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Kashmiris still remember the Black Day of October-27

Shabidullah Wazir

Kashmir is the core political dispute between India and Pakistan and a case of unfinished partition. Pakistan has always provided moral and diplomatic support for the freedom struggle in Kashmir on international forums. The solution to the dispute requires a unitary plebiscite for the whole of J&K under international auspices. UN resolutions call for the holding of a plebiscite to determine the wishes of the Kashmiri people. However, the promised plebiscite is never held by India.

October 27, 1947 is remembered as the black day in the history of Kashmir as it was the day when India, by dint of sheer force and illegality, took over the land of Kashmir. According to the partition Plan or Indian Independence Act, 1947, the princely states were given the choice to accede either to Pakistan or India on the basis of their geography and demography. In blatant violation of the Act, New Delhi illegally occupied three States of Hyderabad, Junagarh and Jammu and Kashmir.

Being a Muslim-majority state, with 87% Muslim population, Kashmir had a natural tendency to accede to Pakistan. But the Hindu ruler of Jammu and Kashmir, Maha-raja Hari Singh, announced its accession to India under a controversial document titled the Instrument of Accession despite the fact that even neutral spectators contradict the existence of such a document.

Indian troops, the Dogra forces and Hindu fanatics massacred over three hundred thousand Kashmiri Muslims within a period of two months in the Jammu division to suppress the voices of Kashmiri Muslims for their due and legal right of self determination. India had no land route to enter into Jammu and Kashmir. But the so-called Boundary Commission headed by Radcliffe, which demarcated the partition line, secretly gave Gurdaspur, a Muslim majority area to India thus providing it land access to the desired area.

Lord Mountbatten practically paved the way for the declaration of accession by Hari Singh and Indian involvement in the Kashmir dispute through his machinations. It is stated that Upon the Governor General’s insistence, India required the Maharaja to accede before it could send troops.

Accordingly, the Maharaja signed an instrument of accession on 26 October 1947, which was accepted by the Governor General the next day. The decision of Maharaja and the support extended by Governor General Lord Mountbatten and the attrocities of the Indian army after the accession, are the reasons that Kashmiris and supporters of Kashmir commemorate this day every year as a Black Day.

It is the darkest day in the history of Kashmir as Kashmiris were sold to India regardless of the Indian Independence Act and the Partition Plan. Result was the Indo-Pak war, 1947 in which the Pashtuns of tribal areas played a major role and subsequently one fourth of Kashmir was liberated known as Azad Kashmir and three fourth of Kashmir remained under Indian Occupation known as Indian Occupied Kashmir. India brought the issue to United Nations Security Council which passed Resolution 47 which called for restoration of peace and order to the region and to prepare for a plebiscite to decide the fate of kashmir.

But the said resolution has not been implemented till yet and the people of Kashmir are still deprived of their right of self determination. In 1950, when the Kashmir issue was hot on the agenda of the UN, Sir Owen Dixon, an eminent jurist from Australia, was appointed by the Security Council as the UN Representative on Kashmir.

He proposed that as a third step, a plebiscite would be held to decide whether Kashmir would join India or Pakistan. India wants to suppress the right of self determination of the people of Kashmir. Kashmir has been the worst example of human rights violations. Human Rights abuses in the Indian Occupied Kashmir are an ongoing issue.

The abuses range from mass killings, enforced disappearances, torture, rape and sexual abuse to political repression and suppression of freedom of speech. The Indian Army Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), and Border Security Force (BSF) have been held accountable for committing severe human rights abuses against Kashmiri people. Some rights groups say that close to 100,000 people have died since 1989 while the official figures from Indian sources state the estimates of civilians killed due to the fight for freedom in the range of 16,725 to 47,000 civilians.

The Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society organization states that there have been over 70,000 killings, 8000 plus forced disappearances, mass torture and sexual violence, the majority committed by Indian armed forces, and that these cases have had zero prosecution in civilian courts. Diplomatic cables obtained by Wiki Leaks revealed that the ICRC had briefed US officials in Delhi in 2005 about the use of torture from 2002-2004 by security forces against hundreds of detainees suspected of being connected to or having information about freedom fighters.

Research scholar Mozammel Haque states that India has committed a genocide of Kashmiri Muslims to quell their uprising. In an earlier report, Human Rights Watch stated that Indian security forces “assaulted civilians during search operations, tortured and summarily executed detainees in custody and murdered civilians in reprisal attacks”. Rape was regularly used as a means to “punish and humiliate” communities. Scholar Seema Kazi says it is used as a weapon of war by the state against the population.

In a report, US state department report stated that the Indian army in Jammu and Kashmir had carried out extrajudicial killings of civilians. In recent times, Indian Security Forces and the Police usually use the notorious Pallet Guns. Doctors treating pellet victims say it maims a person forever. During the last one year, over 12000 civilians have been injured with pellet guns which include 1500 in the eyes. It is one of the severe human rights abuses. The pallet guns is a new discovery to silence the Kashmiri voices for self determination.

There are no two opinions that Kashmir is a core issue between India and Pakistan which must be resolved according to the wills and aspirations of the people of Kashmir. Regional peace in South Asia is linked to the solution of Kashmir issue. we live in a globalized village and due to our increasing interdependence, the world powers particularly the UNSC should implement its earlier resolutions by giving the Kashmiri people their due right of self determination. Under the rule of a Just God, nobody can maintain its own freedom if it does not believe in giving freedom to others.

The Kashmiris can never be silenced and their due right of self determination can never be suppressed. History is witness to the fact that force is not the solution of problems.

Kashmiris will one day see a dawn of freedom from Indian atrocities and subjugation. Alexander Hamilton has rightly said,” There is a certain enthusiasm in liberty that makes human nature rise above itself, in acts of bravery and heroism.



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Russia’s visa relaxation shows focus on Far East investment

Inga Velanskaya

Russia will expand its simplified visa regime to eight airports in the Far East region of the country by the end of this year, reflecting a drive by Moscow to further open up the resource-rich, vast area facing the Pacific coast to more investors and tourists.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s backing for the new Far East economic policy created the special economic zone known as the Free Port of Vladivostok in 2015.It offers low tax rates and other benefits that so far attracted several hundred companies and about US$6.1 billion in investment pledges.
Allowing visa applications online for stamping on arrival has also generated a spike in tourists to Vladivostok, with thousands of visitors from China, which has a land border with the area, South Korea and elsewhere using the system since it was introduced in August.
“The Far East shares a border with some of the most dynamically developing economies in the wor-ld,”Alexander Galushka, Russia’s Minister for Develo-pment of the Far East, said in July in an interview. “It’s key for us to harness that economic power for the benefit of developing our eastern territories.” Beside expanding the visa system to more regions of Russia’s Far East, such as Sakhalin, Kamchatka and Chukotka, and for more nationalities, Putin has authorised funding for construction of new border crossing points in the Far East.
Procedures for hiring foreign personnel in the Vladivostok Free Port have also been simplified, authorities say. For investors, the port offers a zero-tax rate for five years on land and property, income tax is set at a maximum 5%, and it claims to streamline administrative procedures, such as obtaining permits for construction projects. Chinese make up the largest number of foreign investors, overseeing projects estimated at $1.3 billion, followed by Japanese and South Koreans, according to local authorities. One project is a truck assembly plant joint venture between Russia’s Sumotori Group and Chinese automaker First Automobile Works. Using parts from China it will assemble and sell Chinese FAW model trucks.
“Of the announced projects, a few dozen are at the construction phase and a few have started the first phase of operations, so the real benefits of the Free Port regime will be evident in about three years times and we can assess it then,” said Pavel Volkov, Deputy Minister for the Development of the Far East. Investment took off in Russia’s Far East from 2000 to 2005 when oil and gas projects in the Sakhalin Oblast territory attracted about 96% of foreign direct investment. Since then, mining, infrastructure and agriculture has attracted more attention.
In total, the region attracted $37 billion of private investment, but the goal is to reach $67 billion by the end of 2017, said Development Minister Galushka in July.
One lesson from the Vladivostok Free Port is that smaller can be better.
The port zone regulations were written with grandiose construction projects in mind, but no one was interested in such large-scale developments, said Maxim Krivelevich, a financial consultant and expert on the port zone. “But, the zone has worked for small and medium-sized businesses and hundreds have started to turn a significant profit in the second year of operation,” he said. Success depends on adapting business models to Russia and learning to work with local officials and complicated financial legislation, said Krivelevich.
“Foreign investors need to study Russian legislation, everything depends on how you understand and fill out documentation,” he said, adding this is especially true in determining tax exposure.
To deal with disputes, Russia will set up specialized financial courts for investors in the Vladivostok Free Port, using a model developed in China.
“It’s very important to introduce special institutions in the Far East that can help improve legal conditions,” Boris Titov, a former business ombudsman, said. “We can use the experience of China. There they have used such commercial courts in special economic zones.”
According to financial consultant Krivelevich, the Free Port of Vladivostok is the first truly successful example of major social and economic development in post-Soviet Russia.
“The free port has massive potential.
Once its framework includes measures that ease draconian currency regulations and the prohibitive entry rules for foreign investors in so-called strategic sectors of the economy – financial industries such as insurance and banking – then the free port will become a true locomotive for the nation’s economy,” said Krivelevich. “So, we have a unique opportunity. It’s already being seized upon and things are already rolling.”

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In Kurdistan we need change, not theatrics

Srwa Abdulwahid

Since the end of World War I, the Kurdish people have been a pawn in the hands of players in the Middle East chess game played so hard, and often so bloodily. Throughout these years, all we, the Kurds, asked for was to be given a chance. Give us the opportunity to prove we can be a trusted ally, a friend to democracy and a nation that respects all religions and peoples.

We proved this time and again, when we helped end the regime of Saddam Hussein; when we decided to stay part of Iraq to help it start anew after Saddam; when we made our region a hub of investment, tranquility and religious freedom; when we joined the battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS). And we have waited patiently. And we have kept our end of all of the bargains, only to see others break their word.

Now it is time to permit Kurds to determine their future political path. It is especially troubling that, as we arrive at this moment in history, some within the Kurdistan region have joined outsiders with self-serving intentions to use us as a pawn again against our democracy.

The referendum that took place on September 25 is such a move. It was meant to use the overwhelming desire for independence that burns within almost every Kurdish heart to promote the special interests of a few, at the expense of our nascent democracy.

This referendum was designed to serve the narrow political interests of President Massoud Barzani, whose term expired over two years ago and who remains in office despite calls from our democratic allies that he obeys the constitution.  The president’s refusal to abide by the constitution – and his actions to divert attention from this power grab – is in defiance to the will of the Kurdish people. Our hopes for a peaceful transition of power are at risk, all cloaked in a nationalist smoke screen.

Many Iraqi Kurds in political leadership positions see the referendum for what it is – political theatrics to reinvigorate the old crumbling political parties. That is not a path to independence for Kurdistan; it is a game of greed and abuse of power with an end game likely aiming at isolation from our neighbours and allies.

The United States and other friends of the Kurds have been clear in opposing the referendum and declaring concern about Kurdish independence aspirations. We are deeply thankful to the White House’s overall support of Kurdish democracy, which has come regardless of who has been president.

We are also very grateful for the strong, consistent backing of many in Congress for our goal to become a reliable economic and political partner. Thus, as we go forward to explore the possibility of independence, we wish to do so in conjunction with our allies’ assistance and guidance.

That is why the Movement for Change – Gorran, of which I am a member – refused to join the referendum spree and demanded to debate this crucial matter in the regional parliament, the highest legal authority in the Kurdistan Region. We are a few months ahead of parliamentary elections at the federal level, with elections in the Region set for early November 2017. It should be the individuals elected in these votes who steer any course towards independence.

The referendum has caused Kurdistan’s friends to fall silent and its enemies to be encouraged. Major regional powers, as well as the international community, have warned against a referendum and retaliation has already started. Iraq has blocked international flights. Russia has insisted that Iraq’s territorial integrity must be maintained. Turkey is threatening potentially crippling restrictions on oil trade, while our budget is already under strain because of dropping oil prices and lowered production. The Kurdistan Region must be strategic about the political situation in Iraq, relations with the government in Baghdad, and external relations with the region and beyond. This is imperative. To ensure a lasting independence and a viable state, we need vibrant and clear support to build solid foundations for strong democratic institutions. The curtain needs to fall, and the theatrics need to end. The struggle for personalised power must give way to a democratic, independent Kurdistan embraced by the other nations in the world.


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Moscow nears ‘mission accomplished’ in Syria

Sami Moubayed

By the end of this year, Syria will be free of Islamic State, apart from small pockets that will disappear with time. Russian President Vladimir Putin will have achieved what he set out to with his Syria intervention back in September 2015: to rid the country of armed jihadist groups, while empowering his allies in Damascus.

This month alone, major progress has been achieved, as the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces overran al-Raqqa, the former capital of the Islamic State, and government troops made steady progress on two other cities along the Euphrates River: Deir ez-Zour and al-Mayadeen. It is only a matter of time before they also retake the last standing ISIS stronghold of Albukamal, on the Syrian-Iraqi border.

For two years, Russian officials have been saying that no sustainable political solution can be achieved so long as al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists dot the Syrian landscape. Counter-terrorism came first for the Kremlin, politics second. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu recently said, however, that with the demise of ISIS, his country’s military operation in Syria “is about to be completed.” In other words, it’s time for a serious political process, one that either complements the ongoing but stalled UN-backed Geneva talks, or replaces them altogether.

Moscow was never too thrilled with the Geneva process, seeing it as the brainchild of former US Secretary of State John Kerry. It was muscled into accepting its terms two years ago – in different times, with different regional and international actors. The Russians are now convinced that Donald Trump is also un-interested in Geneva — in fact, that he is un-interested in Syria’s entire political process.

Since coming to power in January, Trump has focused on three objectives only: eradicating ISIS; empowering the Kurds – who he believes were vital in the war on terror; and ejecting Iran from the Syrian battlefield. Objectives 1 and 2 have more or less been achieved, shifting Trump’s Syria attention to Iran. That gives Putin all the space needed to hammer out a political endgame for Syria – one tailor-made to his liking.

He is already half-way there. The Astana talks initiated in May were the Russian president’s brainchild.

They whisked the Syrian problem out from under the UN umbrella, squeezing several stakeholders out of the political process: namely Saudi Arabia, Qatar, France, Britain and the US.

Throughout all rounds of the Astana talks, the Americans have been only symbolically present, always at a junior level, surrendering to Putin’s vision for Syria. The process aimed at achieving local ceasefires throughout the country and carving out the now famous “de-conflict zones” around Damascus, Homs, Idlib, and Daraa in the Syrian south.

That agreement, however, has a present tenure of just six months, renewable by mutual consent of Syria’s opposing sides and the regional guarantors behind them: Russia, Turkey, and Iran.

The next round of Astana talks, aimed at discussing the parameters of the four de-conflict zones, will take place in the Kazakhstan capital on October 30-31.

One week later, Moscow aims to host a mini-conference at its military base in Hmeimeem, in Syria’s western coastal city of Latakia, creating a parallel track to Geneva.

Russian organizers are aiming for a high-profile media event with no UN sponsorship and hope to follow it with a larger “national dialogue” conference in January, to be held at Damascus International Airport.

Moscow hopes to attract over 1,000 delegates from the Syrian Opposition to Latakia, with guarantees they will not be arrested.

Also earmarked to attend are the local councils formed by the “de-conflict zones,” Kurdish politicians operating in northern Syria, members of the the Syrian opposition’s Moscow Platform, and military leaders who took part in the Astana talks.

The only component of the opposition to be dropped is the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

All sides will have to decide on a power-sharing formula and a new constitution, based on a draft charter put forward earlier this year by Russian lawmakers.

They are also likely to set the dates for new parliamentary elections, keeping a scheduled July 2021 presidential race in mind.

If Moscow gets its way, Geneva will slowly fizzle out – unless it is somehow incorporated into the conference at Damascus Airport.

For that to happen, the Saudi-backed opposition bloc in Geneva will have to lower its expectations and accept power-sharing under Russian auspices as the only solution currently on the table for Syria.

Turkey has already abandoned its plans for regime change in Damascus, and although still committed to it in rhetoric at least, neither France nor Britain is willing to invest any money or energy in that direction, seeing it as fruitless in light of Russian hard power and US indifference.

That leaves the anti-regime camp supported only by Saidi Arabia, a country that is also presently building bridges with the Kremlin following King Salman’s visit to Moscow earlier in October.

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The story of Pakistan’s Tattered Economy – Foreign Debt and the Twin Deficits

Shabbir Ahmad

With sky high foreign debt, rising imports, declining exports and widening fiscal deficit, Pakistan’s economy is going through a challenging phase. The KSE-100 index has dropped 25% during the last four months. Earlier this year, it progressed to its all-time high points (52,876) but that progress proved to be short lived. Speaking of all-time high level, Pakistan’s economy has plunged down to some historic figures. The country’s trade deficit has reached its highest ever figure of $32.6b, imports surged to a historic level of $53 billion while imports exceeded $50bn for the first time in its history. These facts and figures have not been reported by opposition parties or a biased media outlet. These are official figures published by the Pakistan’s Bureau of Statistics.

It is worth mentioning that we did not reach these historic figures overnight. This trend has been going on for the last four years and none of the concerned authorities has ever taken notice of this threatening development. So who to blame?

Obviously the finance ministry is mainly responsible for this slump especially for the external balance of payment but there are also several other related factors which resulted in this downfall.

Pakistan’s total debt and liabilities have crossed the dangerous mark and the country has literally fallen into a debt trap. The country has been borrowing heavily to meet budget demands as it remains unable to broaden its extremely narrow tax base. Total external debt is about $83 billion against $62 billion in 2013.  In PKR the external debt would be about Rs. 25.1 trillion. Every Pakistani now owes Rs. 120,789 compared to Rs. 91,000 in 2013, an increase of 32% within four years. The government’s domestic debt also swelled to Rs14.9 trillion – higher by Rs1.24 trillion or 9% over the previous year’s level. The debt of public-sector enterprises grew at an alarming pace of 44.7% and was registered at Rs822.8 billion. The growth in total debt and liabilities was 11% during 2016-17 – the second consecutive year when the country saw a double-digit growth.

Balance of trade was Rs.186 billion in 2013 while in 2017 it soared to Rs.337 billion. Similarly, exports were $24 Million in 2012-13 while in 2015-16 it decreased to $20 Million. On the other hand, Bangladesh’s exports hit the $34 billion mark this year. Raw cotton and cotton fabrics exports decreased enormously. Raw cotton exports were Rs.41, 392 Million in 2011-12 but in 2015-16 it slumped to Rs.7, 948 Million and cotton Fabrics Rs. 260,237 million in 2012-13 while in 2015-16 it was Rs.230, 757 million.

The financial year 2016-17 was the fourth consecutive year when the current government has missed its annual export growth target, despite the country enjoying a duty-free status on its exports to the European Union.

Unlike other South Asian countries, where the exports’ shares in the GDP are in the double figures, Pakistan’s exports are barely 6.7% of the country’s estimated Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Analysts say exports can only be increased by state intervention at the institutional, policy and entrepreneurial levels. The performance of the government is dismal at all levels. The government needs to declare economic emergency and review the entire economy. Addressing the widening gap in trade and fiscal deficit should be the topmost priority.

Some of the reasons for decreasing Pakistani exports are the sluggish growth in the Pakistan’s major trading partners namely UK, USA, and China, high cost of production due to electricity shortfall and delays in order deliveries because of non-availability of energy inputs. Among Pakistan’s major exports, rice, cotton, leather, jewelry and the chemical sector have been hit hard by the slump in exports. Given the current scenario of Pakistan’s dwindling exports, a strategy for bolstering them becomes imperative.

We need to diversify our current export base which is mostly limited to basic commodities including textiles, leather, cotton and other basics like grains and fruits. We should make a transition from these exports to more value added items in the global value supply chain.

For instance, tech related items such as computer chips, integrated circuits, semiconductors, parts used in mobile and laptop manufacturing and other high tech items. It will lead to a transfer of technology, which is in itself a barrier in Pakistan for enhancing exports. It will also encourage local entrepreneurs to build these high tech devices themselves. It may bring a revolution in Pakistan’s exports.

Government support is of utmost importance for enhancing exports’ level. We have hundreds of thousands of unemployed graduates who are capable of making a difference but they are not able to do so due to lack of resources. Loans like the youth loan scheme may prove a stimulus in this regard. Government need to take a holistic view of the situation and should adopt a rather activist and Keynesian approach towards export promotion. The government should make a multipronged strategy towards the promotion of exports.

The first prong should be the immediate supply of cheap energy to the industry. The second prong should be to build foreign partnerships with technical universities and to build industry academia linkages to build innovative and high tech R&D based products. The third prong should be to not only give the loans to the youth but to inform, train and educate the youth about the new avenues and possibilities of exports. The industry based veteran mentors should be placed in the board of directors of those firms who are taking the loans from the youth loan scheme. The government should try to promote venture capital outside the IT industry as well particularly in the export sector.

For a secure future, we must be ready to take difficult decisions. We have to increase our tax base, bring in fiscal discipline and ensure continuity of economic policies. We have to ensure that Baluchistan, Interior Sindh, Fata (Federally-Administered Tribal Areas), southern Punjab and Gilgit-Baltistan also join us on the trajectory of growth and then move forward.

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Idlib: the next chapter in Syria’s humanitarian tragedy

Muhammad Ghazi

Idlib province in northwestern Syria, is the last bastion of resistance to Assad in the war-weary country. It now faces a humanitarian catastrophe.

Idlib province in Syria has long been condemned to underdevelopment, one does not have to look far to see this. The people boast that when the father of Bashar al Assad, Hafez al Assad, first visited Idlib they pelted him with tomatoes. The province has been mistreated ever since.Six years into the Syrian revolution against the oppressive Assad regime the war may finally be concluding. In areas where Assad has regained land it’s been a pyrrhic victory. The social fabric laid to waste. The fractious and divided opposition has slowly been whittled from the cities and villages across Syria. Yet one last bastion of resistance remains: Idlib.

The situation in Idlib was described to me by a street vendor several weeks ago as “similar to someone waiting for a verdict and has no idea what that verdict will be — execution or a pardon.” This sentiment was widely shared.

The verdict, however, has finally come. The people of Idlib are now being served their sentence. Russian and Syrian planes have started to reign terror on the Idlib region. It seems increasingly likely that the barbarous total war wrought to reclaim other parts of Syria by Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and Assad’s forces are marching towards a people displaced from the previous efforts to smash them. The UK Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) has said that September was the single deadliest month in the Syrian war in 2017. With more than 3,055 deaths of which 955 were civilian, the coalition warplanes were responsible for more than 70 percent of these casualties. This is in addition to the 465,000 already dead or missing in the war as of March 2017.

Yet a spirit of resistance pervades these proud people. When the regime held sway over this territory, locals report that there were hardly any governmental institutions in Idlib and, as a result, hardly any jobs. Developmental aid was throttled by the central authorities. The people built what they could, relying on their communal bonds. It would not be an exaggeration to say that many of the new buildings in the towns and the city of Idlib were built using money from expatriate Syrian communities. The influx of internally displaced refugees to Idlib over the last several years has become a flood. The most recent example of this is the large influx emanating from Deir Ezzor, due in part to the regime advances on Daesh. A typical pattern involves the government forcefully transporting the civilian population to Idlib province in their ominous green buses.

The already neglected Idlib governorate is now groaning and unable to cope with civilians fleeing the clashes. Many are sleeping on the streets while others have been displaced with nothing other than the clothes on their backs. The situation  has become so dire that signs of malnourishment are emerging and the broken infrastructure is unable to cope with newcomers.

The fate of Idlib as it stands seems to be heading in the same direction as other previously held rebel areas. The Syrian dream of achieving freedom, civil rights and liberty from a cruel and oppressive regime has given way to a more pressing need—basic survival—no doubt a cold, ruthless calculation by Assad, Russia and Iran in their campaign. The noble aims of the revolution seem today a distant prospect.

The last few years of war have left deep scars and fissures in Syrian society. Every household has a neighbour who is a widow or an orphaned child, a vulnerable group that has become over represented in this region.

Idlib has effectively become the last stand and, for the regime-its dumping ground. And while much of the attention is focused on Syria’s east, the slow motion humanitarian crisis is brewing in Idlib. There are no dumping grounds left to which Syrians can be transported by menacing green buses.The main group controlling this region is Hayat Tahrir al Sham (HTS), previously an Al Qaeda affiliate. As a result, the international community has started to reconsider the expendability of the province, and with it, its people.

When HTS took over the Bab al Hawa border crossing, the main supply line into the province, Turkish authorities proceeded to close it, allowing only essential goods into the province. The resulting increase in prices for everyday goods has made life more precarious. It has also opened up a new trade route for the embattled people of the province.

The Bab al Salam border crossing to the north lies in Afrin, controlled by the PKK affiliate YPG, now rebranded as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has become a major transiting point.

The SDF, taking advantage of the humanitarian situation in Idlib, levies a hefty tax on the goods passing through its territory. For many of the people in Idlib, making ends meet and sourcing food has become a daily struggle.

Local factors have also exacerbated the state of fear and uncertainty of the Syrian people. The conflicting viewpoints among the revolutionaries themselves is one of the greatest examples of this. A recent proposal for a civil administration was put forward by some Syrian academics in Idlib, recommending a shift from military management of civil affairs. But it remains to be seen whether this will be successful given past failures. Past promises and failures amongst rebel groups have left people disenchanted and sceptical of revolutionary rhetoric.

Its difficult to know what will happen in the fight for Idlib. Turkey may well see a mass exodus from the region, placing further strain on Turkey’s finances.

There are more than 2 million people now living in the province — their miserable living conditions require a permanent solution that allows them to live their lives without fear. That is looking increasingly unlikely.

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Hatice Karahan

Bangladesh, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan and Turkey… The Developing Eight, also known as D-8, created by these emerging economies, are gathering at a summit in Istanbul today. The 20-year efforts to boost cooperation are aimed at strengthening the presence of these countries in the world’s economy. Indeed, 2016 data reveals that the D-8 currently accounts for only 5 percent of the global GDP.

Indonesia and Turkey constitute half of D-8 GDP

Moreover, Indonesia and Turkey, the two largest countries in the group, constitute almost half of this economic volume, with the former having $932 billion, and the latter having $858 billion in GDP.

While Nigeria and Iran have roughly $400 billion each, they are followed by Egypt with $336 billion, Malaysia with $296 billion, Pakistan with $284 billion and Bangladesh with $221 billion.

Additionally, although all the members are in a developing status, they actually have quite different economic profiles in both economic size and welfare.

Welfare gap” While Turkey has the highest income per capita, other countries in the group have less than $10,000 – which is roughly below the world average.

The most prosperous economy among the remaining seven is Malaysia with $9,500 income per capita. While Iran is barely at $5,000, Egypt and Indonesia are still around $3,500. Nigeria, Pakistan and Bangladesh are the economies with the lowest income per capita in the group.

As can be seen, there is a wide gap among D-8 members.

Young unemployment alarm” D-8 economies, which have to boost the income and life standards of their people, have different unemployment rates that they are struggling with.

While Malaysia, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Pakistan have relatively lower single-digit unemployment rates, other members have higher rates than Turkey, which is hovering at lower double-digit figures.

The alarming part is that young unemployment is quite disconnected from general unemployment in almost all countries.

While young unemployment rates hover between 20 percent and 30 percent in some members, they are over 30 percent in Egypt – a social problem which needs to be solved.

Even Malaysia, with an average 3.4 percent in unemployment, has double digits when it comes to its young population.

In this context, given the population dynamics of these economies, it is necessary for them to write strong stories of growth.

Strong growth: At this point, it would do well to take a look at the recent growth performance of all the members.

As it is known, Turkey slowed down as a result of the occurrences in 2016 and it has gained momentum again this year.

As it is, we are constantly talking about this in detail. In other D-8 economies, there are still discrepant situations.

For instance, Indonesia has been following a stable and robust course in this area for a long time.

It is not easy to achieve 5 percent in growth successively.

It is noteworthy that Bangladesh has unperturbedly increased its growth from 6 percent to 7 percent.

Likewise, Pakistan has been increasingly developing in this period, with an increased growth of 5.7 percent in 2016.

On the other hand, Malaysia has declined to 4 percent from 6 percent in the last few years.

Also, Egypt has a moderate performance going between 3 percent and 4 percent.

There are also two countries that have suffered oil losses like Nigeria and Iran in recent years.

While Iran considerably recovered in 2016 with the removal of sanctions, Nigeria, it seems, will recover slowly.

This organization, founded in 1997 with the Istanbul Declaration, needs investments, productivity growth, competitive environments and thus reforms in order to sustainably strengthen their economies.

In this context, while each country tries to design the most appropriate economic policies for itself, sincere and effective international collaborations undoubtedly have critical importance.

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Women in the Middle East and why #MeToo matters

Nadine Sayegh

The #MeToo campaign following the wave of allegations against Harvey Weinstein resonates with women globally. “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me Too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem,” may be something you have come across on your social media profiles over the last few days.

The #MeToo campaign is quite likely another manifestation of a short-lived surge of internet activism, however, it is bringing to the foreground, for a brief time, the plight faced by women everywhere.

What makes this attempt at furthering gender equality and defying structural dominance of patriarchy so powerful, is the sheer numbers it has been producing. Women all over the world are responding to the call, and that in itself is indicative of a deep-seeded global issue.

While this wave begun with allegations pouring in against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, the impact of the solidarity is significant, particularly, for those outside the West.

If anything, this campaign aims to highlight the scope and extent of harassment and abuse faced by women on a daily basis; this can extend from the workplace, the street, and even in the home. This campaign has already been criticised by some stating that the issue that must be addressed are men’s actions and though raising female voices is important, it does not do much in terms of furthering gender equality.

What can be done, however, in light of the ‘magnitude of the problem’, is provide women with stronger protective mechanisms at the state level. Existing laws protecting women must be implemented and new laws must be put in place to protect women in social realms. This holds true for all spaces but particularly true for the workplace, where clearly, there is an endless amount of discrimination and harassment.

There must also be a collective effort on the part of men to oppose group-dynamics in this context and speak out and call out those who jeopardize the security and well-being of women. Men, though many disinterested, must become allies in this battle. Gender-equality cannot be thought of as a cause or campaign, for equality is a basic human right that should be distributed shared between all.

The male response to this campaign, has been inspiring at times, but there is clearly a thread of double standard woven into the fabric of male identity. Many, condescendingly, also posted statuses stating they too were harassed.

This campaign does little to highlight the differing levels of discrimination faced globally – but this serves as important opportunity to highlight that in the majority of the Arab world, Middle East, Africa and South Asia, the sexism, discrimination, and harassment women face is at least as high, or can even be higher and more aggressive.

In addition, there are fewer ‘safe-zones’ for women to seek shelter as gender discrimination is often culturally imposed and systemically enshrined. This can then manifest into internalised misogyny, whereby the woman herself begins self-censoring or criticising other women in their communities over breaking ‘taboos’. This weakens communal relations between women and serves as another vessel for oppresion.

Culturally, women are oft viewed in traditional and repressive roles. There have been great strides, such as in Tunisia, Lebanon, and Jordan, all abolishing laws that allow for a rapist to marry his victim in order to avoid punishment, and ‘preserve the dignity and honour’ of the victim. This is a success, but it cannot go unnoticed that laws such as these remain in governing and legal structures in the region, and even where they’ve been abolished, the motives are not always pure.

Realities on the ground do not reflect significant progress, despite some positive steps. This year, UNWomen released a report highlighting that in the Middle East and North Africa, 26 percent of respondents cite that woman should tolerate violence to keep the family unit intact. Research conducted in Jordan substantiates this. For example, in East Amman at a community centre, a social worker shares that many of the beneficiaries are not concerned with domestic violence. She highlights that in a lecture on gender-based violence 98 percent of the participants agreed that a man may hit is wife if she is behaving in antagonising manner.

This month, too, the Thomson Reuters foundation placed Cairo as the most dangerous megacity for women in the world.

Inspired by recent events, a young Egyptian woman writes:

cairo/makes its women/want to be invisible/it covers them/with layers of fear/until they are reduced/to a womb/and two milk fountains/to feed the children/that cairo will eventually/kill.

It is unfortunate, but, statistics and studies can be found from numerous states in the region highlighting the repetitive damage of gender-based violence.

While it may indeed prove cathartic for women to unite against discrimination and share traumatic stories with one another, this action will not, on its own, further gender equality. If genuine action is to be taken it must go beyond the internet and into the lives of women that are affected by men who violate their sanctity as individuals.

Governments, particularly those in the ‘Global South’, must be placed under pressure by to protect their women.

They must be pressured by men in these regions who must move beyond the objectification of women. At the local level, encouraging conversations must begin in safe spaces, community centres and homes, which educate both men and women on the absolute necessity of gender-equality.

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The ones who walk away: The neglect of child refugees in Europe

Farhan Mujahid Chak

European nations are setting a new benchmark for neglect in the face of the worst hum-anitarian crisis of our time. “With a clamor of bells that set the swallows soaring, the Festival of Summer came to the city” – the fabled city of Omelas. It was a marvelous city, the ornament of the world – as it were, with joyous people and brightly colored houses with “red roofs and painted walls, between old moss-grown gardens and under avenues of trees, past great parks and public buildings…the people went dancing, the procession was a dance. Children dodged in and out, their high calls rising like the swallows’ crossing flights, over the music and the singing.”

It was paradise. At least, that is how legendary American author Ursula K. Le Guin describes it in her breathtaking short-story The Ones Who Walk Away.

Similarly, Europe, too, is fancied. Perceived as a fairy-tale land of freedom, equality and hope – loved, by some, the way mothers are. Understandably so, by those with empty stomachs and sad, longing eyes.

Yet, Ursula’s novella offers a ghastly twist; a moral outrage, necessary for happiness to stay in the city. The wondrous, imaginary city of Omelas, conceals a beastly truth below its foundations. Nothing less than a stark-naked, skeletal, imbecile child, who is confined to a dark, reeking, subterranean room beneath the city.

The doomed child, under no circumstances, must be allowed to leave or, even, be treated kindly – for that would remove the peoples’ joy. In that Faustian bargain, concerning a glorious metropolis and its wretched underbelly, are striking parallels between the imaginary dreamland of Omelas and present-day Europe. Both utopias – if you will, whether fantasy or real, conceal dystopian undercurrents and painful, ugly truths: either as an unclothed, sickly young child immersed in its own excrement, or, in actuality, as child refugees in Europe, who are victims of rape, sexual exploitation and slavery.

Essentially, at the heart of the matter is an ethical dilemma, originally posed by philosopher William James: If all could be made blissfully happy on the account of another’s misery, would we accept it?

Both, the city of Omelas that tortures a stunted adolescent and Europe with its abhorrent disregard for child refugees, shakes our moral foundations to its core. Either by questioning the ways in which vulgarity is normalized or how ethical protestations, eventually, give way to pragmatism – no matter the cost.

Throughout the European Union, whether in Italy, Greece, France or elsewhere, child refugee abuse involves a wide-range of crimes; trafficking, sexual exploitation, enforced prostitution, organ trafficking, benefits fraud, forced labour, slavery, begging, drug running, pickpocketing and theft.

Even worse, credible EU reports indicate children are being sold and pregnant women trafficked to sell their unborn child. More shocking yet, is the organized crime specifically targeting child refugees, while European authorities seemingly turn a blind-eye. This is the tragic irony of children who have lost their parents, homes, escaping war, poverty or disaster, only to end up in unspeakable conditions in the EU, which, according to Europol, is getting worse.

A 2016 study by UNICEF, entitled “Neither Safe nor Sound,” highlights the plight of child refugees living in France, across the English Channel, while they torturously await their asylum request in the United Kingdom. Based on direct interviews with child refugees, it was revealed that those in the best conditions, still suffer from cold and fatigue, difficulty in accessing meals and showers, nervousness, symptoms of depression, and no access to regular schooling.

There are even cases of “entry fees” being extracted by traffickers, and how most children lack access to proper communication services. All of this takes place under the ever-watchful eyes of French authorities. The situation in Greece is more disturbing, according to an alarming report published in April 2017 by the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University. The report highlights the physical, psychological, and sexual violence faced by minors in refugee camps in Greece, particularly sexual exploitation. Although cases of boys and girls being targeted by sexual predators—whether individual actors or part of criminal networks are many—most children are afraid to come forward for fear of reprisal. This means the crimes against child refugees are significantly higher than documented.

At present, there are 170,000 unaccompanied and separated child refugees (UASCR) throughout the European Union. Yet, this astounding figure does not relay the entirety of the catastrophe, since these are just those that have been documented. Nor does it reflect the terrifying manner in which hundreds of thousands of child refugees—homeless and without parental or guardian support—are being mercilessly abused.

This is Europe’s nightmare. In fact, the “ECHR has held against several Member States for violating the EU’s legal regime on refugees on issues of detention, status of reception facilities, and lack of legal remedies.”

Moreover, according to Claude Moraes, the chair of the European Parliament’s Justice and Home Affairs committee, “the amount of child abuse, rape and smuggling that is going on is horrific…If the EU is to have any sort of value it has to care for unaccompanied minors when they arrive in Europe.”

It’s as if Europe’s dirty secret has now been exposed. As that of the false utopia of the city of Omelas, where the naked child waits to be kicked by curious onlookers to ensure that it is still there – and paradise protected.

These unfortunate child refugees, also, are being kicked: either out of boats by traffickers afraid of getting caught; or while being held in their parent’s arms desperate to reach an illusory paradise; or by a broken European system that just does not want them – but is too afraid to admit it.

The European Union has a manifest responsibility to child refugees, as outlined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. Both instruments bind EU Members, who must also comply with the case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

Moreover, as a signatory to the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the European Union must act in the ‘best interests of the child.’ Yet, law is only effective if not just its writ, but spirit be followed.

Unfortunately, a monumental failure in fulfilling these obligations has led to tens of thousands of children in appalling, exploitative and criminal conditions. Likewise, in the make-believe city of Omelas – the hopeless child must remain outside the celebrated laws of the city. And, today in Europe, as stated by Baroness Shas Sheehan, the pleas of child refugees fall on deaf ears. This the tragic paradox of European border policy, while claiming to champion the rule of law, tolerance and human rights, it remains incapable of creating legal entry channels for those refugees – even deliberately creating obstacles that make their journey as burdensome as possible. Consequently, a morally disastrous version of some dystopian Hunger Games emerges, where, as Bruno Macaes poetically writes “refugees are rewarded with the promise of generous social benefits and security if they are lucky enough to survive.” It is not without reason that Frantz Fanon roars, unforgivingly, “Let us waste no time in sterile litanies and nauseating mimicry. Leave this Europe where they are never done talking of Man, yet murder men everywhere they find them.”

Others, too, are scolding Europe’s cowardice in the face of the formidable global child refugee crisis. Now, former Greek Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, laments that this humanitarian crisis is being grossly obscured by the “sight of our leaders squabbling as to who is not going to do their humanitarian duty towards these people—this is going to remain as a stigma upon Europe.” Indeed, not just stigma, but a deep, irremovable blood-stain – a plague on all their beautiful houses. Admittedly, all nation-states inflict varying levels of oppression – some more unjust than others; India’s treatment of Kashmiris; Israeli treatment of Palestinians; or Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya. Yet, enduring questions remain: Will the European Union act and fulfill its obligations to these child refugees? Will Europe live to its lofty ideals and the inherent dignity of all peoples?  Or, will it be counted among the ones who walk away?

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Trump’s UNESCO and Iran decision

Abdullah Muradoglu

Donald Trump has announced that the US would unilaterally withdraw from the Iranian nuclear deal if Congress did not find a way out within 60 days. The US has also withdrawn from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on the grounds that it acts prejudiced against Israel.

Trump withdrew the US from the Paris Climate Tre-aty with the Trans-Pacific deal and asked for the renegotiation of the North Am-erican Free Trade Agree-ment (NAFTA), pledging to end these agreements. But the globalist and pragmatist wings of the White House are trying to control Trump. Populist nationalists are fighting with the globalists so that Trump fulfills his election promises.

Nationalists, led by Steve Bannon, have waged war on the Republican leadership in Congress, which they consider a hindrance to Trump.

According to nationalists, the “American empire” and the “American nation state” are at a critical crossroads. The empire is destroying the nation state and the white Christian identity.

The multiculturalism that accompanies migration distorts the American identity, and manufacturing sliding outside of the country reduces jobs at home. Nationalists argue that the global empire brings in $20 trillion in debt.

The winners are multinational corporations and the US’s rival states such as China.

To put it briefly, nationalists say, “We will not sacrifice the American nation state to the empire, which has made the state the gendarme of globalization.” The slogan “Make America Great Again” promises to bring jobs back to white Americans.

It is also an element of this promise to bring high customs tariffs to import goods, especially Chinese steel. Nationalists advocate bilateral or trilateral agreements instead of multilateral ones.

After this summary, we can move on to background information about UNESCO. Before the US’s UNESCO decision, a campaign against Trump was launched in Israel. The matter was about Trump’s promise to move the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. Trump declared that he suspended his pledge because he wanted to give peace efforts between Israel and Palestine a chance.

The pro-Netanyahu Israeli media strongly reacted to Trump’s decision, even stating that Trump was not a suitable President for the US

Also, Trump’s major pro-Israel donors came into play. One of these donors was Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire “king of casinos.” According to information leaked to the media, Trump met with Adelson when he went to Las Vegas because of the massacre that a white American had carried out. Adelson reproached Trump about not fulfilling his promise regarding Jerusalem.

Adelson also supports the hawks regarding Iran, cooperating with Bannon and his buddies who voice their pro-Israel attitude on all occasions.

Trump, who postponed relocating the embassy to Jerusalem, withdrew the US from UNESCO in order to calm Israel. UNESCO made decisions concerning Masjid al-Aqsa that disturbed Israel’s radical right segments. The US was one of the most important financial resources of UNESCO.

Trump’s reasons for the Iranian nuclear deal pleased the Israeli lobby and Republican hawks. Of course, there are those in Israel who want this agreement to continue. Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak told The New York Times that the deal was bad but necessary. It is even said that Netanyahu agrees with Barak.

There is no doubt that Iran is acting in accordance with the terms of the deal. That’s why the US is questioning why Trump wants to break the deal.

The reasons Trump put forward include Iran’s regional positions and headlines not included in the deal, such as Hezbollah. Israel wants the US to be at loggerheads with Iran because of these titles, rather than the breach of the agreement. It should be remembered that there is a different debate among Americans concerning the fact that Israel’s security is so intertwined with the US national interests.