Friday - March 17, 2017

Two new flags will be flying high at the Olympic Games in Rio.

(Kosovo's Majlinda Kelmendi. © AP)For the first time, South Sudan and Kosovo have been recognized by the International Olympic Committee. Kosovo, which was a province of the former Yugoslavia, will have 8 athletes competing; and a good shot for a medal in women's judo: Majlinda Kelmendi is considered a favorite. She's ranked first in the world in her weight class.

(South Sudan's James Chiengjiek, Yiech Biel & coach Joe Domongole, © AFP) South Sudan, which became independent in 2011, will have three runners competing in the country's first Olympic Games.

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



CARTOON: Peter Broelman, Australia/BROELMAN.com.au)


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Entries in Themrise Khan (6)


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.



The Bin Laden Capture: A Feeling of Betrayal in Pakistan (PERSPECTIVE)

By Themrise Khan

And so it ends. The world’s most feared man is dead. Or so we are told.

The news Pakistan woke up to Monday morning was something most of us never thought would happen. Osama bin Laden had already transgressed into terrorist mythology many years earlier, including being the very mortal victim of renal failure some years ago.

Now, not even all the headlines of the world can pronounce his death often enough for it to sink in. It will take some time.
The world is rife with jubilation, while Pakistan sits in a state of shock.
Why? Take the hiding place. Abbottabad? Seriously? Bin Laden’s compound was situated just 800 meters from the most prestigious (not to mention heavily guarded) military school in the country - with more than 100,000 active and retired military personnel? How on earth could it be possible? Like one friend remarked: “there goes the cave theory.”

With the release of an official statement by Pakistan’s Foreign Office, that the operation was conducted by US forces without any Pakistani involvement, the shock gradually began turning into a state of denial.  So did our government know about it beforehand or not? Did we just quietly sit back and let the US do what they do best?

But as the days tick by, denial is gradually turning into one of betrayal. Betrayal of the not just the Pakistani people by its own government and military, but by the Americans as well. It was bad enough that the world saw us as “terrorists” for the last ten years. Now they just wont be able to think of us as anything else. Especially since we apparently, didn’t have anything to do with it!

But if there was any event that had the makings of a conspiracy theory, it’s this one. And that is what is fuelling Pakistanis at the moment. And understandably so. From the location, to the action, to the conclusion (dumping a body into the ocean according to Islamic practices?), every element of this tale defies any logical analysis that has thus far been presented about bin Laden and his whereabouts.

What is unbelievable in this fairly bizarre saga, is not that an operation of such a scale actually took place without anyone knowing of it. The point of espionage and covert operations are exactly that. Neither is it hard to believe that such intelligence existed for many months and possibly both countries were aware of it. Planning an attack like this would obviously take a great deal of preparation and Pakistan could well have been trying to protect its “interests” by turning a blind eye.

What is unbelievable and a matter of great shame for us, is the fact that everyone who has thus far accused Pakistan of harbouring terrorists, is now spot on. I can picture fingers wagging saying, “told you so”.

Even many die-hard critics of the government were in agreement that the al-Qaeda leader was probably not in Pakistan, or at least not anywhere habitable - or in a densely-populated urban area. Now, they too stand stunned in silence.  The implications of this fact alone, is perhaps more dangerous for Pakistan than the threat of militant reactions to bin Laden’s death.

If it is true that the US kept the operation and existence of bin Laden from the Pakistani government, its intelligence and military, then that is clear proof that either one or all three of these institutions were seen as colluding to the interests of the militants. If, on the other hand, the military and government were aware of the whereabouts of bin Laden but kept denying it, then that is clear proof that a government lied to its own people. In either case, the Pakistani people stand to inherit a huge trust deficit from their leaders.

Surprisingly so, despite threats already being slung at the Pakistani military, government and at the American establishment, the retaliation that is expected, is not so much physical violence, although that threat is very real.

More so, it is the threat of a falling out of power between the Pakistani military and its civilian establishment over how this event was orchestrated and conducted. It is the internal strife between the Pakistani military, ruling political parties and the opposition that will now be at centre-stage as the outside world celebrates.

Who in our establishment, will take responsibility for this, is the biggest question on the national agenda. And who will apologize to us for embarrassing us as a nation, beyond all doubt?

We will never know the truth of this story. We will never see a body and even if we do, we will never know if it was real. Unless bin Laden walks back from the grave and into a downtown shopping mall somewhere in Wisconsin or Karachi, he is to all intents and purposes, dead.

But in reality, this awe-inspiring notion means little to people in Pakistan. The damage to the nation was already done many years ago and continues unabated. Thousands of Pakistanis have lost their lives in terrorist acts, tens of times more than those who died on September 11. Our war is endless, with or without bin Laden. He just planted the seed, we bear the fruit.

The nightmare seems to have ended for many across the world. For Pakistan it has only just begun.

HUMNEWS contributor Themrise Khan is a freelance social development consultant based in Karachi who occasionally dares to venture into the Pakistani media.