Pakistan is making concessions to religious extremists. What’s the cost?

The Washington Post reports: In the past 10 days, two dramatic events — the government’s capitulation to a violent protest by radical Muslims and the release from house arrest of an anti-India militia leader — have crystallized the sway that hard line Muslim groups increasingly hold in Pakistan, a nuclear-armed state whose military leaders claim to be fighting extremist violence.

The freeing of Hafiz Saeed, a Islamist cleric accused of masterminding a deadly rampage in Mumbai nine years ago, came as no surprise. Although denounced as a terrorist by the United Nations and the United States, Saeed enjoys a large following in Pakistan as a fiery champion of Muslim rights in Kashmir, the disputed border region with India. He has been repeatedly detained and released by the courts, a sign of Pakistan’s often-contradictory efforts to secure both domestic Muslim loyalty and international support.

In contrast, the chaotic scenes in late November of angry Muslim demonstrators throwing stones at police near the capital, then rising up across the country to protest a minor change in an electoral law, shocked the nation and raised the specter of mass religious unrest — a permanent worry in an impoverished nation of 207 million, 95 percent of whom are Muslim, most from the same Sunni branch as the protesters.

But the quick resolution of the problem also raised worrisome questions about the long-term capability of the Pakistani government, a fragile democracy whose prime minister was recently ousted, to push back against religious extremism and the risks of bringing in the powerful military to settle civilian disputes.

Saeed was released Nov. 24 after a provincial court found “insufficient evidence” to link him to the four-day Mumbai terror spree in 2008 that killed 164 people. This time, the court action came amid intense pressure from the Trump administration on Pakistan to prove it is not harboring Islamist militias. It also met with especially sharp denunciations from India, an archrival whose Hindu nationalist prime minister has developed a warm relationship with the new administration in Washington.

American officials demanded that Saeed — who was detained in January under U.S. pressure — be arrested again. The U.S. Embassy here expressed “serious concerns” over his release and charged that his now-disbanded militia, Lashkar-e-Taiba, was responsible for the deaths of “hundreds of innocent civilians” in numerous terrorist attacks. Six victims in the Mumbai bombing and shooting attack, which Indian and U.S. officials believe was carried out by Lashkar-e-Taiba commandos, were U.S. citizens.

In Pakistan, though, Saeed remains a force to be reckoned with and a political survivor who has continually reinvented his movement, changing its name and founding a charitable offshoot that helps people in emergencies. In October, after years of denouncing electoral politics, he also formed a political party, and its candidate performed better than expected in a race for parliament. After he was released, he triumphantly returned to his Friday pulpit in Lahore and demanded that his name be removed from the U.N. sanctions list.

While Saeed’s supporters were celebrating his return to the public arena, a tense drama was playing out in the capital between another religious firebrand and government security forces. The confrontation that erupted early on Nov. 25 quickly escalated into a nationwide protest surge and ended 24 hours later in triumph for the protesters and embarrassment for the government, which accepted virtually all of their demands. [Continue reading…]

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New Delhi’s ‘gas chamber’ smog is so bad that United Airlines has suspended flying there

The Washington Post reports: Citing toxic smog that one official said has turned India’s capital city into a “gas chamber,” United Airlines has canceled flights to New Delhi until the air gets better.

At least in United’s eyes, the Indian capital’s smog concerns are on par with environmental disasters such as hurricanes and volcanoes — a risk to be avoided. The company said it was letting passengers switch flights without charge or helping them find seats on other carriers.

It was unclear if other airlines would follow suit. Virgin Atlantic, KLM and Etihad Airlines all compete for business to New Delhi, according to CNN Money.

An advisory on United’s website said travel to New Delhi was suspended through at least Monday. [Continue reading…]

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Tillerson says Assad family’s reign ‘is coming to an end’ in Syria

The New York Times reports: Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson said Thursday that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria must not remain in power, but that negotiations about the country’s future should continue while Mr. Assad was in charge.

“The United States wants a whole and unified Syria with no role for Bashar al-Assad in the government,” Mr. Tillerson told reporters, adding, “The reign of the Assad family is coming to an end. The only issue is how that should that be brought about.”

The comments came after Mr. Tillerson met in Geneva with the United Nations special envoy on the Syrian crisis — the last stop on a weeklong visit to the Middle East and South Asia in which he dashed among capitals in the region, often spending only a few hours on the ground before getting back into his motorcade and heading to the next stop.

While he came home with no major accomplishments, the trip was also not interrupted by tweets from President Trump contradicting his efforts, as happened early this month with the secretary’s efforts on North Korea.

Mr. Tillerson’s visit on Tuesday to Pakistan was perhaps the most interesting of the trip, since Mr. Tillerson had just the week before heaped praise on India, Pakistan’s longtime rival, while bluntly insisting that Pakistan had to do more to fight terrorism.

The Pakistanis nonetheless showered Mr. Tillerson with kindness. When they sat down for talks, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi gave an effusive statement for the gathered reporters that Pakistan was fighting terrorism more than any other country. [Continue reading…]

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Trumps set to launch two real estate projects in India, despite conflict-of-interest concerns

The Washington Post reports: President Trump’s eldest son, Donald Jr., is expected to launch two residential projects in India for the Trump Organization in the coming weeks, continuing the family’s promotion of the Trump empire despite concerns over the president’s potential conflicts of interest with foreign governments.

The Trump Organization vowed early on there would be “no new foreign deals” during Trump’s tenure as president; these two projects in India were inked before his election.

But the high-profile launches demonstrate that the pledge comes with an asterisk — agreements made years ago can move forward or be revitalized, such as the Trumps’ 2007 deal to build a luxury beachfront resort in the Dominican Republic that may be revived, according to an Associated Press report.

The president did not divest his assets after he was elected and instead placed his business empire into a trust controlled by sons Don Jr. and Eric, who has traveled to Uruguay and accompanied Don Jr. to introduce a Trump-branded luxury golf course in Dubai and a hotel in Vancouver. [Continue reading…]

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Kerala: One of the few places where a communist can still dream

The Washington Post reports: On a recent morning in southern India, one of the world’s last true-believing communists rose to speak in a place where communists can still whip up the masses and win elections.

Thomas Isaac, the finance minister for the state of Kerala, gazed out at a crowd of hundreds who had gathered to honor the founding father of Kerala’s Communist Party, a man killed by a snakebite while organizing farmworkers whose dying words were reputed to have been: “Comrades, forward!”

A row of hammer and sickle flags fluttered in the wind. People raised clenched fists in a “red salute” and chanted “Long live the revolution!”

“We are trying to build our dream state in this fascist India!” Isaac began, and in so many ways it was still true.

A century after Bolsheviks swarmed the Winter Palace in Petrograd, Russia (now St. Petersburg), the Indian state of Kerala, home to 35 million people, remains one of the few places on earth where a communist can still dream.

The Bolsheviks, inspired by Karl Marx’s “Communist Manifesto,” had set out to build a new kind of society, a workers’ paradise in which property and wealth would be owned in common. That revolution began in the fall of 1917 and gave rise to the Soviet Union and a movement that would sweep across one-third of the world, inspiring new followers, erasing borders and filling gulags. Eventually, it would be undone by stagnant economies, pressure from the West and the alienation of its own people.

What remains today are five nominally communist nations. In Cuba, the revolution survives mostly as a decrepit museum piece. The communist parties of China, Vietnam and Laos preside over largely autocratic forms of runaway capitalism. In North Korea, communism has become a nuclear-armed cult of personality and police state.

But in Kerala — far from the high-stakes maneuvers of the Cold War and nearly 2,000 miles from the Indian capital of New Delhi — history has taken the most unexpected of detours. [Continue reading…]

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Rohingya crisis intensifies as India’s Modi arrives in Burma for talks

The Washington Post reports: Nearly 125,000 refugees belonging to the Rohingya minority ethnic group have fled Burma for neighboring Bangladesh in just the past week and a half, according to local aid organizations. They have relayed testimony of indiscriminate executions, gunfire from helicopters and a scorched-earth campaign seemingly aimed at destroying Rohingya villages and driving the mostly Muslim population out of predominantly Buddhist Burma. Hundreds have died making the journey to Bangladesh, including 46 who drowned when a boat carrying them capsized last week.

As the crisis deepens, governments and influential international figures — primarily, but not exclusively, from the Muslim world — have begun to speak out against the Burmese government and its de facto leader, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in the Burmese capital on Tuesday to discuss trade, but he was also expected to bring up the Rohingya issue.

The most recent spate of violence in Burma’s southwestern Rakhine state broke out Aug. 25, when Rohingya militants attacked local security forces, killing at least 12. The attack mirrored a similar one in October that killed nine border police personnel and spurred almost 90,000 Rohingyas to flee to Bangladesh, which has been a refuge for the group for decades, though increasingly reluctantly.

This year’s violence appears to be more widespread and intense. The Burmese military has acknowledged killing at least 370 Rohingyas in what it calls “clearance operations.” The government maintains that all those killed belonged to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), a militant group that has been building up its ranks since last year’s violence. It is unclear how much local and international support ARSA has, but videos of its training camps show only small numbers of shabbily dressed and ill-equipped fighters. [Continue reading…]

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Who blinked in China-India military standoff?

The Washington Post reports: For weeks, China’s Foreign Ministry had been vehement in its denunciations of India and insistence that New Delhi unconditionally withdraw troops that had trespassed into Chinese territory. Don’t underestimate us, China repeatedly insisted, we are prepared for military conflict if need be.

Yet on Monday, it appeared as though Beijing, not New Delhi, had blinked.

Both sides withdrew troops to end the stand-off. Crucially, military sources told Indian newspapers that China has also withdrawn the bulldozers that were constructing a road on the plateau. That road, built on land contested between Bhutan and China, had been the reason Indian troops had entered the disputed area in the first place, in defense of its ally Bhutan.

The eventual deal allowed both sides to save face — India’s Ministry of External Affairs suggested in its statement that it had stuck to its “principled position” in the discussions, which was that road-building violated ongoing terms of a current boundary dispute between Bhutan and China.

Yet some experts said it was premature to start declaring victory and China continued to be cagey in its official remarks. [Continue reading…]

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Extreme rainfall has led to devastating floods across Nepal, India, and Bangladesh, killing hundreds and displacing millions

BuzzFeed reports: Heavy monsoon rains of historic proportions have slammed Nepal, Bangladesh, and India for weeks, leading to what international rescue and aid organizations say is the worst flooding in decades.

Nearly 1,200 people have been killed by the flooding and landslides in the three countries so far, while millions continue to be displaced from their homes. Torrential monsoon rains have destroyed tens of thousands of houses, schools, and hospitals, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The agency estimates that almost 41 million people have been affected in three countries.

Many of the flooded areas already have high rates of malnutrition. The disaster has raised concerns of food shortages and water-borne diseases, as thousands of hectares of farms have been washed away and relief work continues to be disrupted by continuous rain. [Continue reading…]

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China and India are dangerously close to military conflict in the Himalayas

The Washington Post reports: As nuclear posturing between North Korea and the United States rivets the world, a quieter conflict between India and China is playing out on a remote Himalayan ridge — with stakes just as high.

For the past two months, Indian and Chinese troops have faced off on a plateau in the Himalayas in tense proximity, in a dispute prompted by moves by the Chinese military to build a road into territory claimed by India’s close ally, Bhutan.

India has suggested that both sides withdraw, and its foreign minister said in Parliament that the dispute can be resolved only by dialogue.

Yet China has vociferously defended the right it claims to build a road in the Doklam area, territory it also claims.

Since the dispute began, the Chinese Foreign Ministry has issued an angry stream of almost daily denunciations of India and its “illegal trespass” and “recklessness,” along with demands that New Delhi withdraw its troops “if it cherishes peace.”

Incursions and scuffles between the two countries have long occurred along India and China’s 2,220-mile border — much of which remains in dispute — although the two militaries have not fired shots at each other in half a century.

Analysts say that this most recent dispute is more worrisome because it comes as relations between the two nuclear-armed powers are declining, with China framing the issue as a direct threat to its territorial integrity. For the first time, such a conflict involves a third country — the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. [Continue reading…]

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Extreme heat will hit India’s most vulnerable the hardest

Climate Central reports: A flurry of studies in recent months have laid bare the significant threat posed by extreme heat in a warming world. Perhaps nowhere is this threat more apparent than in India and other parts of South Asia, where intense heat waves collide with a large, vulnerable population.

If greenhouse gas emissions aren’t brought under control, global warming will boost heat waves in the region to the limits of what humans can endure on a yearly basis, a new study finds. But if action is taken to curb climate change the threat could be substantially reduced.

The expected future impacts also raise important questions of environmental justice, as the population that will be most impacted by extreme heat has contributed the least to climate change. It also highlights the contradiction between India’s reliance on coal to fuel its economic boom and the impacts its citizens might see. [Continue reading…]

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How India and China have come to the brink of conflict over a remote mountain pass

The New York Times reports: On a remote pass through Himalayan peaks, China and India, two nuclear-armed nations, have come near the brink of conflict over an unpaved road. It is one of the worst border disputes between the regional rivals in more than 30 years.

The road stands on territory at the point where China, India and Bhutan meet. The standoff began last month when Bhutan, a close ally of India, discovered Chinese workers trying to extend the road. India responded by sending troops and equipment to halt the construction. China, the more powerful of the two, angrily denounced the move and demanded that India pull back.

Now soldiers from the two powers are squaring off, separated by only a few hundred feet.

The conflict shows no sign of abating, and it reflects the swelling ambition — and nationalism — of both countries. Each is governed by a muscular leader eager to bolster his domestic standing while asserting his country’s place on the world stage as the United States recedes from a leading role.

Jeff M. Smith, a scholar at the American Foreign Policy Council who studies Indian-Chinese relations, said a negotiated settlement was the likeliest outcome. But asked whether he thought the standoff could spiral into war, he said, “Yes I do — and I don’t say that lightly.” [Continue reading…]

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India’s turn toward intolerance

In an editorial, the New York Times says: Narendra Modi’s landslide victory as prime minister of India in 2014 was borne on his promises to unleash his country’s economic potential and build a bright future while he played down the Hindu nationalist roots of his Bharatiya Janata Party.

But, under Mr. Modi’s leadership, growth has slowed, jobs have not materialized, and what has actually been unleashed is virulent intolerance that threatens the foundation of the secular nation envisioned by its founders.

Since Mr. Modi took office, there has been an alarming rise in mob attacks against people accused of eating beef or abusing cows, an animal held sacred to Hindus. Most of those killed have been Muslims. Mr. Modi spoke out against the killings only last month, not long after his government banned the sale of cows for slaughter, a move suspended by India’s Supreme Court. The ban, enforcing cultural stigma, would have fallen hardest on Muslims and low-caste Hindus traditionally engaged in the meat and leather industry.

It would also have struck a blow against Mr. Modi’s supposed priorities: employment, economic growth and boosting exports. The $16 billion industry employs millions of workers and generated $4 billion in export income last year.

More disturbing was his party’s decision to name Yogi Adityanath, a Hindu warrior-priest, as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, and a springboard to national leadership. Mr. Adityanath has called India’s Muslims “a crop of two-legged animals that has to be stopped” and cried at one rally, “We are all preparing for religious war!” [Continue reading…]

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India just planted over 60 million trees in 12 hours to meet its Paris climate accord commitments

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China, India become climate leaders as West falters

Climate Central reports: Less than two years after world leaders signed off on a historic United Nations climate treaty in Paris in late 2015, and following three years of record-setting heat worldwide, climate policies are advancing in developing countries but stalling or regressing in richer ones.

In the Western hemisphere, where centuries of polluting fossil fuel use have created comfortable lifestyles, the fight against warming has faltered largely due to the rise of far-right political groups and nationalist movements. As numerous rich countries have foundered, India and China have emerged as global leaders in tackling global warming.

Nowhere is backtracking more apparent than in the U.S., where President Trump is moving swiftly to dismantle environmental protections and reverse President Obama’s push for domestic and global solutions to global warming.

The U.S. isn’t alone in its regression. European lawmakers are balking at far-reaching measures to tackle climate change. Australian climate policy is in tatters. International efforts to slow deforestation in tropical countries are failing. [Continue reading…]

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Coal in ‘freefall’ as new power plants dive by two-thirds

The Guardian reports: The amount of new coal power being built around the world fell by nearly two-thirds last year, prompting campaigners to claim the polluting fossil fuel was in freefall.

The dramatic decline in new coal-fired units was overwhelmingly due to policy shifts in China and India and subsequent declining investment prospects, according to a report by Greenpeace, the US-based Sierra Club and research network CoalSwarm.

The report said the amount of new capacity starting construction was down 62% in 2016 on the year before, and work was frozen at more than a hundred sites in China and India. In January, China’s energy regulator halted work on a further 100 new coal-fired projects, suggesting the trend was not going away. [Continue reading…]

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‘I appeal to all the parents in India not to send their children’ to the U.S., distraught father says after shooting

The Washington Post reports: Family members of the Indian men shot at an Olathe, Kan., bar Wednesday in a possible hate crime said they feared that an atmosphere of fear and xenophobia in the United States means the country is not a safe place for Indians, with one Indian father exhorting parents not to send their children there.

“There is a kind of hysteria spreading that is not good because so many of our beloved children live there,” said Venu Madhav, a relative of Srinivas Kuchibhotla, the young software engineer fatally shot Wednesday night. “Such hatred is not good for people.” [Continue reading…]

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Donald Trump’s plan to boost the Indian economy

As the Trump administration seems inclined to gut the H-1B visa program, the Washington Post reports: The H-1B program provides American companies with cheap, temporary contractors who often work longer hours than Americans and take on the monotonous programming jobs Americans scorn. Proponents of the program argue that foreign workers increase innovation at American companies as well as contribute to local economies. A few Indians who came on work visas have even gone on to become heads of important American companies.

Meanwhile, India’s growth as a global tech hub has been hampered as tens of thousands of workers have left.

Over the past decade, though, cities like Hyderabad and Bangalore have slowly but surely gained prominence. At first, Hyderabad was mostly a base for outsourcing companies servicing American clients, but now it is home to the biggest offices of Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook outside the United States. Amazon, Dell, Uber and others have major operations there. All have huge campuses in a part of the city officially known as Cyberabad.

Cyberabad’s existence is the result of investments in education and infrastructure made by N. Chandrababu Naidu, the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, where Hyderabad was located until the state was bifurcated in 2014. A network of dozens of information-technology institutes trained a generation of engineers and software developers to work back-end jobs for American companies.

For that generation, getting an H-1B was the holy grail. Even though the work in America could be dull, being there provided a chance to engage with an invigorating culture of innovation that just wasn’t present in India yet. And of course, working abroad meant a huge increase in income and prestige.

But the H-1B cap meant that the bulk of Indian tech workers stayed back. The current cap — not just from India — is 65,000, plus another 20,000 who have graduated from American universities with advanced degrees, down from almost double that at the beginning of the 2000s.

Among those who do get the visas, most ultimately return to settle and work in India. In Hyderabad, many of those returnees are confident that their city can compete with Silicon Valley for India’s brightest young minds.

K.T. Rama Rao, the son of the current chief minister, was one of them. Now he’s the minister for information technology in his father’s government. He pointed to Apple as an example of how Hyderabad could absorb the thousands of workers in a potential future with far fewer H-1Bs — or without them altogether.

“Apple is already moving their maps division here, and they’re doing that because we’re producing more G.I.S. talent than anyone else in the world,” he claimed in an interview, referring to geographic information systems. “Ideally, a president of the United States would have a balanced perspective on business, but if he wants tech firms to stay, he should create better job readiness in the U.S.”

Rao said that legislation targeting big Indian outsourcing companies would wean them away from their dependency on servicing American companies. Without the visa program, they would have to engage in new lines of work that created value in Hyderabad and not abroad, he said. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. urges India and Pakistan to refrain from making nuclear threats

Dawn reports: The United States reminded India and Pakistan on Thursday that nuclear capable states do not threaten to use atomic weapons in any conflict.

The US government also categorically said that it considered the Sept 18 attack on an Indian military facility in Uri a terrorist attack.

The warning to avoid a nuclear conflict followed reports in the international media that both Indian and Pakistani governments had intensified their rhetoric and hinted at the possibility of nuclear military actions against each other.

“Nuclear-capable states have the responsibility to exercise restraint regarding nuclear weapons and missile capabilities,” a spokesperson for the US State Department told Dawn when asked to comment on these reports. [Continue reading…]

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