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Archive for the ‘Politics – World’ Category

One of the biggest challenges for a journalist is to report form a trouble spot. It’s not without reason war correspondents enjoy an exalted position. Terrains are hazardous, information is hard to come by, and it’s difficult to establish the veracity of what ever information comes by. And, most importantly, the reporters’ life itself can be at risk.

Here is an account of “Reporting Afghanistan” from the BBC blog: The Editors.

With that toll rising at an alarming rate, and with Afghans voting to elect a new president, BBC Radio 5 live wanted to see for itself what was happening – how the war against the Taliban was being fought and what life was like for some of those at the sharp end.

Over to Liam Hanley, assistant editor on 5 live Drive.

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In mid-March, two American journalists — Laura Ling and Euna Lee, employees of Current TV (a politics and youth-oriented news channel), led by former US vice-president Al Gore — were arrested inside North Korea while working on a story on the China-North Korea border.

In June, a North Korean court found them guilty of illegally entering the country and sentenced the two journalists to 12 years of hard labour.

Yesterday, former US president Bill Clinton landed secretly in North Korea in an unmarked private jet. He dined with the hardcore communist nation’s pariah leader Kim Jong-il, secured the administration’s pardon, and today landed back in the US with the freed journalists!

Bill Clinton meets North Korean leader

Freed US reporters welcomed home

Any keen observer of international diplomacy would have instantly noticed the extraordinary nature of the sequence of events. One, no top American leader has visited Pyongyang in close to 10 years. And here is none other than Bill Clinton making that visit. Two, no American leader would dare make the mistake of even talking to Kim. And here’s Clinton dining with the Communist leader. Three, forget a top American leader exchanging pleasantries with Kim, here’s Clinton apologizing on behalf of the two journalists.

Laura Ling, second left, and Euna Lee, right, two American journalists who were arrested in March after allegedly crossing into North Korea from China, are joined by former President Bill Clinton, and former Vice President Al Gore at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, Calif., Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2009. Lee and Ling, the two American journalists freed by North Korea, returned home to the United States on Wednesday for a jubilant, emotional reunion with family members and friends they hadn't seen since their arrests nearly five months ago. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Laura Ling, second left, and Euna Lee, right, two American journalists who were arrested in March after allegedly crossing into North Korea from China, are joined by former President Bill Clinton, and former Vice President Al Gore at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, Calif., Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2009. Lee and Ling, the two American journalists freed by North Korea, returned home to the United States on Wednesday for a jubilant, emotional reunion with family members and friends they hadn't seen since their arrests nearly five months ago. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Here it would be pertinent to remember what North Korea managed to do when it had the custody of the two journalists: in May-end, they conducted a nuclear test, and followed that up with a series of missile launches. There were the usual rhetoric of protests from South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and the US. But the fact is, Kim got away with them.

The grapevine is that North Korea launches missiles when they need money! They deftly club that with some current situation, and get western nations to pay up. Not quite a charitable observation. Whether true or not, it indicates how North Korea and the West, especially the US, are balanced on the international power equation.

The two journalists are free. But the fact that North Korea got someone as high-ranking as Bill Clinton to fly into Pyongyang, dine with their leader, and seek the leader’s pardon is quite an achievement, by any stretch of imagination.

The inherent complications were clearly evident in the way secretary of state Hillary Clinton denied that her husband had apologized on behalf of the journalists.

I won’t be surprised if Kim wanted Hillary or even Obama to come to North Korea and apologize. That would have been obviously impossible. The choice of Bill Clinton was a good bargain: from North Korea’s point of view, Clinton is a highly visible leader ranked in publicity along with President Obama, he is probably more internationally well known than some incumbent secretaries or senators. From the US point of view, Clinton is not part of the administration. In fact, the White House had promptly disassociated with the trip saying Clinton was on a private visit.

Was there a quid pro quo? Or, was Kim genuinely sympathetic to the women and was so moved by Clinton’s gesture and apology that he granted them freedom? Or, did Kim use the journalists as bargain chips to extract concessions from the world’s most powerful nation?

We wouldn’t know, at least in the near future; for one simple reason that North Korea has little stake in international media scene. If there was a deal, maybe, some day an American journalist would blow the lid.

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This looked like one rock concert! A huge flag-waving cheering crowd, some 25,000 or so, of Czech nationals in Prague yesterday. It hardly seemed the President of the United States was speaking, and that too on a grave threat facing the world — nuclear weapons. (It will take some time for us to shake off the hangover of George Bush!)

Watch this clipping of the full speech, that lasted half an hour, on BBC’s Youtube site here.

Read the full text of the Obama’s Prague speech on Huffington Post here.

It was a sterling performance by Obama; he went far beyond the political rhetoric that we are used to Not surprisingly, he was continuously cheered and interrupted by applause.

None of (the) challenges can be solved quickly or easily. But all of them demand that we listen to one another and work together; that we focus on our common interests, not on occasional differences; and that we reaffirm our shared values, which are stronger than any force that could drive us apart. That is the work that we must carry on…. (applause) 

Barack Obama speaks at Hradcany Square near Prague Castle. AFP photo by Saul Loeb

Barack Obama speaks at Hradcany Square near Prague Castle. AFP photo by Saul Loeb

He has the amazing ability to connect to the people. That was seen in ample evidence during the 2008 campaign. And this Prague address didn’t look so much different either. (He used his famous campaign refrain Yes We Can.) — here a campaign to make the world safer, to rid the world of nuclear weapons.

Barack and Michelle Obama wave to cheering crowd. Reuters photo by Leonhard Foeger

Barack and Michelle Obama wave to cheering crowd. Reuters photo by Leonhard Foeger

Obama at times sounds idealistic. He knows that…

So today, I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons. (Applause.) I’m not naive. This goal will not be reached quickly — perhaps not in my lifetime. It will take patience and persistence. But now we, too, must ignore the voices who tell us that the world cannot change. We have to insist, “Yes, we can.” (Applause.)

Obama greets supporters. AP photo by Charles Dharapak

Obama greets supporters. AP photo by Charles Dharapak

India angle

There is a point that interests India. Obama made a mention of the CTBT and NPT — two highly contentious treaties. India has been under tremendous pressure to sign the CTBT and we famously held out when Rajiv Gandhi was the prime minister; pointing out the hypocrisy of the US policy. The US has signed it, but the Senate has not ratified it. This is one reason, why the American high moral ground lacks conviction. As a gen-next man, Obama knows it, and it’s commendable that he is going to get the Senate to ratify it.

To achieve a global ban on nuclear testing, my administration will immediately and aggressively pursue U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. (Applause.) After more than five decades of talks, it is time for the testing of nuclear weapons to finally be banned.

An American president for once was very clear in articulating what lies ahead when he said:

The basic bargain is sound: Countries with nuclear weapons will move towards disarmament, countries without nuclear weapons will not acquire them, and all countries can access peaceful nuclear energy.

Barack Obama and Michelle Obama leave Hradcany Square. Reuters photo by Jason Reed

Barack Obama and Michelle Obama leave Hradcany Square. Reuters photo by Jason Reed

When Obama said…

I know that a call to arms can stir the souls of men and women more than a call to lay them down. But that is why the voices for peace and progress must be raised together. (Applause.)….

…. he was being candid and realistic; at the same time he was echoing the hope we all have in our hearts — hope for a better future.

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I know these analogies are becoming quite a cliche. 26/11 itself was characterised as India’s 9/11. However, it’s difficult to ignore the chilling parallels, howsoever remote the similarities may be. 

Every morning, one of the first things I do is to switch on the TV news channel. And this morning there it was. Terrorists dressed as policemen stormed the police training academy in Lahore. There were explosions reported at eight places. As minutes rolled by, the similarity to the Mumbai terror attack was beginning to emerge. 

Geo TV report here; PTI report here.

I don’t know how long will this last. But this is going to trigger another round of fingerpointing and blame game.

Look at the timing: On March 3, the Sri Lankan cricketers were attacked in Lahore. On March 27, a mosque was bombed in northwest Pak. There are now increased indications that the US-sponsored war on terror is gradually moving to Pakistan from Afghanistan. In that context, yesterday, US President Barack Obama told Bob Schieffer in Face the Nation on CBS that the US was not planning to send ground troops to Pakistan; but he made this remark conditional to Pakistan’s support to war on terror. (Remember, a politician’s denial is as significant as his affirmation). Now how this latest incident will change the US perception of the region remains to be seen.

Through the month we had so much political turmoil in Pakistan, but luckily it was all amicably resolved. No one wants a buring neighbourhood. A peaceful Pakistan is a desire of not just Pakistanis but Indians as well. The seeming spiralling of the ground situation in Pakistan is worrying.

War on terror is one thing. That’s only one part of the solution. Determining and exterminating the genesis of radicalism should be the larger goal. But does anyone have the time or broader perspective for it? When will our lives and limbs be safe?

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The year was 1982. Common people like us in those days didn’t have so many platforms to make judgements and air opinions. Today on blogs, facebooks and orkuts, vox populi is drowned in seeming cacophony.

Twenty-seven years back, in the pre-blog era, the bold anti-establishment voice of one British housewife, Diana Gould, resonated across Britain. She took on no less than Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher during a televised live BBC phone-in session. The housewife wanted to know from Thatcher why the British navy sank an Argentinean ship during the Falklands War, when the ship was not posing any threat to Britain.

I have given a link to the video clipping at the end of the post; but why I would like you watch it, I shall explain later.

But before all that, a little background to the war which I closely followed — as an incurable news freak — during my school days.

BACKGROUND

The Falklands War was big foreign news those days. It began in April 1982 — with the invasion of Falkland Islands by the Argentinean troops. And it ended in June that year — with their surrender to Britain.

Falkland Islands lies to the east of Argentina; geographically similar to the Andaman Islands to the east of India. This group of islands is one the 14 British Overseas Territories (meaning, they are under the sovereignty of the UK but not considered part of the UK). Argentina had for long been claiming right to the islands; and they invaded it much to the surprise of Britain.

Margaret Thatcher — known for her resoluteness and who often claimed herself to be the only man in her cabinet — was the British PM then. She sent her naval fleet supported by air power.

SINKING OF GENERAL BELGRANO

One of the controversial moments in the war was the sinking of the Argentinean Navy cruiser General Belgrano. She was the only ship to be sunk by a nuclear- powered submarine since World War II. More than 300 people died.

This incident, a turning point in the war, was hugely controversial in Britain itself. One reason was that General Belgrano was sailing “away from the exclusion zone”. So by inference, it was not posing any threat to the British forces. But Thatcher insisted that ships in that area were vulnerable to attack.

More interestingly, many suspect that there was a huge communication gap within the British government, which was not aware of the change of course of the Argentinean cruiser.

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH THIS VIDEO CLIPPING

What is of interest to me here is the way a British housewife took on her powerful Prime Minister in a live TV phone-in programme on the BBC.

The video clipping is worth watching for three reasons: one, the way a housewife gathered all relevant facts and directly confronted, of all people, Margaret Thatcher. Two, the way Thatcher squared up to the pointed attack calmly but firmly, without raising her voice or insulting Gould and giving the commoner due respect. And three, Thatcher’s remarkable articulation and diction. She, in those days, was a good communicator with forceful rendition, and commanding the attention of every listener. I simply loved to hear her speak.

I think this clipping should be watched — by politicians and all others — to get an idea of how a contentious issue can be debated.

To watch the You Tube video clipping click here.

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Barack Obama became the first sitting American President to take part in a talk show — Jay Leno show on NBC. He spoke on politics, financial downturn and his new lifestyle.

Watch it here.

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West Asia (Middle East) has never seen peace. As things stand today there is little hope. Unless, there is a huge change in the mindset of both Israel and Hamas, blood will continue to be spilt.

Though Israel says it’s against only Hamas, hundreds of innocent civilians have died and thousands have been maimed. Gaza, the de facto capital of Palestine, will soon become completely uninhabitable, according to the Red Cross.

An Israeli army artillery battery fires a smoke bomb into the Gaza Strip from the border. Israeli tanks and helicopter gunships went blazing into towns across the Gaza Strip, attacking Hamas targets and searching for its leaders as the war death toll approached 600. (AFP/Jack Guez)

An Israeli army artillery battery fires a smoke bomb into the Gaza Strip from the border. Israeli tanks and helicopter gunships went blazing into towns across the Gaza Strip, attacking Hamas targets and searching for its leaders as the war death toll approached 600. (AFP/Jack Guez)

West Asia conflict is one of my pet subjects. In fact, my interest in international affairs began with this. There is so much history to this area that it’s impossible to even summarise anything here. But let us look at some interesting developments in the recent past, so we can capture the immediate context.

Year 2004

Who are Hamas? It’s the largest Palestiniansmilitant organisation and it came into being in 1987. It has been fighting Israeli occupation of the land, with rocket attacks and suicide bombings. Many Palestinians feel that’s the best way to fight Israeli occupation.

However, the face of Palestinian struggle for self-determination largely was Yasser Arafat, a terrorist-turned-moderate, who belonged to the moderate Fatah faction. That was until 2004 when he died. After that, the mantle fell on Mahmoud Abbas, who is an opponent of rocket attacks on Israel. His argument is that these attacks will only provoke Israel to hit back  much harder and would do no good to Palestinian cause.

Year 2005

Gaza, a thin strip of land, was one of the areas Israel was occupying. In 2005, in a historic move Israel began withdrawing from the area. This was done in the face of strong opposition from Israeli hardliners who said the area was part of Greater Israel, Biblically ordained for the Jews. But the move delighted Hamas, who felt this was the result of its armed struggle.   

Palestinians sift though the rubble of destroyed buildings following Israeli air strikes in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip. (AFP/Said Khatib)

Palestinians sift though the rubble of destroyed buildings following Israeli air strikes in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip. (AFP/Said Khatib)

 

Year 2006

Election to the Palestinian Authority legislature was held in 2006. Hamas had a clear upper hand. Making international headlines, the terrorist group won over Fatah, the moderate group — 74 out of 134 seats.

Hamas’ victory instead of solving problems only complicated them. Not only it refused to put down arms against Israel, it refused to even recognise the existence of its Jewish neighbour. In retaliation, the US and Israel imposed sanctions on the Hamas administration, starving it of funds.

Year 2007

While Israel withdrew, clashes broke out between Fatah and Hamas in Gaza for control. Through the year there were clashes, finally ending with Hamas victory. Gaza Strip came in complete control of Hamas.

Year 2008

Even while all this was happening, there was no end to rocket attacks on Israel, which had started in 2001. Israel detected smuggling in of arms into Gaza. In as recently as Nov 2008, Israel raided Gaza and destroyed tunnels used for smuggling weapons. Hamas once again intensified its rocket attacks. Israel launched massive assault on Gaza.

Year 2009

Israel says it will not ceasefire until Hamas decides to stop firing rockets into Israel.

Palestinian medics carry a wounded boy into Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City. (AFP/Yasser Saymeh)

Palestinian medics carry a wounded boy into Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City. (AFP/Yasser Saymeh)

 

Why Hamas doesn’t impress

There are no saints in this conflict. Both Israel and Palestinian militants are guilty of perpetuating violence. But what disappoints me most is the inability of Hamas to honour the mandate of the people who elected them to power.

Hamas always refused to participate in elections. When it did in 2006, it was a historic move. Its victory only thrust more responsibility on its shoulders. It should have been gracious in victory. Imagine the dramatic turn if Hamas had declared that it would conditionally lay down arms, and talk to Israel.

Violence — let it be by anyone, Israel or Hamas — achieves only short-term goals. It’s never a long-term solution. Hamas should have realised that the rocket attacks had indeed succeeded, if not fully, at least to a large extent; when Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005.

Hamas had said it was ready to offer a 10-year truce if Israel completely withdrew from all occupied territories: Gaza, West Bank and East Jerusalem. Israel did withdraw from Gaza.

With the power of the popular mandate, Hamas — instead of getting into an internal fight with Fatah — should have snatched the upper hand and pushed ahead to get Israel out of West Bank and East Jerusalem as well.

A conditional laying down of arms would have been a wonderful beginning. Track the way the Troubles in Ireland were resolved. Of course, the history is different there, but rough parallels can be drawn.

People’s mandate gives power to push for peace as well. That’s a side which Hamas never recognised. Now, all the good that had been achieved in the last few years have come to a naught. Things in Gaza haven’t been this bad, at least in the recent past.

What lies ahead in Gaza and West Asia?

Any conflict can be ended. But it will need sagacity and statesmanship. Hamas is still pressing for the return of all the Palestinian refugees to their original homes, which is what Israel is now. Isn’t Hamas being unrealistic with that demand?

Hamas will have to recognise Israel. Because, whether anyone likes it or not, Israel is a reality. Hamas will have to then go ahead and talk to Israel. Israel too will have to back down and agree to at least sharing Jerusalem with Palestinians, if not completely hand it over.

Sounds too good to be true!

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