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July 2, 2009
Keeping a watchful eye in a bustling Afghan city

The Taliban has strongholds in southern Afghanistan.

On Thursday, U.S. Marines launched a major offensive in Afghanistan’s volatile Helmand Province, in an effort to root out Taliban forces in southern strongholds.

Worldfocus contributing blogger Anup Kaphle is embedded with British and Canadian forces in Afghanistan. He chronicles his experience on the “Dispatches from Afghanistan” blog, and describes the climate in the capital of Helmand Province earlier this week.

When the world was mourning the death of Michael Jackson, I was heading to Lashkar Gah in a British army convoy from Camp Bastion.

Suicide bombers often target the security forces in Lashkar Gah. So the soldiers warn every driver on the street to slow down with hand signals and fire “mini flares” into the air. If that doesn’t work, a warning gun shot follows.

Over the last couple of days, I’ve gotten a glimpse of this busy little city. Locals usually give a thumbs-up and a smile as the troops patrol the city. But there are the usual frowns and suspicious stares on the faces of some locals. A kid who was barely six-years old held his thumbs up for a second, then gradually shifted it downwards and stuck his tongue out at one of the soldiers. Another kid screamed and threw a pear at us while we were driving by. As simple as it is, not everyone seemed to adore their guests.

But the biggest problem in Lashkar Gah is not the inconspicuous hatred from a few little kids. It’s the dish that the Taliban serve full time – deadly attacks. Every day during patrol, we heard about Taliban running over one of the police posts and killing ANP members. Soldiers told me about suicide bombers who drove their white Toyota sedans and motorcycles into ISAF and ANP vehicles in the busy bazaar. As one soldier put it to me, “You take your eyes off for one minute, and sh** is bound to happen.”

Driving down a busy market, it is hard to tell which one among the hundreds is waiting to meet his virgins in heaven. The troops make sure every single vehicle comes to a halt until the convoy drives past them. Gunners on top of the Landrovers have their fingers ready on the trigger just in case someone makes a move.

Knowing that someone could run into you and blow himself up is a scary thought. But it is that very fear that keeps me standing with my camera, next to the gunner the entire duration of patrol.

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 wil- under a Creative Commons license.

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July 1, 2009
Liberians get by selling coconuts, saving dollar by dollar

A Liberian boy tackles a coconut.

As the second half of 2009 begins, global stock markets have rebounded. But this may mask much of the pain still being felt around the world, as unemployment remains a huge problem.

Japan’s 5.2 percent unemployment rate is one of its highest since the end of World War II, while in Spain, unemployment has surged past 18 percent. But these figures pale in comparison to those in Liberia, where the vast majority of people — up to 85 percent — are unemployed.

Worldfocus contributing blogger Myles Estey is in Monrovia, Liberia, and describes how people get by without formal employment.

Gettin’ By

As the United States and Canada start to freak out that their unemployment rates approach the double digits, officially, Liberia’s unemployment rate remains, on paper, as 85 percent. Almost, but not quite, making it an inverse relationship.

The CIA Factbook uses this 85 percent stat, and I think everyone else cites it and throws it around like its an iron-clad stat. Its not.

While Liberia certainly lacks locations for official, regulated employment, that only 15 percent of the population works is an absurd assumption, and one that would be practically unattainable. While severe poverty is rampant, Liberians are not starving to death. Reason being, that as in any society where basic infrastructure has been destroyed, people find a way to get by.

They fill in the gaps of people’s needs, finding small ways to deliver goods and services to the population at large. ‘Git my hustle on,’ as many say.

In this hustle, profit margins are wafer thin. Full days of work often produce just a few dollars, which in turn often gets spread out to family and friends in need.

During my eight months of living here, and poking around at all levels of society, I still remain fascinated by the micro-economy. So, I have been collecting info about how many people manage to ‘get their daily bread’ – another ism. [I will] feature some of the professions that interest me the most. […]

Profession: Coconut Seller

Location: Roaming

How it works: Coconuts come to Monrovia packed into trucks and cars from villages all around the country. The outer husks have been hacked off with machetes, to reduce size and weight. Sellers are generally old women, who carry up to 25 or 30 on their head (which is psycho heavy), or young men who can carry up to 80 in wheelbarrows.

Every seller carries a machete, allowing them to split the coconuts for anyone who stops them as they walk through the streets. They wait patiently as buyers drink, split the coconut to access the meat, take the empty shell, and move on.

Cash: Street sellers buy them wholesale for around $10 LD ($0.14 US), or ‘2 for 15’ [$LD] at spots around the city. Coconuts generally retail for $20 LD. Meaning that to make a dollar, 7 coconuts must be sold – roughly 15 pounds of weight.

Variables and Dangers: Insanely sore neck, machete wounds.

Net Profit: For female sellers, they rarely earn $ 5 US /load. Some will take more than one load per day, but it is rare, as they often have families to tend to, and business can be slow.

Wheelbarrow men can earn over $10 US/day, but this kind of profit demands a 10 hour day.

Point of Reference:
used T-shirt sold on the street costs $ 1 – 3 US

To read more job profiles, follow Myles Estey’s blog.

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

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

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June 29, 2009
Argentina’s ruling party loses control in Congress

Voters headed to the polls in Argentina.

Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner suffered a setback in congressional elections on Sunday, with her Peronist party losing control of both houses.

She and her husband — former President Nestor Kirchner, who lost a bid for a congressional seat — have dominated Argentina’s political landscape for years. But a sagging economy and ongoing battles with farmers over export taxes have taken their toll on Kirchner’s approval rating.

For more, listen to our online radio show on Argentina’s farming crisis.

Oliver Balch is a freelance journalist based in Argentina. He writes at the “Frontline Club” about the implications of the election results.

Kirchners On the Ropes

I waited and waited and waited last night for Argentine strong-man Nestor Kirchner to speak. Just after midnight, I joined the general flow of people towards the door. All was quiet at campaign HQ. That boded ill for the country’s ruling party. Things, obviously, had not gone well at the mid-term polls.

The scene couldn’t have been more different from two years ago. In the same conference hall in the same Buenos Aires hotel, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (Nestor’s wife) had waved to the cameras and blown kisses to the millions who had voted for her.

The popularity of Argentina’s first elected female president (known simply by her first name, ‘Cristina’) has plummeted since that triumphant night in 2007. A protracted conflict with the country’s all-powerful rural bloc last year cost her dearly. She’s never really bounced back.

Yesterday’s mid-term was her chance to turn that around and breath new life into the “K Model” of politics. It didn’t happen that way. A centre-right coalition headed by dissident Peronist Francisco de Narvaez and backed by the business tycoon Mauricio Macri (former chairman of Boca Juniors) pipped the Kirchners to the post.

Analysts are busily assessing what the result means. One thing is clear. This is good for Argentine democracy. Congress has become an increasingly lame dog under the Kirchner reign, which began with Nestor’s election in 2003. Both enjoyed a parliamentary majority in the Lower House. Now that’s gone.

Logic would suppose that they will need to tone down their centrist presidential style and seek to rebuild alliances in Congress. But logic and politics are uneasy bedfellows, especially in Argentina. The new deputies elected yesterday won’t sit until December (the midterms were brought forward from October to July 28). A deluge of policies could feasibly be pushed through between now and then.

The worst case scenario would be that the Kirchners refuse to take the parliamentary route. With strong support among the ‘social classes’, as Argentina’s disenfranchised are called here, they could seek to rule through the street. It would be the first time. Argentine political activists like nothing better than a march or strike. The electorate might have shown a disgruntlement with the Kirchners, but the unions remain behind them. It’s amazing how much trouble transport workers can make if they decide to down tools (or, worse, block roads).

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 blmurch under a Creative Commons license.

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June 25, 2009
Haitians in Dominican Republic face racism, discrimination

Many Haitians migrate to the Dominican Republic for employment and are subsequently subjected to discrimination.

Up to one million people of Haitian origin currently live in the Dominican Republic, and many are subjected to discrimination and violence.

Many impoverished Haitians cross the border into the Dominican Republic looking for arable land, fuel and work. Often, they face racial prejudice and their Dominican-born children are refused citizenship because they are considered “in transit.” These children are left stateless.

In May of this year, a Haitian migrant was beheaded in the Dominican Republic. The incident sparked renewed outrage over treatment of Haitians in the country. Roger Leduc of “Upside Down World,” a Worldfocus contributor, describes the escalating human rights concerns.

Recent incidents involving Haitian workers in the Dominican Republic should alert even the most jaded observers that an already very serious human rights problem is getting worse.

A confluence of factors — a rapid succession of executions in the last few months, arrogance and defiance from Dominican government officials, institutions and citizenry vis-a-vis the plight of Haitian workers, the shameful indifference of the Haitian government, and the relatively superior economic and military position of the Dominican Republic — has created a pre-genocidal atmosphere that raises the specter of the 1937 mass murder of tens of thousands of Haitian immigrants.

What is alarming about these events is the rapidity, spontaneity, anger and brutality with which Dominican mobs react to rumored misdeeds of Haitians. This points to a deep well of prejudice and hatred, fed by a negative, stereotyped view of Haitians. It also denotes the distorted self-image and misconceptions some Dominicans have about their cultural and racial differences with their island brothers. Some of these opinions are typical anti-immigrant resentments: Haitians are stealing jobs, depressing the price of labor, etc.. Other sentiments, evoking fears of the proverbial “barbarians at the gates” and of Haitians changing the DR’s supposedly European and Christian culture, stem from century-old events and a misunderstood history. They are emotional and even visceral – and therefore more explosive and dangerous. Haitians are considered as the “enemy” who deserve their lot and who should be punished whenever Dominicans deem it appropriate.

Dominican government pronouncements feed this xenophobia. They not only deny any mistreatment of Haitians but accuse Haitians of fomenting violence. Haitians, they say, should then be thankful that Dominicans, more than any other nation, give them aid and succor, a Dominican version of Rudyard Kipling’s “white man’s burden.”

In 2005, the Dominican government reacted rabidly to the decision of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that children born to Haitian parents in the Dominican Republic should be given full citizenship rights as Dominican law prescribes. It claimed that there was an international conspiracy against the Dominican Republic. Similarly, Haitian Prime Minister Michelle Pierre-Louis’ mild protest over Nérilus’ decapitation received vigorous rebukes from both President Leonel Fernandez and the archbishop —  the DR’s putative moral leaders. The Dominican police and judicial authorities are not only conspicuously silent but also take part in massive abuse and repression.

One of the reactions to Pierre-Louis’ whiny protest was that she should have toed the line set by President René Préval, who refused to denounce the beheading and stated that the case should be left to the Dominican authorities. There could be no better signal to Dominicans that they can do as they please with Haitians. […]

Many petit-bourgeois Haitians ignore the plight of Haitian sugarcane cutters, who come from either the poor peasantry or the slums. In the feudal caste system in Haiti, such working-class people are considered disposable sub-humans. Some well-to-do Haitians are proud to trumpet how often they go on vacation in the Dominican Republic and spend their money, oblivious to the abject situation of our compatriots and enthralled by the great “development” of our neighbor. Haiti’s moneyed class feels no remorse in taking profits reaped in Haiti and investing them in the DR, claiming that the situation is too unstable at home — an instability and precariousness many of them helped create.

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 elmarto under a Creative Commons license.

For more Worldfocus coverage of Haiti, visit our extended coverage page: Haiti’s Poor.

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June 24, 2009
In Afghanistan’s small towns, Canada rebuilds

An Afghani local works on the solar-powered streetlights built on the main road. Photo: Anup Kaphle

Anup Kaphle is embedded with British and Canadian forces in Afghanistan. He is reporting for Atlantic magazine, and is chronicling his experience on the “Dispatches from Afghanistan” blog. He describes local reconstruction efforts.

Listen to our webcast discussion on Canada’s role in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan’s fate would sound much like one of Aesop’s fables to someone who has been aloof from the horrors the country has been through in the last three decades. The country has been a playground for wars and left in a rubble every time it tries to pick up the shards from a gruesome conflict.

But as the United States prepares to ramp up its fight against the Taliban and al Qaeda, its neighbor to the north is utilizing their chance to stop kicking the doors and start focusing on rebuilding and challenging the local Afghans to rebuild their country, one community at a time.

A few of the most vibrant examples of Canada’s six stated priorities – mentoring security forces, basic services, humanitarian services, democratic development, political reconciliation and border security – can be witnessed in a small town of Dey-E-Bagh in Dand district, a few miles south of Kandahar.

Residents of this little town now have a few solar-paneled streetlights, new roads, small concrete buildings and a revamped irrigation system for their crops – all made possible by the Canadian dollars, technical assistance and major security enforcement. The plan is to provide as much of such assistance to the local communities so that they can rebuild themselves under the security of Canadian forces. That is hoped to push back the influx of Taliban into these towns from where they launch frequent attacks on NATO forces.

But the questions that quickly comes to mind are – What will the villagers do once the Canadians leave Afghanistan? How soon until the Taliban comes back into these villages, destroys the streetlights and irrigation system and executes the villagers for siding with their enemies? Whether these questions have been taken into consideration, no one knows. For now, it might be worth to notice the smiles on the faces of Deh-E-Bagh residents, happy about the new resources underway and menace from the Taliban far away.

The Canadians have plans to expand these kind of programs into broader communities in Kandahar province. And they have the support of the big guy in the province, Tooryalai Wesa, Kandahar’s governor since last December, and a man who himself spent over a decade in Canada.

At least in one town, it is encouraging to witness that the soldiers are no longer considering kicking doors and pointing guns at the local Afghans. However, given Taliban’s fanaticism for terror and the Canadian forces’ uncertainty to long-term commitment, Deh-E-Bagh could very likely end up being a new chapter in Aesop’s fables.

– Anup Kaphle

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June 24, 2009
Sino-Indian border dispute bogs down Asian economies

During the recent economic downturn, many have heralded the accelerated rise of the Asian giants — India and China — while others have expressed skepticism about the ascendancy of these non-Western powers.

At the same time, renewed fears of a Sino-Indian confrontation have surfaced, especially in the disputed Kashmir region. Kashmir is a lingering reminder of the painful partition that India and Pakistan experienced in 1947.

Pangong Tso is a lake divided between India and China. Photo: Luv Puri

Luv Puri is a journalist who has reported on the Jammu and Kashmir conflict from both sides of the Line of Control for The Hindu newspaper. He comments on Sino-Indian border tensions.

China and India have often been portrayed as the major drivers of the future. Ties between the two Asian giants have deep historical roots, and in the recent economic meltdown each has proved its economic worth.

But quite apart from grand economic plans and new global alignments, a different reality is taking shape in both India and China (which are both nuclear-armed). The Chinese and Indian strategic communities are stoking fears about each other, which may hold back economic success by diverting state resources to perceived military threats.

Both countries have demonstrated their resilience and self-reliance. These two countries constitute the bulk of the increasingly powerful BRIC group (Brazil, Russia, India and China). The BRIC heads of state met recently in Russia, indicating their rising ambition to leverage their enhanced economic clout and influence geopolitics.

But in May, India sent three army divisions — 60,000 soldiers — to its northeastern border with China. India is also strengthening its presence along the Chinese border, in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir. Last November, India decided to reactivate an important air strip last used in the 1962 Indo-China war. Indian military officers described this as an attempt to “match” the Chinese.

In December 2007, Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony visited the Indo-China border and stated that he would “vigorously” pursue steps to develop the frontier areas. He said, “It is an eye-opener for me. There is no comparison between the two sides. Infrastructure on the Chinese side is far superior. They have gone far in developing their infrastructure.”

The Chinese swear that they have no evil designs against India, and that their policy is defined by the desire for peaceful co-existence. In Ladakh, Chinese officials stated that the main purpose of building a major road was to improve transport and communication within its territory, as the area connects the Chinese states of Tibet and Xinjiang. An editorial in the China-based “Global Times” stated:

India’s current course can only lead to a rivalry between the two countries. India needs to consider whether or not it can afford the consequences of a potential confrontation with China.

Indian soldiers in Ladakh next to the Line of Actual Control. Photo: Luv Puri

China and India are still embroiled in the same boundary dispute that set off the war between the two countries in 1962. The two countries share a border of more than 2200 miles, but ever since the war, they have followed a policy of non-confrontation. High-level diplomatic ties were restored with Indian Prime Minister’s Rajiv Gandhi visit to China in 1988.

However, other thorny issues between the two countries remain intractable. China claims ownership over the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh and refers to the area as part of south Tibet. While India describes Arunachal as integral to its territorial sovereignty, China rationalizes its claim by emphasizing the Sino-Tibetan ethnic origins of the people there.

The Sino-Indian Joint Working Group (JWG) was formed in 2003 to resolve the various issues relating to the border disputes, but little progress has been seen.

Trade between the two countries has increased exponentially over the years. Last year, trade grew by 33 percent. But if the Asian economic miracle is truly going to materialize, the two countries will have to manage their border disputes and geo-strategic insecurities.

– Luv Puri

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June 24, 2009
Pakistanis run into roadblocks in attempts to get visas

For many, getting a travel visa is almost impossible.

For many travelers, obtaining a visa can be a frustrating experience marred by a variety of restrictions. A criminal record, even for minor crimes, can halt an application process. Countries like China and the United States ban H.I.V.-positive visitors.

Every year about 10,000 Pakistanis are granted student visas to Britain, while up to 20 times as many are rejected. Large scale rejections such as these are also due to fear of fraudulent applications by would-be illegal immigrants and terrorists.

Worldfocus contributing blogger Faisal Kapadia is a freelance writer living in Pakistan. He writes at “Deadpan Thoughts” about the difficulties faced by Pakistanis hoping to qualify for travel visas.

Summer has arrived in Pakistan, and with the advent of the hot blazing sunshine the exodus has begun. No, I do not mean people fleeing for good to azure shores or our politicians who seems to be able to invent any excuse to speak to the concierge at St Regis in D.C. — I mean us ordinary folks going on perhaps a hard-earned summer vacation, or the students who are applying for entry into foreign lands.

All of these poor sods have one thing in common; all of them require a “visa” to give them temporary status as a visitor in the foreign land of their choice. Sounds simple enough? Fill out a few forms attach a photo or two and send it of to the nearest embassy of your choice? Well, it is — for a citizen of any other country except for those with the dreaded green passport. Do not take this scribe’s word at face value; just look at the face of the immigration official when you hand him your passport on your next travel abroad.

The embassies we apply to must have a ball of a time devising the various hurdles that any visa application process for a Pakistani involves, as some of them require pictures with white backgrounds, some of the chin turned left, some without any form of covering or hijab, some with no beards and what not.

It’s come to a point where if you go to a photo center for getting your visa pics done, you find the oddest accessories suggested to “ensure” a smooth application. Most places have clip on ties and the photographer shouts things like “sit up” and to my amazement at the last visit a “do not smile.”

[…] Which brings me to the question, why do we subject ourselves to all this in the first place? Is it because there are no institutions of higher learning available in Pakistan for us to study in or that there is nowhere in Pakistan one can take a vacation to? Personally, I think it is time we showed our “allied” friends something resembling a cold shoulder if they continue to harass us in the myriad of ways described above.

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 photobunny under a Creative Commons license.

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June 23, 2009
With ping-pong and puns, soldiers stay sane in Afghanistan

Anup Kaphle is embedded with British and Canadian forces in Afghanistan. He is reporting for Atlantic magazine, and is chronicling his experience on the “Dispatches from Afghanistan” blog. He describes how soldiers stay sane on a military base in Kandahar.

British and Canadian soldiers meet with their Afghan counterparts.

The marine brushing his teeth at the basin next to me was carrying his M-16 cross chest on his back. The gun stared right at my limbs. I rinsed my face and as I looked up, another soldier appeared to my right. He raised his arm to brush his teeth and his revolver peeked out of the case under his arm. I thought to myself, Where else in the world could I be rinsing my face in the presence of two no-bulls**t guys armed with weapons, and still be able to get out alive?

Call me stupid, but I might very well be on the safest place on earth right now.

At the base, it’s easy to witness a life far from the war. Sure, there are faces overrun by emotions — some who’ve lost their friends, some who’d just landed in a bizarre desert so far from home and some who’d seen it all and were ready to face it all. But these same fingers that are ready to pull the trigger are also seen scrolling their iPods, playing fussball, holding a non-alcoholic Beck’s or even swinging away their guitars.

Like any other profession, the soldiers here make it clear that to produce results, you have to stay sane. If anything is different, it’s how they choose to absorb that sanity.

My personal favorites are the bathroom doors. It almost seems like the first person updates their Facebook status and a serpent of comments follow it. The one that immediately comes to mind is from this morning. Someone started, “Chuck Norris is a coward.” Here is what followed:

[…]When Chuck does a push up, he doesn’t push himself up, he pushes the world down.

When the soldiers are not chatting about Chuck Norris in the “ablution room,” they go to one of the refreshment houses — and most member countries have one of these club-like lounges for their troops, where you can get everything from a haircut to a non-alcoholic beer to a ping pong table. The other lively place is known as the “Board Walk,” a mini version of a stadium, built with wooden planks. Inside, local Afghanis set up shops to sell paintings, arts and crafts.

But the best entertainment for some of these soldiers is us, the journalists. I could hardly claim a good sense of humor, but some of the Canadian journalists down here are hilarious. Immediately after finishing a briefing today, where we were told that the Afghan National Army and the Security Forces had a successful operation in Salavat, a fellow journalist offered a tactic to lure the Taliban next time around.

“Call the pizza place and tell them to deliver it to the Talibans,” he said. “We could call them Pie-EDs.”

– Anup Kaphle

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

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June 22, 2009
Kenya undecided as Somalia pleads for assistance

Fighting in Somalia is prompting large numbers of civilians to flee into Kenya. Photo: IRIN

Somalia’s president has declared a state of emergency following weeks of intense fighting between Islamic militants and pro-government forces. Over the weekend, the government requested foreign troops from neighboring countries to help stabilize the troubled nation.

Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed has blamed al-Shabab, a radical Islamist group with alleged ties to al-Qaeda, for the surge in violence. Control over the failed state is split between many groups.

The nation has had no effective government since 1991, and one third of the population requires food aid. Read more: Q&A: Answers to lawlessness in Somalia.

Michael Keating is the senior fellow and associate director at the Center for Democracy and Development at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. He writes at Worldfocus contributor World Politics Review about Kenya’s response to the Somali government’s request for intervention.

As the world was riveted to the events in Iran last week, the beleaguered government of Somalia put out an S.O.S. for international military support in its deteriorating fight against al Shabab guerrillas and other radical opposition forces. Thus far, only Kenyan government officials have publicly responded with threats of military intervention.

But there remains the possibility that troops from Ethiopia, Djibouti, the Sudan and Uganda might be deployed in a combined warmaking/peacekeeping operation under the banner of the African Union and other international and regional organizations. More than 5,000 peacekeepers from Uganda and Burundi are currently deployed to protect government operations in and around Mogadishu, but in recent days they have been targeted by anti-government militants who refuse to recognize their neutral status.

The response from Kenya seems to suggest that the profile of the intervention would shift from peacekeeping to combat operations against al Shabab. In response, a spokesman for al Shabab said that any foreign troops “would be sent home in coffins.”

Kenya has many reasons to try to deal with the chaos on its border. The primary one is al Shabab’s close ties with al-Qaida, which put Kenya in the crosshairs of international jihadists. Both the U.S. embassy bombing in Nairobi in 1998 as well as the subsequent Paradise Hotel bombing in Kikambala were coordinated by al-Qaida-backed operatives coming across Kenya’s long and virtually unpoliced border with Somalia. Kenya also has problems with its own homegrown militants, many of whom train and get both financing and weapons from Somali brethren.

Another reason for Kenyan concern is the rapid increase in recent weeks in the number of Internally Displaced Persons arriving at border towns along the Kenya-Ethiopia border. There are already 160,000 Somali refugees in the Dadaab camps on the Kenyan side of the border, most of whom have been living there since the early 1990s.

[…]This is a developing situation that the Europeans and Americans should pay careful attention to. The recent “World War” in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in which troops from multiple foreign countries ran riot for several years in the name of stabilization, led to millions of civilian deaths. Somalia has far fewer riches than the Congo to plunder, but no matter what happens, civilians are likely to bear the brunt of the fighting. And any survey of Somali history suggests that nothing radicalizes the population like an invasion of foreigners.

To read more, see the original post.

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

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June 19, 2009
Pakistan offensive nears end; refugee crisis just beginning

The number of displaced people in Pakistan has swelled and stretched the country’s resources.

Pakistan’s military offensive against Taliban militants in the Swat Valley is nearly over, according to the country’s defense minister.

However, the offensive has had enormous humanitarian costs, with more than 2 million people displaced as a result of conflict this year. The defense minister claims they will be able to start returning home on Saturday.

As people around the globe prepare for World Refugee Day on Saturday, a Worldfocus contributing blogger writes about Pakistan’s growing refugee crisis.

Nadia Tariq Ali works with The Asia Foundation in Pakistan and says that a failure to address Pakistan’s refugee situation could undermine any gains made in security.

United Nations officials have described the recent displacement of Pakistanis as the biggest humanitarian crisis since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. It is also the largest dislocation of people in the region since the partition of the South Asian subcontinent in 1947 and, arguably, the worst crisis facing Pakistan since Bangladesh separated from Pakistan in 1971.

The IDP problem in Pakistan is […]growing. The military offensive uprooted millions of people from three northwestern districts. As the offensive gained strength and people fled their homes for safety, the Pakistani government seemed unprepared for the crisis. Initially, no refugee camps existed, so many people went to the homes of their relatives and friends in other cities. However, in subsequent days, tens of thousands of people have gone to the special sites established for the IDPs in Mardan, Swabi, and Peshawar. Unfortunately, these facilities lacked even the most basic amenities of life: food, proper sanitation, and health facilities. The disruption of normal life has affected displaced persons psychologically, economically, socially, and emotionally. Women and girls face an extra risk of sexual and gender-based violence like rape, forced impregnation, forced abortion, trafficking, and sexual slavery in most internal displacement situations.

The international response to the situation leaves much to be desired. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, the United Nations and humanitarian agencies have issued an appeal for $543 million. As of June 12, only 22 percent of the appeal has been funded. If more money does not come through soon, the dire IDP situation will be compounded.

[…]Focusing on longer-term reconstruction and recovery through economic and social empowerment will help people move forward and rebuild their lives. Pakistan, after all, is not only fighting for its own survival but also for greater regional stability and security, which could face serious setbacks if the displacement issue is not adequately addressed.

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 Al Jazeera English under a Creative Commons license.

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