Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Recent Editorials

Here are some recent editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today. (Posted for my records)

Dubai proves it cares
for differently-abled

Dubai has time and again proved that it is a caring city for all sections of the society.
One of the primary challenges facing those with physical disabilities at airports world-wide is mobility, especially while passing through custom counters and reaching the gates.
Dubai has taken note of this and the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs-Dubai has taken measures to cater to disabled passengers at all terminals of Dubai Airports, including Al Maktoum Airport, by installing special counters that will help make travelling through the airport easy, enjoyable and comfortable.
It should be noted that the move has been registered as the first in the Middle East and one of the few in the world.
An e-gate also has been allocated for disabled people, while the smart gate at Terminal 3 is the first of its kind in the Middle East which allows the disabled people to complete travel procedures in 18 seconds only.
The authorities have also chosen 20 well-trained officers who can use the sign language to deal with people with physical disabilities.
Dubai International Airport was the world’s busiest for international passenger traffic last year, taking that title for the first time from London’s Heathrow Airport.
Last year, UAE Vice President and Prime Minister His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum issued a law to protect the rights of people with disabilities in the Emirate of Dubai.
The law devotes cooperation among all authorities concerned in Dubai to provide health care services, therapeutic services, rehabilitation for people with disabilities, in addition to providing educational opportunities that are equal to those provided to their peers at all stages.
The law further stipulates providing public services to people with special needs, including the use of roads, public transport, police and judicial services to ensure their integration with the other categories of the community.
Sheikh Mohammed had described them as "people with special challenges" because they serve the interest of the community and nation by challenging their physical disabilities.
The UAE grants people with special needs the right to employment, education, marriage and a decent living on par with all compatriots.
People with special needs play a vital role in the fabric of society. The attention given by Dubai to this important category in the community and its leading role in the process of building and development is creditable. It sets a healthy trend for other airports in the world to follow.

Indo-Pak diplomacy
on right track

At a time when people across the globe are fed up of conflicts, any peace initiative deserves a warm welcome.
In this context, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s unexpected meeting with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif in the Pakistani city of Lahore not only comes as a surprise, but also indicates a potential sign of thawing relations between the two neighbours.
It should be noted that this is the first visit to Pakistan by an Indian premier since 2004.
Incidentally, Modi’s visit coincided with Sharif's birthday and the wedding of his granddaughter.
One of the first public signs of the visit came Friday morning when Modi, during a stop in the Afghan capital of Kabul, tweeted that he is "looking forward to meeting" Sharif in Lahore, "where I will drop by on my way back to Delhi." He also called Sharif and wished him happy birthday.
India and Pakistan resumed high-level contacts with a brief conversation at climate change talks at the COP21 climate change conference in Paris last month.
The last visit to Pakistan by an Indian prime minister was in 2004 by then leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who is credited with bringing about a thaw in relations with Islamabad.
Seeing Sharif and Modi chatting in a room happy and relaxed signified a cordial approach.
In fact, Pakistani Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry indicated that Modi had phoned Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif while on a visit to neighbouring Afghanistan and asked if he could make a stop in Pakistan on his way home.
And the Pakistan premier replied, “Please come, you are our guest, please come and have tea with me.”
Not all are amused, though. India's main opposition party, Congress, has been quick to criticise Modi's "irresponsible" decision. The party wants to know “what has changed in the last few months that made Modi go straight to Lahore from Kabul."
A concern for both countries is the frequent skirmishes along the border. A cease-fire along the India-Pakistan line of control that serves as the Kashmir boundary has largely held since 2003, but firing and gunbattles are fairly common, with each side routinely blaming the other.
While such issues need to be tackled, giant leaps begin with tiny steps.
The Modi-Sharif meeting should be considered a turning point in India-Pakistan relations.
If the two nations manage improve their ties, the entire region will be benefited on multiple fronts. Too many years have been wasted in avoidable animosity.  It is time to give peace a chance.

Window of opportunity
for peace in Syria

The setting of Jan.25, 2016 by the United Nations Special Envoy for Syria as the target date to begin talks between various parties has raised hopes for a possible solution to the five-year-old conflict that has shaken the entire world.
Incidentally, the announcement, issued in Geneva where the talks are also expected to take place, comes just over a week after the Security Council adopted Resolution 2254, giving the world body an enhanced role in shepherding the opposing sides to talks for a political transition, with a timetable for a ceasefire, a new constitution and elections, all under UN auspices.
Syria's civil war that began in 2011 has been the main driver of mass displacement, with more than 4.2 million Syrian refugees having fled abroad and 7.6 million uprooted within their shattered homeland as of mid-year. Over 250,000 people have already lost their lives.
The country is in ruins and the spreading of radicalism poses major security challenges regionally and globally.
What is also extremely disturbing is that a growing number of Syrian refugee children are being pushed into the labour market to support their families and exploited, often in dangerous conditions.
All parties should immediately cease attacks against civilians, including medical facilities and personnel and the indiscriminate use of weapons, including shelling and aerial bombardment.
There is a critical need to build conditions for the safe and voluntary return of refugees and internally displaced persons to their home areas.
Relevant Syrian parties should cooperate wholeheartedly in the peace process. The situation on the ground should not be a reason to close doors on peace initiatives.
Action should also be initiated to alleviate the suffering of Syrian civilians and refugees, through material, psychological and educational support to create a secure and humane environment for them.
After all, if the deadly casualty figures do not rattle human conscience and prompt and united action to alleviate the sufferings of ordinary Syrians, what else will?
As the UN Special Envoy for Syria has stated, the people of Syria have suffered enough. Their tragedy is now felt throughout the region and beyond. They deserve the full attention and commitment from all their Syrian representatives, who should show leadership and vision to overcome differences for the sake of their country.
Leaders deliberating on the Syrian issue should keep a flexible approach.
An opportunity for peace has at last emerged and letting it go will not be a wise idea.

Address root causes
of displacement

The United Nations has declared that the number of people who have been forced to flee war, violence and persecution looks set to soar in 2015 past last year's record of nearly 60 million and the issue is a matter of serious concern.
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the estimated figure includes 20.2 million refugees fleeing wars and persecution, the most since 1992.
The huge numbers indicate the utter failure on the part of the international community to protect helpless civilians in troubled spots.
An astounding 2.5 million asylum seekers have requests pending, with Germany, Russia and the United States receiving the highest numbers of the nearly one million new claims lodged in the first half of the year.
Syria's civil war that began in 2011 has been the main driver of mass displacement, with more than 4.2 million Syrian refugees having fled abroad and 7.6 million uprooted within their shattered homeland as of mid-year.
Separately, Unicef has indicated that more than 16 million babies in 2015 were born in conflict zones such as Afghanistan, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen or on perilous journeys to escape fighting, which translates to 1 in 8 of all births worldwide, or one newborn every two seconds.
What is worrying more is that in addition to conflict and poverty, the effects of climate change and lack of opportunity are making children increasingly vulnerable and have pushed millions on dangerous journeys away from their homes.
Refugee children are often the most marginalised and hardest to reach and help. The need to ensure an education for children in crisis should never be underestimated. They face challenges like extreme poverty, social exclusion, trauma and language barriers.
As top UN officials point out, never has there been a greater need for tolerance, compassion and solidarity with people who have lost everything. What is also essential is a need for political will to help those who are forced to flee.
The victims should be given all support and protection as per international norms. When insecurity and hopelessness set in the minds of displaced persons, it pricks the conscience of humanity.
All efforts should be taken to break the trend where millions of men, women and children are getting trapped in conflict zones around the world.
Governments, civil society and humanitarian and academic partners should work together and find ways to understand and address the root causes of displacement.

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