[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] T [/yt_dropcap]he countries of South Asia are using the United States and EU’s deterrence model of building walls and fences along the border, to deter cross-border terrorism, migration and human trafficking. However, this deterrence strategy will ultimately fail, just like it did in the United States and EU.
On 5th May 2017, Afghan security forces fired across the border at Chaman on Pakistani census workers and troops escorting them, killing nine and leaving thirty-three wounded. In the crossfire, Pakistani officials reported that six were killed on the Afghanistan’s side. This has led to the series of crossfires between both the armies across the Durand Line (Pakistan-Afghanistan Border), and in the recent incident of yesterday, Pakistan army claimed to kill fifty Afghan soldiers and over a hundred injured as a retortion to 5th May cross-border attack on Chaman. Two days earlier than the Chaman incident, India claimed that they have found two beheaded dead bodies of their soldiers near the Line of Control (LoC) who were brutally mutilated by Pakistan’s special forces. While both these countries have inculpated their western neighbor for the cross-border infiltration and terrorism, India faced an additional concern of cross-border migration and human trafficking of Bengalis and Rohingyas refugees from the India-Bangladesh border. This is precisely the reason that Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh declared at the end of the month of March that India plans to seal international borders with Pakistan and Bangladesh by 2018. Singh believes that it will help India to tackle the rising issue of terrorism and refugee crisis in the country. Just two days after this, Pakistan also announced that it is going to build a fence across the Durand line (Afghanistan Border) in order to stem the flow of violence across the borders of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Both of these announcements have come at a time, when the debate on the border restrictions has already been in the limelight, mainly because of the United Stated president Donald Trump’s pledge to build a “giant wall” on the country’s border with Mexico and the usage of these restrictions as a tool to prevent the movement of refugees from Syria into Europe.
Why is this new trend of border walls emerging in South Asia? How different or similar is the border walls in this region from that of massive walls being built on the borders of the United States, Israel, and European countries? How these controversial border security projects are justified in their respective countries and what consequences these physical barriers have on the lives of those living in these newly securitized spaces?
In order to find answers to these questions, it is first important to understand the Professor of the University of Quebec, Montreal, Elisabeth Vallet’s categorization of the border walls of the 21st century. She believes that in recent years “three distinct types of walls have appeared, 1) anti-migration walls (most common), 2) anti-trafficking walls and 3) anti-terrorism walls.
With the increase in the cross-border infiltration, migration and human trafficking in South Asia, the demand for the building of fences have been increased as well, and the frustrated politicians have to spend exorbitant pecuniary awards to limit the cross-border activities in the region. Currently, there are three borders that are being fenced by their respective governments to attenuate the cross-border activities in the region.
1) India-Bangladesh Border
On the eastern side, India is planning to construct the Indo-Bangladeshi barrier, a 3,406-kilometer (2,116 mi) fence of barbed wire and concrete just under 3 meters high, to prevent the cross-border immigration and human trafficking from Bangladesh. India shares a 4,096-kilometer (2,545-mile) -long international border, the fifth-longest land border in the world, including 262 km in Assam, 856 km in Tripura, 180 km in Mizoram, 443 km in Meghalaya, and 2,217 km in West Bengal. The Bangladeshi divisions of Dhaka, Khulans, Rajshahi, Rangpur, Sylhet and Chittagong are situated along the border. A number of pillars mark the border between the two states. Small demarcated portions of the border are fenced on both sides. The Land Boundary Agreement to simplify the border was ratified by both India and Bangladesh on 7 May 2015.
In the Modi era, India is lubricating the bilateral relations with Bangladesh by building pipelines to wheel diesel under a 15-year supply agreement with Bangladesh. Furthermore, the rail and road linkages being made available for transport of people and goods across the India-Bangladesh border is another boost in the relations. Apart from all this, the civil nuclear cooperation and military aid to Bangladesh are all meant to foster strong bilateral relations. However, the radicalisation of Bangladesh Muslims and their inclusion into the ranks of jihadis organized are a cause of constant concern to India for multiple reasons. India is already facing the consequences of Pakistan’s descent into jihadi extremism and now if Bangladesh were to collapse, India would have to contend with a similar rogue neighbor in the east. The smoke signals are ominous, among them Sheikh Hasina’s failure to ensure the safety and security of Bangladesh’s dwindling Hindu minority. West Bengal is flooded by Bangladeshi malcontents who now freely cross the border to take refuge here, and then return to indulge in jihadi violence both here and there. A recent Government of India statement pegged the number of Bangladeshis living illegally in India at more than two crores. Nobody knows the exact figure, nor is there any estimate how many of them are radicalized. Therefore, India has started building a fence to act as a permanent schism between the two masses of Bangladesh and India as to prevent the penetration of Bangladeshis into the country. Also, the border has been used by the Rohingya refugees from Rakhine state to enter into India. Despite the hurdles, police checks and fences, it is said that the Rohingya refugees are imbued to endure the long and treacherous journey to the Indian provinces of Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, and Assam.
- Pakistan-Afghanistan Border
Pakistan’s decision to build a fence along the Durand line has been influenced by the cross-border terrorism and free movement of terrorists in and out of the Pakistan. The two countries share a 1,500-mile internationally recognized border known as the Durand Line, which was drawn in the 19th century when the British ruled the Subcontinent.
The border has long been a contentious issue. Ever since the fall of the Taliban government in 2001, Afghan and Western officials have said that the Afghan insurgency’s leadership maintains havens in Pakistan, particularly in the city of Quetta. The free movement across the border has helped the militants avoid defeat in a 15-year war led by the United States. At the same time, Afghanistan accuses Pakistan of harboring its own terrorists, wanted Afghan Taliban leaders and their Haqqani network allies in the hilly areas of FATA and Waziristan.
Contrarily, Pakistani authorities have long accused Afgahniatsn of turning a blind eye to Islamic militants operating along the porous frontier and waging deadly attacks inside their territory are based across the border in Afghanistan. In the month of February, Pakistan closed the border for more than a month after a suicide bombing at a shrine in Pakistan’s Sindh Province on February 16, which killed more than eighty people, saying the terrorists behind the attack had sanctuaries in the country.
This has also engendered Pakistan to build the fence on the western border, which is vehemently criticized by the Afghan authorities who do not accept the division of land based on the Durand Line. Najib Danish, the deputy spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, said officials had not yet seen any signs of construction along the frontier but would move to prevent any such project. The Afghan government has never recognized this section of the border, drawn up during British colonial rule. It runs through the Pashtun heartland, diluting the power of Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group on both sides. The Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan, General Qamar Bajwa believes that a better managed, secure and peaceful border is in the mutual interest of both the countries who have given phenomenal sacrifices in the war against terrorism.
3) India-Pakistan Border
Drafted and created based upon the Radcliffe line in 1947, the border demarcates the Indian states and the four provinces of Pakistan. The border runs from the Line of Control (LoC), which separates the Indian-administered Kashmir from Pakistan’s Kashmir, in the north, to Wagah, which partitioned the Indian Punjab state and Punjab Province of Pakistan, in the east. The Zero Point separates the Indian states of Gujarat and Rajasthan to Sindh province of Pakistan, in the south. The LoC which separates the Indian-administered Kashmir with Pakistan’s Kashmir is one of the most controversial and contentious boundaries of the world. The line has witnessed numerous conflicts, crossfires, and wars between the two arch rivals. The most recent of these is the India-Pakistan skirmishes along LoC post Uri-attack of 2016. India alleged Pakistan for supporting and backing the group of heavily armed terrorists to attack the rear administrative base of the Indian army at Uri, in Indian-administered Kashmir. Moreover, India has also blamed that the ten men who attacked the iconic Taj and Oberoi Hotels, the Central Railway Station, and a Jewish Centre in Mumbai in 2008 were associated with the terrorist organization based in Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, led by Hafiz Muhammad Saeed. And the list of one country’s railing of cross-border infiltrations and other country’s rants of being innocent is interminable. In order to avoid these diurnal rumblings along the LoC, India has decided to fence its border along the LoC. India believes that this will restrict the cross-border terrorism and militant infiltration into India.
But the border expert Dr. Reece Jones, professor of Geography department at the University of Hawaii and author of the book: “Border Walls: Security and the War on Terror in the United States, India, and Israel” argues that these border fences have failed to deter terrorism and to protect the population from external threats. He further added that while this deterrence strategy had made journeys to the United States and the European Union more difficult, the number of people attempting the journey did not diminish. “Instead, it has meant that there have been a staggering number of deaths at the borders”. According to the International Organization for Migration, more than 10,000 people have died trying to cross a border since the start of 2015. Jones argues “These deaths are not accidental, but are directly related to the use of deterrence strategy and the construction of walls on the borders,”.
While the border walls and fences build in the South Asia and the rest of the world are effective as symbols that demonstrate that politicians are doing something to address the perceived threats brought by unauthorized movement. These perceived threats can be economic in the form of smugglers or workers taking revenue and jobs from citizens. They can be cultural in the sense that migrants bring different traditions, languages, and ways of life that might not match with the local culture, but they are said to be an expensive flawed solution the problem of infiltration, migration and human trafficking.
Critics argue that such walls will also harm the environment, as these do not encompass the shifting nature of rivers and deserts, therefore these are an impractical solution that encourages an ultranationalist siege mentality.
Dr. Vallet believes that if the exorbitant amont of money spent on these projects are instead invested in peace missions or towards responding to the climate change that triggers food insecurity and migration it would have the potential to change “the course of history.”
A Golden Cage of Repression: The Paradoxical Outcome of Afghan Women’s ‘Liberation’
Following the September 11 terror attack, the term ‘freedom’ acquired fresh momentum in the global North. However, it captivated America’s national security dialogue in particular. Under the rhetoric of ‘freedom’, the hegemonic masculine American military grew obsessed with protecting the burqa-clad female ‘victims trapped in Afghanistan’. The neo-colonial presumption that Afghani women could be emancipated through American intervention in Afghanistan proved to be unsurprisingly problematic. Evidence has indicated that the insecurity of women exacerbated since the inception of the ‘war on terror’. Numerous women in Afghanistan were displaced during the conflict (and remain soto this day).They continue to endure an unstable economic, political, and social order. Those who fled to neighbouring countries, primarily to Pakistan and Iran as reported by Amnesty International in 2015,were subject to physical and sexual abuse and had restricted access tobasic facilities (i.e. education, healthcare, sanitation etc.) that are imperative to pursuing a decent standard of living. This represents an explicit failure in the American quest for advancing ‘women’s rights.’
The American invasion of Afghanistan governed (in part) by a pseudo-focus on advancing women’s rights was further accentuated in Laura Bush’s speech in 2001. This widespread American liberal feminist thought addressed violence against Afghani women as an outcome of the ideologies imposed by the Taliban male ‘Other’. However, it is this very perspective, representing women from another culture as gendered ‘victims’, that one should be careful of advocating. The tendency to homogenise the experiences of all Muslim women is a rampant limitation of most Western feminist practice, subsequently paving the path to epistemic violence. In addition to cultural/religious insensitivity, their inherent hypocrisy is made apparent when ‘liberation’, which in essence seeks to promote ‘freedom of choice’, equates notions of oppression to various veiling practices widespread in the Afghani culture. The oversimplification of a complex issue in relation to adiverse female population (comprising of cultural, geographical and/or religious identities) enforces elements of neo-colonial violence, thus robbing Afghani women of their agency regarding clothing choices.
With particular focus on Afghanistan, Wylie has demonstrated the importance and implications of focusing on cultural accounts, deep-seated in the history of a nation, in order to understand the foundation of gender order. Utilising the complex historical climate of Afghanistan, one which comprises the decades-long influence of a conservative culture together with the current conflict worsened through foreign funding and support, Wylie has argued that overthrowing the Taliban rule after 9/11andreplacing another government regime would inevitably propose challenges regarding the advancement of ‘(liberal) women’s rights’ constructed by those outside Afghanistan. Counter-productivity concerning the promotion of women’s rights in society or abolishing violence against women altogether is essentially an outcome of their (liberal feminists) failure to formulate strategies that compliment traditional Afghani practices. Hence, we should strive to understand the root causes of injustice apparent in a nation and then, tailor a culturally sensitive approach to combat violence. Otherwise insecurity will continue to prevail, as exhibited in the ‘war on terror.’
Lastly, the voices of those women who have personally encountered the three-fold processes (epistemic, physical, and structural) of violence during the ‘war on terror’ is absent from the discourse. Alack of anecdotes pertaining to an Afghani woman’s cry for help when an invasion in their name is being pursued is rather puzzling. The imposition of such paternalistic belief masked under the rhetoric of freedom has left women voiceless and their agency stripped. It is imperative to note that Afghani women are aware of the obstacles they face to economic, political, and social progress. Their exclusion in the rights debate while being de facto held captive by the daily cycle of violence perpetuated by both the domestic and international community is a key reason as to why insecurity amongst Afghani women is still rampant. This encompasses key implications for academics, policy makers, and the general global arena who provide blind support to those keen to advance the women’s rights discourse but do so clumsily so that no real participation investment is available to actual Afghani women. As long as this remains the case, as long as Afghani women are being patronized in a manner that does not allow them true freedom over their own social rights’ discourse, then it seems unlikely that great progress can be achieved in Afghanistan when it comes to gender equality, gender freedom, and gender security.
It is an undeniable fact that the forceful imposition of American ideals of ‘liberation’ on Afghani women has facilitated an escalation in the three-fold processes of violence. The consequences of military invasion supported by the American government should have been closely observed when it came to the social, political, and development situation for local women. Developing culturally sensitive strategies which address gender order grounded in the historical complexities of a country really needs to be paramount. Without this grounding any force-adoptive strategies placed from above have a small likelihood of lasting once the invading forces withdraw. Lastly, one cannot stress enough on the significance of incorporating indigenous women’s voices explicitly in gender rights discourse. This is a primary step which can enable women (and men) to disrupt the cycle of violence and consequently transfer agency back to the women of Afghanistan (or any other country for that matter). Failure to do so means Western countries will be basically inserting another form of repressive patriarchy in place of the Taliban version. It does not matter that the former is meant to be done with the best of intentions and with improved welfare for local women in mind. Preventing Afghani women from first achieving and then exercising true agency is creating a golden cage. Unfortunately, a cage is still a cage no matter how much it may sparkle compared to the previous one.
- Amnesty International (2015). Global Refugee Crisis – by the numbers. Available: https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2015/10/global-refugee-crisis-by-the-numbers/[Accessed 3rd November, 2015].
- Husain, M. E., & Ayotte, K. J. (2005). Securing Afghan women: Neocolonialism, epistemic violence, and the rhetoric of the veil. NWSA journal, 17(3),pp. 112-133.
- Wylie, G. (2003). Women’s Rights and Righteous War ‘An Argument for Women’s Autonomy in Afghanistan. Feminist Theory, 4(2), pp. 217-223.
Humanizing the Kashmir Issue
It is a fact that in a conflict situation, the contending parties aim at extracting maximum benefit mostly at the expense of the opponent. In doing so however, a pure realistic logic comes into play where exercising maximum power to achieve maximum gain is the rule of law. No compromise, no compassion, and nothing less than a complete victory over the other is acceptable. While it is known that conflict is ubiquitous in nature and follows a certain life cycle short of either exploding into a full-blown war or ending into a stalemate, it also has a probability to get resolved, managed or be transformed if proper techniques are employed coupled with the necessary will. Not only does that allow for the space to address a conflicting situation but also raises hopes for minimum material and human causalities. One relevant option in such cases is to “humanize” the conflict through conflict transformation mechanism so as to associate the human dimension to the dispute and making it more humane. This helps reframe the ways in which peace building initiatives could be discussed and pursued. It is important to note that “empathy” is essential to peace building.
Same is the treatment that is needed to be extended to the Kashmir issue, the most bitter territorial dispute between India and Pakistan. The two nuclear states have fought their first war in 1948 on this very issue and have been engaged in continuous skirmishes along the LoC from time to time, so much so that today it is seen as a nuclear flashpoint between Pakistan and India. It is important to identify that the stakeholders in this case are not just the state of Kashmir, Pakistan or India, but the real stakeholders are the people of Jammu and Kashmir who have been suffering for more than six decades at the hands of Indian brutality and savage atrocities.
It is ironic that despite the decades long miseries of innocent Kashmiri people, the international political community is mum on the subject in terms of taking any practical action against the aggressor or to even acknowledge the human suffering in this case. Even though the UN resolution of 1948 suggests the fair, free and independent plebiscite, the resolution was never implemented because of India. Instead, swift genocide of Kashmiri Muslims is being carried out by Indian state sponsored elements in Kashmir to make it a Hindu majority land, which needs to be stopped. Pakistan’s permanent representative to the UN, Amb. Maleeha Lodhi rightly stated that “nothing undermines the credibility of UNSC more than the selective implementation of its resolutions”.
Nonetheless Pakistan on its part has been raising the issue of indigenous struggle of people of Kashmir at all the regional and international platforms on purely human grounds. There is more than ever an immediate need to put an end to the Indian brutalities that has even crossed the last limits of barbarism through pallet gun attacks on unarmed civilian population and by unabashedly using the innocent people as human shield tied in front of their vehicles. An excerpt from the book “The Collaborator” written by a Kashmiri writer Mirza Waheed depicts the horrific picture of violence by India in Indian occupied Kashmir mentioning that “there were people dying everywhere getting massacred in every town and village, there were people being picked up and thrown into dark jails in unknown parts, there were dungeons in the city where hundreds of young men were kept in heavy chains and from where never emerged alive, there were thousands who had disappeared leaving behind women with photographs and perennial waiting, there were multitudes of dead bodies on the roads, in hospital beds, in fresh martyr’s graveyards and scattered casually on the snow mindless borders”.
This is only a glimpse of what is actually going on there. No less than a breakthrough, on June 15, 2018, finally the first ever UN report on Kashmir recognizes the human rights violation and carnage against the local Kashmiri population by the authorities in the Indian Occupied Kashmir. It is indeed a first positive step that would not only coax the international community and Human rights watchdogs to be more objective towards the Kashmir issue but will also evoke the much required empathy needed to make positive progress for the basic rights of the Kashmiri people. Although it took the UN seventy long years but it comes as a sigh of relief that the report explicitly mentions that in IOK, people have been subjected to lack of justice and impunity, extrajudicial killings, administrative detentions, torture, enforced disappearance, and sexual violence. It identifies the Indian authorities being ruthless with the unarmed civil population and employing the most brutal of acts to inflict human anguish.
This report could actually serve two major purposes: one, the international community should now be able to see in black and white the aggressor and the victim, and the real stakeholder i.e. the people of Kashmir; second, seeing the conflict from the human lens can help to limit escalation and violence. The international community should not allow India to de-humanize the issue anymore, which so far has only led to the gross human rights violation and genocide by India. There is a high hope that evaluating the Kashmir issue on purely human grounds will dispel the misleading Indian generated propaganda against the indigenous freedom struggle of innocent Kashmiris. It will help better educate the world community on the issue and employ relevant humanizing strategies to effectively transform this never ending conflict.
Indian students abroad and the new immigration policy
The UK and US have for long been preferred destinations for Indian students, due to employment opportunities, and the deep economic and political links India shares with both these countries. In recent decades, other countries like Australia, Canada and New Zealand have also emerged as popular choices for Indian students. In the case of the US, total number of Indian students as of 2018 was 1,86,000. Indian students contributed well over 6 Billion USD to the US Economy. For some time, there was a decline in number of Indian students going for disciplines like Engineering, given the Trump Administration’s revisions made to the H1-B Visa regime. As a result number of Indian students going to the US dropped by 21%, and was estimated at 18,590 in 2017.
Apart from this, there are new restrictions to the Optional Practical Training OPT. Says the United States Customs and Immigration Services UCSIS website:
‘The training experience must take place onsite at the employer’s place of business or worksites to which US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has authority to conduct site visits to ensure the OPT requirements are being met….The training experience may not take place at the place of business or worksite of the employer’s clients or customers because ICE would lack authority to visit such sites.”
This revision has also made US education less attractive for Indian students, who looked at training as a possible opportunity.
UK’s recent reforms
Only recently, UK has introduced reforms to its immigration regime. In its new immigration policy tabled before British Parliament, India was not included in the list of ‘low risk countries’ , by the British Home Office, for Tier 4 student visas (university applications for students applying for low risk countries will become simple. Significantly, countries, including Bahrain, Indonesia, and the Maldives have been included in the list.
It would be pertinent to point out, that the spokesman for the Home Office did acknowledge the relevance of Indian students:
“We welcome Indian students who want to come to the U.K. to study at our world-leading educational institutions. We issue more visas to students from India than any other country except China and the U.S.,”
Reactions to this decision
Lord Karan Bilimoria, an entrepreneur of Indian origin, and President of the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) has dubbed this as an insult to India, while also citing this as an instance of UK’s ignorant attitude towards immigration.
It is likely, that UK Home office’s decision may have an impact on the FTA (Free Trade Agreement) to be signed between India and UK, the former is likely to harden its stance.
While the recent decision is not likely to go down well with prospective Indian students. There has been a dip in Indian students attending British Universities. In 2010, Indian students in UK were estimated at 60,000. While in 2016, that number had dropped significantly to 15,000. In 2017-2018, there was a 27% increase in student visas (the first time since 2010), but this did not cover the decline over a number of recent years.
Problems being faced by Indian students have been raised on a number of occasions. Indian High Commissioner to UK, YK Sinha, had flagged the issue of problems faced by Indian students in UK, with Britain’s Minister of State for Universities Sam Gyimah in June 2018.
The recent Immigration policy did have some good news in the context of tier-2 visas (for professionals). Techies, teacher, doctors and engineers, have been removed from the total cap of 20,700 Visas. This creates new opportunities for professionals.
Countries which have benefitted
The biggest beneficiaries of the restrictive policies of US and UK have been countries like Australia, Canada and New Zealand. In Australia, there were over 68,000 Indian students as of November 2017 (a rise of 14% from the period from January-November 2016), there has been a surge in the number of Indian students attending Canadian universities ( in 2015, this number was estimated at 31,795 while at the end of 2016, this was estimated at 52, 890).
While Australia abolished 457 (the equivalent of an H1 B), which impacted Indian professionals. Canada has been generous in providing work visas as well as permanent residency. The latter has been successful in weaning away software professionals from the US through Canadian PM Justin Trudeau’s, Global Skills Strategy.
Need to safeguard Indian students interests.
Countries like US and US need to decide for themselves, whether or not they want to make use of talent. Indian government, itself needs to be more firm in safeguarding the interests of its students overseas. Indian students, who perform exceedingly well academically, as well in the professional sphere, are an important component of India’s ‘Soft Power’.
Indian students, on their part, should also explore new destinations, which are trying to open up student visas and employment opportunities and should not go by education consultants. As India begins to strengthen ties with countries in East Asia and South East Asia, Indian students should explore possible opportunities in countries like Taiwan. It is setting up more education centres in India, establishing exchange programs with Indian Universities. The country’s Ministry of Education is also planning a revision to the law according to which talented overseas students may be permitted to work in Taiwan.
Countries which have been preferred choices for higher studies should realise that Indian students have numerous options, and they can not be taken for granted. Not just simpler application procedures and student visas, it is important that there are substantial incentives such as relaxation of work visas. New Delhi on its part needs to be firmer in flagging problems being faced by Indian students, and while strengthening ties with countries there should be a focus on strengthening educational linkages.
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