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August 7, 2009
Mehsud death could change how Pakistanis view U.S.

Baitullah Mehsud.

For months, Baitullah Mehsud — the head of the Taliban in Pakistan — was a top target of the CIA and Pakistan’s military, with a $5 million U.S. bounty on his head. A notorious militant commander who controlled wide areas of Pakistan’s northwest, his organization killed hundreds of security forces and civilians.

On Friday, a senior Taliban commander and the Pakistani government said Mehsud had been killed in the South Waziristan tribal area on Wednesday by a missile fired from an unmanned American aircraft.

Watch the interview: U.S. drone likely killed notorious Taliban leader in Pakistan

Worldfocus contributing blogger Sana Saleem, an editor with Reading Bee magazine, explores how Mehsud’s likely death will impact the war on the Taliban and Pakistanis’ perception of the U.S. and its drone attacks.

“Only jihad can bring peace to the world” said Baitullah Mehsud, Pakistan’s enemy number one, while talking to the BBC in 2007. Mehsud earned the ire of the Pakistani military, people and Western world alike by his version of Jihad. His force structure is known to be very diverse: Including around 12,000 local fighters, many of them belonging to his own Mehsud tribe, and an estimated 4,000 foreign fighters, predominantly Arabs and Central Asians seasoned in the 1980s Afghan jihad. By giving them a cause and a home — in parts of South Waziristan where they were easily accessible to him — Mehsud raised a fanatical army of guerilla warfare. Not to forget his stable of teenage boys — indoctrinated to serve as suicide bombers, thus raising an army of child soldiers.

[…] Mehsud’s growing influence had become a grave concern to Western policymakers, suggesting Pakistan represents the gravest general security threat to the international community — the prospect of  al Qaeda being nuclear-armed.  With Mehsud down the prospect seems less likely to be attained. At the same time this is entirely dependant on how Baitullah’s death is utilized to further damage the Taliban regime.

The most interesting fact surrounding Baitullah is his death from a drone attack, and if the incident changes the [majority’s] perspective. While speaking in a live show on Dawn, Faraha naz Isphani, Advisor to the President, confessed she will not condemn drones if they have successfully eliminated Baitullah. In the past the secrecy-cloaked drone attacks have been quite notorious. Even though the authorities continued to publicly condemn the drone attacks, many analysts disclosed a mutual agreement. The targeting of Baitullah Mehsud highlights the closely-knitted intelligence networking between the U.S. and Pakistani authorities.

In June, authorities announced they were launching an operation against Mehsud in South Waziristan. Although air strikes began right away, the offensive never went full-scale, even with a well-defined target. In the meantime, the drone attacks increased, claiming to target Mehsud, further raising speculation that the Pakistani authorities were coordinating the drone attacks with Americans. On accounts of drone attacks, many might principally disagree , but after Baitullah’s death a possible change in perspective can not be denied.

Baitullah Mehsud’s death can be considered a significant blow but not a definite one. Al-Qaeda has never been a one man army, many more will vow in Baituallah’s place. But the Taliban will require time to groom a leader that commands the same fear among his tribesmen that made Baitullah an elusive foe. The recent tussle among the Taliban groups has incautiously exposed their weakness. His demise has also managed to shatter the implausible conspiracy theory surrounding his group. The aim now should be to sabotage Baitullah’s legacy.

We must remember that the Waziristan operation was tagged as a “decisive showdown” by the army, and Baituallah’s death is no doubt the curtain raiser. Now that Baitullah is no more, the end seems more realistic and attainable.

To read more, see the original post.

The views expressed by contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user under a Creative Commons license.

August 7, 2009
Five-day Russia-Georgia war has lasting political fallout

A man overlooks damage in Gori, Georgia. Photo: Onnik Krikorian

On Friday, Russia and Georgia marked the first anniversary of the war that erupted a year ago.

Last summer, Georgia launched an attack on the breakaway republic of South Ossetia to drive out Russian-backed separatists. Russia responded with a massive counterattack, pushing deep into Georgian territory.

The five-day war killed at least 390 people, displaced tens of thousands and left fear that more fighting could erupt. Tensions between the countries are still running high, with both sides making accusations about the other.

Ivan Krastev is based in Sofia, Bulgaria, and is the editor-in-chief of the Bulgarian edition of Foreign Policy. He writes at OpenDemocracy about the lasting political fallout from the brief conflict for Russia, Georgia, Europe and the U.S.

It took less than a hundred days for the Russia-Georgia war of 8-12 August 2008 to be eclipsed as a history-shaping event. The guns of August were silenced by the thunders on Wall Street. A war that seemed momentous at the time became subject to instant amnesia: a non-event. But it was a non-event with consequences.

A year on, a measure of these consequences seems appropriate. The post-war balance-sheets of the leading actors – Georgia and Russia themselves, but also the United States and the European Union – in many respects resemble those of the Wall Street financial institutions hit by the global economic crisis: undeclared losses and inflated profits.

Indeed, amid the fallout of this toxic conflict it is easier to see losers than victors. In August 2008, Georgia lost its dreams, the Kremlin lost its complexes, Washington lost its nerves and the European Union lost its sleep. But as the poet said, there’s no success like failure; and the messy aftermath also reveals collateral benefits for some of these and other powers.

Russia is at the centre of every calculation. The war was the occasion of Moscow’s first large-scale military operation outside the territory of the Russian Federation since the end of the cold war. The Kremlin’s subsequent recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia was the first revision of inter-state borders on the territory of the former Soviet Union. Russia emerged from the war as a revisionist power and broke the illusion of the existence of European order.

[…] In assessing the consequences of the Russia-Georgia war the real question is: does the post-August 2008 world giving us a better chance for negotiating a legitimate and just European order, or is it making such a order even less likely?

Two answers are possible: the desperately pessimistic or the moderately optimistic.

Pessimists will claim that by turning the Russia-Georgia war into a non-event the west has encouraged the Kremlin to repeat its “success” in other parts of the post-Soviet space – thus making European order an illusion.

Optimists tend to believe that the Russia-Georgia war marks the simultaneous failure of two projects: Russia’s for reviving sphere-of-influence politics in Europe, and the west’s for constructing Europe without Russia.

If the pessimists are right, these are the early stages of a long night. If the optimists are correct, the death of these two projects means that now is a proper time to start thinking about the gestation of a third.

To read more, see the original post.

The views expressed by contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.

Photo and article available under a Creative Commons license.

August 5, 2009
More than 50 Palestinians evicted from Jerusalem homes

Israel evicted more than 50 Palestinians from their homes in east Jerusalem on Sunday in a move condemned by the U.S. and others. Israel says the eviction was the result of a valid legal decision.

Jen Marlowe is a filmmaker, writer and human rights activist currently traveling throughout Israel and Palestine. She visited the families who were evicted on Monday.

I heard the jangle of ankle and wrist cuffs before I saw them. The detainees (five Israeli, four Palestinian and four international) were being led into a small court room. One woman had a black eye. They had been arrested the night before at a demonstration against the eviction of the Hannoun and al-Ghawe families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of east Jerusalem. At 5:00 Sunday morning, the families were removed from their homes by Israeli police, leaving 53 people homeless — 20 of them children.

The Hannoun family with friends and supporters on the pavement across the street from their former home. Photo: Jen Marlowe

After leaving the court, I walked to Sheikh Jarrah. It was easy to locate the houses. They were blocked off and guarded by police forces. I found the father of the Hannoun family, Maher, sitting on the pavement across from his home with his family, friends and supporters. A pile of thin foam mats were stacked up behind them.

I asked Maher the details of what had taken place the previous morning.

“It was 5:00 in the morning. A lot of policemen came with weapons,” Maher told me. “My son was standing guard outside. When he saw them, he came inside and locked the door. The soldiers broke the door to the gate, the main door and the windows. They got in by force and they kicked all the family out of the house. Seventeen people.”

Was violence used against the family members? Maher nodded emphatically.

“They hurt my son Rami’s arm and they broke the bottom of my 17-year-old daughter’s teeth.”

Twenty-one-year-old Rami’s arm was in a sling. The arm was injured, he told me, when the police threw him down the front steps of the house. “They told my niece that if she didn’t open the door, they would shoot her,” Maher said.

The foam mats are piled up on the sidewalk where the Hannoun family is now sleeping. Photo: Jen Marlowe

According to Maher, after the families were forcibly removed, their furniture was hauled away and unloaded behind the police station. The family was later able to reclaim it, but they have nowhere to put it. Their furniture now sits in an empty field nearby their home.

And where did the family sleep last night?

“Here, on the street.” Maher indicated the pile of thin foam mats behind us. “We have nowhere else to go. We will stay here, God willing, until we are able to return to our homes.”

Maher’s home already has new residents. Just a few hours after the family was expelled, religious Jewish settlers moved in. The U.S. strongly condemned the evictions, as has the UN and other foreign governments. But the condemnations didn’t hamper the settlers’ ability to enter and exit the house at will, under police guard, while the Hannoun family sat across the street on the pavement and watched.

A policewoman guarding the home that settlers now occupy. Photo: Jen Marlowe

In 1956, the UN and the Jordanian government (who controlled east Jerusalem at that time) resettled 28 Palestinian refugee families, including Maher’s parents, in Sheikh Jarrah. Maher himself was born in the home in 1958.

During the 1967 war, Israel conquered and annexed east Jerusalem. The eviction of the Hannoun and al-Ghawe families seems to be part of a larger political plan to Judaize the area. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz verified the plan when they quoted from a 2004 letter from Jerusalem mayor Lupolianski to the Housing Ministry in which he supported this policy, stating: “zoning the (east Jerusalem) neighborhood for a Jewish population is likely to contribute significantly to the unification of the city.”

The plan has been ongoing. Back in 1972, two Israeli settler associations registered the land in Sheikh Jarrah with the Israeli Land registrar. The settler associations provided documents from the Ottoman era to back their claim of ownership. A complex and protracted legal battle ensued, with the Israeli court system supporting the settler associations’ claim, though the Hannoun family and their current lawyer strongly dispute the authenticity of the documents.

An Israeli settler in the home. Photo: Jen Marlowe

“The Ottoman documents are false, but even if they were real,” Maher said, “there are so many Palestinians who have proof of ownership of their homes and villages from before 1948!” I understood the point he was trying to make; Jewish claims to pre-1948 land ownership were being upheld. But Palestinian land claims were not given any legitimacy.

What do Maher and his family want?

“We are asking to stop the transfer of refugees again and again. We had big hope, especially after U.S. President Obama’s speech in Cairo. Diplomats from the U.S. and the EU visited us and promised to help us stay in our houses. All the world was watching us but nobody did anything on the ground. Our big hope turned into big disappointment. And now we are sleeping on the street.”

Just then a cheer broke out from the crowd on the sidewalk. The electricity (which the Hannoun family was still paying for) had been cut. A moment of bittersweet victory.

The settlers’ electricity will be reconnected. The imprisoned activists may have already been released. The U.S. will most likely protest in sharply-worded statements, but not use any real leverage to shift Israel’s policy of changing the demographics of east Jerusalem.

And the Hannoun and al-Ghawe families will sleep outside again tonight on the pavement across from their homes.

– Jen Marlowe

The views expressed by contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.

August 5, 2009
Ambitious Dane takes the reins at NATO

New NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen (left) with U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Multimedia producer Ben Piven writes about new NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, whom he interviewed last fall.

His youthful chuckle echoed throughout the reception chamber. The premier was delighted that I used the Danish term for “tax daddy” in a question about windmill subsidies.

This was September 2008. I was interviewing then-Prime Minister of Denmark Anders Fogh Rasmussen. He had just given a speech about energy policy at Columbia University’s World Leaders Forum, in which he emphasized how the U.S. should mimic Danish initiatives. Even with a barrage of tough questions, the seasoned political warrior appeared at ease.

The charismatic politician’s free market economics and anti-immigration policies have often roused the ire of defenders of the Danish welfare state. Rasmussen also has a history of tense relations with the Muslim world, which will make his new mission in Afghanistan even more difficult.

Known for breaking complex political questions into simplistic statements, Rasmussen has begun his tough work as the twelfth secretary general of NATO, the embattled transatlantic military alliance. Much of his work will involve cosying up with NATO member states from France to Turkey.

During Rasmussen’s second day as NATO chief, he moved to implement a new operational command structure for Afghanistan.

Rasmussen has said that he will enlist the full participation of NATO members in defeating the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Since the ostensible end game is to attain peace and democracy, the real work may involve cooperation with moderate Taliban forces.

Rasmussen recently shared his Afghanistan strategy with the Danish newspaper Politiken:

There’s definitely a hardcore section of the Taliban with whom it’s impossible to reach any kind of agreement…But there are some groups you can at least talk to in an effort to achieve some sort of rapprochement within the Afghan community.

There is also speculation that the charming 56-year-old statesman will attempt to smooth over NATO ties with Russia and seek to expand the alliance to include Australia and New Zealand.

Rasmussen’s eight year reign as Danish prime minister was almost the same time period as George W. Bush’s two terms. The amicable center-right Dane was known as Bush’s best friend in Europe. When visiting Camp David, he often went on rigorous mountain bike rides with the American leader. The pals exchanged thoughts about free markets and the spread of democracy.

The leaders’ similar views on Islam and the West were instrumental in preserving Bush’s tainted image in Europe, given France and Germany’s opposition to Bush’s jingoistic agenda in Iraq. While Italy and Poland were also enrolled in the coalition effort, Denmark’s government often seemed to be America’s most trusty ally on the other side of the Atlantic.

It would seem ironic, then, that it was President Obama who firmed up Rasmussen’s campaign in April to become the NATO Secretary General. Turkey had objected to the appointment of the Dane on the basis of Rasmussen’s support for the free speech rights of the artist who drew the controversial Mohammed cartoons.

Turkey also objected to Denmark’s decision to grant the Kurdish Roj channel rights to air in Denmark. Obama’s compromise deal required that NATO would appoint a Turkish assistant to the secretary general and place Turkish generals in key command posts.

A NATO resurgence will depend upon the skills of the eager new top dog.

– Ben Piven

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Downing Street under a Creative Commons license.

For more Worldfocus coverage of Turkey, visit our extended coverage page: Turkey between East and West.

August 3, 2009
Young Iraqi Kurds more concerned with finding jobs

Elections in Iraqi Kurdistan.

On Sunday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ventured to the Kurdish autonomous region for the first time in years and promised to settle disputes that have threatened Iraq’s stability.

The Kurds want to expand the autonomous region to include oil-rich Kirkuk. Ahead of the July 25 elections that returned him to power, Kurdish President Massoud Barzani vowed never to “compromise” on this sticking point.

The U.S. has put pressure on Iraqi and Kurdish leaders to resolve their issues prior to U.S. withdrawal.

But as Worldfocus contributing blogger Eric Davis writes, for many young Iraqi Kurds, divisions are rooted less in historical Kurdish-Arab relations and more in economic disparity.

As analysts continue to focus on Iraq’s ethnic divisions, they consistently fail to ask the very simple but important question: why do such divisions exist? Assuming that none of us believe in sociobiology, namely that Arabs and Kurds (and other Iraqi ethnic groups) emerge from the womb disliking or even hating each other, the core question of what drives ethnic divisions in Iraq needs to be raised. Unfortunately, it rarely is, in part because analysts continue to concentrate on elites, to the detriment of studying public opinion and non-elite political parties and civil society organizations.

The recent Kurdish Regional Government (K.R.G.) Assembly Elections, that were held on July 25th, demonstrated that most Kurds are less worried about Iraq’s Arabs to the south than the lack of jobs in Iraq’s 3 northern Kurdish provinces and the pervasive corruption and autocracy that characterizes the two parties, the Kurdish Democratic Party (K.D.P.), and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (P.U.K.), that have ruled the semi-autonomous K.R.G. since the U.S. imposed a “No-Fly Zone” in 1991.

Because analysts largely ignore the political economy of Iraqi Kurdistan (and that of the south as well), they have little to say about the underlying dynamics of Kurdish politics. […]

All interviews indicate that Kurds are fed up with the corruption and authoritarian rule of the K.R.G., presided over by president and K.D.P. leader, Masoud Barzani. Despite the fact that Masoud Barzani’s father, Mullah Mustafa, still holds almost mythic status among older Kurds for his efforts to achieve an independent Kurdish state in the late 1940s and after, younger Kurds are more concerned with jobs and the ability to express themselves than with a history that none of them experienced. […]

Indeed, this was what I discovered when I visited the K.R.G. Few Kurds were concerned with Arab-Kurdish relations. In my research in the north I discovered that many young Arabs who have moved with their families to the north, as a result of sectarian violence in the south, have made friendships with young Kurds without any problems. A delegation of Iraqi youth that recently visited the U.S. was comprised of many young Kurds who also indicated that they had no difficulty forming friendships with Arabs their own age when I spoke with them. While Kurdish-Arab relations does not seem high on the agenda of most Kurds, virtually all complained about corruption and lack of jobs.

Indeed, I found many professionals, including lawyers and engineers, who were forced to take second jobs to support their families. With the proceeds from oil contracts known to be divided 3 ways, between the K.R.G., foreign investors and “other,” Kurds completely understand the extent to which oil wealth is taken from the public purse for illegitimate ends. On the political side, Kurds implored me not to return to the U.S. and speak of “Kurdish democracy,” since they argued that civil society organizations require a government permit and that K.R.G. officials are constantly looking over the shoulders of all members of such organizations to monitor their activities.

To read more, see the original post.

The views expressed by contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Kurdistan كوردستان under a Creative Commons license.

August 3, 2009
Muslim extremists target Christians in Pakistan

Christians account for only about 1.5 percent of Pakistan’s 167 million people.

In Pakistan on Monday, members of the minority Christian community staged protests after eight Christians were killed over the weekend in an unusual wave of violence against them by Muslim extremists.

The violence took place in the eastern city of Gojra when hundreds of Muslims stormed a Christian neighborhood after reports that a Quran had been desecrated. Dozens of houses were burned in the rampage. Six people died in the fires and two others were shot to death.

On Monday, Christian schools were closed throughout Pakistan to protest the violence, while hundreds of people took to the streets to demand justice. Christians account for only about 1.5 percent of Pakistan’s 167 million people.

Faisal Kapadia, a Worldfocus contributing blogger, condemns the violence and urges Pakistani Muslims to speak out against the attacks:

I am ashamed, we are always worried about our image these days and the image of our country […] We tout the fact that Islam is a religion of peace, we scream to the rafters when a hate incident against Muslims takes place anywhere in the world, are we going to stay silent when our own countrymen are slaughtered in the name of Islam?

This is not what Pakistan is or should be known for […]Let us unite and stand with the christian community in gojra and other minorities who face persecution for what is their right, to pray to whomsoever they wish.

Pakistani Frederick Masih, a Christian himself, comments hopefully on a post about the violence at “All Things Pakistan:”

Of course this incident has left all of us dejected and heartbroken. But I am heartened by the reactions and comments and ordinary Pakistanis, mostly Muslims, reacting with such compassion. I think that is true for the overall reaction in the country. Maybe the tide is changing. As a Christian who grew up in power, most of my memories of childhood were pleasant and nice. But being a minority anywhere is not easy. I hope this incidence will help all of us Paksitanis to realize that we must do to others what we want for ourselves. Tolerance and goodwill to all.

Adnan Siddiqi comments on the same article, writing that if Christians indeed desecrated the Quran, they too should be punished:

Those minority champs should realize that EVERY RELIGION must be respected; be it followed by minorities or majorities. Just like one does not have right to offfend Bible or any other religious book similarly no one has right to offend Quran either. One can’t say,”Oh they are minorities, let them offend Quran”. Those who have burnt these Christians and those who have really offended Muslims’ Holy book MUST BE punished.

“Adonis” comments on the “Pakistan Politics” blog to blame Pakistan’s justice system:

If there were an effective blasphemy law, there would have been no protests in gojra. People take to the street only and take law into their own hands when they are certain that the authorities are not going to take any action against the culprits.

The fact is that no one has ever served sentence for blasphemy in Pakistan. Even if someone is convicetd in lower courts, during appeal either the culprit is given bail during proceedings when he is whisked away to some western country or the case is withdrawn.

If people are certain that if somebody really commits blasphemy, then nothing would save hin from punishment and if someone falsely accuses anyone else for blasphemy, he would also be severely dealt with, then we would not have things that are happening in gojra.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user leeno under a Creative Commons license.

July 31, 2009
Greenland’s people take pride in traditional language

Language has become a symbol of independence in Greenland.

In recent months, Greenland has taken steps towards self-ruleThe changes follow a referendum last November, in which 75 percent of the electorate voted to take more control of their own land.

Cultural identity is also highly important to Greenlanders, and Kalaallisut — or Greenlandic — is now the official language.

Jason George of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting writes that the language has become a symbol for national pride.

When Denmark gave up control of Greenland last month—ending 300+ years of colonial control—one of the first changes Greenland made was to declare Greenlandic the country’s lone national tongue.

For Greenlanders it was a point of pride to drop Danish off the list, but people here also wanted to symbolically declare that Greenlandic is central to the country’s future. They see nothing nostalgic or quaint about Kalaallisut, the most widely-spoken dialect, even if only about 55,000 people speak it.

At a popular internet café in the capital, local teenagers spend summer evenings playing computer games, chatting online in English with other gamers around the world. All Greenlandic students learn English in school and many are as comfortable with the language (and its locker room humor) as any American teen.

However amongst themselves these teens talk almost exclusively in Greenlandic, and there’s no evident pressure to ‘look cool’ by speaking English. In fact one 15-year-old gamer, Rasmus Nielsen, told us that when he moved here from Denmark 10 years ago the kids teased him about not being able to speak Greenlandic.

He learned quickly.

Of course learning a new language is easiest for kids. Professor Lenore Grenoble struggled to gain some grasp of Greenlandic before arriving here on Monday. Even with several tutoring sessions from her University of Chicago colleague Jerrold Sadock, Grenoble made little headway. “I’ve learned three phrases,” said Grenoble, who’s researching Greenland’s success at maintaining its language, despite strong outside pressures.

“It’s a very difficult language,” added Grenoble, who speaks several other languages herself, including one spoken only in the Siberian arctic.

Why’s Greenlandic so difficult?

Beyond its 10 cases, eight moods and four-person forms, Greenlandic is polysynthetic, meaning words are often made up of roots, affixes and suffixes. This quirk makes many words terribly long. In fact, some can be entire sentences, such as amaasiaarput (“They walk in a row”) and taamaaqatigiipput (“They are considered as equals.”)

Grenoble will travel today to Sisimiut, above the Arctic Circle, to begin the bulk of her work and meet with Carl Olsen, chairman of the Oqaasileriffik, the Greenland Language Secretariat. The Oqaasileriffik oversees how Greenlandic adopts new words, like qarasaasiaq for “computer” (literally “artificial brain”), and how it hopes to survive.

For the Secretariat and Greenlanders, maintaining their language is not just an issue of communication, but security and sovereignty.

To read more, see the original post.

The views expressed by contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user stml under a Creative Commons license.

July 30, 2009
Pakistan’s next generation looks to escape abroad

Many Pakistanis seek new opportunities abroad.

As Pakistan reels from both the global financial crisis and the Taliban-led insurgency, many young Pakistanis are looking for a brighter future outside their home country.

Thousands of Pakistanis leave the country to seek work every year, with some 4 million workers currently living abroad.

Worldfocus contributing blogger Faisal Kapadia is a freelance writer living in Karachi, Pakistan, who blogs at “Deadpan Thoughts.

A few days ago at the petrol station, I was talking to a friend as the attendant filled my car about my recent visit to China via cell when the attendant timidly approached me. I looked at him quizzically as I had already forked over the cash for the petrol, and shut my phone.

“Sahab [Friend], have you come from abroad?”

“Jee I do visit outside Pakistan on occasion.”

“Sahab bus kisi tarah ham ko bhi yahan se nikalo na?” [“Friend, we can get out of here the same way, no?”]

I looked at him in disbelief, and wondered how I had suddenly risen in status in his eyes. Just because I had access to foreign shores, he somehow thought of me as a would-be savior who would employ him immediately and send him to heaven via the next flight out of here.

Which leads me to think as to whether we are a “failed state” as the international press and […] world leaders often describe us or a “failed generation”?

This mentality, I am afraid, is prevalent not only in our masses but in every class of this country where escape abroad seems to be the answer to all the problems faced here. True, life abroad does guarantee a far better economic and social reward for work — however, why do we not try to change our lot here rather than abroad is what baffles me about most people.

It seems every person of my age is afraid of asking questions. Self-censorship is the norm in Pakistan; whether we are forced to or not, we just don’t ask anymore — we prefer to run away or at most throw money at the problem till it goes away. If there is no electricity we whine about it on blogs and Twitter but we do not go to the nearby KESC [Karachi Electric Supply Company] center and question.

If the neighborhood is filled with sewage water we do not call up our locally elected representative and ask him why it has not been cleared. We prefer to remain in a vacuum of “not rocking the boat” so as to speak.

We do this at work at home and in life and then pretend to act as if the world and our country are against our existence. How many of us have gone up to the boss and asked why “Mr and Mrs” so and so got the increment and we did not? How many of us have actually tried to engage the political parties and leaders we keep insulting and ask them why so-and-so happened?

How many of us have tried asking for help in any form, a friendly analysis by someone you trust can also provide genuine insight into what a person might be doing wrong.

As for the gas station attendant, I duly explained to him how even if he manages to go to Dubai he will continue to pump gas for someone who might not even pay him every month, will keep his passport in his grasp blackmailing him at every opportunity and might even abuse him if he refuses with coercion ala local law. I suggested he try to educate himself in some way to raise his lot in life in his own country, rather than be a victim somewhere else. What I am trying to say is, for him education was the answer but there are answers for many of our problems also, the only way to get them is to ask questions about them.

To read more, see the original post.

The views expressed by contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.

Listen to our online radio show on failed states.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user NB77 under a Creative Commons license.

July 30, 2009
Israel not a “sucker” for Obama foreign policy

Worldfocus multimedia producer Ben Piven lived in Tel Aviv in 2007 and reported on Israel and the Palestinian territories. He writes about Israel’s criticisms of U.S. President Barack Obama’s foreign policy.

Beyond all else, the one thing that all visitors to the Holy Land recognize immediately is that queues don’t work properly. Israelis hate waiting in line.

In the queue for a spot on President Barack Obama’s world tour, Israel is towards the middle of the line, and this maddens many Israelis who are clamoring to be at the very front. Not only is Obama asking them to have savlanut (patience in Hebrew), he is also demanding that Israelis conform to the same rules that exist for other nations.

In the opinion piece “Why Obama Won’t Talk to Israel” in Monday’s New York Times, the editor-at-large of Israel’s center-left Haaretz newspaper strongly urged President Obama to deliver a speech directly to the Israeli people. Aluf Benn asserts that Obama’s major mistake has been putting Israel last in a long line of policy speeches directed at major international constituencies — including Arabs, Muslims, Iranians, Africans, Western Europeans, Eastern Europeans and Russians. Israelis argue that they deserve an Obama tour de force.

Obama consults with Shimon Peres on July 23, 2008.

Photo: Flickr user Barack Obama

Benn’s main point is that Israelis have not taken well to a geopolitical stature well-reduced from the coddling experienced during the Clinton and Bush administrations. He believes that Obama needs to re-elevate Israel in order to carry out viable Middle Eastern peacemaking.

At the moment, the subtleties of the Obama Doctrine clearly do not impress Israelis. Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu is careful never to allow his office or his country to be a freier, the uniquely Israeli term which best translates as “sucker.” The most important law of Israeli culture is not to be duped, rolled over or cajoled by unfair pressure. This entails always cutting in line, resisting shifty sales pitches and dodging authoritative directives.

Many Israelis do not see the Obama Doctrine as multilateral, balanced and pragmatic. According to the Pew Global Attitudes Survey, Israel is the only one of 25 countries surveyed where approval of the U.S. has declined since Obama took office six months ago.

Many of Obama’s speeches, including one given at Moscow’s New Economic School on July 7, have rung hollow with the Israeli public, where a right-leaning ideology now holds sway:

As I said in Cairo, given our interdependence, any world order that tries to elevate one nation or one group of people over an other will inevitably fail. The pursuit of power is no longer a zero-sum game – progress must be shared.

One proponent of the Obama Doctrine is Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund. He summarizes the nascent Obama school of foreign policy:

A world view guided by universal compliance with democratic norms and the rule of law; policies driven by the convergence of shared interests and responsibilities; and a statecraft that does not shirk from the application of military force when necessary but promotes America’s interests with respect for other nations and the strength of joint enterprise.

Many American conservatives, critical of Obama’s ambitious idealism and perceived naivete, have always lambasted the Obama Doctrine for ignoring important aspects of a truly robust foreign policy.

Obama has not even inspired the Israeli left to challenge Netanyahu’s ornery stance domestically. Moreover, a recent poll by the Jerusalem Post revealed that half of Israeli Jews believe Obama is more pro-Palestinian than pro-Israel. No surprises there.

Regardless, President Obama knows that relentless expansion of new settlements undermines the legitimacy of the Zionist enterprise. Rule of law in the territories is the bottom-line political issue that he wants to address. But as always, both sides employ hardball and scare tactics in trying to get the other side to budge.

Ultimately, Israel will implement a staged withdrawal of the nearly 100,000 settlers who live beyond the major settlement blocs. Most Israelis want to disengage completely from the 95 percent of the West Bank that will form the backbone of the Palestinian state. But unilateral moves don’t pay.

Concrete steps by Israel should be paired with tangible changes by the Arab world, most notably the normalization of diplomatic relations and long-term security guarantees. Israel inevitably will make major concessions: Sharing Jerusalem with the Palestinians, respecting permanent boundaries and ensuring a real solution to the refugee problem.

Obama’s campaign visits last year to Sderot to see rocket damage and Yad Vashem to learn about the Holocaust were not just PR moves. He felt supremely comfortable at the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site.

In the Times piece, Benn is fundamentally wrong about how much Obama cares about Israel’s interests. This week, a significant number of American VIPs, including George Mitchell, James Jones, and Dennis Ross are visiting Israel — as part of America’s “big hug” with the Jewish state. Moreover, in the Obama Doctrine, Israel’s long-term security and well-being are prioritized over minor damage to Israel’s feelings in the near term.

Obama, a frank and committed broker, has forced Israel from its arrogant perch. The American president will not be a pushover when it comes to cementing a tangible path towards peace. Israel must patiently wait in line for Obama’s visit to Tel Aviv. At the risk of derailing his vision for peace, Obama would be well-served to visit soon.

– Ben Piven

July 29, 2009
Iran’s abuses extend far beyond mistreating protesters

Religious minorities in Iran, including Christians, have been targeted.

For the past 15 years, Dwight Bashir has worked on international conflict, human rights and religious freedom issues. He is a senior advisor for an independent U.S. commission focusing on international religious freedom. The views expressed here are his own personal views.

The good news is that since the June 12 elections in Iran, much of the world has been exposed to the egregious human rights abuses committed by the Islamic Republic of Iran. The bad news is that we are witnessing the kinds of practices that have been carried out since the inception of the Islamic Republic some 30 years ago.

Yesterday, the Iranian government announced that it was releasing 140 detainees associated with the post-election protests only after reports surfaced that several prisoners had been beaten and tortured resulting in some deaths. Today, the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) announced that trials would begin next week for approximately 20 post-election protesters. Their crime? “Planning and carrying out sabotage.”

This kind of contrived charge exemplifies the fact that the Iranian government will crack down on any individual who does not fully espouse the repressive ideals of the Islamic Revolution or any individual or group who is a perceived threat to the legitimacy or continued existence of the regime.  This includes political dissidents, reformers, women’s rights activists, religious and ethnic minorities, to name only a few.

While it is vital that there continue to be a spotlight on the treatment of the post-election protesters and dissidents targeted by the regime, it is just as important that the same level of attention be given to those who have suffered a similar fate long before the elections took place.

Disfavored Muslims and non-Muslim religious minorities surely fit into this category.  Dissident Shiite clerics who seek reform or advocate a separation of religion and state have been targeted and imprisoned for years. Several members of the minority Sufi Nematollah Gonabadi Order have been in prison since last year without charge.

The largest and most persecuted non-Muslim minority in Iran are the Baha’is. At least 30 Baha’is are in prison solely because of their religious identity.  Seven Baha’i leaders have been held in the notorious Evin prison for more than a year now on unsubstantiated and baseless charges, two of which carry the death penalty.  Their trial could take place at any time, and if the past is any indication, they could be tried, convicted and sentenced on the same day.

Since March, two Iranian converts to Christianity have been held in Evin prison without charge.  The concern is that they will be charged with apostasy, a crime which can carry a death sentence in Iran. The list goes on and on.

On July 25, in more than 100 cities worldwide, thousands came together in a Global Day of Action to highlight and condemn the range of human rights abuses perpetrated by the Iranian government.  One of the objectives of the campaign is to encourage UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to send an official delegation to Iran to investigate postelection human rights violations in Iran. While dispatching an envoy is no doubt warranted, the Secretary General should ensure that any envoy’s mandate includes looking into violations committed against those targeted by the regime long before the June 12 elections.

In addition, the international community must step up its collective efforts to demonstrate that it will not tolerate such systematic human rights abuses by the Islamic Republic without repercussions, similar to the way it has taken a strong stance on Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

– Dwight Bashir

For more, view our Voices of Iran extended coverage page and listen to our online radio show on Baha’i faith and modern Iran.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user N_Creatures under a Creative Commons license.

Perspectives highlights the best of the blogosphere by cross-posting columns culled from a network of contributors. We cut through the noise of tens of millions of bloggers worldwide and bring you commentary from experts and voices on the ground.

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