Here are some recent editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today. (Posted for my records)
UAE spares no effort in
The fact that the UAE has remained an oasis of peace despite turmoil in many countries of the region is a clear indication that its anti-terror measures are effective, strong and on absolutely right track.
The UAE has taken a firm and principled stand against all forms and manifestations of terrorism, regardless of their motivation and justification, wherever, whenever and committed by whosoever.
As the UAE’s Permanent Representative to the UN and other international organisations in Geneva, Obaid Salem Al Zaabi, rightly stressed at the UN's Geneva Conference on Preventing Violent Extremism, the country has been in the forefront of states that adopted a comprehensive strategy to combat terrorism and extremism through three main dimensions: Legislative, Religious and Cultural, and Media and Social Work.
The UAE has adopted legislations on combating violent extremism and terrorism, including law no. 1 of 2004 on combating terrorist crimes, the federal law no. 39 of 2006 on international judicial cooperation and criminal assistance and federal law no. 7 of 2015 on establishing the Abu Dhabi-based Hedaya Centre, the first-ever international centre dedicated to countering violent extremism.
The leadership has, particularly through the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments, instilled values of moderation, coexistence and tolerance in the community.
The remarkable role played by Sawab Centre, a joint initiative by the UAE and the United States to fight Daesh’s extremist ideology online, also deserves special mention.
Daesh makes totally false claims of following the example and teachings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and there is a dire need to counter it.
The Sawab Centre effectively campaigns on its Twitter and Instagram pages that violent and radical actions by extremists bear no relation whatsoever to the real teachings of Islam and the practices of Muslims.
The world increasingly recognises the fact that global partnership is the best way to defeat violent extremism.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon explained well by stating that the vast majority of victims of violent extremism worldwide are Muslims, and the objective of extremists "is for us to turn on each other (and) our unity is the ultimate rebuke for that bankrupt strategy.”
A dynamic, multi-dimensional response from the international community is the best way to address the threat of violent extremism.
In this, the UAE deserves special credit for its highly successful and co-ordinated efforts along with the global community in addressing the deadly menace of extremism.
Bangladesh is known for its traditional values of secularism, free speech and respect for minorities, but that image is taking a severe beating following a series of systematic assaults by extremist groups in recent months specially targeting bloggers, intellectuals and minorities.
Now, a new hit-list naming 10 people, including Rajshahi University Vice Chancellor M Mizanuddin and former mayor Khairuzzaman Liton, has been released by an extremist outfit, causing concern that the situation is far from control.
The threat to the Rajshahi University vice chancellor comes weeks after a professor from the same university Rezaul Karim Siddiquee, 58, was attacked by motorbike-borne assailants and his throat was slit on April 23.
Siddiquee's murder led to widespread protests by teachers and students from the university who condemned the attack and voiced concerns about their colleagues' security.
Since the past few months, at least nine intellectuals, academics, writers, bloggers and activists have been hacked to death in targeted assassinations.
The attacks follow a similar pattern: a group of young men wielding knives or machetes approach their victim while he is strolling down the street or relaxing at home. The men spew hateful language and hack and stab the victim before disappearing, often without a trace.
Tuesday marks the World Press Freedom Day, and a coalition of rights groups has called for a UN-backed inquiry into the killings claiming that Bangladesh's government has failed to address the situation.
US Secretary of State John Kerry called Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina last week, urging Bangladesh to protect those at risk. He also offered US support for the investigation into the slaying last week of Xulhaz Mannan, a US Agency for International Development employee.
Since December, the US has said it is considering providing temporary sanctuary to some individuals at immediate risk, although it remains unclear whether that will happen.
The government, on its part, has been insisting that groups like Daesh or Al Qaeda have no known presence in the country.
While there have been some arrests, mostly of low-level operatives, there have been no major prosecutions so far and the authorities have struggled to make any headway in naming those planning the attacks.
Bangladesh is known as a moderate, progressive nation and extremists should not be allowed to tarnish that image. The authorities must ensure that those under threat are effectively protected.
The government should also conduct a serious investigation into the brutal murders and the perpetrators should be forced to face justice.
Soaring diabetes cases
pose bitter challenge
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has indicated that the number of people living with diabetes has nearly quadrupled to 422 million over 35 years and this surely is bitter news.
According to WHO, the world is facing an "unrelenting march" of the disease which now affects nearly one in 11 adults.
In 2012 alone, diabetes caused 1.5 million deaths. Its complications can lead to heart attack, stroke, blindness, kidney failure and lower limb amputation.
Diabetes is a chronic disease that occurs either when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces. Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar.
The Middle East has seen the prevalence of diabetes soar from 5.9 per cent of adults in 1980 to 13.7 per cent in 2014.
A WHO specialist in the region, Dr Slim Slama, has stated that the region experienced the greatest rise in diabetes, moving from 6 million to 43 million and that’s a “huge, huge increase.”
Experts have repeatedly warned that failing to control levels of sugar in the blood has devastating health consequences.
It triples the risk of a heart attack and leaves people 20 times more likely to have a leg amputated, as well as increasing the risk of stroke, kidney failure, blindness and complications in pregnancy.
The increasing consumption of sugary drinks and other fattening food is undoubtedly a key factor, but modern, sedentary lifestyle that involves less physical activity compared to earlier generations is also a cause for worry.
Incidentally, the increase in diabetes cases has coincided with growing rates of obesity — in the US and Britain, two-thirds of people are now overweight or obese.
What is worrisome is that diabetes medicines and technologies, including insulin, needed for treatment are generally available in only 1 in 3 of the world’s poorest countries. Access to insulin is a matter of life or death for many people with diabetes.
It goes without saying that there is a need for drastic global action to prevent and treat the disease.
As WHO officials rightly suggest, governments should ensure that people are able to make healthy choices and that health systems are able to diagnose, treat and care for people with diabetes.
The authorities should also regulate the fat and sugar content of foods to ensure there were healthy options available to people.
Individuals, on their part, should eat healthily, be physically active and avoid excessive weight gain.
India needs to tackle
deepening water crisis
India is facing the worst water crisis in years and, sadly, the situation is worsening by the day.
About 330 million people, or a quarter of the population, are suffering from drought following the failure of two successive monsoons.
The gravity of the situation can be gauged by the fact that armed guards are hired near some water reservoirs to stop water thefts by desperate farmers.
There are areas where thousands of residents get piped water for just two hours every fourth day.
Water trains are being sent to the worst-affected regions and many dejected farmers are now moving to cities and towns to work as daily wage labourers to overcome their financial losses.
Comments like “water is precious than gold” are heard too often and there seems to be no end to farmer suicides.
In fact, 116 farmer suicides were reported in the first three months of 2016 of this year alone.
It is the Bombay high court directive on the shifting of the Indian Premier League matches out of drought-hit Maharashtra this year that brought more focus on the worst drought scene in the cricket-crazy country.
Every time there is a water crisis, the attention turns to water rationing in urban areas. What is ignored is the fact that domestic usage accounts for less than 5% of India’s annual water consumption, while agriculture’s share is 90%.
Thirteen states, including Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana and Jharkhand, are presently reeling under severe drought and acute water shortage.
Four reservoirs in Madhya Pradesh have already dried up, leaving more than a million people with inadequate water and forcing the authorities to truck in supplies.
In many places, the groundwater level has receded more than 30 metres owing to less than half the average annual rainfall.
Data from Water Footprint Network, a global network on water issues, reveals that India fares miserably in terms of water efficiency of most crops.
Experts have rightly blamed mismanagement of water resources as one of the prime causes of the worsening situation, as powerful politicians push for bigger supplies to industries.
While attempts to link rivers so as to move water to dry regions does make sense in the long run, ensuring that canals do not leak can serve as instant measure to deal with the crisis.
The situation is critical and it is increasingly obvious that the authorities need to act on a war footing to strengthen water management.
Iraqis need to redouble
The worsening political situation in Iraq is a matter of serious concern. Iraqis should realise that divisions and disputes among themselves would only benefit the dreaded Daesh.
The gravity of the situation could be gauged by the fact that thousands of protesters were inside Baghdad's Green Zone on Sunday after breaking into the fortified area and storming parliament prompting Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi to pursue and punish the rioters.
Demonstrators managed to pull down or scale slabs of heavy concrete blast wall to enter the fortified area where Iraq's main government institutions are located.
The action by the protesters is seen as the culmination of weeks of political turmoil and inaction by parliament.
Sadly, on the ground violence continued with two suicide car bombs claimed by Daesh claiming several lives and wounding many others in Samawa city.
The aim of the terrorists behind such attacks is obviously to weaken national unity and undermine the State.
Nevertheless, one particular news comes as a consolation.
The United Nations has indicated a sharp decline in killings due to ongoing violence.
As per the report, 741 Iraqis were killed in incidents of violence in April, a sharp decline from the previous month.
Compared with April, at least 1,119 people were killed and 1,561 wounded in March.
Last week, UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Kate Gilmore, had suggested that Iraq take concrete steps to plan for “the day after” the defeat of Daesh, calling for measures grounded in equality, the rule of law and a vision that earns the confidence of all the country’s diverse communities.
“All the leaders of Iraq, at every level, in both word and action, need to demonstrate a far greater commitment to peace, equality and to the rule of law than to grievances or to vengeance hardwired by sectarianism. There is a worrying absence of a political narrative that brings together all the diverse communities in Iraq, a narrative that includes all the minority communities. This must be urgently addressed,” she had warned.
Among some pressing concerns in Iraq are unchecked corruption, lack of accountability for crimes, growing number of internally displaced people and total destruction of some villages and towns.
The inference is that Iraqis of all affiliations and backgrounds should redouble their efforts to work towards unity and reconciliation.
The Iraqi government should also bring those behind various terrorist attacks to justice.