Saturday, February 22, 2014

President Obama's Weekly Address: Calling on Congress to Raise the Minimum Wage

China urges U.S. to correct mistakes on Tibet
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Qin Gang on Saturday evening urged the United States to correct its mistakes after President Barack Obama met with the Dalai Lama. "We once again urge the U.S. side to correct mistakes," Qin said in a press release. He said the United States should stop conniving and supporting anti-China, secessionist force which pursues "Tibet independence," halt interference into China's internal affairs, and adopt measures to offset negative influence, in order to avoid further damage to the China-U.S. relations. Qin pointed out that Tibet is an inseparable part of China's territories and that the affairs of Tibet are totally internal affairs of China. Qin said the U.S. side has done serious damage to China-U.S. relations by allowing the Dalai Lama to visit the country and meet with the U.S. leader despite objection of China. He said such a wrong move gravely interfered in China's internal affairs, seriously violated the U.S. commitment of recognizing Tibet as part of China and of not supporting the "Tibet independence," and gravely violated basic norms governing the international relations. "Facts have proved that the Dalai Lama is definitely not just a religious figure, but a political exile who has long engaged in anti-China secessionist activities in the name of religion," he said. Qin said the Dalai Lama has never stopped secessionist activities though he proclaimed not to seek "Tibet independence." He accused the Dalai Lama of attempting to pursue independence in a disguised way by advocating the so-called "middle way" and a "Greater Tibet," which in fact is nonexistence in history. "This is what the Chinese government and people will never accept," Qin said. He said the central government of China has always kept the door open for contact and discussions with the Dalai Lama. "If the Dalai Lama really wishes to achieve progress in contact and discussions, he must reflect on his own words and deeds in a thorough way and stop all activities of separatist and destructive nature," Qin said. Qin said the Chinese people have the biggest say on the situation in Tibet. Since the peaceful liberation of Tibet more than 60 years ago, Tibet has experienced tremendous changes. Serfs of the old time Tibet have long become the master of their own destiny while unprecedented progresses have been achieved in all fields, he said. "These are facts that won't be denied by anyone without political bias," Qin added.

Polio re-emerges amid paranoia in Pakistan
When health workers approached Zulfikar Quaid about inoculating his three children against polio, Quaid picked up an old cricket bat and waved it at them. “Get out of my house,” he yelled. “My children are Muslim and we don’t need your dirty Hindu drugs.” The health workers were stunned — though they’d become accustomed to some resistance to vaccines, they’d never heard it linked to a Hindu conspiracy. Zarmina, the lead health worker, asked Quaid’s wife why they were refusing the drugs. “The Hindus are lacing it with pig’s blood to send us all to hell,” she explained. Quaid was still waving the bat menacingly. Zarmina, familiar with anti-vaccine fervour, decided a quick retreat was the safest option. In the past 18 months, 34 health workers had been killed for attempting to administer the polio vaccine.
Since 1978, when the World Health Organization’s Expanded Program for Immunization was launched in Pakistan, conspiracy theories about polio have been rampant. While the supposed conspirators change frequently, the myth usually involves someone attempting to rid the world of Muslims — Zarmina and her fellow health workers have heard that the polio vaccine is part of a Western (or U.S. or Jewish) conspiracy to sterilize all Muslims, or that Mossad or the CIA is orchestrating the campaign to kill Muslims outright. “When the polio vaccination program was initially launched, international organizations didn’t take into account that there was very little engagement with the local government,” said a senior World Health Organization official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “Because the drugs and information was all coming from another country, people became very suspicious of vaccine programs.”
The bin Laden problem
The immunization effort in Pakistan took a major hit in 2007 when Maulana Fazlullah, the current chief of the Pakistani Taliban, announced a ban on polio vaccinations in Swat. After news broke that the CIA had launched a fake hepatitis-B vaccination program to obtain information about Osama bin Laden, the theories gained even more prominence in Pakistan. Since then, militants and religious leaders alike have warned people against the polio vaccine and targeted health workers like Zarmina for participating in the immunization campaign.
“In Pakistan, conspiracy theories are almost an Olympic sport,” explained C. Christine Fair, a Pakistan scholar and assistant professor at Georgetown University.
The problem isn’t confined to Pakistan. In Nigeria, Ibrahim Datti Ahmed, a physician and the president of Nigeria’s Supreme Council for Sharia Law, accused Americans of lacing the vaccination with an anti-fertility agent that sterilized children. It took years for international organizations to combat the rumour and polio is still endemic to Nigeria. India, too, battled conspiracy theories about sterilization and poisoning. Unlike Pakistan, however, India has a stronger local government program, which has aided the World Health Organization’s efforts to eradicate the disease.
“In Pakistan, conspiracy theories are almost an Olympic sport,” explained C. Christine Fair, a Pakistan scholar and assistant professor at Georgetown University. It’s not just vaccination campaigns that inspire bizarre rumours. Many people believe the CIA planted the Taliban to weaken the Pakistani state and that Malala Yousafzai, the schoolgirl who stood up to the Taliban, was a CIA agent. Four days after Osama bin Laden’s death was announced, a YouGov/University of Cambridge poll found that 66 per cent of Pakistanis did not believe he had really been killed.
The Pakistani media often magnifies disinformation rather than debunking it. In 2010, the Washington Post chronicled the frustration of the U.S. embassy in the country when confronted, for example, with reports in the media that all Pakistanis are stripped naked at American airports. Fair isn’t one to mince words: “Part of the problem is that in Pakistan, lies are built into the very fabric of the educational system,” she said, referring to reports that state textbooks often have factual inaccuracies about Pakistan’s national history, along with a great deal of anti-minority and anti-Western language. Many of the falsities about polio are spread by religious leaders, who often don’t have a formal education, but can disseminate information to a large number of people in their local language. Earlier this month, Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, a religious scholar and leader of a faction of the conservative political party Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, came out in support of the polio vaccine, issuing a fatwa against polio. Though not many local clerics followed suit, his announcement was viewed as a major victory in the fight against polio. But the rumours are so pervasive, and the suspicion of officials so great, that in some Karachi neighbourhoods, residents aren’t swayed even by the fatwa.
“Why is the government giving me polio drops for free?” asked one resident of Orangi town, who wondered why the government would do this while not providing education, basic health care and access to water. For Zarmina the battle is personal. She became a community health worker — part of the WHO funded Lady Health Worker program — in 2002 after her eldest daughter died after contracting measles.
A few hours after her confrontation with Quaid, Zarmina heard that shots had been fired elsewhere in the city and that three people had died administering the vaccine. She’s not sure that she’ll participate in the next National Immunization Day drive. The consequences of people like her quitting have ripple effects across the globe. Late last year, a polio outbreak in Syria was linked to a strain from Peshawar. With both Nigeria and Afghanistan reducing the number of polio cases in 2013, health experts warn that Pakistan may become the only exporter of the polio virus in the world. “I used to think that by talking individually with the families in my neighbourhood, I could help stop this crippling disease,” Zarmina said. “Now, I’m not so sure.”

Pakistan: TTP threat panics Kalash people

The Tehreek-i-Taliban threat of attacks has frightened the Kalash tribe living in three segregated valleys of southern Chitral. Luke Rahmat, a Kalash tribesman holding a master’s degree, told Dawn here that the Taliban threat had filled more than 3,500 members of his community with terror. He said though the TTP threat’s authenticity had yet to be established, it had terrified the Kalash people, who had confined themselves to homes after sunset fearing attacks by the banned outfit. “My seven-year-old daughter is so terrified that she’s sleepless nights. I found her awake at night on return from another valley the other day as she wanted to see me around in the wake of the Taliban threat,” he said. Mr Rahmat blamed the recent terrorist activities in Kalash valleys, including the beheading of a Spaniard along with a herdsman, for the fear. Tash Khan, another Kalash tribesman, said members of his community were known for non-violent disposition. “In their known history, members of Kalash community have never committed murder or suicide,” he said. The tribesman said the Kalash people preferred peace to everything else and were even ready to leave their valleys if they were asked to do so. Meanwhile, local leaders of religio-political parties insisted the threat to Kalash people was a hoax. Former Jamaat-i-Islami MNA from Chitral Maulana Akbar Chitrali said some people had tried to harm the TTP-government peace talks by issuing a video released by the Taliban two years ago. He said the Muslim and Kalash communities had been living peacefully for centuries and that Muslims never posed any threat to the Kalash people. MNA from Chitral Shahzada Iftikharuddin said strict measures should be put in place to ensure protection of the Kalash community. Meanwhile, a meeting was held in Bumburate valley here on Friday in which Chitral deputy commissioner Mohammad Shoaib Jadoon and officers of law enforcement agencies asked both Muslim and Kalash communities of the three valleys to be vigilant. Shoaib Jadoon told Dawn that the administration assured Kalash tribesmen of their safety.

A pat for Bilawal

— D Asghar
His clear, no nonsense stand on terrorism and terrorists is his strength. Those at the helm of affairs must take notice of what was said in very plain and simple language by their youngest opponent
In a country where perhaps a nine-year-old can sing an ode glorifying modern day brutes and barbarians, what if I jot a few lines in favour of their ideological nemesis? Before I am chastised for buttering up to the heir-apparent of the Bhutto dynasty, let me clarify something for the idle and often empty minds. Being a dual citizen, I will perhaps be unable to vote for him, come 2018. So, take a deep breath and chill. I remember doing a write up on him on these pages, when he was in my neck of the woods way back in 2012. The title of the column was ‘The rookie chairman’ (Daily Times, May 31, 2012); for curious minds, it is worth a read, demonstrating my straightforward, no nonsense critique of this budding politico.
There is an ongoing debate, which basically trashes the concept of political dynasties. You will find people airing their vehement opposition to the concept. I laugh when people provide their moronic reasons about how they do not want two families to dominate the leadership of this blessed nation. I often wonder and want to ask these great democrats of this day and age: how many Muslim countries can boast of being functioning and true democracies? In our case, out of 66 years, how many years have seen a democratic set up able to function? Then, as I said earlier, I will say it again; will Bilawal Bhutto Zaradari come in the contingent of the 111 Brigade or with your vote? Find a worthy opponent and let him/her give Bilawal a tough fight at the polls. As they say, if you can't handle the heat, better step out of the kitchen. Nothing in the constitution bars a politician’s son or daughter from contesting. Entry into this arena should be wide open to a street vendor and to a member of the elite alike. This is the true essence of democracy and equality.
When Bilawal and his allies talked about the Sindh Festival on Twitter, I was a bit cynical and critical, like many others. In my opinion, the timing of the festival was a bit odd because people are in the grip of never ending terror. These people perhaps would not give a damn about their culture and roots when their core existence is being challenged. Looking at the response from the people, I must admit I was a bit off in my assessment. A lot of people suddenly became archeologists on the social media as soon as they heard that the opening ceremony was being held on the ruins of Mohenjo Daro. Fear mongering and critique hit the Twittersphere about how a party would be held at the historical site, which could potentially ‘ruin’ the ruins. Perhaps it was political envy that took over the better sense of many. There were assurances from specialists that the site would not be impacted adversely. Despite the opposition and reservations, Bilawal’s media team did a fantastic job and the opening ceremony went extremely well.
Without going into the various programmes that were held to bring joy and laughter back into the lives of the fear and grief stricken people, let us jump to the ending of the festival in the historic city of Thatta. This is where a 25-year-old Bilawal, in his accented Urdu, spoke directly from his heart. Often you could feel that it was his late mother thundering from the dais — perhaps in his DNA and genetic makeup.
One can chuckle here and there over his honest, straightforward delivery but one cannot ignore or discredit his message. For a 25-year-old, he is as clear as day about his vision and how he wants to carry this country forward. The current lot of senior politicos who constantly dither, who are confused, afraid, disillusioned and disconnected from reality ought to take some clue from him. Bilawal resonated with the Pakistanis who are sick and tired of living in fear, and advocated their basic right to life and existence.
His clear, no nonsense stand on terrorism and terrorists is his strength. Those at the helm of affairs must take notice of what was said in very plain and simple language by their youngest opponent. I agree with his point: you can dislike him as a novice lad, an elite class child born with a silver spoon, but you cannot disagree with his stance when it comes to eliminating the menace of terror. Yes, he offers a ray of hope while others run around in circles either lying, obfuscating or presenting ‘what if’ scenarios.
What people often forget is that when it comes to your birth, you have no control over the circumstancs. Once you grow up, you do have the ability to make clear choices — the choice to be either on the right or wrong side of history. While I see that Benazir spark in Bilawal, I have my concerns for his safety. The forces of darkness, which want to prevail in this country, once could not fathom and digest his mother’s return and the affection of the masses towards her. The same forces of evil do not like anyone following in her footsteps and steering this country towards a modern and progressive republic. To them, anything modern is equated with being western. They forget that doing right is noble and just, and is neither eastern nor western. To chime in with someone who envisions a peaceful, prosperous and modern Pakistan is the right thing to do. A very humble request to young Bilawal: please carry the same message to the other provinces as well. You may have your roots in Sindh but you are the son of this whole country. God speed son. Stay safe and stay blessed.