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Editors ́ Picks

The Kabul Process for peace in the Af-Pak region

Afghanistan and Pakistan are two victims of terrorism that has killed scores of people in both countries yet the two remain suspicious of each other, remain miles apart from collaborating to fight this menace, and ultimately providing the forces of evil to continue causing havoc.

This week, the Afghan government has launched ‘Kabul Process’ in a bid to reach out to regional neighbours and the wider international community to secure their support to end the war in the country. Unveiling the plans at a meeting in Kabul with western diplomats, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said the Kabul Process aims to secure support for an agreement to end support for cross-border terrorism. He quoted renowned Pakistani poet Iqbal, who said ‘when Afghanistan is in discord, Asia is in discord. When Afghanistan is in accord, Asia is in accord.’

There is a high need to back this process to end the suffering of people in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Islamabad government’s official estimates suggest the conflict has claimed thousands of lives besides inflicting financial losses worth millions of dollars in the tribal belt along Afghanistan alone. The country’s parliament was informed last month that as a result of the conflict, a total of 5,740 people lost their lives over the past six years, of which 5,332 were civilians.

In Afghanistan, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in its annual report earlier this year that the civilians again bore the brunt of violence in Afghanistan in 2016 that saw a large number of children among the 3,498 dead. The report documented 11,418 conflict-related civilian casualties, including 3,498 people killed and 7,920 injured in 2016. Of these, 3,512 were children — 923 dead and 2,589 injured, up by 24 percent from the previous highest-ever recorded figure.

The conflict-related violence exacted a heavy toll on in the country, with an overall deterioration in civilian protection and the highest-total civilian casualties recorded since 2009, when the UN mission began systematic documentation of casualties, it said.

These losses of lives need to stop sooner than later, and it should top the priority of all the regional and international political forces with any clout over Kabul and Islamabad.

Nothing to see here

Just a bunch of billionaires huddled around a glowing orb. Nothing to see here, folks. Go about your business. 

Politics has been edging towards the comical for years now – with larger-than-life villains like Bin Laden, superheroes like Obama, and the oddball outsider like Donald Trump taking power for himself – but never has politics looked so much like a comic book. Just look at this photo from Trump’s meeting with the Egyptian president and the Saudi king from over the weekend. I mean, their hands are literally on  glowing orb in a darkened room – cronies and dark faces hang around in the back to give us that ultra-evil front-cover look: INTERNATIONAL SUPERVILLAINS UNITE! WHO WILL TAKE THEM DOWN? WHERE IS OBAMA NOW?

Off jet-skiing on Mars with Elon Musk probably. The problems for us in this are manifold. Namely – superheroes don’t exist, but super problems do. It’s tempting to buy-in to this kind of image, and believe that if only we toppled this international organisation of crooks and liars, we’d be set. But the truth is, the problems go deeper than a gang of unstable leaders like Trump and Putin. The truth is much more complex. 

Life on earth is not guaranteed for humans. The planet is changing – we’re not doing enough to respond to these changes. People are dying because of our failure to act. 

And what’s more – these problems of climate change, migration, food and water scarcity, and conflicts will only accelerate. We will only have more supervillains in power as people look to strongmen to deal with these problems. But we have to deal with these problems ourselves. Not wait for the superhero to come along in cape and underpants, and pull us from the burning building. 

Ebola outbreak new litmus test for global preparedness to emerging threats

 

The recent outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of Congo has rekindled somber memories of a pandemic that struck West African countries three years ago, infecting more than 28000 and killing over 11,300 people. It is an outbreak that jolted the world to action, as scenes of emaciated and pain struck patients visiting understaffed and ill equipped hospitals in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea were broadcast world over.

But it is the reaction by key world health bodies that sparked outrage and criticism and now call for a re think with the latest outbreak. When the pandemic struck Guinea in 2014, humanitarian organization Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) being at the front line of providing care for Ebola patients was the first to raise the red flag announcing that the epidemic had spiraled out of control and the organization needed further assistance to contain it. It took four months and more than 1800 deaths for institutions like the World Health Organization to declare the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern therefore calling on global coordinated response.

While certain discourses argue that the United Nations’ body has been selective in how it responds to outbreaks and pandemics depending on where they first strike, the lessons of 2014 have obviously offered the body vital lessons, seeing it has been quick in keeping its pulse on the recent DR Congo outbreak where at least three people have been confirmed dead. But it now calls for a re think of how the world handles emerging and traditional pandemics that have defied conventional medicine. With the world increasingly becoming one global village, disease transmissions have become a matter of when and not if with a case reported in a village in Africa, being spotted somewhere in South America within hours. The World Health Assembly, the decision making organ of WHO meets in Geneva on May 23 and the meet couldn’t have come at a better time. It is our hope that this recent Ebola flare up will form a key agenda of the forum if WHO is to prove to the world its level of preparedness and the firmness it intends to handle emerging global pandemics, if it is to save face.

But Congo’s management and coordinated response to Ebola, since it was discovered in the country in 1976 should also offer the world vital lessons on how to battle deadly contagions. The current outbreak is the eighth. But while West Africa was reporting 11,000 deaths in 2014, Congo had managed to tame the spread to 49. Congo has workers at all times on standby and on lookout for suspicious symptoms among locals in their areas which they then alert officials at the national level. Local communities and leaders are also frequently trained on safe burial procedures and how to work with health authorities especially because Ebola is most contagious in the hours following a death. While the country might not have enough resources to handle a pandemic of such epidemic proportions, its smooth coordination between local leaders, national authorities and the outside should be replicated if we are to address the most important aspect of fighting a pandemic; detection.

Moroccan porters: human rights violations on Europe’s southern borde

The southernmost frontiers of Europe, those separating Morocco from the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla are best known for their shameful fences that aim to prevent sub-Saharan migrants entering Europe. This isn’t, however, the only human rights violations committed in the area.

The recent death of two „porters“, Moroccan women who transport large volumes of goods between Morocco and the Spanish autonomous cities, has drawn attention to the humiliating condition in which they work. The situation has been denounced by several organisations working in the area, such as the Pro Human Rights Association of Andalusia (APDHA). Apart from labour exploitation, these women are subjected to daily verbal violence and degrading treatment from police forces on both sides of the border.

In total, about 7,000 women carry heavy loads of goods (between 60 and 90 kilograms) for hours, earning a very low commission for their hardship. Under the impunity of an unregulated trade (which generates about € 1 billion per year), they jeopardise their physical wellbeing and at the same time are regularly threatened by violence from officials representing authorities.

The shocking absence of action from Morocco, Spain and the European Union has exacerbated this largely ignored issue. Therefore, urgent must be taken in order to prevent the continuation of such outrageous human rights violations.

Photo: Sumita Roy Dutta

Richard Spencer: Neonazi

I’ve often thought how much worse it is, both morally and intellectually, to be a neo-Nazi than have been a Nazi historically. A bold statement perhaps, but my reasoning has often run thus: To be a part of the historical Nazi party meant to have supported a fascist regime, but it is debatable whether everyday people knew the extent of that regime’s crimes; Secondly, there was also pressure, social and otherwise, to join this party. Neo-Nazis on the other hand, are well aware of the holocaust, and yet still propound this belief; Secondly, there is absolutely no pressure, social or otherwise, to be a Neo-Nazi. 

Obviously this kind of reasoning is flawed – I’m suspicious of the first idea, in that I’m not sure it’s possible or OK to separate a political regime’s actions from its supporters – but there is the need to understand people on the everyday level, and people often do not know entirely what they are supporting. Do we? 

However, as a general rule of thinking, I believe the two statements demonstrate the difference between the historical Nazis and Neo-Nazis. What’s more infuriating is a Neo-Nazi holocaust denier (the two aren’t always the same), since you can bet your life the only reason the Neo-Nazi supports the historical Nazis and glorifies Hitler and his band of chumps, is because of the holocaust. 

So, to segue to Richard Spencer, a full-blown, puffed-up, intellectual minnow of a Neo-Nazi. He insists he’s not – he’s alt-right, or whatever, but calling a spade a spade, he’s a Neo-Nazi. He shows up wherever there is a hint of an identity discussion, arguing against Mongol hoards and benighted Africans, and oh how the white race will be wiped from the earth unless it procreates with nuclear weapons and all women do a ritual sex dance to his sexual prowess. This wouldn’t be a problem on its own – there are a lot of cranks in the world. But the fact is, he stokes people up, and transforms their issue into his own. He is a predator and turning the US back a hundred years.

Look at this protest in Virginia. People are protesting the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. Now, chances are if you protest that kind of thing, you have racist leanings anyway, but also possibly not – the case can be legitimately argued that the statue should remain, and everyone should be made aware of a difficult and painful history. However, Spencer descended on the rally to hand people torches, in the spirit of the KKK, and then later claimed that this protest had no resemblance to a white-supremacist movement. It’s the old trick right? Saying the holocaust didn’t happen, and then supporting a movement because of the holocaust. Or doing a big old Nazi bonfire and then saying the bonfire is not about that. 

He is a coward, and transforming American right-wing politics using underhanded and slimy means. But such is his mind and aims that we can expect American politics to begin to look a lot like fascism used to, even if it doesn’t believe what fascism did, sooner than we thought. 

Pakistan announces “stick & carrot” policy for Afghan refugees

A refugee person — in spite of all the reasons behind his or her refuge, remains an uprooted and dejected soul that remains reliant on the host society to a large extent.

It has been almost four decades since the first wave of hundreds of thousands of Afghans fled their country due to the Soviet invasion in the late 1970s. It was followed by even more war-weary refugees during the Taliban regime, and then during the civil war in the 1990s. And, for many Pakistan was a natural choice due to the geographical proximity, historical and cultural ties.

For those who do not remember this ordeal, they can very easily compare the state of the Syrian refugees with the Afghans. The policies of many host countries in the West and the Muslim world for that matter, kept the needy Syrians at bay, and it caught the media attention. But, as an old news story, not much attention is paid to the state of Afghan refugees facing constant persecution.

This week, the government of Pakistan announced a „stick-and-carrot“ policy for around a million undocumented Afghan refugees. The policy — announced by the Ministry of States and Frontier regions — has apparently given a legal cover to the country’s security forces to „harass“ refugees who lack documentation. „There is an offer for the Afghan nationals in the deal […] this is a carrot-and-stick approach. If Afghan nationals get themselves registered, they will not be harassed by police,“ Lt Gen (rtd) Abdul Qadir Baloch, the federal minister for states and frontier regions was quoted as saying by local broadcaster Dawn News on Thursday.

The growing persecution has already forced up to a million refugees to flee back to their conflict-riddled country. The Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a report on alleged forced returns of Afghan refugees, has urged Islamabad to avoid recreating conditions in 2017 that coerced the involuntary return of refugees to Afghanistan in 2016.

Chibok girls quid pro quo arrangement cause for concern

In one of the most groundbreaking developments for an event that shook the entire world three years ago, 82 of the 300 girls kidnapped by the Islamic militants, Boko Haram, in a nondescript village in North eastern Nigeria were recently released in a swap deal that according to reports also saw six suspected militants that had been captured by the Nigerian authorities released.

The exchange, ignited hope of recovering the remaining girls, christened Chibok girls after the village they were captured from, at a time when the global voices and viral hashtags like #bringbackourgirls that brought the world together in 2014 to exert pressure on the world leaders to do more to secure the release of the girls, had hushed and given up.

Scenes on television of mothers overwhelmed by emotions as they reunited with their children once again sparked global furore and outcry on the world’s inability to tame what threatens to mutate to a full-scale catastrophe. Having to some extent been neutralized, the terror group has devised ways to send a message in the most chilling ways ever including strapping bombs on young girls and children some as young as seven years and sending them in crowded places like internally displaced people’s camps and markets. The damage has been collateral and their messages loud and clear.

While opinion is still sharply divided on the recent swap deal and whether it entails negotiating with a terror group, which critics have argued defeats the whole war on terror, it is a welcome relief to families and a flicker of hope to the remaining girls. However, it calls on unity of purpose in tackling some of the most lethal terror groups in the land who resort to the most brazen tactics in their hour of desperation. Intelligence reports now indicate that these groups are shifting from kidnapping poor locals to foreigners as they look to replenish their dwindling coffers and stay in business. This now more than ever call for a more serious and perspicacious modus operandi by community of nations if the world is keen on stopping a repeat of the Chibok girls’ ordeal.

A disintegrating Europe

In the aftermath of the French elections, headlines on the most prominent newspapers across Europe showed – once again – relief for another „defeat of radicalism and populism“. Reactions were similar to those following the recent elections in Austria or the Netherlands, which experienced similar ‘close scares’ as far right wing, Eurosceptic parties finished as the second most voted parties.

The defeat of Marine Le Pen has avoided an irreparable blow to the EU. Today, May 9th, when Europe Day is also celebrated, the leaders of Brussels are relieved and grateful for the „breathing space“ allowed from centrist and pro-EU Macron’s resounding victory. But it does not yet represent a definitive setback to nationalist movements that continue flourishing throughout Europe.

In the year that marks the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, the European project is more than ever in decline. The British vote supporting “Brexit” is the most visible face of the disaster that spans the European project, also evident in the growth of nationalist parties that reject the authority of Brussels and defend the return of borders and protectionism.

The desire for sovereignty runs particularly in the countries most affected by the economic crisis, which saw the EU undemocratically imposing its neoliberal agenda, leaving the most underprivileged citizens helpless. The breakdown of the Union is, thus, the result of its own inability to deal with the financial crisis.

It is, therefore, misleading to think that Macron’s victory has buried Euro-scepticism. On the contrary, the leader of the „En Marche!“ movement largely endorses policies that have led to the downfall of the EU, fostering the flourishing of ultra-nationalist parties.

 

In order to continue celebrating Europe Day in the coming decades, the EU must address some key burning issues which it is has largely overlooked; namely to put solidarity, social justice and human rights at the forefront of the bloc’s vision.

Such a return of EU policies to their foundational values will be the best way to slow down the growth of far right nationalism.

 

Viva La Status Quo!

I don’t necessarily mean that as a bad thing. The French election which swept Emmanuel Macron to power yesterday is a confirmation of the status quo in a troubled world: It strengthens the neoliberal hold on French politics, makes the EU more dedicated in its mission to unite a continent through trade, and also keeps the liberal agenda at the forefront of political culture. It’s not the best thing in the world, and indeed, on some scores, Marine Le Pen did indeed have a more in-depth promise for workers, and anti-globalised politics – but it’s indeed better for the country, and Europe, in context. A victory for a fascist, even one with some OK-sounding social promises, would have been devastating for global politics. 

Nevertheless, the inability to think beyond the political implications presented by elections means many people are already celebrating the death of fascism in Europe. Pardon me for this, but ha ha. The inability to think beyond the forms and oppositions generated by electoral contests is something that could lull France and Europe to sleep, only for it to be sucked into an actual fascist power-bloc in the next round of elections in 5 years‘ time. Why? Well, Macron is the status quo, and the status quo is rule by elite, rule by class violence and rule by old power. 

The idea that one could criticise Macron on the day he managed to rout one of Europe’s leading and most symbolic fascists, is not really appealing for some. However, although Macron won with a margin of 66% to 34%, more than 1 out of every 10 French voter spoiled their ballot – and many more even abstained. That’s more indicative of a broken system than voting for Le Pen.

The country has a chance to rebuild – and it has to do something to include more civic and everyday politics again. It has to reject this idea that working people belong either at the bottom, or foaming with rage at the sides. They need to be put right in the middle of things. Or else, we can expect another Le Pen run at office in 5 years time.