Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Nuclear Power May Turn on the Lights to Peace in South Asia

In July, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will make her first trip to India as the United States top diplomat. The speculation surrounding her trip has many within the Indian establishment wrangling over what message she may bring from President Barack Obama. Earlier this month, Undersecretary of State William Burns delivered a message to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh directly from President Obama. Undersecretary Burns was very coy about the contents of the letter, only stating that he did not know what the contents of the letter contained, but hinted that it could be in preparation for Secretary of State Clinton’s upcoming journey. Moreover, when asked whether or not the letter included Kashmir, he stated that the policy of the United States still maintains the view that the “wishes” of the Kashmiri people must be a part of the solution.

This came on the heels of mixed reports from India regarding the possibility of troop reduction and/or withdrawal from not only the Line of Control, the border between India and Pakistan, but from the Valley of Kashmir as well. Due to the timing of such open discussions within the Indian establishment, one can only conclude that the letter delivered by Undersecretary Burns contained a possible roadmap to peace between India and Pakistan, and that this strategy would allow US Foreign Policy to kill two birds with one stone. The first bird would come in the form of ending the fear of the Kashmir dispute resulting in nuclear holocaust. The other affording Pakistan the ability to remove troops from the LoC and focus their efforts primarily in the brutal struggle with the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the SWAT Valley and Northwest Frontier Province. In order to accomplish such lofty ambitions, there appears to be a two-pronged approach with the aid of Japan-Pakistan relations serving as means to provide the necessary safeguards.

US Nuclear Leverage

The controversial US-India nuclear deal in mid-2008 came under considerable criticism, especially in non-proliferation circles. The agreement not only rewarded India for disregarding the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), but also gave them access to US nuclear technology that on the surface may appear to amount to technological transfer of US civilian standards and practices. These practices can easily lead to robust gains in reprocessing fissile materials. However, when the Obama Administration took office, regardless of ratification by Congress and the signing by President Bush, President Obama has the right to revisit the contents of the package. Moreover, the deal itself undercuts US efforts in negotiations with Iran regarding it’s own nuclear aspirations, as well as negotiating a new arms reduction treaty with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

By revisiting the agreement with PM Singh, President Obama has a valuable negotiating tool to curtail nuclear weapons production in India through greater transparency requirements, as well as India becoming a signatory to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). India’s current development necessitates the need for more energy. Moreover, by bringing India once and for all out of the “nuclear shadows”, India will become a useful ally when dealing with Iran, who India maintains close relations.

The Japanese Nuclear Front

Currently, there are negotiations between the Japanese and Pakistani governments regarding a similar civilian nuclear pact where Japan would invest $20 Billion (USD) in helping construct new civilian nuclear plants, as well as technological transfer of Japanese innovation which continues as one of the worlds most innovative. According to one anonymous source involved in the discussions, “the deal is very close to being completed. However, Pakistan must come to the realization that the security guarantees that Pakistan will not use the technology for reprocessing materials for the creation of weapons is non-negotiable.” However, skeptics in Japan already exist due to the A.Q. Khan nuclear syndicate that includes the likes of North Korea, whom Japan in all likelihood is in greater danger than that of South Korea. This deal would make for interesting bedfellows to say the least. Pakistan is in dire need of new forms of energy, and receiving aid from Japan with regards to nuclear power for civilian purposes would be of incredible assistance.

Japan is the only country to have actually experienced the destruction of nuclear or atomic weapons first hand. Moreover, for Japan to aid a country that gave their greatest threat, North Korea, the ability to possibly relive that horrific experience, will require an amazing amount of trust. However, as the United States closest ally in Asia, Japan can place itself at the forefront of regional diplomacy via assisting an end to the worlds longest and possibly most dangerous conflict. Furthermore, Japan can limit the nuclear threat that Pakistan poses regionally by requiring the same safeguards the United States will require of India. Finally, the US can provide the necessary pressure on Pakistan given the current level of cooperation the US and Pakistan currently share.

The Kashmir Dynamic

Of course, all of this hinges on the belief that both the US and Japan can use their influence by offering this technological transfer in exchange for bringing to a close the dispute between India and Pakistan. The most complex issue of course involves the disputed territory of Kashmir. The problem is the fact that Kashmir long ago stopped being a land dispute, but a dispute regarding water rights. Both countries need access to not only the Siachen Glacier region for drinking water, but also the Jhelum River for hydroelectric power. Given the direct impact in energy availability domestically, the Governments of India and Pakistan will no longer have a legitimate excuse for the continued waste of both human and monetary capital inside the Kashmir region. Of course, it will require engagement with the Kashmiri Separatist movement. However, the prospect of creating an autonomous zone with an irrelevant border could become appealing to all sides. Finally, nuclear technology can be a weapon of peace, rather than a weapon of mass destruction.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Cairo Syndrome

Following President Barack Obama’s Cairo speech directed at the “Muslim World”, the reactions of pundits in the United States and Europe were extreme on both sides. Those on the left called the speech a landmark achievement. In the case of people on the right, their analysis is that the speech made the United States appear to be ‘weak’ and threatened our security. In fact, just this week at a Republican fundraiser in Washington DC, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich declared, “I am not a citizen of the world, I am a citizen of the United States.” Moreover, the MC of the evening, John Voigt, declared President Obama a “false prophet that must be stopped.” Unfortunately, both the right and the left are completely wrong in their assessments, and have displayed such a misunderstanding of the intention of the speech, that at least in the United States, the purpose has been lost.

First of all, this speech was intended to show the respect and acknowledgment that Muslims throughout the world have sought since the fall of the Ottoman Empire. An empire that kept the lights on during the dark ages of Europe, the Inquisition and European monarch’s who would restrict the usage of math, science and other forms of scholarship with the intent of keeping the masses under strict control and manipulation by declaring these practices as ‘evil’ or ‘heresy’. For this reason, it is ironic that the West now claims to be bringing Islamic nations out of the ‘dark ages’ when it was Muslims who saved the West from their own misguided religious moral authority. Obviously, the so-called ‘sons and daughters of Moses and Abraham’ need each other in order to prevent the demise of us all.

Next, the intent of the speech was to ask the greater Muslim Diaspora to take responsibility for their own actions, their own nation-states and most of all their own identities. This was above and beyond the most important aspect of the Cairo address. The impression that many non-Muslims have of the Muslim people is a misunderstood belief that Islam in some way condones terrorism, misogyny and intolerance of all things ‘non-Islamic.’ This could not be any further from the truth. Extremists such as the Taliban and al-Qaeda have hijacked the Muslim bully pulpit and used the platform to express their hatred of the ‘infidel’ and allow the unassuming non-Muslim to conclude that these beliefs are fundamental to Islam. Furthermore, Neoconservatives, Zionists and fundamentalist Christians have gone the extra mile to convince the general public at large that this point of view is the heart of Islam.

Unfortunately, for the likes of Newt Gingrich, Gov. Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh who refuse all things international, non-Christian and/or non-white, their short sidedness continues to bolster the President and his agenda. Their inability to understand that President Obama was encouraging and voicing support for the majority of moderates getting ready to take the polls in Lebanon, Iran, Palestine and Afghanistan, and appealing to their sensibility baffles the mind. If the outcome in Lebanon is any indication, you could assume that President Obama’s strategy worked given the beating that Hezbollah took in the polls last week. If reports and polling are correct coming out of Tehran, the same is about to happen to Mahmoud Ahdmenijad.

As painful as it is to say, President Bush was correct in his belief that by spreading Democracy, despot leaders and tyrannical systems will fall to the will of the people. What he failed to understand from his own doctrine by the undemocratic pre-selection of who the ‘good democratic’ candidates were, and the ‘extremists’ that were elected in protest against the Bush policies. It kind of contradicts the ‘anti-tyranny’ angle. Then again, George W. Bush was not known to think things through 100%.

Finally, the greatest impact of President Obama’s speech is found in Pakistan believe it or not. In the SWAT Valley and parts of the Northwest Frontier Province, we are starting to see a major change in just how much the locals are willing to accept from the extremist point of view. Now, this does not pre-suppose that it was President Obama’s speech that inspired the local population to take up arms, form militias and openly hunt down and kill Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters. However, according to many anonymous sources in Punjab province, specifically Lahore, the speech did serve as inspiration that Obama was at least offering a sense of empathy, support and acknowledgment that the US had made mistakes, and was not an enemy of Islam. This has paid dividend and what was thought to once be a concern that Pakistan would fall to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda has now turned into a rout at the hands of the local people and not the military.

Make no mistake the acknowledgement, respect and contribution of Muslim peoples around the world is long over due. The only way in which the United States can truly secure their way of life and belief system is to accept that we are a unique country in the fact that we acknowledge all points of view, respect all religions and allow dissenting voices a chance to be heard. For those who say we are a Christian nation, defy the very foundation of our country as set forth by Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, Hobbes, Franklin and the rest of the founding fathers. Separation of church and state is a fundamental foundation in the United States. However, showing respect for religion and its contributions are something completely different. Those are based in acknowledgement that without it, regardless of the faith, has saved humanity a time or two from extinction. Anything to the contrary is just revisionist history.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

IRIN Asia Updates 5/31-6/05

PAKISTAN: Afghans caught up in conflict face uncertain future

LAHORE, 31 May 2009 (IRIN) - Nazir Khan, a 40-year-old Afghan refugee, recently began working as a watchman at a private house in Lahore, capital of Pakistan's Punjab province. "I am lucky I found work; now I can support my family at least," he told IRIN.

full report <http://www.IRINnews.org/Report.aspx?Reportid=84631>

AFGHANISTAN: Aid agencies win NATO concession on vehicle markings

KABUL, 1 June 2009 (IRIN) - International forces under NATO command in Afghanistan will stop using white vehicles from 1 June in response to calls from NGOs for clearer markings to distinguish between civilian and military vehicles.

full report <http://www.IRINnews.org/Report.aspx?Reportid=84634>

BANGLADESH: Cyclone leaves trail of contaminated water sources

DHAKA, 2 June 2009 (IRIN) - One week after Cyclone Aila struck southern Bangladesh, survivors in some areas are facing acute shortages of drinking water after many water sources were contaminated.

full report <http://www.IRINnews.org/Report.aspx?Reportid=84650>

AFGHANISTAN: Fighting and natural disasters increase displacement

FARAH, 2 June 2009 (IRIN Radio) - The number of internally displaced in Afghanistan is increasing due to conflict, air strikes, natural disasters, and poverty, government officials and the UN say. IRIN's Ahmad Zia Entezar reports.

full report <http://www.IRINnews.org/Report.aspx?Reportid=84651>

TIMOR-LESTE: Challenge to shift youth from resistance to development

DILI, 2 June 2009 (IRIN) - Disenchantment among young people who fought for independence during Timor-Leste's resistance years could lead to unrest if they are not included in the country's development process, analysts warned.

full report <http://www.IRINnews.org/Report.aspx?Reportid=84659>

PAKISTAN: Separated IDP families - the agony of not knowing

MARDAN, 3 June 2009 (IRIN) - "My wife and I clung onto the back of a truck to get out. At one point our three-year-old son nearly slipped to the ground because we were also trying to manage two other small children and a few small parcels of food and clothing. We would have had no way of picking him up if he had slipped from our arms."

full report <http://www.IRINnews.org/Report.aspx?Reportid=84673>

INDONESIA: Trafficking fuels commercial sex work

SURABAYA, 3 June 2009 (IRIN) - Among the alleyways of Dolly, in Indonesia's second-largest city, it is not difficult to find thousands of young women lured by the prospects of a better life working as commercial sex workers (CSWs).

full report <http://www.IRINnews.org/Report.aspx?Reportid=84678>

AFGHANISTAN: Over 110,000 affected by floods in past two months

KABUL, 3 June 2009 (IRIN) - The number of households affected by flash floods in different parts of Afghanistan over the past two months has increased from 10,000 (50,000-60,000 people) to about 22,000 (110,000-132,000 people), according to new assessments by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) contained in OCHA Afghanistan's Floods Update No 5.

full report <http://www.IRINnews.org/Report.aspx?Reportid=84682>

MYANMAR: New IRIN photo gallery now live

BANGKOK, 4 June 2009 (IRIN) - A new IRIN photo gallery is now live. It accompanies IRIN's coverage of Burmese refugees in western Thailand. Over 100,000 refugees who fled conflict and alleged persecution in Myanmar live in nine camps in often remote parts of western Thailand. Unable to return to Myanmar, their lives are tightly curtailed. A new generation has grown up in the camps.

full report <http://www.IRINnews.org/Report.aspx?Reportid=84696>

PAKISTAN: Mingora town struggling to get back to normal

PESHAWAR, 4 June 2009 (IRIN) - "We are living in hell. There is no other word for it," said Muhammad Nazir Khan, 30, speaking to IRIN from Mingora, the principal city of Swat Valley in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

full report <http://www.IRINnews.org/Report.aspx?Reportid=84697>

AFGHANISTAN: Health officials call on HIV positive to be alert over TB

KABUL, 4 June 2009 (IRIN Radio) - People living with HIV and with suspected tuberculosis symptoms are being urged by health officials to go to hospital for quick diagnosis and treatment. TB can be devastating for those infected by HIV, though the stigma surrounding the virus deters patients from coming forward. IRIN's Masooma Mohammadi reports.

full report <http://www.IRINnews.org/Report.aspx?Reportid=84699>

AFGHANISTAN: Sharp rise in attempted illegal migration to Europe

KABUL, 4 June 2009 (IRIN) - Azizullah Ahmadi told IRIN in Kabul how his son Majid, aged 25, paid US$10,000 to a smuggler to take him to a European country where he wanted to start a better life. But his son drowned in the Mediterranean before reaching Greece in 2008.

full report <http://www.IRINnews.org/Report.aspx?Reportid=84704>

PAKISTAN: Raising awareness on water conservation

KARACHI, 5 June 2009 (IRIN) - "Using a full tank when flushing consumes up to 45 litres of water per flush; water left running while brushing teeth 13 litres; a shower kept running till hot water reaches the showerhead - 35 litres; long showers - 10 litres; water left running while washing dishes - 50 litres; washing a car with a hose - up to 180 litres," said water conservation activist Simi Kamal.

full report <http://www.IRINnews.org/Report.aspx?Reportid=84706>

ASIA: The Gathering Storm - the human cost of climate change

ASIA, 5 June 2009 (IRIN Film & TV) - Following its successful series of short films on the human cost of climate change in Africa, IRIN Films is pleased to announce the launch of the first series of new short films on climate change in Asia.

full report <http://www.IRINnews.org/Report.aspx?Reportid=84716>

SRI LANKA: Growing concern over nutrition of displaced children

COLOMBO, 5 June 2009 (IRIN) - Concerns are growing that the number of malnourished children is higher than earlier estimated among thousands of recently displaced in Sri Lanka.

full report <http://www.IRINnews.org/Report.aspx?Reportid=84722>

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