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Un-shrouding the Pashtun tahaffuz (protection) movement (PTM)

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The PTM emerged on Pakistan’s public scene as a non-violent rights movement. It, initially, just wanted that `extrajudicial’ killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud, a Pusthun be probed. With invisible funds and support, internal and external, it began to hold rallies, contact senators, and academia, including elite Lahore University of Management. Indian media is in the forefront, highlighting `plight’ of the hapless Pushtuns and predatory Pakistan army.

Look at the PTM’s demands, as published by Indian magazine The Quint dated June 28, 2018 (What does Pushtun Tahafuz Movement in Pakistan want?):

– Judicial enquiry to set up for [Naqeebullah] Mehsud’s killing, allegedly in an extrajudicial police encounter.

-Stop racial profiling of the Pushtuns in the country, like humiliating them at checkpoints or harassing them in the name of search operations.

-To release the missing persons or produce them before court of law, if they have allegedly committed a crime.

-The Army must not abduct or open fire on innocents in the tribal areas, or use violence or collective punishments against entire villages and tribes.

-Removal of the entire landmine in the tribal areas, that the protesters claimed have killed 35 people including many children since 2009.” (mark the undertone of highlighted words).

Government’s view: According to media reports, the government agrees to most of the PTM’s demands. But, it can’t provide an opportunity to terrorists who fled to Afghanistan to walk back. Pakistan Army took a number of steps to meet the PTMs demands (like reduction of check posts).

 Senior military officers took off veneer of rank to talk to PTM leaders, eye-ball-to-eye-ball.  The PTM demands were well reflected in media, including Herald.

Off-course over-ebullient behavior: The PTM is more fond of talking to international media, particularly Afghan diaspora, than Pakistan’s `toothless’ governments. During the PTM’s meetings abroad, they proudly hoist Afghan national flag. It erupted in ruckus during a London meeting.  

A solidarity event (June 23, 2018), held in Britain, was attended by  Mr. Falak Naz Khan Yousafzai, Mr Yousaf Ali Khan, Mr. Zahid Mohmand (aka Faiq Khan), besides Ziauddin Yousafzai (father of  Malala Yousafzai)), Ziauddin Yousafzai.  Regrettably, this event focused less on PTM’s demands and more on `Pakistan’s complicity with Taliban’. Malala’s father alleged, “Pakistan army and intelligence agencies knew that Fazalullah was a terrorist who continued to operate radio station in Swat’.

We respect Malala’s courage. But, his father’s tirade against Pakistan army is not understood.  Maybe, it would be better if the PTM remains focused on its demands.

Anti-Pak Army/ISI sentiments: In its muffled resentment, the PTM even accused Pak army of harassing women, and even of even rapes (. Investigations by women rights bodies did not coirm the allegation. The PTM got away by pleading that honour code restraints the Pashtun women from speaking out (Taha Siddiqui,  Pakistan’s Pashtun Women Are Breaking Silence On Army’s Abuse, The Quint January 30, 2019).

Michael Kugelman, Woodrow Wilson Centre notes ‘the movement’s rhetoric, particularly in more recent weeks, has been unabashedly hostile toward the military. At one rally, the PTM’s top leader, Manzoor Pashteen, identified “GHQ”—a reference to the military’s general headquarters—as “the place that destroyed us.” Protesters also chant about the “uniform” backing terrorism. At the April 22 protest, Pashteen referred to military generals as “traitors.” And according to one of the few Pakistani media accounts of the April 22 protest, at least one speaker alleged that the military was complicit in a horrific terrorist attack, claimed by the Pakistani Taliban, on an Army-run school, which was populated with the children of soldiers, in Peshawar back in December 2014. Such witheringly anti-military rhetoric, according to the PTM’s harshest critics, exemplifies how the movement has lost its appeal and descended into ethnic-power politics while becoming “a political party in all but name.” More broadly, it angers many others in Pakistan who venerate the military and regard such vociferous criticism as wholly unjustifiable.

The PTM does not espouse or engage in violence; Pashteen has specifically advised protesters to clasp their hands behind their backs if subjected to violent reprisals. Still, its heated rhetoric against the military, rooted in deep-seated, long-standing grievances, enables critics to brand it with the anti-state label, which decreases the likelihood that the security establishment will be receptive to its demands.

While addressing a rally at Orakzai (April 20, 2019), Pakistan’s prime minister expressed sympathy with Pashtun Tahafuzz Movement demands. But he expressed ennui at anti-army slogans. Earlier, our senate’s special committee had patiently heard their demands.

Of course, the PTM has several demands most of which have been admitted by the government, even by ISPR. But, the organisation sometimes voices concerns that are exterior to Pashtoon welfare. For instance, Pashteen, at times, regurgitates allegations spoon fed by Western media. Here I quote his remarks from his Herald May 2018 interview (The Pashteen Question: The Making of a New Nationalist Movement, p. 48).  Manzoor Pashteen `rejected ISI’s official claim that army had brought peace to the tribal area’. `The army did not eliminate even a single Taliban leader.  All the 87 Taliban commanders were killed in the last 18 years were eliminated in drone strikes ’_Except Abdullah Mehsud, who exploded himself to death after he was besieged by the army’. 

He berates Pak army operations and extols drone strikes. For one thing drone strikes amount to aggression. In an article, David Swanson pointed out that any use of military force, be it a drone attack, amounts to a war. The Kellogg-Briand Pact made war a crime in 1928 and various atrocities became criminal acts at Nuremberg and Tokyo.

The UN charter maintained war as a crime, but limited it to an ‘aggressive’ war, and gave immunity to any wars launched with the UN approval. If that is indeed the case, did the UN allow drone attacks on Pakistan? Drone attacks on our territory are a clear violation of our sovereignty as an independent state

Pashteen did not mention that drone attacks are a sacrilege of Pakistan’s sovereignty. He did not mention `collateral damage’ in terms of innocent women, children, and adults killed. 

Like Pashteen, C. Christine Fair, and a host of other like-minded writers are skeptical of Pakistan army’s role in the so-called war on terror. She  in his article `Pakistan: Perfidious ally in the war on terror’  says `Pakistan at increasing odds with international community which has come to see Pakistan  as both the fire-fighter and the arsonist…Even the Pakistan army is deeply anti-American…the US-Pakistan relationship is uncertain,…whether their counterpart is a treacherous friend or an outright foe’. The article is included in Mohammad Ayoob and Etga Ulgar (eds.) book `Assessing the War on Terror’.

The PTM is against fencing of Pak-Afghan border. They threaten to pull it down. To appease Ashraf Ghani government it occasionally agitates the Durand Line issue. They threaten to approach the United Nations for acceptance of their demands. An unsuccessful anti-army demonstration was held outside UN office. PTM alleges that Pak army is hands in glove with Taliban. Army wants to settle Taliban in depopulated areas.

Backlash: Michael Kugelman says `Pashtuns in Pakistan are “frequently labeled as terrorists or drug dealers” (“Why Pakistan’s Pashtuns Are Pushing Back”, National Interest April 29, 2018). He adds, “Last year, police in Punjab province were ordered to pay special attention to Pashtuns and to treat them as potential terror suspects (Most members of the Pakistani Taliban, the deadliest terrorist organization in Pakistan over the last decade, are Pashtuns.) He observes, `The tribal areas, buffeted by conflict for many years, are returning to a state of normalcy, thanks to a robust counterterrorism offensive in North Waziristan that has degraded anti-state militants and resulted in a relative respite in terrorist attacks across the country. Last November, I visited Miranshah, the capital of North Waziristan. Pakistani military officials there declared that terrorism had been eliminated; they claimed that there were no more no-go areas; and they showcased new roads, markets, and hospitals. While the military speaks of peace and development in the tribal belt, the PTM speaks of indignity and injustice. In a country where street protests are often led by religious hardliners and internationally designated terrorists, the emergence of a peaceful rights movement calling for more dignity and justice is a heartening development. However, its confrontational rhetoric has rubbed many Pakistanis the wrong way. Ultimately, the strong resistance PTM has encountered could limit its prospects for success. And a lack of success could have a significant cost’.

Inference: Doubtless `patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel’. India is overplaying PTM to tarnish Pakistan’s image. The PTM should make public its funding sources. Lest the PTM is dubbed unpatriotic, it should stick on course. And confine itself to its demands. Yet, they should be allowed to exercise their rights to free speech and assembly unfettered. 

Mr. Amjed Jaaved has been contributing free-lance for over five decades. His contributions stand published in the leading dailies at home and abroad (Nepal. Bangladesh, et. al.). He is author of seven e-books including Terrorism, Jihad, Nukes and other Issues in Focus (ISBN: 9781301505944). He holds degrees in economics, business administration, and law.

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South Asia

‘External forces’ won’t decide the actions of New Delhi

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India’s farmer’s protest is in the news for a while for the obvious reasons. In a democracy there should be protests, it keeps the power balanced. However, in India, the protestors and the government are both facing a common challenge, that is the external influence. To which, Indian External Affairs Minister and other government wings already made public statements. Before understanding the external factors, one needs to look into the farmer’s protest.

What are the farm laws?

Last year Government of India passed three laws in order to bring a reform in the agriculture sector in India, which are:

  1. The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act – provides for setting up a mechanism allowing the farmers to sell their farm produces outside the Agriculture Produce Market Committees (APMCs). Any licence-holder trader can buy the produce from the farmers at mutually agreed prices. This trade of farm produces will be free of mandi (marketplace) tax imposed by the state governments.
  2. The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance – Allows farmers to do contract farming and market their produces freely.
  3. Farm Services Act, and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act – amendment to the existing Essential Commodities Act. This law now frees items such as foodgrains, pulses, edible oils and onion for trade except in extraordinary (read crisis) situations.

According to the government – the new laws will help to strengthen basic farm sector infrastructure through greater private investments. Successive governments have found financial constraints in investing in farm and rural infrastructure. It is argued that with food markets growing exponentially in India, private players would make agriculture profitable for the farmers.

Why farmers are protesting?

It’s been around 3 months since the Farmers are protesting in North India, on the highways en-route Delhi. Despite having rounds of talks between the government and the farmers, they’re yet to find a common understanding.

Farmers are worried as they feel this may impact the existing structure and lead to the corporatization of the agriculture sector in which the big corporations will exploit the farmers. Moreover, the new farm bill talks about the establishment of the private Agriculture Produce Market Committee, which in turn will end the role of middleman involved in the market, However, the middleman is seen by farmers, not as one exploiting them but one who provides services to them. Their number in two states – Punjab & Haryana could cross 100,000. So, farmers and middleman fear that this will ultimately result in huge job loss and impact the structure.

Another point farmers fears that from individual-to-individual relation, these bills will change the market into the individual to corporate relations. With a changed dispute settlement mechanism the farmers also are worried that their pleas could not get the desired settlement.

MSP – Minimum Support Price is another demand forwarded by the farmers, which they apprehend that allowing outside-APMC trade of farm produces would lead to lesser buying by the government agencies in the approved Mandis (marketplace). The protesting farmers say the new laws would thus make the MSP system irrelevant and they would not have any assured income from their farming. Right now, the government announces fixed MSP for around two dozen crops.

The working of the MSP system has been such over the years that it benefits only a handful of farmers at the all-India level. The Shanta Kumar committee set up by the Modi government in 2015 says that only six percent of farmers benefit from the MSP regime.

The catch here is that for farmers of some states such as Punjab and Haryana, the MSP system has worked well. In these two states procurement of paddy and wheat range around 75-80 per cent.

So, the fear that the MSP system may crumble and get dismantled after the new farm laws are implement has become a very emotive issue for the farmers of Punjab and Haryana. And, that is why they are the ones who are most vocal in their protest against the farm laws and demanding that the MSP should be made mandatory for both APMC and private Mandis (marketplace).

The government, however, is constantly in touch with the farmers and trying to resolve the issues through dialogue and till then the laws have been kept on hold while talks are held.

External group’s interference

Many external elements are interfering in the protests and challenging the government, including a few fringes and notorious separatist organisations which are based and nurtured by the West during the days of the cold war days for the obvious reasons. In the garb of human rights and democracy, they know it very well that how to destabilise a nation. There are many examples in front of us, the Russian protests being one of them. 

The world has seen how after the new U.S. government’s arrival in the United States set the narrative for the socialist lobby around the world. President Trump very well assessed the threats of such groups and kept them in check but the new administration seems to propagate their ideology as the state policy. 

When President Biden said, “We must meet the ‘new moment’ accelerating global challenges” it indicates toward continuing the policies of Obama administration with new added ‘Biden’ characteristics. 

The tweets by American celebrities and people with clear political leaning are not about the protests, they in fact, do not know much about the protest, and their idea is to attack the ideology which doesn’t meet theirs. India is a land of protests, revolution, ideas and ideologies and both the Government of India and Indians respect the thoughts across the spectrum.

One of the American Congresswomen said that she will continue to monitor this situation closely and another expressed the solidarity but their thoughts are not driven by the plights of farmers, rather a particular ideology.

Recently, the State Department welcomed the reforms by the Indian government and also advocates for the protests. Which is contradicting in itself. India as a bearer of an Independent Foreign Policy should avoid any validation by any foreign government and let not the tweets by a particular mindset decide the course of protest or government actions.

India as a democracy respect different ideas but can’t allow any ‘vested interest’ groups influence any actions by New Delhi.

From our partner International Affairs

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Forced Cremation: Another bout of marginalisation in Sri Lanka

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A thermometer gun is used to take a boy's temperature in Sri Lanka. © UNICEF/Chameera Laknath

The agony of the Sri Lankan civil war is not worn off from history as yet. The 26-year war decimated the foundations of the country and highlighted the separatist fragment of the society. The massacre of the Muslim community and the wounds left to fester since 1990’s riots have still not subsided even after three decades. While the clash of the Sinhalese and Tamils climaxed in 2009, the violence against the Muslim minority never ceased. The recent strike over the rights of minorities is the forceful cremation of the deceased in the line of Covid prevention adopted by the Sri Lankan government. Regardless of the religious doctrines guiding the final proceedings of the dead, the Sri Lankan regime continues to ploy to utilise the pandemic as a tool to forcefully cremate the deceased Muslims irrespective of the sentiments of the Muslim families.

Sri Lanka, officially known as the ‘Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka’, is a South Asian country forming a tear-drop below the Indian subcontinent and located at the southwestern edge of the Bay of Bengal. The country was bloodied by the infamous civil war that incited in 1983; claiming mounds of lives and consuming countless communities. The 1990 Massacre was the flash point of the civil war; mosques attacked in the town of Batticaloa resulting in 300 Muslims brutally slain as a drive against the Sinhalese government. The end of the civil war should have marked an end to the inhumanity bestowed upon the Muslim minority given the fall of the ‘Tamil Tigers’; the main culprits of the 1990 massacre. However, the religious violence exponentiated instead of contracting under the Sinhalese dominated Sri Lanka as the anti-Muslimism campaigns picked up pace over the last decade, leaving the Muslim minority, making only 9% of the total population, insecure with respect to safety of life and prosperity.

Over the course of the decade, the spree of violence and discrimination against the Muslims transitioned into bloody chaos claiming mosques, shops and even crippling entire towns dwelled by the Muslims. The anti-Muslimism rhetoric led by the extremist Buddhist group ‘Bodu Bala Sena (BBS)’, backed by the Sinhalese government, paved the riots against the Muslim community in the form of mobs ravaging the Muslim towns during systematic protests. The repeated calls for protection went unheeded by the Sinhalese Buddhist Revivalist Groups, further nudging and encouraging the extremist monks to spread hatred against the Muslim community which came across as the mobster mentality boldly continued to oppress the Muslims.

The Human Rights abuse under the regime of president Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brother, the Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, has surpassed all the records of injustice etched in the Sri Lankan history. His promises to bring back the Muslims displaced amidst the civil war went in vain and he proved to be as much of a biased leader as his brother. When Gotabaya came into power in 2019, the Sinhalese Buddhist Nationalist Party (SLPP) had been mongering extremism under the pretence of mob-attacks while backing groups like BBS to simmer hatred and prejudice against the Muslim community. The Rajapaksa brothers are notorious of their Burma-like mentality of ethnic cleansing, rumoured to be following the footsteps of Myanmar to thin the Muslim minority in a similar exercise of genocide as against the Rohingya Muslims. Though the ‘ethnic cleaning’ allegations have been repeatedly put down by the SLPP leaders, the historical bloodletting of the Muslim community and the irrational policies adopted under the charter of litigation point to a very different and bleak picture of politics in Sri Lanka.

Since the Sri Lankan government adopted the mandatory cremation policy in March 2020, more than 80 deceased Muslims have been forcibly cremated against the will of their families. While the Rajapaksa-regime uses forced cremation as another tool to torment the Muslim community by trampling on their basic rights in the guise of Covid-prevention, World Health Organisation (WHO), along with the Sri Lankan doctors, has rejected the justification provided by President Gotabaya for adopting cremation as a safety procedure to prevent water contamination due to rituals related to burial. Despite of the assurance of WHO, the Sri Lankan government not only refused to consider burial as an accepted method but even the Supreme Court expended no time to shun the petitions filed against the forcible cremation law, pushing injustice in the face of the Muslim minorities. The UN experts remarked on the systematic persecution of the Muslim community: “We deplore the implementation of such Public Health decisions based on discrimination, aggressive nationalism and ethnocentrism amounting to persecution of the Muslims and other minorities of the county”.

It is clear from the stern attitude of the Rajapaksa-regime that it aims to undermine the voice of the minorities by crushing the rights and subsequently silencing the protests that ensue from the inhuman treatment. Though the global political circles have responded strictly to the ghastly abuse of power in Sri Lanka; UK being the prime country to hold active protests against the violation of human rights and even UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, threatening sanctions on Sri Lanka for proactively transgressing the rights of minorities. However, despite of the pressure building up, the spokesperson of the Sri Lankan government, Keheliya Rambukwella, rebutted the allegations by stating: “We do things only on expert advice and cannot take ad-hoc decisions”. The juvenile statements followed by the aggressive attempts to subterfuge the global community are enough to expose the extremist mindset of the Sri Lankan government. The debacle that is to follow, in retrospect, could be far worse than the civil war since even the dead are not spared of the tyranny in today’s day and age.

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From Gandhi to Modi: Exploitation of Svadharma

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Hinduism is depicted as the world’s oldest religion, with roots and customs dating back to more than a 4,000 years. As of now, it constitutes of around 900 million followers, and is the 3rd most practiced religion after Christianity and Islam. In essence, Hinduism carries main concern over the mind, spirit and body of individuals, where non-violent actions that result spiritual peace of these identities are idealized. Moving forward, the central notion of Hinduism revolves around dharma, which can be associated with the overall duties and responsibilities of individuals in society, with accordance to ethical and moral practices that highlight non-violence. Notwithstanding, Hindus are also disposed to choosing their individual dharma in accord with their consciousness, intellect, and circumstances. This is coined as svadharma, and includes the duties and responsibilities of Hindus in relation to fellow beings and the total environment they reside in. Consequently, the attainment of peace is promoted through fulfilment of life goals, and the abandonment of stormy conditions. Since Svadharma as a concept is up for interpretation, it varies from individual to individual. In fact, due to its subjective nature, it also leaves room for religious exploitation in the lust for political objectives. This essay will aim to put forward the true depiction of svadharma through analyzing Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s Satyagraha; adding on, the exploitation for political incentives shall be explained through BJP’s Hindutva ideology.

To begin, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s interpretation of svadharma resulted in Satyagraha, which can be portrayed as a revolutionary step towards non-violent non- cooperation against the British rule in India. Gandhi’s philosophy of Satyagraha was a natural outcome of the supreme concept of truth. According to which, if the truth can be deemed as the ultimate reality, its protection is critical. Hence, Satyagraha refers to the exercise of the truth against all injustices, oppressions and exploitations; which ultimately results in peace on an individual and societal level. It essentially embodies the notion of peace from Hinduism. To add on, for the attainment of fighting oppression through non-violent means, he embraced yogic strength to endure the most intense physical pain, including food and sleep deprivation without any flinching or any fear. Gandhi served as an influence to millions of his unarmed followers, through serving as a symbol of divine strength and passion. Consequently, a mass revolution was launched against the then British Empire, formally regarded as the non-cooperation movement.

 In order to stay true to the divine and peaceful teachings of Hinduism, he commanded individuals to undertake the process of obeying the civil and moral laws of the state, while simultaneously resisting laws that were oppressive and barbaric. As a result, Gandhi laid down certain standards of moral discipline for the Satyagraha process, which were: complete faith in God in order to calmly bear the physical barbarisms directed towards individuals by the British forces, not yearning after wealth and fame, submitting to the leader of the Satyagraha unit, absolutely fearlessness and firmness against brutality, single-minded purposefulness, and individuals losing sight of their duty through the virtue of anger or any other passion. Thus, Gandhi wanted to incorporate attitudes penetrating towards toleration and acceptance of the hardships that came along with this movement. Overall, Gandhi’s svadharma allowed him to attain political gains without resorting to violence, which resulted in peaceful change. In Gandhi’s words, complete civil disobedience through refusing to serve compliance to state- made-law can be an extremely powerful movement. In fact, it can become more effective in comparison to than an armed rebellion; as, it does not include the suffering of the innocent individuals on a wide scale.

Satyagraha was a peaceful and inclusive movement that arose of svadharma; nevertheless, the concept of svadharma also introduced Hindutva, which is an extremist ideology with aims to disintegrate India’s secular outlook through transforming the country into a Hindu Rasht (a majoritarian Hindu religious-nationalist state that directs its 200 million Muslims and 30 million Christians into second-class citizens). In theory this concept goes against the very teachings of Hinduism, which revolves around peace and non-violence. Nevertheless, the concept of svadharma has been exploited and misused; as, Hindu extremists incorporate this notion to justify their horrific acts to attain political interests. The word Hindutva was introduced by the 20th century ideologue V.D. Savarkar, and it literally means “Hinduness.” The central concept was the embodiment of religious nationalism with territorial belongings and citizenship. Meaning, being an Indian was equated to following the religion of Hinduism; as, India was the spiritual motherland of Hindus. This was a problem for Indian Muslims and Christians; as, their holy lands were constituents of other states. Therefore, Hindutva followers disregarded Muslims and Christians as citizens of India. The current Indian government Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been assimilated under the ideology of Hindutva, and this notion has brought them popularity in India. In fact, this ideology was incorporated by them to come into power, which highlights the exploitation of svadharma. As a result, forcible integration into an outward Hinduness is being conducted in India. In recent years, India has witnessed Hindutva extremists killing Muslims due to various reasons ranging from consumption of beef to failing to chant the slogan “Jai Shri Ram” to hail a Hindu deity. Such actions are being conducted in order to compel the non-Hindu population into embracing Hinduism. However, at the end of the day, Hindutva is simply an exploitation of svadharma; as, it does not acquire to its peaceful and non-violent requirements. Moreover, svadharma aims to bring about peace on an individual and societal level; and, Hindutva is simply leading to chaos and riots in India. Through this the fact that Hindutva was a political goal for Modi to come into power is highlighted.

In conclusion, Hinduism is a religion that promotes the concept of non-violence and peaceful co-existence. Over the years, svadharma has been carried out by multiple personalities across India, in order to highlight their roles and responsibilities in insuring a peaceful through their personal interpretation, most notable of which are Gandhi and Modi. Nevertheless, the difference lies in their intentions and ultimate goal. While Gandhi carried a goal of attaining interests of the Indian population through non-violent means, Modi carried the aim of coming into power. Thus, Modi did not follow the true essence of svadharma and simply exploited.

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