Friday, October 1, 2010


Resurgence of polio

The challenges facing Pakistan’s anti-polio campaign are many – difficulties in outreach, war, refusal of the vaccine, and now the floods – and in that context the emergence of 59 cases of the disease should be seen as a setback for the country’s efforts to rid itself of this debilitating disease. In 2005, 28 cases were reported and since then the numbers have hovered in the double-digit range. As expected, the disease has resurfaced in the country’s northwest, in Fata and parts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa to be precise, with dozens of children reported to be suffering from it. Though polio drives have recently been launched in different provinces in the past week, many children have been missed. An estimated 100,000 children were missed in Bara because of the military operation while the health department said that 23,000 children from Upper Swat would not be inoculated because the floods had weakened communication systems and road links. In addition to this, these regions have suffered because of the influence of extremists who have fought concerted campaigns against the polio vaccination programme.
For instance, the people, especially children, of Swat suffered immensely because for two or so years when the district was under the virtual control of the Taliban, their leader Mullah Fazlullah’s carried out a rabid – and effective – smear campaign against the vaccination drive warning all his followers that it was an American/Zionist plan to make the local people sterile. One positive outcome of the floods, however, is that children in the relief camps, who are not traditionally covered by health workers because of limited outreach, have been inoculated. The people in the region have been hit hard by the floods and by militancy are already prone to disease, especially those who were displaced recently by the floods. Road links must be rebuilt as soon as possible so that life-saving schemes such as these can go ahead.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 30th, 2010

Ben-Gurion’s legacy on Jerusalem under assault


A response to former prime minister Ehud Olmert from a former Israeli ambassador to the UN. Today, he says, Israel must reestablish that red line.

Right after the War of Independence, prime minister David Ben-Gurion faced inexorably difficult pressures over the future of Jerusalem.

The UN planned to press its case for internationalization. Its grounds were General Assembly Resolution 181, adopted in 1947 and known as the partition plan, which not only advocated the establishment of Jewish and Arab states in former British Mandatory Palestine, but also recommended putting Jerusalem under UN control as a corpus separatum, or separate entity.

True, the resolution was not legally binding; it had been forcibly rejected by the Arab states. Moreover, the UN never established the special regime for Jerusalem that it proposed. In fact, it failed to dispatch any forces to save the Old City when reports streamed in that its ancient synagogues were being systematically destroyed. Nevertheless, even after the war ended, leading diplomatic players in the UN, including the US government, came back and insisted on resurrecting the idea of international control.

Ben-Gurion stood in the Knesset on December 5, 1949 and, in no uncertain terms, rejected the demand for internationalization. He looked back at what had happened during the War of Independence, explaining that the UN “did not lift a finger” when invading Arab armies tried to destroy the holy city. It was only because of the efforts of the newly created IDF that the siege of Jerusalem had been lifted and the rest of its Jewish population saved. Ben-Gurion declared that Israel no longer viewed Resolution 181 as having any further “moral force” with regard to Jerusalem.

Four days later the General Assembly responded, again insisting that Jerusalem “should be placed under a permanent international regime.”

Ben-Gurion nonetheless stood his ground and declared on December 13, 1949 that the Knesset and the rest of the government would be transferred from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

LOOKING BACK 60 years, internationalization was a complete failure. And yet it now appears it is coming back.

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert has put forward a proposal in this paper (“The terms for an accord,” September 24) for the Old City of Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount and the Western Wall, in which this area will be overseen by “an international trusteeship.”

According to Olmert, Israel would be expected to renounce its sovereignty over the holiest sites of the Jewish people, like the Temple Mount and the Western Wall, located in an area called “the Holy Basin” by negotiators in the past, and which extends beyond the Old City to the ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives.

How is it that an idea which spelled disaster to the country’s founders can suddenly be put back on the political agenda? What happened? Does this readiness come from a sense that with the reunification of Jerusalem as a result of the 1967 Six Day War, Israel has less right to sovereignty there than it did in 1949? Such a view has no basis.

The Jewish people had restored their majority in the Old City already in 1863, according to the British consulate at the time – well before any other place in modern Israel. And after 1967, international lawyers such as like Stephen Schwebel, who would become president of the International Court of Justice in The Hague, pointed to the fact that while Jordan occupied east Jerusalem after a war of aggression in 1948, Israel captured the very same areas in a war of self-defense, and as a result its title was stronger than that of other claimants at the time.

Moreover, by its actions since 1967, Israel has proven that it was the first protector of Jerusalem to truly defend the interests of all three monotheistic faiths.

Perhaps some of its political elites have forgotten what was axiomatic for Abba Eban and Chaim Herzog, but that does not diminish its historical rights.

It could be that today there is a naive belief that internationalization might work, since the UN in 2010 will be better than the UN in 1948. But there is no basis for such a conclusion. In the past 20 years, international oversight of areas of conflict has ended with one disaster after another. In 1994, a UN force in Rwanda, made up of mostly Belgian paratroopers deployed to oversee implementation of the Arusha Peace Accord, withdrew and abandoned the Tutsi tribe to acts of genocide by Hutu supremists. The UN Security Council delayed any effective action to stop the killing, which resulted in 800,000 deaths.

A year later, UN peacekeepers in Bosnia abandoned the Muslims they were supposed to protect in the town of Srebrenica. As a result, the Bosnian Serb army slaughtered more than 8,000 innocent people.

Since 2003, the UN has been unable to take decisive action and put an end to the genocide in Darfur by the Sudanese regime, given the interests of the Arab states and the Chinese. Multilateral machinery, whether based on the UN or on a consortium of states, remains notoriously slow.

In short, there is no recent international development that might lead one to believe that “an international trust,” rather than Israel, might actually work and protect Jerusalem.

How is it possible to explain the difference between Ben-Gurion and the leaders who put forward from time to time the idea of internationalization? Israel at the time of Ben-Gurion was actually much weaker than it is today; its population in 1948 was a little more than 800,000. But it had something which unfortunately has been lacking in many who would renounce its sovereignty over the Old City: Israel in 1948 had a deep conviction in the justice of its cause – a rare commodity today in many influential circles.

Those putting forward the idea of internationalization are completely divorced from the sentiments of the people. Poll after poll in the past decade indicate that Israelis are not prepared to concede Jerusalem, and especially the holy sites of the Jewish people.

The problem is that when one of Israel’s leaders suggests that the Old City be put under an international regime, international diplomats begin to think the government may entertain such proposals. Ben-Gurion was able to stand up to the UN General Assembly in 1949 because the world understood that Jerusalem represented a red line from which neither he nor any other representative of Israel was prepared to retreat.

Today, Israel must reestablish that red line clearly, for the impression left by these proposals badly weakens its ability to defend itself. They imply that it has lost its will and might be prepared to concede what has been – and will remain – one of the identifying core values defining the identity of the Jewish people.

The writer served as ambassador to the United Nations between 1997 and 1999 and as foreign polcicy advisor to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu during his first term. He is the author of The Fight for Jerusalem (Regnery: 2007).


UAE advancing camel breeding research and technology



With camels fetching million dollar price tags, research centers making breeding, cloning advances with prize camels.

The United Arab Emirates has risen to the vanguard of camel breeding technology, AFP reported on Thursday. According to the report, embryo transfers and cloning techniques normally seen in the world of horse breeding are being advanced at the world's most advanced camel research centers, located in the UAE.

The Veterinary Research Center in Abu Dhabi, the only commercial center to perform embryo transfers on camels, employs four veterinarians, eight technicians, and is home to 1,500 camels, according to the AFP report.

Another advanced camel research center, the Camel Reproduction Center in Dubai, is only for research purposes and is home to 150 camels, AFP reported. The Dubai research center participated in the world's first successful cloning of a camel in 2009, and produced a camel-llama hybrid, called a "cama", said the report.

The gestation period for a camel is 13 months, so breeding the most sought-after camels would normally only produce one baby every two years. By using surrogate mother-camels, the center is able to increase the number of prized camels produced twenty-fold, the center told the AFP.

With racing camels bringing million dollar price tags, such a breakthrough in breeding technology could prove quite lucrative. According to the AFP report, at recent camel auction near Abu Dhabi, one man purchased three camels for over six million dollars.

Another possible motive for cloning and controlling the breeding of prized camels is for use in camel beauty contests. Such contests, popular in the Emirates, might prove to be a driving factor in advances for camel cloning and breeding research at the UAE based camel centers.


IMF seeks illiterate Pak

September 24, 2010

THE countrywide protests by public sector universities reflect the extent to which the government and its IMF-thrust economic managers are prepared to destroy the quality of life for most Pakistanis by depriving them of higher education. For the members of the Federation of All Pakistan University Academic Staff Associations (FAPUASA) calling for a strike is no easy move and such calls may backfire. However, the unanimity of the present protest shows how threatened these public sector universities feel.
Nor are they wrong. A statement issued by the IMF-approved Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, Dr Haq declared rather imperiously that the country was facing a budgetary crunch and therefore development allocations had to be cut. Now if he was actually concerned about the future of Pakistan and not desperate to make it a country where only the rich under an exploitative capitalist system survive and thrive, he would have advocated cuts on bureaucratic expenditures and total cuts in the exorbitant salaries the state is dishing out to the likes of him and Hafeez Shaikh. Again cuts need to be made in the salaries of elected representatives and other similar non-developmental expenditures. But that will not achieve the desired negative results in society the IMF seeks under a US-dictated agenda for this country.

It was only recently, under Dr Ata, that qualified teachers from the public sector stayed there instead of moving to the more lucrative private sector – because the Tenure Track system with proper remunerations was introduced. It is too bad that a democratic government is seeking to undermine higher education in the country. As for the cabinet decision to release funds for students already studying abroad on scholarships, this is not enough because where will these be accommodated in the education sector when they come back? Also, it is not merely an issue of paying the scholarships, but of keeping the universities functional and updated in terms of teaching and research. 

With all their drawbacks, some of the public sector universities like QAU still command respect abroad and do provide a good education to students from across the country, especially the underprivileged. The cuts levied by the Shaikh-Haq duo should be rejected and instead these overly-paid technocrats should be removed and their salaries donated to higher education along with other cuts from other non-productive sectors like the bureaucracy and elected representatives. 

The latter, as per their assets declarations, are sufficiently well-off to work free for their country. Public sector universities would also be less easy targets if the civil and military bureaucracies were compelled to send their children to these institutions for higher studies.


US Muslims at the crossroads

By Mowahid Hussain Shah
September 30, 2010

In an environment of non-stop pressures on Muslims in the US, a realisation is slowly dawning that something has to be done about it. The question is how. On that, opinions differ. Although US Muslims are economically able to make a living, their political judgments and strategic skills remain less than satisfactory.

Some of the notables in the Muslim community recently undertook a bold initiative to brainstorm ideas, through the medium of a town hall meeting in the Washington area. The participants were well educated and professionally accomplished. Yet, when I asked the question: “How many had read the newspaper that day?”, only six hands were raised out of a gathering of nearly 100. The minimal heavy-lifting required to get the job done is not yet there.

While there is a desire to see victories, there may not be a similar willingness to pay the price. Noticed was the modest attendance of young American Muslims, which reveals the disconnect and disparity between elders and youth.

One of the discussants showed his impatience at the US Muslim community for constantly apologising for 9/11. His message resonated because he had lost his nephew and niece in the 9/11 attacks.

A Muslim lady pointed fingers at affluent sectors of the Muslim community that had lavishly funded and feted US politicians over the years who, when it mattered, maintained silence over the mistreatment of Muslims.

Concerns were expressed over why, after so many years, so many Muslims remain invisible on the national stage and are not being proactive.

On the positive side, an elderly Pakistani couple was considering instituting an annual prize of $5,000 dollars to be offered to the youth for writing an essay on the achievements of Muslim heroes.

Toward the end, an argument was made by this writer that perhaps the sheer weight of unjust pressures on the Muslim community may spark the momentum for a re-awakening.

Relevant here is the accuracy of diagnosis. Many are prone to rely on the approach of presenting Islam as a “moderate faith”, or as a “religion of peace”, or an issue of misperception, which can be corrected by conveying more information. But the issue may not be quite as simple as that.

More accurately, it is a matter of being empowered. Muslim weaknesses, internal squabbles, and disunity of purpose invite targeted attacks. It is in the human condition that those perceived as weak are often bullied.

When the Christians were weak in Rome, they were fed to the lions, not too far from where the Vatican is currently headquartered.

Too many in the Western Muslim community are inclined to go into an ostrich-like denial and remain bystanders. Historical record shows that the brunt of the collateral damage is borne by the bystanders.

The unresolved conflicts in the Mideast/Southwest Asia and the threat of force hovering over Iran shall ensure that US Muslims remain in the eye of the storm.

While disquiet about Muslims is a generic problem across the Western world, the turn it takes shall be greatly influenced by what occurs in the US.

Accelerating events are showing that American Muslims may be reaching the crossroads of choices. Either they have to handle their challenges with courage or remain paralysed by fear. But to follow the straight path, more than six out of 100 have to stay properly informed.

The writer is a barrister and a senior columnist.