Why Middle East would welcome a Biden-Putin reset

Why Middle East would welcome a Biden-Putin reset

Variations of the title “Biden must avoid Obama’s mistakes” have been a frequent occurrence in many US media outlets recently. Each article focuses on a different angle, ranging from the domestic files of taxation and following a progressive agenda to international files such as policies in the Middle East and Asia. Linking Joe Biden’s presidency to Barack Obama’s has been a major angle for news organizations across the political landscape. The pair’s friendship beyond politics, as well as their similar visions of domestic and world affairs, have encouraged this view. These titles are interesting as it is not easy to correct the mistakes of a friend or a mentor when taking over his responsibilities, whether in business or politics. It is even more difficult to accept the positive achievements of a foe or someone we disagree with when succeeding him, especially in politics.
This is partly why the Biden administration is being labeled as a third Obama term. However, it might not be so much a third Obama term as an anti-Trump presidency. In the domestic political debate, the focus is on Donald Trump’s political threat, with Biden’s actions mostly focused on erasing or canceling many of Trump’s decisions, rather than continuing Obama’s policies, which themselves were inherited from Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter before that. This is maybe two ways of saying the same thing. But in doing this erasing, there is a risk of losing positive points of world stability, especially in the Middle East and Europe.
Trump focused his foreign policy largely on framing China as the biggest threat to the US, even as an “enemy,” while trying to re-engage with Russia, but US domestic politics blocked this. And so, as Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin are about to meet in Geneva, the key objective does not seem to be to mend relations, but rather to discuss strategic stability and initiate a new security and defense balance of power that both powers can live with in an effort to avoid more clashes. This applies to the New START nuclear arms limitation agreement, which was extended for five more years at the last minute at the end of January. Signed in 2010, this agreement, which limits the arsenals of Russia and the US, was due to expire on Feb. 5. Negotiations over its extension were largely deadlocked throughout Trump’s presidency.
So the focus of the Biden-Putin talks will not be to find common solutions to regional problems, but to discuss rebuilding a new security and military strategic balance. This might include a development of the New START agreement, as well as a replacement to the Open Skies treaty that Trump withdrew the US from last year. Only a week before his Geneva summit with Biden, Putin on Monday signed a law formalizing Russia’s withdrawal from the multilateral Open Skies treaty, which allows surveillance flights over military facilities. Some other topics, as reported by the US media, will be Russia’s actions in Ukraine, human rights and, most importantly, cyberattacks and microwave radiation attacks that have targeted US personnel across the globe.
There is little hope of a great reset in relations, such as the one that took place during the Obama administration. This saw the US dismantle its missile defense plans for Eastern Europe and sign the New START treaty. This reset was launched during a meeting between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Washington in 2009, when the latter was offered a red “reset” button. However, it turned out the word “reset” had been mistranslated to the Russian word for “overload.” Through this reset, the US did make some concessions, but it also upped the pressure and challenged Russia in its own backyard, especially through a global agenda that ultimately led to today’s unstable situation.
It was quite symbolic of the Obama administration to set the priority for its foreign policy through the promotion of a progressive global agenda, from human rights to climate change. This implied a lack of interest in disengaging from historical geopolitical balances, which translated into an inconsistent and fragile foreign policy. The way America’s relations with the Middle East and Europe changed during these years was quite revealing. Although recognizing the great power competition between the two countries, it nevertheless seems that the Biden administration is inclined to try a reset and build positive relations with China, rather than with Russia. This might ultimately have the same outcome as Obama’s reset with Russia in 2009. American allies from Asia to Europe are once again feeling uneasy, as they do not know whether Washington will keep playing its historical strategic role. There is, in that sense, a lot to be said for the Biden administration’s view of the Abraham Accords. It is clearly undermining them because they do not fit its view that no peace in the region can happen before a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian issue. However, the White House fails to mention Iran’s role in sabotaging every Arab peace initiative of recent decades. It must be puzzling for the Israelis to see the US administration giving them the cold shoulder while jumping into a new nuclear deal with Iran. This could change the Middle East in many ways.
Although not a topic on the agenda of the Geneva meeting, Europe and the Middle East will be, as we say in Arabic, “the absent which is present.” The countries of both regions, as they come out of the coronavirus pandemic, would like to avoid geopolitical instability at all costs. Hence, they are hedging any US disengagement by promoting positive relations with Russia and China. But both regions would welcome a positive reset between Biden and Putin, as it could bring acceptable compromises on many files that affect them and promote strategic stability. For this to happen, what is needed is neither an Obama presidency nor an anti-Trump one, but the empowerment of key regional players.
—Arab News

Pakistan’s pledge for ecosystem restoration

Pakistan’s pledge for ecosystem restoration

BEING host of World Environment Day (WED) 2021 observance, Pakistan has received big applauds from global community for arranging great celebrations with a series of activities spread over weeks, and showcasing the country’s own initiatives and its role in global efforts.
Today, our nation has cheerful moments as Pakistan is now among global leaders along-with an extra edge over other developing nations for a very serious transnational cause of environmental security. This is very delightful for me as the World Environment Day 2021 celebrations have raised my stature in international community and I am feeling proud to be a Pakistani.
Investments in nature-based solutions have paid back in the form of a very good international image of the country, as witnessed on the occasion of WED 2021. Although Pakistan is successful in first stroke for ecosystem restoration with a massive plantation drive with the slogan of ‘One Billion Tree Tsunami’, the actual response strategy and course of actions for country’s Green Pledge towards a wide variety of ecosystems are still in infancy. It needs continuation of existing policies and creating further enabling way of doing things with enhanced coordination mechanism between the federal and provincial line government departments. The current achievement of Pakistan is an outcome of a dedicated initiative by the Government of Khyber Pakhtu-nkhwa, which was successfully completed a few years ago. Subsequently, the Federal Government extended the concept of massive plantation to the entire Pakistan for covering the alpine to maritime ecosystems, with the slogan of ‘Ten Billion Tree Tsunami’.
This initiative was not only successful in getting recognized that Pakistan is well prepared to lead the way in ecosystem restoration but also it was instrumental in securing the status of host for World Environment Day 2021 for the theme ‘Ecosystem Restoration’ to focus on resetting our relation with the nature.
The celebration the of World Environment Day is unique this year as it will also mark the formal launch of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restora-tion 2021-2030. There is a global consensus that the ecosystem restoration can help in poverty alleviation, combating climate change and preventing mass extinction of species, which are major transnational environmental challenges of the 21st century. It is a bitter reality that ecosystems continue to erode yet, which already affects the well-being of at least 3.2 billion people worldwide. We can reverse this negative trend by putting in place the right policy measures and implementing action-oriented strategies with active engagement of local populations by seeking their support towards it. If we set a global target to restore 15% of the degraded lands then it could likely prevent 60% of projected species extinctions.
Restoring through agro forestry alone has the potential to increase food security for 1.3 billion people. Restoring coral reefs could deliver further in ecosystem service benefits and moving forward with blue economy endeavors. It is a very good portent that the ecosystem restoration is at the core of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework, which will be adopted more likely this year and under the umbrella of Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
It will serve as an excellent backdrop and principle vehicle to the expected actions under the UN decade on Ecosystem Restoration. There is a need to create its synergy with other Conventions, which would optimize the multiple benefits for ecosystem restoration. In the overall context of ecosystem restoration and the case of Pakistan, it is anticipated that Pakistan’s 10 Billion Tree Tsunami would likely help in restoring the 1 million hectares of degraded forests and wetland ecosystem. This initiative is being linked up with livelihood generation through export oriented honey production project for the forest dependent communities. Pakistan has introduced the ‘Green Bond’ scheme, which is anticipated to help in setting and achieving the targets for Country’s Green Pledge with an outcome based approach in order to restore a wide variety of ecosystems through a number of tangible things.
The activities will include the proliferation of renewables, promotion of electric vehicles, projects for local livelihood solutions, creation of green jobs, pollution abatement, waste management and introduction of other initiatives etc. Pakistan’s Green Pledge for ecosystem restoration has also a proposal to expand protected areas with the inclusion of additional 15% of land area and 10% of marine area by the year 2023. If comes true, it will be a clear and tangible demonstration of being part of the solution strategy for nature. These initiatives will not only restore and protect nature, but they will also ensure environmental security i.e. food security, energy security and water security, and limit the pollution problem by providing ecosystem services. Marine pollution is a matter of serious concern in Pakistan for which response measures can not only be sufficient at level of Federal Government but it also needs due attention by the provincial governments of Sindh and Balochistan.
In a nutshell, success stories from Pakistan’s Green Pledge, alike massive plantation, will serve as an inspiration for other countries to emulate and adapt. Together, let us dedicate ourselves to complement towards Country’s Green Pledge and efforts for preventing, halting and reversing the degradation of all ecosystems i.e. from alpine to maritime areas.

Indian nuclear proliferation

Indian nuclear proliferation

IN a period of less than one month (May 6, 2021 to June 4, 2021) there have been two major cases of Uranium theft in India. In the first case, Indian police arrested two men in western Maharashtra State with over seven kilogrammes of natural uranium. These two Indian nationals were “illegally posses-sing” the highly radioactive Uranium. In the second case 6.4 kilogrammes of uranium was seized from the possession of seven persons in the eastern Indian State of Jharkh-and in Bokaro district on June 4, 2021. These two incidents are only recent in the history of Indian uranium theft cases. These uranium theft cases have exposed the Indian State control over the highly sensitive radioactive and sensitive material.
The founding institute of the Indian nuclear energy programme, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) of India has also confirmed that seized uranium from these two theft cases is ‘highly radioactive and pure’. In the history of Indian nuclear programme, there have been hundreds of such incidents both at individual and the collective theft and smuggling cases which questioned the very security and control of radioactive material by the State.
The nuclear experts believe that such incidents are very serious from the perspective of nuclear terrorism.
These nuclear smugglers may be the people of Hindu terrorist gangs: Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal which have already declared as terrorist organisations by Central Intelligence Agency of the United States in 2018. These are two sub-organizations of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) the founding organization of ruling BJP. Nuclear experts beli-eve that these terrorist organizations can detonate radioactive material by combining it with any conventional weapon, which called “dirty bomb”.
In a way, if not prevented, such cases of the theft of radioactive material may lead towards nuclear terrorism in India or its neighbourhood.
Indeed, tracing the history of Indian nuclear programme, there have been continuous incidents of the theft of radioactive material. So far over 153 such cases have taken place ever since 1980s.
Besides, there are dozens of cases of the uranium theft which were not reported in the press. Owing to the continuous leakage of information, incidents of stealing sensitive nuclear material, seizing of depleted Uranium and hundreds of cases of nuclear proliferation, the nuclear experts believe that Indian nuclear program has become the most hazardous for the mankind or at least for the people of South Asia.
The outcome of the investigations of all these thefts and proliferations is still unknown. In 2016, there was a seizure of 8.861 Kilograms of Depleted Uranium by police in India’s Economic capital, Mumbai, which cost approximately 24 crore rupees (Indian rupees).
The Indian police arrested two people, who possessed this Depleted Uranium. One of them, Mr Prajapati has been named as Director of an unlisted company that deals with manufacturing of metals, chemicals and related products.
The most hazardous aspect of this seizure was that it contained 0.3 % Fissile Isotope U-235 which could be used both for military and civilian purposes as reported by BARC.
The worrying aspect was that this was sourced from outside India which means that these smuggling and theft cases of radioactive material are linked with international gangs through Indian Diaspora.
The Indian track record further revealed that in June 2009, an Indian scientist, Lokanathan Mahalingam, who was working at “Kaiga Atomic Power Station” was mysteriously found dead alon-g the bank of the Kali River near Nisarga Guest House of the Nuclear Power Corporation Ltd in Mallapur Township. Later investigations revealed that, he was involved in training apprentices of the actual reactor and was in possession of the “highly sensitive information and might be doubted for Indian nuke proliferation”.
Earlier, Mr. Anil Kumar Tiwari, Director of the Uttaran-chal Space Application Centre, was killed in the similar circumstances in November, 2006. India otherwise has poor record of the chemical and nuclear safety.
A lengthy study regarding the safety of Indian Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), revealed over 135 “extremely serious safety issues warranting urgent corrective measures in the nuclear installations like Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR), Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited, Uranium Corporation of India Limited, Indian Rare Earths Limited, Nuclear Fuel Complex (NFC) and the Heavy Water Board”.
The 40 MW Cirus, has also suffered the radiation leakage with the Candu reactors suffering from massive leakage of heavy water and the “Fast Breeder Test Reactor” of 40 MW at Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, Kalpakkam, built with French assistance, was rated `unsafe’, and discarded”. From 1986 to 1991, the inlets of the Madras Atomic Power Station and its reactors got cracked and it remained shut down because of the leakage of tons of heavy water. These incidents of theft and smuggling of highly radioactive material may lead towards nuclear terrorism in India.
In fact, India is a country with worst track record of nuclear proliferation and theft cases of radioactive material in the world. Its nuclear programme is highly unsafe and most dangerous. Whereas, some analysts believe that RSS is collaborating with Indian nuclear scientists in this proliferation of nuclear technology and nuclear material through underworld organizations for some major game plan. Others are of the opinion that it is because of poor security measures of Indian nuclear programme and radioactive material which may lead towards nuclear terrorism. In both cases, IAEA, UNO and major powers especially the United States must take a serious note of sequential incidents of nuclear proliferation and theft of highly radioactive material.
—The writer is Professor of Politics and IR at International Islamic University, Islamabad.

Hydrogen could be a key player in the recovery plan

Hydrogen could be a key  player in the recovery plan

Thanks to the contribution of vaccines, the Covid-19 pandemic is slowly beginning to abate and gradually lose its aggressiveness, with the consequent reduction of its impact on people’s health worldwide. However, while the health effects of the pandemic appear to be fading, the negative economic effects of a year and a half of lockdown and forced closure of many businesses are being felt heavily at a global level and seem bound to last well beyond the end of the health emergency.
With a view to supporting and encouraging the “restart” and revival of the economy, the European Union has launched a “Recovery and Resilience Plan”, allocating a huge amount of funds that shall be used in the coming years not only to help countries in difficulty with contingent measures, but also to stimulate economic and productive growth capable of modernizing production models with specific reference to environmental balance, which is increasingly facing a crisis due to the use of non-renewable, highly polluting energy sources. Italy will receive over 200 billion Euros in European funds to develop its own projects to get out of the economic-pandemic crisis and rightly wants to use them not only to plug the leaks caused by the various ‘lockdowns’ in the national productive fabric, but also to implement a series of strategic projects capable of making not only the productive sectors, but also the public administration and the health and judicial systems more efficient.
In short, the “Recovery and Resilience Plan” that is currently coming to the fore may prove to be a powerful driving force for Italy’s development and modernization. The projects submitted by Italy to the EU institutions include an initial allocation of over 200 million euros – out of the 47 billion euros planned for the next decade – to promote research and development in the field of renewable energy and particularly in the hydrogen sector. Hydrogen is potentially the most abundant source of “clean” energy in the universe. It is versatile, safe and reliable; when obtained from renewable energy sources, it produces no harmful emissions to the environment. Nevertheless, it is not available in nature in its gaseous form – which is the only one that can be used as an energy source – as it is always bound to other elements, such as oxygen in water and methane as a gas.
The traditional processes used to “separate” hydrogen from oxygen in water and from methane use up large amounts of electricity, which makes the processes not only very expensive, but also highly polluting, with the paradox that, in order to produce a clean energy source, the environment is “polluted” anyway, especially if – as has been the case until recently – the electricity needed is produced with traditional non-renewable energy sources (coal, gas and oil).
The best source of hydrogen in gaseous form is the sea. Electrolysis can easily separate hydrogen from oxygen and store it in gaseous form for use as an energy source. The electrolytic cells used to develop the process use up large amounts of energy and, fortunately for us, science is finding a way to produce it without polluting, using solar, wind and, above all, sea wave energy. The use of marine energy creates a sort of “circular economy” for hydrogen production: from the practically inexhaustible primary source of ocean water, hydrogen can be extracted with the energy provided by wave and tidal motion. Forty per cent of the world’s population lives within 100 kilometers from the sea and this shows the potential of sea wave and tidal energy as an engine for sustainable development in economic, climate and environmental terms.
Nowadays modern, non-invasive tools are available to extract electricity from sea waves, such as the “penguin”, a device manufactured in Italy, which – placed 50 meters deep – produces electricity without harming marine flora and fauna.
Another example of Italian scientists’ intelligence and creativity is the Inertial Sea Wave Converter (ISWEC), a device housed inside a 15-metre-long hull which, occupying a marine area of just 150 square meters, is able to produce 250 megawatts of electricity a year, thus enabling to cut emissions into the atmosphere by 68 tons of CO2.
With these devices and the other ones that technology will develop over the next few years, it will be possible to power electrolytic cells for the production of hydrogen in gaseous form on an industrial scale, at levels that – over the next 15 years – will lead to the production of at least 100,000 tons of “green” hydrogen per year, thus enabling to reduce air pollution significantly, with positive effects on the economy, the environment and the climate. In the summer of 2020, the European Union launched a project called the “Hydrogen Strategy”, with a funding of 470 billion euros, intended for research and production projects capable of equipping EU countries with electrolysis tools to produce at least one million tons of “green” hydrogen by the end of 2024. The fight against CO2 emissions continues unabated: in the United States which, after Trump’s Presidency, has reaffirmed its commitment to reducing emissions; in China which, in its latest five-year plan, has forecast a 65% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere by the end 2030; in Europe, which has always been at the forefront in the creation of devices for producing wave and tidal energy and exports its technologies to the United States, Australia and China. According to the Hydrogen Council, an association of over 100 companies from around the world that share a common long-term vision for a transition to hydrogen, in the future Europe and China will compete and cooperate in the production of sea wave and tidal energy and in the related production of “green hydrogen”. With its 14th five-year plan, China, in particular – after having been for decades, during its whirling economic development, one of the main sources of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere and of global pollution – has undertaken the commitment “to develop and promote the harmonious coexistence between man and nature, through the improvement of efficiency in the use of resources and a proper balance between protection and development”, as clearly stated by its Minister of Natural Resources Lu Hao. In the case of China and its Minister of Natural Resources, however, words have been turned into deeds. As part of the Roadmap 2.0 for Energy Saving Technology and New Energy Vehicles, China has set a target of one million fuel cell vehicles and two million tons of hydrogen production per year by the end of 2035. The China Hydrogen Energy Industry Development Report 2020 forecasts that, by the end of 2050, hydrogen energy will meet 10 per cent of energy requirements, while the number of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles will rise to 30 million and hydrogen production will be equal to 60 million tonnes.
With a view to giving substance to these prospects, China has established the “National Ocean Technology Centre” in Shenzhen and developed – with the Italian “International World Group” – the “China-Europe cooperation project for energy generation and hydrogen production from sea waves and from other renewable energy sources”. These are concrete projects in which – thanks to Italian creativity and Chinese rationality and pragmatism – we must continue to invest and work, not least to give the third industrial revolution a cleaner face than the coal-stained one of the second industrial revolution. These projects appear to be in line with those envisaged both at European and Italian levels by the ‘Recovery and Resilience Plan’, which should guide us out of the economic doldrums of the pandemic. They deserve to be financed and supported as they can not only contribute to the recovery and revival of the economy, but also to the reconstruction of a cleaner and more livable world (thus showing that good can always come out of evil).
—Modern Diplomacy

Saving democracy in America

Saving democracy  in America

American history is replete with warnings of impending disaster that went unheeded: Pearl Harbor, 9/11, and more recently the climate crisis, Covid-19, and 1/6. Now comes another warning, a “Statement of Concern” (June 1, 2021) from more than 100 authorities on democracy who tell us that the Republicans’ war on elections—their refusal to accept the 2020 results and their blatant actions at every level of government to prevent legitimate voting—“call into question whether the United States will remain a democracy.” The scholars condemn this “betrayal of our precious democratic heritage.” Democracy in America is on the brink of destruction, and power-hungry, white supremacist, far-right Republicans are hell bent on taking us over the brink, casting aside every democratic norm we cherish. To them, facts are the enemy of truth and the competition of ideas is irrelevant. Winning is all that counts, just as Donald Trump has always preached.
This is sedition, pure and simple. It displays a pattern of authoritarianism we see today in Egypt, Turkey, Russia, Belarus, China, Brazil, and Hungary: loyalty to the leader has priority over loyalty to the country’s foundational laws and institutions. Once that pattern becomes deeply rooted, there can be no rule of law, constitutional authority, or legitimate opposition party. Unfavorable election results can be cast aside, as the Statement of Concern observes: In future elections, these laws politicizing the administration and certification of elections could enable some state legislatures or partisan election officials to do what they failed to do in 2020: reverse the outcome of a free and fair election. Further, these laws could entrench extended minority rule, violating the basic and longstanding democratic principle that parties that get the most votes should win elections. The silence is deafening. Where’s the popular outcry from the 81 million people who voted to get rid of Trump? When will liberals and progressives demand that the voice of the people be respected and the seditionists sidelined? The president is a patient man, but hell will freeze over before Republicans give an inch on their anti-democracy project. In the name of national security, Biden must act decisively to save democracy. He must pull out all the stops to see that the voting rights legislation passes—the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. Otherwise, as the conservative columnist Max Boot persuasively argues in the Washington Post (June 1), we could lose our democracy as soon as the 2022 elections. “Senate Democrats,” he concludes, “have to choose between saving the filibuster and saving democracy. They can’t do both.”
Let’s also keep in mind that the world is watching the far right’s challenge to democratic leadership. The repercussions of failure would be enormous, emboldening right-wing governments and (as in France) right-wing pretenders, weakening pro-democracy forces everywhere, and undermining the credibility and influence of US foreign policy on issues as diverse as climate change, immigration, and of course human rights and civil liberties. Let’s remember FDR’s famous words:
America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully [basic human] rights have been carried out in practice for our citizens. For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world. Peculiar to all those times of dire warning is the failure to react quickly, either because the signs of disaster were misunderstood, or mishandled, or underestimated. We cannot make a mistake this time around; the stakes are unprecedentedly high. Thinking that bipartisan deals or promises to work together will salvage democracy is naïve, a deliberate deception put forth by Republican leaders and followers who are completely untrustworthy. President Biden, for the sake of his presidency and for the sake of American democracy and America’s standing in the world, must thrust them aside.
—Counter Punch

Re-opening of educational institutions The plight of primary school children

Re-opening of educational institutions The plight of primary school children

The summer is at its peak. It is impossible even to breathe. The central air-conditioned atmosphere of the Islamabad Pak Secretariat is quite different, however. Come and see the ruthless use of taxes levied on the poor people in the name of keeping these buildings, built without the need of severe weather, cool. And when you look at it, remember that this is just a grain of rice out of the booty that the ruling elite has reserved for themselves and is enjoying. The pot is hidden, elsewhere.
Unnecessary officers and staff have landed in the vast buildings. It is frightening to see that after the 18th amendment, when many matters have been transferred to the provinces, on what front are these armies giving courage?
These Platos sitting here are running the affairs of the state of Pakistan or the responsibility of the whole of South Asia has fallen on his delicate shoulder. Whether it is Islamabad, Lahore, Peshawar, Karachi or Quetta, there is a sea of ​​concessions where the bureaucracy is camping. Sitting here in the freezing weather in June, when these Babu people and these ministers make decisions, let them know what the weather is like outside.
Resources squeezed out from the arteries of the poor people, not only their homes, offices and vehicles, but also their washrooms in June give a feel of December, depending on the resources. Sitting in air-conditioned rooms, bureaucrats can’t understand as to what it means to reopen primary schools during the peak of summer.
. Like the frog in the well, they think that the world is the name of their well. The June of their well is cold, so they don’t care what the desert of South Punjab will be like.
Not only incompetence but this is a great example of brutal indifference. To bring them to the level of human beings, it is necessary to give them a human-like environment so that like ordinary people, they also have an idea of ​​the severity of the seasons.
The most gruesome scene in the nonsense scene is when in the heat of May-June in Pakistan, the Babu people and these ministers, wearing their pants coats, talk to their subjects and make decisions about it. The poor people have given them their share of happiness. If teachers demand salaries, the Home Minister conducts a tear gas test to see if they are working or have been lost. But these Babu people and ministers have been protected from the cold wind and heat. So this creature has no idea what the world is like. Their whole world is their “well” and Twitter accounts. These are the places where December is not cold and June is not hot.
It is frightening to see the behavior of education ministers. They have no idea what is happening on earth. They have no policy. They have turned an important field like education into a child’s playground. I don’t know if they are taking revenge on Imran Khan or they have a very low intellectual capacity.
Exams for higher classes were intended to be taken directly by issuing a date sheet. This was not satisfactory and if the purpose was to teach, only these higher classes would have been called. What is the rationale behind calling innocent primary school children to schools during peak of summer?
Our misfortune is that we have left the decision-making to those whose children do not study with our children. Their world is different. How do they feel about our children? Some schools have already taken the exams. But the government has no statistics. If the institutions are open for examinations, then why are the institutions that have taken the examinations three months ago opened? There are no examinations in these institutions. Are there regular classes? The question is, why are they happening? If there is a problem of fees in private educational institutions then why should children be punished? Did the government ever try to find out how much the schools received and how much they paid? They have to collect the fees but they have downsized the staff under the pretext. Can the Minister of Education explain the arrangements for monitoring these institutions at the government level?
Where is the style of governing to get the ransom of your administrative malice from innocent children? If Mullah Naseer-ud-Din reads the formula of the exams given to him, he will get upset. Only elective subject examinations are associated with administrative and practical life issues that will be disastrous for children’s careers. But the decision has been made without consulting anyone. If any question is asked, the ministers start beating about the bush. Children are bleeding, there is a risk of sunstroke, there is no electricity in schools, there is load shedding where there is, there is no cold drinking water.
South Punjab is in a very bad situation. It seems that the Mongols have come to the town and they are shouting and saying that “we will fix the children like this”.
Brother Amir Khakwani has written in his column that users on social media have given some title to Mr. Murad Ross in his name. I don’t know about this title. You know I am far away from social media and unaware. Can someone guide me on this title given to the Minister of Education?

Democrats struggle with plan to tax dynastic wealth

Democrats struggle with  plan to tax dynastic wealth

A bid by Democrats to go after dynastic wealth would also hit some people who’d never be confused for the jet set, and that is causing major headaches for lawmakers. They want to end a longstanding provision in the tax code that enables the rich to pass assets on to heirs tax free by forgiving capital gains taxes on things like company stock and land when people die.
The trouble is their plan would also hurt other, more average Americans: farmers, small business owners, people who are well off but not extremely wealthy and even a few people who don’t necessarily make all that much money. While they’d be a small share of those affected, those people represent an outsized political problem for Democrats. “They’re fine catching really high-income people, but they don’t want to catch my Aunt Jo,” says Rick Grafmeyer, a former top tax aide in Congress now at the firm Capitol Tax Partners. It’s an example of how Democrats will face a whole new set of challenges even if they end negotiations with Republicans and go it alone with their plans for another big-spending package.
Democrats want to fund a big chunk of their spending package by curbing the nearly century-old provision, sometimes called the Angel of Death loophole and technically known by the clunky term “stepped up basis at death.” Along with a related plan to raise capital gains rates on millionaires, it is projected to raise more than $300 billion over 10 years.
But the idea is running into intense opposition, with even some Democrats uncomfortable with the proposal. Last week, House Agriculture Chair David Scott (D-Ga.) called the administration’s plan “untenable.” At issue is a plan to require a lot more people to pay taxes when they die — something only the very wealthy currently have to worry about. They’re subject to the estate tax, which is a levy on the transfer of wealth to their heirs. Republicans have been loosening the tax for years, which now only kicks in once a single filer has more than $11.7 million in assets. Just a couple thousand taxpayers typically pay it each year. Democrats are not proposing to tinker with the estate tax, but their bid to end the capital gains exemption would amount to creating a new tax due at death.
Here’s how it would work: Normally, when someone sells an asset, like a stock, they have to pay the capital gains tax on any growth in its value. So if someone sells a stock for $100, and it originally cost them $25, they pay tax on the $75 difference. But a different set of rules apply when someone dies: the starting point for calculating the tax — known as the “basis” — is increased, or stepped up, to current values. So the heir receiving the stock originally purchased at $25 would only owe taxes on any appreciation beyond its current $100 value.
The provision has been part of the tax code for nearly a century though it is widely considered unfair by tax experts, in part because it can allow the wealthy to escape taxes on huge fortunes. For instance, if Jeff Bezos were to sell all of his Amazon stock while he is alive, he’d owe taxes on all the appreciation since the founding of the company. But if he simply waits until he dies, that tax would evaporate, even if his heirs sell the stock the next day. “It’s a loophole for the American aristocracy,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).
Now, the Biden administration wants to require people to pay taxes on the appreciation of unsold assets when they die. To avoid hitting average Americans, it would give people a $1 million-per-person exemption, along with a $250,000 per-person housing allowance. Couples would get twice that. The Treasury Department says fewer than a half-percent of taxpayers would be subject to the tax — a tiny share overall, though still be a big increase compared to the number now subject to the estate tax.
In some ways, it would be a throwback to the 1970s, before Republicans began relaxing the estate tax. In 1976, when the estate tax kicked in when people had assets worth more than $60,000, almost 8 percent of everyone who died paid it. By comparison, fewer than 0.1 percent of decedents today pay the estate tax. Advocates of Biden’s plan got a boost Tuesday when ProPublica reported that Bezos, Tesla Founder Elon Musk and others at the pinnacle of the earnings ladder have paid little or no income taxes even as the value of their unrealized capital gains soared. To shield itself politically, the administration is proposing special rules for two of the most politically important groups that would be affected by its plan: farmers and small businesses.
Farmers worry about having to pay tax on land that’s been appreciating for decades while small business owners are concerned about being able to hand down their companies to children. While farms and small businesses would lose the step-up treatment, the administration is proposing to allow them to postpone paying the resulting tax until their business or farm is sold or ceases to be family-owned and operated.
What’s more, they’d then get 15 years to pay off the bill. (Details like which family members would count would be worked out by Congress).
But the influential American Farm Bureau Federation is rejecting the administration’s attempt at compromise — which will put Democrats from rural areas in a tough spot. The National Federation of Independent Business, another group with clout, is similarly opposed.
“No exemption or carve out is better than current law,” says Courtney Titus Brooks, NFIB’s senior manager of federal government relations. Small business owners “would still have a tremendous tax liability hanging over them.” Those aren’t the only politically sensitive groups that could be hit by the plan. It could also affect people who are well-to-do but not extremely wealthy. Think of someone who has owned a home for 30 years in a high-cost city like Washington, D.C. If they also have a vacation home and a stock portfolio swelled by the recent runup on Wall Street, they could find themselves on hook for the tax. “This isn’t just affecting the Jeff Bezos’s of the world or the folks in the Hamptons or the people in Malibu,” said Kenneth Van Leeuwen, who runs Van Leeuwen & Company, a financial planning firm in Princeton, New Jersey. There would also be a small number of people with incomes below $400,000 who would be subject to the tax — even though the administration has said it won’t raise taxes on people making less than that — because they are sitting on a pile of unrealized capital gains. It could be someone who never earned more than, say, $80,000 during their working lives, but who purchased shares in their companies through employee stock option programs that have been growing in value for decades. The Tax Policy Center figures 2 percent of decedents who made less than $400,000 could be liable for the tax. “It seems inevitable that some people with incomes under $400,000 are going to be affected,” said Robert McClelland, a senior fellow with the group.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Treasury official said that would not violate the administration’s pledge because if someone had enough unrealized gains at the time of their death to owe the tax, then that person, by definition, would have made more than $400,000.
Jonathan Blattmachr, a longtime estate tax lawyer who supports Democrats’ plans, says its critics are focusing on the wrong people. While the tax would technically be paid by the person who died, in reality, he says, it would be borne by their heirs — because they’re the ones who are still alive.
“The person who bought the Tesla stock is never going to pay the tax if he doesn’t sell it during his lifetime — you’re not hurting him,” he said. “It’s the heirs who will pay.” And he would not feel badly for them.
They are merely “the lucky winners of the sperm lottery — who were born into a wealthy family who will inherit a tremendous amount of money for nothing they did.”
—POLITICO

Covid vaccine inequity

Covid vaccine inequity

One year after the Covax Facility was formed, equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines globally still remains just a slogan. The vaccination strategy of prioritizing health care workers and high-risk groups of all countries has not yet been realized.
In many places where the international medical humanitarian organization Medi-cines Sans Frontiers (MSF) is responding to the pandemic, we see first-hand the continuing inequities in global access to Covid-19 tools, including the scarce vaccines. The reality on the ground is that the world is far from ensuring all frontline health care workers and high-risk groups globally are vaccinated.
Despite the unprecedented speed of vaccine development and initial scaling-up of manufacturing capacity, the world is still facing a shortage and stark inequities in the global distribution of Covid-19 vaccines. Over 30 countries have secured vaccines through advance purchase agreements to inoculate their own population at least three times over. At the same time, according to the World Health Organization, only 0.3 per cent of more than 890 million vaccine doses administered have gone to the low-income countries, meaning that some of the countries have completely zero access to the Covid-19 vaccines, including their health care workers who are highly exposed to the virus. We are all in this pandemic together but, as the crisis unfolds, the impact varies from place to place. While developed countries are achieving significant vaccination milestones, the developing world is witnessing a frightening rise in infections and deaths from the coronavirus, with the health care systems of India and Brazil reaching breaking point; and our neighboring region is facing the strain of a renewed surge in infections.
MSF urges that governments with more than enough Covid-19 vaccines for their entire populations and that have started to include their low-risk groups, including Hong Kong, urgently share their doses through the Covax Facility. They must share now to most effectively tackle this pandemic. They cannot wait until herd immunity is reached in their own societies nor leave the vaccines unused and let them go to waste.
While whether to be inoculated or not is a personal decision, one has to be able to access the vaccine before she/he can make the decision. We have already lost too many lives in this pandemic. It is time for collective action to turn the tide.
—South China Morning Post

Social media, rumors and disasters

Social media, rumors and disasters

In recent years the widespread usage of social media has facilitated the quick propagation of information around the world. Hundreds of millions of people utilize the internet and social media platforms to get easy access to the information they want. Unfortunately, the bulk of social media users do not care to adhere to any moral or ethical standards while disseminating information. They upload items on social media without doing any verification to make sure the information is authentic.
There is no denying the fact that electronic, print, and social media all play-ed a pivotal role in educating the public on various issues including COVID-19. However, the most talked-about issue and challenge with social media is the integrity and veracity of the information they provide. In general, social media facilitates the rapid spread of rumors and serves as a haven for scaremongering and the propagation of false information during disasters. There is a lack of social responsibility on the part of social media websites or posts in social networks and contain a lot of false statements and information that can confuse other users by design or default. As a result, the misuse of information across various platforms is a grave concern for all of us.
Experts believe that lack of information about the COVID-19 is not a big issue but curbing of dissemination of false information is the real problem. On one side bombardment of information from various sources is causing mental health issues in the people. On the other side, the dissemination of rumors on social media is on the rise. As a result, it created a chaotic situation among people, as on regular basis people concocted a new rumor.
Some conspiracy theories are being circulated through social media abo-ut COVID-19 vaccines that have poisoned an environment already infested with distrust and skepticism since the start of the pandemic. These rumors hamper the vaccination drive among the people but contribute to the spread of the corona virus. There are some famo-us examples of these rumors about the COVID-19 vaccine: one, the coronavirus pandemic is a cover for a plan to implant trackable microchips. Two, receiving a vaccine causes you to be magnetic. Third, it’s not a pandemic; instead, it’s a hoax to make money from vaccinations. Four, the vaccine’s administration will modify DNA. Fifth, the vaccine will cause infertility. Sixth, the coronavirus vaccine may not be effective and has side effects. Seven, the vaccines will make you sick with COVID-19. Eight, I have already had COVID-19 so I don’t need to get the vaccine. Nine vaccinated people would die within two years etc.
History is replete with examples where increased polio infections were reported in Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan as a result of a boycott of the polio vaccination owing to claims that it caused infertility. Rumors frequently cast doubt on government and non-government authorities’ health policies and interventions, as well as international health organizations. By and large, every vaccination encounters an acceptance issue at some point. Because vaccinations are provided to humans and they have the choice to refuse. Rumors and conspiracy theories have been implicated as factors that contribute to vaccination hesitancy. People avoid immunizations because of misinformation and rumors. Vaccination uptake has always been hampered by false reports regarding vaccine efficacy.
Pakistan is one of the countries that is actively administering vaccinations to its citizens and aiming to achieve maximum uptake. However, just approximately one percent of the population has been vaccinated thus far. Rumors and conspiracy theories created mistrust, which can lead to vaccination hesitancy. Res-ultantly, some people may delay or refuse the vaccination due to a lack of confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine, thereby compromising national and international control efforts.
Social media platforms have increased in popularity as a source of health-related information. During the pandemic, individuals may utilize social media to learn more about the disease, how it spreads, and how to prevent it. Online health information is sometimes bolstered by rumors and conspiracy theories that aren’t necessarily based on scientific evidence. Users who seek health information on internet platforms face the risk of being exposed to misinformation that might endanger public health.
People post false information on social media for a variety of reasons. In any case, the proliferation of false information and rumors on social media during and after disasters is not unusual. While this information cannot be eliminated, however, the first responder agencies can devise strategies to combat it. In every disaster management plan, there should be measures to prevent and respond to rumors. People should not only be informed about the facts and accurate information on time but there should also be a mechanism in place to prevent rumors from spreading. As a result, fear should not be created among those who are impacted, and they should not be further misguided. In their business operations, social media platforms should also step out and assure strict adherence to the rules and regulations including social responsibility, transparency, and accountability.
The need of the hour is for individuals to communicate only authentic and trustworthy information. People shou-ld not disseminate extremely awful material that has been published to cause unrest and anxiety. When seeking treatment for any ailment, people should only consult authorized professionals. As responsible citizens, people should not work as post offices to spre-ad rumors and misinformation through social media. There is a famous proverb in the Pashto language says that “By the time that the truth comes out, lies will have destroyed many villages”.

The never-ending hunt for the ‘Biden doctrine’

The never-ending hunt for  the ‘Biden doctrine’

Biden has been president for less than five months. And yet, as he prepares to go on his first presidential overseas trip — to Europe later this week — the race to understand his doctrine looks ready to kick into a higher gear. It seems fair to ask, then: Why is it necessary to define a president’s foreign policy “doctrine” at all? Isn’t dealing with some 200 countries, not to mention transnational threats like climate change and terrorism, complicated enough to defy easy summarization? Why do pundits try so hard to impose order on the messy reality of governing?
“I don’t know, honestly,” said Michael Singh, a Middle East specialist who served in former President George W. Bush’s National Security Council. “Maybe we’re trying to make sense of the chaotic world around us? Maybe there’s an existential need for this?” Maybe. Doctrine-hunting amounts to a full-time employment program for the community of foreign policy watchers in and around Washington. Analysts and historians have long sought to divine and distil presidents’ guiding principles of foreign policy into their pithy, memorable essence. Credit for the doctrine craze usually goes to former President James Monroe, who declared in 1823 that Europe should stop trying to colonize countries in the Western Hemisphere — leaving them more open for U.S. influence and trade. Many years later, former President Harry S. Truman’s doctrine proclaimed that the U.S. would devote resources to fending off communism and other authoritarian forces around the globe.
Former President Richard Nixon’s doctrine called for the fight against communism in Asia to be led primarily by Indigenous forces, not U.S. troops. George W. Bush’s doctrine is said to have evolved from waging pre-emptive war against U.S. enemies to promoting democracy around the world. Former President Donald Trump’s doctrine, meanwhile, revolved around an “America first” philosophy that shunned even some U.S. allies. Sometimes there are lingering debates as to whether a president really had a doctrine; such was the case with former President Bill Clinton. Former President Barack Obama’s foreign policy views were supposedly summed up in a massive April 2016 story in The Atlantic headlined, you guessed it, “The Obama Doctrine.”
Based on the article, you could say the former president’s doctrine was a complex set of views on everything from the prudent use of military force to the need to step back from the Middle East to the virtue of reminding allies to carry their fair share of the global burden. You also could say it came down to Obama’s infamous private comment: “Don’t do stupid shit.” Reading the literature on presidential doctrines risks being bewildered by how to even define “doctrine.” Is it a policy, an agenda, a goal, or a principle? Is it a strategy or a philosophy? A theory? Must it be captured in a simple slogan? Or does it require lists and charts and bullet points? Is a president allowed to have more than one doctrine?
“The doctrine conversation gives the veneer of intellectual heft to a conversation among what are mostly just bullshitters aiming to make it in the pages of history or at least the op-eds,” said John Gans, a foreign policy analyst who has written a history of the National Security Council. Often, world leaders are simply reacting to the demands of the moment, and making it up as they go along. Supposedly, when asked what shaped his government’s actions, Harold Macmillan, the prime minister who led Britain during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, is said to have responded, “Events, dear boy, events.” The quest to define the Biden doctrine — a charge led by think tankers, academics and journalists with a love for punchy headlines — is unusually complicated because Biden has been in the public eye for so long. For many of those nearly 50 years, he’s been a major player on foreign policy, including as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. That’s led people to ascribe doctrines to him even when he wasn’t president. But his foreign policy views — or doctrines credited to him — have never been entirely static, in part because America’s relations with other countries are constantly shifting. Take China: When Biden first entered the Senate, in 1973, the United States was pursuing a normal diplomatic relationship with Beijing; today, U.S. relations with China seem headed for confrontation.
One database search tracked the term “Biden doctrine” as far back as a June 2001 Salon article. In that case, though, the writer — Jake Tapper, now a CNN host — used the term to sum up Biden’s explanation of why he didn’t hammer George W. Bush for a gaffe on Taiwan. (So presumably it was a doctrine of restraint?) In the years since, the “Biden doctrine” has been used to describe his views on both macro and micro matters. According to The Jerusalem Post, for instance, Biden described his doctrine to a Zionist Organization of America event in 2001 as allowing Israel to decide its own fate without outside interference. Nearly a decade later, the ZOA declared that Biden had violated his doctrine when he publicly criticized Israel for its plans to build settlements in areas claimed by Palestinians. In 2007, when he was running for president, Biden, in response to a debate question, described his doctrine as: “Clarity,” and “Preve-ntion, not pre-emption,” a dig at outgoing President Bush’s invasion of Iraq. Conservative commentators have been among those most eager to define the Biden doctrine. An October 2008 Washington Times op-ed, helpfully titled “The Biden Doctrine,” described it as “gut the military, appease aggressors, and then pray anxiously for lightning to preserve world peace!” Roughly three mon-ths ago, a different (and somewhat more generous) commentator in The Washington Times argued that China is increasingly threatening Taiwan’s democracy but that “a Biden doctrine on China has yet to be articulated.” That runs counter to foreign policy analyst Thomas Wright’s belief that the Biden doctrine already is coming into focus and that China has a lot to do with it. The way Wright sees it, Biden’s guiding light is the idea that America and its allies must strengthen and defend democracy, especially against Chinese-style authoritarianism.
“I don’t think you need a doctrine, but if the president has something that is a driving principle behind their actions, that’s significant,” Wright said. In a weekend op-ed in The Washington Post, Biden provided some evidence for Wright’s perspective, framing his trip to Europe as being “about realizing America’s renewed commitment to our allies and partners, and demonstrating the capacity of democracies to both meet the challenges and deter the threats of this new age.” Traditionally, the doctrine debate has been about foreign — not domestic — policy, but Biden is complicating that framing. During his 2020 presidential run and since taking office, he and his aides have said that they don’t see much difference between the two spheres anymore. The Biden administration is pushing the idea that strengthening America domestically — its infrastructure and its middle class, for one — is part and parcel of its foreign policy. That, however, raises the question of whether it’s possible to do everything Biden wants to do. Hence the piece “Biden’s Everything Doctrine” in Foreign Affairs, which suggested that Biden will eventually have to pick and choose. So what exactly is the Biden doctrine? If we don’t know already, will we ever know? Will we ever agree? You’d think that you could find a clue in Wikipedia. But the forces behind the online encyclopaedia are perhaps a bit wiser than many in the Washington intellectual set. As of this writing, the Biden section of the Wikipedia entry on “United States presidential doctrines” remains empty.
—POLITICO