Inter Press Service » Asia-Pacific http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Sun, 20 Apr 2014 13:44:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 When Not To Go To School http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/go-school/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=go-school http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/go-school/#comments Sat, 19 Apr 2014 06:24:01 +0000 Ranjita Biswas http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133774 In large parts of rural India, the absence of separate toilets for growing girls is taking a toll on their education. Many are unable to attend school during their menstrual cycle. According to the country’s Annual Status of Education Report in 2011, lack of access to toilets causes girls between 12 and 18 years of […]

The post When Not To Go To School appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
A new toilet for girl students at a school in Murshidabad district in the eastern Indian state West Bengal. Credit: Sulabh International/IPS.

A new toilet for girl students at a school in Murshidabad district in the eastern Indian state West Bengal. Credit: Sulabh International/IPS.

By Ranjita Biswas
KOLKATA, Apr 19 2014 (IPS)

In large parts of rural India, the absence of separate toilets for growing girls is taking a toll on their education. Many are unable to attend school during their menstrual cycle.

According to the country’s Annual Status of Education Report in 2011, lack of access to toilets causes girls between 12 and 18 years of age to miss around five days of school every month, or around 50 school days every year.“There is a sharp increase in the dropout rate, mainly among girls, as they move from primary to upper primary, because we cannot till date provide them proper toilets."

The country’s Supreme Court had ruled in 2011 that every public school has to have toilets. But a pan-India study, ‘The Learning Blocks’, conducted by the NGO CRY in 2013, shows that 11 percent of schools do not have toilets and only 18 percent have separate ones for girls. In 34 percent of schools, toilets are in bad condition or simply unusable.

Atindra Nath Das, regional director of CRY East, told IPS, “Children do not have safe drinking water, schools still do not have their own building and toilets are missing. No wonder 8.1 million children in India are still out of school.

“There is a sharp increase in the dropout rate, mainly among girls, as they move from primary to upper primary, because we cannot till date provide them proper toilets,” he said.

A 2010 report by the U.N. University Institute for Water, Environment and Health noted, “Once girls reach puberty, lack of access to sanitation becomes a central cultural and human health issue, contributing to female illiteracy and low levels of education, in turn contributing to a cycle of poor health for pregnant women and their children.”

According to India’s 2011 census data, national sanitation coverage is 49 percent but the rural figure is worse, at 31 percent.  It is even lower for Dalits or socially marginalised communities (23 percent) and tribal people (16 percent).

Lack of sanitation facilities is still a stumbling block for the effective spread of health and education programmes in many parts of rural India.

Mahila Jagriti Samiti (MJS), an NGO working in Jharkhand, an economically backward state in eastern India with a large tribal population, has been conducting awareness programmes on the use of sanitation, but is not very happy with the results.

Mahi Ram Mahto, director of MJS, told IPS: “We have done 300 sanitation programmes, even helping to build toilets in homes with funding from government agencies, but only 15 to 20 percent of the beneficiaries use them.”

Without a cistern for flushing, the toilets pose a problem, he says. “People have to carry water in buckets from a common water source like a hand pump or a pond; most households do not have taps. They say they might as well go to the open field.”

In 1999, India launched the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan or Total Sanitation Campaign, a community-based programme, under which it gives an equivalent of about 80 dollars to a household to set up a toilet. But many poor people say that is not enough and still defecate in the fields or by railway lines.

The campaign has “provisions for toilet facility and hygiene education in all types of government rural schools (up to higher secondary or class 12) with emphasis on toilets for girls.”

But provisions alone do not help, activists say.

Access to water for toilets is a major problem in many rural schools in the eastern state of West Bengal, says Vijay K. Jha, honorary controller at the state branch of Sulabh International. The NGO leads one of the world’s biggest and most successful sanitation programmes.

“We have worked in 50 schools in Murshidabad district of India’s eastern state West Bengal, providing infrastructure and running awareness programmes on hygiene. Plans are afoot to extend the work to 100 more in the near future,” Jha told IPS.

Despite separate toilets for girls, the results are not satisfactory. As in the case of Jharkhand, non-availability of water hinders toilet use. Most schools do not have water pipes running up to the compounds.

Diara Hazi Nasrat Mallick High School in Murshidabad district, where Sulabh has constructed a separate toilet, is a typical example.

Alaul Haque, the school headmaster, told IPS, “We are happy that this facility has been built. But girls still have to bring water from the tubewell because there’s no water pipe connection in the school yet.” Half of about 300 students at the school are girls.

Another institution in the same district, Gayeshpur High School, has the same complaint. “With around 300 girl students in our co-ed school, we need at least two toilets. We were happy that the toilet has been built, but it still lacks flowing water,” headmaster Prasanta Chatterjee told IPS.

The government scheme under which NGOs take up the work of building toilets does not include providing water pipes – a task that depends on local agencies.

Girl students during the menstrual cycle are advised not to carry heavy objects like buckets filled with water; so they avoid school altogether during those days if there is no easy access to water in the toilets.

Under India’s Right to Education Act of 2009, which recognises the right of children to free and compulsory education till the completion of elementary school, provision of proper toilets as part of school infrastructure is mandatory, says S.N. Dave, WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) specialist at Unicef Kolkata.

Dave told IPS: “West Bengal being in a riverine area, water is not much of a problem. But there is scope for improvement in terms of better coordination between agencies.”

Some states like Kerala in the south and Sikkim in the northeast fare better.

According to a Planning Commission study in 2013, Sikkim had the best performing gram panchayats (village councils) and maintenance of sanitation facilities, having achieved 100 percent sanitation.

The post When Not To Go To School appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/go-school/feed/ 0
U.N. Denies Dragging Its Feet on U.S.-Iran Visa Dispute http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-n-denies-dragging-feet-u-s-iran-visa-dispute/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-denies-dragging-feet-u-s-iran-visa-dispute http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-n-denies-dragging-feet-u-s-iran-visa-dispute/#comments Fri, 18 Apr 2014 22:46:30 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133771 After two long weeks of raging controversy over Washington’s refusal to grant a U.S. visa to the Iranian envoy to the United Nations, the U.N.’s office of legal affairs is being accused of moving at the pace of a paralytic snail – only to seek more time while remaining non-committal on the dispute. But U.N. […]

The post U.N. Denies Dragging Its Feet on U.S.-Iran Visa Dispute appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
GA am

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 18 2014 (IPS)

After two long weeks of raging controversy over Washington’s refusal to grant a U.S. visa to the Iranian envoy to the United Nations, the U.N.’s office of legal affairs is being accused of moving at the pace of a paralytic snail – only to seek more time while remaining non-committal on the dispute.

But U.N. Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric challenged the timeline, pointing out that the United Nations would see events quite differently."The most basic logic of diplomacy is that it is not only your friends that you must talk with, you must also talk with those with whom you disagree." -- Dr. James E. Jennings

“The suggestion of allowing this matter to linger for two weeks is hardly accurate,” he told IPS Friday.

After a meeting Tuesday with Iran’s charge d’affaires Ambassador Gholamhossein Dehghani, U.N. Legal Counsel Miguel de Serpa Soares was holding back his ruling on the ground he was “still studying the issue and would very carefully consider precedents and past practice.”

“Still studying after two long weeks? That response was like a mountain labouring to produce a mouse,” said an Asian diplomat, conversant with the intricacies of U.N. politics and the nuances of English idiom and Aesop’s Fables.

Dr. James E. Jennings, president of Conscience International and executive director of U.S. Academics for Peace, told IPS, “Secretary General Ban Ki-moon now has the opportunity to stop dawdling and make a principled statement on the issue.”

But so far he has not.

Dujarric told IPS the U.N. legal counsel met with representatives of Iran on Tuesday immediately after they asked to see him.

He then followed up straightaway with a meeting with U.S. representatives on Wednesday.

As soon as the legal counsel was officially notified of developments, said Dujarric, he met with the representatives involved.

As events unfold, the United Nations stands accused of refusing to make a ruling – either supportive of the United States or Iran – by repeatedly dismissing the dispute as essentially a bilateral problem.

Dr. Jennings said it is a violation of the spirit of the U.N. Charter to use the pretense of national security or any other contrived smokescreen to prevent a country’s rightful representation in the world body.

As a sovereign nation, Iran has the right to name its own ambassadors, and does not need to ask permission of the U.S. or the U.N. to do so, said Dr. Jennings, who early this year, led a delegation of U.S. professors to Tehran for meetings with Iran’s foreign ministry and with the leader of Iran’s team of nuclear negotiators.

The U.S. decision last week to deny a visa to the Iranian envoy-in- waiting, Hamid Aboutalebi, has been challenged as a violation of the 1947 U.S.-U.N. Headquarters Agreement which was aimed at facilitating, not hindering, the work of the world body.

A former representative of a U.N.-based non-governmental organisation told IPS the United Nations in its dithering inaction is behaving like most governments behave when dealt a blow by the hegemon – “shut up and keep your head down”.

“We have to remember that when [former Secretary-General] Kofi Annan sent a private letter to former President George W Bush warning politely against a massive U.S. military attack on Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004, Washington countered with a fierce attack on Annan himself, forcing out most of his senior staff.

“Ban Ki-moon doubtless has this terrible precedent in mind as he reflects on his reaction to the latest U.S. breach of the Headquarters Agreement.”

Dujarric said a meeting of the U.N. Committee on Relations with the Host Country has also been quickly arranged and will take place next Tuesday.

Representatives of the Office of the Legal Counsel will be present as the issue is discussed. If the Committee requests a legal opinion, the Legal Counsel will prepare one.

“All this should convey that we take the Headquarters Agreement and its implementation very seriously,” Dujarric said.

“In the past days I have repeatedly said that this is a serious issue and that we hoped it would be settled bilaterally,” he added.

He also argued that comparisons to unrelated events in the past are neither helpful nor relevant.

Dr. Jennings told IPS the hubris of the U.S. Congress over approving a visa, combined with the timidity of President Barack Obama, has greatly escalated the danger of a flare-up over Iran’s nuclear programme.

“That short-sighted, knee-jerk posture has the potential to ignite a conflict that could dwarf the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he warned.

The U.N. is, diplomatically speaking, “a corpus separatum [with special legal and political status] designed to be independent of the United States,” noted Dr Jennings.

“Of course, the U.S. has the right to refuse visas to anyone deemed a security threat, but Ambassador Hamid Aboutalebi is not such a person. He has a sterling record and a long career as a diplomat.

“The most basic logic of diplomacy is that it is not only your friends that you must talk with, you must also talk with those with whom you disagree in order resolve problems,” he added.

“If there ever was a need for peace through far-sighted diplomacy, this is such a time,” Dr Jennings declared.

The U.S. has accused Aboutalebi of being involved in the 1979 forcible takeover of the U.S. embassy and its diplomatic personnel in Teheran.

But the Iranian says he was only a translator and negotiator between the hostages and the hostage takers – and that he was not even in Tehran when the embassy was physically taken over by a group called the Muslim Students.

The post U.N. Denies Dragging Its Feet on U.S.-Iran Visa Dispute appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-n-denies-dragging-feet-u-s-iran-visa-dispute/feed/ 0
Afghanistan Turns a Political Corner http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/afghanistan-turns-political-corner/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=afghanistan-turns-political-corner http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/afghanistan-turns-political-corner/#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 07:30:24 +0000 Giuliano Battiston http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133725 The Afghanistan presidential election is turning out to be a tale of two narratives. The more positive and democratic one could be winning the day. By one narrative, Afghans voted in numbers and with fairness as never before. The second is the older and possibly weakening one of corruption and threats. For the moment, many […]

The post Afghanistan Turns a Political Corner appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Young voters in Jalalabad show off the ink on their fingers as a mark that they voted. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS.

Young voters in Jalalabad show off the ink on their fingers as a mark that they voted. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS.

By Giuliano Battiston
JALALABAD, Afghanistan, Apr 17 2014 (IPS)

The Afghanistan presidential election is turning out to be a tale of two narratives. The more positive and democratic one could be winning the day.

By one narrative, Afghans voted in numbers and with fairness as never before. The second is the older and possibly weakening one of corruption and threats.

For the moment, many Afghans are proud just that they voted, and that going by official figures, they did so in large numbers. Seven million voted in the presidential elections, a big jump from the 2009 turnout.“When the final results will be announced, there might be some complaints, nothing more."

The turnout was 58 percent of an estimated 12 million eligible voters, marking a 20 percent increase over the 5.6 million votes in the election in 2009.

“We’ve sent a clear message with our vote: Afghan people want radical change, it has to be positive, and it’s going to be made by ourselves,” professor of international criminal law Wahidullah Amiri tells IPS.

Amiri teaches at Nangarhar University. Founded in 1963, this is the second largest university in the country, with around 8,000 students, including 1,200 female students, enrolled in 13 faculties. The campus is spread over 160 hectares in Daroonta, a village 10 km from Jalalabad, capital of Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan.

The enthusiasm here over the polling, which went far better than expected, is evident: “The turnout was beyond any expectations,” Prof. Abdul Nabi Basirat, who heads the department of international relations at the political science facultym tells IPS. “The international community did not expect that, we Afghans did not expect it, and even I did not.

“It’s a landmark, showing that Afghans are taking charge of their own future, selecting the successor to [outgoing president Hamid] Karzai. We bravely confronted the Taliban threats without the help of NATO or other external players.”

The Afghan government deployed more than 350,000 soldiers and policemen to protect the vote, with the International Security Assistance Force playing only a marginal role, much smaller than in 2009. The Taliban did not manage to carry out a single large-scale assault in any major city.

“Substantially, the Taliban failed to disrupt the election process,” the dean of the political science faculty at Nangarhar University, Naqibullah Saqeb, tells IPS. “Their failure is a success for the Afghan government. Many were saying it would have been challenging, if not impossible, for the government to run the elections, due to its weakness and due to Taliban strength. We have done it.”

The Taliban movement – deeply divided over this year’s election – claimed to have carried out “nearly 1088 attacks” nationwide at “polling centres and the vehicles and convoys carrying votes, election material and ballot boxes.”

The Afghan interior minister announced the ministry had counted 690 security incidents. The figures do not match, but they still indicate that the Taliban are far from being a spent force, depicting the emergence of two different electoral narratives.

One narrative took place in Afghanistan’s cities and urban areas, which enjoy relative security and a higher turnout, and the other in the insecure rural areas, especially in the volatile south-east of the country, with very different patterns of voter participation.

Koshal Jawad belongs to one of the areas contested between the government and the Taliban. “I wanted to vote, but I couldn’t,” Jawad, a student of political science planning to present his final dissertation in two months, tells IPS.

“I live in Haska Mena [also called Dih Bala] district, bordering Pakistan. In the past 12 months it has become unsafe. We now have hundreds of Taliban there, mainly Pakistani people. They did not allow us to vote: they stopped the cars, and checked the fingers, to see if anyone had a finger dipped in ink, which shows you’d voted.”

“Nobody really knows how many voters there are, how many of them hold a voter card, or how many of the ballots cast will turn out to have really been linked to voters,” writes Martine Van Bijlert, co-director of the Kabul-based Afghanistan Analysts Network.

In the more insecure areas, elections were neither transparent nor accountable, says Van Bijlert. “Alongside a robust, genuine and determined vote, there are indications of significant irregularities: old patterns of intimidation, ballot-stuffing, and ‘ghost polling stations’ in remote and insecure areas.”

The Independent Election Commission (IEC) is verifying all the ballot boxes received from about 6,400 polling centres and 20,000 polling stations across 34 provinces. The Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) has registered more than 3,000 complaints, and the independent Free and Fair Election Forum of Afghanistan has registered 10,000 cases of alleged irregularities.

“Fraud is still part of the electoral process, this is clear,” says Amiri. “But to such a limited extent in comparison to 2009 that it will not affect the overall legitimacy of the process to Afghan eyes.”

Preliminary results are expected Apr. 24, with the final result due on May 14, but many believe no candidate will win more than 50 percent of the vote. That could lead to a runoff between the two leading candidates, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, an academic and former World Bank official and former minister of finance, and Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister and a prominent leader of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance.

The first results covering 10 percent of the overall vote give Abdullah Abdullah 41.9 percent and Ashraf Ghani 37.6 percent.

Meanwhile, campaign officials have been carrying out their own counts, claiming victory for their candidates.

“It’s part of the game. Politics is competition, where one player wins and the other loses. Usually losers are not eager to admit they are losers, so everyone claims to be the winner,” Muhtarama Amin, a member of the Nangarhar provincial council, tells IPS.

“When the final results will be announced, there might be some complaints, nothing more,” she says. “We are a maturing political system: any candidate knows that massive fraud would undermine his legitimacy, leading soon to the collapse of his government.”

The post Afghanistan Turns a Political Corner appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/afghanistan-turns-political-corner/feed/ 1
U.N. Visa Denials Appendage of U.S. Foreign Policy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-n-visa-denials-appendage-u-s-foreign-policy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-visa-denials-appendage-u-s-foreign-policy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-n-visa-denials-appendage-u-s-foreign-policy/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 23:27:13 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133695 The United States has rarely, if ever, denied a visa to a head of state seeking to visit the United Nations to address the 193-member General Assembly, the highest policy making body in the organisation. But it did so last November, prompting Sudan to register a strong protest before the U.N.’s legal committee: a protest […]

The post U.N. Visa Denials Appendage of U.S. Foreign Policy appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 15 2014 (IPS)

The United States has rarely, if ever, denied a visa to a head of state seeking to visit the United Nations to address the 193-member General Assembly, the highest policy making body in the organisation.

But it did so last November, prompting Sudan to register a strong protest before the U.N.’s legal committee: a protest that went unsung and unnoticed."Washington believes it can deny visas whenever it chooses to do so and most governments, fearful of negative consequences, remain silent and do not make a fuss." -- James A. Paul

Hassan Ali, a senior Sudanese diplomat, told delegates, “The democratically-elected president of Sudan, Omar Hassan Al-Bashir, had been deprived of the opportunity to participate in the General Assembly because the host country, the United States, had denied him a visa, in violation of the U.N.-U.S. Headquarters Agreement.”

Furthermore, he complained, the host country also applied arbitrary pressures on foreign missions, “depending on how close a country’s foreign policy is to that of the United States.”

“It was a great and deliberate violation of the Headquarters Agreement,” he said, also pointing to the closing of bank accounts of foreign missions and diplomats as another violation.

“Those missions have now been without bank accounts for some three years,” he added.

The refusal of a visa to the Sudanese president was also a political landmine because al-Bashir has been indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

But does the United States have a right to implicitly act on an ICC ruling when Washington is not a party to the Rome Statute that created the ICC?

“Good question,” said John Quigley, professor emeritus of international law at Ohio State University.

“As you suggest, the U.S. had no obligations under the Rome Statute,” he told IPS.

So the question would not arise of Washington having an obligation that might conflict with the obligation to grant a visa to a representative of a U.N. member state, he added.

It would be harder if the United States were a party to the Rome Statute.

Sudanese President Omer Hassan Al Bashir addresses a ceremony marking the fourth anniversary of the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) on Jan. 9, 2009. The refusal of his visa was also a political landmine because al-Bashir has been indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC). Credit: UN Photo/Tim McKulka

Sudanese President Omer Hassan Al Bashir addresses a ceremony marking the fourth anniversary of the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) on Jan. 9, 2009. The refusal of his visa was also a political landmine because al-Bashir has been indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC). Credit: UN Photo/Tim McKulka

“Even then, the two obligations might not conflict. That is, the U.S. would have an obligation to let him in. Once he is in, the U.S. would have an obligation to turn him over to the ICC,” said Quigley, author of ‘The Ruses of War: American Interventionism Since World War II’.

The U.S. decision last week to deny a visa to the Iranian envoy-in-waiting, Hamid Aboutalebi, has been challenged as a violation of the Headquarters Agreement – even though Washington got away scot-free after barring the Sudanese president from the General Assembly last year.

James A. Paul, who served for over 19 years as executive director of the Global Policy Forum, told IPS the U.S. government was in clear violation of international law and practice.

This includes violations of specific international agreements such as the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961, and particularly the U.N. Headquarters Agreement, entered into by the U.S. and the U.N. in 1947 and unanimously ratified by Congress.

This particular violation of visa denial is one of many such violations, some of which get lots of attention and some of which don’t, he said.

“My guess is that there have been hundreds of cases in which the U.S. has refused entry visas for various reasons. There are also hundreds of other cases of violation of the agreement in other ways,” said Paul, who has kept close track of the politics of the United Nations for nearly two decades.

In response to the U.S. refusal to grant a visa to Palestine leader Yassir Arafat in 1988, he said, the General Assembly had to move its meeting to Geneva at huge expense and inconvenience.

“That case made headlines, but most do not,” said Paul.

Take, for example, the U.S. refusal to grant an entry visa to a senior Argentine diplomat who had been accredited to participate with the Brazilian team on the U.N. Security Council in 2010.

“Washington took this step presumably because it wanted to block regional coordination on the Council – a totally illegitimate reason,” Paul said, adding there was no argument the person involved represented a security threat.

“So I think we can say that Washington believes it can deny visas whenever it chooses to do so and most governments, fearful of negative consequences, remain silent and do not make a fuss,” he added.

Quigley told IPS he saw no exception for security, terrorism and foreign policy in the Headquarters Agreement.

The resolutions by the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives to bar the Iranian envoy, are irrelevant, he said.

“What matters is the text of the Headquarters Agreement. If domestic legislation was adopted that purported to reserve rights to the U.S. that are not expressed in the Headquarters Agreement, the domestic legislation does not allow the U.S. to evade its obligations,” said Quigley.

“As I read the legislation adopted by Congress, it gives grounds for denial of a visa, but it is still up to the president to decide the grounds exist, so it is not Congress that is denying a visa to a particular person.”

The president should properly regard the Headquarters Agreement as his guide, added Quigley.

The U.S. has accused Aboutalebi of being involved in the 1979 forcible takeover of the U.S. embassy and its diplomatic personnel in Tehran.

But the Iranian says he was only a translator and negotiator between the hostages and the hostage takers – and that he was not even in Tehran when the embassy was physically taken over by a group called the Muslim Students.

Quigley said, “I can see that there might be some validity to the view that the U.S. and Iran should work this out, but at this point the U.S. has denied and does not seem inclined to reconsider.”

That being the case, it is the U.N. that is the injured party under the Headquarters Agreement. It should not be up to Iran to take the initiative to take action on the matter, he argued.

Paul told IPS some diplomats face restrictions as to where they can live and where in the U.S. they can travel.

There have been many complaints about U.S. banking restrictions having serious negative consequences for delegations, who sometimes cannot pay their bills as a result.

Finally, of course, there is the scandal of spying on U.N. staff and on delegations.

“When you put all this together, you have a stark picture of disregard for the norms of diplomacy and the letter of international agreements. It is a sad story,” he added.

The post U.N. Visa Denials Appendage of U.S. Foreign Policy appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-n-visa-denials-appendage-u-s-foreign-policy/feed/ 0
Uzbekistan’s Dying Aral Sea Resurrected as Tourist Attraction http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/uzbekistans-dying-aral-sea-resurrected-tourist-attraction/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=uzbekistans-dying-aral-sea-resurrected-tourist-attraction http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/uzbekistans-dying-aral-sea-resurrected-tourist-attraction/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 17:41:12 +0000 Adriane Lochner http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133688 “I’m going for a swim,” says Pelle Bendz, a 52-year-old Swede, as he rummages in the jeep for his bathing trunks. The other tourists look at him, bewildered. What’s left of the Aral Sea is reputed to be a toxic stew, contaminated by pesticides and other chemicals. But the weather’s hot and Bendz insists his […]

The post Uzbekistan’s Dying Aral Sea Resurrected as Tourist Attraction appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Rusting and stranded, ships that once operated on the Aral Sea now attract adventure tourists. Credit: Adriane Lochner/EurasiaNet

Rusting and stranded, ships that once operated on the Aral Sea now attract adventure tourists. Credit: Adriane Lochner/EurasiaNet

By Adriane Lochner
BISHKEK, Apr 15 2014 (EurasiaNet)

“I’m going for a swim,” says Pelle Bendz, a 52-year-old Swede, as he rummages in the jeep for his bathing trunks. The other tourists look at him, bewildered. What’s left of the Aral Sea is reputed to be a toxic stew, contaminated by pesticides and other chemicals.

But the weather’s hot and Bendz insists his travel agency told him “swimming” was part of the package.Activists have been jailed for exposing the disappearing sea’s impact on Karakalpakstan residents’ health.

In Nukus, the sleepy regional capital of western Uzbekistan’s Karakalpakstan region, local tour operators say the number of sightseers is growing each year. Many come to this remote part of the Central Asian country to see the famous Savitsky art collection. There are excursions to ancient fortresses and historic Khiva, once an important stop on the Silk Road.

But the Aral Sea – one of the world’s most infamous, man-made ecological disasters – is probably the top attraction.

“Last year almost 300 foreigners went on camping trips to the coastline, and numbers are increasing,” says Tazabay Uteuliev, a local fixer who arranges transport for several Uzbek travel agencies.

Spring and autumn are most popular, but this year he even had a group in January. “More and more people seem to like it extreme,” Uteuliev tells EurasiaNet.org. The tourists are usually adventurous, not looking for a trip to the beach, but to see the famous lake before the last of the water is gone, he adds.

Bendz, the Swede, claims a special interest in unusual places. On a previous trip to Ukraine he visited Chernobyl, site of the 1986 nuclear accident. As he runs toward the shore, his feet sink in mud. The other two tourists and their driver follow him with their eyes.

The driver explains that over the course of only one year, the coastline has receded about 50 metres. The former seabed is still damp and covered with clams.

“You don’t even have to swim,” Bendz shouts, giddily floating on the water. In 2007, one estimate put the Aral’s salinity at 10 percent. As the sea continues shrinking, salt content is believed to have risen to about 15 or 16 percent, or half the concentration in the famously salty Dead Sea.

For local activists, the swell of foreign interest offers a chance to educate, as well as entertain.

In a hotel in Nukus, a group of Swiss tourists listens to a seminar about the history of the Aral catastrophe as part of their tour programme. The lecturer asks EurasiaNet.org not to print his name because he is implicitly criticising Uzbekistan’s authoritarian government.

He has a legitimate fear: activists have been jailed for exposing the disappearing sea’s impact on Karakalpakstan residents’ health. In 2012, one activist said she was beaten and threatened with forced psychiatric care.

During his presentation, the speaker shows satellite images and videos of fishing boats from the time when the fish-packed Aral Sea was one of largest lakes in the world. He describes the consequences of the water loss for locals: extremely hot summers, freezing winters, dust storms and lung diseases.

“Only the government can do something about it,” the activist says, describing wasteful irrigation upstream on the Amu-Darya River.

In his opinion, poor government management of water resources is the main cause of the environmental problems. Only about 10 percent of the water diverted from the river makes it to the fields, he says. The rest evaporates or leaks out of aging irrigation canals.

“People should [be required to] pay for the water, then they would save it,” he says.

Uzbekistan’s centralised agricultural plan aims to produce three million tonnes of cotton annually. To meet this target, officials require farmers to grow the water-intensive plant and press-gang residents to help with the harvest each autumn.

Environmentalists are also concerned that powerful international interests have little reason to save the Aral: Energy companies from China, Russia, Uzbekistan and elsewhere are drilling in the former seabed for natural gas. The tour group drives past their rigs the next morning, across a salt desert, to visit Muynak.

A generation ago, this former fishing village was a port at the southern end of the sea. Now it is about 100 kilometres from the water’s edge. Ships once anchored offshore are now popular tourist attractions, rusting, leaning over into the desert sand. Local children play on the graffiti-covered wrecks.

Only a few hundred kilometres to the north, on the Kazakhstani side, there is hope for the Aral Sea. There, a dike built with assistance from the World Bank in 2005 catches water from the Syr-Darya River, helping bring a tiny portion of the lake back and spawning a renewed fishing industry.

But the Kazakh side does not attract as many visitors, says a representative at Tashkent-based OrexCA, a travel agency specialising in Central Asia.

The agent says she receives occasional inquiries but no bookings to visit the lake in Kazakhstan. She thinks visitors are discouraged by the higher prices and also because Kazakhstani officials have removed so-called ghost ships, selling them for scrap. Instead she touts OrexCA’s “shrinking Aral Sea tour” on the Uzbek side.

The package includes visits to historical sites and, according to the agency’s website, is “designed for admirers of extreme tourism, adventurers and fans of exotic photography.”

Editor’s note:  Adriane Lochner is a Bishkek-based writer. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

The post Uzbekistan’s Dying Aral Sea Resurrected as Tourist Attraction appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/uzbekistans-dying-aral-sea-resurrected-tourist-attraction/feed/ 0
Conflict Fuels Child Labour in India http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/conflict-fuels-child-labour-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=conflict-fuels-child-labour-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/conflict-fuels-child-labour-india/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 07:35:17 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133665 Early in the morning, 14-year-old Sumari Varda puts on her blue school uniform but heads for the village pond to fetch water. “I miss school. I wish I could go back,” she whispers, scared of being heard by her employer. Sumari is from Dhurbeda village, but now lives in another, Bhainsasur, both located in central India’s […]

The post Conflict Fuels Child Labour in India appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Sumari, a child trafficked from Maoist-affected district Narayanpur cleans the floor instead of going to school. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS.

Sumari, a child trafficked from Maoist-affected district Narayanpur cleans the floor instead of going to school. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS.

By Stella Paul
KANKER, India, Apr 15 2014 (IPS)

Early in the morning, 14-year-old Sumari Varda puts on her blue school uniform but heads for the village pond to fetch water. “I miss school. I wish I could go back,” she whispers, scared of being heard by her employer.

Sumari is from Dhurbeda village, but now lives in another, Bhainsasur, both located in central India’s Chhattisgarh state. She puts on her school uniform to fetch water because it is one of the few pieces of clothing she has.“Some are employed as domestic workers, others are sold to sex traders." -- child rights activist Mamata Raghuveer

Her native village Dhurbeda falls in Abujhmad, a forest area in Narayanpur district that is reportedly one of the largest hideouts of the outlawed Communist Party of India-Maoist, which leads a violent rebellion against the state in some parts of the country.

Nine months ago, a distant relative from state capital Raipur visited Sumari’s parents, who were worried that she might be asked to join the Maoists some day. The relative, whom Sumari calls “Budhan aunt”, took her away, promising to send her to a city school.

Instead, she sent Sumari to Bhainsasur, about 180 km from Raipur. Now the girl toils for more than 14 hours a day in the house of the aunt’s brother, cooking, washing, fetching water and sometimes also looking after cattle.

Sumari is one of thousands of children trafficked out of Chhattisgarh every year. According to a 2013 study published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), more than 3,000 children are trafficked from the state each year.

The report focuses on the northern districts that are deemed less affected by the conflict. Districts such as Dantewada, Sukma, Bijapur, Kanker and Narayanpur, which are considered the hotbed of the Maoist movement, are not included in the report.

The reason is an acute shortage of data, says a government official at the department of rural development who doesn’t wish to be named for fear of punitive action. The official tells IPS that researchers and surveyors stay away from the remote districts.

“In April 2010, Maoists killed 76 security personnel in Dantewada. Since then, the conflict has reached such a level that few actually dare to visit districts like Dantewada, Sukma or Narayanpur. If you don’t go into the field, how will you collect information and data.”

Bhan Sahu, founder of Jurmil Morcha, the state’s only all-tribal women’s organisation that fights forced displacement of forest tribal communities, believes the absence of data is actually helping the traffickers.

“Every time a massacre or an encounter takes place between the Maoists and the security forces, many families flee their villages. Traffickers target these families, pay them some money and offer to take care of their children.

“But the government doesn’t want to admit either the migration or the trafficking. So the traffickers are not under any pressure,” Sahu tells IPS. She has reported several cases of trafficking for CG-Net Swara, a community newswire.

Jyoti Dugga, 11, who plays hula-hoop with iron rings to entertain tourists on the beaches of Goa in western India, also hails from Chhattisgarh. Her elder brother had been jailed for alleged links with Maoists. Her parents were worried that she too might be arrested. Three years ago they agreed to send her away with a neighbour called Ramesh Gota, addressed by Jyoti as “uncle”.

“Uncle said he had many contacts and could give me work, so my parents sent me with him,” says Jyoti, who also massages tourists’ feet. She shares a small room with three other children, all of whom are from Chhattisgarh and look malnourished.

Earlier this month, 20 children who were being forced to work in a circus in Goa were rescued by the police. But Gota, Jyoti’s employer, seems too clever to be caught – he keeps moving the children from one beach to another.

The government denies such trafficking and exploitation of children.

Ram Niwas, assistant director-general in the Chhattisgarh police department, claims that human trafficking has “gone down considerably” since anti-human trafficking units were sanctioned. “The process of identifying such districts is under way and they would be prioritised,” he tells IPS.

The UNODC report says Chhattisgarh’s performance in implementing child protection schemes is inadequate. “The district child protection units are not in existence, and the child welfare committees are not working to their proper strength,” says the report.

According to the report, the state is not serious in taking back children who have been trafficked out.

Child rights activist Mamata Raghuveer, in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh state agrees. She heads the organisation Tharuni, which rescues trafficked children in collaboration with the state government. According to Raghuveer, 65 girls have been rescued in the past two years. Most were from Chhattisgarh’s conflict-hit districts.

“Girls as young as seven and eight are brought out of their home by men,” Raghuveer tells IPS. “Some are employed as domestic workers, others are sold to sex traders. When the men are in danger of being caught, they vanish, abandoning the girls.”

The government has a National Child Labour Policy (NCLP) for rehabilitation of children forced into labour. Rescued children in the 9-14 age group are enrolled at NCLP special training centres where they are provided food, healthcare and education, says Kodikunnil Suresh, national minister of state for labour and employment told parliament in February. “Currently there are 300,000 children covered by the scheme,” he said.

This IPS correspondent met nine-year-old Mary Suvarna at an NCLP centre in Warangal in Andhra Pradesh. She was rescued a year ago from the city railway station. Mary says she lived in a forest village called Badekeklar. It’s unlikely she will ever return home.

She has a dream. “I want to be a police officer.”

The post Conflict Fuels Child Labour in India appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/conflict-fuels-child-labour-india/feed/ 1
Russians Blend Loyalty to Nazarbayev with Pro-Kremlin Sentiments http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/russians-blend-loyalty-nazarbayev-pro-kremlin-sentiments/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=russians-blend-loyalty-nazarbayev-pro-kremlin-sentiments http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/russians-blend-loyalty-nazarbayev-pro-kremlin-sentiments/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 00:56:45 +0000 Joanna Lillis http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133673 On a hillside in northeastern Kazakhstan, south of the Russian border, a simple and stark slogan looms over the city of Oskemen: “Kazakhstan,” reads the message in giant white letters arrayed across the green slope. When the sign was erected in 2009, ostensibly to foster Kazakhstani patriotism, it seemed to be stating the obvious. But […]

The post Russians Blend Loyalty to Nazarbayev with Pro-Kremlin Sentiments appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
On a hill overlooking the northeastern Kazakh city of Oskemen, bright white letters spell out ‘Kazakhstan’ under a large Kazakh flag in early April 2014. Oskemen - known in Russian as Ust-Kamenogorsk - is a Russian-majority city, where 67 percent of inhabitants are ethnic Russian, triple the national ratio in Kazakhstan. Credit: Joanna Lillis/EurasiaNet

On a hill overlooking the northeastern Kazakh city of Oskemen, bright white letters spell out ‘Kazakhstan’ under a large Kazakh flag in early April 2014. Oskemen - known in Russian as Ust-Kamenogorsk - is a Russian-majority city, where 67 percent of inhabitants are ethnic Russian, triple the national ratio in Kazakhstan. Credit: Joanna Lillis/EurasiaNet

By Joanna Lillis
ASTANA, Apr 15 2014 (EurasiaNet)

On a hillside in northeastern Kazakhstan, south of the Russian border, a simple and stark slogan looms over the city of Oskemen: “Kazakhstan,” reads the message in giant white letters arrayed across the green slope.

When the sign was erected in 2009, ostensibly to foster Kazakhstani patriotism, it seemed to be stating the obvious. But now that Russian President Vladimir Putin has set himself up as the defender of Russians everywhere, and used that rationale to annex Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, the slogan seems more pertinent than ever – at least to Kazakhstani leaders in Astana.

Ever since the Soviet collapse in 1991, President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s administration has stressed the promotion of tolerance and inter-ethnic harmony. For the most part, Nazarbayev has succeeded in keeping the country tranquil, enabling the economy to attain an unrivaled level of growth in Central Asia.

But now, the ripple-effect created by the Ukraine crisis threatens to test the loyalties of Kazakhstan’s ethnically diverse populace, in particular the substantial ethnic Russian minority, which is concentrated in northern regions of the country.

Given recent developments, boosting patriotism has rocketed up Nazarbayev’s political agenda. Highlighting the high level of concern in Astana, officials introduced amendments in early April to punish public calls for separatism with long jail terms.

Separatist sentiment in the industrial northeast created a headache for Nazarbayev in the 1990s – and Oskemen was once a hotbed of intrigue, with 13 pro-Russian conspirators jailed over a separatist plot in 2000. In this city, known in Russian as Ust-Kamenogorsk, 67 percent of inhabitants are Russian, triple the national ratio.“Russia isn’t seen as some sort of enemy here. It’s seen as an opportunity.” -- Aleksandr Alekseyenko of the East Kazakhstan State Technical University

Separatist moods ebbed as Kazakhstan consolidated its nationhood – but the scenarios playing out in Ukraine are enough to cause Nazarbayev a full-blown migraine. Russia’s justification of its annexation of Crimea on the grounds of protecting Russian speakers makes Astana jittery. In Kazakhstan, 22 percent of the population is ethnic Russian, with far higher ratios living along the sprawling 7,000-kilometre border with Russia.

Inflammatory statements by Russian nationalists about claims on northern Kazakhstan have added fuel to the fire, sparking an unusual diplomatic spat between close allies Moscow and Astana. On Apr. 11, following a sharp rebuke from Kazakhstan, Moscow disassociated itself from the pronouncements – but did not explicitly deny having designs on Kazakhstan’s territory.

Astana may be up in arms, but Oskemen’s Russian-speaking community views the nationalist outbursts across the border with equanimity.

“On the immutability of borders … talking about some actions being eternal is simply somewhat incorrect,” says Viktor Sharonov, a gruff Cossack ataman (leader), choosing his words carefully. “Then what call would the Scottish have to hold a referendum on separating from Great Britain?”

Sharonov was speaking on Apr. 8 at a meeting of Oskemen-based Russian community groups attended by EurasiaNet.org, where community leaders championed the Kremlin’s actions in Ukraine and denounced what they perceive as Western meddling in Russia’s backyard.

“I personally, and our Cossacks, see this as the desire of Western countries … to totally do the dirty on Russia once again,” Sharonov said heatedly.

“Unfortunately real fascists, ultranationalists… have come to power in Kyiv,” obliging Moscow to intervene to defend Russian speakers’ rights, said Oleg Navozov, chairman of the LAD Slavic movement.

On one hand, the prevailing view among Oskemen’s Russian-speaking community, as articulated by Navozov, echoes Astana’s official line: Nazarbayev has called the government in Kyiv “neo-fascists” and railed against Ukraine’s “discrimination against minority rights,” winning him plaudits from these community leaders.

“Nazarbayev supported Russia in those actions aimed at protecting the rights of ethnic minorities in Ukraine and protecting its national interests,” said Nikolay Plakhotin of LAD approvingly.

On the other hand, Russian intervention in Ukraine leaves many in Kazakhstan wondering: What if Moscow decides Russian speakers here need protection?

This scenario is overwhelmingly rejected in Oskemen, where Russian speakers interviewed by EurasiaNet.org said without exception that Nazarbayev’s inclusive ethnic and linguistic policies rule it out.

“The situation in Kazakhstan is completely different to Ukraine,” Vadim Obukhov, deputy head of the Russian Cultural Centre, said. “We don’t have any confrontation between Kazakhs and Russians.”

As Nazarbayev juggles competing agendas, promoting the interests of the majority Kazakhs while protecting minority rights, “this balance is being maintained very competently,” said newspaper publisher Yevgeniy Cherkashin.

Nazarbayev’s pro-Kremlin stance in the Ukraine crisis is playing well in the Russian-speaking community in the north, although elsewhere critics vehemently attack it as a betrayal of national interests.

“In the consciousness of many Russians the northern part of Kazakhstan is Russian territory,” Almaty-based analyst Aydos Sarym told EurasiaNet.org, hence “as many Kazakhs understand it, this [official pro-Moscow] position is mistaken.”

In Oskemen some ethnic Kazakhs do “fear” a Russian land grab, albeit at some hazy point in the future, Kenzhebay, a middle-aged Oskemen resident who declined to give his surname, told EurasiaNet.org. Many also believe that close partnership with Russia offers Kazakhstan its best protection: Astana can best safeguard its sovereignty by acting as a friend to Moscow rather than foe.

Russians questioned on Oskemen’s city streets viewed the idea of Moscow encroaching on Kazakhstan as preposterous. “I don’t think Russia’s going to grab a piece of Kazakhstan – what would it want to do that for?” puzzled engineer Viktor Chernyshev.

“Russia isn’t seen as some sort of enemy here,” explains Aleksandr Alekseyenko of the East Kazakhstan State Technical University. “It’s seen as an opportunity.”

From Oskemen, the Russian city of Novosibirsk is closer than Kazakhstan’s capital Astana, and locals flock over the border into Siberia to work and study – helped by Kazakhstan’s membership of the Russia-led Customs Union.

This free trade zone is to be transformed next month into the Eurasian Economic Union, amid vociferous opposition from Kazakh nationalists and liberals who fear Russian domination. But in northeastern Kazakhstan backing for the union is rock solid.

Vladimir Putin makes no secret of his nostalgia for the Soviet Union, or his vision of the union as a political vehicle promoting Russia-dominated post-Soviet integration; and some in Oskemen seem to share his dream.

The union represents “a return – perhaps not entirely, but nevertheless largely – to what existed in the Soviet Union,” suggested Navozov.

These words may be music to Putin’s ears, but perhaps not to Nazarbayev’s: he is suspicious of any political element to integration and has pledged not to cede “an iota” of Kazakhstan’s sovereignty.

While looking to Russia for political and economic reference points, Oskemen’s Russian-speaking community is strongly loyal to Nazarbayev, seeing him not only as guarantor of minority rights but also as guarantor of political and social stability.

Ukraine-style unrest is impossible here, said Leonid Kartashev, president of the Russian National Cultural Centre, since “in Kazakhstan President Nazarbayev is legitimately elected, and in Kazakhstan there is a legitimate government.”

Editor’s note:  Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specializes in Central Asia. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

The post Russians Blend Loyalty to Nazarbayev with Pro-Kremlin Sentiments appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/russians-blend-loyalty-nazarbayev-pro-kremlin-sentiments/feed/ 0
World Cuts Back Military Spending, But Not Asia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/world-cuts-back-military-spending-asia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-cuts-back-military-spending-asia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/world-cuts-back-military-spending-asia/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 11:00:39 +0000 John Feffer http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133643 For the second year in a row, the world is spending a little less on the military. Asia, however, has failed to get the memo. The region is spending more at a time when many others are spending less. Last year, Asia saw a 3.6 percent increase in military spending, according to figures just released […]

The post World Cuts Back Military Spending, But Not Asia appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
USS Ronald Reagan and other ships from RIMPAC 2010 transit the Pacific. The United States, a Pacific power whose military spending is not included in the Asia figures, has also played an important role in driving up the expenditures in the region. Credit: U.S. Navy photo

USS Ronald Reagan and other ships from RIMPAC 2010 transit the Pacific. The United States, a Pacific power whose military spending is not included in the Asia figures, has also played an important role in driving up the expenditures in the region. Credit: U.S. Navy photo

By John Feffer
WASHINGTON, Apr 14 2014 (IPS)

For the second year in a row, the world is spending a little less on the military. Asia, however, has failed to get the memo. The region is spending more at a time when many others are spending less.

Last year, Asia saw a 3.6 percent increase in military spending, according to figures just released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. The region — which includes East Asia, South Asia, Central Asia and Oceania — posted topping off a 62 percent increase over the last decade.To a certain extent, the arms race in Asia is connected not to the vast expansion of the Pentagon since 2001 but rather to the relative decline of Asia in U.S. priorities over much of that period.

In 2012, for the first time Asia outpaced Europe in its military spending. That year, the world’s top five importers of armaments all came from Asia: India, China, Pakistan, South Korea, and (incredibly) the city-state of Singapore.

China is responsible for the lion’s share of the increases in East Asia, having increased its spending by 170 percent over the last decade. It has also announced a 12.2 percent increase for 2014.

But China is not the only driver of regional military spending. South Asia – specifically the confrontation between India and Pakistan – is responsible for a large chunk of the military spending in the region. Rival territorial claims over tiny islands  – and the vast resources that lie beneath and around them — in both Northeast and Southeast Asia are pushing the claimants to boost their maritime capabilities.

Even Japan, which has traditionally kept its military spending to under one percent of GDP, is getting into the act. Tokyo has promised of a 2.8 percent increase in 2014-15.

The United States, a Pacific power whose military spending is not included in the Asia figures, has also played an important role in driving up the expenditures in the region. The Barack Obama administration’s “Pacific pivot” is designed to reboot the U.S. security presence in this strategically critical part of the world.

To a certain extent, the arms race in Asia is connected not to the vast expansion of the Pentagon since 2001 but rather to the relative decline of Asia in U.S. priorities over much of that period.

As U.S. allies, South Korea and Japan were expected to shoulder more of the security burden in the region while the United States pursued national security objects in the Middle East and Central Asia.

China, meanwhile, pursued a “peaceful rise” that also involved an attempt to acquire a military strength comparable to its economic strength. At the same time, China more vigorously advanced its claims in the South China Sea even as other parties to the conflict put forward their counter claims.

The Pacific pivot has been billed as a way to halt the relative decline of U.S. influence in Asia. So far, however, this highly touted “rebalancing” has largely been a shifting around of U.S. forces in the region.

The fulcrum of the pivot is Okinawa, where the United States and Japan have been negotiating for nearly two decades to close an outdated Marine Air Force base in Okinawa and transfer those Marines to existing, expanding, and proposed facilities elsewhere.

Aside from this complex operation, a few Littoral Combat Ships have gone to Singapore. The Pentagon has proposed putting slightly more of its overall fleet in the Pacific (a 60-40 split compared to the current 50-50). And Washington has welcomed closer coordination with partners like the Philippines and Vietnam.

Instead of a significant upgrade to U.S. capabilities in the region, the pivot is largely a signal to Washington’s allies that the partnerships remain strong and a warning to Washington’s adversaries that, even if U.S. military spending is on a slight downward tilt, the Pentagon possesses more than enough firepower to deter their power projection.

This signaling function of the pivot dovetails with another facet of U.S. security policy: arms exports. The growth of the Pentagon over the last 10 years has been accompanied by a growth in U.S. military exports, which more than doubled during the period 2002 to 2012 from 8.3 to 18.8 billion dollars.

The modest reduction in Pentagon spending will not necessarily lead to a corresponding decline in exports. In fact, the opposite is likely to be true, as was the case during the last Pentagon slowdown in the 1990s. The Obama administration has pushed through a streamlining of the licensing process in order to facilitate an increase in military exports – in part to compensate U.S. arms manufacturers for a decline in orders from the Pentagon.

Asia and Oceania represent the primary target for U.S. military exports, absorbing nearly half of all shipments. Of that number, East Asia represents approximately one-quarter (South Asia accounts for nearly half).

The biggest-ticket item is the F-35 fighter jet, which Washington has already sold to Japan, South Korea, and Australia. Long-range missile defence systems have been sold to Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. Overall between 2009 and 2013, Australia and South Korea have been the top U.S. clients. With its projected increase in military spending, Japan will also likely rise much higher on the list.

The more advanced weaponry U.S. allies purchase, the more they are locked into future acquisitions. The United States emphasises “interoperability” among its allies. Not only are purchasers dependent on the United States for spare parts and upgrades, but they must consider the overall system of command and control (which is now C5I — Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Combat systems and Intelligence).

Although a French fighter jet or a Russian naval vessel might be a cheaper option in a competitive bid, the purchasing country must also consider how the item integrates with the rest of its hardware and software.

The United States has argued that its overwhelming military presence in the region and lack of interest in territorial gain have dampened conflict in Asia. But the security environment has changed dramatically since the United States first presented itself as a guarantor of regional stability.

Japan no longer abides by a strict interpretation of its “peace constitution.” North Korea has developed nuclear weapons. China has dramatically increased its capabilities. South Korea has created its own indigenous military manufacturing sector and greatly expanded its exports. Territorial disputes in the South China, Yellow, and East China Seas have sharpened. The only flashpoint that has become more peaceful in the last few years has been the Taiwan Strait.

The continued increase in military spending by countries in East Asia and the massive influx of arms into the region are both symptoms and drivers of conflict. Until and unless the region restrains its appetite for military upgrades, the risk of clashes and even all-out war will remain high.

In such an increasingly volatile environment, regional security agreements – on North Korea’s nuclear programme, the several territorial disputes, or new technological threats like cyberwarfare – will be even more difficult to achieve.

Most importantly, because of these budget priorities, the region will have fewer resources and less political will to address other pressing threats, such as climate change, which cannot be defeated with fighter jets or the latest generation of battle ship.

The post World Cuts Back Military Spending, But Not Asia appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/world-cuts-back-military-spending-asia/feed/ 0
Taliban Screens a New Silence http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/taliban-back-scene/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=taliban-back-scene http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/taliban-back-scene/#comments Sun, 13 Apr 2014 08:57:43 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133628 Mushfiq Wali, a 22-year-old shoemaker in northern Pakistan, loves watching films in the local Pashto language. But he says the Taliban are a killjoy: their bomb attacks have led to the closure of movie theatres, again. “They don’t spare anything that brings happiness.” The extent of freedom to listen to music and to go to […]

The post Taliban Screens a New Silence appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
After brief and scattered successes, entertainment has gone back into hiding following bomb attacks by the Taliban. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

After brief and scattered successes, entertainment has gone back into hiding following bomb attacks by the Taliban. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Apr 13 2014 (IPS)

Mushfiq Wali, a 22-year-old shoemaker in northern Pakistan, loves watching films in the local Pashto language. But he says the Taliban are a killjoy: their bomb attacks have led to the closure of movie theatres, again. “They don’t spare anything that brings happiness.”

The extent of freedom to listen to music and to go to the cinema has become a barometer of the influence of the Taliban, and of just normal living. Music and cinema have been emerging as the language of a challenge to the Taliban, as surely as the Taliban have attacked music.The extent of freedom to listen to music and to go to the cinema has become a barometer for the influence of the Taliban.

“The past five years have been very difficult for musicians because of Taliban militants. Now we are heaving a sigh of relief as acts of terror have gone down,” singer Gul Pana told IPS earlier this year. But the Taliban have hit back.

On Feb. 11, Taliban militants hurled two grenades at Shama Cinema in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in the north of Pakistan, killing 15 people. The attack came soon after five people were killed at the Picture House cinema hall in another terror attack on Feb. 2.

“Such incidents are very depressing for people who seek a few moments of leisure after a hard day’s work,” Wali said. “We have no internet, TV or other entertainment facilities at home, so we would go to cinema halls for some happiness.”

Opposition to movies, music and dance has always been a part of the Taliban agenda. They killed Wazir Khan Afridi, a veteran singer who recorded 50 albums, on Feb. 26. Afridi had been kidnapped three times before, but was freed on those occasions on condition he quit singing.

“The Taliban have set fire to over 500 CD and music shops in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to frighten people and force them to wind up businesses that are against their brand of Islam,” Ghulam Nabi, who seeks to promote culture in the region, told IPS.

The Taliban have many bases in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in the north bordering Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. They have been targeting music shops and musicians, and believe that music is un-Islamic.

In January 2009, militants had slit the throat of dancer Shabana Begum in Swat, one of the districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and hung her body from an electricity pole. The incident forced other artistes to stay at home or leave the city. Thousands of dancers and musicians fled Swat from 2007 to 2009 when the area was under Taliban rule.

Peshawar used to have 21 cinema houses, each with a capacity of around 200, before the advent of militancy. The city is now left with just 11 movie theatres. Cinema halls are also being closed down in neighbouring Mardan district.

Jehangir Jani, 54, a well-known Pashto film actor, is perturbed. “It is highly condemnable that the Taliban are depriving people of entertainment. I am sure the insurgents will not be able to shut down cinema houses for very long as people cannot live without movies,” he told IPS.

Jani, who is a household name in Pashtun areas, has had to go to Afghanistan many times to film. “In Afghanistan, films are being produced for CDs. Pashtuns have traditionally been film buffs.”

Films in the Pashto language, widely spoken in Afghanistan, are popular in some Pakistani areas as well. “They are watched by people from FATA as well as Afghanistan,” said cine-goer Zahirzada Khan.

Cinema houses are a cheap source of entertainment, he said. “The closure of cinema halls after back-to-back bombings is very upsetting.”

Kashif Shah, manager of a Peshawar cinema hall, said hall owners received letters earlier this year asking them to stop the “shameful trade” of screening movies. “The Taliban warned that they would make an example of us,” Shah said. His hall is now shut.

Shah said the Taliban’s campaign would end up isolating them. “Even their well-wishers have turned against them.”

But the terror threat persists. Police say they don’t have enough personnel to guard cinema halls, and have directed cinema theatres to make their own security arrangements.

“We have told movie hall owners to install cameras and metal detectors at the gates,” senior superintendent of police Najibullah Khan told IPS. “We don’t have enough personnel, but we are ready to train private security guards to prevent such incidents.”

The police have arrested 15-year-old Hasan Khan, who was paid 80 dollars by the Taliban to hurl grenades at the Shama Cinema.

For the time being, Peshawar is going without films.

Jehanzeb Ali, a 35-year-old mechanic from Mardan, told IPS that he used to watch a film every Sunday. “We used to visit Peshawar, watch films and eat out. Now I haven’t seen a movie for a month.”

The cultural challenge to the Taliban had made tentative but isolated advances in recent years. “In the last few years, I have sung more than a dozen songs against the Taliban,” award-wining singer Khyal Muhammad told IPS in 2011. “I got threatening messages on the mobile phone,” he said. “But I will continue to sing because it gives me strength.”

For some time after 2010 it did appear that music and cinema were on a winning track – despite repeated attacks on musicians and music stores. Cinema houses that were closed down began to reopen.

But all along, those in the business have struggled to keep music playing and the show going. “The endless series of bomb attacks on CD and music shops has become the order of the day, but we are undeterred,” Sher Dil Khan, president of the CD and Music Shops Association in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the north of Pakistan, told IPS in 2011. “We will continue to produce new dramas and songs.”

The big encouragement came with the elections in 2013 when cricketer turned politician Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaaf party won the election in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. After the resumption of open sales of music, and the occasional theatre performance, music returned in full swing – in many if not all areas. Now, silence has advanced again.

The post Taliban Screens a New Silence appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/taliban-back-scene/feed/ 1
The Iranian Nuclear Weapons Programme That Wasn’t http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/iranian-nuclear-weapons-programme-wasnt/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=iranian-nuclear-weapons-programme-wasnt http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/iranian-nuclear-weapons-programme-wasnt/#comments Sat, 12 Apr 2014 01:07:26 +0000 Gareth Porter http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133622 When U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Carmen M. Ortiz unsealed the indictment of a Chinese citizen in the UK for violating the embargo against Iran, she made what appeared to be a new U.S. accusation of an Iran nuclear weapons programme. The press release on the indictment announced that between in November 2005 and 2012, Sihai […]

The post The Iranian Nuclear Weapons Programme That Wasn’t appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON, Apr 12 2014 (IPS)

When U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Carmen M. Ortiz unsealed the indictment of a Chinese citizen in the UK for violating the embargo against Iran, she made what appeared to be a new U.S. accusation of an Iran nuclear weapons programme.

The press release on the indictment announced that between in November 2005 and 2012, Sihai Cheng had supplied parts that have nuclear applications, including U.S.-made goods, to an Iranian company, Eyvaz Technic Manufacturing, which it described as “involved in the development and procurement of parts for Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”The text of the indictment ...was yet another iteration of a rhetorical device used often in the past to portray Iran’s gas centrifuge enrichment programme as equivalent to the development of nuclear weapons.

Reuters, Bloomberg, the Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune and The Independent all reported that claim as fact. But the U.S. intelligence community, since its well-known November 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, has continued to be very clear on the pubic record about its conclusion that Iran has not had a nuclear weapons programme since 2003.

Something was clearly amiss with the Justice Department’s claim.

The text of the indictment reveals that the reference to a “nuclear weapons program” was yet another iteration of a rhetorical device used often in the past to portray Iran’s gas centrifuge enrichment programme as equivalent to the development of nuclear weapons.

The indictment doesn’t actually refer to an Iranian nuclear weapons programme, as the Ortiz press release suggested. But it does say that the Iranian company in question, Eyvaz Tehnic Manufacturing, “has supplied parts for Iran’s development of nuclear weapons.”

The indictment claims that Eyvaz provided “vacuum equipment” to Iran’s two uranium enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordow and “pressure transducers” to Kalaye Electric Company, which has worked on centrifuge research and development.

But even those claims are not supported by anything except a reference to a Dec. 2, 2011 decision by the Council of the European Union that did not offer any information supporting that claim.

The credibility of the EU claim was weakened, moreover, by the fact that the document describes Eyvaz as a “producer of vacuum equipment.” The company’s website shows that it produces equipment for the oil, gas and petrochemical industries, including level controls and switches, control valves and steam traps.

Further revealing its political nature of indictment’s nuclear weapons claim, it cites two documents “designating” entities for their ties to the nuclear programme: the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1737 and a U.S. Treasury Department decision two months later.

Neither of those documents suggested any connection between Eyvaz and nuclear weapons. The UNSC Resolution, passed Dec. 23, 2006, referred to Iran’s enrichment as “proliferation sensitive nuclear activities” in 11 different places in the brief text and listed Eyvaz as one of the Iranian entities to be sanctioned for its involvement in those activities.

And in February 2007 the Treasury Department designated Kalaye Electric Company as a “proliferator of Weapons of Mass Destruction” merely because of its “research and development efforts in support of Iran’s nuclear centrifuge program.”

The designation by Treasury was carried out under an Executive Order 13382, issued by President George W. Bush, which is called “Blocking Property of Weapons of Mass destruction Proliferators and Their Supporters.” That title conveyed the impression to the casual observer that the people on the list had been caught in actual WMD proliferation activities.

But the order required allowed the U.S. government to sanction any foreign person merely because that person was determined to have engaged in activities that it argued “pose a risk of materially contributing” to “the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or their means of delivery”.

The Obama administration’s brazen suggestion that it was indicting an individual for exporting U.S. products to a company that has been involved in Iran’s “nuclear weapons program” is simply a new version of the same linguistic trick used by the Bush administration.

The linguistic acrobatics began with the political position that Iran’s centrifuge programme posed a “risk” of WMD proliferation; that “risk” of proliferation was then conflated with nuclear proliferation activities, when than was transmuted into “development of nuclear weapons”.

The final linguistic shift was to convert “development of nuclear weapons” into a “nuclear weapons program”.

That kind of the deceptive rhetoric about the Iranian nuclear programme began with the Bill Clinton administration, which argued, in effect, that nuclear weapons development could be inferred from Iran’s enrichment programme.

Although Cheng and Jamili clearly violated U.S. statutes in purchasing and importing the pressure transducers from the United States and sending them to Eyvaz in Iran, a close reading of the indictment indicates that the evidence that Eyvaz provided the transducers to the Iranian nuclear programme is weak at best.

The indictment says Cheng began doing business with Jamili and his company Nicaro in November 2005, and that he sold thousands of Chinese parts “with nuclear applications” which had been requested by Eyvaz. But all the parts listed in the indictment are dual use items that Eyvaz could have ordered for production equipment for oil and gas industry customers.

The indictment insinuates that Eyvaz was ordering the parts to pass them on to Iran’s enrichment facility at Natanz, but provides no real evidence of that intent. It quotes Jamili as informing Cheng in 2007 that his unnamed customer needed the parts for “a very big project and a secret one”. In 2008, he told Cheng that the customer was “making a very dangerous system and gas leakage acts as a bomb!”

The authors do not connect either of those statements to Eyvaz, but they suggest that it was a reference to gas centrifuges and thus imply that it must have been Eyvaz. “During the enrichment of uranium using gas centrifuges,” the indictment explains, “extremely corrosive chemicals are produced that could cause fire and explosions.”

That statement is highly misleading, however. There is no real risk of gas leaks from centrifuges causing fires or explosions, as MIT nuclear expert Scott R. Kemp told IPS in an interview. “The only risk of a gas leak [in centrifuge enrichment] is to the centrifuge itself,” said Kemp, “because the gas could leak into the centrifuge and cause it to crash.”

On the other hand, substantial risk of explosion and fire from gas leaks exists in the natural gas industry. So even if the customer referred to in the quotes had been Eyvaz, they would have been consistent with that company’s sales to gas industry customers.

Pressure transducers are used to control risk in that industry, as Todd McPadden of Ashcroft Instruments in Stratford, Connecticut told IPS. The pressure transducer measures the gas pressure and responds to any indication of either loss of pressure from leaks or build up of excessive pressure, McPadden explained.

The indictment shows in detail that in 2009 Eyvaz ordered hundreds of pressure transducers, which came from the U.S. company MKS. But again the indictment cites no real evidence that Eyvaz was ordering them to supply Iran’s enrichment facilities.

It refers only to photographs showing that MKS parts ended up in the centrifuge cascades at Natanz, which does constitute evidence that they came from Eyvaz.

Gareth Porter, an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy, received the UK-based Gellhorn Prize for journalism for 2011 for articles on the U.S. war in Afghanistan. His new book “Manufactured Crisis: the Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare”, was published Feb. 14.

The post The Iranian Nuclear Weapons Programme That Wasn’t appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/iranian-nuclear-weapons-programme-wasnt/feed/ 1
Tajikistan’s Government Distances Itself from Labour Migrants http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/tajikistans-government-distances-labour-migrants/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tajikistans-government-distances-labour-migrants http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/tajikistans-government-distances-labour-migrants/#comments Fri, 11 Apr 2014 13:13:58 +0000 an EurasiaNet correspondent http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133608 Labour migrants make up Tajikistan’s economic lifeline, but that’s a fact the Central Asian country’s leadership doesn’t seem eager to acknowledge. Migrants contribute the equivalent of 48 percent of Tajikistan’s GDP, according to the World Bank, making the impoverished country the most remittance-dependent in the world. Estimates vary, but almost half of Tajikistan’s male workforce […]

The post Tajikistan’s Government Distances Itself from Labour Migrants appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Central Asian migrants, including many from Tajikistan, gather in Moscow to pray during the Islamic holy day of Eid al-Fitr, in early August 2013. Estimates vary, but almost half of Tajikistan’s male workforce is thought to be working abroad, mostly in Russia. Credit: David Trilling/EurasiaNet

Central Asian migrants, including many from Tajikistan, gather in Moscow to pray during the Islamic holy day of Eid al-Fitr, in early August 2013. Estimates vary, but almost half of Tajikistan’s male workforce is thought to be working abroad, mostly in Russia. Credit: David Trilling/EurasiaNet

By an EurasiaNet correspondent
DUSHANBE, Apr 11 2014 (EurasiaNet)

Labour migrants make up Tajikistan’s economic lifeline, but that’s a fact the Central Asian country’s leadership doesn’t seem eager to acknowledge.

Migrants contribute the equivalent of 48 percent of Tajikistan’s GDP, according to the World Bank, making the impoverished country the most remittance-dependent in the world. Estimates vary, but almost half of Tajikistan’s male workforce is thought to be working abroad, mostly in Russia.“Why don’t we replace the billboards featuring photos of the president with pictures of the people who feed us every day?” -- Olga Tutubalina

The migrant-labour role in the economy is having trouble fitting in with the image of Tajikistan that President Imomali Rakhmon’s administration wants to project to the outside world. Rakhmon has spent huge sums on mega-projects in the capital Dushanbe partly in an effort to distance the country from its reputation as Central Asia’s poorest state.

The government also doesn’t look kindly upon those who would like to honor labour migrants. The most recent such initiative began in February, when Tajik blogger and journalist Isfandiyor Zarafshoni started a petition calling for the construction of a monument to migrant workers.

“Every city in Tajikistan has a monument to Ismoil Somoni, founder of the Tajik state. Many cities and regional centers still have monuments of Vladimir Lenin. Some cities and regions have monuments of [medieval poets] Rudaki and Ferdowsi. But why don’t we have the most necessary and most important monument, to the Labour Migrant?” Zarafshoni told EurasiaNet.org.

“They leave behind their families and children, parents and dreams. With their hard work, they build the Tajikistan in which we live today. They are often treated badly, insulted and humiliated, go unpaid, are beaten and even killed,” Zarafshoni continued.

In 2013, 942 Tajik guest workers returned to Tajikistan from Russia in coffins.

The government has not formally commented on the latest initiative, but officials tell EurasiaNet.org the idea is a non-starter. “I don’t see a need for a monument,” said Suhrob Sharipov, an MP for Rakhmon’s People’s Democratic Party of Tajikistan.

This isn’t the first time recently that the Tajik government has appeared uneasy acknowledging the country’s economic reliance on migrants. Last July, the National Bank stopped publishing remittance data, arguing it could be “politicized.” The change has done little to hide the information, as data is still available from transfer points in Russia.

Critics say the government is trying to bury its head in the sand. On April 1, the Asian Development Bank said Tajikistan’s robust 7.4 percent growth in 2013 was “supported mainly by remittances,” and warned the economy is slowing as the government does too little to attract private investment.

The International Monetary Fund has repeatedly said Tajikistan’s dependence on migrant transfers leaves it vulnerable to external shocks and has encouraged the government to focus on local job creation.

In 2011, Olga Tutubalina, editor of Dushanbe’s Asia Plus newspaper, also proposed a monument to migrants. Back then she wrote an open letter to the government, noting that Tajikistan’s population survives because of the labour migrants working in Russia and Kazakhstan.

“Why don’t we replace the billboards featuring photos of the president with pictures of the people who feed us every day?” Tutubalina told EurasiaNet.org.

A spokesman for Rakhmon’s party says monuments are installed for heroes. Migrants, he argues, go abroad to enhance their personal lives. Therefore, they’re not heroes.

“There are 200 million migrants worldwide, but none of their countries have installed a monument to them,” People’s Democratic Party spokesman Usmon Solih told EurasiaNet.org.

His claim is not exactly accurate: Mexico, for example, boasts monuments to its citizens who have gone to the United States to better their lives and the lives of their families back home. Meanwhile, Istanbul has a monument to the unnamed and overlooked porter, outside the famous Grand Bazaar.

Building a monument would “acknowledge that labour migrants play an important role in the internal politics of Tajikistan,” said Shokirdjon Hakimov, deputy chairman of the opposition Social Democratic Party.

Authorities will not permit a monument because their own “ineffective economic policy” has forced migrants to leave the country, which is embarrassing. The National Bank’s decision to stop publishing remittance data was “a political decision,” added Hakimov.

Sharipov, the MP close to Rakhmon, insists the government is not embarrassed. He dismissed the idea the country is financially dependent on migrants and rejected accusations the National Bank’s decision to withhold data was political.

But outside of those in government, few in Dushanbe’s chattering classes seem to buy official explanations. Any acknowledgement of labour migrants’ significance, said political scientist Saimiddin Dustov, “would mean admitting the impotence and the irrelevance of the government’s economic programmes.”

This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

The post Tajikistan’s Government Distances Itself from Labour Migrants appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/tajikistans-government-distances-labour-migrants/feed/ 0
U.N. Non-Committal over U.S. Visa Refusal to Iranian Envoy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-n-non-committal-u-s-visa-refusal-iranian-envoy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-non-committal-u-s-visa-refusal-iranian-envoy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-n-non-committal-u-s-visa-refusal-iranian-envoy/#comments Tue, 08 Apr 2014 21:44:30 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133526 When New York City was picked as the location for the United Nations many moons ago, the politically-important decision was followed by the 1947 U.S.-U.N. Headquarters Agreement which obligated Washington to facilitate – not hinder – the smooth functioning of the world body. But over the years, there have been clear violations of this agreement, […]

The post U.N. Non-Committal over U.S. Visa Refusal to Iranian Envoy appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (right) greets Hassan Rouhani, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, prior to a ministerial-level meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement on Sep. 27, 2013. Beside Mr. Rouhani is Javad Zarif, Iran’s Minister for Foreign Affairs. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (right) greets Hassan Rouhani, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, prior to a ministerial-level meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement on Sep. 27, 2013. Beside Mr. Rouhani is Javad Zarif, Iran’s Minister for Foreign Affairs. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 8 2014 (IPS)

When New York City was picked as the location for the United Nations many moons ago, the politically-important decision was followed by the 1947 U.S.-U.N. Headquarters Agreement which obligated Washington to facilitate – not hinder – the smooth functioning of the world body.

But over the years, there have been clear violations of this agreement, as evidenced in the refusal of a visa to Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat to address the U.N. General Assembly back in 1988, and the current mass cancellations of bank accounts of over 70 U.N. missions and their diplomatic staff in New York."Iran is a founding member of the U.N. - regardless of political inclination." -- former ASG Samir Sanbar

And on Monday the U.S. Senate voted unanimously to urge the administration of President Barack Obama to refuse a visa to Iran’s newly appointed U.N. ambassador, Hamid Aboutalebi, on the grounds he was involved in the 1979 forcible takeover of the U.S. embassy and its diplomatic personnel in Tehran.

The ambassador-in-waiting says he was only a translator and negotiator between the hostages and the hostage takers – and that he was not even in Tehran when the embassy was physically taken over by a group called the Muslim Students.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who is currently visiting Africa, has implicitly refused to weigh in on the dispute, judging by the sentiments expressed by his deputy spokesperson.

Asked for a response, U.N. Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq told IPS it is essentially a bilateral dispute between the United States and Iran.

“Let’s see what develops and if we need to pronounce ourselves on that somewhere down the line, we’d look at what we need to say,” he said last week.

“I don’t think we are going to get ahead of the game and try to speculate what might happen based on current circumstances,” Haq added.

Asked whether the United States, as host country, can block any U.N. envoys taking office, he told reporters Tuesday he has no comments since it is being handled bilaterally.

Samir Sanbar, a former U.N. assistant secretary-general (ASG) who served in various capacities under five different secretaries-general, told IPS the Iranian case reflects confusion between bilateral politics and international diplomacy.

“While relations between two member states are subject mainly to dual reciprocal relations, membership of the international community would have wider inclusive guidelines including, for example, the 1947 U.N. Headquarters Agreement with the host country,” he added.

“With all due support for the Palestinian cause, a basic difference between Chairman Arafat’s visa-refusal is that while the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) had the status of an Observer, Iran is a founding member of the U.N. – regardless of political inclination,” said Sanbar, a former head of the U.N.’s Department of Public Information.

Just after the Senate vote, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf was quoted as saying that Washington had raised “serious concerns” with Iran about the envoy’s appointment.

She added, “But we do take our obligations as host nation for the United Nations very seriously.”

Asked if any ambassadors accredited to the United Nations had been refused visas, Haq told reporters that was a fairly long historical question.

“I think the U.N. Library has a lot of the resources that you need in terms of something that goes back through the entire history of the United Nations,” he said.

It would be difficult to find at this stage, he said, adding, “What I can tell you is there have been times when there have been differing problems about credentials, which have been resolved in different ways, but each case is basically unique.”

In his address to the 1988 General Assembly session in Geneva, perhaps the only one of its kind, Arafat took a swipe at Washington when he prefaced his statement by saying “it never occurred to me that my second meeting with this honourable Assembly, since 1974, would take place in the hospitable city of Geneva”.

That visa refusal took place under the administration of then U.S. President Ronald Reagan, a Republican.

Last month, an African ambassador who had his bank accounts arbitrarily cancelled told delegates it is time to seriously consider relocating the U.N. headquarters away from the United States because of the increasingly unfriendly environment to U.N. diplomats in New York City.

Sanbar told IPS when the General Assembly temporarily moved to Geneva to hear Arafat, the most senior U.S./U.N.Secretariat official at the time, Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly Affairs Ambassador Joseph Vernon Reed, who was politically a Republican like President Reagan, took a position of principled courage by going to oversee the politically-charged meeting.

He also said it will be interesting to note the stand taken by the current Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, a former U.S. ambassador in Lebanon and assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs who, as a U.N. official had already visited Tehran twice.

“By nature of its work, the U.N. is an Organisation of Peace. Any step towards reconciliation will be better than attempts at confrontation,” he said.

The post U.N. Non-Committal over U.S. Visa Refusal to Iranian Envoy appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-n-non-committal-u-s-visa-refusal-iranian-envoy/feed/ 0
Ukraine Crisis Cements Astana in Russia’s Orbit http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/ukraine-crisis-cements-astana-russias-orbit/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ukraine-crisis-cements-astana-russias-orbit http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/ukraine-crisis-cements-astana-russias-orbit/#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 18:10:23 +0000 Joanna Lillis http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133492 The Crimea crisis is putting pressure on Kazakhstan’s long-standing, multi-vectored foreign policy, which has sought to balance the competing interests of Russia, China and the United States in Central Asia. In forcefully backing Russia’s annexation of Crimea, many in Kazakhstan worry that President Nursultan Nazarbayev could be setting himself up for separatist woes of his […]

The post Ukraine Crisis Cements Astana in Russia’s Orbit appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Vladimir Putin and Nursultan Nazarbayev shaking hands at a Kremlin meeting in December 2013. Credit: Kremlin Presidential Press and Information Office - CC BY 3.0

Vladimir Putin and Nursultan Nazarbayev shaking hands at a Kremlin meeting in December 2013. Credit: Kremlin Presidential Press and Information Office - CC BY 3.0

By Joanna Lillis
ASTANA, Apr 7 2014 (EurasiaNet)

The Crimea crisis is putting pressure on Kazakhstan’s long-standing, multi-vectored foreign policy, which has sought to balance the competing interests of Russia, China and the United States in Central Asia.

In forcefully backing Russia’s annexation of Crimea, many in Kazakhstan worry that President Nursultan Nazarbayev could be setting himself up for separatist woes of his own.“Kazakhstan’s position is dictated not so much by creed as by fear… Events in Crimea are a possible scenario for Kazakhstan too.” -- Aidos Sarym

At the Nuclear Security Summit on Mar. 25 in The Hague, Nazarbayev jumped off the diplomatic fence to offer strong support for Russia’s leader, Vladimir Putin, the architect of the Crimean land-grab.

Nazarbayev essentially blamed Ukraine’s new leaders for precipitating the crisis, saying that “an unconstitutional coup d’etat” had occurred in Kiev. He also noted there had been “discrimination against minority rights” in Ukraine, thus providing diplomatic cover for Russia’s position that it intervened to protect Russians in Crimea.

Outraged officials in Kiev called Nazarbayev’s remarks “unacceptable;” A Kazakhstani Foreign Ministry representative quickly retorted that the Ukrainian reaction was “dictated largely by emotions, and not common sense.”

The occasion marked Kiev’s second protest within a week: on Mar. 20 it complained about Astana’s recognition of the Mar. 16 Crimean referendum, which Russia proceeded to use as justification of its annexation of the peninsula.

On Mar. 27, Kazakhstan abstained in a vote against a U.N. resolution declaring the plebiscite invalid.

The crisis is placing considerable strain on Nazarbayev’s “multi-vector” approach, which is premised on the maintenance of good relations with all powers.

The policy, along with an abundance of natural resources, has raised Kazakhstan’s international profile during the post-Soviet era. Nazarbayev’s recent statements, however, are leading Kazakhstan into a “political and diplomatic blind alley,” cautioned opposition leader Amirzhan Kosanov.

“Kazakhstan has basically lost its independence in assessing events taking place in the world and, wittingly or unwittingly, is becoming hostage to the foreign policy pursued by the Kremlin,” Kosanov told EurasiaNet.org.

Kosanov is far from the only one worried. Kazakhstan’s pro-Russian stance is causing widespread consternation at home, where critics fret that Putin’s doctrine of intervening to protect Russian speakers in Crimea could eventually be applied to Kazakhstan – albeit in circumstances currently unimaginable, since Astana and Moscow are close allies and Russian speakers’ rights are guaranteed.

Northern Kazakhstan is home to a sizable Russian minority.

The similarities between Kazakhstan and Ukraine are blinding: both are post-Soviet states sharing long borders with Russia, with large ethnic Russian minorities (22 percent of the population in Kazakhstan’s case).

“Kazakhstan’s position is dictated not so much by creed as by fear… Events in Crimea are a possible scenario for Kazakhstan too,” Almaty-based analyst Aidos Sarym told EurasiaNet.org.

Hyperbolic headlines splashed across Kazakhstan’s press illustrate the apprehensions.

“Is Kazakhstan Threatened With Occupation Tomorrow?” thundered the Assandi Times. “Is Kazakhstan Being Dragged Into Someone Else’s War?” wondered Adam Bol magazine.

“Supporting the precedent of the actual annexation of Crimea from sovereign Ukraine, Akorda [the presidential administration] is itself encouraging possible separatist sentiments within the country,” said Kosanov.

Dosym Satpayev, director of the Almaty-based Risks Assessment Group think tank, suggested that Nazarbayev’s backing of Russia over Ukraine may represent what he sees as the lesser of two evils: for the 73-year-old president, in power for over two decades, his fear of domestic dissent seems to be overwhelming any concern that “separatist sentiments could be possible in Kazakhstan itself.”

“That means fears of revolutions and coups turned out to be higher for Kazakhstan’s leadership than fear of the threat of separatism,” he told EurasiaNet.org.

Unfazed by Nazarbayev’s pro-Kremlin stance, Western leaders including U.S. President Barack Obama, UK Prime Minister David Cameron, and French President Francois Hollande lined up to meet him in The Hague.

This suggests that Kazakhstan still retains lots of diplomatic wiggle room to get back squarely on a multi-vector track. As well as eyeing Kazakhstan’s oil and gas reserves, Western leaders may be hoping the veteran Kazakhstani leader can exert a behind-the-scenes, calming influence on the irascible Putin.

In a nod to Western sentiment and Kiev’s sensibilities, Astana has mixed pro-Russian pronouncements with statements on the need to uphold Ukraine’s sovereignty, performing what Sarym calls a “verbal balancing act.”

The nuclear summit also offered Nazarbayev a PR opportunity to note the contrasts between Kazakhstan and Ukraine, says Satpayev, and laud “Kazakhstan’s domestic political and inter-ethnic stability.”

Nazarbayev has consistently made clear that, multi-vector policy notwithstanding, he considers Russia to be Kazakhstan’s main geostrategic ally. Beyond the politics of such a position lie glaring economic realities.

Russia is Kazakhstan’s largest trading partner, last year accounting for 36 percent of imports worth 17.6 billion dollars and seven percent of exports worth 5.8 billion dollars.

The trade balance may be in Russia’s favour, but – crucially for Kazakhstan – while most trading partners buy oil, Russia is a major consumer of non-oil exports.

Kazakhstan is also tied into economic cooperation with Russia through their membership of the Customs Union, a trilateral free trade zone with Belarus which is due to sign an agreement in May to expand into the Eurasian Economic Union from 2015.

For Putin, Ukraine’s tilt westward has infused his Eurasian Union vision with even greater political significance. Nazarbayev is a strong backer of Eurasian integration (he first proposed the idea of a Eurasian Union in 1994) – but he nowadays views the political element of integration with suspicion.

In The Hague he took pains to stress that Kazakhstan has a “purely pragmatic economic interest” in the union, which, as he pointed out, allows his landlocked country tariff-free access to the Black Sea through Russia.

Furthermore, it should not be forgotten that, in addition to political and economic factors, there is a “mental factor” contributing Kazakhstan’s support for Russia, suggests Sarym: many in the Astana political elite (including Nazarbayev) have held top posts since the Soviet era, and in their worldview, “Moscow is the center of the world and the Kremlin is a cultural mecca.”

Editor’s note:  Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specialises in Central Asia. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

The post Ukraine Crisis Cements Astana in Russia’s Orbit appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/ukraine-crisis-cements-astana-russias-orbit/feed/ 0
Taliban Provokes New Hunger for Education http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/taliban-provokes-new-hunger-education/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=taliban-provokes-new-hunger-education http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/taliban-provokes-new-hunger-education/#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 06:41:26 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133460 Following scattered defiance of the Taliban earlier, a new wave of students is now heading for education in schools and colleges across the troubled north of Pakistan. “There is a steady increase in enrolment of students because parents have realised the significance of education, and now they want to thwart the Taliban’s efforts to deprive […]

The post Taliban Provokes New Hunger for Education appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Girls at a makeshift school in Khyber Agency in the troubled northern region of Pakistan. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

Girls at a makeshift school in Khyber Agency in the troubled northern region of Pakistan. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Apr 7 2014 (IPS)

Following scattered defiance of the Taliban earlier, a new wave of students is now heading for education in schools and colleges across the troubled north of Pakistan.

“There is a steady increase in enrolment of students because parents have realised the significance of education, and now they want to thwart the Taliban’s efforts to deprive students of education,” Pervez Khan, education officer in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), tells IPS.

In 2012, he says, the literacy rate for girls was three percent in FATA. That rose to 10.5 percent in 2013."Anything opposed by the Taliban benefits the people.” -- Muhammad Darwaish, a shopkeeper in Khyber Agency

The boys literacy rate shot up correspondingly to 36.6 percent compared to 29.5 percent.

The Taliban are opposed to modern education. They have destroyed about 500 schools, including 300 schools for girls.

Khan says the Taliban’s campaign against education is only propelling more of the tribal population towards schools.

“The majority of people know that the Taliban are pursuing anti-people activities, such as damaging schools, and therefore they are now coming in droves,” he says.

Muhammad Darwaish, a shopkeeper in Khyber Agency, agrees with Khan. “I enrolled my two daughters and one son in school because I am now convinced that education will benefit them. Anything opposed by the Taliban benefits the people.”

Saeeda Bibi, one of his daughters, says she enjoys school. “I go to school everyday and am very happy there. Before, I used to pass the whole day in the streets.”

Darwaish says he will make every effort to keep his children in school. “I am poor but I will make all efforts to see my children educated.”

Khyber Agency, one of the seven tribal agencies within FATA, has faced some of the worst of Taliban violence. Since 2005, 85 schools have been blown up, depriving about 50,000 children of a school to go to on the militancy-stricken Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

But Khyber Agency saw a 16.1 percent rise in enrolment last year compared to 2012.

Like Darwaish, scores of parents in FATA are now taking the education of their sons and daughters more seriously.

Abdul Jameel of Kurram Agency sends both his sons to school. “Militants have blown up three schools in our area, due to which my children sat at home. They are back because now the Taliban-damaged schools have been reconstructed.”

Director of Education in FATA, Ikram Ahmed, says they have seen a 21.3 percent rise in boys and girls enrolment in Kurram Agency, 7.5 percent in South Waziristan, 4.3 percent in North Waziristan and 5.1 percent in Orakzai Agency.

In all 124,424 girls are enrolled in 1,551 primary schools, 19,614 girls in 158 middle schools, 13,837 girls in 42 high schools and 1,134 girls in five higher secondary schools in FATA, Ahmed tells IPS.

“In the past few years, militant activities and the poor law and order situation in tribal areas badly hampered girls’ education but the government’s measures have paid off,” he says.

“The massive allocation of 3.67 billion rupees [37 million dollars] offset the impact of damage caused to educational institutions during the war against terrorism.”

Annually, education was given top priority in the development programme of 2013 – at 24.64 percent of the FATA budget of 18.5 billion rupees (188 million dollars).

The current year will bring 38 new middle schools, 125 primary schools and three hostels for female teachers.

Akram says that in some areas the army damaged schools because militants had been using them. “About 10 schools were destroyed by the army in South Waziristan where Taliban militants lived,” he says. All those schools are being rebuilt.

“In some areas, the government has established tent schools to provide education to children and at other places dozens of well-off people have offered private buildings and structures to be used as schools,” he says.

Bismillah Khan, one of the 20 lawmakers from FATA, tells IPS that the government will provide more scholarships and free textbooks to support poor students.

“We have suffered a great deal due to prolonged militancy,” says Iqbal Afridi, a leader of the Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek Insaf. “Our students have suffered, businessmen and farmers have lost their work, and the only way to make progress is education. The good news is that people now want to educate their children at any cost.”

The post Taliban Provokes New Hunger for Education appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/taliban-provokes-new-hunger-education/feed/ 0
Political Web Spun for ‘Youngistan’ http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/youngistan-weaves-political-web/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=youngistan-weaves-political-web http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/youngistan-weaves-political-web/#comments Sun, 06 Apr 2014 08:24:31 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133446 As India votes in its 16th general election Apr. 7-May 12, the youth, comprising nearly half the country’s 814 million voters, could prove decisive. And the internet is being used increasingly to target youth in the world’s largest democratic exercise. India has 383 million voters in the 18-35 age group. Underscoring their importance, pollsters have named […]

The post Political Web Spun for ‘Youngistan’ appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
A Bharatiya Janata Party rally in Bhubaneswar. Much campaigning, particularly among the youth, is increasingly over the internet. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS.

A Bharatiya Janata Party rally in Bhubaneswar. Much campaigning, particularly among the youth, is increasingly over the internet. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS.

By Manipadma Jena
BHUBANESWAR, India, Apr 6 2014 (IPS)

As India votes in its 16th general election Apr. 7-May 12, the youth, comprising nearly half the country’s 814 million voters, could prove decisive. And the internet is being used increasingly to target youth in the world’s largest democratic exercise.

India has 383 million voters in the 18-35 age group. Underscoring their importance, pollsters have named this huge segment ‘Youngistan’, or the nation of the youth.

Not only have election promises been tailored to woo this segment, but for the first time campaign engagement with voters is taking the internet route, especially over social media platforms."Politicians are listening as well as responding to young voters through social media."

“There’s more participation and what’s more, politicians are listening as well as responding to young voters through social media,” Sunil Abraham of the Bangalore-based non-profit Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) told IPS.

Mobile phone texting, which was used to reach out to voters in the last election in 2009, has made way for a tech-basket of mobile phones, e-mail campaigns, know-your-leader and political party websites, messages via smart phones, interactive Facebook and Twitter accounts, Google hangouts and YouTube videos.

Social media practitioners say at least 10 percent of the 664 million dollars projected to be spent on advertisements and publicity by political parties is likely to go to social media companies.

India’s internet user base has been estimated at 205 million, Facebook users number 65 million, Google+ 36 million, and Twitter 16 million.

In a document titled ‘Social Media and Law Enforcement’, India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) projects user strength galloping to 243 million by June 2014, of which 192 million would be active users, 56 million of them rural. Active users are categorised as those who use the internet at least once a month.

Fifty to sixty percent of current internet users are in the 18-35 age group, according to Abraham. Politicians are tapping into this huge and growing youth voter base not only to boost their reach but also to monitor engagement and run more effective campaigns.

“Politicians contract us to find out what ‘influencers’ on Twitter are saying about them, and we segregate the positive and negative tweets for a sentiment analysis,” Jwalant Patel, 30-year-old co-founder of social media analytics startup Meruki Analytics and Reporting Services told IPS. ‘Influencers’ are those with at least 10,000 Twitter followers, Patel said.

Of the 70,000 ‘influencers’ that the tech company has identified for its 11 clients within weeks of starting operations, 90 percent are in the 18-40 age group.

Patel claims that 160 of the 543 constituencies that go to the polls will be ‘social media constituencies’ where results will be impacted by politicians’ internet engagement.

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, 63, has a Twitter following of 3.66 million, while Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal, 45, whose anti-corruption plank is widely believed to have got Indian youth interested in politics, has 1.58 million. The Congress party’s Rahul Gandhi, 43, does not have an official Twitter account.

Sustained youth participation in protests in the Delhi rape case of December 2012 and in favour of the anti-corruption Lokpal Bill are other major catalysts in the politically proactive approach of youth in these elections, say analysts.

The dynamics of electioneering has changed in India, with its 1.2 billion people.

Abraham agrees that the internet in general and social media in particular have had a democratising effect on the voter-voted relationship, but he warns that once the competition gets tougher, political leaders may resort to ‘astro-turf’ battles where they manipulate e-campaigns, as opposed to the more transparent, physical ‘grass turf’ campaigns.

“How can you bet that all the Facebook ‘likes’ are from genuine supporters?” said Abraham.

Many of the youth seem clear on issues of concern to them.

“Most leading parties are promising jobs for graduates, but when a party that has been in power for several years says ‘we will give jobs’, we ask what were you doing all these years? If a new party makes the same promise, give them a chance, we say,” 20-year-old student Siddhant Sadangi told IPS in Bhubaneswar, capital of Odisha state in eastern India.

According to India’s National Sample Survey, one in four graduates is unemployed. The figures are worse for women.

More and more village men are preferring higher education to agricultural work, and this means there will be more demand for higher quality jobs in the near future.

In conflict-hit states, cynicism is apparent among the youth.

Manipur Talks, a vibrant internet forum that connects the widespread diaspora of northeast India’s Manipur state, lampoons pre-election promises. The site calls the election ‘Magic Wand Expo 2014 – the biggest expo for wiz-crafts in the world’ – a spoof on Harry Potter.

Northeastern communities have been protesting discrimination against them in the rest of India. “Politicians have lost credibility here and what’s more, nothing is done to help the Manipur youth diaspora vote,” Manipur-based social activist Chitra Ahanthem told IPS.

Campaigns by India’s Election Commission to enlist young voters through online registration have succeeded in a nationally high 70 percent turnout expectation, according to Election Commissioner Harishankar Brahma. But many of the 30 percent who will not exercise their franchise will be the young from troubled states.

“The youth of Jammu and Kashmir are isolated, alienated, angry,” Bashir Ahmad Dabla, heading the University of Kashmir’s sociology and social work department told IPS from Srinagar.

“Here, unlike elsewhere, the need for political stability takes precedence over economic issues,” said Dabla. “Jobs, education, water, electricity, roads are important but not the priority in Kashmir.”

The last elections in Kashmir saw only 31 percent voting. Around 50 percent of voters in Kashmir are in the 18-35 age group.

Saba Firdous, a 25-year-old graduate in the state, is not voting this time, and it’s not because of a poll boycott campaign by Kashmiri separatists.

“The major issues for youth here are repealing the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) in Kashmir valley, stopping civilian harassment and killings, resolving the unending conflict,” Firdous told IPS. “Mainstream political parties who go to Parliament will do nothing about these issues, we know.”

The post Political Web Spun for ‘Youngistan’ appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/youngistan-weaves-political-web/feed/ 0
Misgivings Rise Over Afghan Poll http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/misgivings-rise-afghan-poll/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=misgivings-rise-afghan-poll http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/misgivings-rise-afghan-poll/#comments Fri, 04 Apr 2014 06:40:40 +0000 Giuliano Battiston http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133407 “If Abdullah will become president, the will of [the] Afghan people will be respected. Otherwise – especially if Zalmai Rassoul will be indicated as the winner – a new conflict will start and our country will become more insecure.” The remark by Abdullah Abdullah supporter Qazi Sadullah Abu Aman is typical of the uncertainties and […]

The post Misgivings Rise Over Afghan Poll appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Local party workers on the campaign trail in Mazar-e-Sharif. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS.

Local party workers on the campaign trail in Mazar-e-Sharif. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS.

By Giuliano Battiston
FAIZABAD, Afghanistan, Apr 4 2014 (IPS)

“If Abdullah will become president, the will of [the] Afghan people will be respected. Otherwise – especially if Zalmai Rassoul will be indicated as the winner – a new conflict will start and our country will become more insecure.” The remark by Abdullah Abdullah supporter Qazi Sadullah Abu Aman is typical of the uncertainties and accusations rising as election day draws close on Saturday.

Sitting in his two-storey house in Faizabad, the largest city in the northeastern Badakhshan province, Abu Aman says only a massive fraud in favour of Rassoul, the presidential candidate backed by outgoing President Hamid Karzai, can stop former foreign minister and prominent Tajik leader Abdullah winning."The Independent Election Commission is independent only in name. It knows the ways here, but does not act.” -- Dr Anisgul Akhgar, director of the Relation & Cooperation Women Organisation

Abu Aman is one of the most authoritative figures in the province, as former head of the Provincial Peace Council, the government institution that runs the peace process with armed opposition groups, and a former member of the Afghan Upper House (Meshrano Jirga).

Abu Aman is a member of Jamiat-e-Islami, the predominately Tajik Islamist political party founded in the 1970s by Burhanuddin Rabbani. This was one of the major Afghan mujahedeen parties that fought the Soviet occupation in the eighties. He is also a candidate for election to the council of Badakhshan, one of the 34 Afghan provinces whose representatives will be elected Apr. 5, simultaneously with a new president to succeed Karzai.

“People will vote for him [Abdullah Abdullah] because he was a mujahed [religious fighter] who bravely fought the Soviets, and because he understands the problems of ordinary people. He is the right man to replace Karzai, whose government is corrupt and was unable to provide a better life for Afghans,” Abu Aman tells IPS.

Karzai, he says, has “activated the governmental machine to help Rassoul.”

Just a few hundred metres from Abu Aman’s house is the provincial office for Rassoul’s campaign. The office is headed by Basiri Khaled, a former mujahed with huge appeal.

He admits that Abdullah is a strong competitor: “He is known by everybody, kids and old men – and when you go to the bazaar you buy the product you already know. This is true. But Zalmai Rassoul has more chances to win, due to his programmes: he has promised to build schools, hospitals, roads, and to create new jobs through the mineral sector.”

In 2009, Khaled had coordinated Abdullah’s campaign; now he is running Rasoul’s. He sees no incoherence here, and says he still is a member of the Jamiat-e-Islami: “I’m a Jamiati since I was a kid,” he tells IPS. “I was a strong commander, the first to push away the Soviets from Badakhshan. I have fought together with commandant Masoud [the iconic leader of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, killed in September 2011, whose portraits overlook the main buildings here]. Nobody can expel me from the party.”

As evidence of the strength of his preferred candidate, Khaled says “thousands of people took part in his rally here in Faizabad.”

That may not mean much. “All candidates spend a lot of money to bring a huge number of people to their gatherings,” says Samiullah Saihwn, who works for the local radio Bayan-e-Shamal. “They gave money to the local commanders, and to community and village leaders to ensure broader participation. So it’s hard to understand who really will get the votes.”

On Mar. 31, Saihwn chaired a debate with some of the provincial council candidates. Promoted by the Badakhshan Civil Society Forum (BCSF), the debate was vibrant and frank. Many of the 250 or so people gathered at the Setara-e-Shar wedding hall in the city fired some very blunt questions.

“We had organised something similar in the earlier elections,” BCSF director Saifuddin Sais tells IPS. “But this was the first debate in town for the 2014 elections. We also have promoted debates and seminars in five rural districts, reaching more than 1,000 people and explaining to them the electoral process and their rights.”

Despite the awareness programmes by the BCSF, the gap between Faizabad and the rural areas remains huge.

“In Faizabad people somehow know their political rights, they know they can choose whoever they want, but in districts they have no information, no idea of what is going on,” says Saihwn. “They just follow what a local mullah, a commander or a power broker tells them. Ability is not a criterion.”

Dr Anisgul Akhgar, director of the Relation & Cooperation Women Organisation (RCWO), agrees. “Here in the city I perceive a great will to vote. Here anyone is free to select any of the candidates. But in rural districts local power brokers collect voter cards or indicate the people who have to be voted for.”

She fears that the election may therefore be unfair. “No effective measures have been taken to prevent fraud and rigging. The Independent Election Commission [the institution that should manage all the electoral process] is independent only in name. It knows the ways here, but does not act.”

Despite such apprehensions, Akhgar, a women’s rights activist since the days of the Taliban regime, will vote. “I will use my constitutional rights and I am encouraging all the women I know to do the same,” she tells IPS.

Zofanoon Hassam, head of the provincial Women Affairs Department, is also trying to encourage women’s participation.

“Through our awareness programmes we have spoken with more than 2,000 women. We have a registration centre here at our main office, and many women got their electoral cards here. According to our estimate, around 78,000 women in Faizabad – 44 percent of the total number – got it. We are particularly proud of this.”

The road to equal inclusion of women in politics is still long and difficult. “In many areas women are told who to vote for by their husbands. It’s a bad habits like this we are trying to dismiss. But more time is needed,” Hassam tells IPS.

The post Misgivings Rise Over Afghan Poll appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/misgivings-rise-afghan-poll/feed/ 0
Philippines Invokes Law to Fight Chinese Muscle http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/philippines-fights-chinese-muscle-law/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=philippines-fights-chinese-muscle-law http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/philippines-fights-chinese-muscle-law/#comments Wed, 02 Apr 2014 08:18:01 +0000 Richard Heydarian http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133354 After a year of futile diplomatic efforts aimed at resolving the South China Sea disputes, the Philippines has risked permanent estrangement with China by pressing ahead with an unprecedented arbitration case before a United Nations court at The Hague, while ironing out a new security pact with the U.S. The primary goal of the Philippines’ […]

The post Philippines Invokes Law to Fight Chinese Muscle appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
By Richard Heydarian
MANILA, Apr 2 2014 (IPS)

After a year of futile diplomatic efforts aimed at resolving the South China Sea disputes, the Philippines has risked permanent estrangement with China by pressing ahead with an unprecedented arbitration case before a United Nations court at The Hague, while ironing out a new security pact with the U.S.

The primary goal of the Philippines’ latest manoeuvre is to put maximum pressure on China amid an intensifying territorial dispute, which has raised fears of direct military conflict. Manila has been alarmed by the increasing assertiveness of Chinese paramilitary vessels, which have reportedly harassed Filipino fishermen straddling the South China Sea as well as threatened Filipino troops stationed across varying disputed features in the area.There seemed little goodwill left for resuscitating frayed bilateral relations.

In the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, for instance, recent weeks saw Chinese paramilitary forces imposing a tightening siege on Filipino troops, who have struggled to receive supply materials from their military command headquarters in the Philippines.

Since 1999, the Philippines has exercised effective and continuous control over the disputed feature, which falls well within the country’s 200-nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). But China is seemingly bent on seizing control of the shoal, which is very close to the hydrocarbon-rich waters off the coast of the southwestern Philippine island of Palawan.

From the perspective of the Filipino leadership, China is not only threatening the country’s territorial integrity, but also its vital economic and energy security interests in the South China Sea. In addition, the Philippines and its principal military ally, the United States, share similar concerns over China’s accelerated military spending. Beijing has focused on enhancing the country’s naval capabilities, part of China’s short-term goal of consolidating its territorial claims in the Western Pacific – and its long-term ambition of becoming the preeminent naval power in Asia.

“We will resolutely safeguard China’s sovereignty, security and development interests,” Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said at the opening session of the National People’s Congress in early March. “We will comprehensively enhance the revolutionary nature of the Chinese armed forces, further modernise them and upgrade their performance, and continue to raise their deterrence and combat capabilities in the information age.”

Recognising the apparent futility of existing diplomatic efforts, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III effectively abandoned his earlier attempts at reviving bilateral channels of communication with the top Chinese leadership when he chose to provocatively liken China to “Nazi Germany”.

“At what point do you say: ‘Enough is enough’? Well, the world has to say it. Remember that the Sudetenland was given in an attempt to appease Hitler to prevent World War II,” exclaimed Aquino, during an exclusive interview with the New York Times, where he compared China’s rising territorial ambitions in the South China Sea to Nazi Germany’s annexation of the then Czechoslovakian territory in the early 20th century.

China was outraged by Aquino’s comments, dismissing him as an “amateurish” leader with little appreciation for the delicate art of diplomacy and conflict management. At this point, there seemed little goodwill left for resuscitating frayed bilateral relations.

With diplomacy taking the back seat, the Philippines has stepped up its efforts to welcome a greater American military presence on its soil. Under the proposed Enhanced Defence Cooperation, the Philippines is offering the U.S. expanded access to its military bases in Subic and Clark. In exchange, the Philippines is seeking enhanced U.S. military aid, increased joint military exercises, and, potentially, even temporary access to American military hardware to counter China’s maritime assertiveness.

“The proposed agreement will allow the sharing of defined areas within certain AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] facilities with elements of the U.S. military on a rotational basis within parameters consistent with the Philippine Constitution and laws,” explained the Philippine Department of National Defence (DND), which has strongly lobbied for deeper military relations with Washington in order to enhance the country’s “minimum deterrence capability”.

The Philippines’ direct legal challenge to China’s sweeping territorial claims in the South China Sea, however, is the greatest source of tension in bilateral relations. In early 2013, the Philippines initiated an ambitious arbitration case at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) at The Hague, with the explicit aim of undermining China’s notorious ‘9-dashline’ doctrine, which accords Beijing “inherent” and “indisputable” sovereignty over the bulk of the South China Sea.

The Philippines contends that China, as a party to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), is obliged to respect the Philippines’ rights to exercise qualified control over features that fall within its 200-nautical mile EEZ. These include, among other features, not only the Second Thomas Shoal, but also the Scarborough Shoal, which was effectively seized by China after a brief military standoff in mid-2012.

In early 2014, China reportedly offered certain “carrots” in exchange for the Philippines’ decision to postpone its submission of its formal written complaint – known as ‘memorial’ in legal parlance – at the ITLOS. Beijing reportedly offered, among other things, mutual disengagement from the contested features such as the Scarborough Shoal, trade and investment benefits, and postponement of the planned Chinese imposition of an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the South China Sea.

The more hardline factions within the Philippine leadership reportedly refused to entertain China’s offer, and convinced the Aquino administration to push ahead with the arbitration move.

“It is about securing our children’s future. It is about guaranteeing freedom of navigation for all nations,” said Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, who oversaw the filing (Mar. 30) of a voluminous memorial against China at ITLOS. “It is about helping to preserve regional peace, security and stability. And finally, it is about seeking not just any kind of resolution but a just and durable solution grounded [in] international law.”

The Philippines hopes that its latest legal challenge to China will rally like-minded countries such as Vietnam and Japan as well as the broader international community behind its own cause. But the Philippines’ latest decision runs the risk of irreversibly antagonising China, which could, in turn, permanently undermine diplomatic efforts at peacefully resolving the South China Sea disputes, and pave the way for a military showdown.

The post Philippines Invokes Law to Fight Chinese Muscle appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/philippines-fights-chinese-muscle-law/feed/ 0
Afghans Set to Vote on Ethnic Lines http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/afghans-set-vote-ethnic-lines/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=afghans-set-vote-ethnic-lines http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/afghans-set-vote-ethnic-lines/#comments Wed, 02 Apr 2014 08:11:29 +0000 Giuliano Battiston http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133368 Ethnicities will come to the fore in the Afghan elections due Saturday this week, even though it appears that the young are beginning to break away from such loyalties. On Apr. 5, around 12 million voters will have the chance to elect a new president to replace President Hamid Karzai, constitutionally barred from a third […]

The post Afghans Set to Vote on Ethnic Lines appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Young girls prepare to sing a song in support of presidential candidate Gul Agha Sherzai in Kunduz city in North Afghanistan. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS.

Young girls prepare to sing a song in support of presidential candidate Gul Agha Sherzai in Kunduz city in North Afghanistan. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS.

By Giuliano Battiston
KABUL, Apr 2 2014 (IPS)

Ethnicities will come to the fore in the Afghan elections due Saturday this week, even though it appears that the young are beginning to break away from such loyalties.

On Apr. 5, around 12 million voters will have the chance to elect a new president to replace President Hamid Karzai, constitutionally barred from a third mandate."What is more important is that the people – particularly the civil society – have pushed the candidates to present articulated platforms.” -- Aziz Rafiee, director of the Afghan Civil Society Forum Organisation

Officially opened on Feb. 2, the race remains open and it’s still hard to predict who will get the chair at the Arg, the presidential palace in Kabul where Karzai has been since 2001 – just after the overthrow of the Taliban regime.

The political and economic power Karzai has accumulated is likely to be inherited by his replacement – whatever the ethnicity.

Pashtuns form the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, about 40 to 60 percent, followed by Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks. Precise numbers are disputed, and ethnicities often overlap.

There are three in the lead among the eight candidates: Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, an academic and former World Bank official and former minister of finance; Abdullah Abdullah, former foreign minister and a prominent leader of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance and Karzai’s main rival in the disputed 2009 elections; and Zalmai Rassoul, national security adviser to President Karzai for eight years and foreign minister 2010-2013. He is seen as the contender backed by the outgoing president.

Many promises are being made – reconstructing the fragile economy, relaunching the peace process with armed opposition groups, and bringing security to the war-torn country – but the contenders seem to focus above all on ethnicity.

“The candidates are relying on ethnic, linguistic, or religious affiliation, because they do not have any political source of legitimacy,” Hamidullah Zazai, managing director of Mediothek Afghanistan, an organisation promoting pluralism in the media, tells IPS.

“One contender says ‘I’m the Tajik representative, you Tajik people should vote for me’, another says ‘I’m the Pashtun representative, you Pashtun people should vote for me’. The ethnic appeal occludes what is more important: programmes, ideas, plans for our future, which are still uncertain.”

Aziz Rafiee, director of the Afghan Civil Society Forum Organisation, tells IPS “there are five important factors in the voting process: ethnicity, regional location, language, branch of religion and political affiliation. Amongst these five dividing and sometimes overlapping lines, ethnicity is still considered the most important by many voters.”

To ensure broader constituencies, candidates have drawn the political chessboard also along ethnic lines: Zalmai Rassoul, considered a weak candidate without the support of Karzai’s pervasive power system, has chosen as his running mate the Tajik Ahmad Zia Massoud, brother of Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was the iconic commander of the Northern Alliance before he was killed in 2001. For second vice-president he has proposed Habiba Sarabi, a Hazara, former governor of Bamiyan province.

Rassoul does not speak Pashtu fluently and is not regarded by many Afghans as a “real Pashtun”. He enthusiastically announced the support of both Qayum Karzai, President Karzai’s elder brother (with a huge constituency in Pashtun-dominated south Afghanistan), and Nader Naeem, son of Mohammed Zahir Shah, the last king of Afghanistan from 1933 until 1973.

Abdullah is a mixed Tajik and Pashtun, but he is seen as a Tajik due to his prominent role within the Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance. “By choosing for vice-president the Pashtun Mohammad Khan, he made an interesting choice,” Fabrizio Foschini, researcher with the Afghanistan Analysts Network, tells IPS. “Mohammad Khan is a member of the political branch of the Hezb-e-Islami party, and thanks to him Abdullah can compensate his weakness in the south-south east of the country.”

However, according to Foschini, Abdullah’s real strength is his second vice-presidential candidate, Mohammed Mohaqeq, a Hazara who could secure a large number of votes in the central areas.

Some believe that Abdullah is losing ground while Ahmadzai is gaining. “Ghani [Ahmadzai] had a stroke of genius selecting for vice-president General [Abdul Rashid] Dostum,” says Foschini. “While the Hazara and Tajik vote is highly fragmented, the Uzbek vote will go almost completely to Dostum. Prior to Ghani’s choice, nobody would ever have guessed that an Uzbek might aspire to the second chair.”

To be accepted as running mate, the Uzbek Abdul Rashid Dostum – a powerful northern warlord in the 1990s and founder of the Jombesh party, National Islamic Movement of Afghanistan – “was asked by Ghani to apologise for his past crimes, and this is something revolutionary,” Mir Ahmad Joyenda, former parliamentarian and now deputy director of the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, an NGO based in Kabul, tells IPS.

Joyenda say ethnicities still play a role in the Afghan political landscape but believes that things are changing. “In the past 12 years we have seen changes, mostly in the main cities. There are people – especially the young – who are interested in voting for a candidate offering effective programmes.”

Rafiee of the Afghan Civil Society Forum Organisation agrees. “We can say that Afghans are acting more politically compared to the 2005 and 2009 elections. People will not vote 100 percent along ethnic lines. What is more important is that the people – particularly the civil society – have pushed the candidates to present articulated platforms.”

The next Afghan president will be elected mostly on the ethnic balance of the vote “but ethnic/religious walls are going to be slowly demolished,” says Zazai of Mediothek Afghanistan.

The post Afghans Set to Vote on Ethnic Lines appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/afghans-set-vote-ethnic-lines/feed/ 0
With U.S. Taking Off, Kyrgyzstan Mulls Selling Airports to Russia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-taking-kyrgyzstan-mulls-selling-airports-russia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-taking-kyrgyzstan-mulls-selling-airports-russia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-taking-kyrgyzstan-mulls-selling-airports-russia/#comments Tue, 01 Apr 2014 18:32:23 +0000 Asel Kalybekova http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133352 Russia’s state-run oil giant Rosneft wants to purchase a majority stake in the state-controlled company that owns all of Kyrgyzstan’s civilian airports. The negotiations are stoking concern in some circles in Bishkek about the potential risk to Kyrgyzstan’s sovereignty. But with its entrenched corruption, poor governance and remote location, the Central Asian country has few […]

The post With U.S. Taking Off, Kyrgyzstan Mulls Selling Airports to Russia appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Georgian soldiers congregate at the Manas Transit Center in Kyrgyzstan en route to Afghanistan in late September 2013. As U.S. troops, which began using the airport near Bishkek in 2001, close down their operations, Rosneft, Russia's state-controlled oil giant, wants to grab a majority stake. Credit: David Trilling/EurasiaNet

Georgian soldiers congregate at the Manas Transit Center in Kyrgyzstan en route to Afghanistan in late September 2013. As U.S. troops, which began using the airport near Bishkek in 2001, close down their operations, Rosneft, Russia's state-controlled oil giant, wants to grab a majority stake. Credit: David Trilling/EurasiaNet

By Asel Kalybekova
BISHKEK, Apr 1 2014 (EurasiaNet)

Russia’s state-run oil giant Rosneft wants to purchase a majority stake in the state-controlled company that owns all of Kyrgyzstan’s civilian airports.

The negotiations are stoking concern in some circles in Bishkek about the potential risk to Kyrgyzstan’s sovereignty. But with its entrenched corruption, poor governance and remote location, the Central Asian country has few other options.

Rosneft’s takeover target is a company called Manas International Airport, named for the largest of the airfields under its control. In addition to Manas, which is situated outside Bishkek, the company operates 10 smaller (mostly non-functional) airports around the country.

The Manas facility has hosted a U.S. military base for almost 13 years, but the troops are packing up and are due to leave by July. Without the American spending, Kyrgyz officials argue, the company, which is 79 percent state-owned, will go into the red.

In February, Igor Sechin – Rosneft’s chairman, and close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin – and Kyrgyz First Deputy Prime Minister Djoomart Otorbaev (who has since been appointed acting prime minster) signed a non-binding memorandum on Rosneft’s intentions to purchase at least 51 percent of Manas’ shares.

In the memo, Rosneft also promises to spend up to a billion dollars for the shares and to create “a large-scale international logistics hub.”

In a separate document, Rosneft expresses its intentions to purchase 50 percent of fuel-distribution operations at Osh airport, Kyrgyzstan’s second largest, and acquire the Bishkek Oil Company, a private company that runs a network of filling stations in Bishkek.

Manas Vice President Dair Tokobaev admits that Manas’ economic prognosis is grim unless it can find a new revenue stream to offset the closure of the American base. “We have a lot of problems. We need an investor,” Tokobaev told EurasiaNet.org.

Since 2010, when Kyrgyzstan’s government began insisting the Americans would have to leave, officials have floated the idea of turning Manas into a civilian transportation hub serving cargo and passengers transiting Asia.

In the National Strategy for Sustainable Development, President Almazbek Atambayev has made reconstruction and modernization of the country’s airports, and the creation of a global hub, one of his administration’s top priorities.

In a Mar. 27 television interview, Atambayev threw his support behind the Rosneft initiative, reasoning that Kyrgyzstan basically had no other choice. Inexpensive fuel is necessary for the airport to develop and only Rosneft is able to provide it, he said.

“Those screaming that any percent cannot be given to Rosneft, all the more so 51 percent, they, in fact, want to put an end to the future of Manas,” Bishkek’s Kloop.kg news agency quoted the president as saying.

In recent years, Russian state-controlled companies have moved aggressively to gobble up key Kyrgyz assets.

In December, for example, Moscow’s state-run giant Gazprom acquired ailing Kyrgyzgaz, which manages Kyrgyzstan’s gas-distribution network, for the symbolic price of one dollar. (Gazprom promised to invest 600 million dollars into the network and also assumed 38 million in debt.)

During discussions of the sale last summer, Kyrgyzgaz chief Turgunbek Kulmurzayev told local newspaper Vechernii Bishkek that the company was “bankrupt” and “had no other choice” but to sell.

Another Kremlin-controlled company, RusHydro, started construction of a 400-million-dollar hydroelectric cascade last June. Moreover, Russia’s state-run Inter RAO has promised to build an estimated two-billion-dollar hydropower dam, Kambara-Ata-1, further upstream on the Naryn River.

Such deals are viewed warily by some experts in Bishkek. Most readily acknowledge that Moscow is destined to exert considerable influence over Bishkek, given that Kyrgyz labour migrants in Russia generate the equivalent of about one-third of Kyrgyzstan’s GDP, and a large contingent of Russian troops are stationed in the Central Asian state.

But the steady stream of sales of state assets is making it much more difficult for Kyrgyz officials to steer an independent course.

Bishkek-based analyst Marat Kazakpaev argues that while Kyrgyzstan needs foreign investment, it should strive to attract private investors. He believes that Russia, with the recent string of deals, is expanding its geopolitical influence in the region and sees Bishkek as its foothold.

“The fact that Rosneft is a state-owned company gives this memorandum a political context. This is not business, this is politics,” Kazakpaev told EurasiaNet.org.

The challenge for Kyrgyzstan at present is that its reputation for widespread corruption and political volatility is frightening potential Western investors away.

“Let’s admit it frankly, if there will be investment, it will be from Russia. We won’t get any investment from the West,” economist Meimanbek Abdyldaev told Radio Liberty’s Kyrgyz Service. Rosneft’s interest in Manas “can be regarded as a forerunner to [Kyrgyzstan’s] entrance into the [Russia-led] Customs Union.”

Though the Rosneft memorandum is not legally binding – and any final deal to sell state-assets must be ratified by parliament – on Mar. 20, a small group of protestors gathered outside the legislature.

Rights activist Gulshaiyr Abdirasulova told Kloop.kg that Manas is a “strategic object. It’s the people’s welfare and wealth. We’re not against investments that will develop the airport, but [we want investment] without giving away a controlling stake.”

Parliamentarian Dastan Bekeshev supported the demonstrators. “If one wants to attract investors, one does it not through sale, but through opening a joint venture,” he was quoted as saying.

Rosneft did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Neither did Russia’s Transport Ministry, which is helping negotiate the deal.

Tokobaev at Manas agrees that the airport is a strategic object, but for him development is more critical than the funding source. Without investors like Rosneft, “we will be left feasting our eyes on [Manas] like a cultural memorial. Should we let it be gouged and plundered and stay Kyrgyz, or should we save and develop it together with someone?”

This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

The post With U.S. Taking Off, Kyrgyzstan Mulls Selling Airports to Russia appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-taking-kyrgyzstan-mulls-selling-airports-russia/feed/ 0
What Nepal Doesn’t Know About Water http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/nepal-doesnt-know-water/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nepal-doesnt-know-water http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/nepal-doesnt-know-water/#comments Tue, 01 Apr 2014 06:00:30 +0000 Mallika Aryal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133337 Water is a critical resource in Nepal’s economic development as agriculture, industry, household use and even power generation depends on it. The good news is that the Himalayan nation has plenty of water. The bad news – water abundance is seasonal, related to the monsoon months from June to September. Nepal’s hydrologists, water experts, meteorologists […]

The post What Nepal Doesn’t Know About Water appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Farming in the monsoon season in Nepal. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS.

Farming in the monsoon season in Nepal. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS.

By Mallika Aryal
KATHMANDU, Apr 1 2014 (IPS)

Water is a critical resource in Nepal’s economic development as agriculture, industry, household use and even power generation depends on it. The good news is that the Himalayan nation has plenty of water. The bad news – water abundance is seasonal, related to the monsoon months from June to September.

Nepal’s hydrologists, water experts, meteorologists and climate scientists all call for better management of water. But a vital element of water management – quality scientific data – is still missing.“If the information is lacking or if it is inaccurate, how is a poor farmer supposed to protect himself?” -- Shib Nandan Shah of the Ministry of Agricultural Development

Luna Bharati, who heads the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) in Kathmandu, tells IPS, “If we don’t know how much water there is, we cannot manage it or carry out good water resources assessment.”

Shib Nandan Shah of the Ministry of Agricultural Development agrees that accurate and timely data, especially rainfall data, is important to rural farming communities. Thirty-five percent of Nepal’s GDP and more than 74 percent of its 27 million people are dependent on agriculture. And most of Nepal’s agriculture is rain fed.

“Reliable data is especially important for a farmer who wants to insure his crops,” says Shah. “If the information is lacking or if it is inaccurate, how is a poor farmer supposed to protect himself?” Every year, floods and landslides cause 300 deaths in Nepal on average, and economic losses are estimated to exceed over 10 million dollars.

Data becomes important in a country like Nepal that has large, unutilised water resources. At the local level, development work becomes harder, and there’s a risk that development is being based on “guesstimates”.

“Simulations without data to verify against are meaningless,” Vladimir Smakhtin, theme leader at IWMI, tells IPS from Sri Lanka.

Experts also argue that water data cannot be studied in isolation. “Data on rainfall, water resources, weather are all interlinked with hydro power development, road building and also aviation,” says Rishi Ram Sharma, director of Nepal’s Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM).

One of the biggest challenges in Nepal, and the reason why collecting information is so difficult, is the country’s inaccessible terrain. About 86 percent of the land area is covered by hills, and steep, rugged mountains.

“Most of the high altitude data we have on water and climate change is not our own, it is based on global circulation models,” says Sanjay Dhungel at Nepal’s Water and Energy Commission Secretariat. “The more data we have the better, but in our context we don’t have much to compare with.”

Scientists believe it will take many years to establish better networks of measuring stations. Experts recommend the use of new technology such as remote sensing which can be used to measure evapo-transpiration, soil moisture and land use.

One of the most important reasons why scientists and Nepali policymakers need water and weather related statistics is to understand climate change.

“First of all we don’t have enough data, and what we do have is not analysed properly, which means a lot of climate change prediction relating to disappearing snow, glacial melt, water scarcity becomes misleading,” argues IWMI’s Bharati.

“If we find that glacial water is contributing to five percent of total water resources, then may be the effect is not as drastic as we have been made to believe,” says Bharati. “But we don’t know any of that because we don’t have reliable data.”

In one recent measure to address this problem, Nepal’s DHM introduced the climate data portal in 2012 where data relating to weather, water and geography is stored. Real-time information regarding flooding, water levels, precipitation is available through DHM’s website.

IWMI is also working on a portal to bring together data, including basic information on land use, census and migration, in order to aid researchers.

Anil Pokhrel, Kathmandu-based disaster risk management specialist with the World Bank agrees that making data public is a big and important step. This means that whoever is looking for information has access to it and can download it.

Pokhrel says data on water, climate change, weather and agriculture is so interlinked that it really needs to be open.

“We talk about ‘geo nodes’ – if DHM works on weather, water and climate change related data, the roads department can work on road data and mapping, another department can work on agriculture, but they have the ability to feed off each other,” says Pokhrel. “It is about creating synergies.”

For this he recommends that the portal be open source. “At the end of the day, there’s no other option – we have to make portals to consolidate data and make it accessible and user-friendly,” says Pokhrel.

The post What Nepal Doesn’t Know About Water appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/nepal-doesnt-know-water/feed/ 2