feudal lords. It is not hard to imagine that a famine would also lead to political upheaval and perhaps more crime. 

Everywhere I looked I saw thousands of people still waiting for help. These proud farmers worked on the large land holdings owned by the Vadera, or the feudal landed aristocracy. Now they had no work and were begging for food and clean drinking water.

While the country begged for aid from the outside world, the rich and well-to-do were preparing to celebrate Halloween. Just a few days earlier, my team and I were in Peshawar where we saw a huge billboard inviting people to the Halloween party at a local four-star hotel. If you asked everyone there what Halloween meant, most would not give an answer except to say that the Americans love it.

Society had seen a transformation of sorts, with its rich eager to look horrible and scare as many people as possible on Halloween night. One school boy wanted to be the Pharaoh who fought Moses and another wanted to be a blood sucker with long teeth to revive the spirit of Dracula. 

But for the children of Sindh province living on the roadside camps, there was no such 'luxury'. They were sad that this year they would be deprived of their second Eid. The poor were complaining about the rising prices of bread, but the rich rulers did not mind if they had to pay more for a bottle of Scotch imbibed away from public eyes, inside the confines of the large perimeter walls - guarded by dozens of armed men who are ready to fend off intruders. 

Originally published by Al Jazeera under Creative Commons Licensing

Wednesday
Oct262011

Pakistan: Reversing the Lens (PERSPECTIVE) 

By By Conn Hallinan

Conn Hallinan(October 26, 2011) Since the United States invaded Afghanistan in October 2001, Pakistan has lost more than 35,000 people, the vast bulk of them civilians. While the U.S. has had slightly over 1800 soldiers killed in the past 10 years, Pakistan has lost over 5,000 soldiers and police. The number of suicide bombings in Pakistan has gone from one before 2001, to more than 335 since.

“Terrorism,” as Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari says, “is not a statistic for us.”

For most Americans, Pakistan is a two-faced “ally” playing a double game in Central Asia even as it siphons off tens of billions of dollars in aid. For Pakistanis, the spillover from the Afghan war has cost Islamabad approximately of $100 billion. And this in a country with a yearly GDP of around $175 billion and whose resources have been deeply strained by two years of catastrophic flooding.

Washington complains that its $20.7 billion in aid over the past nine years has bought it very little in the way of loyalty from Islamabad, while Pakistan points out that U.S. aid makes up less than 0.3 percent of Pakistan’s yearly GDP.

Both countries’ opinions of one another are almost mirror images. According to a U.S. poll, 74 percent of Americans do not consider Pakistan to be an ally, while the Pew Research Center found that six in 10 Pakistanis consider the Americans an “enemy” and only 12 percent have a favorable view of the United States.

This mutual distrust in part results from mistakes and misjudgments by both countries that date back to the 1979-89 Russian occupation of Afghanistan. But at its heart is an American strategy that not only runs counter to Pakistan’s interests, but will make ending the war in Afghanistan a far more painful procedure than need be.

Pakistani Interests

If Pakistan is a victim in the long-running war, it is not entirely an innocent one. Pakistan, along with the United States, was an ally of the anti-Communist, right-wing mujahideen during the 1980s Afghan war.

Pakistan’s interest in Afghanistan has always been multi-faceted. Islamabad is deeply worried that its traditional enemy, India, will gain a foothold in Afghanistan, thereby essentially surrounding Pakistan. This is not exactly paranoid, as Pakistan has fought—and lost—three wars with India, and tensions between the two still remain high.

Over the past six years, India has conducted 10 major military exercises along the Pakistani border. The latest—Viajyee Bhava (Be Victorious)—involved 20,000 troops. India has the world’s fourth largest army, Pakistan the 15th.

By aligning itself with Washington during its Cold War competition with the Soviets in Afghanistan, Islamabad had the inside track to buy high-performance American military hardware to help it offset India’s numerical superiority. Indeed, it did manage to purchase some F-16s fighter-bombers.

But when Pakistan allied itself with the Taliban, India aligned itself with the Northern Alliance, composed of Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras who opposed the Pashtun-dominated Taliban. Pashtuns are a plurality in Afghanistan’s complex mix of ethnicities, and traditionally they dominated the Kabul government.

Islamabad has always been deeply concerned about the Pashtuns, because a long-time fear of Islamabad is that Pakistani Pashtuns could ally themselves to Afghani Pashtuns and form a breakaway country that would fragment Pakistan.

From Islamabad’s point of view, the American demand that it corral the Taliban and the Haqqani Group that operate from mountainous Northwest Frontier and Federally Administrated Tribal Areas of Pakistan could stir up Pashtun nationalism. In any case, the task would be beyond the capabilities of the Pakistan military. In 2009, the Pakistani Army used two full divisions just to reclaim the Swat Valley from local militants, a battle that cost billions of dollars, generated two million refugees, and inflicted heavy casualties.

Diverging Objectives

Current U.S. strategy has exacerbated Pakistan’s problem by putting the Northern Alliance in power, excluding the Pashtuns from any meaningful participation, and targeting the ethnic group’s heartland in southern and eastern Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai is a Pashtun, but he is little more than window dressing in a government dominated by other ethnic groups. According to Zahid Hussain, author of a book on Islamic militants, this has turned the war into a “Pashtun war” and has meant that “the Pashtuns in Pakistan would become…strongly allied with both al Qaeda and the Taliban.”

The United States has also remained silent while India moved aggressively into Afghanistan. On October 4, Kabul and New Delhi inked a “strategic partnership” that, according to The New York Times, “paves the way for India to train and equip Afghan security forces.” The idea of India training Afghan troops is the equivalent of waving a red flag to see if the Pakistani bull will charge.

One pretext for the agreement was the recent assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, head of the Afghan High Peace Council, killed by the Taliban under the direction of the Pakistani secret service, the ISI, according to Karzai government claims. But evidence linking the Taliban or Pakistan to the hit is not persuasive, and the Taliban and Haqqani Group—never shy about taking the credit for killing people—say they had nothing to do with it.

Pakistan’s ISI certainly maintains a relationship with the Afghan-based Taliban and the Haqqani Group, but former Joint Chiefs of Staff head, Admiral Mike Mullen’s charge that the latter are a “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s ISI is simply false. The Haqqanis come from the powerful Zadran tribe based in Paktia and Khost provinces in Afghanistan and North Waziristan in Pakistan’s Tribal Area.

When their interests coincide, the Haqqanis find common ground with Islamabad, but the idea that Pakistan can get anyone in that region to jump to attention reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the deeply engrained cultural and ethnic currents that have successfully rebuffed outsiders for thousands of years. And in the border region, the Pakistan Army is as much an outsider as is NATO.

Dealing with the Mess

There is a way out of this morass, but it will require a very different strategy than the one the United States is currently following, and one far more attuned to the lens through which most Pakistanis view the war in Afghanistan.

The United States and its allies must first stand down their military offensive—including the drone attacks—against the Taliban and Haqqani Group, and negotiate a ceasefire. Then the United States must open immediate talks with the various insurgency groups and declare a plan for the withdrawal of all foreign troops. The Taliban—the Haqqanis say they will follow the organization’s lead—have indicated that they will no longer insist on a withdrawal of troops before opening talks, but they do want a timetable. Any government in Kabul that emerges from such negotiations must reflect the ethnic make-up of the country.

Pakistan’s concerns over Indian influence must also be addressed, including the dangerous issue of Kashmir. President Obama ran on a platform that called for dealing with Kashmir, but he subsequently dropped it at the insistence of New Delhi.

Pakistan and the United States may have profoundly different views of one another, but on at least one issue they agree: slightly over 90 percent of Pakistanis would like U.S. troops to go home, and 62 percent of Americans want an immediate cut in U.S. forces. Common ground in this case seems to be based on a strong dose of common sense.

- Conn Hallinan is a Foreign Policy In Focus columnist. 

- Originally published by Institute for Policy Studies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.

Wednesday
Sep142011

Poor Response Worsens Pakistan Flood Crises (BLOG/REPORT)

By Kamal Hyder

People in Sindh and elsewhere in Pakistan face floods again (photo credit: UN) It pours and pours.

There has been no let-up in the torrents across the Badin district - a land that receives less than 60 mm of rain in a year has now seen over 300 mm in just of 48 hours.

But it was a crisis already in the making because of record rains in the country’s southern province of Sind which received an incredible 1,000 mm of rain in less than three weeks and the deluge still continues pounding several districts in the area.

The problem has been exacerbated because the Left Bank Overflow Drain or LBOD has not been working at its optimum. The drain, with a usual capacity to withstand up to 6,000 cusecs of water flow, and sends overflow to the Arabian Sea has been the victim of poor planning and design as well as excessive government corruption has had its capability reduced to around 4,000 cusecs.

Since Badin and many parts of Sind are prone to waterlogging, the land was not able to absorb the excessive rainfall and as such put a severe strain on the LOBD canal and caused major breaches in the poorly maintained embankments.

The other factor that complicated the situation was the drought-like conditions experienced in July; leading the government to flood its canals to help overcome the dry spell. The canals were in full flow when the unexpected wet spell struck - the worst in over 300 hundred years of recorded history

According to many locals the it is the worst flood they have seen in living memory. 

As we arrived in Badin the situation was already at crisis point and tens of thousands were on the move as the raging waters destroyed over 9,000 villages and destroyed over 2.5 million bales of cotton just weeks before the harvest.

But the real worry was the fact that large towns were cut-off by the flood.

Faulty foresight

One local who lost everything says the wealthy went off to Karachi and Hyderabad but the poor headed for the dunes of the Thar Desert to find a safe haven. With their farmland destroyed and wheat stocks under water these desperate people have been waiting since the end of Ramadan to be rescued.

However despite the fact the country experienced the worst flood since independence last year and  displaced 20 million people - the country was not only poorly equipped to deal with the crisis a testament to the pathetic shape but also equally oblivious to the plight of millions of people in Sindh.

While the people were desperately trying to save their lives by clinging to the elevated embankments of the roads the local television stations were all telecasting a press conference of a political leader living in self-imposed exile in London.

For days the Pakistani media showed nothing else but the political bickering amongst various parties.

An old woman came up to me and said “why have you come here, to give us food or water. And where are the so called leaders who have forsaken us to such a plight?”

The only help these people had was from the Jamaat ud Dawaa, an aid organisation, who not only brought in their volunteers with boats and food rations to cook fresh meals and to help evacuate people from the flood and to send in their doctors to help out.

But even they admitted they could not meet the dire needs of a people afflicted by a catastrophe.

If anyone had any doubts that the ruling government was totally incompetent they only had to visit the calamity zone and ask the people who have lost everything and were now living under tarpaulins and thin plastic sheets propped up on twigs and branches.

Be grateful

Pakistan's prime minister, Yusuf Raza Gilani congratulated his provincial and federal teams on doing a splendid job but on the ground they did nothing at all and if they did try to fool the world - then they failed.

As my team and I left Badin, we stopped at a roadside school now a makeshift camp for those running away from the flood. The school was under several feet of dark brown water.

Our fixer asked the man appointed as the head of relief camp about the toilet facilities; he said the people could relieve themselves in the water!

A father holding his child asked me to have a look inside. For a moment I thought why am I doing this but when I looked into the eyes of the children and saw their innocent smiles I followed the children and their dad into waist-high muck to see the fetid conditions they were living under.

The stench of sewage and human waste was unbearable. 

The proud family of 8 children and their parents spent their nights in a room full of the dirty water. They told me to tell the world what they were going through. There were hundreds more in the same compound including pregnant women and sick children

As I walked back through the filth I saw a government-appointed caretaker sitting on a chair outside the compound in spotless light blue clothes, while the women sat on the ground.

He told me they have a roof over their heads and shouldn’t be complaining and I turned around to tell him “I would not even put my dog in such a place!”

Originally published by Al Jazeera under Creative Commons Licensing 

Tuesday
Sep132011

Late Monsoon Rains Pound Pakistan; Millions Affected (NEWS BRIEF)

A year after the devastating floods in Pakistan, families are trying to rebuild their lives, homes and livelihoods. CREDIT: UN(HN, September 13, 2011) - Just a few weeks after the commemoration of the one year anniversary of the worst floods in Pakistan's history, the South Asian country is again bracing itself for another humanitarian disaster from late and heavy monsoon rains.

The percipitation began a month ago and have to date affected some 5.3 million people, according to government estimates. 

An estimated 279,300 displaced people are now living at some relief sites, including public buildings and other temporary settlements.

Over a million homes have been destroyed or damaged, 4.2 million acres of agricultural land has been inundated and over 200 people have died, according to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).

The latest floods come as the country is still recovering from the worst floods in its history just a year ago in which 20 million people lost their homes. So far 200 deaths have been recorded, and UN aid agencies are stepping up their response.

Heavy rains resumed at the weekend and are forecast to continue through the next three days, affecting districts including Badin, Mirpur Khas, Tharparkar, Umar Kot, Thatta, Hyderabad, Shaheed Benazirabad, Dadu and Larkana, as well as Karachi and eastern parts of Balochistan.

Karachi, the country's commercial capital and largest city with more than 13 million people, has endured several times the normal rainfall for September. A HUMNEWS correspondent said her family in Karachi is suffering the effects of "a total shut-down and washout."

According to GEO News, all schools, colleges and universities are closed in Karachi; one Internet consultant said his area has been without power for 12 hours.

"The rains are showing no sign of abating and this disaster is still evolving. Hundreds of thousands of displaced people already need emergency shelter and, as in 2010, the inaccessibility of flooded areas is going to be our biggest challenge," says Arshad Rashid, an official with the UN's International Organization for Migration (IOM).

- HUMNEWS staff, UN

Thursday
Jul282011

Pakistani Flood Victims Take Destiny into Own Hands (REPORT)

By Imtiaz Tyab 

Photo by Asad Zaidi

When we met Khaleda Bibi, the heavily pregnant mother of one was brimming with excitement. 

It wasn’t because an international TV crew had come to film at her remote village in central Sindh province that excited her: it was the person who had travelled there with us.

With us was Tasnim Akhtar, a Karachi housewife who - for the past 32 years - has devoted much of her life to volunteering for the needy.

It had been a long while since the two women had last seen each other, and there were smiles and hugs all around as they caught up.

They had met only a year ago, at a make-shift relief camp for flood survivors. Tasnim would go there every day to hand out basics like food, water, soap and clothing, all of which she paid for out of her own pocket and with donations by friends.  

The women she met, however, soon started asking her for other necessities like medicine or cash. In some cases, they even begged her.

That’s what inspired Tasnim to provide the displaced women with vocational training so that they could start to earn their own money and be able to buy whatever they needed for themselves and their families.

The idea to teach them quilt-making came after seeing a few female camp residents stitching together rudimentary blankets in the traditional style of rural Sindh.

As the quality of the quilts improved with training, Tasnim began to sell the linen on their behalf.

Khaleda, one of the few people at the camp who spoke Urdu (Pakistan's national language, but spoken by few in comparison to its many regional languages), quickly became the point person between Tasnim and the other women.

The two agreed to a payment system and the rest has worked itself out organically.

Khalida says that she never expected her life to have changed so much in a year.

 “We lost everything during the floods and had to flee our homes and fields. Now we are earning money and are rebuilding our lives to better than before.” 

Now back in their village, dozens of other women in the area have started to learn the once dying art of traditional quilt making from those that learned it in the camps.

They can earn up to $30 per blanket, a life changing sum in rural Pakistan.

With the money they earn from selling the handicrafts, many have been able to repair their flood damaged homes, pay for badly needed medical care and school fees for their children.

Tasnim says the women are getting more than just money by making quilts: “By giving work to these women I am also giving them freedom.  Freedom of speech. Freedom of speaking in the house with their men.  They can now send their children to school. Give them good food to eat, good clothes to wear. 

These children are entitled to this; it [should] not be for just the rich.”

It’s not just private citizens who are offering vocational training to flood affected people. The UN and other NGOs are also adopting the same approach.

But with so many still struggling to recover from the disaster, one year on, there are far too few success stories like this.

Originally published by Al Jazeera on July 27, 2011 under Creative Commons Licensing 

Monday
Jun132011

It's Open Season for Paki-bashing (PERSPECTIVE)

By Themrise Khan

Its open season for Paki-bashing. For a term that may have originated in the United Kingdom referring to immigrants of Pakistani origin, this activity now applies to Pakistan as a whole by the rest of the world.

Nicholas Kristof in his June 4 New York Times op-ed referred to Pakistan as “a low-tax laissez-faire Eden.

 

And in an article "From Abbottabad to Worse” in the July issue of Vanity Fair, Christopher Hitchens declared that “...our [America’s] blatant manipulation by Pakistan is the most diseased and rotten thing in which the United States has ever involved itself”.

With reactions like these, Pakistan is fast on the verge of becoming a swear word in global vocabulary.

There is no denying that Pakistan has dug its own grave after the Abbotabad incident. There is also no denying that we were given the shovel by someone else. But the fact that we chose to accept that shovel is also a reality that we keep denying ourselves.

But another reality is that Pakistan isn’t doing much to improve the situation either. Speak to most ordinary Pakistanis and hardly one in ten of them will paint you a positive picture. As they swelter in 45 Celsius degree heat without any power, its hard not to be negative, especially when you are surrounded with madness that is often, beyond comprehension.

Only last week, a young man was shot at point blank range and left to die by the Rangers, an elite, para-military security force brought in to counter urban lawlessness. The incident took place in broad daylight, in a posh Karachi neighbourhood in a public park named after Benazir Bhutto. The government covered up the story by claiming he was a criminal killed in a police “encounter”. But morbidly enough, the murder was caught on tape by a television cameraman, exposing the brutality to the world. An inquiry has now been ordered, but most believe, it will be yet another sham cover-up by the state protecting its own violent interests.

Kristof pokes fun at “the hum of diesel generators by night” in affluent Pakistani homes. But only a fraction of Pakistanis are affluent. The rest just want to be like them. The young man who was murdered, probably did too. So do most young men and women in Pakistan, who dream for a better, safer and more respected life. Just like anyone in the United States for that matter.

Interestingly enough, both Kristof and Hitchens point to the flaws in the United States political system that have either contributed to or exacerbated Pakistan’s problems.

Kristof is more subtle in pointing out that current public sector budget cuts are leading to a more inequitable American society, ala Pakistan.
Hitchens on the other hand, is much more gratuitous in making Pakistan out to be the evil witch in a saga that has unwittingly sucked US foreign policy into a downward spiral.
 
But is Pakistan the world’s only problem? And does maniacally using it as an example of the big bad wolf help with ridding it (or the world) of its problem?

Granted, things are now far more exacerbated because of Pakistan’s own domestic policies and complexities. Instances like the Karachi murder and other countless episodes are as dangerous and important an issue for us as finding Osama in our backyard. Which is exactly why Osama’s death did not bring people out onto the streets in Pakistan, as was expected.

But then neither did this year’s national budget, which once again allocated an 11% increase in defense spending, while education was down 1.3% to GDP as compared to last year.

And that is the crux of the matter. The world can bash us as much as they like for being a terrorist state, while completely ignoring their own contributions to the situation. Pakistan does have a counter-answer to these accusations if the latter is pointed out intelligently enough, while accepting our own contribution to it as well. Here, the issue is definitely not one-sided and never was, as history has shown.

But Pakistan has no real answer to the questions Pakistanis themselves pose. Why do we not have a stable political system? Why are we still governed by private dynasties? Why don’t most Pakistanis have access to basic social services? For not having answers to these questions is why we really deserve to be maligned, not necessarily by the world, but more by ourselves.

Issues are only as important as one makes them out to be. If the United States and its allies continue to make Pakistan out to be their most important “frenemy”, they will continue to overshadow the real issues of Pakistan such as unemployment and economic and social security. For them, none of this is of any importance unless its connected to terrorism. And viewing economic and social benefit under the lens of counter-terrorism is simply looking at the problem the wrong way.

Lets face it. The Taliban were created out of political and international alliances and not because of poverty or lack of education. If that were the cause, Pakistan would have disintegrated decades ago. And their threat towards Pakistan (and the world) is increasing not because of lack of healthcare and women’s rights, but because of the power struggle between military and civilian governments.

If the Western world wants to paint us as “humorless, paranoid, insecure, eager to take offense, and suffering from self-righteousness, self-pity, and self-hatred” (according to Hitchens), so be it. But it must eventually realize the interconnectedness of these accusations to international politics.

What Pakistan must realize however, is that now, the bashing we are set to receive for our performance as a democratic nation, is connected to our performance alone. Its time we forgot the Taliban and began to focus on ourselves.
- Ms Khan is a HUMNEWS contributor, specializing on South Asia and other issues.