Friday, January 25, 2013

Don't take for granted the hand of friendship, President Pranab Mukherjee tells Pakistan

Sponsorship of terrorism through non-state actors is a matter of deep concern, President Pranab Mukherjee said today making it clear to Pakistan that India is ready to offer a hand of friendship but that should not be taken for granted. In his address to the nation on the eve of 64th Republic Day, he said in the recent past, serious atrocities on the Line of Control on Indian troops have been seen, an apparent reference to the beheading of an Indian soldier by Pakistan Army. "Neighbours may have disagreements; tension can be a subtext of frontiers. But sponsorship of terrorism through non-state actors is a matter of deep concern to the entire nation," he said. He said India believes in peace on the border and is always ready to offer a hand in the hope of friendship. "But this hand should not be taken for granted," he said.

Allies in Libya, Enemies in Mali

By: Ali Hashem for Al-Monitor
Thanks to French President Francois Hollande, who felt the need to step in to contain the collapse of Mali, and a calamitous rescue operation by Algerian forces that resulted in the deaths of 37 hostages, the Western media has discovered Mali. The largest West African country is under threat of division in a war that sees government troops, along with a Western coalition led by the French, battling well-armed ethnic Tuaregs and the al-Qaeda-affiliated Ansaruldin group, who were already at war with each other. Once known as French Sudan, Mali is one of France's main allies in sub-Saharan Africa. Fears are growing in Paris that the chaos might spill out to neighboring states fom what was anciently called "French West Africa," drastically affecting regional and international stability and peace. But that’s not all. France is concerned the spread will put what remains of its influence in this part of the world under serious threat. The war in Mali, many believe, wasn’t entirely unpredictable for those keeping a close eye on the situation. There were strong indicators, such as weaponry and fighters crossing the loose borders. The country was forced to face the ambitions of well-armed ethnic Tuareg fighters, who returned home after the fall of Moammar Gadhafi’s regime in Libya. Tuaregs revived their 100-year-old dream of an independent state in the Azawad territory to the north of Mali. They took advantage of a coup d'état that ousted President Amado Toumani Toure to control their area and declare independence with the help of an al-Qaeda-affiliated group. The latter were looking for a safe haven in a hostile environment, especially amid the end of the Libyan war. The Islamists, later on, overthrew the Tuaregs and installed Shariah law in the area, a move some sources suggest was prompted by post-revolution Libya, whose leaders were keen to uproot any pro-Gadhafi sentiments near their borders. Post-revolution Libya is perhaps the most critical factor in the struggle for Mali; the fall of Gaddafi and the links the Ansaruldin have with the new rulers of Tripoli gave this war a different perspective. It is as if Mali were the arena where another version of the Libyan war resumed, though with different objectives. Less than two years ago, NATO strikes helped the rebellion in Libya and paved the way for the opposition to end 40 years of Gadhafi rule. At that time foreign intervention was welcomed by Libyans, and not much opposed by Arabs and Muslims. This was in stark contrast with the reaction to foreign intervention in Iraq in 2003. While in Libya, I had the chance to meet Abdulmonem Al Mukhtar, once a member of the Islamic Libyan fighting group, who was killed just weeks after we met in April 2011. Al Mukhtar fought against the Americans in Afghanistan and returned to Libya on March 2011 along with 100 of his loyal fighters to take part in the war. Near Ajdabiya, to the east of Libya, I asked how he could be an enemy of NATO in Afghanistan and an ally in Libya. He laughed, told me not to be a “fanatic" and added, "In Afghanistan, they are an occupation force. Here, they are helping us topple the dictator." It wasn’t only Abdulmonem who approached the situation this way. Everyday people gave similar answers, and mainstream media organizations weren’t far behind in that logic. There was a common belief that in a war for liberation, all means were justifiable. Later on some of the Syrians revolting against President Bashar al-Assad started demanding foreign intervention to help them defeat the regime, and so did those who supported them around the Arab and Muslim world. People initially welcomed foreign intervention — at least, until they contemplated it further. As a result of the Libyan war, a new war started in the region. Once again, the tables are turned. Yesterday’s allies in Libya are today’s enemies in Mali. Voices refusing foreign intervention became louder and louder, calling on the West, specifically France, to respect the sovereignty of the sub-Saharan state. Some dubbed the military intervention a new crusade, while the presidents of Egypt and Tunisia and the prime minister of Libya all warned the intervention will fuel conflict in the region. Many didn’t realize that a war in Mali had surfaced until news of foreign intervention made headlines. Some are starting to raise questions about the consequences of foreign military intervention, and the forces it will unleash. The Libyan “success” preceded the terrorist attack on the US consulate in Ben Ghazi, which killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, and now we have Mali. It is not that the war in Mali started only now; it's only now that the world started thinking of its consequences.

Rallies mark anniversary of Egypt uprising

Egyptians have returned to the streets to mark the second anniversary of the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak, the former president. Hundreds took to the capital's now iconic Tahrir Square on Friday morning, where youths protesting against the government clashed with Cairo police. The ministry of health said 16 people were wounded in the violence.

Bahraini forces fire tear gas at anti-regime protesters in Manama

Saudi-backed Bahraini forces have fired tear gas to disperse anti-regime demonstrators, who took to the streets in the capital, Manama, in defiance of a regime ban on protests

Bleak 2013 humanitarian outlook for Afghanistan

More violence and a worsening humanitarian situation are likely in Afghanistan in 2013, say aid agencies. “The worsening conflict trends over the last five years indicate that civilians will continue to suffer because of armed violence and that the humanitarian situation will deteriorate,” says the new Common Humanitarian Action Plan (CHAP) for 2013, published by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The report brings together the major humanitarian challenges facing the country in 2013, a year that will see the continued withdrawal of international forces: Afghan security forces will take control of three-quarters of the country by June. Afghanistan has some of the worst humanitarian indicators in the world - 34 percent of the population are food insecure and 10 percent of children die before they start primary school. With many Afghans lacking access to rudimentary government services like basic education, water, primary health services and housing, the humanitarian community is requesting US$471 million to cover the cost of projects in 2013. Many analysts think the steady withdrawal of international forces in 2013, ahead of full withdrawal in 2014, will lead to an upsurge in violence as anti-government forces capitalize on their stronger position vis-à-vis national security forces. The strength of these national forces is disputed. Some analysts saw “significant improvements within the Afghan military” in 2012, while the CHAP points to high levels of desertion and low levels of re-enlistment, meaning that a third of the Afghan force needs replacing each year. While civilian deaths and injuries declined by 4 percent in the first 10 months of 2012 compared to the same period in 2011, according to the UN Assistant Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA), targeted attacks on civilians by anti-government forces increased by 53 percent in the first half of 2012, and overall, violence in 2012 has spread increasingly beyond southern and eastern areas. Over the last few years the space for humanitarian work has reduced, especially as anti-government forces have radicalized and fragmented: aid workers say air transport is frequently the only safe way to reach remote areas. However, the international pullout may also provide opportunities for more independent aid work and greater differentiation from the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), which operate closely with the government and military. Aid groups increasingly have to work in areas where the Taliban and other non-government actors operate, making perceived neutrality crucial. Many international organizations opt to manage projects from Kabul and work through local NGOs, says a recent report by the Overseas Development Institute. “The privileged humanitarian access enjoyed by national NGOs should be more fully exploited,” Suzanne Murray-Jones, senior adviser with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Afghanistan, told IRIN, saying that they often need capacity-building and adequate funding to do the job. To ensure that humanitarian work is carried out in the provinces with the greatest need, the 2013 CHAP plan introduces a ranking of provinces by assessed humanitarian need, to avoid aid being directed at areas that are either easy to reach or politically important.
Natural disasters
If humanitarian challenges in 2013 were limited to conflict, they would be serious enough. But Afghanistan is also frequently a victim of natural disasters, which on average affect around a quarter of a million Afghans each year. Harsh winters, deadly avalanches, earthquakes, landslides, droughts and floods leave nearly half of Afghanistan’s districts hazard-prone. The last 12 months saw a good wheat harvest but with droughts in eight out of the last 11 years, a poor harvest looks probable in the coming year, according to the CHAP 2013 report. Oxfam’s Afghanistan associate country director Kate O'Rourke says years of conflict have worn down people’s coping mechanisms: “Investing in projects designed to reduce the impact of disasters and improve people's resilience and their ability to deal with crises when they do occur is key. Only then will Afghans who are at risk be better prepared and able to cope, instead of being affected by reoccurring humanitarian `spot fires' that they are constantly trying to recover from, as they are now."
Economic pressure
Economic growth has been around 7 percent over the last few years, but opportunities remain few and the private sector is hamstrung by the lack of a reliable electricity supply. While large mining projects are being planned, the aid effort and the tens of thousands of international troops that make up a key part of the economy are set to reduce in size in the coming years. “Afghanistan is entering a very challenging period that will likely be characterized by growing economic vulnerability resulting from a reduction in international assistance and the pullout of most international forces that is expected to translate into significant economic contraction and job losses,” said Mark Bowden, the humanitarian coordinator for Afghanistan. Afghanistan is the world’s most aid-dependent country, with aid worth around $15.7 billion per year, roughly the same as the national GDP. The World Bank estimates that 6-10 percent of the population have worked in aid-financed employment.
Four decades of conflict in Afghanistan have been one of the key drivers of displacement, creating substantial refugee populations requiring support. Around 2.7 million Afghans live in Pakistan and Iran, while within the country, 450,000 people are displaced; 34 percent of them newly displaced in the first three-quarters of 2012. Meanwhile, UNHCR say nearly six million refugees have returned to Afghanistan in the last decade, something that has put considerable pressure on the economy and services. “Many are being perceived as not having reached parity with other members of the communities in which they are living, and there is a possibility of additional unplanned, large-scale return,” said Murray-Jones at UNHCR.
To manage these needs in 2013, the humanitarian community is requesting $471 million, an increase on 2012 when the Consolidated Appeals Process (CAP) was $448 million. In a sign of donor fatigue and the pressure on leading donor country budgets due to the global economic slowdown, humanitarian funding dropped by around half in 2012. Afghanistan was the fourth-least funded humanitarian crisis, as a percentage, among the 22 global appeals, although at least $270 million in aid is provided annually outside the CAP funding mechanism.

Lahore: Measles outbreak: 10-year-old dies, 22 new cases reported

The Express Tribune
A 10-year-old died of measles at Mayo Hospital’s paediatric ward on Wednesday, doctors said, becoming the first casualty of the disease in the city. Muhammad Wasif was brought to the hospital on Tuesday night and had developed pneumonia. Another 10 children with measles were also admitted to Mayo Hospital. “They are being kept in isolation as measles is a droplet infection, meaning it is highly contagious. If a kid with measles is kept in the ward with other kids, there is a 90 per cent chance all of them will catch measles,” said a doctor at the paediatric ward. “We may also face problems in accommodating all the kids in isolation due to space issues.” A Health Department official said that 12 children infected with measles had been admitted to other public hospitals in Lahore, taking the total number of known cases in the city to 92. Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif on Wednesday expressed concern about the rising number of measles cases and directed the Health Department to prepare an emergency plan within two days for the prevention of measles. He directed officials to make sure that the anti-measles vaccine is available in the province and to launch a public awareness campaign regarding preventive measures. Children in the affected areas must be vaccinated, he said at a meeting with Health Department officials. Special Assistant on Health Khawaja Salman Rafique, the Planning and Development chairman, the Health, Law, Prosecution and Home secretaries, the acting inspector general of police, the Lahore commissioner, the Gujranwala commissioner, the Lahore DCO, the Health director general, the director general of the Forensic Science Laboratory and Dr Faisal Masood also attended the meeting. Multan and Gujranwala Forty cases of measles have been reported in Multan, and three children are currently under treatment, but there have been no deaths from the disease, according to EDO (Health) Dr Munawar. He said vaccination teams had been set up to inoculate children in affected areas. He said that the disease had arrived in the district from Sindh, where some 200 children are thought to have died in a recent outbreak. Six new measles patients were reported in Gujranwala on Wednesday. Health officials said the children were being treated at Civil Hospital. Health Director General Dr Nisar Cheema said the number of measles patients being reported in the Punjab was far less than Sindh, and the outbreak had not yet become an epidemic in the province. He said that more cases of measles had been reported in the Punjab in previous years than in this year so far.

Will Karachi be saved?

Chances of Karachi being once again the city of lights are getting dimmer with every passing day as at least one dozen and a half residents are being daily subjected to target killing. It seems as if Karachi is an open field for armed bandits on an indiscriminate killing spree. The Sindh metropolis was handed over to the Rangers after the police had miserably failed to control the situation prevailing for well over five years. The leadership of three coalition partners, the PPP, MQM and ANP has long been indulging in the blame game but has failed to take effective action against those responsible for the crime of bloodletting. On Wednesday, Federal Minister and leader of Sindh PPP Maula Bux Chandio openly admitted that if action was initiated against armed gangsters, government allies got offended. Hitting back at Chandio’s statement ANP leader Shahi Syed said that if talks could be held with the Taliban and India, why the same process could not be followed with MQM on target killing in Karachi. MQM’s Nasreen Jalil responding to this said it was an irony of fate that despite being in the government, they had to lift the dead bodies of their workers. BNP Senator Hasil Bizenjo said there were no go-areas in Karachi which are dens of armed bandits. Keeping these statements in mind, it is hard to imagine that Karachi could be the city of lights again, but given the will nothing is impossible.

Pakistan: The measles and polio menace

Disturbing news concerning the state of our collective health and disease prevention efforts are rife these days from Sindh to Punjab to FATA, and even in foreign climes. The rampant measles outbreak that has afflicted the Sukkur region of Sindh has left some 500 people dead in the last two months, most of them children. The virus has taken on terrifying proportions. It is highly contagious because it is spread from person to person through the air via infectious droplets — leaving a trail of sick and dying children with no hope in sight. The virus does not show any signs of slowing down. In fact, it is tearing through provincial boundaries showing up in all the other provinces, including far flung North Waziristan where some five children have already died and 20 more have been infected in less than a week. This situation is deplorable; helpless children are being struck down by this sickness and the government seems equally as helpless in helping these innocent souls. The high numbers, which speak of an epidemic in the making, have nudged the Ministry of Inter-provincial Coordination to establish a nationwide vaccination programme to counter the fast paced spread of measles. This is too little too late. Disease is no respecter of provincial and national boundaries. The lacklustre way the authorities have been managing the emerging crisis has been disastrous. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has already categorised Pakistan as a country that must be monitored, given the catastrophe of our anti-polio drive. WHO has given Pakistan an ultimatum: counter polio by September 2013 or be quarantined with a ban enforced on international travel. Speaking of polio, two cases of the disease have been reported in Egypt with it being found that this particular polio strain crossed over from Pakistan. This has prompted the Egyptian authorities to start an anti-polio drive in Cairo. It has also made it mandatory for all children travelling from Pakistan to be immunised at the airport before entering Egypt. We should be ashamed of ourselves; we have left our children to rot and foreign lands are apprehensive of letting our citizens enter their country. The government has to tackle this issue on a war footing. It is essential that a medical emergency be declared across Pakistan with inter-provincial coordination taking precedence over anything else. It is not enough now for provincial governments alone or singly to tackle these emerging health problems but for all levels of government, including the federal authorities, to counter this looming catastrophe.