Monday, January 14, 2019

Recent Editorials

Here are some recent editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today. (Posted for my records):
Dubai a cradle of innovation
Dubai is a city of superlatives. The pursuit of happiness through hard work and the fondness for the Number 1 slot make Dubai the world’s most inspiring and sought-after destination. 
The inspiration springs from the leadership. The objectives of The Fifty-Year Charter, which aims to speed up the journey of prosperity, progress and sustainability in Dubai, well reflect the visionary zeal of the leaders. 
Vice President, Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum has made it clear that Dubai is determined to cement its position as global business capital. Once a goal is set, track record proves that Dubai never fails to achieve it, however hard the path may be.
Sheikh Mohammed’s vision for the next 50 years focuses on building upon the accomplished achievements, to reach a fully integrated city of law and the spirit of mercy and compassion, where its inhabitants enjoy prosperity and progress, as well as creating a conducive environment for future generations.
Foresight is a crucial word in a fast changing world. Whether it’s individuals or nations, those who procrastinate or fail to anticipate are bound to lose.
As Sheikh Mohammed points out, the new era requires keeping abreast of the changes that are taking place in today's world with creative thinking that anticipates the future challenges to ensure that Dubai will maintain its achievements and influential position to become a centre of the world.
The city’s magnetic appeal is also due to its year-round calendar of festivals, events and shopping experiences.
Figures speak volumes about the success story. The Emirate saw 1,777,913 passengers pass through its sea, air, and land ports from Dec.23, 2018 through Jan.1, 2019.
Constant upgradation and innovative initiatives, coupled with service par excellence by the staff have paid off, with the Dubai International Airport receiving its one billionth passenger last month. A billion people have taken Dubai to their destination. Dubai is a part of their story for a billion people. And that’s an awesome achievement.
No wonder, the Emirate remains on track to becoming the most visited city for global travel, business and events.
All factors indicate that Dubai is making sustained progress towards its Tourism Vision 2020 goals of welcoming 20 million visitors per year by 2020.
“We must look forward and anticipate the future, so that our country lead globally,” once stated Sheikh Mohammed. That vision is paying rich dividends.
New year should see
end to trade war
 The year gone by cannot be termed as great for global trade. While trade frictions between China and the United States affected business confidence and investment, political uncertainty and slower global growth added to the worry.
In fact, several global stock markets suffered their worst year in a decade. Wall Street advanced in low-volume trading on Monday as revelers gathered to ring in 2019, marking the end of the worst year for US stocks since 2008, the height of the financial crisis.
December was a particularly testing time for US equities. The S&P 500 saw its worst December since the Great Depression and the Nasdaq confirmed it was in a bear market, or 20 per cent below its high.
Asian and European markets too suffered similar losses during the year.
The 2018 Asia-Pacific Trade and Investment Report, earlier issued by the UN’s development arm in the region, ESCAP, cautioned that an escalating tariff war and resulting drop in confidence next year could cut nearly $400 billion from the global gross domestic product and drive regional GDP down by $117 billion.
The report underscored that neither China nor the US could win a trade war, explaining that both would see significant economic losses.
Washington and Beijing imposed tit-for-tat tariffs on more than $300 billion worth of goods in total two-way trade last year, locking them in a conflict that has begun to eat into profits.
The International Monetary Fund too cut its global growth forecast in October to 3.7 per cent for both 2018 and 2019, down from 3.9 per cent projected in July.
Fortunately, there is some scope for optimism.
The presidents of China and the US have exchanged messages vowing to boost cooperation despite the bruising trade war on the 40th anniversary of the countries' diplomatic relations.
US President Donald Trump, who has frozen the latest planned tariff hike, has indicated  "big progress" after a call with his counterpart Xi Jinping. Xi too has underlined the importance of working with the US "to advance China-US relations featuring coordination, cooperation and stability."
Moving the globe further away from an open, fair and rules-based trade system cannot be termed sensible.
Protectionist and unilateral approaches on trade are not the best way forward and only tend to fuel uncertainty and fear among investors. Uncertainty is a bane and huge hurdle to progress. Co-ordination is anytime better than confrontation.
German hack exposes
cyber vulnerability
While technology brings with it huge advantages, there is a dangerous flip side to it. Private data that has been stolen from hundreds of German politicians, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, and released online indicates the extent to which damage could be inflicted by unscrupulous hackers on individuals and organisations.
The fact that the information, which comprised home addresses, mobile phone numbers, letters, invoices and copies of identity documents, was published via Twitter in December but only came to light this week shows that the world needs to recognise the vulnerability of the virtual world and act more vigorously to counter such malicious activities. 
The extent of the damage could be surmised from the fact that among those affected were members of the Bundestag lower house of parliament, the European Parliament, as well as those from regional and local assemblies. Deputies from all parties represented in the Bundestag were also affected, as well as President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
Beyond politicians, the leak also exposed the private data of celebrities and journalists.
Some consolation comes from the fact that preliminary investigation indicated no sensitive information or data from Merkel's office had been leaked.
It may be recalled that last year, the country’s domestic intelligence service, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, said there had been repeated cyberattacks against MPs, the military and several embassies that were allegedly carried out by Russian Internet espionage group "Snake." Computer networks belonging to the German government came under sustained attack and data from foreign ministry staff were stolen.
The fact that no right-wing politicians in the country were targeted in the latest cyber attack gives a twist to the controversy, which needs to be analysed by the investigative agencies.
It is true that such digital attacks are something most countries will have to adapt to in future. The susceptibility of such a powerful nation to cyber attacks hints at problems countries with much lesser facilities and infrastructure could face.
Such cyber crimes are not acceptable anywhere in the world and can only be perceived as an attack on democracy and institutions. Whichever individual or organisation is behind such act should be identified and made accountable. 
"Cyber vandalism," as former US president Barack Obama once dubbed such actions, needs a stronger response. What is called for is an effective system that could help utilise the benefits of digital technology even while protecting against negative impacts.
Give peace a chance
in Afghanistan
It is distressing that senseless violence continues unabated in Afghanistan despite a flurry of diplomatic efforts aimed at bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table and ending the 17-year war.
More disturbing is also the fact that civilians continue to bear the brunt of the war.  According to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), 8,050 civilians died or were wounded between January and September, with use of suicide bombings and other improvised explosive devices (IEDs) by anti-government elements, accounting for almost half the casualties.
What will rattle human conscience is the fact that 5,000 children in Afghanistan were either killed or maimed within the first three-quarters of 2018.
Children there make up 89 per cent of civilian casualties from explosive remnants of war, such as unexploded shells, mortars or grenades.
On Monday, in the southeastern province of Paktika, eight civilians were killed and 12 wounded when a roadside bomb exploded near a market in Janikhail district. The militants are said to have left the bomb in a village square. Among the dead were two brothers aged 10 and 12. A group of children had been trying to remove the explosive device from the ground when it exploded.
The war in Afghanistan is America's longest overseas military intervention. It has cost Washington nearly a trillion dollars and killed tens of thousands of people.
US President Donald Trump's plan to slash troop numbers in Afghanistan has also added to the confusion.
While many worry that the withdrawal of US troops could lead to political instability and give the Taliban more power, others are hopeful their departure will facilitate peace talks.
Top Afghan officials insist that in the past four and a half years, security has been solely in the hands of Afghans and the final goal as part of those efforts is for Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) to stand on their feet and protect and defend soil on their own.
As per                         The Independent, fatalities in Afghanistan have been significantly higher in the past four years that the ANDSF have spent battling with the Taliban. At least 28,529 Afghan security forces have been killed since 2015, whereas American fatalities are low in contrast.
Whatever the background, all sides involved in the conflict should now work earnestly towards reconciliation and see to it that peace returns at the earliest. The Afghan people have suffered for too long for no mistake of their own.