AGENDA 

 Iran quits nuclear talks

Dec. 13, 2013: The Iranian delegation has withdrawn from nucler negotiations on Friday, blaming the USA for a breach of the commitment made last month by expanding blacklist of companies as part of the sanction against the Islamic Republic.

Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi said the US move went against the spirit of the deal struck in Geneva under which the powers undertook to impose no further sanctions for six months. He added, "We're weighing the appropriate response."

Under the deal (see next story), Iran promised to freeze parts of its nuclear programme for six months in return for some $7 billion in relief from Western sanctions pending to the conclusion of a final deal that would censor Tehran's ability to develop weapon grade materials. 

A spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said both sides had headed home for consultations and that she expected the talks to resume soon.

As the Iranian delegation headed home, Araqchi said, "America's move is against the spirit of the Geneva deal."

On Thursday, Iranian negotiators quit the four-day-long implementation talks after Washington blacklisted a dozen companies and individuals for evading US sanctions.

US pivotal to Iran nuclear deal  

GENEVA, November 23, 2013: After years of arduous negotiations, an agreement was signed in Geneva on Sunday to freeze Iran’s nuclear program for six months in return for offering limited relief to Tehran from crippling economic sanctions. 

The deal was made possible by relentless efforts by the Obama administration and the US Secretary of State, John Kerry (above).

Signed between six world powers and Iran, the deal will reduced tension in the Persian Gulf region and help solidify global peace at a time when the global economy is desperately seeking to recover from lingering doldrums and the prospect of a war between Israel and Iran seemed unavoidable.

If the interim deal holds, the parties will negotiate a final agreement to ensure Iran does not build nuclear arsenals.

Both the French and the Iranian foreign ministers acknowledged to having concluded a deal. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said, “Yes, we have a deal.”  French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius too said, “Yes” and gave a thumbs-up sign to the waiting media representatives in his hotel lobby.

Bangladesh PM faces ICC probing for alleged crimes against humanity 

M. Shahid Islam

Under the dark shadow: Renown for constant deceit and ordering  secret assassination of political and personal opponents,  Bangladesh Prime Minister Skeikh Hasina now faces war crimes investigation from the International Criminal Court.

July 2, 2013: The International Criminal Court (ICC) has acknowledged receipt of a complaint against Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina -- and a handful of others under her command-- to launch an investigation into the alleged commission of crimes against humanity within Bangladesh’s geographical boundaries.

M.P. Dilon, head of the information and evidence unit of the ICC’s office of the prosecutors, confirmed having received the complaint and stated that the ICC would give consideration to the complaint “in accordance with the provisions of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.”

Filed by the Washington based law office of Martin F. McMahon & Associates on behalf of Counsel for Human Rights and Development for Bangladesh, and, Bangladeshi Americans in Greater Washington DC, the complaint was indexed in the ICC’s registry as OTP-CR-214/13.

Why ICC?

The complainant requested the ICC’s prosecution division to open ‘an investigation into human rights violations in Bangladesh: Holding the Awami League government led by Sheikh Hasina Wazed to account for systematic torture, forced disappearances, and other crimes against humanity.’

The complaint states, “By establishing the International Criminal Court, the international community has made a commitment that there would be no impunity for crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression. Bangladesh made the same commitment by signing the ICC Treaty or ICC Statute in 1999 and by formally becoming a party to the ICC Treaty on March 23, 2010.”

The summary of the allegation states, “ Since the current government came to power in 2009, the government has pursued a systematic policy of torturing opposition activists, engaged in serious violation of human rights, caused the forced disappearance of opposition leaders and dissidents, and in particular has committed mass killings on February 28, 2013 and May 5-6, 2013.”

The complaint documented about 300 confirmed deaths during the brutal actions by security forces on February 28 and on May 5-6, 2013 against the Jamat and the Hefajat activists, respectively. Following attacks on Hefajat activists on May 5-6, over 2,000 unarmed activists were reported missing and remain unaccounted for to date.

Who’re the accused?

The complaint named six of the alleged accused as being the masterminds and holding superior command responsibility for the alleged crimes. They are: Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Home Minister MK Alamgir, deputy Home Minister Shamsul Haq Tuku, DG of RAB Mokhlesur Rahman, IG of police Hassan Mahmud Khandaker, and, DG of BGB, Maj. Gen. Aziz Ahmed.

Among the accessories to the alleged crimes, the complaint accused as direct participants the Dhaka Metropolitan Police commissioner Benazir Ahmed, Patchlaish police station OC Prodip Kumar, ADC of Motijheel zone Mehdi Hassan, DC Lalbagh Harun-ur-Rashid, and six other police officials.

Among the accused are also judges and public prosecutors who had ordered for detention that resulted in judicial torture. The judges named as accused are Asaduzzaman Nur, Shahidul Islam, M. Mustafizur Rahman & Harunur Rashid.  The public prosecutors named as accused for seeking detention that resulted in judicial torture are: Sajjadul Haq Shihab and Aslam.

Jurisdiction and impunity

The complaint rationalized its plea to the ICC on grounds that the government of Bangladesh flatly denied any commission of mass killings during the statutory period and failed to launch any investigations into the recurrences of crimes committed against unarmed civilians by the country’s security forces.

“This state of impunity is what makes the ICC the only venue for justice so that the perpetrators can be held accountable for their criminal actions,” stated the complaint.

The complaint further stated that the temporal jurisdiction requirement of the Rome Statute is met in this case as the investigation and justice are sought “only for the crimes committed after Bangladesh became a party to the ICC Treaty, i.e. on March 23, 2010”

The 33-page complaint adduced pictures, graphs and other convincing evidence to prove the allegations while authentic reports from credible national and international rights group were cited as the sources of the facts and the information included in the complaint.

The next step

Once a complaint has been filed with the ICC, the Judges of the Pre-Trial Chamber must evaluate the information presented by the Prosecutor. Pursuant to Article 15(2) of the Statute, the Prosecutor will first conduct a preliminary examination of information received regarding the alleged crime by seeking help from the relevant UN organs, States, NGOs, and other reliable sources.

Upon concluding that the seriousness of the information constitutes a reasonable basis to commence an investigation, request will be made to the Pre-Trial Chamber to launch an investigation. Article 15(3) of the Statute states, in making the request, the Prosecutor must present to the Pre-Trial Chamber the information which supports the initiation of an investigation.

  South Asia rattled by North Korean nuclear test

Myanmar-North Korea nuclear alliance is troubling

M. Shahid Islam

February 15, 2013: The political fallout from North Korea’s nuclear test is being felt all across the region of Asia and beyond. South Asian nations are more rattled due to an entrenched Myanmar-North Korea nuclear nexus.

Like India and Pakistan, North Korea is aiming to be recognized as a de facto nuclear power first, before obtaining a full membership in the exalted nuclear club.

A proven Myanmar-North Korea nexus in nuclear collaboration transports this threat to the region of South Asia and heightens the fear of an all out nuclear arms race in neighbouring countries.

Threshold crossed

On Tuesday, the secluded Communist nation followed through with a previously made threat to conduct its third nuclear test and declared that it had detonated a miniaturized nuclear device at an underground test site.

This self confession of the North Korean regime of having conducted the test, and, the evidence gathered by the global observers, has catapulted North Korea’s military status to a different altitude. Before the official statement got aired, dubious seismic activities were detected and reported by the South Korean, US and Japanese monitoring agencies.

With the detection of an earthquake between 4.9 and 5.2 magnitudes in an area not otherwise prone to natural disasters, no one was in doubt what had gone wrong. Experts say the detection became easy because seismic indication of an earthquake is different in nature than an artificial shaking of the earth.

Besides, in a desperate bid to show that the Communist regime is now beyond the threshold of being considered an would- be- nuclear power, the official Korean Central News Agency (CNA) said the test was conducted safely and with more explosive power than the previous tests. The agency reported that Tuesday's test was in reaction to what it called "outrageous" hostility from the U.S. and that it (North Korea) was protecting its sovereignty.

Global reactions

The UN Security Council strongly condemned the test and said it would take further actions against the Communist nation. The 15-member council said the test represented "a clear threat to international peace and security and defied previous United Nations Security Council orders to shut down its nuclear development program.”

The US being the most likely target of a North Korean nuclear strike, President Barack Obama reacted most stridently. "This is a highly provocative act that ... undermines regional stability, violates North Korea's obligations under numerous United Nations Security Council resolutions, contravenes its commitments under the September 19, 2005 Joint Statement of the Six-Party Talks, and increases the risk of proliferation,” Obama said, adding, "The danger posed by North Korea's threatening activities warrants further swift and credible action by the international community. The United States will continue to take steps necessary to defend ourselves and our allies."

Regional reaction

Condemnations also poured in from South Korea, Japan, UK, France, China and Russia. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it "resolutely opposes" North Korea's nuclear test and reiterated that "Holding up peace and stability in Northeast Asia is China's resolute position.”  A written statement of the Ministry said, "We strongly urge (North Korea) to abide by (its) promise to denuclearize and take no further action that will worsen the situation."

 The Russian Federation too condemned the test but called on other nations not to react with a show of military might. The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a written statement, “North Korea's actions are an affront to the community of nations. …..It's doubly sad that we are talking about the state with which our country has a long history of good neighborliness."

How and where?

 To develop the technology for its nuclear weapons program, North Korea needs to attain perfection in its ability to miniaturize a nuclear weapon that can be mounted on a missile - or loaded onto an aircraft - and delivered without mishap to the intended target. This test was all about that.

Satellite photos revealed that a third tunnel was built in Punggye-ri area, 232 kilometers northeast of the capital Pyongyang, near the Sea of Japan. The site was already under global observation due to two other previous tests having taken place in the same area. The preparation for the latest test began in 2009 and it was conducted upon completion of the tunnel which is about one kilometer long.

Experts say tests like this are typically conducted in vertical shafts in 1 to 3 meters wide holes which are a kilometer deep. The atomic devices are placed in the hole along with lead-protected diagnostic canister containing sensors to record the explosion. Layers of pea gravel, sand, and other materials fill the tunnel to prevent radioactive material sipping into the atmosphere.

Previous tests by other nations proved the explosion energy released in less than a millionth of a second creates about a million degree temperature within a few microseconds, and, shockwaves from the blast can be detected by seismographs from around the globe.

Treaty violation

Following two underground nuclear tests by India and Pakistan in 1998, North Korea is the only country to have carried out a series of nuclear explosions since 2006 (2006, 2009 and 2013). These tests are in violation of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) signed in 1996 by 183 countries. The CTBT aimed at banning all nuclear testing; atmospheric or underground.

One of the fundamental flaws in the CTBT is that it’s yet to become a law due to not being ratified by China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan and the U.S.  North Korea, India and Pakistan have flaunted the moratorium on nuclear testing, according to the CTBT regime.

The violating nations also breached the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT) which proscribed atmospheric and underwater nuclear testing following serious public outcry over radioactive fallout from tests carried out earlier by a number of nuclear powers. The U.S., then USSR, and the UK signed the PTBT, but France and China did not. In 1974, France conducted its last atmospheric test, followed by China in 1980.

Is Myanmar next?

With North Korean help, Myanmar has acquired components for a nuclear weapons program, including technology for uranium enrichment and long-range missiles, according to an exposure by one of Myanmar’s disaffected military officers.

Major Sai Thein, who served as the deputy commander of a top-secret nuclear facility, escaped the country in 2009 with pictures of a tunnel built with North Korean collaboration - and thousands of files detailing the country’s secret nuclear and missile program. Thein revealed his country’s nuclear secrets in June 2010.

The whistleblower said, "The purpose is they (the regime) really want a bomb. That is their main objective. “  The disgruntled Major testified that he had visited the installations and attended meetings at which the new technology was demonstrated. "They want to have the rockets and nuclear warhead," he confirmed.

Although the program appeared to be in its early stage, UN experts have studied the documents and attested them as credible.

A renown Myanmar dissident group known as the Democratic Voice of Burma also commissioned an analysis of the documents and confirmed on June 3, 2010 that the pictures and blueprints of the nuclear facilities did show missiles, components for uranium enrichment, and a secret nuclear facility located near the city of Maymo.

Russia-Myanmar deal

These findings are corroborated by a number of antecedent occurrences. In 2007, Russia and Myanmar signed a deal to establish a nuclear research centre. According to the deal, the centre would be comprised of a 10 MW light-water reactor to produce 20% enriched uranium 235, an activation analysis laboratory, a medical isotope production laboratory, silicon doping system, nuclear waste treatment and burial facilities.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported in August 2009 that Myanmar was working to develop a nuclear weapon by 2014. The report said North Korea was assisting Myanmar in achieving its nuclear ambition and was actively helping in the construction of a nuclear reactor and plutonium extraction facilities in caves tunneled into a mountain at Naung Laing, a village in the Mandalay division .

The paper quoted two high-ranking defectors from Myanmar who had settled in Australia as the sources.

Chemical weapons

Myanmar also possesses other WMD, according to reports and evidence gathered by international observers. That explains why, despite having signed the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1993, Myanmar never ratified the Convention.

During a Congressional testimony in 1991 by Rear Admiral Thomas Brooks, then Director of US Naval Intelligence, Myanmar was accused of possessing chemical weapons. The US has since included Myanmar on a list of nations suspected of having clandestine chemical weapons program.

As well, a Belgian photojournalist named Thierry Falise reported in 2005 of having spoken to two deserters from the Myanmar Army who, during their time in service, were "reportedly told to take special precautions because they were handling chemical shells." The deserters described seeing artillerymen wearing masks and gloves to fire the munitions.

And, in another 2005 report, a physician with the Christian Solidarity Worldwide reported treating injuries of anti-government Karen rebels that were "consistent with a chemical attack."

All such troubling evidence should convince the UN to put Myanmar under an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) monitoring regime to avoid the types of blunders committed in checkmating North Korean nuclear ambition.

(This is a syndicated article which first appeared in the Weekly Holiday (weeklyholiday.net) on February 15, 2013.) 

 Royal Commission must be appointed

Talk for the sake of talk will not change Canada’s aboriginal algorithm

M. Shahid Islam

 Canada's aboriginal leaders are tired of broken promise and violation of rights by federal government

(Jan. 10, 2013): Despite the recognition in the Canadian Constitution of the aboriginal people as one of the founding nations of Canada - along with the English and the French Canadians - grievances of the native inhabitants have now reached a boiling point due to prolonged and systematic discrimination.

They say the federal government is violating their treaty rights in contravention of Section 35 of the Constitution by passing laws that are destined to alter the lives of millions of First Nations (aboriginal) people living in the outlying reserves.

How many people are we talking about? Well, the number of constitutionally recognized aboriginal people in Canada has doubled as of January 8, 2013 when the Federal Court ruled in a judgment that Métis and “non-status” Indians qualify as “Indians” under the 1867 Constitution Act.

The ruling has added about one million more to the over 1.3 million others reported having at least some aboriginal ancestry in 2001. Across the country, these aboriginals are scattered in 615 bands and the opinion of the majority of each band (51%) is mandatory for land designation and development project undertaking.

The court ruling came at a time when the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), the official representative of the aboriginal people, was already engaged in a protracted ‘Idle No More’ movement to fight against violation of their treaty and other rights.

And, following staging of hunger strike (avoidance of solid food) since December 11 by the Attawapiskat Chief, Theresa Spence - demanding to meet the Prime Minister (PM), the Governor General (GG) and the Premier of Ontario - ice has begun to melt.

Initially, neither PM Stephen Harper nor GG David Johnston agreed to meet Spence. Finally, when the PM agreed, Spence said she would not attend any meeting unless the GG too attended as the Crown’s representative.   The GG too had relented finally due to a request from the PM and the both are likely to meet with Spence and other AFN leaders on January 11.

So, what the meeting is all about? According to the AFN, the meeting is about violations of their treaty and other rights.

Which treaties and what rights in specific? The readers’ guess may be as expansive as ours. We presume these are treaties that the British Crown had negotiated between 1701 and 1923 to establish peaceful relationship with the aboriginal people; and, some modern-day treaties such as the comprehensive land claim settlements.

As well, other treaties already in existence in 1982 when the Constitution Act came into force, along with those coming into force afterwards - and, are deemed to have been recognized and affirmed by Canada's Constitution- may be in the agenda.

Several treaties were also signed after the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and before the Confederation came into existence in 1867. Two of those treaties are the Upper Canada Treaties (1764 to 1862) and the Vancouver Island Treaties (1850 to 1854).

The talks must be all-encompassing because recent developments are more troubling. For instance, on January 9, 2013, two First Nations from Alberta sought a judicial review of the controversial Conservative omnibus budget legislation that has allegedly made significant changes to the environmental protection and assessment modalities.

The challengers from the Mikisew Cree and Frog Lake First Nations want the Federal Court to review parts of Bill C-38 and Bill C-45; focusing particularly on changes to the Fisheries Act and the Navigable Waters Protection Act.

They say the omnibus budget bill overlooked, or intentionally bypassed, a treaty provision which defined navigable waterway as ‘every waterway large enough to float a canoe’ by winnowing it down to only 97 lakes and 62 creeks, rivers and canals, and the three oceans.

Another major grievance is that AFN representatives do not get a chance to know about the legislations until they are sent to the House committee.

This is egregious. Many major development projects - such as the Northern Gateway project - are located in or near First Nations’ traditional territories. Law says any project that could affect aboriginals’ lands or lives must obtain their consent. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples defines such consultation and consent- obtaining as being “free, prior and informed.” That is what the talks must be all about.

How to ascertain violation and who decides? First of all, the allegation of aboriginal treaty violation by the federal government is not a new thing. Yet, the two sides must talk at a time when today’s Canada and the history of the country are locked in a perpetual conflict with each other.

In the 1970s, when the aboriginal people and the environmentalists protested against an ambitious plan for a natural gas pipeline down the Mackenzie Valley, the federal government appointed Justice Thomas Berger to head an inquiry which discovered serious opposition to the project. Berger finally recommended that the project be delayed until aboriginal people were ready to participate fully.

Talks are needed to revert to the same mindset and heritage of justness and generosity. They’re needed to alleviate the appalling housing and living conditions in many of the remote aboriginal communities.

In an affluent nation, such discriminations are stigmas that have drawn global attention time and again; including from the UN which has once again criticized the federal government for violation of human rights of the aboriginal people. The tales of systemic unemployment among the aboriginals are even more harrowing.    

Talks are needed to erase the grievances and the scars of the aboriginal people that are deep rooted and seething. In a submission made in 2007 by Shawn Atleo, Regional Chief for the BC Assembly of First Nations,  to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD, the petitioner said:

“Despite the fact that Section 35 of Canada's Constitution Act (1982) recognizes and affirms aboriginal and treaty rights, Canada as a matter of policy, systematically and continuously denies and rejects the very existence of Indigenous peoples and Indigenous rights to lands, territories and resources as well as Indigenous rights and authorities to self government.”

It’s time Canada makes perpetual peace with its aboriginal compatriots by honouring their land, resources, customs and values. Only a high power Royal Commission can painstakingly work out a scheme to make that happen.

 Spectre of famine hounds the humanity as food crisis intensifies

M. Shahid Islam

August 5, 2012


 Global food security is in tatters due to more climate-induced disasters causing damage to crops all over the world and hunger turning into the latest Weapon of mass Destruction (WMD). Spectre of hunger has also become the most potent cause of destabilization.

While, on an average, families in developed nations spend about 15-25 percent of income on food, more than 70 percent of household income is tagged for food purchases in poorer countries. Even in countries with enough agricultural potential, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, over 70 percent of household income goes into buying food alone.

The US is the world's largest corn producer and provides up to 60 per cent of the world's food aid. Faced with the worst drought in 50 years, the US’s Drought Monitor agency says  the situation is only worsening, with almost two-thirds of the country affected by a sweeping drought; causing damage to at least 87 per cent of all corn and 11 percent of soybean crops.

This augurs a bad omen for the humanity. Around the world, corn is used in processing foods and biofuels while soy is one of the staple ingredients in food products. Both are also used as animal feed; which explains why the price of meat is sky rocketing . As the higher corn and soy prices drive up demand for wheat, wheat price is shooting upward constantly.

It’s time the food security becomes the main agenda for discourse and action among global leaders. For, when the demand for food outpace the supply, there are four consequences: Depletion of reserve, price hike, speculative move by traders, and famine.

The ongoing disruption in production and supply occurs at a time when an estimated 3.7 million people in Somalia - about a third of the population - are already on the brink of starvation and millions others in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda are in the grip of worst drought in 60 years. 

According to the Food & Agricultural Organization (FAO), 65 percent  of the world's hungry live in seven countries: India, China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan and Ethiopia.  Besides, about 1 million children die from severe acute malnutrition every year. Historically, the devastating famine in Bengal in 1770 led to 10 million deaths, over one third of  the total population of the then Indian province.

The lingering, destructive dry spell has already set in motion a global food crisis. “This is a once, or twice-a-century drought, and it’s more severe than anybody has been preparing for,” says Robert Thompson, former director of agriculture and rural development at the World Bank and currently a visiting scholar at Washington’s Johns Hopkins University.

The US aside, prolonged drought is destroying wheat crop in many European countries, including Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.  In India, monsoon rainfall so far has been about 20 percent below the annual average. 

Unless measures are taken sooner, the political cost of  this crisis can be devastating. The 2008 food crisis was triggered by a sharp rise in the cost of wheat and rice, sparking wild protests in parts of Africa, the Middle East and Latin America. Recent examples are equally penetrating and painful. In 2011, soaring food prices helped spur popular revolts across the Arab world. 

In the poorest countries, where the recession-induced unemployment is ever on the rise, increased food prices pose grave threats to growth and social stability. Food price hikes are also rocking the EU nations. Especially in Africa, the drought has not only led to famine but caused mass unemployment. Added to the destabilization caused by decades of civil war, Somali youths have resorted to pirating Western ships off the coast. 

The crisis is turning more explosive by the day. A conventional approach is not what is needed at this very moment. Alternative ways must be devised to feed over 7 billion people of the earth. 

According to the World Bank, global prices for corn and wheat have already risen by more than 45 and 50 percent, respectively, since mid-June. Soybean prices are up nearly 60 percent since June 2011. Driving those increases is ‘exceptional’ U.S. drought and a dearth of rain in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, impacting  wheat crops in all major producing nations.

Although the World Bank has pledged to help governments mitigate the impact through fast-track financing and other programs, it had warned that developing nations in Central America and sub-Saharan Africa are most vulnerable.

In moments like these, speculative interactions are raining in further damages due to national governments driving demand further by stockpiling grains, as they did during the 2008 food crisis. Recently, India shut down exports of rice and Russia and Ukraine drastically reduced wheat shipments.

The worst impact is felt by the starving ones. The UN’s World Food Program (WFP), the world’s largest humanitarian aid agency focused on combating hunger, says the drought could have serious consequences for the organization’s goal of feeding millions of people, in countries from Afghanistan to Ethiopia and Iraq to Kyrgyzstan. The agency says every 10 percent increase in the price of the food means it needs an extra $200 million a year to buy the same amount of food. 

Worst still, the volatile food prices have already driven up the number of people needing food assistance by about 15 percent over the last 60 days. The World Bank’s Group President Jim Yong Kim says, “We cannot allow short-term food-price spikes to have damaging long-term consequences for the world's most poor and vulnerable.” 

Kim’s organization has recently expressed grave concerns over the impacts of food price volatility on the world's poor. “When food prices rise sharply, families cope by pulling their kids out of school and eating cheaper, less nutritious food, which can have catastrophic life-long effects on the social, physical, and mental well being of millions of young people,” Kim said.  

Despite Kim’s assurance that the World Bank and its partners are ‘monitoring this situation closely so we can help governments put policies in place to help people better cope,’ what exactly is being done is not clear as yet. The situation being more alarming than the 2008 crisis due to rises in price of all the non-rice grains - wheat, corn and soybeans-, a long term solution must be linked to tackling the quintessential climate change malice.

Amidst the frequency and the intensity of drought-like natural disasters multiplying, many experts proffer  tagging the extreme weather pattern with the climate change phenomenon to explain the causes of the extreme floods and droughts. They say unprecedented flooding in Pakistan two years ago and prolonged droughts in Russia and Australia are all evidence of a changed climatic trend that is related to the global warming.

Military threats undercut economic recovery efforts

M. Shahid Islam

 Bluff, bluster and brinkmanship derailed expected outcome of the Baghdad summit and sent bad signals to markets

May 24, 2012

Europe is groaning with mortal economic inflictions; the US is staggering under mountains of debt and deficit. Yet, pretentious power projection remains the quintessential tool of diplomacy and politics among many NATO member states. The market gets a bad message from such phony postures.

Although the IAEA chief, Yukiya Amano, said Wednesday that he and Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, would ‘soon’ reach an agreement on the UN watchdog’s proposed probing of Iran’s suspected weapons activities, military threat against Iran’s staunchest ally, Syria, kept hovering.

Even the Baghdad summit in the later part of the day was shadowed by threats, brinkmanship and bluff.  

Coinciding with the Baghdad summit, Jordan’s King Abdullah II had approved stationing of US troops in Jordan to train hundreds of fighters of the Free Syrian Army, along with Jordanian forces, as well as to conduct an international war game.

Led by US forces, the drill involves armed forces from 12 countries who will train Syrian rebels to attack strategic targets in Syria, including the country’s missile arsenal which is carefully positioned to hit Israel.

Another aim of the war game is to threaten Syria and Iran of tragic consequences unless the two nations comply with the dictates of the West.

Thousands of US forces have meanwhile been re-routed from Iraq to conduct training inside Jordan and train Jordan's specials forces for what is flaunted as '' worst case scenario" of launching simultaneous attacks on Iran and Syria.

Yet, aware of NATO’s military and economic weaknesses, the regime in Syria remains stubbornly entrenched and defiant while the crisis sucks in the historic trouble spot of Lebanon where civil strife has intensified lately between the pro and anti-Syrian-regime elements of the Shiite and Sunni communities.

Iran insists its nuclear program is a peaceful one and wants IAEA’s access to suspected nuclear sites on a structured manner; implying that the permission to inspect the suspected sites must be time bound and sensitive to the country’s national-security concerns.

That notwithstanding, the IAEA chief assured of a positive outcome after his meeting with the Iranian negotiator on Wednesday, sparking momentary stability in the commodity market, especially in oil and gas prices, which have reduced further.

Reduced energy prices can spur growth, which is most needed now. For months, global oil markets remained jittery over extended Western sanctions imposed on Iran's crude exports and the specter of a Middle East war arising from possible Israeli strikes against Iran.

Far from removing those nuggets of lingering concerns, the Baghdad summit of the six powers- five permanent member of the UN Security Council and Germany- turned into an exercise in testing Iran's willingness to curb its uranium enrichment efforts. The tactic failed to yield any concession from Tehran.

Instead, angered by such hybrid brinkmanship, President Ahmedinajad of Iran declared Thursday that Iran has ‘surprise’ news with respect to its nuclear achievement. That too is an empty gesture.

The Baghdad summit offered a splendid opportunity that was callously squandered.  For, a tiny dose of incentive in the form of committing to remove some of the sanctions against Iran could have produced a different outcome in the summit and the messages for the markets could have been enchanting

After all, the summit took place in the backdrop of wild concerns about a weakening European economy and disappointing job growth in the U.S., factors that have further pulled oil prices down on Wednesday. The Benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude shed 94 cents to end the day at $105.22 per barrel in New York. Brent crude, which sets the price of oil imported for the U.S., lost $1.46 to finish at $118.20 per barrel in London.

In other energy futures trading, natural gas fell nearly 5 percent after jumping on Tuesday to the highest level in two months. Futures fell 11.8 cents to finish at $2.253 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Hope for a probable rapprochement with Iran aside, prices dropped after a survey showed Europe's manufacturing industry was slowing down and the unemployment rate in the euro-using 17 countries rose to 10.9 percent in March.

Besides, U.S. businesses added only 119,000 jobs in April, far lower than the 201,000 added in March.

When worsening economic condition in the US and Europe is expected to reduce oil price further -  the U.S. being the world's largest oil consumer while Europe’s net consumption amounting to one- fifth of the global total- military postures are pulling the dynamics to opposite direction. This is bad leadership.

Cheaper oil prices are indicative of enhanced growths in the economies of all stripes, except the oil producing nations. Higher oil prices, on the other hand, add to budgetary deficits and trade imbalances; two of the most intractable problems hampering global economic recovery.

 Murder of Saudi diplomat spawns wild speculations in global media

(Global Review Report)

March 7, 2012

 

Crime Scene Investigation: Bangladesh police escorts diplomats to the scene where a senior Saudi diplomt was murdered on March 6.

 Bangladesh police may not have a clue as to who’d killed a Saudi diplomat in Dhaka on March 6, but much of the Western media suspects the incident as a clandestine cloak and dagger crime linked with the geopolitical turmoil in the Middle East.

The 45 year old Khalaf  Mohamamd S. Al Ali, a second secretary at the Royal Saudi Embassy in Dhaka, was shot dead shortly after midnight on Tuesday, only yards away from his Gulshan residence.

Ali, who lived a lonely life at his apartment, is learnt to have ventured out for a stroll in the dead of the night. While returning home, he was shot by a gunman from a fast-moving car. The victim succumbed to his death three hours later at the local hospital.

Murder and mayhem rock Bangladesh on and off, and, the law and order situation has deteriorated alarmingly in recent months. High profiled assassinations have also intensified lately. In February, a journalist couple was murdered in their bedrooms but police failed as yet to unearth any motive for that crime.

It is, however, the first time that a foreign diplomat faced the wrath of Dhaka’s unruly ruffians who are often seen hobnobbing with and protected by influential quarters.

What has emerged with some degree of certainty is that the assassin is a professional hand with proven marksmanship trademark. The forensic report indicated that a single bullet pierced through the sensitive left part of Ali’s chest and hit his kidney, causing excessive bleeding.

“If the killing is not deemed a street crime, speculation could turn to Iran, which has been blamed for other international attacks as it struggles against Saudi Arabia for dominance in the Middle East,” opined the CBS news.

Bangladesh being an unlikely venue for waging a geopolitical battle between the West and Iran, the wild speculations in the major media outlets in the West that the crime may be linked with the geopolitical turmoil in the Middle East needs exhaustive probing. For, there is no certainty that it may not be related to the Mid-East politics.

In 2011, the U.S. government accused Iranian agents of being part of a foiled plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the USA. Early this year, Israel accused Iran of attacks on its diplomats in India, Thailand and Georgia. The politically motivated cloak and dagger machination being rampant and all pervading, all the clues must be chased and probed. Iran is aggrieved by the Israeli and Western-sponsored murder of a number of its nuclear scientists.

Besides, despite the regime in Tehran trashing all the accusations as baseless, there seems to be an emerging pattern that is becoming harder to overlook.

In May 2011, a flurry of feral speculations mushroomed after the killing of another Saudi diplomat in Karachi, Pakistan. Pakistani police said they suspected that the ‘shooting was motivated by anger over Saudi Arabia's decision to send troops to Bahrain’ where the majority Shiites strove to usher in an Arab Spring to rid themselves of the dynastic rule by a Sunni minority-led monarchy.

In the USA and Canada, a number of media reports reasoned that Saudi Arabia's recent talk about arming Syrian rebels has irked Tehran, which is allied with the embattled Syrian leader, Bashar Assad. The Dhaka murder could be linked to that broader equation, the reports claimed.

Curiously, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) laced its report with a bilateral component of friction between Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia. The paper said, “In October, relations between Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh were strained after Saudi authorities beheaded eight Bangladeshi workers convicted of robbing and killing an Egyptian man.”

Bangladesh did have reason to be angry by that incident due to the Amnesty International’s strong condemnation of the executions- and the Saudi court proceedings- as falling ‘far short of international standards for fair trial,’ but it’s foolhardy to presume that the regime in Dhaka carries any grudge against Saudi Arabia.

For long a major destination of expatriate Bangladeshi workers, Saudi Arabia employs over 2 million Bangladeshis, mostly in low-paid menial avocations. Besides, the aggrieved families of the executed Bangladeshi workers have no ability to hire professional killers to target a high ranking Saudi diplomat for revenge.

The Saudi government had, meanwhile, demanded quick results from the Bangladesh government and requested ‘adequate protection for all the staff working at its embassy in Dhaka,’ reports the Arab News.

Hard pressed, police did file a case 34 hours after the incident at the Gulshan police station, but ‘no suspect was named’, said Mohammad Zabed Masud, a sub inspector at Gulshan police station.  

Deeply embarrassed, the government of Bangladesh expressed regrets for the incident and promised to bring the killer to justice. State minister for home affairs, Shamsul Hoque Tuku, said, “Police were investigating the murder.”

Foreign Minister Dipu Moni said, "What has happened is very unfortunate and unexpected in this country." Moni added, “We have ordered police to conduct a fair investigation so we can take proper actions against the culprits."

Saudi Ambassador in Dhaka, Abdullah Al-Busairi, described the incident as a ‘great tragedy’ while Bangladesh Ambassador in Saudi Arabia, Mohammed Shahidul Islam, said it was a heinous crime that sent shock waves throughout the Kingdom as well as Bangladesh. “We have intensified the investigation process in Dhaka and we are fully confident that the people involved in this murder will be brought to book,” Islam assured.

Meanwhile, another confusing shred of speculations linked the killing with the victim’s alleged role in aiding some of the arrested accused of the ongoing war crime trial in Bangladesh. One source said the slain diplomat ‘has aided a team of Al-Jazeera TV crews to have access to and interview one of the main accused of the war crime trial.”

Whatever the motive of the crime may be, relations between the Muslim nations of Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia are unlikely to be impacted negatively by this aberrational incident.

 

 

 Kim Jong Il's successor Kim Jong Un is Western-educated and pragmatic

  Kim’s death sparks re-unification frenzy in Korean peninsula

M. Shahid Islam  

 (Dec. 20, 2011)The humanity perhaps knows much more about the Mars than North Korea. Despite all the preying eyes constantly watching over the North Korean happenings, the death on December 17 of the country’s leader, Kim Jong IL, remained shrouded in secrecy until disclosed by the official media about 28 hours later.

That proves why George W. Bush failed to grasp in 2002 what would follow in Iraq, Iran and North Korea; the trio of nations the war-mongering US President haughtily branded as ‘axis of evil.’

A decade on, the dawn of 2012 witnesses Iraq free of US occupation and in best of relationship with Iran which emerged as the leading regional power, thanks to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. The death of Jong-Il also rekindled passion among the Koreans for the re-unification of their motherland and removal of about 30,000 US troops stationed in the conflict-ridden borders.

2011 proved to be a bad year for dictators. It was also the year to raise hopes for transition from warfare to peace, progress and development. These gains could easily be squandered if the major powers fail to realize how their greed and ambition to rule the world had stolen smiles from millions of victims in the occupied parts of the globe.

Like Iraq, the Korean history is equally tragic. As the US troops leave Iraq after almost a decade long occupation, a painful legacy haunts the Iraqis amidst nearly a million deaths, ruined infrastructure and the entire Sunni faction of the Iraqi government being divorced from the governing coalition. Even the Sunni Vice President of the country, Tariq al-Hashemi, is scurrying for shelter following the issuance of a warrant of arrest against him.

That proves how bogus, unrepresentative, unrealistic and useless was the Iraqi elections. In Korea too, the victor powers’ inability to hold free elections in 1948 exacerbated tensions between the North & the South; the North eventually being successful in establishing a Communist government. That had set off the very first significant armed conflict of the Cold War era following the Northern forces invasion of the South on 25 June 1950.

The war became inevitable following a series of failed negotiations to reunite the country, divided along the 38th Parallel, amid crafty maneuvering of the US’s Pacific command and the allied powers’ diplomats stationed in the region.

Like in Iraq, the victors then chose to use the UN as the whipping boy; forces from many Western nations having gathered under the UN banner to liberate the South. This prompted China to help the North in repelling the foreign forces and the USSR to provide material and diplomatic assistance. The Korean War thus turned to be a textbook model of the Cold War conflicts between forces of Capitalism and Communism.

Although an armistice agreement signed on July 27, 1953 ended open hostilities, the two Koreans are still technically at war. No peace treaty was signed after the three-year –long conflict and the border dividing the peninsula remains one of the most heavily militarized one in the world. Worst still, for decades since the war, North Korea's nuclear program has preoccupied pundits and policy makers in Western capitals.

Now that Jong-Il is dead, the quest for the reunification of Korea has already begun to gain frenzied steam. And, it should. In coming weeks and months, three plausible scenarios may unfold: a German type peaceful reunification, which is most unlikely; a bloody one like Vietnam (reunification preceded by prolonged war); a totally chaotic transition from Communism to openness to the outside world, replicating the Rumanian or the Albanian tragedies of the 1990s.

The North's economy being in shambles, a German type peaceful reunification is the option to be explored and pursued for the greater interest of peace and stability in the region. Germany paid, over years, more than $2 trillion to get the poverty-stricken East into a symmetric economic trajectory. The investment proved worthwhile. Not only the unification was bloodless, the united Germany emerged as the economic powerhouse of Europe. Pre-war Germany too was an evil empire to the West, lest we forget.

These lessons of history are worth mimicking in defusing tension in the Korean peninsula. It’s unfortunate that, since the death of Jong Il, South Korea’s president Lee Myung-bak has repeatedly warned his people to steel themselves for the unexpected collapse in the North and to brace for a unification that he said might ‘come like a thief in the middle of the night’, implying another invasion from the North.

That fear is an exaggerated one due to a consensus-based coalition between the entrenched military and the Korean Workers Party having already accepted a peaceful transition in the North under Kim Jong Un, the Western-educated, sober and suave third son of the deceased leader.

Instead of sounding bellicose, South Korea should display pragmatism by assessing the costs and benefits of the reunification; not only on economic realities alone, but from the expected boon the increased geopolitical clout the unification will bestow on the united Korea.

Until the 2008 elections and coming to power of Lee Myung-bak, the two Koreas were edging towards reunification. Since 1998, a ‘Sunshine policy’ adopted by President Kim Dae Jung resulted in greater political contacts between the two, resulting in a historic summit in 2000 that had facilitated family reunification and Southern investment to the North. Kim Dae Jung even earned a Nobel Peace Prize for those efforts.

The US presence in Korea is an affront to China, we all know, and the big power geopolitical posturing stands at the root of the Korean miseries.  It’s time to eject foreign forces from the region to regenerate momentum for growth and cooperation. If Asia fails, the world economy will cripple.

The North is not as poor as much of the Western media portrays it to be, the value of the country’s mineral resources alone- including magnesite and gold – being worth about $6 trillion. China, the second largest global economy, has already invested heavily in North Korean mines.

There are other existential factors than can easily offset the North’s economic shortfalls. The tech-savvy South has almost double the population of the North, and commands over a $700 billion GDP against North’s $3.2 billion. The Northern minerals and Southern technology can create a giant economic powerhouse. A 2009 estimate by Goldman Sachs predicted the united Korean economy to overtake that of Japan’s by 2050. “The North’s mineral wealth could create great synergies with the South’s industries, including steel and information technology,” the report said.

Let’s not forget if there is a real threat perception, the North feels it more than the South. No wonder excessive military spending has diverted much of its resources as the country festered under painful sanctions and censorships and found itself cocooned amidst huge US military presence along its borders. 

The intense threat perceptions led to its building the fifth largest military machine in the world, with over a million-strong army and enough plutonium for six to eight nuclear weapons, according to US experts. An additional 190,000 "security troops", including border guards and 3.5m "worker/peasant red guard reservists," make the North Korean military machine one of the best in the world.

The entire Peninsula can enjoy peace and prosperity if South Korea joins China to convince the new North Korean regime to move for the long-awaited, much needed, re-unification. The deliberate attempts by some quarters to stir unrest in the country will only end up with another Korean war. This danger must be passed off at any cost.

 Restructure UN, dissolve NATO

October 20, 2011

The health of the global political economy is infested with cancerous lumps. Wars in the Mid-East and South Asia are about to leap beyond boundaries. Iran said it would not tolerate any foreign intervention in Syria. Pakistan is trigger-poised to reverse a regional strategic shift wrought in by Afghanistan’s signing of a ‘miscalculated pact’ with India (see war in South Asia).

Banks are failing, budget deficits widening and governments sinking in debts. With prediction of further rise in unemployment and slump in growth, the worse may be yet to come (see urban revolutionaries).
What started as the Wall Street occupation movement in mid-September had quickly transformed into a global agenda for those who proudly claim they’re the 99 percent.

The demand of those diverse, desperate and disaffected agitators is simple: existing global system having allowed one percent of the population to be possessive of and enjoy the fortune of the remaining 99 percent, the system must change to rein in corporate greed.
The cherished reforms may not stem the tide, but they can act as short term palliatives and may turn effective if laced with broader, long-term restructuring of some of the global institutions that are at the epicenter of major systemic interactions.

There is no denying that the existing system offers a virtual monopoly to the powerful nations to gobble up global resources through multinational companies.  When resultant disputes are referred to the UN - where they only get cosmetic rinsing - wanton military actions follow.

At least 6 major and 23 minor military adventures have been approved by the UN against small and weak nations since the collapse of the USSR in the early 1990s. This is a systemic failure.
A disgracefully unrepresentative UN hierarchy also allows the five permanent members to decide the fate of the remaining 190 or so other member states. It must change. UN’s present structure is geographically unjustified, demographically unrepresentative, ethno-religiously (and) racially biased.

It’s logically and legally unsustainable.
The ongoing crisis in the global economy is the product of two diametrically opposing dynamics being in action since the collapse of the Soviet Union.The first one is the dissolution of the Soviet- led Warsaw Pact military alliance in 1991, and, yet, the continuation and further emasculation and enlargement of its counterpart, the NATO.

The other  is the oxymoronic attempt to supplant a geopolitical reality with an economic antidote called globalization
As the pundits and policy makers spared little thoughts to remedy the dreadful rupture in the global balance of power, which during the Cold War (1947-1990) managed to shield some of the weaker nations from the domination of the powerful adversaries under a client-patron paradigm, the consequences could not be any better.

Globalization was facilitated further by another major factor; IT revolution. But this quintessential communication miracle did little to smoothen or neutralize the underlying geopolitical frictions. The US-led ‘unipolar’ system being authoritarian, reckless and devoid of the checks and balances that are so essential in preserving any order, geopolitical frictions exacerbated amidst rising US hegemony and widespread anti-Americanism.


Economically, developing and under-developed nations were allowed to race against the richer nations in open-market competitions, resulting in further destabilization of the regional subsystems as widespread corporate greed gave birth to  a hegemonic new cult in the developing world too. Market and money, not morality, became the arbiter of human fates. The majority found themselves lost in the frenzy of this globalization of greed.


That loss was compounded by the display of the most odious hypocrisy in the military domain. Despite the rationale for the existence of the NATO as a military alliance group having withered, it was expanded to include many more nations abutting the former USSR. NATO currently has 28 members and over $ 20 billion annual budget, excluding the operational costs in wars and other adventures that are shared individually by member nations.


The US shoulders roughly over 24 percent of
NATO’s routine military expenses (US’s 2010 contribution amounting to nearly $450 million). U.S. contribution to NATO's civil budget is roughly about 22 percent of the total (2010 contribution amounting to $84 million). The cumulative annual contributions of all NATO members have surpassed the $ 30 billion mark lately, inclusive of operation costs.

The Obama Administration's FY2011 budget assessment indicates the total US contribution to NATO in 2011 will increase to $462.488 million for military, $90.2m for civil, and another 258.88 for other outlets.
To the contrary, the US’s role in the UN peacekeeping operations is laughable; 65th in global ranking, the leading contributors being Bangladesh, Pakistan and India, based on the number of peacekeepers.

While the global economy teetered on the brink of a meltdown in preceding years, many of the data- crunching economists have busied themselves in greasing the corporate greed further by espousing theories that ‘rational expectation’ would lead to automatic market correction and equitable distribution of wealth. Two of them even got Nobel prizes lately for saying so.


It's a shame that the perception did not shift a bit even when the dominant powers engrossed themselves in squandering global resources in warfare and other unproductive ventures. And, no eye brow raised as many of those economists sat as directors at corporate boards of the leading blood-sucking multinationals, showing their thumbs to the inhibitions supposed to be imposed by conflict of interest.


Divorced from politics, the formulae and the theses espoused by these self-seeking economists (many of whom turned neo-cons in the Bush era) failed to address the underlying gyrations that’d led to yawning gap creations between the rich and the poor. They also had no clue how to fund wars without causing social unrest. War needed money, but it could not be printed outright due to inflation already eating away the vitals of peoples’ livelihood( see Wall St. mayhem).


The governments eventually did abandon those theoreticians and woke up from the slumber, but it was too late. Hybrid and often misplaced Keynesian interventions resulted in renewed government butting- ins since 2008. Yet, pumping into the economies of leading nations over $12 trillion stimulants (excluding subsidies) could not reverse the inexorable slide toward the end of a precipice.


Armed chair economists are often less aware of ground realities, less so how things happen in chain reactions in the surreptitious universe of geopolitics.
Within weeks of the Iranian revolution in late 1979, the USSR moved to the Iranian borders by invading Afghanistan. The break -up of the USSR followed the Russian move to embrace China more cordially and the creation of a Eurasian block on June 15, 2001 by bringing together the breakaway republics of Central Asia - Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – that became known as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

The SCO nations embrace the fulcrum of global energy reserves, stretching from the Caucasus to the Ural mountains.
It may be far fetched to link the SCO's birth as a trigger for the invasion of Afghanistan three months later - irrespective of whatever intervening factor (9/11 attacks) has been shown to have acted as the pretext/rationale for it –  it does, however, offer some invaluable clue to understanding what matters most in the evolution of  global geopolitical agendas.


All economic agendas are also inextricably tied to the shifting dynamics of politics, and vice a versa; something Adam Smith had realized over two centuries ago. His was an era of true rational expectation and greed-averse ‘invisible hands.’ Ours is not.
One must keep that in mind. In today's world, one percent reduction in energy consumption entails one percent reduction in GDP. Demands of life seek even much more.

Governments must think twice before allowing money to go up in the smoke. It is of little wonder that barring the NATO member states, who had lost trillions of dollars in wars over the decade, most other economies still perform comparatively well. Yet, there is no acknowledgement that the wars have brought the NATO economies to their knees, as wars always do.

That explains why - much like the bewilderment witnessed as one look for a black cat in a dark room - this crisis names no particular culprit as yet.
Fact is: the ill-thought policies have landed the post-9/11 global system into a whirlpool of uncertainty, prompting the activation of the Murphy’s Law and letting go wrong whatever could. The consequent pandemonium, characterized by unjustified military adventures, racial and religious bigotry, a mad-dash to acquire energy resources, and, the reckless squandering of finite resources on wars and mayhem descended the humanity into this quagmire of suffering.

Since 2001, the US alone has spent over $800 billion in Iraq war, $470 billion in Afghan war, and, worst still, inflicted shame and suffering to all other NATO members by co-opting their participations in those military missions. Regional destabilization and civil strife were engendered in countries bordering the nations invaded by US-led NATO forces.


And, like the US’s debt crisis, the European debt crisis too has been spurred by huge diversion of funds from productive to unproductive sectors, leading most of the EU nations to a borrowing spree to shore up inevitable budget deficits (see secret dossier). Of the 28 NATO members, 21 are EU members, and they all now face bankruptcy. Many already are bankrupt.


This crisis is a structural one. Reforming it, as is demanded by a swelling army of global demonstrators, requires an immediate halt of spending in warfare, re-structuring of the UN and dissolution of NATO. Reforming the UN may inject some sense of justice among the aggrieved while NATO’s dissolution will reduce military tension, arms race and unproductive expenditures in military ventures. The money saved can employ millions more.

That'll bode well for the economies. And that’s needed to restore peace, happiness and sanity in a world gone astray.