Global News Journal

Beyond the World news headlines

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Anyone here been to Pakistan and speaks English?

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cricket  refugeeU.S. Vice President Joe Biden made a rather odd comment during his visit to Pakistan this week.  "We want what you want: a strong, stable, democratic Pakistan," he told a news conference, according to the Washington Post.  "We wish your success because it's in our own interest." 

It was  not that he was wrong to deny accusations that the United States is out to destabilise Pakistan - a conspiracy theory fuelled by confusion over U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, which to many Pakistanis seems so irrational that they assume there must be a darker plan behind it. Nor that he was wrong to promote democracy -- although the United States has had a track record of backing military rulers in Pakistan when it suits them.

It was more in the choice of language -- not necessarily Biden's strong point. It left you wondering which audience he was appealing to when he said, "we want what you want".

To popular sentiment, which at the moment is running high? But it is not about the need for democracy, but about defending the honour of the prophet Mohammed against perceived western-driven attempts to amend provisions in the Pakistan Penal Code imposing the death penalty for anyone believed to have insulted him.  Religious parties have been able to bring thousands out into the streets to defend Pakistan's so-called blasphemy laws, after the murder of Punjab governor Salman Taseer by his own security guard over his opposition to these legal provisions.

from Reuters Investigates:

Vietnam’s Capitalist Roaders

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A woman dressed in the traditional Vietnamese "ao dai"costume serves tea to Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung (front R) during the opening ceremony of the 11th Party Congress in Hanoi January 12, 2011

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Vietnam's ruling communists  opened an eight-day party congress on Wednesday with a candid  admission the fast-growing economy had become unstable, as  delegates began the process of reshuffling leaders and  charting new policies. 
   As leaders sang the national anthem to begin the  five-yearly event, streets in the chilly capital Hanoi were  festooned with red and yellow banners, some bearing the iconic  hammer and sickle. Propaganda posters bore the smiling  likeness of revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh or of proud,  uniformed workers. 
   The economic backdrop is less festive. Inflation surged to  a 22-month high in December, the government is struggling to  bring down a hefty fiscal deficit, the currency has been  depreciating for three years and the trade deficit remains  stubbornly high.  

from Environment Forum:

Food for thought

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USA/Feeling hungry? Maybe that's because of all the news, from around the world, about food today -- how much people produce, how much more they need, how much it's going to cost, how much of an effect it will have on climate change, and vice versa.

Starting in Washington, the U.S. Agriculture Department reported that American stockpiles of corn and soybeans will shrink to surprisingly low levels this year, which sent grain prices soaring to 30-month highs. Bad weather in places like Australia and rising world demand led by China are partly responsible for cutting crop inventories around the globe.

from Tales from the Trail:

Clinton jokes about Yemen stumble

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Call it the Trip.

USA-YEMEN/Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, wrapping up a high-stakes trip to Yemen to discuss counter-terrorism cooperation on Wednesday, stumbled briefly upon re-entering her airplane. Clinton was unhurt and newswise it was a non-event -- except that it was captured by television cameras.

Clinton's video misstep ended up going out on YouTube and became a minor Internet sensation, prompting snarky headlines from some of the world's headline writers ("Unexpected trip on Clinton plane!" joked one).

from Afghan Journal:

Is the tide turning in southern Afghanistan ?

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The American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for the Study of War  has a new report out that says rather unequivocally that the United States is starting to turn the war around in southern Afghanistan following the surge. Since the deployment of U.S. Marines to Helmand in 2009 and the launch of an offensive there followed by operations in Kandahar, the Taliban has effectively lost all its main safe havens in the region, authors Frederick  W. Kagan and Kimberly Kagan argue.  

The Taliban assassination squad in Kandahar has ben dismantled, the insurgents' ability to acquire, transport and use IED materials and other weapons has been disrupted, and narcotics facilitators and financiers who link the drug market to the insurgency have been aggressively targeted.  Above all,  NATO and Afghan forces continue to  hold all the areas they have cleared in the two provinces, arguably the heart of the insurgency, which is a significant departure from the past.

from Photographers' Blog:

How did the Haiti earthquake affect you?

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A year after the Haiti earthquake killed about 250,000 people and left more than a million homeless, a major multimedia documentary by Thomson Reuters Foundation takes viewers to the streets and tent cities of the shattered capital.

From the homeless schoolgirl who studies science by candlelight to the doctor who built a makeshift operating theatre in the ruins of a hospital, One Day in Port-au-Prince tells stories of resilience, ingenuity and courage.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan and the taboo of secularism

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graveFor everyone trying to understand the implications of Salman Taseer's assassination, this essay from 2007 is good place to start (h/t Abu Muqawama).  "The Politics of God" is about why Europe decided, after years of warfare over the correct interpretation of Christianity, to separate church and state.  But it is also relevant to Pakistan, where the killing of the Punjab governor over his opposition to the country's blasphemy laws has shown that what was left of Pakistani secularism, is, if not dead, at least in intensive care.

Read the opening paragraph to understand why it resonates:

"For more than two centuries, from the American and French Revolutions to the collapse of Soviet Communism, world politics revolved around eminently political problems. War and revolution, class and social justice, race and national identity — these were the questions that divided us. Today, we have progressed to the point where our problems again resemble those of the 16th century, as we find ourselves entangled in conflicts over competing revelations, dogmatic purity and divine duty. We in the West are disturbed and confused. Though we have our own fundamentalists, we find it incomprehensible that theological ideas still stir up messianic passions, leaving societies in ruin. We had assumed this was no longer possible, that human beings had learned to separate religious questions from political ones, that fanaticism was dead. We were wrong."

from Afghan Journal:

Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and the enemy within

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m1Steve Coll, the president of the New America Foundation and a South Asia expert, has raised the issue of the safety of Pakistan's nuclear weapons in the wake of the assassination of the governor of most populous Punjab state by one of his bodyguards. It's a question that comes up each time Pakistan is faced with a crisis whether it a major act of violence such as this or a political/economic meltdown or a sudden escalation of tensions with India obviously, but also the United States.

Pakistan's security establishment bristles at suggestions that it could be any less responsible than other states in defending its nuclear arsenal, and its leaders and experts have repeatedly said that the professional army is the ultimate guardian of its strategic assets.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

In Pakistan, a death foretold

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taseerIn one of the more anguished posts about the murder of provincial governor Salman Taseer, Pakistani blogger Huma Imtiaz wrote that his assassination "is not the beginning of the end. This is the end. There is no going back from here, there is no miracle cure, there is no magic wand that will one day make everything better. Saying 'enough is enough' does not cut it anymore ..."

It was a sense that permeated much of the English-language commentary about Taseer's killing in Islamabad by one of his own security guards. Interior Minister Rehman Malik said Taseer, governor of Punjab province and a leading politician in the ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP), was killed because of his opposition to Pakistan's blasphemy laws.  A sense that the forces of religious intolerance are becoming all but unstoppable; and that those who oppose them by promoting a more liberal vision of Pakistan occupy an ever diminishing space.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

In India-Iran oil spat, nuclear row trumps Afghan war

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khatamiNot too long ago, you could have predicted relatively easily how regional rivalries would play out in Afghanistan.  Saudi Arabia would line up alongside Pakistan while Iran and India would coordinate their policies to curb the influence of their main regional rivals. 

But that pattern has been shifting for a while -- the row over Indian oil payments to Iran is if anything a continuation of that shift rather than a dramatic new departure in global diplomacy.  And as two foreign policy crises converge, over Iran's nuclear programme and the war in Afghanistan, the chances are that those traditional alliances will be dented further. It is no longer a safe bet to assume that rivalry between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shi'ite Iran will fit neatly into Pakistan-India hostility so that the four countries fall easily into two opposing camps come any final showdown over Afghanistan.

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