Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Editorials: The Gulf Today

Here are some of the recent Editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today. (Posted for my records).
UAE, a humanitarian
role model for world
It is a matter of pride for every citizen and resident of the United Arab Emirates that the country is now the largest donor offering $5.2 billion aid, making it the number one humanitarian capital worldwide.
The UAE made a record leap in the history of foreign aid from its 19th position in 2012. It increased the aid rate to 1.5 per cent of GDP, the highest in the 34-member Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Among the first ones to share the good news was His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, who posted his response on social networking websites, by tweeting, “According to the OECD, the UAE’s aids exceeded $5bn in 2013, making it the number one humanitarian capital worldwide. The culture of giving is deeply rooted in our society, and it has been always nurtured by UAE leaders since the inception of the UAE.”
The UAE has been actively supporting many countries with generous aid packages. It was the first to sign a $ 4.9 billion framework agreement with the Arab Republic of Egypt to support its development programme and aimed at improving the living conditions, lives and human development of the Egyptian people through a number of projects.
In response to the United Nations plan to address the Syrian crisis, the UAE allocated Dhs220 million, of which Dhs183 million were allocated for UN plan inside Syria and Dhs37 million allocated for the UN regional plan for Syria in Jordan.
Touched by the UAE leadership’s generous outlook, David Ignatius, a writer and political and strategic analyst who writes for the “Washington Post” newspaper recently mentioned that the wise leadership of the UAE represents a humanitarian role-model for the world.
The late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, founder of the UAE, had made his views on the subject very clear when he declared: “We believe that the benefit of the fortune granted to us by God should spread to cover our brothers and friends.”
Sheikh Zayed's successor, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, has continued on the same path based on his conviction that: “Humanitarian diplomacy is one of the main pillars of our foreign policy, and our country will continue to support international efforts to respond to disasters and answer the call for relief.”
Israel’s arm-twisting
tactics will not work
Israel just refuses to learn lessons. At a time when the US-backed peace process was gaining momentum and the Palestinians tried their best to make it a success, Israel scuttled the efforts by refusing to carry out the fourth and final promised prisoner release last month.
It is not just that. Israel continued to make new attempts to expand settlements in occupied east Jerusalem.
Left with no alternative, the Palestinians responded by signing letters of accession to join 15 international conventions. The treaties include the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations, the convention on the rights of the child, the convention against torture and an anti-corruption accord.Now, in a major boost to the diplomatic drive by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority has also signed up formally to the Geneva Conventions, which set down the rules of warfare and humanitarian operations in conflict zones. This was registered formally by Switzerland on Thursday making it “a historic day for the Palestinian people," as Abbas put it.
The Palestine Liberation Organisation first asked to join the Geneva Conventions on June 21, 1989. At the time, the Swiss Foreign Ministry said it was not in a position to decide on the bid "due to the uncertainty within the international community as to the existence or non-existence of a State of Palestine." The UN General Assembly passed a motion on Nov.29, 2012, upgrading Palestine to a "non-member observer state" of the global body.
Unable to digest the latest diplomatic victory for Palestinians, Israel is resorting to arm-twisting tactics by imposing a series of sanctions on the Palestinians — halting high-level contacts and blocking the transfer of advanced mobile-phone equipment to the Gaza Strip.
Israel also imposed economic sanctions against the Palestinians by declaring that it would deduct debt payments from tax transfers which the Palestinian Authority routinely receives, and limit the self-rule government's bank deposits. The revenues which Israel collects on goods bound for the Palestinian market amount to about $100 million a month and accounts for about two thirds of the Palestinian budget.
What Israel repeatedly forgets is that such actions could be counter-productive. Palestinian official Yasser Abed Rabbo has said it right and straight: "These sanctions will not scare Palestinians and they're evidence to the world that Israel is a racist occupation state that has resorted to the weapon of collective punishment in addition to other practices including settlements and their expansion and the denial of Palestinians’ most basic rights as a people.”
Dubai continues
to dazzle tourists
From the timeless tranquillity of the desert to the lively bustle of the souk, Dubai offers a kaleidoscope of attractions for visitors from around the world and it is little wonder that the Emirate has figured in the world's top 25 destinations of the TripAdvisor's sixth annual Traveler's Choice awards.
Dubai is a unique destination that is both a dynamic business centre and a tourist paradise, offering shopping, fine dining and quality hotels. According to CNN, The Traveler's Choice awards sliced and diced its users' reviews and ratings over 12 months into lists of its most highly recommended global and regional destinations. Hence the selection is apt and adds to the highly credible image of Dubai.
It is not just the regular tourists, but even the corporate sector in different countries is taking note of Dubai’s varied attractions. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President, Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, posted on his Twitter page this week that a Chinese company rewarded 16,000 of its employees with a vacation in the United Arab Emirates. The company is chartering 77 flights and has booked 40 hotels and over 400 tourist guides.
In what is considered to be one of the biggest vacations organised by a company for its staff in history and the biggest group tourists to visit Dubai, the staff from the Nu Skin company have started arriving. The company is transferring its staff in seven batches, 2,000 tourists each. The trip costs millions of dollars. The company has booked 39,514 rooms in 40 hotels and 409 tourist guides. The tour also includes cultural sites in Sharjah.
Dubai’s hotels enjoyed a busy first nine months of last year, welcoming over 7.9 million visitors between January and September 2013, a 9.8 per cent year-on-year increase. During the first nine months of the year, guest numbers across all hotel establishments (hotels and hotel apartments) reached 7,941,118, a 9.8 per cent increase year-on-year.
Last year, Dubai won the bid to host Expo 2020, a six-month global exhibition that is expected to attract 25 million visitors. Expo-related infrastructure development and operations will cost around Dhs32.39 billion.
Under Dubai’s 2020 vision, the number of visitors in the emirate is projected to double from 10 million in 2012 to 20 million by 2020. In order to accommodate the visitors, the number of hotels in Dubai is expected to double. No wonder, Dubai has turned out to be a dream destination for tourists.
Global warming
a ticking bomb

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has presented a rather grim picture of global warming, warning that it poses a threat to the health, economic prospects, and food and water sources of billions of people. The report has cautioned that no one will be left untouched, the poor will suffer most and that the effects of warming are felt everywhere, fuelling potential food shortages, natural disasters and raising the risk of wars.
The report is the second in a four-part IPCC series meant to guide governments that have promised to agree a pact in 2015 to slow climate change. The first, in September, raised to least 95 per cent the probability that most global warming is man-made, from 90 per cent in 2007. The panel's credibility faces scrutiny after one of its reports, in 2007, exaggerated the melt of Himalayan glaciers, but experts say the error does not undermine key findings.
Negotiators are seeking to sign a new, global pact in Paris next year, to take effect in 2020. The aim is to contain warming to 2.0 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-Industrial Revolution levels, though even this level would require adaptive measures for a changed climate.
As per the report, countries like India and China will not only have to face more extreme weather events but also experience severe stress on drinking water and food-grains by middle of this century. It has predicted that both India and China will have to see negative impacts on aggregate wheat yields, impacting the overall food security in the continent.
Glaciers are considered among the most sensitive indicators of climate change. As temperatures warm, glaciers retreat unless snow precipitation increases to make up for the additional melt; the converse is also true. Glaciers worldwide have been found to be shrinking significantly, with strong glacier retreats in the 1940s, stable or growing conditions during the 1920s and 1970s, and again retreating from the mid-1980s to present.
There are already more weather-related mega-disasters such as heatwaves and storm surges occurring under climate change. The number of natural disasters between 2000 and 2009 was three times higher than in the 1980s.  There is strong, credible evidence that climate is changing and that these changes are in large part caused by human activities. There are opportunities to respond to the risks within a timeframe. The governments should take responsibility and act or the future generations will not judge them kindly.
It’s time ballots
replaced bullets
The merciless attack by a gunman on two international female journalists working for the Associated Press, which left one dead and the other wounded, has underscored the perilous conditions under which members of the media and other professionals perform their duties in Afghanistan.
Photographer Anja Niedringhaus and reporter Kathy Gannon were shot in the Khost province. Niedringhaus died, while Gannon sustained injuries. The two journalists have spent years in Afghanistan covering the conflict and the people and were merely performing their duty. The attack is outrageous and can only be seen as a huge loss for Afghanistan itself as the two were effectively highlighting various issues and developments in the country.
Kabul has been rocked by a string of high-profile attacks in the run-up to Saturday's election, which will see the first democratic handover of power in Afghanistan's turbulent history.
Anja is the second Western journalist killed during the election campaign, after Swedish journalist Nils Horner was shot dead in Kabul on March 11. Horner, a veteran of Swedish national radio, was killed while researching a story about a January attack on a restaurant that killed 21 people, including 13 foreigners.
AFP's senior Afghan reporter Sardar Ahmad, his wife and two of his three children were killed on March 20 when gunmen smuggled pistols into Kabul's Serena hotel and shot dead nine people, including four foreigners.
Afghan security officials have vowed not to let militants derail the election process. More than 400,000 personnel including police, army and intelligence services have been deployed to ensure security around the country. Nevertheless, question marks about safety and security remain as the killing of the innocent journalists has proved.
It is not that all is lost for Afghanistan. One of the drivers for the current economic recovery is the return of over 5 million expatriates, who brought with them fresh energy and entrepreneurship as well as funds to start up businesses. For the first time since the 1970s, Afghans have involved themselves in construction and major projects are underway in several cities.
While such positive developments ring in hope, militant attacks and killing of innocent people imply an opposite story.
A repeat of the bloodshed and fraud that marred the 2009 election would damage claims by international donors that intervention in Afghanistan has made progress in establishing a functioning state system. Whoever wins the race to succeed Afghan President Hamid Karzai faces a testing time especially in regards to stability and security.
‘Cold War’ rhetoric
heats up Ukraine crisis
There seems to be no let-up in the violent clashes sweeping eastern Ukraine over the past few days and the crisis will only deepen unless intensive efforts are made by all sides to defuse the situation.
Russia has publicly stated that it would be forced to act if Kiev were to use force against demonstrators in the east.
The situation has reached such a point that Ukraine's interim president Oleksandr Turchynov invited the United Nations to join his army's "anti-terrorist operation" against pro-Kremlin militants who have seized buildings in the ex-Soviet state's Russified east. Such a joint operation would allow what he called "professionals and observers" to ensure all actions taken were lawful and legitimate.
UN monitors on the ground have cited armed civilians on both sides, as well as militiamen armed with AK-47's and sniper rifles among the well-armed and organised groups that consistently reinforced barricades along roads in the cities where the uprisings had occurred.
Media reports indicate that large numbers of Russian troops have been deployed along the border with Ukraine, especially in Slavyansk where a police station was seized. Protesters in the city demanded a referendum on autonomy similar to the poll in Crimea last month, in which voters opted to secede from Ukraine.
The reactions have been on expected lines. British Foreign Secretary William Hague argues that the well-coordinated actions of armed pro-Russian groups in eastern Ukraine during the previous 48 hours left no real doubt that this is something planned and brought about by Russia.
European Union (EU) foreign ministers are deploring what they say is more Russian interference in Ukraine, but are hoping an end to the crisis can still be peacefully negotiated. While they may add more names to a list of Russian officials whose assets in EU member nations have been frozen, a dramatic ratcheting of the trade bloc's sanctions against Russia is unlikely.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon echoed the sentiments of the international community when he declared: “The problems over Ukraine are reverberating far beyond this region. They are causing divisions in the international community at a time when we need countries to unite to tackle global problems.
All sides involved should resist yielding to provocations, exercise maximum restraint and adhere to international law. There is little doubt that if immediate action is not initiated to resolve the crisis, not only would Ukraine and Russia bear the brunt, European nations and the wider international community would be affected as well.

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