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How India stifled dissent on the United Nations’ “Human Rights Day”

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Women walking past Indian security forces in Srinagar, summer capital of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. Nimisha Jaiswal/IRIN

Each year, on 10th December, the United Nations observes international human rights day.  When the General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, it was proclaimed as a “common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations”.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights sets out a broad range of fundamental rights and freedoms to which all of us are entitled. It guarantees the rights of every individual everywhere, without distinction based on nationality, place of residence, gender, national or ethnic origin, religion, language, or any other status.

Kashmir, a prison

The day comes and goes by without any tangible effect on the lives of the people deprived of human rights. Aside from the legal rigmarole about the Kashmir dispute, there is a human rights dimension to the dispute. Kashmir has been reduced to a prison. Even Mehbooba Mufti, a former BJP ally, was compelled to call Kashmir a Guantanamo Bay prison, claiming that “Kashmiris feel that they are literally imprisoned in a cage from which almost all exit routes are barred”.

India’s dismal human-rights profile

Kashmir gagged

India’s crackdowns and cordon-and-search operations continued in the occupied Kashmir even the Human Rights Day. Amnesty International has urged unconditional and unconstrained access to news and information from the valley.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 1,250 Kashmiris have been blinded by metal pellets used by Indian security forces from mid 2016 to the end of 2018.

Indian troops martyred 95,917 innocent Kashmiris including 7,215 in custody, widowed 22,939, orphaned 107, and 855 and molested 11,245 women since January 1989. India actions violate the UNSC resolutions and international law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention and Security Council Resolution 122.

India’s crackdown on rights activists and journalists

They did not spare even peaceful protesters likethe 62-year-old Parveena Ahanger and the families of hundreds of victims of enforced disappearances. They had reportedly gathered at a park to seek the whereabouts of their children or spouses who disappeared during decades of conflict.

Last month, prominent rights activist Khurram Parvez was arrested under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) for “criminal conspiracy and waging war against the government”. Parvez, 44, is programme coordinator at Jammu-Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society a leading group documenting and campaigning against rights abuses by the Indian forces in the occupied Kashmir for the last 20 years.

The Society has published extensive reports on torture, civilian killings, rapes and illegal detentions, and detaied the impunity given to by the armed forces in the disputed region. In 2008, a disclosure about the presence of more than 2,000 unmarked graves shocked the people.

Parvez had earlier been arrested in 2016 under the Public Safety Act. This is another draconian law like the UAPA under which a person can be detained for a year or more without trial.

In its 2018 report, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) extensively quoted the Society’s findings. In another report in 2019, the UN called for the formation of a commission of inquiry into the allegations of rights violations in the region.

The reports irked the Modi government so much that it cracked down on journalists and ordinary people on the Rights Day. India has, practically,  “criminalised human rights work” in the occupied Kashmir.

India ranks among the most dangerous countries for the journalists, according to Reporters without Borders, which published its 2021 World Press Freedom Index. The coordinated hate campaign against journalist’s calls for the journalists concerned to be murdered. From May 2019 to August 2021, 256 journalists were attacked.

Journalism has become a crime in India. In 2017, prominent journalist Gauri Lankesh, known for her outspoken criticism, was shot dead in Bangalore. Moreover, Rana Ayyub a famous journalist who had exposed Modi and CM of Gujarat in “Gujarat Files” was victim of a campaign of intimidation. Indian government was annoyed at her interview in BBC Hardtalk’s Stephen Sackur. She alleged the Indian government had “tried every tool in the book to silence her voice and journalism”. Even UN has exposed India’s true face by publishing a report on the use of excessive force by police on public roads against Journalists and human-rights defenders.

Social posts about Rawat’s death criminalised

India has declared it an offence to post comments about Rawat’s death shrouded in mystery on social media. The mysterious death of India’s chief of defence staff has raised eyebrows in India. People in general raised questions about the super-safe Mi-17V5helicopter flew so low as to crash head on against a tree.The people reminisce about the previous accidents, including a fire on India’s aircraft carrier in 2019 and an explosion on an Indian submarine in 2013. They attribute the accidents to rampant incompetence and lack of adherence to Standing Operating procedure.

The gung- ho general was criticised in media for his intemperate statements. For instance he had vowed to change the DNA of Kashmiris. He awarded a commendation certificate to Major Leetul Gogoi who tied a Kashmir to bonnet of his jeep and paraded him around several villages. Gogoi was later caught with her paramour in a Srinagar hotel. But, Rawat set him free with slap on his wrist. He justified lynching of anyone suspected to be a militant. He opposed recruitment of the women in the forces.The controversial general had embarked upon a reform programme which involved readjustment of the three services.

In YouTube interviews, Rawat vehemently defended the integrated theatres of commands. But, the IAF chief expressed reservations about it. It was speculated that the crash might be upshot of the interservice rivalry, reflecting poor coordination between the army and IAF.  

Attack on the Christian school

The condition of the other minorities also is miserable. According to a report by human rights groups, more than 300 attacks on Christians took place in first nine months of this year across India, including at least 30 in Karnataka.

Recently, at least 100 members of Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal vandalized a missionary school in Madhya Pradesh’s Vidisha district, Ganj Bedosa. Hindutva violence took place while the students of Class 12 were sitting for an exam. School principal Brother Anthony Tynumkal told that mob was armed with iron rods and shouted ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and “bharat mata ki jai” slogans.

Minorities’ conclave

In a cataclysmic development, several parties including Dal Khalsa, the Sikh representative organization, convened a conclave of leadership and delegates of struggling minority communities (Kashmiris, Sikhs, Tamils, Nagas, Twiprassa and others) in Amritsar on the World Human Rights Day. They discussed worsening human rights situation in India and occupied Kashmir, and persecution of minorities.

The conclave is construed as emergence of All-India Oppressed People’s Movement.

The conclave inter alia criticised police excesses, growing intolerance, and expressed solidarity with struggling nationalities, peoples and regional identities.

The participants denounced the recent killing of 15 innocent civilians in Nagaland and held the Indian government responsible for such tragic incidents. They called for withdrawal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act under which the Indian army has been carrying on its reign of terror in various states. They alleged that India is a democracy only in name but actually a totalitarian and Hindu majoritarian state. 

They said the repeal of Articles 370 and 35A in the occupied Kashmir followed by curbing of civil liberties and fake encounters proves how totalitarianism and majoritarian regimes distort civil liberties. They also condemned the recent arrest of noted Kashmiri human rights defender, Khurram Parvaiz, by India’s notorious National Investigation Agency (NIA).

The speakers said the apathy of the Indian government towards the anti-CAA movement continues, political prisoners continue to languish in jails across the country, Muslims and Dalits continue to live in a climate of fear due to a sustained hate narrative against them.

The speakers criticized the Modi regime for refusing to recognize the deaths of 700 farmers and Lakhimpur Kheri incident in which 3 farmers and a journalist were crushed to death.

Addressing on the occasion, Atif Gilani, the son of noted Kashmiri intellectual, Professor Syed Abdur Rahman Gilani (late), said that the minority communities will have to struggle together for securing their rights. He said that the fight was on and will definitely succeed.

Neingulo Krome, Secretary of the Nagaland organisation, said though the New Delhi had termed the Nagaland civilian killings by Indian Army as a case of mistaken identity, it was a totally fabricated operation that claimed innocent lives. “The ones who lost lives were local labourers who used to take the same route to reach their work place. After killing them, the forces also tried to brand some civilians as militants by planting weapons and dressing them in camouflage and boots,” he added.

The former secretary general of the organization, Dr Veenuh said after the abolition of Article 370 and 35A in occupied Jammu and Kashmir, the Indian government had turned a blind eye to the rights of Nagaland residents. He criticised Modi government for reneging the 2015 agreement that recognises Naga people’s separate identity and promises to share the sovereign power.

Concluding remarks

UN should compel India to allow free access to special procedure mandate holders of the UN Human Rights Council for independent investigations of human rights violations. The Amritsar conclave augurs well for protection of human rights of the minorities as enshrined in Indian constitution. The conclave is Modi’s nightmare. The BJP bagged 31 per cent of the votes cast in 2014 and over 37 per cent in 2019, thanks to the Modi-magic wave. India’s population is 121 crore as per Census 2011. Of it, now the 41.73 per cent `oppressed-movement’ wave appears to have turned against him (Muslim 14.23%, Christians 2.3%, the Scheduled castes (numbering 1108)16.6%, and Scheduled Tribes (744) 8.6%.

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

Shaking Things Up: A Feminist Pakistani Foreign Policy

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Almost eight years ago, under Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom in 2014, Sweden created its first of a kind feminist foreign policy and released a handbook later on about how it has become a part of the entire Swedish Foreign Policy Process i.e. initiation, formulation and implementation. Consequently commendable results were achieved covering rights, representation and resources. The handbook states that such a foreign policy propels the idea of application of a systematic gender equality perspective throughout the whole foreign policy agenda of the Swedish government.

A feminist foreign policy is a framework which uplifts the day-to-day lived experience of ostracized communities to the forefront and delivers an expansive plus profounder analysis of international issues. Moreover, it takes a step beyond the black box approach of customary foreign policy discerning. It provides an alternate coupled with an intersectional rethinking of security and that too from the viewpoint of the most marginalized strata of the society on military force, violence, and domination. Furthermore, it is a multidimensional policy framework that aims to elevate women’s and marginalized groups’ experiences and agency to scrutinize the destructive forces of patriarchy, capitalism, racism, and militarism. The Swedish Feminist Foreign Policy is designed to enhance women’s ‘rights’, ‘representation’ and ‘resources’ in every facet of its operations using a facts-based methodology, indicating out the hard numbers and statistics behind systemic inequalities that exist between men and women in rights, representation and resources, while remaining stranded in the fourth concept — the ‘reality’ of where these females live, which is an affirmation to the feminist notion of intersectionalism.

Considering the principle of these four R’s, Pakistan is a great candidate for following the footsteps of Swedish foreign policy as the citizens of Pakistan are still struggling to believe in the central principle of the Feminist Foreign Policy which is to enjoy while having the same power to shape society and their own lives by both men and women. Furthermore, based upon Pakistan’s patriarchal status quo, the principles of inclusion and removal of gender parity in the fields of diplomacy, foreign policy, economics, decision making and especially Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) are need of the hour. For reference, it is pertinent to note that Pakistan secured a position of 153rd out of 156 countries in the Global Gender Gap Report 2021 published by the World Economic Forum (WEF). Regretfully, the country got placed at 7th position among eight countries in South Asia, only better than Afghanistan.

Pakistan had a female prime minister (11th and 13th PM), a female foreign minister (21st FM) and quite recently a couple of days ago, the country sworn in its first female judge of the Supreme Court. The latest development sounds promising as it brings in a new ray of light to ensure a more gender sensitive shift in decision making lens of the apex court in the judicial hierarchy of Pakistan. However, this is just a single piece of jigsaw puzzle due to which the bigger picture still remains incomplete and awaits a proper addressing mechanism. The simple math tells evidently that if women are not part of decision-making and leadership especially in underrepresented and highly patriarchal provinces of Pakistan such as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan where conflict also adversely affects the women’s lives, it affects society as a whole. In Pakistan, where the reserved seats for women in parliament are also questioned amongst some facets of society, it is highly necessary to formulate foreign policies based upon the footsteps of Swedish government to inculcate a sense of importance of women participation in diverse areas following the principle of ‘representation’.

For starters, Pakistan should start with strengthening women participation domestically and then move towards achieving global objectives through its foreign policy. Working on the footsteps of Swedish government these goals to be achieved are to provide globally, by the Pakistani foreign ministry through promotion of  women’s full enjoyment of human rights; freedom from violence; participation in conflict resolution and peace-building; political participation and influence; economic rights and empowerment; most importantly sexual rights along with reproductive health. Moreover Pakistani foreign policy makers should recognize the link between certain treaties and acts which are directly or indirectly related to gender-based violence since women are the largest sufferer of violence resulting through use of force either through state or non-state actors as women are the first to be affected by power dynamics during and after conflict. The best example of such sensitiveness towards marginalized strata was set by the Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallström when she declared the revocation of a 37 million euro arms deal with Saudi Arabia back in 2015 over human rights issue. Pakistan should do likewise in similar situations to establish a firm stance.

A feminist perspective has been implemented in academic scholarship throughout, but less so in policy practice. Lessons should be drawn from key critical scholarships into tangible policy development and discussions should be made on how to make foreign policy more accessible and democratic. In order to do this, Pakistan must challenge the dominant narratives of international political discourse and push for structural and hierarchical change to challenge systems that perpetuate the status quo; the intertwined structures that sustain global patterns of oppression and discrimination must end. Pakistan must ask difficult questions and engage those who have traditionally not been included in foreign policy in order to elevate the voices of those who’ve suffered from global injustices. This means emphasizing historicized, context-specific analyses of how destructive dichotomies play out in practice, as well as interrogating domestic and foreign policy decisions to push for a more just global order.

A feminist approach to foreign policy will provide a powerful lens through which we can interrogate the hierarchical global and national systems of power that have left millions of people in a perpetual state of vulnerability. Looking at foreign policy of countries such as Pakistan from the feminist perspective, will not only bore fruits to the women but also other nations as a whole. The future is promising under the ambit of such a foreign policy but it requires cultural and policy shifts in the country. Much evidently, the idea of a secure and just world will remain a utopia without a feminist foreign policy.

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India’s Unclear Neighbourhood Policy: How to Overcome ?

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India has witnessed multiple trends with regards to its relations with its neighbours at a time vaccine diplomacy is gaining prominence and Beijing increasing the pace towards becoming an Asian superpower, whereby making these reasons valid for New Delhi to have a clear foreign policy with respect to its neighbourhood.

Introduction

The Covid Pandemic has led to increased uncertainty in the global order where it comes to power dynamics, role of international organisations. New Delhi has tried to leave no stone unturned when it comes to dealing with its immediate neighbours.  It has distributed medical aid and vaccines to smaller countries to enhance its image abroad at a time it has witnessed conflicts with China and a change in government in Myanmar. These developments make it imperative for New Delhi to increase its focus on regionalism and further international engagement where this opportunity could be used tactically amidst a pandemic by using economic and healthcare aid.

According to Dr. Arvind Gupta, New Delhi has to deal with threats coming from multiple fronts and different tactics where it is essential for New Delhi to save energy using soft means rather than coercive measures.. India under Vaccine Maitri has supplied many of COVAXIN doses to Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka where many have appreciated this move. The urgency of ensuring humanitarian aid during these periods of unprecedented uncertainty are essential in PM Modi’s Security and Growth For All ( SAGAR) initiative, which focusses on initiating inclusive growth as well as cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region.

This pandemic witnessed various threats coming in India’s neighbourhood through multiple dimensions which include maritime, land, cyber as well as air threats where adversaries are using these to put pressure on New Delhi to settle land as well as marine disputes as per their terms.  These encirclement strategies have made it necessary for India to open up various options such as holding maritime joint exercises with like-minded countries, developing partnerships, providing economic as well as healthcare support to weaker countries plus having a clear insight about changing global dynamics and acting as per them.

This piece will discuss about various changing tactics, pros and cons which India has with respect to developing its national security vis-à-vis its neighbourhood, why should it prioritise its neighbourhood at the first place?

Background

India’s Neighbourhood is filled with many complexities and a lot of suspicion amongst countries, some viewing India because of its size and geography plus economic clout as a bully where it is wanting to dominate in the region putting others aside. This led to New Delhi play an increased role in nudging ties first with its neighbours with whom it had multiple conflicts as well as misunderstandings leading to the latter viewing Beijing as a good alternative in order to keep India under check.

Ever since PM Modi has taken charge at 7 RCR, India’s Neighbourhood First Policy has been followed increasingly to develop relations, to enhance understandings and ensure mutual cooperation as well as benefit with its neighbours. The relations with Islamabad have not seen so much improvement as compared to other leaders in the past. Even though former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was invited for PM Modi’s 1st Swearing In ceremony in 2014, terrorist activities have never stopped which could be seen through Pathankot, Uri and Pulwama terror attacks which killed many of the Indian soldiers. Even though surgical strikes were conducted on terror camps in retaliation to these bombardments, Islamabad has not changed its heart at all about its security or regional demands. New strategies and friendships are being developed where Beijing has played a major role in controlling power dynamics.

The Belt and Road initiative, first time mentioned during President Xi’s 2013 speech in Kazakhstan, then officially in 2015,  lays emphasis of achieving a Chinese Dream of bringing countries under one umbrella, ensuring their security, providing them with infrastructure projects such as ports, railways, pipelines, highways etc. The main bottleneck is the China Pakistan Economic Corridor when it comes to India’s security threats, passing through disputed boundaries of Gilgit and Baltistan in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir till Gwadar. Other projects have been initiated in Chittagong, Hambantota, Gwadar , Kyapkyou. These projects form a String Of Pearls in the Indo Pacific where New Delhi is being balanced against through economic plus development incentives being given to the member countries under the project. That’s why in the recent past, New Delhi is asserting its influence in the region, looking at new dimensional threats where Beijing’s threats in the maritime domain in the islands in East as well as South China seas are not being seen favourably in many countries such as ASEAN, US, Australia and Japan which is giving India an opportunity to look towards countries with a common threat. Amidst this great power struggle between Washington and Beijing, New Delhi is stuck between a rock and hard place i.e., having a clear and strong foreign policy with its neighbours.

In this region, India has a sole threat which is mainly Beijing where the latter has achieved prowess technologically and militarily where New Delhi lags behind the latter twenty fold. So, there is a need for improvising military technology, increase economic activities with countries, reduce dependence on foreign aid, ensure self-reliance.

Situation

South Asia is backward when it comes to economic development, human development and is a home to majority of the world’s population which lives below poverty line. The colonial rule has left a never-ending impact on divisions based on communal, linguistic and ethnic grounds. Even, in terms of infrastructure and connectivity, New Delhi lags behind Beijing significantly in the neighbourhood because the latter is at an edge when it comes to bringing countries under the same umbrella. Due to these, many initiatives have been taken up by New Delhi on developing infrastructure, providing humanitarian aid to needy countries.

There have been numerous efforts made by India with respect to reaching out to the Neighbours in 2020 through setting up of the SAARC Covid Fund where many Neighbourhood countries such as Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka gave contributions to ensure cooperation, joint scientific research, sharing information, healthcare kits where the countries contributed USD $ 18 million jointly towards this fund where New Delhi made an initial offer of USD $ 10 million.

New Delhi has even mustered ties with the Association of Southeast Asian countries during the pandemic under its Act East Policy where proper connectivity through the Northeast could be useful in easing movement of goods but currently, the infrastructure in Northeast needs more improvement where issues such as unemployment, poor connectivity are prevalent whereby disconnecting it from rest of the other states. This region could play an important role in linking Bangladesh, Myanmar to New Delhi along with the proposed India-Thailand –Myanmar Trilateral Corridor. Focus has also been laid to develop inland waterways, rail links and pipelines to ease connections between countries, making trade free and more efficient.

India is focussing on developing the Sittwe and Paletwa ports in Myanmar under the Kaladan Development Corridor, at the cost of INR 517.9 Crore in order to provide an alternative e route beneficial for the Northeast for getting shipping access

Summing Up

 These above developments and power display by a strong adversary, give good reasons for New Delhi to adopt collective security mechanisms through QUAD, SIMBEX and JIMEX with a common perception of having safe and open waters through abiding to the UNCLOS which China isn’t showing too much interest in, seen through surveillance units, artificial islands being set up on disputed territories which countries likewise India are facing in context to territorial sovereignty and integrity. These developments make it important for India to look at strategic threats by coming together with countries based on similar interest’s vis-à-vis Chinese threat.

There is a need for India to develop and harness its strength through connectivity and its self reliance initiative ( Aatmanirbharta ) so that there is no dependence on any foreign power at times of need . Proper coordination between policy makers and government officials could make decision making even easier, which is not there completely because of ideological differences, different ideas which makes it important for the political leadership to coordinate with the military jointly during times of threats on borders. Self-reliance could only come through preparedness and strategy.

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India is in big trouble as UK stands for Kashmiris

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 A London-based law firm has filed an application with British police seeking the arrest of India’s army chief and a senior Indian government official over their alleged roles in war crimes in Indian-administered Kashmir.

Law firm Stoke White said it submitted extensive evidence to the Metropolitan Police’s War Crimes Unit on Tuesday, documenting how Indian forces headed by General Manoj Mukund Naravane and Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah were responsible for the torture, kidnapping and killing of activists, journalists and civilians – particularly Muslim – in the region.

“There is strong reason to believe that Indian authorities are conducting war crimes and other violence against civilians in Jammu and Kashmir,” the report states, referring to the territory in the Himalayan region.

Based on more than 2,000 testimonies taken between 2020 and 2021, the report also accused eight unnamed senior Indian military officials of direct involvement in war crimes and torture in Kashmir.

The law firm’s investigation suggested that the abuse has worsened during the coronavirus pandemic. It also included details about the arrest of Khurram Parvez, the region’s most prominent rights activist, by India’s counterterrorism authorities last year.

“This report is dedicated to the families who have lost loved ones without a trace, and who experience daily threats when trying to attain justice,” Khalil Dewan, author of the report and head of the SWI unit, said in a statement.

“The time has now come for victims to seek justice through other avenues, via a firmer application of international law.”

The request to London police was made under the principle of “universal jurisdiction”, which gives countries the authority to prosecute individuals accused of crimes against humanity committed anywhere in the world.

The international law firm in London said it believes its application is the first time that legal action has been initiated abroad against Indian authorities over alleged war crimes in Kashmir.

Hakan Camuz, director of international law at Stoke White, said he hoped the report would convince British police to open an investigation and ultimately arrest the officials when they set foot in the UK.

Some of the Indian officials have financial assets and other links to Britain.

“We are asking the UK government to do their duty and investigate and arrest them for what they did based on the evidence we supplied to them. We want them to be held accountable,” Camuz said.

The police application was made on behalf of the family of Pakistani prisoner Zia Mustafa, who, Camuz said, was the victim of extrajudicial killing by Indian authorities in 2021, and on behalf of human rights campaigner Muhammad Ahsan Untoo, who was allegedly tortured before his arrest last week.

Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the past two decades in Kashmir, which is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both in its entirety.

Muslim Kashmiris mostly support rebels who want to unite the region, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.

Kashmiris and international rights groups have long accused Indian troops of carrying out systematic abuse and arrests of those who oppose rule from New Delhi.

Rights groups have also criticized the conduct of armed groups, accusing them of carrying out human rights violations against civilians.

In 2018, the United Nations human rights chief called for an independent international investigation into reports of rights violations in Kashmir, alleging “chronic impunity for violations committed by security forces”.

India’s government has denied the alleged rights violations and maintains such claims are separatist propaganda meant to demonize Indian troops in the region. It seems, India is in big trouble and may not be able to escape this time. A tough time for Modi-led extremist government and his discriminatory policies. The world opinion about India has been changed completely, and it has been realized that there is no longer a democratic and secular India. India has been hijacked by extremist political parties and heading toward further bias policies. Minorities may suffer further, unless the world exert pressure to rectify the deteriorating human rights records in India.

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