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)