Wednesday, January 25, 2017

US no longer considered 'full democracy,' group says


The United Sates was downgraded from "full democracy" to "flawed democracy" in the 2016 Democracy Index, which cites declining trust in the government as the cause of its new rating.
The report is the Economist Intelligence Unit's ninth annual Democracy Index, which looks at the state of governments across the world. In 2016, the number of "full democracies" dropped from 20 to 19. 
The United States' downgrade puts it at 21 in the international rankings, below Japan and tied with Italy.
President Trump, the report says, harnessed that low trust of the government to win the presidency. The report, however, doesn't blame the new rating entirely on Trump, noting the downward trend in trust over the last several decades.
The U.S. has been "teetering on the brink of becoming a flawed democracy" for years, the report says. It cites the decline starting with the Vietnam War in the 1960s, the civil rights movement, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy and the Watergate scandal.
It allegedly continued to decline over the last several decades.
"By tapping a deep strain of political disaffection with the functioning of democracy, Mr Trump became a beneficiary of the low esteem in which U.S. voters hold their government, elected representatives and political parties, but he was not responsible for a problem that has had a long gestation," the report reads.
In total, the Economist Intelligence Unit measured a decline in democracy in 72 countries and an increase in 38 countries last year.

Billions in profits from Saudi war crimes


In two weeks’ time, the High Court here will consider a case that could set a vital precedent and be instrumental in changing British arms export policy.
On February 7-9, following an application by Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), judges will be examining the legality of arms exports to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen.
For almost two years now, Saudi forces have inflicted a brutal and devastating bombing campaign on the people of Yemen. Schools, hospitals, and homes have been destroyed in a bombardment that has killed 10,000 people and inflicted a humanitarian catastrophe on one of the poorest countries in the region.
The appalling consequences have been condemned by the United Nations, the European Parliament, and major aid agencies on the ground, with the Red Cross warning that the country has been left on the edge of famine.
A harrowing report from UNICEF has found that one child is dying every 10 minutes because of malnutrition, diarrhea, and respiratory-tract infections in Yemen, with 400,000 at risk of starvation.
Right at the outset of the bombing, Britain’s then-foreign secretary Philip Hammond pledged to “support the Saudis in every practical way short of engaging in combat.” Unfortunately, the British government has stayed true to his word. One major way in which it has done this is through the sale of arms.
Despite the destruction, and despite its appalling human rights record at home, Saudi Arabia is by far the largest buyer of British arms.
The arms sales haven’t slowed down; in fact, Britain has licensed over £3.3 billion ($4.1 billion USD) worth of arms since the bombing began. These include Typhoon fighter jets, which have been used in the bombardment, and missiles and bombs that reports by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have linked to attacks on civilian targets.
Last month, Saudi forces even admitted to using British-made cluster bombs, one of the cruelest and deadliest weapons that can be used in warfare. When bombs are dropped they open up in mid-air to release hundreds of sub-munitions. Their impact is indiscriminate. Anybody within the striking area is very likely to be killed or seriously injured.
The bombs were exported in 1988, but the lifespan of weapons is very often longer than that of the political situation they are bought in. How will the billions of pounds’ worth of weapons being sold now be used and who will they be used against?
If cluster bombs are not considered beyond the pale by the Saudi military, then what is the likelihood that its personnel are doing everything in their power to avoid civilian casualties? It’s not just the bombs that are deadly, it is the mindset which allows their use in the first place.
British arms export law is very clear. It says that licenses for military equipment should not be granted if there is a “clear risk” that it “might” be used in a serious violation of international humanitarian law. By any reasonable interpretation, these criteria should definitely prohibit all arms sales to Saudi Arabia that could be used in Yemen.
Of course the relationship is nothing new and the problem is institutional rather than party-political. For decades now successive British governments of all political colors have armed and uncritically supported the Saudi regime.
In 2006, we saw former Prime Minister Tony Blair intervening to stop a corruption investigation into arms deals between Saudi Arabia and BAE Systems. This was quickly followed by another multibillion-pound fighter jet sale. In 2013 and 2014, we saw then-Prime Minister David Cameron and even Prince Charles making visits to the Saudi Kingdom where they posed for fawning photographs and pushed arms sales.
One outcome of this cozy partnership has been a high level of integration between British and Saudi military programs. There are around 240 British Ministry of Defense civil servants and military personnel working to support the contracts through the Ministry of Defense Saudi Armed Forces Program and the Saudi Arabia National Guard Communications Project.
The political consensus seems to be shifting though, with the Labour, SNP and Liberal Democrat front benches — and many Tory backbench legislators — all calling for arms sales to be suspended while an independent investigation into their legality takes place. This has gone a long way in shifting the terms of the debate.
But, even if it is taken up, it can not be enough unless it is complemented by an end to future arms sales and a meaningful change in foreign policy.
Regardless of the outcome in court next month, it is already clear how weak and broken British arms export controls are. A brutal dictatorship has created a humanitarian catastrophe, killed thousands of civilians, and flouted international law and yet Britain has continued arming and supporting it.
Instead of following its own rules on arms sales, the government has prioritized arms company profits over human rights.
If that’s not enough to stop arms sales, then what more would it take?

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Perspective: Is Bangladesh becoming Syria, Iraq or another Afghanistan?

Nasrin Sultana Khan

For last several months disturbing reports and opinion editorials are being published in international media outlets portraying Bangladesh as the next Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan or even worst.

Islamist militants began flexing muscles in Bangladesh right after the end of Afghan war, where thousands of fighters from Bangladesh went and joined the anti-Soviet jihadist forces including Talibans and Al Qaeda.

A number of Islamist leaders and clerics even had gone within the inner circle of Osama Bin Laden. On return to Bangladesh, they began getting organized with the unholy agenda of transforming a secular Bangladesh into a Sharia country or even rogue state like Pakistan.

Rise of Islamist militancy reached an alarming level when pro-Islamist Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its coalition government of Jamaat-e-Islami formed government in 2001. Jihadist outfits such as Jamatul Mujahedin Bangladesh (JMB) were expanding network under the direct patronisation of BNP led Islamist government. At the same time, there had been sudden appearances of a number of Islamist groups such as Khatmay Nabuwat Movement, Towhidi Jonota, Ahle Hadis etc demanding Ahmadis to be declared as non Muslims or even infidels

These unholy nexus of the Islamist militancy groups established reign of terror throughout Bangladesh. BNP led pro-Islamist coalition government not only appeased and funded these groups, they even exposedly extended support to radical groups like Khatmay Nabuwat and imposed ban on publication and distribution of all religious books of the Ahmadiyya community, defying serious concerns raised by the rights groups, USCIRF and the Western nations.

The entire tenure of BNP led Islamist government saw the dangerous rise of Islamist militancy. During that period, a number of international news media including the TIME magazine published series of reports on this issue.

In 2006, BNP made a foul bid of extending its tenure for a second term through serious manipulation by holding a mock general election to be held under a BNP-Jamaat loyalist interim government. But the pro-democracy and secularist people of Bangladesh under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina and Bangladesh Awami League (AL) strongly confronted such evil desire thus saving the country from becoming another Afghanistan.

Ever since Bangladesh Awami League came to power in 2009 through a landslide victory, Bangladesh is attaining tremendous economic progress under the dynamic leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, and it is well turn into a middle income nation by 2021.

While Bangladesh is marching towards prosperity, there again is unfortunate but alarming rise of Islamist militancy in the country. According to local media reports, there are several home-grown jihadist outfits on gradual rise, although some foreign media are seeing these home-grown jihadist outfits as ‘Bangladesh chapter’ of Islamic State and or Al Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent (AQIS).

Thanks to the determination of Sheikh Hasina and relentless efforts of her government and the law enforcing agencies for efficiently combating these militancy groups.

Members of Bangladesh Police deserve special appreciation for their excellence in fighting militancy in the country.

Pakistan - Prime Minister Nawaz forbidden from making speech in Davos over corruption investigation

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's failure to make a speech during his 4-day stay in Davos has sparked resentment among the people. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif spent millions of rupees on his luxuriant visit during the visit but failed to address any important forum because he was not allowed by the management of Davos Economic Forum to address any function.
The main reason for not allowing the Prime Minister to deliver a speech on any forum was said to be the alleged involvement of the Prime Minister in a massive corruption scandal in Pakistan. He could only hold a meeting with the Sri Lankan Prime Minister and no bilateral meeting with the head of any other country took place. The entire nation was desperately frustrated over the country being made a laughing stock by the Prime Minister during his visit.
In contrast, the former Army Chief Gen (Retd) Raheel Sharif was held in great reverence in the conference and he addressed several forums and participated in many debates. The meeting of the World Economic Forum is held every year in Davos, Switzerland in January where world leaders are invited to address it.
Nawaz Sharif had gone to attend the Davos Forum without any invitation from its sponsors and spent millions of rupees on his visit out of the national treasury. But he had to face disappointment when he was not allowed to address the forum. The Prime Minister stayed at five-star hotels in Switzerland at the cost of the nations' taxpayers.
Official sources said he spent over four days there just talking to Pakistani journalists before leaving for London in sheer despair. The PM had made special arrangements for his visit to Davos and he had a speech prepared. But he could not present his written speech at the forum. The official spokesman declined to comment on the matter.

Pakistan - Blast in Parachinar - Lingering Issues

The blast in Parachinar that led to 25 deaths and injured over 80, brings up the old questions of Pakistan’s fight against terrorism, something we had been distracted from. As is always the case with incidents with high death tolls, the debate surrounding the efficacy of the National Action Plan (NAP) is as pertinent as ever.
Is the writ of the state really back in areas such as Kurram Agency, which had so long been plagued by extremism and terrorism? Have groups like the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi-al-Alami really been brought under control?
The TTP spokesperson’s direct admission of targeting the Shia community should give the government pause.
The recent statements given by Chaudhry Nisar about sectarianism being a lesser evil than terrorism, and not to be confused with terrorism, now makes the government seem callous and neglectful to the plight of those attacked.
The proliferation of attacks based on sectarian differences should be a reminder for those in circles of government, particularly the Interior Ministry, that differentiating between ‘conventional’ terrorists and those motivated by sectarian strife can lead to disastrous consequences and confusion in policy making.
Targeting the Shia community on the basis of a war being fought in the Middle East is exactly why groups that promote sectarian hatred should not be tolerated.
This attack in Parachinar is also an indication of why merging the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) into KPK is essential. The extension of the security apparatus and the complete writ of the state in the agencies is paramount for there to be lasting peace. FATA has had a long association with both extremism and terrorism in the past, and eliminating militant hideouts is only one step on the long road of countering the extremist threat.
The tribes must start trusting the state, and that is not likely to happen while attacks such as this are taking place in their marketplaces. There is a long way to go before FATA, or indeed the rest of Pakistan, can be deemed ‘safe’ in absolute terms. IED explosions such as this cannot be prevented by increasing the amount of security forces present in any given area. All it takes is one terrorist with technical know-how of how to make a bomb, and financial backers looking to support the destruction. Preventing attacks will come about through removing the extremist mind-set prevalent in society, and reforming the apologist mind-set of the state institutions towards dangerous organisations.

Pakistan - Balochistan Education Dept functioning on ad hoc basis

Education department in Government of Balochistan is running on ad hoc basis as 38 key positions of the department are lying vacant. These positions include Secretary Secondary Education, Director Education (Schools), Director Board of Curriculum, Chairman Balochistan Text Book Board amongst others.
According to data from sources in the Education Department, 25 of the vacant positions are given in “Look after Charge” to junior officers, whereas the remaining are fully vacant.
These posts are of grade B-18 to B-20 but are being managed by junior officers and teachers of B-17 grade on ad hoc basis.
District Education Officer (DEO) is the administrative head of primary and secondary education department in districts and nine positions of DEOs in important districts are vacant or are under “Look after Charge.”
Effectively, in 19 district out of 32 in Balochistan, education department is controlled by junior SST teachers on ad hoc basis.
It was also revealed through the documents that eight officers of Education department in grades of B-17 to B-19 are Officers on Special Duty (OSD), but they are not being posted to the vacant positions. OSD is a ceremonial position which is often used to punish the government officers.
A well-placed source in the Education department, who wished not to be named, blamed the Education Minister for the ad-hocism in the department. “In education department all positions are being filled on political basis, by juniors who do not have a good reputation.”
The source further added that a junior officer who is still facing charges of inquiry in education department was made the Director of Education on political basis.
Education Department was not available for a comment when contacted.
Education in Balochistan saw a revival under the leadership of former Secretary Ghulam Ali Baloch and his successor Abdul Saboor Kakar. However, it’s alleged that downfall of the education department started on 22nd June 2016, when Government of Balochistan transferred Abdul Saboor Kakar from the position of Secretary Education and made him Officer on Special duty (OSD).
Similarly, a share of Education in provincial budget 2016-17 also fell down to 17 percent in 2016 as compared to almost 20 percent last year. Development budget of education as a percentage of total development budgets also fell steeply to 9 percent in 2016-17 budget as compared to 25 percent last year.