Approaching the polls February 15, 2017, competition has been increasingly rigorous among the three candidates who are contesting in the Jakarta Gubernatorial Election (Pilgub) 2017, namely, incumbent duet Basuki Tjahaja Purnama-Djarot Saiful Hidayat (Ahok-Djarot), Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono-Sylviana Murni (Agus-Sylvi), and Anies Baswedan-Sandiaga Uno (Anies-Sandi).
Many said that the fight in Jakarta gubernatorial election this time is a ‘proxy war’ of the rivalry among the political elites Megawati Soekarno Putri, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Prabowo Subianto. Ahok-Djarot is supported by the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP), the People’s Conscience Party (Hanura), The Functional Group Party (Golkar), and the National Democratic Party (Nasdem). Agus-Sylvi is supported by the Democratic Party, the United Development Party (PPP), the National Awakening Party (PKB) and the National Mandate Party (PAN). Whereas Anies-Sandi is supported by the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS). Presently, the Jakarta gubernatorial election is entering the stage of formal debate among the candidates that will begin on January 13, 2017. In the previous informal debate that was aired by some private televisions, the Anies-Sandi duet looked dominating over other candidates.
Predictably the Jakarta Gubernatorial Election 2017 will take two rounds, because the winner is required to get 50%+1 vote. Agus-Sylvi, Ahok-Djarot, and Anies-Sandi are having equal opportunity to win and at the same also potentially to lose, or will not qualify for the second round. Support to the three pairs of candidates are still fluid and attitude of the voters tend to be still able to change until the end days before the voting day February 13, 2017. Supporting votes for the three pairs of candidates is nearly the same in number. Electabilities of the three pairs of candidates who will compete are still overlapping each others within the margin of error. Statistically, no certainty can be made on which pair of candidates will win.
Despite of Good Performance’s of Ahok, Jakarta’s Residents Want New Governor
From the results of survey conducted by SPIN (Survey & Polling Indonesia) during August-December 2016, it was revealed that Ahok is still considered by the public as the figure who best understands the problems in Jakarta (73%), compared to Anies (40%), or Agus (33% ). The pair of incumbent governor Ahok-Djarot has had the advantage in selling the programs they have achieved.
On the other hand, his two contenders focused on issues that have not been covered yet by Ahok-Djarot. Anies-Sandi pairing, for example, developed issues of job availability, basic stuff price control, and clean water availability in Jakarta. These issues were raised as a criticism against Ahok’s policies that were more physical, rather than human oriented. Anies-Sandi also intends to stop the policy on reclamation in Jakarta Bay which has been being contested by many environmental activists. Meanwhile, Agus-Sylvi’s programs highlighted more the provision of financial assistance, such as the granting of Rp 5 million per poor family, or Rp 1 billion per RW (Rukun Warga) in Jakarta. It is obvious that the 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial election will be the momentum to evaluate the incumbent governor’s performance and to draft the overall improvement.
Significantly, the trend of favorability to Ahok as the incumbent has decreased. Only as low as 30% believe that Ahok deserves to be re-elected Governor, while 55% want a new figure for Jakarta governor. Ahok’s positive popularity is equal to his negative popularity. Negative sentiment against Ahok is also prevalent in various segments of Jakarta voters due to the alleged religious defamation case which has resulted in a commotion and protest by Muslim community. Presently, Ahok is the accused (defendant) on the religious defamation case before the court for quoting a Quranic verse in surah Al-Maidah 51 during his working visit in the Thousand Islands. As at January 10, 2017, the case of alleged religious defamation by Ahok was entering the fifth trial round.
Despite, in one side, majority of Jakarta people being rational voters, but on the other hand they are in fact unable to escape from the political choice based on primordialism. The anti-Ahok struggle is stronger due to the religious motive. Ahok is at a disadvantaged position because he comes from minority ethnic and religion. Ahok is now in trouble with a sensitive issue of religious defamation. His status as the accused becomes a psychological barrier for the public from reelecting him. Primordial identity has been used for political benefit and gaining support. Ahok’s weakness is none of Muslim-based parties supports him. However, for Ahok’s supporters, he was merely a victim of religion politicization. Although it is possible, but somewhat difficult, for Ahok to rebound his electability within this remaining one month.
In contrast, Anies Baswedan is seen as a figure who is more caring to the Jakarta people (57%), than Ahok (52%), or Agus (47%). Anies is also considered more as representing the entire strata of Jakarta people (52%), compared to Ahok (41%), and Agus (39%). Jakarta’s public is indeed expecting a new leader who has respect and integrity, represents all strata of the Jakarta people, capable of creating jobs, and has the ability to improve education of his residents.
Agus Harymurti Yudhoyono is today very popular as a candidate for Jakarta Governor. His personal branding as a young man and handsome has heavily attached in Jakarta’s people. By hearsay, human is an eye animal. A candidate who is physically attractive may earn 3 times more votes, particularly from the first-time and female voters segment. This is because the first impression that begins from physical appearance of someone is usually difficult to change. Theoretically, one’s first image is usually based on visual aspect. Furthermore, human’s mind is limited, thus the voters’ perception tends to be filtered by a physiological filter. This is the advantage of Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono that is also possessed by Sandiaga Uno.
This differs with Ahok who has controversial leadership style in the public eye. The voters in Jakarta presently give Anies Baswedan and Agus Harimurti an opportunity to be the new governor of Jakarta. However, Anies Baswedan is very vulnerable to be rushed by negative religious issues, such as allegation as a follower of Shia or Liberal Islam. Whereas Agus Harymurti Yudhoyono is deemed lack of experience and as a part of a political dynasty or a son of former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
In 2017, the Jakarta people will predictably have a new Governor on February 15. He will be either Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, Anies Baswedan, or Djarot Saiful Hidayat. This means, if the incumbent Ahok-Djarot pair even wins, there will be very little chance for Ahok to be the Jakarta Governor for the second period because of his accused status and potential imprisonment related to the religious defamation proceeding to which he is now subjected. Ahok will remain able to survive if there is a gigantic power intervening his case. However, this may trigger a national political uproar that is even greater. Jakarta Gubernatorial Election 2017 indeed correlates with the process and decision of Ahok’s court trial that is still current.
Approaching the voting day February 15, 2017, each of the candidates will be campaigning more actively to grab undecided votes and swing voters, particularly of first-time voters, Muslim voters, Javanese voters, and the urban middle class. In the capital Jakarta, social media can be used as a tool to grab supports and influence these voters. However, undeniably, the Ahok’s religious defamation case indeed gave benefit and opportunity to Anies-Sandi and Agus-Sylvi pairs to win on the Jakarta gubernatorial election on February 15, 2017. Even if Ahok loses the election, the public will still look at Ahok’s performance that has been deemed good as a work barometer for anyone who will succeed him, no matter whether he is a polite Muslim or not.
Explaining Gendered Wartime Violence: Rohingya Ethnic Cleansing
The United Nations described Rohingyas as ‘amongst the most persecuted minority groups in the world.’ News reports and refugee testimonies have confirmed that the plight of Muslims in Rakhine State of Myanmar is atrocious. The humanitarian crisis taking place in the Rakhine state has led to the death of an appalling number of Rohingya’s Muslims. It has been reported, that nearly 500,000 people have fled destruction of their livelihood and, are currently living in refugee camps in Bangladesh. The UN reports suggest that Rohingyas have faced “killings, torture, rape and arson”, by Burmese troops. It has been categorised as a ‘textbook case of ethnic cleansing’ of Muslims in Myanmar.
Rohingya Muslims represent the largest percentage of Muslims in Myanmar, and the majority lived in Rakhine state before the violence broke out. Myanmar is predominantly a Buddhist country which has for decades denied Muslims citizenship, they have been subjected to brutal government and police violence, and their identity has been decreased to that of an ‘illegal immigrant.’ On the 25th of August, 2017 the Rohingya militant army launched a deadly attack on the Muslims which has culminated into a systematic case of ethnic violence, turning into ethnic cleansing. They have slowly, but successfully forced majority of the Muslims to flee the country, resulting in one of the deadliest case of violence in the 21st century.
Within this Muslim minority exists another kind of minority, ‘Rohingya Women’ who have been subjected to sexual violence and rape by the army militants. It has been reported that tens of thousands of young girls and women of the Muslim community have been sexually violated and raped by the army militants In the report prepared for the UN Commission on Human Rights, Gay J. McDougall defined wartime rape as “a deliberate and strategic decision on the part of combatants to intimidate and destroy ‘the enemy’ as a whole by raping and enslaving women who are identified as members of the opposition group.” However, wartime rape is not a new phenomenon. Many historical and anthropological researchers have provided us with evidence that rape during war can be traced back to earlier wars. It was reported that during the Second World War, the city of Berlin witnessed extremely high levels of rape and sexual violence against women by the Soviet forces. It has been estimated that around 900,000 women were raped and violated during the war.The infamous ‘Rape of Nanking’ is another case where Japanese soldiers reportedly raped an estimated 20,000 to 80,000 women in the city of Nanjing, China in 1937.
According to the Human Rights Watch report titled ‘All of My Body was in Pain: Sexual Violence against Rohingya Women and Girls in Burma’, women and girls are brutally being raped and sexually violated, humiliated, beaten up and even killed by the Burmese militants. They also suffer from the ordeal of seeing their children, parents or partners being murdered in front of them. The Burmese militant army is using systematic rape as a weapon of war in the massacre of the Rohingyas – using women to be the easy target, and thereby making the Rohingya crisis a grave gender concern. Priyanka Motaparthy, a senior researcher in the Emergencies division of the Human Rights Watch, mentions in a Human Rights Watch report, “These horrific attacks on Rohingya women and girls by security forces add a new and brutal chapter to the Burmese military’s long and sickening history of sexual violence against women.”
It is believed that sexual violence and rape is systematically used against women during wartime due multiple reasons. In addition to women being ‘easy targets’, they are subjected to this ordeal in order to break down the reproductive cycle of an ethnicity, which thereby can result in eliminating that ethnic population altogether. It is also used to decrease or break down the morale of their enemy population, who are responsible for securing their women and girls, thus weakening their opponents. Therefore, the connecting factor between ‘gender based violence’ and ‘wartime’ are the underlying patriarchal values that persists in societies and dictates their culture. Within this structure, it is often assumed that a woman’s honor resides in her reproductive system, violating her reproductive system is seen as a way of stripping her honor, subjecting her to humiliation and furthermore gaining ‘power.’ It is a way of systematically destroying a community as a whole.
This is not the first time the world is witnessing gender based violence. However, the silence on the issue and lack of action by international authorities such as the United Nations is alarming. Urgent and crucial steps need to be taken by the Burmese government along with other International Organizations to bring relief to these women and girls. There is also an urgent need to implement stringent policies and necessary actions must be taken against people who use of sexual violence during wartime. However, the most urgent need of the hour is to overthrow patriarchal values from societies all across the world. Even though this is optimistic, it is important to instill a sense of equality between men and women, which in turn could help in eliminating the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war.
Malaysian-Saudi relations: A lesson in the pitfalls of authoritarianism and autocracy
Embattled former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak was the main loser in last month’s election upset that returned Mahathir Mohamad to power as his country’s anti-corruption crusader. Yet, Mr. Razak is not the only one who may be paying the price for allegedly non-transparent and unaccountable governance.
So is Saudi Arabia with a Saudi company having played a key role in the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal in which Mr. Razak is suspected to have overseen the siphoning off of at least US$4.5 billion and the Saudi government seemingly having gone out of its way to provide him political cover.
While attention has focussed largely on the re-opening of the investigation of Mr. Razak and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, both of whom have been banned from travel abroad and have seen their homes raided by law enforcement, Saudi Arabia has not escaped policymakers’ consideration. Mr. Razak has denied all allegations of wrongdoing.
The geopolitical fallout of the scandal is becoming increasingly evident. Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu suggested this week that Malaysia was re-evaluating the presence of Malaysian troops in Saudi Arabia, dispatched to the kingdom as part of the 41-nation, Saudi-sponsored Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC).
“The ATM (Malaysian Armed Forces) presence in Saudi Arabia has indirectly mired Malaysia in the Middle East conflict… The government will make a decision on the matter in the near future after a re-evaluation has been completed,” said Mr. Sabu, who is known for his critical view of Saudi Arabia.
In a commentary published late last year that suggests a potential Malaysian re-alignment of its Middle Eastern relationships, Mr. Sabu noted that Saudi wrath has been directed “oddly, (at) Turkey, Qatar, and Iran…three countries that have undertaken some modicum of political and economic reforms. Instead of encouraging all sides to work together, Saudi Arabia has gone on an offensive in Yemen, too. Therein the danger posed to Malaysia: if Malaysia is too close to Saudi Arabia, Putrajaya would be asked to choose a side.”
Putrajaya, a city south of Kuala Lumpur, is home to the prime minister’s residence.
Mr. Sabu went on to say that “Malaysia should not be too close to a country whose internal politics are getting toxic… For the lack of a better word, Saudi Arabia is a cesspool of constant rivalry among the princes. By this token, it is also a vortex that could suck any country into its black hole if one is not careful. Indeed, Saudi Arabia is governed by hyper-orthodox Salafi or Wahhabi ideology, where Islam is taken in a literal form. Yet true Islam requires understanding Islam, not merely in its Quranic form, but Quranic spirit.”
Since coming to office, Mr. Sabu has said that he was also reviewing plans for a Saudi-funded anti-terrorism centre, the King Salman Centre for International Peace (KSCIP), which was allocated 16 hectares of land in Putrajaya by the Razak government. Mr. Sabu was echoing statements by Mr. Mahathir before the election.
Compounding potential strains in relations with Saudi Arabia, Seri Mohd Shukri Abdull, Mr. Mahathir’s newly appointed anti-corruption czar, who resigned from the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) in 2016 as a result of pressure to drop plans to indict Mr. Razak, noted that “we have had difficulties dealing with Arab countries (such as)…Saudi Arabia…”
The investigation is likely to revisit 1MDB relationship’s with Saudi energy company PetroSaudi International Ltd, owned by Saudi businessman Tarek Essam Ahmad Obaid as well as prominent members of the kingdom’s ruling family who allegedly funded Mr. Razak.
It will not have been lost on Saudi Arabia that Mr. Mahathir met with former PetroSaudi executive and whistle blower Xavier Andre Justo less than two weeks after his election victory.
A three-part BBC documentary, The House of Saud: A Family at War, suggested that Mr. Razak had worked with Prince Turki bin Abdullah, the son of former Saudi King Abdullah, to syphon off funds from 1MDB.
Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir came to Mr. Razak’s rescue in 2016 by declaring that US$681 million transferred into the prime minister’s personal bank account was a “genuine donation with nothing expected in return.”
The Malaysian election as well as seeming Saudi complicity in the corruption scandal that toppled Mr. Razak has global implications, particularly for the United States and China, global powers who see support of autocratic and/or corrupt regimes as the best guarantee to maintain stability.
It is a lesson that initially was apparent in the 2011 popular Arab revolts that toppled the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen.
The rollback of the achievements of most of those revolts backed by autocratic leaders in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates bent on reshaping the Middle East and North Africa in their mould has contributed to the mayhem, violence and brutal repression engulfing the region.
In addition, autocratic rule has failed to squash widespread economic and social discontent. Middle Eastern states, including Algeria, Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon Iran, and most recently Jordan have witnessed protests against rising prices, cuts in public spending and corruption.
“The public dissatisfaction, bubbling up in several countries, is a reminder that even more urgent action is needed,” warned Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Elections, if held at all, more often than not fail to serve as a corrective in the Middle East and North Africa because they are engineered rather than a free and fair reflection of popular will. Elections in countries like Iraq and Lebanon serve as exceptions that confirm the rule while Iran represents a hybrid.
As a result, street protests, militancy and violence are often the only options available to those seeking change.
Against that backdrop, Malaysia stands out as an example of change that does not jeopardize stability. It is but the latest example of Southeast Asian nations having led the way in producing relatively peaceful political transitions starting with the 1986 popular revolt in the Philippines, the 1998 toppling of Suharto in Indonesia, and Myanmar’s 2010 transition away from military dictatorship.
This is true even if Southeast Asia also demonstrates that political transition is a decades-long process that marches to the tune of Vladimir Lenin’s principle of two steps forward, one step backwards as it witnesses a backslide with the rise in the Philippines of President Rodrigo Duterte’s authoritarianism, stepped up jihadist activity, the 2014 military coup in Thailand, increasingly autocratic rule in Cambodia, the rise of conservatism and intolerance in Indonesia, and the plight of the Rohingya in Myanmar.
If anything, Malaysia constitutes an anti-dote.
“Malaysia’s institutions proved more resilient…and descent into authoritarianism has been averted – offering a lesson not only to aspiring dictators, but to those in the United States who argue that propping up corrupt leaders is in U.S. interests,” said Alex Helan, a security and anti-corruption consultant.
Indonesian Muslim leader signals global shifts in meetings with Pence and Netanyahu
Yahya Staquf, a diminutive, soft-spoken leader of Nahdlatul Ulama, the world’s largest Muslim movement, and Indonesian president Joko Widodo’s advisor on religious affairs, has held a series of meetings in recent weeks that reflect the Muslim world’s shifting attitudes towards Israel and the Palestinians and a re-alignment of socially conservative Muslim and Christian interests.
Just this month, Mr. Staquf, a staunch advocate of inter-faith dialogue and religious tolerance, met in Washington with Vice President Mike Pence, a devout evangelist Catholic who has described himself as “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order,” and in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu.
Messrs. Pence and Staquf were joined by Reverend Johnnie Moore, an evangelist who in May was appointed by US President Donald J. Trump as a member of the board of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Mr. Staquf’s discussions would likely raise eyebrows at any given moment.
But they take on added significance because they came in the wake of Mr. Trump’s controversial recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, stepped up US support for Israel in United Nations bodies, and in advance of a whirlwind visit to the Middle East by US peace negotiators Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestine Authority has refused to engage with the Trump administration since the US recognition of Jerusalem and Palestinian officials were unlikely to meet with Messrs. Kushner and Greenblatt during their Middle East tour that focused on a draft US plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Details of the plan, described by Mr. Trump as the ‘deal of the century,’ remain under wrap, but Palestinians fear that it will be heavily geared towards supporting Israeli negotiating positions.
That fear has been reinforced by the Trump administration’s fiery support of Israel in the UN. The United States this month withdrew from the United Nations Human Rights Council, citing, among other reasons, the council’s repeated criticism of Israel.
Whether by design or default, Mr. Staquf’s meetings appeared to reinforce efforts by close US allies like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt to stifle opposition to Mr. Trump’s approach to Israeli-Palestinian peace. Turkey has been in the forefront of condemnation of US policy that resonates in Muslim public opinion, particularly in Asia.
Frustration with US and Israeli policies has undermined popular Palestinian support for a two-state solution that envisions the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip, has facilitated weeks of protests along the border between Gaza and Israel in support of the Palestinian right to return to lands within Israel’s boundaries prior to the 1967 Middle East war during which Israel captured East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights.
Israel has since annexed East Jerusalem and withdrawn from Gaza, which it blockades together with Egypt in a bid to undermine Hamas’s rule.
At least 142 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces since the protests erupted in late March and some 13,000 wounded.
Mr. Netanyahu trumpeted the political significance of his meeting with Mr. Staquf in a statement following their encounter.
“Muslim states are becoming closer to Israel because of the common struggle against the Iranian regime and because of Israeli technology. … The prime minister hopes that there will be progress in our relationship with Indonesia, too,” Mr. Netanyahu’s office said.
Indonesia and Israel do not maintain diplomatic relations but do not stop their nationals and officials from travelling between the two countries. Mr. Staquf has insisted that he was visiting Israel in his private capacity rather than as an advisor to the Indonesian president.
Indonesia recently revoked Israeli tourist visas in protest against Israel’s hard-handed tactics in Gaza. In response, Israel has threatened to ban tourist visas for Indonesians. Some 30,000 Indonesians, mostly Christian pilgrims, obtain visas to visit Israel each year.
Indonesia in May exempted Palestinian imports from custom duties in a bid to support the Palestinian economy.
Mr. Staquf insisted that his visit to Israel at the invitation of the American Jewish Congress was intended to promote Palestinian independence. “I stand here for Palestine. I stand here on the basis that we all have to honour Palestine’s sovereignty as a free country,” he said in a statement posted on his organization’s website.
Nonetheless, Mr. Staquf did not meet Palestine Authority officials during his visit. Osama al-Qawasmi, a spokesman for Mr. Abbas’ Al Fatah group, charged that his visit was “a crime against Jerusalem, against the Palestinians and Muslims in the world, and constitutes support for the criminal Israeli occupier against our fighting and resolute people.”
Mr. Staquf was the second NU leader to visit Israel in the past two decades. Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid travelled several times to Israel before and after his presidency but not while he was Indonesia’s head of state.
Muslim leaders, many of which have long reconciled themselves to recognition of the State of Israel’s existence, have largely been reluctant to publicly engage with Israeli officials as opposed to non-Israeli Jews as long as Israel and Palestine have not made substantial progress towards peace.
Mr. Staquf like Mr. Wahid before him broke ranks by travelling to Israel, a move that sparked criticism and condemnation on Indonesian social media and from some members of parliament.
While the criticism has focussed on Mr. Staquf’s visit to Israel rather than his meeting with Messrs. Pence and Moore, it is also rooted in widespread perceptions of evangelists as purveyors of rising Islamophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment.
Lost in that criticism is the fact that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is being hailed by some evangelists as heralding a new era with his projection of greater religious openness in the kingdom and his unprecedented statement that both Palestinians and Israelis “have the right” to have their own land.
“You know I couldn’t believe my ears actually when I was watching the news report where the crown prince of Saudi Arabia said directly, verbatim, He said this kingdom will become a kingdom for all religions. I had to watch it again and he was crystal, crystal clear.
You know as evangelicals this is a new day for us in the Middle East. Evangelicals are the baby Christians in the region… What we’re seeing is a new openness to what evangelicalism is, which I think is a move of the Holy Spirit.” Mr Moore said.
Mr. Staquf projected his visit to Israel as promoting the concept of rahma or compassion and mercy as the basis for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the forging of relations between Israel and the Muslim world.
In practice, by design or by default, it supports US and Saudi efforts to impose their will on the Palestinians and the larger Middle East that potentially could produce as many problems as they offer solutions.
In doing so, it pays tribute to Prince Mohammed’s ability to project himself as an agent of change in Saudi Arabia even if the precise contours of his vision have yet to emerge.
In a twist of irony, it is a tribute by the leader of a movement that was founded almost a century ago in opposition to Wahhabism, the ultra-conservative Sunni Muslim worldview that long shaped Saudi Arabia and that Prince Mohammed is seen as disavowing.
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