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Climate change and agricultural challenges in Pakistan: The need of adaptation policy

Nasir Abbas Khan

Pakistan has been one of those few developing countries who always suffered from problems brought by the developed nations. For instance the current issue of climate change is mainly caused by the world’s highly industrialized nations due to massive emission of greenhouse gasses (GHG) and Pakistan despite of having a trivial count (0.72%) in GHG emission is ranked among the highly vulnerable countries under the threat of climate change. According to the 2018 Global Climate Risk Index report by Germanwatch, Pakistan fall among the 10 mostly affected countries due to climate change.

During the last few decades, the planet has experienced a series of changes in the environments such as alterations in temperature, increasing frequency of droughts, floods and changes in rain patterns. These changes in the climate are due to the increase of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere produced by the human activities. Currently, more than 500 climate-induced disastrous events are happening each year around the globe which was reported to be only 125 in 1980.  Climate modeling reported an increase in temperature between 0.5 to 2 degree Celsius and between 1 to 7 degree Celsius by 2030 and 2070 respectively which has an adverse impact on different sectors of the economy including agriculture.

Agriculture is one of the most climate-sensitive sectors because extreme events and changes in weather pervasively affect the crop production. During the past few years, variations in the environment have negatively affected the agriculture sector as the yield of major cereal crops has been significantly reduced by the sudden rise in temperature, irregular precipitation and extreme droughts. It is reported that an increase of 1 degree Celsius in the temperature reduced the wheat production by 5-7%. This is an alarming situation for food security in the current scenario of high growing population and countries in South Asia are likely to be more affected because of their high population and agro-based economies.

According to the IPCC (inter-governmental panel on climate change) and World Bank, South Asian countries particularly Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India are predicted to be highly affected due to the rise in temperature which will reduce the cereals production 4-10% by 2100.

These challenges are much severe for developing country like Pakistan which is already struggling to ensure food security and is fighting against poverty. Pakistan having an arid climate and being an agro-based economy fall amongst those vulnerable countries which are at high risk of climate change. In the last two decades, there has been a significant increase in the frequency and intensity of catastrophic climatic incidents in the country which placed the people at high risk of calamities such as storms, extreme floods, droughts, changes in precipitation and disastrous nature of rainfall.

In Pakistan, all sectors of agriculture particularly crop production has been significantly affected due to the persistent incidence of these severe climate events and variation in the environmental pattern. Recently, Pakistan has experienced a number of severe climate events such as disastrous floods of 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2014 and a period of extreme droughts between the 1990 and 2003.

If considering the economic loss, damage of 2 million hectares of un-harvest crops in the flood of 2010 caused a loss of more than 10 billion USD to the poor economy of the country. These calamities are expected to further increase in the future as according to IPCC, Pakistan is to experience a further reduction in the yield of the cereal crop. These impacts are very critical for Pakistan where Agriculture is the backbone of the economy as it contributes about 20% in the national GDP and provides employment to 43% of the country’s workforce.

More than 60% of the population lives in rural areas which majorly rely on agriculture. In this scenario, agriculture must be placed as the first priority to make the sector resilient against the climate change through certain adjustments or adaptation strategies in the farming systems.

Adaptation to climate change is the way to reduce or avoid the negative impacts of environmental changes at the farm level in the form of changing crop variety, altering irrigation and changes in soil management practices.

Although climate-induced losses in production are threat for agriculture but through the suitable adaptation policy these impacts could be reduced and even avoided. But the dilemma is that in Pakistan adaptation capacity of the agricultural system is very poor due to the absence of basic policy and infrastructure. For the matter of fact Pakistan has no agricultural adaptation policy against the changing climate.

Contemporarily, it is needed to develop and implement an effective climate change adaptation policy with its principal focus on the crop sector.

In this regard, sincere efforts are required equally at all level for instance at governmental level investments should be made in the development of adaptation strategies policies; institutions should play their part in building adaptive capacities. While at field level farmers are required to make efforts by the successful implementation of plans and utilizing the local skills against the changing climate.

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India’s labour woes put Modi government at a disadvantage

Manira Chaudhary

As many as 200 million workers in India took part in a two-day strike on Tuesday to protest the government’s labour policies.

The streets of New Delhi reverberated with slogans “Modi Hatao, Desh Bachao” (meaning: remove Prime Minister Modi, save the country), as thousands of workers, including construction workers, bank employees, students, teachers, factory workers and frontline health staff walked off the job and marched towards the Indian parliament on the second day of the strike, to protest against what they describe as Modi’s “anti-worker” labour reforms.

The strike was organised by 10 major trade unions, impacting essential services countrywide, including transportation and the banking sector. The unions accuse the government of ignoring their various demands, ranging from the minimum wage, social security and permanent employee status to adding more employees to government payrolls.

The trade unions also criticise the government’s plan to turn 44 existing labour laws into four simplified codes. “They are making drastic changes to kill the labour laws,” said Amarjeet Kaur, National General Secretary of the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), one of the leading labour unions in India. “By codifying the labour laws, the Modi government is actually trying to take away the labour rights provided under laws like Industrial Disputes Act, Trade Union Act, Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, etc,” he added.

With just a few months to go before the national elections, this strike may prove to be major roadblock for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which is still recovering from the losses in the recently held five assembly elections. The defeat in the five states, some of which were BJP strongholds, was also attributed to a massive agrarian crisis and multiple farmer protests across the country. “If Modi thinks he can bulldoze workers’ rights and their dignity in the service of Ambani and Adani [two of the largest industrial families in India], then this two-day strike all over India has given him a clear answer. This will have a political impact,” Brinda Karat, a politburo member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) told TRT World.

The government has also been facing criticism for the bill to amend the Trade Unions Act, 1926, which was recently approved by the union cabinet. “Through that amendment, the government is being given the discretion to recognise central trade unions rather than following a tripartite [government, management and labour] process like in the past. The attempt to completely undermine and dilute the labour laws is one of the key issues that is being raised here. Another key issue being raised is the demand of 18,000 rupees minimum wage per month,” Kavita Krishnan, politburo member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), told TRT World.

Generating employment through concrete measures also features in the 12-point charter. A report released by the think tank Centre for Monitoring India Economy in December 2018, revealed the unemployment rate in the country to be at a 27-month high of 7.38 percent with the number of those employed falling by 1.09 crore (10.9 million) in the last year.

“This government, during the last general election, had promised that it will create 20 million jobs every year. If one looks at the statistics, there is a major decline in jobs in the public sector because this government is not filling the vacancies,” Krishnan said.

Most of the workers present at the march alleged that the government is trying to privatise every sector, which would endanger jobs and is also seen as a probable reason for not filling vacancies in the public sector. Workers from public sector undertakings, or PSUs, which are government-owned, were also present at the march, opposing the centre’s disinvestment plan. Last year, the centre cleared a proposal for a 100 percent stake stale with the transfer of management for 74 ‘sick or loss-making’ Central Public Sector Enterprises (CPSEs). Workers and activists say this move will lead to severe job losses.

“The Modi government is bringing in privatisation for its own personal interest. Our enterprise has been making profits continuously for four years but still, this government is trying to sell it to one of his corporate friends. If that happens, 2,000 people will be unemployed. If the government cannot create employment, they have no right to take it away either. It basically wants to sell the country. That is why we are on the streets and no matter what it takes, we will keep fighting Modi,” Hina Azhar told TRT World.  A member of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), Azhar works at Central Electronics Limited, which is one of the enterprises being considered for disinvestment.

Giving permanent employee status to contractual workers has been a long-standing demand of trade unions. Workers brought in on contract are reportedly not only paid less but have no provisions such as medical cover, a pension, provident fund or job security.

“Under the Contract Labour Act, 1970, if a worker has worked for more than 240 days for an employer as a contract labourer, then he or she will be given the status of an employee. But far from implementing it, this government has brought in ‘fixed term employment’ under which no worker can demand a permanent employee status,” Abhishek Kumar, Delhi General Secretary of the All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU), told TRT World. Fixed-term employment is a contract under which an employee is hired for a specific time period only, with the payment fixed in advance. Workers hired under this contract will not be on the company’s payroll and will not receive certain benefits like other employees. “This strike has given a very important message – no matter how much this government tries to spread communal hatred, when it comes to the poor and the real issues of their life and livelihood, they will teach this government a lesson,” Kumar told TRT World.

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What a ‘soft coup’ in the White House will mean for global investors

Taha Meli Arvas

President Trump’s Oval Office address Tuesday to the American people and to the world left much to be desired. Why should global investors care about a domestic US issue? The US position as a military and economic powerhouse make the news out of Washington important for nearly every investment decision. A divided Congress and, it appears, a divided White House make for choppy investment waters. Uncertainty out of Washington is almost always bad for global investors.

Trump’s Oval Office address was supposed to be all about illegal immigration and the necessity of a “wall” on America’s southern border. President Trump campaigned on the wall and insisted that “Mexico will pay for the wall.” Two years into his presidency and this campaign promise has not materialized. While some D-emocrats also joined Trum-p’s call years ago, this issue has galvanized the left and the Democrats are willing to bet their control of the Ho-use over it. While I think the “wall” is more about politics than actually keeping out il-legal immigrants, both political parties have used it successfully to rally their base.

Trump’s speech was incoherent and he was either ill-prepared to make it or his aides dropped the ball in preparing him. The speechwriting was horrific and the message wasn’t delivered correctly. Even Trump’s tie was crooked. In recent days, many have called into question the loyalty of Trump’s cabinet and his inner circle.

According to the now infamous New York Times Op-Ed a vocal group of White House officials are actively opposing the president. Now while I don’t agree with many of Trump’s policies, he is the elected president of the United States. To be clear I didn’t vote for him nor will I in the upcoming election but he has a right to govern as he sees fits. The Congress and the Supreme Court also have a right to check his authority under the US Constitution. However, actively denying and distorting the President’s orders to further one’s personal agenda is nothing less than treason. If you don’t like Trump or his administration, you have an obligation to quit as so many officials have quit before you. But to actively deny him the right to govern while pretending to work for him isn’t advocacy – it’s criminal.

In an editorial published in this newspaper Tuesday, a “soft coup” in the White House was discussed. While the term may be an exaggeration, the point is undeniable. If Trump is to be defeated in 2020, it should be done fair and square. Trump has a right to choose a cabinet and his cabinet has an obligation to execute his wishes within the framework of the law. Attempting to avert policy haphazardly because of one’s own personal beliefs isn’t professional, it isn’t ethical and it isn’t legal.

Should the NYT Op-Ed be true, should the White House be in the midst of active opposition to the commander in chief, the US government is in real trouble. Law enforcement has an obligation to apprehend those individuals that are furthering their agenda in direct opposition to the president’s for their own personal gain or on behalf of foreign governments or corporations. With this backdrop of real turmoil in Washington coupled with increased economic uncertainty globally, all investments need to be re-evaluated and a move to safe harbors might be best until the dust settles.

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Pandemonium over accountability

Abdul Rahman Malik

Accountability in Pakistan has always remained an Uphill task given the weak structure of the State institutions. The Corrupt practices are rampant and flow like blood vessels in the society. When it comes for accountability, it creates mayhem in the power circles i.e the Political, bureaucratic systems that pose strong resistance to the accountability Process.

Since we have a very strong feudalistic political system that has remained very powerful and enjoys influence in all functions of state machinery to a level that the accountability law cannot even touch these so called sacred goats or crocodiles for their corrupt practices and misappropriation in public funds since they support themselves like a bunch of grapes. So is the reason that despite public echoing protests and uproars, no legal proceedings ever took place against such unscrupulous circles who have played havoc with the state resources and inflicted financial loss of millions to the Public Exchequer.

The corruption penetrates in the state departments and the country like blood and regrettably, no institution in the country is secure from this menace. The key departments such as FBR, Excise, Police, Health, Public Works, Civil bureaucracy.

If initial checks are made, the corrupt practices could be minimized at a massive level. On the other hand, we do realize and understand that Pakistan is not only the country where corruption is practised, but there are several countries in the world where such malpractices are found but there these corrupt practices are not regarded as right or authority but rarely practised in secret rather than public . Unfortunately, it is practised openly and publically in Pakistan unabatedly.

The State enterprises have remained the prime targets of administrative, financial and Political corruption having borne the brunt of such mismanagement that led to their financial crisis and losses . The state enterprises such as Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM), WAPDA, PIA, SSGC, SNGPL and OGDCL are one of the examples of mismanagement, kickbacks, illegal and over recruitments that led them to their ill-performance and sustaining losses of billions.

The state has already injected billions of rupees to cover up their losses and keep them running but due to overstaffing and mounting circular debt, these institutions increasing the burden over the government budget and call for administrative and operational reforms to make them profitable by making managerial and operational changes specially at the executive management level who are drawing millions in salaries and perks but have failed miserably to chalk out any strategic master plan to bring PSEs back on the right track to cover their losses and operational costs and their profitability. The Political influence, recommendation and reference (Sifarish) culture has ruined these state enterprises as well as other departments which used to be functioning effectively in the past. The privatization commission must be tasked to privatize sick units so that debt burden may be minimized .

The Massive corruption in FBR also calls for administrative and civil reforms since corruption has become the dirty quagmire that drags and traps the executive management, politicians and civil bureaucracy as these elements fulfill their infinite desires with corrupt practices given the weak anti-Graft agencies i.e NAB, FIA and anti-corruption establishment (ACE) which remained and still remain under strong influence and often need NOCs to initiate legal proceedings.

But with PTI’s proactive role and independent judiciary under Chief Justice Saqib Nisar the situate has change much better than past as NAB, FIA and ACEs have become active and they have already tightened the noose against godfathers of corruption as the title for the most corrupt political was branded. The disqualification of Sitting PM Nawaz Sharif in Flagship reference and Al-Azizia mills cases and sentenced for 7 years rigorous punishment, his daughter Mariam Nawaz and son in law Safdar sentences and Shahbaz Sharif’s arrest in Ashiana housing case and the arrest of MNA Khwaja Saad Rafique and his brother Salman Rafique in illegal housing society case also have rung the alarm bells for corrupt elements and reflected the activeness and the autonomous status of NAB.

On the other hand, PPPs Co-chairman Asif Zardari, his sister Faryal Talpur and Omani group’s Anwar Majeed along with dozen others are also facing trial in fake accounts scandal. Even MPA and former minister Sharjeel Memon, CM Sindh Murad Ali Shah are also facing trials in illegal land allotment and corruption cases.

Even the ruling PTI Government stalwart and close aide Jahangir Tareen’s disqualification over tax evasion in agro land case are some of the living examples that how these State intuitions have become active and autonomous enjoying full support from the Government,Public and initiating the anti-graft legal proceedings against the Politicians, Bankers and higher bureaucracy ( Secretary level ) ever since they are being supported and strengthened by both the judiciary and the Incumbent PTI government under visionary and charismatic leader Imran Khan .

The opposition parties especially the PML-N and PPP are questioning the authority of NAB and terming the NAB proceedings as an attempt to suppress opposition and the PTI is blamed to be using NAB to target the opposition parties which is apparently not true since NAB is an autonomous body and PTI has no role in its operational framework. But the opposition’s tirade and the echoing pandemonium have no limits in severely criticizing NAB in press and political gatherings.

The public, on the other hand, stands patient and welcomes the anti-graft proceedings against executive leadership and despite several calls for protests from PML-N, it has not been able to win public support to build pressure on Government to stop legal proceeding against the Nawaz and his brother former CM Punjab and the current PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif. The NAB chief also confirmed in a media briefing that they do not take any dictation and enjoy full support from the government and exercising autonomous status. He further said that the public has trusted NAB and they have received hundreds of complaints and have started working on them after examining the level of graft and corrupt practices.

It is high time that government should further strengthen these anti-graft institutions to tighten the noose against the corrupt figures i.e politico or bureaucratic to reform the administrative, social and economic system and putting the country back on right track to ensure Transparency in all matters i. e the Public funds Spending, tendering and awarding contracts, recruitments, Health facilities, Security and protocol etc to save the nation from ever increasing tremors of inflation and overburden of Foreign loans. Since the constant depreciation of rupee against the dollar is the grave concern for the general public as the prices of commodities are going up and affecting the purchasing power of the public.

Furthermore, there is a strong need to create awareness among the people regarding the rampant corruption that can only be stopped through the whistleblowers among the people. Unless people with strong resolve against the corruption and corrupt elements come forward and play their role, the anti-graft agencies could do nothing without public support. Let’s join hands to raise voice against corruption and trust our institutions by implementing the NAB’s slogan: “Our Faith Corruption Free Pakistan” in letter and Spirit in this year 2019 to make our country free from this menace.

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Silence and self-censorship persist in Bangladesh after Dec 30 polls

Yashab Rahman

As the dust settles on the Awami League’s landslide victory in the December 30 polls – where the party secured an unprecedented 288 out of 298 seats – the people of Bangladesh look towards the future with bated breath. In view of both allegations of vote rigging and praise from foreign powers, the 2018 election could go on to be a watershed moment for Bangladesh and its future. For now though, many people believe they have not spoken.

“I have no hopes,” quipped Saad Adnan, who’s pursuing a PhD at the University of Washington, Seattle. Adnan had just returned to the country to exercise his franchise. What he saw, however, has left him with nothing to look forward to. Asked why he felt that way, Adnan shrugged his shoulders and smiled. The message was clear: the lesser said, the better. This seemed to be the prevailing sentiment in a country where the leader, armed with a handful of laws to silence dissenting voices, has morphed from being The Mother of Humanity to She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

Even before the elections, the extent of paranoia the government had spread was evident, especially in social media circles. In 2017, Dhaka ranked second among the cities with the highest number of active Facebook users by We Are Social and Hootsuite. With around 22 million active users, the city made up around 1.1 percent of the social media giant’s user base across the world.

In the days leading up the election, however, Facebook usage fell dramatically. Fiber@Home, one of the leading international internet gateway operators in the country, found that Facebook usage had fallen by 30 percent in only one month. Whereas in October, Facebook data usage was around 28 Gigabits per second (Gbps), it fell to around 18 Gbps by December 16, 14 days before the election.  “People might be nervous to comment on or like [things on Facebook] and [are] avoiding using Facebook before the election,” Sumon Ahmed, chief technology officer of the organisation, told The Daily Star, the leading English-language newspaper in the country.

The nervousness is still palpable. Babul Ahmed, a tea stall owner in the capital’s busy Mohammadpur residential area is testament to that.  Always ready with a broken-toothed smile, his disposition rapidly changes at the mention of politics. “I don’t have anything to say about elections. I went and I voted. And that’s that,” he said, when asked about the polls.

“I remember the times in 1975. I remember them well. It seems those times have returned,” the 76-year-old said. His sentiments were echoed by 55-year-old Parveen Rahman, a homemaker. “I wanted to vote for ‘boat’

[the Awami League symbol]

. But the night before elections, a few men came to our neighbour’s house and banged on his door.

“They kept yelling for Naim. They said he was a Jamaat sympathiser and he would pay. After they left, the police came and they began doing the same thing.” Parveen said this one single moment made it clear to her that even the police were working to spread fear among the opposition. Who did Parveen vote for in the end? “I did not vote for boat,” she said when asked, without mentioning anything else.

Looking at the current situation though, it would be unfair to say the Awami League does not enjoy support; in fact, a number of quarters root for them. “This is the government that recognised our citizenship and gave us the right to vote for the first time in our history. I voted for them again and would again,” said Shehzadi Begum, an Urdu-speaking Bangladeshi.

Cast off as ‘Stranded Pakistanis’ after the independence war ended, these minority members languished in refugee camps until a caretaker government recognised them as citizens in 2008. Afterwards, it was the Awami League that began to woo them for the first time, a fact the community has yet to forget. Although, it must be stated that opposition to the party is also seen among the group.

Elsewhere, Hannan, a shop-owner in the city’s Dhanmondi district, was also reluctant to speak about the elections. But he voiced his opinion when it came to the road ahead. “This government has done a lot of great things. Personally for me, I have run this shop for 20 years but before this government, I never had to pay VAT or any such tax. Now I do,” he said. “I just hope the money is used. Corruption is the one thing I want stopped. Go to any government bank and see the line for those paying their taxes. They are long every day. We are doing our part. We hope the government does too.” During the unveiling of the Awami League’s manifesto this election, one of their key areas of focus was elimination of corruption.

At the time, Sheikh Hasina, the party chief, showed awareness of the problems within her party, in terms of graft.  She appealed to the voters to view the mistakes she and her party colleagues made since taking office in 2009 with “kindness” and elect her party yet again.

“To err is human. My colleagues and I might have made mistakes while performing our duties. I, on behalf of myself and my party, fervently request the countrymen to look kindly on our mistakes,” she said. However, such promises had been made before. Back in 2008, when the party returned to power, it had pledged to appoint an ombudsman, publish the wealth statements and sources of income of the prime minister, politicians and their close relatives every year. However, those promises never came to fruition. This time around some citizens are optimistic.  But it seems many are resigned to their fates.  And the election, praised internationally, has yet to find the same credibility back home, where it should really matter.

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Afghanistan peace: A bridge far away

Iqbal Khan

Taliban have warned the US that it would face the same fate as the Soviet Union in the 1980s if it did not leave Afghanistan. In a message sent on the anniversary of the “Take heed from the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan and abandon thoughts of testing the mettle of the already proven Afghans,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said. He added that any future relations between the Taliban and the US should be based on “sound diplomatic and economic principles” rather than conflict.

According to data from Resolute Support mission published in November, the government of President Ashraf Ghani has control or influence over 65 per cent of the population but only 55.5 per cent of territory, less than at any time since 2001. However, Taliban claim that they control over 70 percent of territory.

As moves toward peace making pick up in Afghanistan, Taliban are making deliberate effort for image makeover. They realise that they are now a vital part of the solution. Taliban are trying to show that they have changed since the 1990s: “If peace comes and the Taliban return, then our return will not be in the same harsh way as it was in 1996,” Zabiullah told Reuters. “We want to assure Afghan nationals that there will be no threat to anyone from our side. Our opposition is with the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan.

Once they are out and a peace deal is reached, then a nationwide amnesty will be announced,” he added. “No one, police, army, government employees or anyone, will face revenge behaviour from our side.” We are not against women working in government organisations or against their outdoor activities, but we will be against the alien culture clothes worn by women, brought to our country,” Mujahid went on to elaborate.

Many Afghans have learned to live with the chronic pain of war. One estimate puts the number of conflict-related deaths at more than 40,000 during 2018, almost equal to the combined body count for Syria and Yemen.

However, that pain does not stop them from pursuing a “normal” life. Taliban fighters killed more than 21 Afghan security forces in simultaneous raids on a provincial capital and district in northern Afghanistan and wounded another 23 on the first day of New Year.

Hundreds of Taliban were outside Sar-e-Pul city, which provincial governor’s spokesperson Zabihullah Amani said was at risk of falling to the Taliban if reinforcements were not sent. A government security official said that reinforcements had been deployed and dismissed concerns about the town falling to the insurgents.

Taliban confirmed the attacks, saying their fighters had captured three checkpoints and killed or wounded 50 members of the security forces. This is random sampling of numerous such battles which go on, every day, throughout Afghanistan. As a matter of routine, cities and towns keep exchanging hands between insurgents and occupation forces.

In diplomacy domain, at regional level, Taliban representatives have recently met with Iran, as Tehran makes a more concerted and open push for peace ahead of a possible US drawdown. Taliban delegation discussed with Iran “the post-occupation situation, restoration of peace and security in Afghanistan and the region”. It signals growing confidence among the Taliban that the US troops will pull out of Afghanistan.

Occupation forces, however continue with their high handedness towards Afghan population. Mujib Mashal’s report for the New York Time’s International Edition on Jan 02, captioned “Afghan Units led by CIA leave trail of abuse”, stated: At a time when the conventional Afghan military and police forces are being killed in record numbers across the country, the regional forces overseen by the CIA have managed to hold the line. But “such units have also operated unconstrained by battlefield rules designed to protect civilians, conducting night raids, torture and killings with near impunity”, in a covert campaign that some Afghan and American officials say is undermining the wider American effort to strengthen Afghan institutions. “Tactical successes have come at the cost of alienating the Afghan population. Those abuses are actively pushing people toward the Taliban”.

United Nations reports have expressed concern about civilian deaths and “consistent, credible accounts of intentional destruction of civilian property, illegal detention, and other abuses” by these CIA led units. Civilian deaths hit a record high in the first half of 2018, which was also marked by some of the deadliest suicide attacks since the start of the war. American defence officials in Washington say the

“CIA operations in Afghanistan are largely opaque to military generals operating in the war zone”. And “as American military forces are set to draw down, the role of the Central Intelligence Agency is only likely to grow in importance”.

Taliban have all along insisted on first reaching an agreement with the United States, which the group sees as the main force in Afghanistan. But the United States has insisted that any final settlement must be led by the Afghans. “We will meet the US officials in Saudi Arabia in January next year (2019) and we will start our talks that remained incomplete in Abu Dhabi,” a member of the Taliban’s decision-making Leadership Council told Reuters. “However, we have made it clear to all the stakeholders that we will not talk to the Afghan government.”

Interestingly, as an afterthought, the US has taken a step back from the earlier hype of pulling out 7,000 troops from Afghanistan. An Afghan High Peace Council (HPC) representative has declared that if Taliban insist on not meeting Afghan government delegation, then, HPC won’t participate in Saudi Arabia session of talks. With posturing galore, Afghan peace my still be a “bridge far away”.

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The West’s multilateral war against Islam

Yusuf Kaplan

The world as we know it is shattering.

We are witnessing the hegemony of the world we know and the world that Western civilization built on earth together with modernity, collapse.

The west is the prisoner of the world it built

We have before us a paradox that is hard to see at first glance.

What is this?

It means that as the hegemony of the Western civilization deepens, the crisis it is going through is also getting deeper, and that some time later it may get out of control and drag the world to the verge of major disasters.

To put it in more theoretically and elegantly, Western civilization has become the prisoner of the world it established; after a certain period of time, it is not going to be able to avoid becoming the victim of the world it established.

What we are going through is something like this: the West sanctified power, but power is regurgitating the load with which it was burdened. Power-generating tools and power-generating technologies made humans soulless – primarily of course, the Westerners.

Humans are now slaves of tools. Westerners produced these “attractive, sleek” tools, but they fooled humans and enslaved them.

Void of meaning and loss of freedom: boom of nihilism forms

Very deep-seated philosophical, political and economic problems started to emerge here.

Secular people who idolized humans have been dragged to a void of significance because they caricaturized the idea of God and evaporated the truth.

As an inevitable result of this, humans lost their freedom.

A meaning crisis and loss of freedom throws humans to the edge of passive and active nihilism forms. The passive nihilism form ends in the denial of life. Life loses meaning: people hold on to life by running away from it. People try to hold on to life by running from life to the stadiums, movie theaters, and music and dance halls. In other words, they are trying to live by forgetting life. Because it is difficult to continue a life that has become meaningless. This game is actually the suicide of life.

The suicide of life leads to the denial of life. This is the form of active nihilism: the denial of life leads to the suicide of life, and this paves the way the way to human suicide. Passive and active nihilism forms inevitably show their impact in international relations as well.

Life that has become meaningless, the motive to preserve power, jungle law leaving its mark on international relations are drawing the world to the verge of new conflicts, wars and disasters.

The west’s multilateral war against Islam

The global system owes its ability to continue its existence and sovereignty to the other: to inventing the other; a monstrous, terrifying enemy. In the past quarter century, it is fighting this “enemy” it invented, especially in our region. It is fighting Islam from abroad, invading, dividing and turning the key countries of the Muslim world into hell, and carrying out an Islamic war against the religion from the inside, through the terrorist organizations it invented and parallel religions.

In other words, it is fighting a war by both making the Muslim world kneel from abroad and by transforming Islam from within to prevent the Muslim world from recovering and uniting for a joint civilization march.

The 20th century started with World War I. The Ottoman Empire was stopped, India was divided, and the Arab world and Turkey were divided, while dictators aimed at spreading ideologies such as socialism and nationalism throughout societies were imposed upon the united Muslim world.

These ideologies collapsed by the mid-century. The aim was to stop Islamic discourses from producing a wave that would lead to a march of civilization. The 20th century went down in history as the century that the Muslim world was divided and pushed out of history as a history-maker actor.

The conflict between capitalism and socialism was a fake conflict aimed at strengthening the global system, and more importantly, preventing the Muslim world from recovering – by means of extracting the ideologies in question. The 21st century started with the ending of the Cold War in 1989, and adopting the “war against Islam” and “Islamic war against Islam” methods as the fundamental global strategy.

Islam’s reviving spirit and dynamism

The 21st century is going to be an era during which they try to prevent the Muslim world from recovering and realizing a history-making civilization march.

The Muslim world is going to go through an extremely trying period in the first half century, but eventually, it is going to take steps in the second half of the century that will enable it to overcome this tough period.

I know what I am saying now has no tangible response. But by looking at everything happening globally, I see that despite capitalism having taken control over China, India and Japan, having destroyed China, India and Japan’s soul, having divided the Muslim world to pieces and turned it into a wreck, considering the fact that it could not transform Islam, that it could not destroy the spirit of Islam, I see that it is going to pave the way for this deadly darkness to be brightened by the dawn dawn, and the pains we are going through will turn into labor pains, and that the Muslim world’s possibility of discovering the Islamic spirit, recovering and embarking on a long-term historic march is alive.

However, there are essential ideological, cultural, economic and political steps that need to be taken to achieve this. I am going to discuss these steps in tomorrow’s article.

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Netanyahu’s Israel is an ‘indispensable ally’ to no one

Abdullah Masri

Here’s why Netanyahu’s attempt to use tensions between Arab states and Iran to deflect from the horrors of Israeli crimes won’t stand. Benjamin Netanyahu has outdone himself this time. While attending the inauguration of Brazil’s newly elected populist president, Jair Bolsonaro, he told Brazil’s Globo TV that Arab countries see Israel as an “indispensable ally” in fighting Iran and Daesh.

Presumably, he was referring to the rapport Israel has found with the GCC in their common enemy. In Brazil, he described the shared understanding as the reason behind “a revolution in relations with the Arab world.” The statement is ironic at best. Israel labels itself as the “indispensable ally,” joining a merry bond united in common cause against the external existential threat that is Iran, while ignoring the major elephant in the room: Israel occupies more Arab land, causes more conflict, death and destruction than Iran ever has. Let’s take a step back. This is by no means an attempt to whitewash Iranian foreign policy, its bloodied proxies, countless interventions, interference in the affairs of countries along sectarian lines, not to mention its propping up of the brutal dictator Assad in Syria.

It is, however, a reality check. Netanyahu, how can you be both ally and the single largest occupier of the Middle East at the same time? The Golan Heights? Sinai? Palestine? Israel is the world’s largest source of state-sponsored terrorism, and is the proud owner of the worst record of flagrant violations of international law, blatant disregard for international conventions, and continued abuse of human rights.

Even if you take the humanitarian angle out of the equation, we must ask the question, it’s no minor insult that Netanyahu can claim to be an “indispensable ally,” in light of all that has happened between the nations and all that continues to happen.

Netanyahu seems to have polished his capacity to connect bald-faced lies, and his ability to shamelessly present them. It’s a far cry from the days where the Israeli president brought an instructional poster board to the United Nations General Assembly to educate world leaders, in the most condescending fashion, on what a nuclear bomb is and where Iran is. He was only missing his laser pointer. It’s only to be expected that Israel would make the most of regional tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia and its allies, but the gall to make such statements while standing knee-deep in the blood of civilians, massacres and the heart of conflict in the region speaks much of the impunity that Israel has come to enjoy.

To that end, it also speaks much of the state of the Middle East and its Arab leaders. To add insult to injury, Netanyahu has made absolutely clear that he has no intention of returning to the negotiating table to find a peaceful settlement to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The statement came shortly after the US’s decision to withdraw from Syria last week, leaving Israel scrambling since it had counted on continued US support as a cover to their own increasing air strikes on Iranian positions in Syria.

In a Machiavellian swerve, Netanyahu explained away the lack of any progress on peace talks with the Palestinians. “Half of them are already under the gun of Iran and of radical Islam,” he added. Such a sweeping statement left unmentioned his unwillingness to negotiate an end to even the illegal encroachment on Palestinian land by Israeli, radical, armed settlers.

No amount of assassination, lobbying, condescending lies, or back-channel deals can change the reality of the matter: Israel is an apartheid regime taking comfort in the blanket protection of the United States should worse come to worse: A protection realised through the lobbying and subversion of the American democratic process, no small amount of wealth, and a great deal of intimidation. Don’t take my word for it. John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, esteemed professors of the Universities of Chicago and Harvard respectively, wrote a 60-page report of their findings on the extent of the Israeli lobby’s penetration of the US foreign policy establishment. Netanyahu should give up the blatant whitewashing of Israeli crimes. No one buys it.

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President Trump is finally right on Syria

Hilal Kaplan

On Wednesday, during a press conference following a meeting with cabinet members, US President Donald Trump gave one of his most reasonable speeches since he came to power. What he pointed out was right but couldn’t find sufficient cover in American media.

According to the US president, although his predecessor Barack Obama described the use of chemical weapons as his red line in Syria, he did nothing to stop Bashar Assad from using chemicals against civilians. This is why “Syria was lost long ago,” Trump said. Furthering his objection against the Obama administration’s steps and moves in Syria, Trump said the mess in Syria is Obama’s legacy to himself.

Trump argues that the actual change in the fate of Syria began during Obama’s presidency in 2013, when Obama choose to agree with Moscow, allowing Assad to carry out inhumane operations freely in the country. By doing so, Obama didn’t keep his promises in Syria, Trump said. In addition, the key points of the Syrian regime that were targeted by US airstrikes were hit with his order, not Obama’s, Trump added.

The second significant point in Trump’s statements was the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a bloody group linked with the PKK terrorist organization, selling fuel oil to the Iranian government. Plus, the YPG not only traded oil with Tehran and the Syrian regime, but also with Daesh, as well. To give an example, in February 2016, the Financial Times released an article titled “Inside Isis Inc: The Journey of a Barrel of Oil,” reporting that: “Though many believe that ISIS [Daesh] relies on exports for its oil revenue, it profits from its captive markets closer to home in the rebel-held territories of northern Syria, eastern territories held by the Syrian Kurdish militia and in its own self-proclaimed ‘caliphate’ straddling the border between Syria and Iraq.”

The fact that the YPG is a powerless nonstate group without the US train-and-equip program and therefore was unsuccessful against Daesh was once again voiced by Trump on Wednesday. Trump was more than right with that argument since the YPG had no influence or power on the ground until the US started backing them in the Ayn al-Arab region of Syria in 2014.

Trump, however, missed the point that the YPG raising its flags in the areas damaged by US airstrikes was a failed military strategy of the United States. Shortly after, the horrible consequences of this US policy were deeply felt in Raqqa, where numerous civilians were killed or wounded. The unfortunate inhumane memories are still fresh. While it was expected that local people would be relieved by the elimination of Daesh, they came under attack by another bloodthirsty group, the YPG, and lost their hope for a brighter Syria. The fate of Raqqa is still ambiguous, remaining as one of the deeply rooted problems in the country. The same situation is valid for Aleppo as well, a Syrian city destroyed by the close cooperation between Russia and Assad.

In addition to Trump’s words, another fact about the YPG is that the terrorist group, since the beginning, maintains its correspondence with the Assad regime in Syria. For example, the YPG gaining its first hegemony in northern Syria was thanks to the de facto support of the Assad regime. The Assad forces, who wanted to focus on clashes with the opposition groups in other areas of Syria, reached an agreement with YPG members and left some regions in northern Syria to them. For instance, the officers in the governmental institutions in Qamishli did their job for a long time and were paid by the Syrian regime. The statue of Hafez Assad, the father of Bashar Assad, in the center of Qasmihli, was also secured. Therefore, it is quite normal that Assad forces immediately took control of Qamishli and Haseke after the withdrawal.

The PKK-affiliated YPG has never been a part of the “Syrian revolution.” It is not true that the YPG – which is supported by the US, an external actor hoping not to see Assad in the future Syria – has just started to cooperate with Assad. In other words, the YPG’s one side has always been in close correlation with the regime. However, after the US announced its withdrawal, meaning the end of its support of the YPG, the terrorist group had to show its true face and continued cooperating with Assad. Therefore, despite claims from some analysts, the partnership between the YPG and Assad is not new following the US’ decision to withdraw. This is because the warm ties between the YPG and Assad are deeply rooted. To prove that, remember Iranian-linked militias and Hezbollah’s proxy groups were in Afrin to help the YPG during Turkey’s counterterror offensive, namely Operation Olive Branch.

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Oil is behind Middle East’s failure to develop, and diversify

Adeel Malik

Arab development and economies are running into the ground, and oil stands in the way of change. What’s keeping the Middle East from changing for the better?

The failure of Arab development is multifaceted in nature, and manifests itself at all levels — economic, political and geopolitical. Over the last three decades, three profound shifts have marked the landscape of global political economy. While these have opened new economic and political possibilities for the developing world, the Middle East has remained insulated from these winds of change and their transformative impact.

The first shift is political in nature — often dubbed ‘the third wave of democratisation’ — and defined by a gradual opening of the political system to more representative forms of government. The second shift represents successful economic diversification in several emerging economies of Asia, Africa and Latin America. A third trend is represented by the growing prominence of intra-regional trade in developing countries through their active participation in regional trade initiatives.

All of these shifts have bypassed the Middle East. Judged by any of the above metrics, the region has either stagnated, regressed or severely lagged behind. With the largest proportion of autocracies, it is one of the few regions in the world that remains an outlier to the third wave of democratisation.

On the economic front, the region continues to be mired in primary commodity dependence while many of its comparators have succeeded in diversifying their export structures. And, while the Middle East has hosted numerous platforms for regional trade promotion, mutual Arab trade remains hopelessly inadequate. Over the last four decades, for example, intra-regional trade (as a share of total trade) has hovered at around nine to 10 percent. This stands in sharp contrast to the dramatic growth and significance of regional trade in emerging economies.

The region’s failure in these three overlapping domains reveals the paradox of Arab underdevelopment, and deserves an explanation that combines the economic, political and geo-political aspects of development.

Consider the region’s failed attempts at economic diversification. Every resource-rich country in the region has faithfully adhered to tall promises of diversifying their economic structure away from an excessive dependence on oil and gas revenues. Yet, if anything, the region’s overall reliance on hydrocarbons has increased over time.

What explains this gap between intentions and outcomes? To understand this, one must first acknowledge that the core challenge of economic diversification is not technical, but political. Clearly, the challenge of diversification is deeper than simply learning the right lessons from successful experiences in Norway, Malaysia or Botswana. After all, if the recipes for diversification are so widely known, why have Arab countries not seriously pursued them?

To diversify their economies, resource-rich countries need to develop the non-oil sector, which entails, among other things, producing a greater number and variety of goods — including those at the higher end of the value chain that involve more complex forms of production. The problem is that the effects of doing so are rarely politically neutral. Political scientists have long recognised that structural change in the economy is usually accompanied by new forms of political contestation. New sources of income breed new constituencies, since economic power can easily translate into political power.

For this one needs to look no further than Turkey whose recent political transition is undergirded by fundamental economic changes on the ground. The appeal of Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) is based, not just on its populist narrative, but the material interests of a constituency empowered by Turkey’s vibrant economy. In the Arab milieu, where the overriding concern of rulers is to separate the economy from polity, a concerted drive towards economic diversification carries genuine political risks.

With a prolonged legacy of centralised rule, dating back to the Mamluk era, Arab regimes rest on two pillars: patronage and control. Such a political order runs counter to the logic of a dynamic economy that requires cultivating dense economic linkages among various parts of the supply chain. There is a clear danger that such vibrant linkages in the economy can serve as the basis for horizontal cooperation.

In this context, it is hardly surprising that resource-rich Arab economies have consistently failed to rise up to the challenge of diversification. These economies are doubly deprived in this regard, suffering both from the burden of history and oil. Whatever weak constituency of private production was inherited by these countries was further emaciated after the discovery of oil.

Even where rulers were more dependent on merchants prior to the discovery of oil — such as Kuwait — oil tied down the merchant class in state contracts and other forms of patronage. While the private sector has shown greater dynamism in Gulf countries, it still remains ‘structurally dependent’ on the state. Diversification is further hindered by macroeconomic challenges that oil-rich economies face by virtue of their exposure to commodity price cycles. The pro-cyclicality of fiscal policy, which is a universal feature of Arab resource-rich economies, means that oil cycles are accompanied by budgetary cycles that make planning for long-term investment more difficult. Counter-cyclical fiscal policies, which require that countries spend less in periods of higher oil prices, are politically difficult to implement. The underlying political settlement in these countries gives rise to extensive and sticky distributive claims in the form of salaries, subsidies and defence spending.

As is widely recognised, resource-rich economies also find it particularly difficult to build a productive regime for competitive diversification since the dominance of the oil sector is likely to lead to exchange rate appreciation, which prices their non-oil exports out of global markets. But the absence of a competitive exchange rate regime is not just the consequence of a dominant oil sector. An overvalued exchange is also favoured by lobbies representing the non-tradeable sector, which are strong and pervasive throughout the region. Historically, economic exchange in the Middle East has stayed in the hands of importers and distributors, who depend on simple arbitrage opportunities and prefer a fixed and overvalued exchange rate.

This adverse politics of diversification is difficult to bypass in the midst of multiple development traps. While the region’s resource-rich economies are exposed to global price shocks there are few institutional shock-absorbers to mitigate the effect of such events. Herein lies the problem for oil rich countries: The same factors that are needed to cope with oil price volatility are also needed for diversification. This does not mean that diversification is impossible to achieve in these economies. It is simply that diversification attempts are selective, and often take forms that are politically more acceptable to local elites. In the UAE, Bahrain, Oman and parts of North Africa, liberalisation of the financial sector has provided such a politically safe avenue for diversification. Financial sector liberalisation has offered lucrative brokerage opportunities for state elites who, through carefully brokered partnership opportunities with foreign banks, have derived additional rents.

Two additional factors make financial liberalisation a politically palatable form of diversification. First, the bulk of private sector credit extended by the financial sector is earmarked for real-estate projects. Second, land is principally owned by the state. Together, this means that even when the financial sector enhances its lending to the private sector it is unlikely to give rise to independent forms of accumulation that might threaten the political order.

But the political challenges of diversification are by no means limited to the region’s oil-exporting nations. Even resource-scarce countries are afflicted with similar constraints at varying levels of intensity. Consider Morocco and Tunisia, the two countries that have had some success in developing the private sector. Although export structures in both countries are less concentrated than their other MENA counterparts, exports have expanded mostly along the intensive, rather than extensive, margin. Effectively, this means that these countries have mostly relied on existing export relationships rather than establishing new products and trading partners.

Additionally, in Tunisia, policy regimes have traditionally segmented the offshore sector, which is mainly export-oriented, from the onshore sector, oriented towards the domestic markets. Furthermore, economic activity remains confined to a closed circle that protects its privilege by virtue of its proximity to state elites. Such systematic undermining of market competition serves a larger political purpose, since it provides much-needed rents in countries where oil rents are either absent or scarce but where rents are nevertheless needed to solidify elite coalitions.

But while these market-generated rents support the prevailing authoritarian order, the resulting crony capitalism undermines productive capacity. It militates genuine economic diversification, which requires a level playing field that reduces barriers to entry and mobility.

This pattern of economic control is shared by other states in the region, including Lebanon, where concessions to monopolies have long been used as a principal means of distributing privilege.

When pressed for reform, MENA countries have been reluctant to take the leap, resulting in the ‘partial reform syndrome’ where trade liberalisation is selectively pursued to protect elite interests.

In Egypt, for example, average tariffs have fallen since the mid-1990s, but their dispersion has increased at the same time. This is because, despite the general reduction in tariff barriers, sectors dominated by connected actors continue to benefit from relatively higher protectionism.

Thus, a sector is more likely to benefit from higher trade protection if a political or army crony is active in the sector. Similar patterns are revealed through an analysis of non-tariff barriers. In Tunisia, the greater presence of political cronies in a sector increases the likelihood of that sector bring protected through non-tariff measures (which are more discretionary and non-transparent).

In spite of the plethora of excuses used to justify flagging economies, if Middle Eastern countries have difficulty diversifying their economies despite their tall promises and grandiose plans it is probably more to do with politics than the mere absence of good policy, informed strategy or weak implementation.