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“HE would make a drum out of the skin of his own mother in order to sound his own praises.” Winston Churchill was taking a celebrated shy here at his arch rival Lloyd George to everyone’s mirth. How would the humour work in India?

Hindutva cohorts spent most of the 10 years of prime minister Manmohan Singh’s years in office hurling abuses at him, calling him a thief and even a eunuch. The gentleman that he was, Singh responded with studied silence, eyes lowered. Now try critiquing Hindutva.

Last week, the police in Kanpur arrested one person and booked 22 others for putting up posters that likened Prime Minister Modi to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The posters featured photos of the two leaders side by side with an accompanying Hindi text: “Kim has decided to destroy the world, Modi has decided to destroy business.”

The traders missed a more telling point, however. India under Modi has slipped in the world hunger ratings to a level below North Korea. And both claim to be muscular nuclear powers that won’t baulk at the idea of using their arsenal against a challenger.

According to The Hindu, an FIR was filed against the 22 traders named on the posters under Sections 505 (statements conducing to public mischief) and 153 (wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot) of the Indian Penal Code.

The threat Hindu extremists pose is by no means limited to their abusive tongue.

Indeed, people who lampoon Modi or his aide Amit Shah, not to forget their handpicked Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, face a real danger at the very least of being abused on social media by their strangely virile followers. If the critic is a woman — and women happen to lead the spiralling chorus against the regime — she can expect to be threatened with rape. In case the indignant critic is male, he would have to endure the choice of his sister or mother being threatened with sexual assault.

In both events, it is the woman that ends up as the eventual victim of Hindutva’s rage. On a lean day, the critics can be arrested or served with a legal notice, as was the case with the traders or like a certain movie actor in southern India who ribbed Modi. Elsewhere, they can be bashed up by an irate mob, often under the watch of indulgent policemen.

Everyone abuses everybody in a world where regional, linguistic, religious or tribal prejudices abound. In India, the caste system has spawned its own vocabulary. Elite Muslims, mostly comprising the ashraaf, share the cultivated litany of caste-based abuses with their elite Hindu allies. Contemptuously calling someone a cobbler or a toilet cleaner, forbidden under Indian law, has been a cultural trait of Hindus and Muslims alike.

Of course, the upper castes are cursed back in turn, and that is the inevitable equaliser. Najman Bua of Rudauli had her peasant response in a rage. She was the Muslim house help who raised me as a child. Her choicest abuse was to call someone an offspring of a bearded Turkish rapist, reference to marauding soldiers.

As a convent-educated girl turned away her face in the old Bombay bus because a sweat-soaked fisherwoman had just found a seat next to her, what was the earful she got from the fish vendor? “Thaavk hai ga, moti baamna chi poar haais ti.” (I know you are a Brahmin’s daughter, and so what!)

Muslims mask their own peculiar genre of perverse talent. When the lights would go off at the Aligarh Muslim University hostels — and the problem of power outrages was perennial in the 1970s — the ashraaf Muslims, mostly those who would be teaching the path of piety to the newcomers during the day, would resort to the foulest invectives they mindlessly hurled at the inmates of a rival hostel in the cover of darkness. Women were again the targets.

The advent of the parliament house of elected deputies, initially under upper-caste sway, put a period of restraint on the style and substance of the conversations in Indian politics. My guess is that the rise of the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra ended the period of mandatory sobriety. The caste verbiage mutated into a ‘dhikkar (fie on you) rally’ by the Dalit Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh. The middle caste Samajwadi Party returned the compliment with a ‘thoo thoo (spit on you) rally’ against the Dalits, recalling perhaps that the lowest in the caste heap had to wear a spittoon round their neck so as not to pollute the path of walkers.

As the two tramps in Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot abused each other into an absurd crescendo the bout ended with Estragon calling Vladimir a ‘critic’.

But fascists would not be fascists if they limited their response to criticism with criticism. The threat Hindu extremists pose is by no means limited to their abusive tongue. That is where leaders like Rahul Gandhi miss the point. He personalises everything wrong with Hindutva. He says they routinely abuse him and his family, which is a fact. I have heard activists of Jan Sangh, an earlier avatar of the Bharatiya Janata Party, targeting Indira Gandhi for her gender.

True, they bashed up Rahul Gandhi, metaphorically of course, so much that it made him open his eyes to the real world. Gandhi’s speechwriters seem to accord little space to violence that ordinary Indians face at the hands of fascist vigilantes. They desist from mentioning the daylight murders of men and women like Gauri Lankesh and Malleshappa Madivalappa Kalburgi by suspected Hindutva assassins. For that he deserves to be called an opportunist. In which case, however, rest assured that his henchmen, if he keeps any, will not beat you up or lynch you. And that small blessing may be something to covet in 2019.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

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Published in Dawn, October 17th, 2017

Joshua Boyle, his American wife and three children arrived in Toronto on Friday after being freed from captivity in Pakistan, the Canadian government announced.

Boyle and his wife Caitlan Coleman were captured by the Taliban while hiking in Afghanistan in 2012, and then turned over to the affiliated militant Haqqani network in Pakistan.

Boyle said upon arriving back in Canada that the Haqqani network in Afghanistan had killed his infant daughter and raped his wife during the years they were held in captivity.

The couple was rescued on Wednesday, five years after they had been abducted by the Taliban-linked extremist network while in Afghanistan as part of a backpacking trip. Coleman was pregnant at the time and had four children in captivity. The birth of the fourth child had not been publicly known before Boyle appeared before journalists at the Toronto airport.

Joshua Boyle, left, gets a police escort after speaking to the media after arriving at the airport in Toronto on Friday.— AP
Joshua Boyle, left, gets a police escort after speaking to the media after arriving at the airport in Toronto on Friday.— AP

 

“The stupidity and evil of the Haqqani network's kidnapping of a pilgrim and his heavily pregnant wife engaged in helping ordinary villagers in Taliban-controlled regions of Afghanistan was eclipsed only by the stupidity and evil of authorising the murder of my infant daughter,” he said.

Boyle said his wife was raped by a guard who was assisted by his superiors. He asked for the Afghan government to bring them to justice.

“God willing, this litany of stupidity will be the epitaph of the Haqqani network,” he said.

He said he was in Afghanistan to help villagers “who live deep inside Taliban-controlled Afghanistan where no NGO, no aid worker and no government has ever successfully been able to bring the necessary help”.

On the plane from London, Boyle provided a written statement to The Associated Press saying his family has “unparalleled resilience and determination”. Coleman, who is from Stewartstown, Pennsylvania, sat in the aisle of the business-class cabin wearing a tan-colored headscarf.

She nodded wordlessly when she confirmed her identity to a reporter on board the flight. In the two seats next to her were her two elder children. In the seat beyond that was Boyle, with their youngest child in his lap. US State Department officials were on the plane with them.

The handwritten statement that Boyle gave the AP expressed disagreement with US foreign policy.

“God has given me and my family unparalleled resilience and determination, and to allow that to stagnate, to pursue personal pleasure or comfort while there is still deliberate and organised injustice in the world would be a betrayal of all I believe, and tantamount to sacrilege,” he wrote.

He nodded to one of the State Department officials and said, “Their interests are not my interests.” He added that one of his children is in poor health and had to be force-fed by their Pakistani rescuers.

The family was able to leave the plane with their escorts before the rest of the passengers. There was a short delay before everyone else was allowed out.

“It will be of incredible importance to my family that we are able to build a secure sanctuary for our three surviving children to call a home,” he said in his later statement at the airport. “To try to regain some portion of the childhood that they have lost.”

Dan Boyle, Joshua's younger brother, said outside the family home in Smiths Falls, Ontario, that he had spoken to his brother a few times in the past few days.

“He's doing very well. He sounds a lot like how he sounded five years ago. He sounds like he had his head on his shoulders and his wits about him,” he said.

'Kill the hostage'

The Canadian government said in a statement they will “continue to support him and his family now that they have returned”.

“Today, we join the Boyle family in rejoicing over the long-awaited return to Canada of their loved ones,” the Canadian government said.

Foreign Office spokesman Nafees Zakaria said the Pakistan Army raid that led to the family's rescue was based on a tip from US intelligence and shows that Pakistan will act against a “common enemy” when Washington shares information.

US officials have long accused Pakistan of ignoring groups like the Haqqani network. US officials consider it a terrorist organisation and have targeted its leaders with drone strikes. But the Haqqani group also operates like a criminal network. Unlike the militant Islamic State (IS) group, it does not typically execute Western hostages, preferring to ransom them for cash.

A US national security official, who was not authorised to discuss operational details of the release and spoke only on condition of anonymity, said the US obtained actionable information, passed it to Pakistani government officials, asked them to interdict and recover the hostages and they did.

President Donald Trump, who previously had warned Pakistan to stop harbouring militants, praised Pakistan for its “cooperation on many fronts”. On Twitter, he wrote Friday that the US is starting to develop “a much better relationship with Pakistan and its leaders”.

 

The operation appeared to have unfolded quickly and ended with what some described as a dangerous raid, a shootout and a captor's final, terrifying threat to “kill the hostage”.

Boyle told his parents that he, his wife and their children were intercepted by Pakistani forces while being transported in the back or trunk of their captors' car and that some of his captors were killed. He suffered only a shrapnel wound, his family said. US officials did not confirm those details.

'Horrible coincidence'

A US military official said that a military hostage team had flown to Pakistan on Wednesday prepared to fly the family out. The team did a preliminary health assessment and had a transport plane ready to go, but sometime after daybreak Thursday, as the family members were walking to the plane, Boyle said he did not want to board, the official said.

Boyle's father said his son did not want to board the plane because it was headed to Bagram Air Base and the family wanted to return directly to North America. Another US official said Boyle was nervous about being in “custody” given his family ties.

Boyle chose to fly back from Islamabad to Canada on commercial airlines via London.

He was once married to Zaynab Khadr, the older sister of former Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr and the daughter of a senior Al Qaeda financier. Her father, the late Ahmed Said Khadr, and the family stayed with Osama bin Laden briefly when Omar Khadr was a boy.

See: Canada to apologise, pay former Gitmo prisoner Omar Khadr $8m

The Canadian-born Omar Khadr was 15 when he was captured by US troops following a firefight and was taken to the US detention centre at Guantanamo Bay. Officials had discounted any link between that background and Boyle's capture, with one official describing it in 2014 as a “horrible coincidence”.

The US Justice Department said neither Boyle nor Coleman is wanted for any federal crime. On Thursday, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said Boyle was not a target of investigation in Canada.

The Haqqani network had previously demanded the release of Anas Haqqani, a son of the founder of the group, in exchange for turning over the American-Canadian family. In one of the videos released by their captors, Boyle implored the Afghan government not to execute Taliban prisoners, or he and his wife would be killed.

US officials have said that several other Americans are being held by militant groups in Afghanistan or Pakistan.

They include Kevin King, 60, a teacher at the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul who was abducted in August 2016, and Paul Overby, an author in his 70s who had traveled to the region several times but disappeared in eastern Afghanistan in mid-2014.

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump reacted to reports on Tuesday that his secretary of state had called him a moron, saying in an interview if Rex Tillerson did call him a moron, the two should “compare IQ tests”.

“And I can tell you who is going to win,” Trump said in the interview with Forbes magazine.

Trump’s tense relationship with Tillerson burst into public view last week. An NBC News story claimed Vice President Mike Pence had to talk the secretary of state out of resigning this summer, and that Tillerson had called Trump a “moron”.

Tillerson said he never considered resigning, though he didn’t directly address the reported insult.

 

His spokeswoman later said he never used such language.

State Department officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

President Trump has at times appeared to undercut Rex Tillerson’s message on some of America’s most sensitive national security challenges, including Iran and North Korea.

Tillerson also has publicly complained about the White House blocking him from making key appointments.

Still, last week Trump told reporters he had “total confidence” in his secretary of state.

In the Forbes interview, done on Friday, Trump responded to criticism that he had undermined his secretary of state through his often provocative tweets that have interfered directly with ongoing diplomatic efforts.

“I’m not undermining,” Trump told Forbes. “I think I’m actually strengthening authority.”

As for Rex Tillerson’s reported “moron” comment, the president said: “I think it’s fake news. But if he did that, I guess we’ll have to compare IQ tests. And I can tell you who is going to win.”

The president launched a series of tweets on a wide range of topics on Tuesday morning.

He said that reaching out to congressional Democrats for help in getting immigration legislation passed is difficult because “the Democrats don’t want secure borders”.

In his tweet, Trump charged that Democ­rats “don’t care about safety for USA”.

His Twitter post came only two days after Trump sent an immigration overhaul wish-list of legislative proposals to congressional leaders, including a requirement that Congress agree to a host of border security improvements and make significant changes to the green card programme.

Donald Trump had said on Sunday there needs to be security enhancements and the border wall that he’s demanded before he’d sign onto a bill restoring a programme that shields from deportation young people brought to the United States illegally when they were children.

Published in Dawn, October 11th, 2017

his aerial photo provided by the California Highway Patrol Golden Gate Division shows some of hundreds of homes destroyed in a wind-driven wildfire that swept through Santa Rosa, California, early Monday on Oct 9.

NAPA, United States, Oct 10, (Agencies): More than a dozen fast-moving wildfires tearing through California’s wine country have killed at least 10 people, destroying hundreds of homes, authorities said Monday. Fanned by winds of over 50 miles (80 kms) an hour, the blazes have forced more than 20,000 people to evacuate in the country’s heaviest populated state since they began Sunday night.

California’s fire service said about 73,000 acres (30,000 hectares) have been ravaged by the major infernos. “The Sheriff’s Office confirms seven fire-related deaths from the Sonoma Co fires. Our condolences to their friends and families,” tweeted the sheriff of Sonoma County in the state’s north. The previous toll had stood at three.

At least 1,500 buildings were destroyed as the state declared an emergency in three counties ravaged by intense fires, mostly in its famous wine-producing regions. Fourteen major fires are burning in total. Napa, Sonoma and Yuba counties are covered by Governor Jerry Brown’s order. The counties are north of San Francisco Bay.

An AFP correspondent in the Santa Rosa area witnessed multiple explosions from gas lines or gas tanks, in addition to charred out homes and a winery. Fire trucks were out in force in that area, he said. About 410 firefighters are working on blazes in Mendocino, a sheriff’s spokesman in that county told the CBS news network, adding that multiple fatalities were expected.

Fighters
Another fire in Anaheim has surged to char 800 hectares and at least 200 fire fighters scrambled to try to contain it. Dozens of shelters were opened in schools and churches. Even livestock had shelter areas set up on some fair grounds. “We’re going to have to start over completely,” Dreama Goldberg, who fl ed her home — now a heap of ashes — at eight months pregnant, told NBC. Jesus Torres told CBS he barely had time to grab a few things and run from his home. “We could see the sky was getting red: we did not know it was fire until the last second because there was just smoke everywhere,” he said.

The Hilton Hotel in Santa Rosa said on Facebook that its staff and guests were evacuated safely. “The wildfires in Santa Rosa, California and the surrounding areas have forced the evacuation and temporary closure of Hilton Sonoma Wine Country,” it said on Facebook. “All guests and associates of the Hotel have been safely evacuated and are not able to return until further notice. It is anticipated that the Hotel has sustained significant damage.” Pacific Gas & Electric said more than 196,000 customers had initially lost elecricity although half had had their power restored.

“As of 3.00 pm (2200 GMT), we have about 99,000 customers out of power throughout our service area, with the majority of them in Sonoma and Napa counties,” it said. Coffey Park, a sprawling Santa Rosa neighborhood with dozens of homes, was also charred in the strong winds and low humidity fire experts said were more like fires in southern California. Cheri Sharp told Oregon-based TV news channel KOBI her home of 26 years in Santa Rosa was among those destroyed. “All our pictures are gone. Everything, everything is gone. We’ve got a fire pit. It’s pretty awful,” she said.

Around 90 per cent of the world's nuclear weapons are held by the United States (US) and Russia, with the remainder in the hands of another seven countries including North Korea, that form a small global nuclear club.

ICAN, the International Coalition to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for its decade-long campaign to ban the estimated 15,000 atomic weapons around the world.

Around 4,000 are currently deployed and ready to be used, according to figures from the Federation of American Scientists.

The US is the only country that has ever used a nuclear weapon, on August 6 and 9, 1945, on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where some 140,000 and 70,000 people died respectively.

 

Since 1970, when the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) entered into force, five declared nuclear powers — the US, Russia, France, Britain and China — agreed not to sell or transfer their weapons technology to other countries.

Other signatories of the treaty, (there are 191 in total) also agreed not to pursue a nuclear weapons programme.

Some countries abandoned their nuclear ambitions around the time of the treaty, including Sweden (1968) and Switzerland (1969), while others have since dropped their programmes such as South Africa (1991) and ex-Soviet republics.

Despite the NPT, four other countries managed to develop their own nuclear capability: India, Pakistan and Israel, which never signed the treaty, and most recently North Korea, which pulled out of the treaty in 2003.

A number of scientists are suspected of taking part in the illicit trade of nuclear secrets, including Abdul Qadeer Khan, considered the father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb who admitted to being in contact with Iran, Libya and North Korea in 2004.

Iran was suspected of trying to develop its own nuclear weapons capability over the last two decades, which top Nobel world powers feared would lead to an atomic arms race in the Middle East.

In 2015, Tehran signed a deal agreeing to inspections and promising that it would use nuclear technology only for energy or other civilian purposes in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.

US President Donald Trump is set to decide by October 15 whether to stick with the deal, which his Western allies insist is the only way of containing the threat. He once called it “the worst deal ever”.

ANKARA: US consulates in Turkey indefinitely halted all non-immigrant visa services on Sunday, the American embassy said, after one of the mission’s Turkish staffers was arrested in the latest dispute between the Nato allies.

The embassy said “recent events” had forced the US government to reassess Turkey’s “commitment” to the security of US mission services and personnel in the country.

In order to minimise the number of visitors while the assessment is carried out, “effective immediately we have suspended all non-immigrant visa services at all US diplomatic facilities in Turkey,” it said.

Non-immigrant visas are issued to all those travelling to the United States for tourism, medical treatment, business, temporary work or study. Visa services are only those seeking to live in the US permanently.

Beyond mentioning “recent events”, the statement made no explicit mention of the the arrest by Turkish authorities of a local Turkish staffer working at the US consulate in Istanbul.

The employee was remanded in custody by an Istanbul court late Wednesday on accusations of links to the group of US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen, blamed by Ankara for last year’s failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The man has been formally charged with espionage and seeking to overthrow the Turkish government.

The embassy on Thursday said it was “deeply disturbed” over the arrest and rejected the allegations as “wholly without merit”.

The statement also condemned leaks in the local press which it said came from Turkish government sources that were “seemingly aimed at trying the employee in the media rather than a court of law.”

Published in Dawn, October 9th, 2017

Humanitarian Team (Insani) managed to secure financial support to help schools in five areas in N. Lebanon.

KUWAIT CITY, Oct 7, (KUNA): Living up to its UN-bestowed status as an International Humanitarian Center, the State of Kuwait continued to provide aid to people in Lebanon and Syria throughout the week. In Lebanon, the International Center for Quality Education (ICQE), better known as the “Kuwait Charity Schools,” on Friday offered education to about 70,000 Syrian refugees, the center’s deputy chairman Khalil Al-Hamadi said.

The number of Syrian children in the schools have been gradually on the rise since the humanitarian project was launched five years ago. They hit 13,000 last year in 27 schools in Northern Lebanon, Al- Hamadi told KUNA on the sidelines of the start of the academic year in some of the facilities under supervision of the ICQE. This year, the center aims to provide education to 20,000 pupils, he said, voicing gratitude to the charity and relief organizations and other benefactors in Kuwait and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) for their support to the project over the years. Al-Hamadi also thanked members of the Insani (Humanitarian) Team which comprises volunteers from Kuwait and the GCC. They have managed to secure fi- nancing and support to schools in five areas in Northern Lebanon this year, he said.

Specialized
For his part, administrative director of the ICQE in Lebanon, Mahmoud Sweyed, said the Kuwaiti charity schools provide education services through specialized educators. In addition, the center offers psychological and social support to the pupils, after the horrible conditions they witnessed due to the war at home, he added. In Tripoli, northern Lebanon, several schools being run by Kuwaiti charities began their semester, according to a Kuwaiti diplomat.

Speaking to KUNA on Thursday, the diplomat in charge of humanitarian affairs at Kuwait’s embassy in Beirut Mohammad Al- Khaldi said that his country was keen on aiding the needy in Lebanon. He affirmed that Kuwaiti charities were willing to seek all venues of relief aid including the education of the less fortunate. The diplomat thanked charitable Kuwaiti entities for their relentless efforts to help those seeking education, stressing that this was reflective of Kuwait’s strong desire to aid people in Lebanon and worldwide. On his part, head of the Kuwaiti team for humanitarian initiatives Anan Al-Subihi emphasized that most of those seeking education at Kuwaiti operated schools were of the Syrian refugee populace.

He indicated that the Kuwaiti team’s main focus was to provide educational and mental support to child refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Yemen, and also within some regions in Syria. Meanwhile, member of the Kuwaiti International Islamic Charitable Organization’s (IICO) quality education center Mustafa Alloush said that several schools in the Tripoli area were able to begin the school year due to the efforts of Kuwaiti charitable organizations.

Hundreds of refugees are now able to pursue education thanks to the generous Kuwaiti efforts, he affirmed. Furthermore, the Kuwaiti Al- Najat Charity held on Thursday tests for Syrian children to assess their intellectual and educational levels prior to registration in private schools.

These quizzes aim to help Syrian children, who failed to get education over the past years, enroll in private schools, said Dr Abdulmohsen Al-Hwailah, the assistant undersecretary for private education at the Ministry of Education. Dr Al-Hwailah was speaking during a tour at the exam venues, schools of Al-Najat Charity, involving 1,250 Syrian boys and girls. Such help for the Syrian children is in line with guidelines of His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, “the top example for us as individuals and institutions particularly after His Highness has been designated as Humanitarian Leader,” said Dr Al-Hwailah.

This program, launched two years ago, aims at aiding the Syrian students, who have no residency papers, or whose parents are in financial difficulty or who lack any papers proving that they have gotten education in their homeland, Syria. These pupils receive official certifications with qualification classes, enabling them to register in private schools. Al-Najat Charity, a Kuwaiti public welfare association, builds schools, gives assistance to students, citizens and foreigners, who cannot afford school fees.

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