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Editors' Picks

Pakistan Army picks deadly militant for propaganda

The ever-powerful army in Pakistan has orchestrated yet another strategic move of using a ruthless militant for propaganda purposes that has left the civilian government, and for that matter family and friends of the victims stunned.

Ehsanullah Eshan, a former mouthpiece of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), has been proudly claiming responsibilities for a number of brazen militant attacks across the country for the past many years leaving scores of civilian, including women and children dead, and wounded.

Among the deadly attacks claimed by Ehsan include the attack on the Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai in 2012, in which the child activist sustained injuries to her head but survived. The rocket attack on Bacha Khan International Airport, Peshawar in December 2012, in which four people were killed. Killing of nine foreign tourists in Gilgit-Baltistan in June 2013. Twin attacks in Mohmand agency in November 2014, in which six peace committee members were killed. Suicide attack at Wagah Border in November 2014, killing 60. Suicide attack in Attock in August 2015, which killed then-home minister of Punjab Shuja Khanzada, and 13 others. Suicide attack on Easter day in Allama Iqbal Park, Lahore in March 2016, resulting in the death of 72 people.

It was the Pakistan Army’s media affairs wing, the Inter-Service Public Affairs (ISPR) that announced Ehsan’s surrender last month. It seems the Army aims to use him against the ‘arch enemy’ India, and country of the so-called strategic depth Afghanistan. Seemingly comfortable and relaxed Ehsan’s video in which he is narrating tales about the so-called Taliban-India-Afghanistan nexus.

A leading Pakistani journalist Mohammad Hanif’s op-ed on this matter in the New York Times has been totally removed from the NYT’s edition published in Pakistan.

Hanif has written that with his [Ehsan’s] appearance, the Pakistani Army seemed to be sending this message: You can kill thousands of Pakistanis, but if you later testify that you hate India as much as we do, everything will be forgiven.

The civilian government’s silence in this once again exposes the rift with the army as reported by the country’s reputed English language Dawn last year.

In its story titled “Act against militants or face international isolation, civilians tell military”, on October 6, Dawn’s senior reporter Cyril Almeida exposed that the civilian government had informed the military leadership of a growing international isolation. Cyril quoted individuals present in a crucial national security meeting saying that the participants were informed that Pakistan faces diplomatic isolation and that the government’s talking points have been met with indifference in major world capitals.

Photo: UMB Wiki

Africapitalism is the ultimate answer to homegrown problems

A new wave of empowered Africans is fast shaping up and relegating the long-held aid for Africa to the back seat.

This new philanthropy trend targeting entrepreneurs by teaching them how to fish has birthed an unprecedented entrepreneurial spirit among traditionally disenfranchised African youth who had given up on what they termed as an unfair system.

Credit goes to seasoned entrepreneurs and philanthropists including Tony Elumelu who have chaperoned Africapitalism, inspired by the hope that if they created a conducive environment and ensured that a ballooning number of entrepreneurs have access to vital facilities, they would not only turn them into job creators but also the ideal people to provide homegrown solutions to Africa’s problems. And rightly so. Such acts have lifted thousands of African youth, given them hope and platforms that are now redefining Africa’s approach to Africa’s pressing needs.

From low cost medical innovations that do not require connection to national electricity grid which means they can reach even the population at hinterlands, to easier ways of tackling the traffic jam menace in major African cities, and modern ways of food production that ensures that Africa produces enough for its people and farmers are able to sell the surplus, this new crop of African inspired entrepreneurs are changing the 21st century way of giving.

While nations of the world have pressing needs of their own and Africa cannot keep hoping for aid, the newfound philanthropy that ensures that they are empowered to find solutions for their problems would be the ultimate answer to global problems. To quote the words of Tony Elumelu, philanthropy can only be sustainable and long if there is an enabling environment for people with ideas but struggling with ways of implementing them.

Heightening tensions in Macedonia following political blockade

With just two million inhabitants, the small Republic of Macedonia receives very little coverage and news reporting. Last week, however, images of the attack on numerous Macedonian MPs, including opposition leader Zoran Zaev, hit global headlines.

The unprecedented violent storming of the Macedonian Parliament was carried out by supporters of the right-wing party VMRO-DPMNE, who had been in command of Macedonia throughout the last decade. Although it was the most voted party in the December 11 elections, the small advantage enjoyed by former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski did not guarantee the parliamentary majority required to form a government.

A coalition between the second party, the Social Democratic Union (SDSM) and the third, the Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), was then envisaged. However, the agreement, which included the election of an ethnic Albanian speaker, Talat Xhaferi, sparked protests among nationalists, who claimed the pact between the two parties poses a threat to the unity of the country. The president, Gjoerge Ivanov (also from VMRO), prevented the Social Democrats to have coalition talks, warning of the danger of „Albanianising“ in Macedonia.

Furthermore, the idea of relinquishing power does not entertain former PM Gruevski. Under the notion that the SDSM works against the interests of Macedonians, whilst serving the Albanian minority (about a quarter of the country’s population), the VMRO leader has refused to accept any compromise.

Nevertheless, the outgoing PM, Nikola Gruevski has left his mark on the country: he was the creator of Skopje 2014, an ambitious project that adorned the capital with monumental statues of characters such as Alexander the Great, turning Skopje into a historic theme park. Public investment of more than 500 million euros caused public outrage in a country with high levels of poverty.

After four months of political deadlock, the deep crisis raises the fear of unpredictable consequences. With politicians seemingly at loggerheads, Macedonians hope for a speedy breakthrough in order to avoid escalating tensions and even the outbreak of interethnic conflict.

16 years of blood-stained war and counting

Rolling sleeves for yet another blood-stained year in the Afghan history, the Taliban have declared one more year of fighting in a country that has been under war for decades, and is among the poorest in the world.

In a statement published on their website this Friday 28 April 2017, the armed insurgents have warned the citizens to stay away from government installations and individuals, and cooperate with them!
Just a day before the announcement of the so-called spring offensives, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) urged the warring sides of the Afghan conflict to take immediate and concrete measures to better protect civilians from harm, as the latest data for 2017 shows continued high numbers of civilian casualties. In the first quarter of 2017, UNAMA documented a total of 2,181 civilian casualties (715 dead and 1,466 injured).

The UNAMA has blamed the insurgents of 62 per cent of civilian casualties – 1,353 civilian casualties (447 dead and 906 injured) in the first three months of the 2017 alone. Civilians have been dying at around this rate for most part of at least past 16 years.

As the great Mahatma Gandhi once said: “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind”.
The belligerence needs to be stopped, and the world powers – who again seem to be eyeing another round of ‘great game’ in this country which has suffered a lot, should instead strive for a peaceful resolution of the Afghan conflict.

The landmark peace deal between the Afghan government and former rebel leader Gulbudin Hekmatyar is a good start to the stalled peace process. Hekmatyar has returned to his home country after almost 20 years as the peace deal has paved way for him to return to the political arena. Same needs to be done with the Taliban. Armed insurgency, proxy wars and blood-strained politics need to be replaced with sensible peace talks with demonstrated respect to the Constitution of the country, and rights of the citizen.

Territorial disputes quandary in Africa is for its people to solve

News that Uganda and South Sudan have recently agreed on how to redraw a common border that has been at the center of protracted conflict is welcome relief, coming at a time when contested territories across Africa have reached epidemic proportions currently standing at 100.

The South Sudan-Uganda contested border in the Western Nile had seen South Sudan officials blame Ugandan farmers for encroaching their land, with the farmers defending it with everything they have. Armed men from South Sudan would cross over to Uganda and visit destruction, pillage and terror on the Ugandan farmers.

Yet this is one of the many cases that have seen Africa being placed among the continent with the highest cases of contested territories globally in the CIA Factbook. From the oldest conflict in the world, that pitting Namibia against South Sudan over the Orange River, the oil rich Elami triangle that has been the source of a 50-year-old conflict between Kenya, Sudan and Ethiopia, to the land and maritime disputes between the Cameroon and Nigeria, there is no end in sight for these border conflicts

Yet a problem that stems miles away and decades ago, when African colonizers sat in a Berlin Conference and partitioned the continent into what they felt was good for them, is now threatening to spiral out of control.

The African Union aware of the impending catastrophe has over the years set out deadlines for countries to delineate and demarcate their borders. The latest is the end of this year, and yet only a paltry 30 per cent of the 80,000 kilometers’ borders have been demarcated. This, even as more countries continue waging war on each other and seeking redress in the International Court of Justice and Permanent Court of Arbitration. What is worrying is the trend the conflicts might take going forward. A scramble for new resources like oil and mineral deposits, dwindling pasture and food in the wake of burgeoning population and climate change are already driving people out of their traditional homes and seeing encroachment at unprecedented highs.

But solutions to these conflicts do not lie in the long protracted judicial processes and endless commissions whose recommendations are out of tune with the people in conflict. The ultimate answer is in domestic and homegrown mechanisms. This for example include having a panel of elders from parties to conflict who have watched the genesis of the conflict. They are well respected on the ground and would easily strike a compromise. Secondly strengthening domestic institutions like East Africa’s Intergovernmental Authority on Development and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) would go a long way in ameliorating some of the situations that have gone on for decades and still no sign of truce.

But mostly importantly is identifying and taming potential sources of conflicts early enough which for example include a scramble for limited resources. Pastoralists in drought stricken areas like Ethiopia have managed to comfortably share the dwindling resources and co-exist. Africa can borrow a leaf from them.

Photo: JennaCB123/CC BY-SA 3.0

Either ultra-liberalism or ultra-nationalism

Within two weeks, French voters must choose between the ultra-liberalist Emmanuel Macron and the racist ultra-nationalist Marine Le Pen. The split result in Sunday’s elections revealed a divided society with no clear vision on how to confront its economic and social challenges.

For the first time in the history of the 5th Republic, the largest traditional parties (Socialists and Republicans) failed to progress to the second round of the Presidential election, with the Socialists suffering an especially sharp decline. This is not unique: from Greece to the Netherlands or Spain, representatives of social democracy have been continuously defeated. The failure of such parties in responding to economic crises, whilst overlooking social rights and accepting the tyranny of austerity, has consequently boosted support for the far right.

Even if Le Pen ends up defeated in the second round, as predicted in the polls, her presence in the final presidential vote is a very disturbing sign. The fact that a party with an anti-democratic message, which goes against the European values ​​of solidarity has achieved 21% of the support, is in itself alarming.

Undoubtedly, the elections to be held on May 7th, will be crucial in mapping Europe’s future. But this lack of direction in France is today a mirror of the European continent, in which confronting neoliberal austerity and far-right proposals are at loggerheads, both harmful to a project of solidarity and cooperation. Although the most alarming scenario would be a Le Pen victory, a Macron triumph will only prolong the failed policies that brought us here.

Two weeks until the future

I know everyone’s sick of hearing about elections and referendums – the previous 10 years haven’t been so positive for progressives, culminating as these votes did, in Brexit, Trump, Erdogan etc. so I totally get it if you don’t want to hear about Marine Le Pen and the French elections. 

But it’s only two weeks until this analysis will stop, and we’ll know what kind of future we’re dealing with: The breakup of the European Union and certain end to all state-assisted refugee movement in the region, or a more stable EU with a severe but at least existent policy towards refugees and migrants. 

Make no doubt about it – Marine Le Pen could still win. She secured a fifth of the first-round votes yesterday, against Emmanuel Macron’s comparable percentage – their contest on the 7th May will indeed decide the fate of Europe. This time the political analysts aren’t being complacent, and they recognise the full significance of the vote. 

If Macron wins, he will hold together a status quo of neoliberal politics binding the entire continent together, and some socially progressive ideas mixed in with welfare. It’s not perfect, but we’ve seen the alternative – and that’s Le Pen, a far-right extremist who would bring chaos, illegality and oppression back into the mainstream. That’s why Macron doesn’t seem like such a terrible choice. 

The danger is twofold here for progressives: Either through defeatism, they begin to see centrist politics as a total victory despite its many flaws; or, they give up centrism and opt for Le Pen, France’s chaos candidate, out of sheer curiosity or frustration. I think it would be worse than Trump if Le Pen took power. Trump is chaotic and unpredictable, but that actually makes him relatively tame and ineffective. Le Pen on the other hand is at the forefront of a political movement that has roots in French Politics, and she was brought up to play the role of political saviour. She would fair well on the world stage. 

So bear with the news for the next two weeks. It will be frustrating, but not nearly as damaging as the potential future which could emerge – the death of European progressivism. 

Mob justice continues

Days after the horrific mob-lynching of a young student in Pakistan over alleged blasphemy, at least two more cases of the sort have surfaced in the Muslim-majority country of over 200 million.

Protest rallies have been held in Peshawar city, the provincial capital of Khyber Pakthunkhwa province demanding justice for Mashal Khan, a student killed by mob for alleged blasphemy. But that have proved too little to stop the spree. The religious leaders of the country more than anyone else need to take responsibility for the situation, and should come forward to convince the people, particularly the growingly radicalized youth that religion is a connection between a man and his God, and no individual has the right to judge another one and then take such sever actions in that moment.

Pakistan, its neighboring country Afghanistan and many more Muslim-majority nations should learn from their fellow Muslims in countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey and many more where there are set rules for all affairs, and the citizens abide by them which has made lives relatively easier for many.

On Friday, 21 April 2017, angry protestors broke windows of a police station while demanding custody of an alleged blasphemer, but the police and local officials believed the suspect is mentally-ill man recently returned from Qatar. A day earlier, the police in the country’s biggest Punjab province reported killing of a man by three young women on the charge of blasphemy. In this case though, the victim Fazal Abbas Shah was accused of blasphemy in 2004 and a case was registered against him. In the case, he was declared a proclaimed offender due to which he fled to Denmark. But, still the law does not allow people to be the judge.

This can lead to unstoppable madness when everyone with a gun or other means can overpower anyone before or after labelling him or her as the blasphemer. The country’s judiciary also has a role to play to remove obstacles and shortcomings in the delivery of justice that has created environment for mob justice.

Why sustainable development goals should be everyone’s business

In 2015, over 150 global leaders gathered at the United Nations headquarters in New York to put pen to paper on a new set of 17 goals that are set to guide how the world tackles some of the most pressing issues of our time by the year 2030.

Now such policy news ordinarily attract disinterest and disengagement among small food producers because to them ‘it doesn’t concern us.’ Yet it does, in all purpose and intent. Without going into the details of the 17 goals, these resolves include two objectives that every farmer should care about. Goal two hopes to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture,” while Goal 13 targets to “take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.” These goals have made it the responsibility of governments, private entities and more specifically farmers to bring them to fruition in the next 13 years. So what is in it for farmers?

More importantly how can a smallholder farmer with less than an acre contribute to ending global hunger, poverty and climate change? Well more than can be imagined. With small scale production accounting for over 75 per cent of the total agricultural output in most countries and 70 per cent of marketed agricultural produce, smallholder farmers are to a large extent determines how and when we can kiss poverty good bye. Yet they are still stuck in age old farming practices that continue to yield less even as global population burgeons, increasing demand for food.

And as farmers remain stuck in age old woes, a new catastrophe has now hit farms, threatening to further curtail yields. Changing weather patterns has now meant that farmers who have traditionally relied on weather for farming are at the mercy of the gods. Intermittent rains and unpredictable climate has left farms earth scorched and millions food insecure. But how long can this be allowed to go on? While the global goals are a noble idea, they can only live up to their billing of making the world a better place if the people they are meant for actually embrace them.

The Sustainable development goals if localized can herald a crucial developmental agenda: That of getting our hands dirty and taking charge of our destiny. It is the little deeds and actions that transform and make the world complete.