Saturday, December 29, 2007

60 years of chaos, convulsions

Dec 29, 2007

Bloodshed plagues Pakistan from its birth as secular state to one mired in religious conflicts
By Ravi Velloor
BORN amid bloodshed when it was cut away as a separate nation for Muslims.

Proclaimed an Islamic state less than a decade after being founded on secular lines. Damaged again when its eastern wing broke away to become Bangladesh.

A frontline state and ally for the Western alliance, which fuelled the Islamic insurgency with weapons and training to roll back the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Now, linked by its former backers to almost every terrorist act in the world.

A political system that alternates between democracy dominated by a feudal, effete elite, and spells of military rule. Three wars with India.

Pakistan's 60-year history has been a story of periodic convulsions. Events of the past year, with terrorists striking freely at the heart of the establishment in Islamabad and Rawalpindi, have raised doubts over the very survival of the nation itself.

The country's problems date to its inception when it was carved out as a separate homeland largely for Muslims of northern India wary of life in what they saw would be a free India dominated by Hindus.

The new state, founded in 1947, was unwieldy from the start.

To begin with, it had two wings, with East Pakistan more than 1,500km away and home to the culturally proud Bengalis, who chafed at being ruled by the Western wing.

Urdu, the national language of the new nation, was native to none of Pakistan's provinces. A state founded on the energy of Muslims in Uttar Pradesh and other parts of northern India came to be dominated by Punjabis, particularly in the powerful military.

The shocks would come early. As many as a million people may have died in the Partition riots when Muslims travelling to their new homeland met Hindus going the other way.

Then came Kashmir. Going by the logic of the Partition of India, Pakistan had assumed it was a matter of time before Muslim-majority Kashmir joined it. Yet Pakistan's founding father Mohammed Ali Jinnah, seeking to have a health cure in Kashmir shortly after Pakistan was born, was told by Kashmir's Hindu maharaja that he was not welcome.

That set the stage, in 1948, for the first fighting over Kashmir, whose ruler hastily signed on to India.

The Kashmir thorn has festered since, holding back a full consummation of ties and impeding faster development of both nations.

Mr Jinnah, either unaware that his Pakistan dream would materialise, or in hope that, once partitioned, ties would soon return to normal, had bought property in New Delhi as late as in 1946.

Today, each country gains gratification from pricking the other. (India, for instance, does not allow Pakistan's consulate in Mumbai to operate out of Jinnah House in Mumbai. And Pakistan has held back from giving India that most elementary building block of trade - Most Favoured Nation status.)

Because of the lasting fear that Indians had never reconciled to the Partition and would seek to undo it with force, Pakistan's military has always had an overwhelming influence over national life. In 1958, the country went under military rule for the first time when General Ayub Khan staged a coup. The general led the country to war with India in 1965.

Military rule would continue until 1971, when Gen Ayub's successor, General Yahya Khan, led the nation to a bitter defeat at the hands of India. That war, a cathartic moment for post-independence Pakistanis, saw the birth of Bangladesh as a breakaway state, thanks to Islamabad's political bungling in East Pakistan. India then seized the chance to fuel the liberation movement and break up its rival.

The split would weaken Pakistan forever, leaving it sprinting to develop a nuclear capability that would provide adequate deterrence.

Disgraced, the military allowed a civilian government under Mr Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Ms Benazir's father, to take power. But Mr Bhutto was deposed five years later by his handpicked army chief, General Zia ul-Haq, and hanged in 1979.

Gen Zia set the nation and the army on the path of Islamisation and held power until he died in a mysterious plane crash in 1988. Ms Benazir Bhutto then came to power for the first time.

Under Gen Zia's watch, thousands of Muslim radicals trained and were armed in Pakistan's tribal areas to take on the Soviets in Afghanistan. The United States and its allies supplied the weapons and money.

Once the Afghan war was over, the radicals came in useful for Ms Bhutto to press India over Kashmir. For the next 10 years, power alternated between her and another feudal lord, Mr Nawaz Sharif. Both were known to run corrupt administrations.

In 1999, General Pervez Musharraf toppled Mr Sharif and has ruled Pakistan since. Support for the Taleban continued. Then came the Sept 11, 2001, attacks on the US.

Threatened with obliteration by the US, Gen Musharraf did a policy about-turn, withdrawing support for the Taleban and attacking the tribal areas that sheltered a variety of Islamic radicals, including Al-Qaeda militants.

Those who link Pakistan to every attempted terrorist strike forget the chain of events that led a largely moderate Muslim state to take on such rogue colours. The results are frightening enough: Every moderate politician in the mainstream parties of Pakistan is under threat. So too is President Musharraf, who has escaped three assassination attempts.

The military's credibility has been dented severely. The tribal regions are spiralling out of control. Sindh, Ms Bhutto's home state, could again turn restive after the assassination of its favourite child. The gangrene is spreading and could be fatal.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Red Alert

Dec 25, 2007

Come December, bright red crabs are found crawling virtually everywhere on Christmas Island as they make their annual migration to the coast

By Mavis Toh

Monday, December 24, 2007

Researchers get embryonic stem cells from skin

Dec 24, 2007

WASHINGTON - A THIRD team of researchers has found a way to convert an ordinary skin cell into valued embryonic-like stem cells, with the potential to grow batches of cells that can be directed to form any kind of tissue.
Their study, published on Sunday in the journal Nature, shows the approach is not a rare fluke but in fact something that might make its way into everyday use.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Hip US cities losing talent to family-friendly locales

Dec 17, 2007

WASHINGTON - AMERICAN cities seeking fast growth thought they had the answer in the young, single professional. But - unlike Singapore - many of these cities are not family-friendly, so when singles marry and raise kids, they move home, dashing growth trajectories.

The result is that big cities like New York, Los Angeles, Boston and San Francisco lose out, and smaller cities like Houston, Dallas or Charlotte gain.

The lesson for urban planners seems to be that family-friendly cities win over the cool, hip cities, said Mr Joel Kotkin, a noted expert on urban economic trends.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Small group of US experts insist global warming not man-made

Dec 16, 2007

WASHINGTON - A SMALL group of US experts stubbornly insist that, contrary to what the vast majority of their colleagues believe, humans may not be responsible for the warming of the planet Earth.

These experts believe that global warming is a natural phenomenon, and they point to reams of data they say supports their assertions.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Islamophobia 'surfacing in Malaysia'

Dec 14, 2007

- ISLAMOPHOBIA - an irrational fear and prejudice against Islam and
Muslims which has spread throughout the world - is surfacing in
Malaysia, Deputy Information Minister Datuk Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said.

cited last month's memorandum by ethnic Indians rights group Hindraf
addressed to the British Prime Minister as a case in point where the
fear of Islam was implied although no direct mention was made.

the memorandum, Hindraf appealed to the British government to refer
Malaysia to the World Court and the International Criminal Court for
'crimes against ethnic minority Indians by government-backed Islamic
extremist violent armed terrorists, who destroyed a Hindu temple on Nov

'Muslims should put aside petty issues that question each
other's faith. We should return to the spirit of comradeship,
friendship and unity among us,' Datuk Zahid told reporters after
opening a seminar on Islam Hadhari for teachers in Malacca yesterday.

Islam Hadhari is a concept that focuses on progressive values, moderation, and social justice in Islam.

Datuk Zahid said Muslims must strengthen their spirit of unity even as they were being challenged from within and outside.

He also spoke about street demonstrations, saying demonstrators will have to face the music, including being charged in court.

the general election expected soon, he anticipated that more illegal
rallies would be held, saying that the government would deal with these
according to the existing laws.


M'sia is in a delicate position, and I sympathise with the PM. On the one hand he has to deal with the PAS and present himself to be as Muslim as the PAS, and be pro-Malay while representing diverse ethnic groups, specifically the Chinese and the Indians.

While the Chinese have managed to do well in spite of the Bumiputra policies, the Indians however feel that they are being marginalised.

The M'sian govt has provided stats to prove that Indians are not lagging behind. It is still the Malays. But there are ways to slice the stats to prove Indians are lagging behind (e.g. if exclude the PAS states which managed to drag down the Malay average).

The M'sian govt has to realise that the Bumi policy is a two-edged sword and being pro-Malay means the minorities especially the Indians will feel marginalised.

At the same time, the Indians need to recognise the political realities and find a way to address the issues in a moderate way. Perhaps the public demonstrations were necessary to get the attention of the govt. But now it is necessary to use the attention in a constructive manner. Ultimatums and hyperbole discredit their issue.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

New unlimited travel pass for visitors

Dec 13, 2007

A one-day pass for buses and trains will cost $18 with $10 refundable; also available: two-day and three-day versions

By Maria Almenoar