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Children of Taliban

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and journalist who has been working in Pakistan and Afghanistan documenting the rise of the Taliban and other radical factions since 2001. She is working on a pilot project to counter radicalization in Pakistan and is writing her first book. TED, a nonprofit organization devoted to “Ideas Worth Spreading,” hosts talks on many subjects and makes them available through its website.

Source: Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy: Inside a school for suicide bombers

Sharmeen speaks at a TED event about the dynamics of the suicide bombers and terrorism with a different perspective.

Sharmeen’s full interview with CNN is here.

The Taliban are running suicide schools inside Pakistan, preparing a generation of boys for atrocities against civilians.In my documentary on the subject, “Children of the Taliban,” I came across the cases of many young men who were committed to giving up their lives for what they believed to be the glory of Islam. Fifteen-year-old Zainullah blew himself up, killing six people. Another boy, Sadiq, killed 22 and Masood killed 28.

Since more than 60 percent of the population of Pakistan is under age 25, it seems there will always be a steady supply of recruits waiting to create havoc in the country.The Tehreek-i-Taliban and the various extremist organizations that have been allowed to fester across the country have now joined hands, increasing the reach of their network, sharing recruits, plans, training centers, materials and safe houses.

It was only a matter of time before this would happen, since the Pakistani government’s flawed policy of fighting “Bad Taliban” –those who carry out attacks inside Pakistan — and turning a blind eye to “Good Taliban” — those who carry out attacks outside Pakistan — was bound to come back and haunt them and it has.

Since 2003, the number of suicide bombings has grown exponentially across Pakistan. In 2009, 78 attacks occurred across the country; this year more than 29 attacks have taken place. The Tehreek-i-Taliban is boasting that they have an army of suicide bombers waiting in the ranks to carry out more attacks at their command — and I believe them.

This is no ragtag army fighting in the mountains of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, until recently called the Northwest Frontier Province. These people have a vision, are well trained and their recruitment process is tried and tested.

In urban centers, the Taliban recruit from two fronts, Islamic madrassas and low-income neighborhoods. They have a network of sympathizers who run radical Islamic schools, providing free education to the very poor. Typically, older Taliban fighters or recruiters spend an evening at one of these schools, glorifying the front lines, showing students videos of their heroics, and talking to them about paradise and the afterlife.The students they address have already been primed by years of brainwashing; they have no access to entertainment, sports, books or even their family. The madrassa is the only home they know, they are often beaten by their teachers, told to study the Koran for hours at a stretch in Arabic, a language alien to them. They are frustrated and suddenly, they are provided with an opportunity to give their life up in the name of Islam and earn glory.

They are promised lakes of milk and honey and virgins in the afterlife. The young boys I speak with say to me: Why would I want to live in this world — where they rely on charity, dry pieces of bread and water, where they are subjected to harsh treatment, when they can be free and be the envy of their colleagues in the afterlife. They are only too eager to sign on the dotted line and join the ranks of the Taliban.

In the past few years, the Taliban have relied on other radical organizations, like Jaish-e Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, to recruit young men from low-income neighborhoods in smaller urban centers.

These organizations have had a presence there for years; first they recruited young men to fight in Afghanistan against the Soviets, then in Kashmir against the Indian Army. The Taliban have just re-activated these lucrative networks.

Smaller urban centers tend to have high levels of unemployment and the youth have fewer outlets to expend their energy. These radical organizations lure in young men from mosques after Friday sermons, from college campuses and through local neighborhood recruiters.

The young men who show slight interest are invited to selected safe houses where trained recruiters begin brainwashing them. A young man I met in Karachi described the process to me, telling me that in the end he could not carry out the attacks, but that almost everyone he knew from his group was now working for the Taliban and their affiliates.

Once inside the safe house, the young men are provided literature, so-called proof, about the atrocities supposedly being committed by the government of Pakistan at the behest of the United States.

Then, lengthy discussions ensue about their future. Will they ever have jobs, will they be able to provide for their families in this corrupt environment? Would they not want to be part of a process that changes the country and brings accountability? They are promised money, their families are promised compensation and the radical organizations then begin the next phase — training.

A number of young men who had gone through this ideological brainwashing period told me that training to be a bomber was their best option to get out of poverty. They said that they believe in the cause, because these people understood their needs, and provided them with opportunities, while the rest of society shunned them. Weeks of brainwashing also convinced them that they are fighting an evil and are working toward creating a just ideal Islamic society.

There is very little deterrent to suicide bombings, especially in a Third World country like Pakistan. Fighting the Taliban and the various radical organizations on the front lines is like adding a Band-Aid to a cut, it may stop the bleeding but unless you clean it with antiseptic, the germs stay and multiply.

The Pakistani government and its allies must overhaul their policies in Pakistan. They must tackle the madrassa system of education head on and they must look to provide alternate avenues and employment for the youth.

Thousands of civilians have lost their lives to terrorist attacks inside Pakistan, and thousands more will — because, unlike the Pakistani government, which has no coherent policy to deal with the radicals, the Taliban have one to deal with Pakistan and its citizens.

Source: CNN.com

As Sharmeen truly points out, its a lot of socio-economic variables as play. Raw power cannot succeed at rooting out terrorism and this has been proved by the experience of US and allied forces not being able to root out Taliban from Afghanistan. In fact leveraging religious fanaticism, Taliban is gaining grounds elsewhere in various forms and formats. Be it in developing nations like India through organizations like LeT (or by any other name) or in nations like Yemen where religious belief as well as internal instability fuel its growth.

So while our security forces battle it out with terrorists, government and other development agencies need to figure out more inclusive growth policies. The sooner the better.



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BP (mis)handles Gulf of Mexico Oil Spew

Beyond Petroleum?

The recent industrial accident in the Gulf of Mexico due to the oil well rupture from the British Petroleum (BP) has raised global cries against the petroleum giant and it’s claim of acting to contain the damage. While BP has gone on a PR war to contain the damage to it’s image, gulf residents and environmentalists are up in arms to take the fight to BP’s door.

Not many would remember the 2007, exit of the then BP CEO, Lord John Browne, who was removed owing to his sexual preferences and private life being exposed. Jeffrey Sonnenfeld in BusinessWeek had written an article which claimed to bring out “the real scandal at BP“. The article leveled a wide array of charges against BP ranging from PR misadventures to wrong business decisions being made by the BP boss.

Browne himself set the bar high. In addition to acquiring Amoco and Arco, he launched BP’s $200 million image campaign with the tagline that BP stands for “Beyond Petroleum”–embodying principles such as “delivering performance without tradeoffs” in areas ranging from worker safety to the environment. But two years ago, examining actual expenditures in alternative energy, Greenpeace gave Browne an award for the “Best Impression of an Environmentalist.”

Source: businessweek.com

The reason Browne’s memory comes to forth is the recent incident where environmental concerns and PR mismanagement are visible.

Demonstrators claim that the Worldwide BP Protest Day will be marked in over 50 cities in 5 continents on Saturday, June 12, 2010. Protesters are using any and every mode of communication possible. Social media and networking sites are flooded by such communities. The worst thing for BP is the fact that such protests are getting a lot of support.

  • The Facebook Worldwide BP Protest Day page
  • The CODEPINK protest page
  • Boycottbp.org
  • The Financial Times list top-10 online and offline protests:
  • 1 Million Strong Against Offshore Drilling: FB Page started by 350.org,the group is growing steadily with 135,000 fans and counting.
  • Boycott BP: Unquestionably the fastest-growing online movement, Boycott BP started as a Facebook group and is now expanding to multiple international websites. The group asks the public to boycott all BP stations including Castrol, Arco, Aral and AM/PM. The group’s followers have swelled to 450,000.
  • BPGlobalPR: The satirical Twitter feed @BPGlobalPR. (Latest one reads: “Having a conscience was definitely not in the job description when I took the position. ^Tony“)
  • Public Citizen arrest: On June 4 a coalition of nonprofit organizations gathered in Washington, D.C., to make a “citizen’s arrest” of an effigy of BP CEO Tony Hayward. The coalition is now calling for a three-month boycott of BP.
  • World BP Protest Day: June 12 will mark a worldwide protest of BP. Also being organized on Facebook, the group now has commitments for a march in 33 cities.
  • Code Pink: You have to love the brave and impassioned Code Pink Women for Peace.
  • Seize BP: The group wants the U.S. government to seize all of BP’s assets and use them to pay back the damages from the oil spill. Not likely, but they make their point!
  • Change.org’s full debarment plan: Change.org is asking to push the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to recommend a full “discretionary debarment” of BP, which means no more U.S. government contracts, no new leases in the U.S. and all existing leases canceled. The EPA was already investigating the possibility for debarment and it is expected the agency will open the issue to public comment in the near future.
  • Beyond Oil
  • Hands Across the Sand

Source: FinancialPost.com

It’s clear that BP had never expected as much public outcry on this issue. Now that it has muck flying from every corner, BP is going all out to control the damage, at least the BP damage. It’s home page is splashed with the damage control initiatives it has taken and is being updated constantly.

Politicians in US too are not behind. While they may be honest about their concerns or just trying to gain some political mileage but the fact remains that BP’s mismanagement and misrepresentation about the extent of damage have led to questions being raised on it’s integrity.

BP misrepresented what their technology could do,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday. “They misrepresented the amount of oil that was being spewed forth into the Gulf and continued to do so.”

This is a matter of integrity,” Pelosi said. “BP stated that they had the technology to drill deep, to prevent a blowout and that they had the technology to clean up, and none of these things happened to be a fact.”

Source: CNN.com

On one hand while the world is ready to go all out against the global petroleum gaint, billionaire and Mayor of the New York City stood by the company. In a statement on a radio show Bloomberg went on record to support BP.

“The guy that runs BP didn’t exactly go down there and blow up the well,” he told a radio program. “And what’s more, if you want them to fix it and they are the ones with the expertise, I think I might wait to assign blame until we get it fixed.”

Source: CNN.com

The British PM David Cameron too had similar sentiments which seemed to be fueled more by “economic” motives.

The prime minister explained that he was frustrated and concerned about the environmental damage caused by the leak, but made clear his view that BP is an economically important company in the UK, US and other countries,” the spokesman said in a news release.

He said that it is in everyone’s interests that BP continues to be a financially strong and stable company.”

Source: CNN.com

While officials, protesters and other interest groups are fighting a pitched battle, oil continues to leak. BP is taking measures to contain the damage but would it be enough?

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US and UK announce extra troop deployment in Afghanistan

NATO Soldier

It’s here and it’s real. The US President Barack Obama has finally let the cat out of his bag. He has announced the much awaited decision on troop numbers on Sunday night, a White House spokesman said. Though the formal plan in terms of troop numbers and other logistics will be announced on Tuesday, the current announcement confirms the earlier resolve by the US President, to “finish the job” in Afghanistan.

The Associated Press quoting White House spokesman Robert Gibbs reported, that Mr. Obama held an unannounced meeting on Sunday night with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Senior military officials have been informed about the decision and now the British, French and Russian leaders are being briefed about the plan.

Following his discussion with the Secretary of State, Obama briefed senior staff including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and National Security Adviser James Jones. He later held a videophone conference with the head of the US operation in Afghanistan, Gen Stanley McChrystal and Karl Eikenberry, the US ambassador to Afghanistan.

Talibani Militants

The US announcement comes close to the announcement of the British stand by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, where he committed to send 500 special force members to Afghanistan. Mr. Brown for the first time also revealed the role of special troops in Afghanistan. He said the British people had a right to know that the highly trained Special Forces are playing their full role not only in force protection but also combating the Taliban militants directly along with the regular forces.

US has around 70,000 troops in Afghanistan and may add around 30,000 more troops based on Gen McChrystal’s request who has asked for around 40,000 additional troops.


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Afghanistan: U.S. seeks additional 10,000 troops from allies


'Let come what may' : Obama will send 34,000 troops

US Forces in Afghanistan

The United States of America is trying to persuade its NATO partners to commit 10,000 additional troops for Afghanistan as part of President Obama’s strategy for the region. President Obama previously indicated a quick close to the Afghanistan war. A formal strategy on Afghanistan is expected to emerge by next week. Sources also reported possible addition U.S. troop deployment to the tune of 35,000 in 2010. U.S. has currently about 71,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan.

While U.S. is trying to get allies commitment on 10,000 troops reports suggest that the allies are willing to provide fewer than half that number. NATO allies are not ready to commit more resources due to the growing unpopularity of the Afghanistan war in their nations as well as concerns around charges of corruption on President Karzai’s government.

U.S administration is hoping to get NATO allies to commit forces to supplement the planned 40,000 troop deployment target. This would help reduce the criticism that the Obama administration is facing on troop deployment as well as ease the pressure on already stretched military forces.

Among NATO allies, Britain is already facing internal criticism and seems reluctant to add forces. The British government is facing a opinion poll that suggests that 70% people favor early withdrawal as the nation has already lost 97 soldiers in Afghanistan this year.

Germany and France are also shying away from any further commitments to the war. The support for war is now so low in the two European nations that they can reportedly, barely maintain current troop levels. Among other prominent partners, the Netherlands and Canada have already begun chalking out exit plans.

The only nations who seem committed to add forces are Poland, Italy and Georgia. Georgia is a NATO entry aspirant and is planning to add one company of troops in 2010. While the talks are on some military analysts seem skeptical about the idea of supplementing U.S. forces with small contingents from other nations. They suggest that this sort of an arrangement with mixed forces may not yield the results that a single force may be able to achieve. They believe that the forces of other nations are not as well matched as their U.S. counterparts in skills and ammunitions.

While the allies deliberate, U.S. will unveil its Afghanistan strategy on Tuesday. NATO foreign ministers are scheduled to meet in Brussels on the next Thursday and Friday to discuss Afghanistan though troop commitments are not likely to be discussed in detail before the upcoming so-called Force-generation Conference on Dec. 7, in Brussels.

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US tries to pacify an upset India over Chinese role in South Asia

India China HeadsPresident Obama on his visit to Asia has been a trend-changer on many accounts. In a zeal to “strengthen” tied with China, US seems to have stepped in the wrong alley. After US-China released a joint press statement making reference to Indo-Pakistani relations and sending message that U.S. is fine with the idea of a third party intervention in the talks between the two nations (India-Pakistan); officials of U.S. embassy in India, State and Foreign Department are now on an explanation spree.

India on Wednesday reacted sharply to the joint statement. India has always been very critical of any third party intervention in Indo-Pakistani relations especially related to Kashmir. It revives the memories of another US-China joint statement issued during the Bill Clinton regime on June 29, 1998. the 1998 statement was also considered “offensive” by India, scolding India and Pakistan for their nuclear tests. The statement had nearly broken up the talks between  the then U.S. Deputy Secy. of State, Strobe Talbott and Indian Foreign Minister, Jaswant Singh. Talbott had later discreetly apologized for the statement.

Timothy Roemer, the U.S. Ambassador to India, has been doing what seems to be an act of damage control in India after strong concerns voiced by India ahead of impending visit of Indian Prime Minister to U.S. next week.

India and the US will continue to work shoulder-to-shoulder, hand-in-hand and hour-by- hour to co-operate on combating terrorism,” Roemer said.

We are excited to have the prime minister visiting Washington,” Roemer said, adding that he was leaving for Washington on Thursday to prepare for the talks with Obama.

Roemer was also quick to point out the U.S. stand on relation with India that Obama has labelled as the “best and most important relationship to him and the people of the United States” before he (Roemer) came to India on his assignment.

Indian diplomats have meanwhile raised their concerns openly on the issue of third party intervention.

A third-country role cannot be envisaged nor is it necessary,” External Affairs Ministry spokesman Vishnu Prakash said. He made it clear that bilateral dialogue – and that too only when Pakistan stopped terror attacks being launched from its territory – was the only way forward with Pakistan.

Source: expressbuzz.com

The issue can become a major roadblock just before PM Manmohan Singh is scheduled to meet Obama. Washington seems to realize the repercussions of the statement and in what seems to be attempts to pacify sentiments after ruffling feathers in India, senior diplomats are on a firefighting mission.

Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Robert Blake, in a statement in Washington said that  the U.S. has always said, that it’s always upto India and Pakistan to decide how, when and the scope in terms of their bilateral relations.

I don’t think there needs to be any concern in India about what the President said in China. We have very important relations with China. But we have equally important relations with India.

And I think that will come out very clearly during the course of the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit next week,” he said.

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Transparency International releases Corruption Perceptions Index 2009


Corruption Perceptions Index-2009

Transparency International (TI), a Berlin based organization, which is a civil society organization and claims to be leading the fight against corruption, has released its annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) for the year 2009.

Corruption is the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. It hurts everyone whose life, livelihood or happiness depends on the integrity of people in a position of authority.

The organization releases this list every year which ranks nations on an index which is created as a function of various parameters to scale the level of corruption in a country. It measures the perceived level of public-sector corruption in 180 nations and territories around the world. As TI defines it: The CPI is a “survey of surveys“, based on 13 different expert and business surveys. Each nation undergoes a different number of surveys to get a final score. The scores are on a scale of 0-10 where 0 is perceived very corrupt and 10 as very clean. The score is based on perceptions of the degree of corruption as seen by business people and country analysts.

This year, Somalia (1.1) tops the list of most corrupt nations with Afghanistan (1.3) being a close second. Iraq is at 5th spot with a score of 1.5.

As TI’s Head, Huguette Labelle put it, the 2009 corruption list is “of great concern,” since most of the nations have a score of under 5. Out of 180 nations featuring in the survey only 48 have a score of above 5. Most of the nations that ranked high on corruption include some of the most poor and war torn nations.

The international community must find efficient ways to help war-torn countries to develop and sustain their own institutions,” said TI’s head Huguette Labelle.

Afghanistan slid from a score of 1.5 in 2008 to 1.3 this year, which is bound to fuel the attack on President Hamid Karzai whose election and re-election was clouded with allegation of rampant fraud. Earlier on this Monday the Afghan government announced steps that included forming a major crime unit to tackle corruption. This moved has been seen as a move designed to assuage Western concerns about Karzai.

Among the group of 7 most rich nations Italy’s ranking took a beating with it sliding to 63rd position from last year’s 55th spot. Some of the nations which made marked improvement are Liberia (97th from 138 last year) and Gambia (106th from earlier 158th). The United States of America while improving its score from 7.3 to 7.5, slid one spot on the rank to 19th. China has a stable score of 3.6 but slid seven places on the ranks to 79th. Brazil (3.7) shared the 75th spot with Columbia, Peru and Surinam while another BRIC nation, Russia (2.2) was ranked very low at 146th. India (3.4) ranked at a joint 84th spot with four other nations including Thailand.

The top-5 nations on the list are: New Zealand (9.4), Denmark (9.3), Singapore (9.2), Sweden (9.2) and Switzerland (9.0). Canada (8.7)is ranked at a joint 8th with Australia and Iceland.

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China says yes to free markets, no to free currency regime

President Barack Obama on his tour to China has approached a very cautious approach. While raising issues of contention between the two nations, he has been subtle in his own right. He agreed to the importance of a stronger China while in a way also asking China to share the burden of being a regional leader.

President Obama today urged Chinese President, Hu Jintao to allow his nation’s currency, Yuan to rise in value following strains over trade between the two economic giants.

US Dollar-Chinese Yuan

Mr. Obama while speaking after a summit in Beijing, made the U.S. expectations public. While voicing the U.S. expectation, that China will let its currency resume its climb against the dollar soon, the U.S. President was cautious to stop short of raising concerns that China is keeping its currency artificially low to boost exports.

He said: “I was pleased to note the Chinese commitment, made in past statements, to move toward a more market-oriented exchange rate over time.

Such action would be welcome in the United States and elsewhere, he hinted: “Doing so based on economic fundamentals would make an essential contribution to the global rebalancing effort.

The Chinese government keeps a tight leash on it’s currency exchange rates. The rates for Yuan (CNY) have moved in a narrow range of 6.78 (August 27′ 09) to 6.86 (July 23′ 09) against the USD, which provides immense trade benefit to Chinese exporters.

With the unemployment rate peaking at a 10.2% level, Obama is also under pressure to ensure protection of domestic industries against Chinese onslaught.

The Chinese President while avoiding any direct reference to the currency issue, conveyed Beijing’s displeasure in a camouflaged fashion at new US tariffs imposed on Chinese-made products including tyres, steel pipes among others.

He said that they needed to “oppose and reject protectionism in all its manifestations” and both sides would need continued “consultations on an equal footing to properly resolve economic and trade frictions“.

The U.S. President is also set to meet the Chinese PM Wen Jiabao, tomorrow where he is likely to discuss the issue of allowing Yuan to appreciate against the US Dollar. IMF MD, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, also raised similar sentiments today in Beijing when he said that a stronger Yuan would be in the interests of China and the world.

Industry analysts also feel that Yuan should be let to move in lines with the forces of demand and supply, a belief which is very unlikely to be echoed in any fashion by the Communist regime in Beijing.

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