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.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

French luxury house plans surprise event at DSF

(Lucky to be clicked by colleague and famous photographer Shamsuddin Moosa)
(My article in The Gulf Today, 23-12-15)
DUBAI: As a surprise event during the Dubai Shopping Festival (DSF) 2016, luxury French house Hermès will bring a unique exhibition, “Wanderland” to the Middle East for the first time with Dubai being the third city in the world to host the fashion and art installation, after London and Paris.
This was announced at a special media gathering in Dubai on Tuesday where Saeed Mohammed Mesam Al Falasi, Director, Strategic Alliances Division of Dubai Festivals and Retail Establishment, an agency of the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, presented the themed line-up of events and activities for DSF 2016.
He mentioned four themes for this year’s festival and what attractions shoppers could expect at the 21st edition of DSF, which runs from  Jan.1 to Feb.1.
The themes, Beauty, Gold & Jewellery, Apparel & Fashion and Perfume, are “aimed at encouraging innovative activations from malls and stores across the Emirate during DSF.
“Wanderland” is a Parisian revelry within the unexpected. A “Flânerie” - the act of strolling that evokes Hermès’ 2015 theme of the year.
The exhibition has one part fashion installation and another part a show of artistic creativity.
The “Wanderland” exhibition will be afloat across a 1,000 square metre area, at the Dubai Fountain, The Dubai Mall next to Souk Al Bahar from Jan. 21 till Feb.6.
According to the organisers, entry to the exhibition will be free and it will be open to the public throughout its presence in Dubai.
Pressed by The Gulf Today for more details about the exhibition, the organisers merely mentioned, “Wait and watch.”
Among the other DSF highlights, on Jan.17, at the Dubai Mall Ice Rink the first-ever interactive fashion show projection on ice using  professional model/figure skaters will be held.
The focus on Gold and Jewellery will see lots of international and regional celebrity visits and showcasing of international luxury jewellery brands.
The opening day of DSF’s Perfume Theme on Jan.26 will witness a world-record breaking attempt - offering Dhs 1 million worth of perfume sampling. Some 200 personnel will be deployed to spray perfume all at the same time in “The Biggest Perfume Sampling” event.
A specially-designed Perfume Village will also be set up at the Mirdif City Centre.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Fans stumped by Azharuddin wedding rumours

(My article in The Gulf Today)

SHARJAH: Mohammed Azharuddin, a former international cricketer who represented and captained the Indian cricket team, took to Twitter to deny reports in a section of the Indian media that he had “got married for a third time.”
The news of the third marriage quickly spread on the social media prompting a couple of Azharuddin fans in the UAE to call this newspaper to verify whether it was true. 
“News about my 3rd marriage is incorrect and false. Please check facts before publishing,” the cricket veteran tweeted on Sunday.
Media reports had indicated that 52-year-old Azharuddin, a veteran of 99 Tests and 334 One Day Internationals for India, had tied the knot with long-time friend Shannon Marie.
The accomplished cricketer who had captained the Indian cricket team for much of the 1990s had first married Naureen, with whom he had two sons, Asad and Ayaz, and whom he divorced after nine years of marriage. 
He then married model-actor Sangeeta Bijlani in 1996. The couple separated in 2010.
On Sept.16, 2011, his son Ayazuddin, 19, died in a road accident.
Azhar’s fans were visibly upset at the incorrect news.
“Sir good you gave a timely clarification,” wrote one, while another suggested, “Sir pls take action against them.” Another angry fan mentioned, “This then is really too much.”

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

UAE-Pak ties on sound track, says ambassador

(My article in The Gulf Today)

SHARJAH: Hailing UAE-Pakistan relations as “historic,” Pakistan’s Ambassador to the UAE, Asif Ali Khan Durrani, has stated that increasing bilateral trade volumes and deep-rooted cultural and social bonds have pushed the relations to a much higher strategic level.

On a special visit to the Dar Al Khaleej office where he met Editor in Chief of The Gulf Today, Aysha Taryam, and her editorial colleagues, the ambassador, who had earlier served in various missions of Pakistan abroad including New Delhi, Tehran, New York, Kabul and London, stated that the 1.3 million Pakistanis living in the UAE consider the country their second home.

He noted that the UAE is currently Pakistan’s largest trading partner in the GCC, with bilateral trade reaching $9 billion, accounting for almost half of the $19 billion traded between all GCC countries and Pakistan. “There is also enormous potential to increase this volume.” Pakistan, the envoy observed, was the first country to accord formal recognition to UAE on its achieving independence.

On a lighter side, he added that many of his Emirati friends spoke fluent Urdu and also Pashto language.

The Pakistan ambassador made a special mention about the Gwadar Port project stating that it could be a “game changer” offering wide economic opportunities to the entire region, including the UAE.

It is a gateway to the China-Pakistan economic corridor and strategically located near the Strait of Hormuz. It provides the closest access for Middle East oil and gas to Western China. “Gwadar is becoming an attractive investment here. It will initially focus on 13 economic zones, to be followed in all 23 zones. The energy needs of the country are growing at the rate of 12 per cent and so priority will be given to energy projects to be followed by gas,” Asif Durrani elaborated.

He insisted that the Gwadar project will help save significant shipment time and billions of dollars in freight saving.

The ambassador also heaped praise on the UAE leadership for standing by Pakistan at all times of need.

Talking specifically about the polio campaign in Pakistan, the envoy pointed out that polio cases came down 85 per cent.

“We were polio-free until Taliban forced a ban in Afghanistan and the problem spilled out. The government has now overcome the issue and for the past one year, no polio worker has been harmed anywhere in the country. The campaign has been successful and our special thanks to the UAE for all the support on this front.” Over 20 million children in Pakistan have already been inoculated against polio as part of the Emirates Polio Campaign.

The ambassador conceded that school seat admission for Pak expatriates was a challenge, but said the problem was being addressed by the community members.

“We have community schools and the fees are nominal as they cater to economically weaker sections. We have seven such schools here. We have to follow the rules when it comes to the number of seats in a class. The demand is high but we are trying to find alternative ways to handle the issue,” he explained.

On voting rights for Pakistani expatriates in the UAE, he observed that the subject was being debated and it was up to the parliament to take a decision on the subject.

“The ball is in the court of leaders,” he said, adding, “We also have to take into consideration various logistical issues like polling stations, polling officers, electronic voting machines. In principle, everyone agrees, but the decision has to come from the leaders.”

“There are already 150 flights per week between the two countries and that reflects the strength of the relationship.

The plan is to surpass 200 flights per week,” the envoy stressed.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Humour works at workplace

(My article in Business@qatar. posted for my records)

Monday, November 23, 2015

Recent Editorials

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

UAE marches ahead in
women empowerment

The appointment of Dr Amal Abdullah Juma Karam Al Qubaisi as Chairperson of the Federal National Council (FNC) is another clear indication that the UAE leads the way as a role model in the region when it comes to women’s empowerment.
Emirati women have already been advancing in multiple fields and their march of progress commenced right with the foundation of the state.
This is the first time, however, that a woman will hold the post of FNC chairperson since the nation's inception in 1971. This is also a first among the Gulf Co-operation Council member states.
It may be recalled that Dr Al Qubaisi became the first woman to be elected to the UAE FNC in an historic vote in 2006.
In 2011, she made history again when she was elected as the first Deputy Speaker of the FNC, and became the first woman to chair a session of the Federal National Council when she deputised for the Speaker, Mohammed Al Murr.
The UAE Constitution guarantees equal rights for men and women in accordance with the precepts of Islam.
A cursory glance at the prodigious role women play in the UAE society will reveal how Emirati women are well represented in all echelons of society, including the political arena, diplomatic corps, judiciary, media and the commercial sector.
Four women hold ministerial positions in the Cabinet, including the position of Secretary-General of the Cabinet, and women constitute 17.5 per cent of the UAE's partially elected representative body, the FNC.
Three of the UAE's ambassadors, one Consul-General and the UAE's Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York are women.
Four women have been appointed as judges, two as public prosecutors and 17 as assistant public prosecutors and marriage officials.
It is not just that. Women also serve in the armed forces (one at Brigadier level), customs and police. Women constitute 66 per cent of the public sector workforce (the average globally is 48 per cent), with 30 per cent in senior and decision-making positions, close to the level in advanced countries.
One should not forget that it was Late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding father of the UAE, who laid the foundation for such a progressive path for women by stating, "Islam affords women their rightful status, and encourages them to work in all sectors, as long as they are afforded appropriate respect.”

Intensify efforts to
eradicate terrorism

There is a dire need for the international community to redouble its efforts to eradicate terrorism and to rid the world of its evils that threaten world peace and security, as suggested by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, at the Group of Twenty (G20) summit.
Horrible crimes such as the ones in Paris come from sick minds that seek to spread chaos throughout the world through the killing of innocent people for no reason.
As King Salman accurately mentioned, the war on terrorism is the responsibility of the entire international community. Terrorism is a global disease that has neither nationality nor religion. It, as well as its funding, must be fought.
The rise in terrorism undoubtedly undermines peace and security and endangers efforts to strengthen the global economy.
In a move that shows its commendable commitment in the global fight against terror, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has not only proposed the establishment of the International Centre for the Fight against Terrorism under the United Nations umbrella, but has also donated $110 million for the purpose.
Other countries need to heed King Salman’s call to contribute to and support the organisation so as to make it an international centre for the exchange of terrorism information and research.
It is good to note that the G20 Leaders agreed to show resolute stance in the fight against terrorism. The statement issued after a meeting in the Antalya province of Turkey by the leaders of the world's 20 biggest economies has appropriately stressed that terrorism should not be associated with any religion, nationality or ethnic group.
The discovery of a Syrian passport near the body of one of the Paris attackers does raise fears that some of the assailants might have entered Europe as part of the huge influx of people fleeing Syria's civil war. However, this should not be a reason to let genuine refugee seekers and migrants suffer.
The continued acts of barbarism perpetrated by Daesh should not be allowed to intimidate the international community, but strengthen the resolve that there has to be a common effort amongst governments and institutions to counter such enemies of humanity.
The terrorists should be left in no doubt that the world community stands together against them.
The heinous action of the terrorist groups and their counterparts represent epidemics that must be eradicated by civilised societies without any delay.

Do not slam the door
on genuine refugees

Top United Nations officials are absolutely correct when they say that Paris and Beirut terror attacks should not be used as a pretext to slam the doors on genuine refugees and migrants.
Balkan countries have already begun filtering the flow of migrants, granting passage to those fleeing conflict in the Middle East and Afghanistan, but turning back thousands from Africa and Asia.
New border controls in the western Balkans are leaving migrants stranded behind barbed wire as temperatures start to plunge.
UN officials have stated that the measures by Macedonia, Serbia and other states are creating tension at border crossings and leaving some families stranded without adequate shelter.
Children, who account for a growing percentage of the migrants, are particularly at risk from the plunging temperatures.
It is as yet unclear how many children are on the move, but some 214,000 children are currently seeking asylum in Europe, according to Unicef.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has indicated that more than 4,000 refugees and migrants have streamed into Europe each day in November, adding to the influx of 846,000 people - many of them Syrians fleeing war.
Plunging temperatures pose a major challenge putting lives of thousands at risk.
UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson echoed the sentiments of all peace-loving people when he remarked, ““Those who flee this violence should not be punished twice – first by war or oppressive forces which persecute them at home. And, second, by unjust, dangerous stigma which even shockingly associate the refugees with their attackers. The refugees, if any, understand better than anyone the barbaric cruelty of violent extremism.”
The situation is indeed alarming. It is not since the end of the Second World War that so many people – more than 60 million – been forcibly displaced around the world.
What is needed is better reception centres and claims processing, creative solutions to find sufficient places of refuge through resettlement, private sponsorship, humanitarian visas, family reunification and more opportunities for local integration and access for refugees to job markets.
Europe’s current policies do not evidently rise to the challenge.
As Eliasson elucidates, sealing borders, building fences or taking a strict security approach to the movement of refugees and migrants does not solve the problem.
Instead, there is a need to expand safe and legal paths to safety for refugees and migrants that put middlemen and traffickers out of business.

Climate deal an
achievable goal

The United Nations Agency for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) has declared that weather-related disasters have claimed more than 600,000 lives in the last 20 years alone and this a matter of serious concern for the international community.
It is not just that. Floods, storms and other extreme weather events have left 4.1 billion people injured, homeless or in need of emergency assistance.
It is, hence, imperative that the United Nations climate change conference, widely known as COP21, must be a turning point towards a low-emission, climate-resilient future when it starts in a week’s time in Paris.
The talks on Nov.30 are tasked with crafting a 195-nation pact to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
According to the latest figures, more than 166 countries, which collectively account for more than 90 per cent of emissions, have already submitted national climate plans with targets, known as the INDCs.
UN experts say that if successfully implemented, these national plans could bend the emissions curve down to a projected global temperature rise of approximately 3 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.
Although that would mean significant progress, there is still a long way to go.
As per UNISDR data, flooding accounted for 47 per cent of all weather disasters over the last 20 years, affecting more than 2.3 billion people, the vast majority of whom live in Asia.
A full 75 per cent of the 4.1 billion people affected were in either China or India, underscoring the extent to which densely populated areas in those countries were disproportionately vulnerable.
In Copenhagen in 2009, the last time countries sought to craft a climate deal but failed, it was agreed that poorer nations vulnerable to global warming impacts would receive $100 billion per year from 2020.
The money is meant to help them give up fossil fuels and to shore up defence against climate-driven food scarcity, heat waves and storm damage.
The developing nations are seeking assurances that the flow of money will be recession-proof and come from public sources. There is less clarity as yet on this aspect.
Though world leaders have expressed their support for the COP, mere rhetoric will not help. Now the world has a chance to steer towards a low-carbon, climate resilient future. Words should be followed by action on the ground.
Nations participating in the conference should strike a landmark deal on climate change. After all, the matter involves the lives of all human beings on earth.

Diabetes poses
heavy challenge

As the international community marks the World Diabetes Day (WDD) on Saturday, there is a need to digest bitter truths about the dreaded disease.
Diabetes is a chronic ailment, which occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces. This leads to an increased concentration of glucose in the blood (hyperglycaemia).
Type 1 diabetes (previously known as insulin-dependent or childhood-onset diabetes) is characterised by a lack of insulin production.
Type 2 diabetes (formerly called non-insulin-dependent or adult-onset diabetes) is caused by the body’s ineffective use of insulin. It often results from excess body weight and physical inactivity.
Led by the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), World Diabetes Day was created in 1991 by IDF and the World Health Organisation in response to growing concerns about the escalating health threat posed by the disease.
Now, an alliance of 230 diabetes organisations from 160 countries has emphasised on healthy diet as the best way out to tackle the challenge.
Figures are startling. Data from the Diabetes Atlas 2015 disclosed that of the 7.3 billion world population, diabetics from the ages of 20 to 79 were estimated to range from 340 to 536 million.
Of the 1.92 billion newborns to age 14 worldwide, 20.9 million were affected by gestational diabetes (the condition arising among pregnant women), 542,000 children were estimated to be suffering from Type 1 Diabetes (the condition among the young who cannot produce insulin) as 86,000 were recorded as “newly diagnosed cases each year.”
Total deaths due to diabetes were recorded at 5 million.
For the 387 million adult population from the Middle East and North Africa, 35.4 million were estimated to be diabetics while 342,000 died due to the chronic disease.
The matter is so serious that global health spending to treat diabetes and manage complications was estimated to cost $612 billion in 2014 alone.
It is stated that the number of people with diabetes in low- and middle-income countries will continue to grow, posing a threat to sustainable development.
For example by 2035, the number of people with diabetes in the African region is expected to double.
Spreading better awareness about diabetes could a long way in helping save lives and also alleviate suffering. Eating healthy food, physical exercise and avoiding habits like smoking are among the best ways to prevent or control the disease.

Need to strengthen
global war on terror

With each passing day, it is increasingly clear, as Chinese President Xi Jinping points out, that terrorism is the common enemy of all human beings.
So much so that leaders participating at the Asia- Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, which normally focuses on trade and business issues, departed from convention and called on governments to urgently increase cooperation in the fight against terrorism as they wrapped up their annual talks in Manila.
The group's 21 leaders have justly vowed to prevent terrorism from undermining values that underpin their economies, with the summit declaration strongly condemning all acts, methods, and practices of terrorism.
The terrorists are responsible for thousands of crimes and abuses against people from all faiths, ethnicities and nationalities, and without regard to any basic value of humanity.
The most recent terrorist attacks in Paris, Beirut and Baghdad, last month’s apparent bombing of a Russian plane over Egypt, and the mounting threat from Daesh, which controls large swathes of Syria and Iraq, highlight the need for a strong and united global effort to eliminate the scourge.
The Daesh group’s latest crime against humanity came in the form of its killing two hostages, Chinese Fan Jinghui and Norwegian Ole-Johan Grimsgaard-Ofstad.
While the Norwegian prime minister's office is still verifying the photographs, China has confirmed Fan's “inhuman” death in a statement posted on the foreign ministry website and vowed to bring his killers to justice.
The global war against terror should be relentless, but there is also a need for caution on the part of Western nations in the sense that innocent refugees or migrants should not be targeted for hate crime.
Many refugees are themselves fleeing extremism and terrorism and it is imperative that Europe treats them with compassion.
The continued acts of barbarism perpetrated by Daesh should not be allowed to intimidate the international community, but strengthen the resolve that there has to be a common effort amongst governments and institutions to counter such enemies of humanity.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has stressed rightly that violent conflicts and extremism are often rooted in a mix of exclusion, inequality, mismanagement of natural resources, corruption, oppression, governance failures, and the frustration and alienation that accompany a lack of jobs and opportunities. These issues need to be addressed with all sincerity.
The international community should intensify its collective efforts to uproot terrorism and find drastic solutions to combat the phenomenon, which contravenes all human and moral values.

Israel snubs world
community again

In yet another snub to the international community and Washington, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has approved the marketing of land for the construction of 436 homes in Ramat Shlomo and another 18 in Ramot in East Jerusalem.
The building of the housing units in the settlement of Ramat Shlomo on land Israel occupied in 1967 was approved in 2012. But the project was later frozen in an attempt to avoid friction with Washington.
The latest move is a slap in the face of Israel’s close ally, America, especially because US Vice-President Joe Biden had publicly chided Israel when construction plans for Ramat Shlomo, which is in territory Palestinians seek for a future state, were first announced in 2010 while he was visiting occupied Jerusalem.
Israel’s continuation of settlement-building is a blatant violation of international law primarily aimed at preventing the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Just on Monday, Robert Piper, UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Aid and Development Activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, cautioned that Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes violated international law.
Peaceful protests against demolitions are answered with bullets. On Monday, two Palestinians were killed and nine others injured while protesting against the demolitions. Twenty Palestinians, eight of them children, have been left homeless in four days.
Since June 1, 2014, the Israeli authorities have demolished, sealed or destroyed with explosives 16 structures, displacing 90 Palestinians, including 51 children, according to the UN.
In addition, at least 12 adjacent apartments were damaged, temporarily displacing at least 55 people.
The continuing demolitions fuel a sense of despair among innocent Palestinians for which Israel holds sole responsibility.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas rightly stated recently that the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem, are the worst and most critical since 1948 as a result of the Israeli occupation and practices.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton had also recently stressed that settlement construction is illegal under international law and further complicates efforts to find a solution to end the conflict.
The present situation calls for a decisive intervention by the international community to rein in the occupation forces before it is too late.
The demolition of Palestinian homes by the Israelis is a violation of the most basic human rights and will only aggravate the security situation. Such demolitions are unjust since innocent people are left to suffer for the acts of others. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

Time ripe for stronger Thai-Emirati ties

(My article along with colleague Mariecar Jara-Puyod in The Gulf Today)
SHARJAH: Thailand is focusing on infrastructure development, and the time is ripe for the UAE and organisations like DP World to step in with investments on upcoming deep seaport projects there.
Thailand’s Ambassador to the UAE Warawudh Chuwiruch said this during a meeting with Aysha Taryam, Editor in Chief of The Gulf Today, and senior members of the editorial team at the Dar Al Khaleej Printing and Publishing house in Sharjah on Sunday morning. He noted that activities are ongoing to develop new deep seaports in places like Songkla and Pak Bara on the southwest border of the Southeast Asian kingdom near Malaysia.
Chuwiruch also discussed the progress of Abu Dhabi-Bangkok diplomatic relations, as it approaches its 40th anniversary in December.
There are approximately 12,000 Thais residing in the UAE, with 40 Muslim students under scholarship grants by the UAE government.
Saying that Emiratis feel at home while visiting his home country, the ambassador mentioned the Chiva-Som international resort in Hua Hin, which is increasingly drawing tourist attention.
“Several visitors, including royals, filmstars, dignitaries and CEOs, have told me that those who visit this place surely return for another trip owing to the exhilarating ambience there,” Chuwiruch said.
He added, “There is so much peace of mind and a healthy surrounding that tourists love this place.”
On new tourism destinations, Chuwiruch mentioned a recently-discovered lake in the northeastern part of the country, said to be perennially pink due to the lotus in full bloom throughout the year.
He volunteered that taking a trip to this new tourist attraction is in his books. 
On possible UAE investments in Thailand’s seaports, he said doing so will change the trading geography of Southeast Asia in less than four years.
The project would give shippers direct sea access to the Middle East and North Africa, as it would also offer entry to Europe through the Suez Canal.
The ambassador traced the beginnings of Abu Dhabi-Bangkok diplomatic relations in January 1992, when the Royal Consulate General of Thailand in Dubai was inaugurated, to be followed by the opening of the Royal Embassy of Thailand (RET) in the capital on Nov.3, 1994.
The UAE Embassy in Bangkok was launched in April 1998. Various agreements and memoranda of understanding (MoU) are being negotiated between Abu Dhabi and Bangkok for more enhanced “mutual prosperity and sustainability”.
These include the Agreement on Extradition, Agreement on Cooperation and Commercial Matters, Cultural Agreement, Agreement on the Exemption of Visa for Holders of Diplomatic and Official Passports, and the MoU on Combating Trafficking in Person.  
In case of food shortage or similar scenarios, Thailand is “committed to provide the UAE with vital food items in an immediate manner.”
UAE health authorities are scheduled to visit Thailand in 2016 to check on medical tourism.
Chuwiruch said, “Under the international framework, both Thailand and the UAE are committed to supporting the peace, stability and prosperity of the international community.”
“We have worked bilaterally, as well as through the regional and the United Nations framework, to achieve these goals,” he added.
Chuwiruch highlighted the significance of the role people play in the promotion of amity and unity among nations.
Thais in the UAE, as “social ambassadors”, are encouraged to represent their homeland in various cultural activities through the various cultural entities across the emirates.
For the Nov.25 to Dec.5 UAE National Day celebrations, a traditional Thai troupe will perform across the country, courtesy of the RET and the UAE Ministry of Culture, Youth and Community Development.
“They are Muslims and they are so happy to be able to come to the UAE to learn traditional Arabian culture, too,” he said.