Saturday, June 10, 2017

Recent Editorials

Here are some recent editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today. (Posted for my records):
London killings a
barbaric act
Brutal terrorists, basically cowards who target innocent civilians, have struck again in London and mere condolences and condemnations will not do any longer. Time has come for stronger action against enemies of humanity.
The third attack in three months implies that Britain's counter-terrorism strategy needs to be swiftly strengthened and countries around the world should unify efforts more effectively to tackle the scourge of extremism.
There is also a dire need for international action to combat extremist content online, a message Prime Minister Theresa May took to the G7 leaders summit last week.
May’s announcement that the general election will go ahead as planned on Thursday makes sense because such monstrous violence should never be allowed to disrupt the democratic process, as it would send a wrong message.
London’s distress is palpable.
Eyewitnesses have described harrowing scenes as the attackers' van veered on and off the bridge sidewalk, hitting people along the way. The three evil attackers later ran into an area packed with restaurants, stabbing many indiscriminately.
Saturday's attack has come less than two weeks after a suicide bomber Salman Abedi blew himself up at a concert in Manchester on May 22, killing at least 22.
Britain raised its terror threat to the highest level of "critical" and deployed troops on the streets on May 23, a day after the Manchester suicide attack. The critical level means another attack could be imminent. It was reduced to "severe," which means an attack is highly likely.
On March 22, terrorist Khalid Masood ploughed a rented car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge in London and stabbed a policeman to death before being shot dead. His attack killed five people.
US President Donald Trump’s accusation against London's mayor Sadiq Khan, blaming him of downplaying the threat of terrorism, is in poor taste. This is not the hour for politics. Terrorism is universal and so are its victims.
Peace-loving UAE has always maintained that terrorism has no place in a sane world, and the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation has rightly stressed that London’s terrorist attacks reaffirm the urgent need for concerted international efforts to combat terrorism in all forms and manifestations.
As the ministry noted, innocent civilians pay the price of these terrorist crimes. There is a need for joint cooperation to address this serious scourge that threatens the security and stability of countries all over the world.
Terrorism should never ever be allowed to scuttle the solidarity of peace-loving people and nations.
Spiralling insecurity
in Afghanistan
The truck bombing in Kabul’s diplomatic quarter that left a large number of innocent people dead or severely injured is an abhorrent act of barbarism that exposes the terrorists’ horrific mindset and highlights the need for the international community to do more to help Afghanistan.
The impact of the bomb was so strong that a huge hole was ripped into the ground at the site of the explosion, which also tore off the front portion of the German embassy building, shattered windows and blew doors off in houses hundreds of metres away.
Not a month passes without such incidents in the country and the distressing fact is that vulnerable civilians are bearing the brunt of the horrible attacks.
The victims of the latest explosion were mainly Afghan civilians on their way to work or school, as well as office workers whose nearby buildings did not have the protection of the blast walls.
The fact that the powerful blast from a truck stuffed with more than 1,500 kilogrammes of explosives came just days into the Holy Fasting Month of Ramadan signifies the terrorists’ total disregard for human lives and values.
The endless suffering of Afghan children raises questions about the future of an entire generation.
The first four months of 2017 alone witnessed the highest recorded number of child civilian casualties resulting from conflict-related incidents in Afghanistan, including the highest number of children killed, for the same comparable period since the he UN Assistance Mission (UNAMA) began documenting cases.
Between Jan.1 and April 30, 2017, Unama preliminarily recorded 283 child deaths, a 21 per cent increase compared with the same period in 2016. Children are killed by explosive remnants of war in civilian-populated areas and in ground fighting.
US President Donald Trump is due to decide on a recommendation to send nearly 5,000 more troops to bolster the small NATO training force and US counter-terrorism mission now totalling over 10,000.
The commander of US forces in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, told a Congressional hearing that he needed several thousand more troops to help Afghan forces break a "stalemate" with the Taliban.
While Trump brags about his use of an 11-tonne bomb on a Daesh tunnel network in Afghanistan, there has been no evidence on the ground that the terrorists have been contained.
The conflict in Afghanistan is dangerously widening and the international community needs to act. The perpetrators of the horrendous crime should be forced to face justice at the earliest.
Ensure safety of
civilians in Raqa
Even as the US-backed campaign to capture Raqa in Syria is all set to accelerate, the safety and protection of thousands of civilians there remains a prime concern.
Civilians trapped in Raqa face a dire situation — they risk being killed by Daesh snipers or mines if they try to flee but could also be used by the terrorists as human shields if they decide to remain.
According to the International Rescue Committee (IRC), there has been a drop in the number of people escaping Raqa over the past week, which is an indication that Daesh may use the 200,000 people still trapped in the city as human shields.
Raqa has been the scene of some of the Daesh’s worst atrocities, including gruesome executions, public display of bodies and the trafficking of women.
Compounding the problems, civilians have been increasingly facing food, water, health care and electricity shortages in recent months, even as humanitarian programmes supporting Syrian refugees and their host communities are quickly running out of resources.
Top UN officials have rightly called for unconditional, unimpeded and sustained access to those affected by the fighting in Raqa, and more broadly to the 4.5 million who are still in hard-to-reach areas across the war-torn country.
More than 160,000 people have been displaced since May 1 with the situation on the ground remaining fluid.
As per UN officials, there are some 87,200 in the Ar-Raqa governorate, nearly 37,000 in Aleppo, over 33,400 in Idlib and smaller numbers in Hama, Deir-ez-Zor and Homs.
More than 320,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government protests.
The war has also extracted the worst toll on the country’s children. Tens of thousands have been killed and many have been forcibly detained, tortured, subjected to sexual violence, forcibly recruited and in some cases executed.
Reports reveal a grim scenario where nearly seven million children are living in poverty and some 1.75 million are out of schools with another 1.35 million at the risk of dropping out.
Almost one in three schools have been damaged, destroyed, or otherwise made inaccessible.
It should not be forgotten that the Raqa campaign has already resulted in massive civilian casualties, displacement and serious infrastructure destruction.
The fears of the UN human rights office about increasing reports of civilian deaths as air strikes escalate are legitimate and need to be addressed.
Challenges lined up
for bruised May
British Prime Minister Theresa May’s political gamble has backfired stunningly.
She was cruising along well with a solid majority in Parliament and several years to run on her party's mandate.
Temptation played a villain.
With opinion polls predicting she would romp home with as high as a triple-digit majority, May called the election.
Now, she has not only lost her Conservative majority, but her authority has also been weakened substantially.
The election outcome has pushed Britain again into a period of uncertainty less than a year after the country's decision to leave the European Union, which had already led the pound to collapse about 15 per cent against the dollar between June and October 2016.
The pound hit an eight-week low against the dollar and its lowest levels in seven months versus the euro before recovering slightly on news May would form a Democratic Unionist Party (DUP)-backed government.
The centre-right, pro-Brexit DUP’s 10 seats are enough to give May's Conservatives a fragile but workable partnership.
The biggest winner seems to be Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Labour's increase in seats from 229 to almost 261 has confounded expectations that his intense left-wing views would cost him dear.
Initially written off by many pollsters, Labour surged in the final weeks of the campaign, drawing huge support from young people, who appeared to have turned out to vote in bigger-than-expected numbers, lured by the promise of the elimination of tuition fees, the hope of better jobs and a chance to own property.
The poll bruising is not for May alone.
In a blow to its hopes for another referendum on whether Scotland should leave the United Kingdom, the pro-independence Scottish National Party lost about 21 of its 54 seats.
Its casualties included Alex Salmond, one of the party's highest-profile lawmakers.
May had initially earned a reputation as a no-nonsense minister when leading the interior ministry, one of the toughest jobs in politics, and was viewed as a shrewd political operator.
A lackluster campaigning style and a plan to force elderly people to pay more for their care, a proposal her opponents dubbed the "dementia tax," have all been factors that cost May some valuable seats.
The election has proved that Britain remains a nation divided.
The present situation will make the already complex EU negotiations even more complicated. The challenge before May is to tactfully negotiate Brexit, even while addressing several domestic challenges like economy and terrorism.
An arduous task, indeed.
Turn up the heat
on Pyongyang
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has once again ignited fresh tension in the region by test-firing a Scud-type missile that fell close to its neighbour, Japan, and the world community cannot afford to remain silent in the face of such irresponsible and continuing provocation.
It was the North’s third ballistic missile test in as many weeks and the 12th this year, carried out in absolute defiance of United Nations sanctions warnings.
After almost every such test, the UN Security Council vows to “fully and comprehensively implement all measures” imposed on the country, but it is abundantly clear that Pyongyang is just not bothered.
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s anger is justified especially because North Korea has developed a Scud variant, called Scud-ER (extended range), capable of travelling as far as 1,000km, which means that Japan is within its range.
Monday’s test also marked the second time this year that a North Korean missile fell provocatively close to Japan.
Washington too has its share of worries, as indications are that the North has been stepping up efforts towards its ultimate goal of developing an intercontinental ballistic missile that can deliver a nuclear warhead to the continental US.
President Donald Trump Trump has portrayed the missile test as an affront to China in a morning post on Twitter. "North Korea has shown great disrespect for their neighbor, China, by shooting off yet another ballistic missile...but China is trying hard!" he wrote.
US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis’ argument that war is not an answer makes sense as the consequences could be disastrous for the world. The North Korean regime has hundreds of artillery cannons and rocket launchers within range of one of the most densely populated cities on earth, which is the capital of South Korea.
While Washington has opted for sanctions and diplomatic pressure, China, the North's closest ally, can do much more by stepping up economic pressure.
South Korea’s new president, Moon Jae-In, is a moderate leader who advocates dialogue with the North in a break from his conservative predecessors. Shockingly, even his reasonable approach does not seem to have had any positive effect on Pyongyang.
The DPRK should cooperate with UN officials in implementing the Non-Proliferation Treaty safeguards and resolve any outstanding issues through dialogue.
It should desist from conducting any further nuclear/ballistic missile test and return to the path of denuclearisation. A peaceful, diplomatic and political solution is the only way forward.

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