Monday, January 11, 2016

Recent Editorials


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

American gun lobby
playing with fire

At last, good sense seems to prevail in America on the deadly issue of gun violence.
President Barack Obama’s decision to look for ways to keep guns out of the hands of "a dangerous few" without depending on Congress to pass a law reflects his determination to tackle the problem with more earnestness.
Obama has made fighting gun violence his chief resolution for 2016, calling it a major piece of "unfinished business" for his White House administration.
Indications are that steps to strengthen background checks could also come this week and that surely is encouraging news.
However, the task is not easy. The president’s attempts have drawn the ire of certain sections, especially Repubicans.
GOP front-runner Donald Trump vowed to first veto and then "unsign" Obama's possible executive action on guns at a rally in Mississippi.
The National Rifle Association has criticised Obama’s tactic as a "political stunt."
Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott mentioned in a Twitter comment: "Obama wants to impose more gun control. My response? Come & take it."
For too long, gun control has remained a hot topic in the US, where the Second Amendment of the Constitution protects the right to bear arms.
Earlier efforts to push through national reforms to gun laws following mass shootings at various places like Newtown, Connecticut and Oregon have all met firm resistance in the Republican-controlled Congress.
The Pew Research Center found last December that 57 per cent of Americans say they believe owning a gun helps protect people from crime, up from 48 per cent in 2012. The rest said owning a gun would put personal safety at risk.
Data compiled by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, an advocacy group in Washington, reveals that on average 89 people die each day from gun violence in the US.
There have been incidents of horrific gun violence in the last few years. Sadly, much of the victims were innocent bystanders, including children.
Considering that America is a place where people own more guns than anywhere else in the world, any step aimed at keeping guns out of the wrong hands is necessary to save lives and should be welcomed.
Obama’s renewed determination to crack the whip on gun violence is a positive step that deserves the support of one and all.
The US gun lobby has played with fire for too long. Time has come to rein it in.

Rein in Iran for
peace to reign

The fact that various Arab, Islamic and friendly countries and the UN Security Council have all categorically rejected the wanton attacks on the Saudi Embassy in Tehran indicates that the world will no longer tolerate Iranian interference in the internal affairs of Arab countries under any pretext.
The attacks on the Saudi Embassy in Tehran and its consulate in the city of Mashhad and threats received by Saudi diplomats there from Iranian groups that stormed the two missions are definitely a major violation of diplomatic norms.
What raises serious concerns about likely official complicity is the utter failure of the Iranian security authorities to protect diplomats and Saudi diplomatic missions.
Arab foreign ministers at an emergency Arab League session on Sunday in Cairo hit the nail on the head when they blamed Iran for interfering in the affairs of other Middle Eastern states and undermining regional security.
UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan also raised a pertinent point that the attack "took place under the nose and within the earshot of security forces."
Judicial rulings implemented recently by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia were clearly against a number of terrorists. The hostile statements by various Iranian leaders amount to blatant Iranian meddling in the internal affairs of Saudi Arabia.
The GCC Ministerial Council has rightly expressed strong condemnation and rejection of these attacks, holding the Iranian authorities fully responsible for these terrorist acts in accordance with its commitment to the 1961 and 1963 Vienna Conventions as well as the international law, which hold the countries responsible for protecting diplomatic missions.
Going by the background of the situation, the anger of the Gulf Arab countries is entirely justified and the various actions initiated by most of these countries are reasonable reactions to repeated provocation by Tehran.
Tehran has also obviously failed to recognise that positive relations between states should be based on mutual respect and the adoption of a clear-cut policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of others.
The international community should initiate serious efforts to prevent such attacks on diplomatic missions in Iran. Iran should realise that meddling will just not work anymore.
At a time when some countries in the region are facing turmoil, it is appalling that Iran keeps itself busy flouting international norms and principles of good neighbourliness and igniting more crises instead of promoting peace initiatives.

Israeli bullying does not
spare even UN officials

Talk of violations or brutality and Israel’s name instantly comes to one’s mind.
In its latest disgraceful act, Israel has forced the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian territories to resign by refusing to grant him access to the areas he is tasked with monitoring.
“Unfortunately, my efforts to help improve the lives of Palestinian victims of violations under the Israeli occupation have been frustrated every step of the way,” Makarim Wibisono said of his resignation, which he has submitted to the President of the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council.
When the official assumed his post in June 2014, he was assured by Israel that he would have access to the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
However, his repeated requests for access, both written and oral, later proved to be unsuccessful.
It may be recalled that in his recent reports, the UN Rapporteur voiced concerns at Israeli raids against the Hebron-based Youth Against Settlements in the occupied West Bank, at the high level of clashes in the city where Palestinians live in close proximity to a large settler population, and at the blockade around the Gaza strip, which imposes severe restrictions on Palestinian movement, imports and exports.
The lack of effective protection of Palestinian victims from continuing human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law is a matter of serious concern.
On the ground, Israeli brutality continues unabated.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that at least 170 Palestinians were killed in 2015 by the occupying forces, including over 140 during the ongoing Israeli escalation in the occupied territories.
At least 15,377 Palestinians were also wounded in 2015, 90% of them in demonstrations and clashes in the West Bank and Al Quds.
That’s not all. Israeli authorities demolished during the year 2015, over 535 Palestinian houses in several districts of the occupied West Bank and Al Quds.
Israel should be made to realise the importance of respecting sacred sites in occupied Jerusalem. Any change in the status quo of the religious sanctities policy will have serious effects on stability in the Middle East.
The international community should step up efforts to rein in Israel and support the right of the Palestinian people to establish an independent state, with Jerusalem as its capital.
A just and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian issue is the only way that can contribute towards establishing regional and international stability.

N.Korea testing
world’s patience

A comprehensive, hard-hitting international response is what the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) deserves after its shock announcement that it has tested its first hydrogen bomb.
Pyongyang has gone too far in its provocative tactics and mere verbal threats from the international community would only encourage the rogue regime to continue on its wayward path.
If confirmed, this would be the fourth nuclear test carried out by the country since 2006.
Though there is some scepticism in the air with experts suggesting the apparent yield was far too low for a thermonuclear device, harsher penalties are the only way out to rein in DPRK.
The nuclear test has already ignited anger in the region. South Korea has raised its military alert to the highest level at locations along the border where loudspeakers will resume propaganda broadcasts into the North on Friday.
Such propaganda broadcasts have in the past angered the North, prompting an exchange of artillery fire across the border.
A successful hydrogen bomb test would be a big new step for the North. Fusion is the main principle behind the hydrogen bomb, which can be hundreds of times more powerful than atomic bombs that use fission.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has already condemned the grave contravention of the international norm against nuclear testing. He has stated that the act is profoundly destabilising for regional security and seriously undermines international non-proliferation efforts.
The problem is that the latest censure and sanctions threats have a familiar tone, given similar outrage that greeted the North's previous tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013.
As some experts suggest, there is a need to find a strategy that combines coercion with negotiation.
All eyes at the UN will now be on China, a veto-wielding council member, to see just how far it will go in tightening the sanctions grip on its unruly neighbour.
In this, Beijing has its own worries to sort out. A North Korean collapse and the prospect of a US-allied Korea directly on its border are not expected to be greeted with merriment by China.
Nuclear weapons pose a grave threat to entire mankind.  Such activities by the DPRK pose a grave threat to international peace and security.
Resolute action is needed to make the North Korean regime understand that aggravation does not always help.
The only path forward is for North Korea to cease any further nuclear activities and meet its obligations for verifiable denuclearisation.

Optimistic start to
Daesh elimination

The flying of the Iraqi flag above the main government complex in Ramadi marks the military’s first major victory over Daesh in 18 months when the terrorists made a shock advance and is surely a huge and optimistic start to the elimination of Daesh.
The victory has broken the back of Daesh and indicates a positive beginning in the process of liberation of other areas held by it.
The task has not been easy as the terrorists are said to have planted several explosive devices on the roads and in the buildings of the government complex.
The terrorists have devastated Ramadi and a return to absolute normalcy may indeed take more time.
Defence Minister Khaled Al Obeidi had declared recently that Iraqi forces had reconquered more than half of the territory lost to Daesh.
The brave Iraqi forces that took the fight to the terrorists’ doors with courage deserve all praise.
The army no longer faces any resistance in the city and its main task now is to defuse countless bombs and traps.
Disturbingly, Daesh used civilians as human shields to escape the battle especially when it became clear that their last stand in Ramadi was doomed.
The success has visibly propped up more confidence with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi vowing to liberate the second city of Mosul and rid the entire country of Daesh in 2016.
Of course, retaking Mosul would be hard as the region is a mosaic of different ethnic and religious groups lying between Turkey, Syria and Iraqi Kurdistan. Nevertheless, precision planning, confidence and commitment can do the trick.
It is also good that the United Nations has stepped up its efforts to cut off all sources of funding for Daesh and other terrorist groups, including ransom payments, no matter by whom.
With terrorists increasingly employing elusive tricks to raise and transfer funds, covering their tracks and leaving little evidence to identify tainted resources, the international community must stay ahead of the curve to combat their ploys, as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon recently suggested.
Many countries have yet to set up the necessary legal regimes and institutions to identify and freeze terrorist assets.
The liberation of Ramadi is surely a big victory yet in the fight against Daesh.
This success will help boost the morale of Iraq's military, which collapsed when Daesh took over large parts of the country in June 2014. Daesh terrorists should know that they have no place to hide.

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