Indo-Pak Stalemate: Testy Ties

Above: Sikh pilgrims at the Maharaja Ranjit Singh mausoleum in Lahore/Photo: UNI India and Pakistan continue to have frosty relations as visiting Sikh pilgrims in Pakistan are denied access to the high commissioner ~By Seema Guha Despite efforts last year to bring about warmth in Indo-Pak ties, the narrative remains unchanged. And it will continue to be so unless each country has stakes in the other. With no business or direct trade ties at present, there can be little hope of any breakthrough, more so because the peace constituency in both countries has considerably shrunk in the last year or more. The volley of accusations and countercharges by politicians and foreign officers of both countries continues. All this despite secret meetings between India’s National Security Adviser, Ajit Doval, and his Pakistani counterpart, General (Retd) Nasser Khan Janjua, in Thailand last year and their frequent telephonic conversations. One wonders what they talk about when nothing changes on the ground. Hopes raised after the two sides agreed to follow the Geneva Protocol guidelines for diplomats in letter and spirit were soon belied with the latest round of intimidation of Sikh pilgrims visiting Pakistan. It is difficult to comprehend who is right and who is wrong with the nationalist press on both sides taking the cue from their respective foreign offices.…
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How Do You Identify Fake News?

Solid sources and some healthy scepticism can help ~By Vignesh Ramachandran Remember when 318 people were shot in Chicago on Halloween 2015 and former President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in the city? Or when Hillary Clinton ran a child sex-trafficking ring from the basement of a Washington, DC, pizza parlour? Or when first lady Melania Trump used a body double in public appearances? All these events received news coverage. All were fake. It’s troubling how much traction false news can get. Like when major news sources splashed headlines over the Trump administration’s claims that Chicago’s gun violence was occurring in a “city with the strongest gun laws in our country.” Not true, either. Local media have countered that claim time and again. The nonpartisan political fact-checker PolitiFact called President Donald Trump’s comments about this “Pants on Fire!” the worst rating on its Truth-O-Meter. So how do you tell the difference between real and false news? Or, as a CNN commercial about this issue put it, an apple from a banana? Experts who study media and the rise of misinformation say you should approach all the news you read with a certain level of doubt, said Dan Gillmor, a professor at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.…
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Might of the Dragon

Above: Maldives President Abdulla Yameen (standing, left) and Chinese President Xi Jinping (standing, right) witness the signing of agreements between their countries, in Nanjing, 2014/Photo: UNI As China makes inroads into the Maldives, a willing ally, the world watches nervously at the growing economic and military might of a country which thinks nothing of infringing on others’ territory ~By Seema Guha China is no longer coy about projecting its power on the global stage. Its assertive manoeuvres in the South China Sea and the Pacific have been of concern to the world. But now, Chinese ships and submarines also frequent the Indian Ocean, raising alarm bells not just in New Delhi but also in Washing-ton. A self-confident China is now asserting its place in the world as a global player. It is not just an economic powerhouse but also a military and naval force ready to play its role as a great power. The world is watching China’s every move with anxiety. China set up its first overseas naval base in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa last year. Not that other nations do not have bases there. The small African nation has smartly turned its location on the western edge of the Indian Ocean, about 20 miles across from Yemen and in the vicinity of Mandeb Strait and the Suez Canal, into a paying proposition.…
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When You Can’t Afford to go Bankrupt

Above: JC Foreclosure Service in Bell, California, often files bankruptcies that records show are shoddily put together and quickly dismissed/Photo: Kendrick Brinson/ProPublica There’s evidence that many people don’t file for bankruptcy because they can’t pay an attorney. It’s a fixable problem ~By Paul Kiel A ritual of spring in America is about to be-gin. Tens of thousands of people will soon get their tax refunds, and when they do, they will finally be able to afford the thing they’ve thought about for months, if not years: bankruptcy. It happens every tax season. With many more people suddenly able to pay a lawyer, the number of bankruptcy filings jumps way up in March, stays high in April, then declines. For the past year, I’ve travelled the country trying to understand why bankruptcy often fails those it’s supposed to help. I analysed millions of filings and interviewed dozens of judges, lawyers and people struggling with debt. The answer turns out to be simple: People are too broke to go bankrupt. Filing costs money, as does hiring an attorney, which is the best way to make sure you actually get debt relief…. Scores of people considering bankruptcy told me the same thing again and again: If they had $1,000 to pay an attorney, then they probably wouldn’t need to file in the first place.…
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The Big Cover-up?

Above: The Golden Temple in Amritsar, which was stormed by the military under orders from then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in Operation Blue Star/Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia Making public the British government’s involvement in Operation Blue Star is being opposed at the First Tier Tribunal (Information Rights) and could open a can of worms ~By Sajeda Momin in London In what has been described as a “Kafkaesque” tribunal hearing, the British government has opposed the declassification of any more documents relating to its involvement in the controversial Operation Blue Star at the Golden Temple in Amritsar in 1984. During the “open” and “closed” sessions, the counsel for the Cabinet Office argued against making any more documents public on the grounds that they would harm national security and UK-India relations, as well as hurt Indian sensitivities, past and present, about Sikh separatism. The three-day proceedings in the Phil Miller versus UK Information Commissioner case at the First Tier Tribunal (Information Rights) were held in London recently. The Tribunal will determine if UK’s Information Commissioner was right to uphold a Cabinet Office decision not to allow the files to be made public.  GOVERNMENT CHALLENGED Freelance British journalist Phil Miller, who has been investigating the exact nature of the assistance given by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government to her Indian counterpart, Indira Gandhi’s Congress, has challenged the Commissioner’s decision.…
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How Political Pessimism Helps Doom Tougher Gun Laws

Above: US President Donald Trump with students of the Parkland school at the White House/Photo: UNI  Saying “nothing will change” has empowered the National Rifle Association and ignores its declining punch ~By Alec MacGillis It’s predictable after every new mass-shooting horror: The political right’s reflexive call for “thoughts and prayers,” which is then mocked by people who favour more gun restrictions for lacking any accompanying ideas for preventing future killings. But there’s an equally predictable refrain on the center-left and in the media, too: “Once again, nothing will be done.” Barely had the death toll of 17 been announced… after the shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida than The Washington Post declared, “The gun debate is going nowhere quickly after Parkland.” CNN offered: “Amid continued string of mass shootings, gun control going nowhere in Congress.” After 59 concert-goers were mowed down in October, former Democratic congressman Steve Israel put to rest any hope for reform in a New York Times op-ed column titled, “Nothing Will Change After the Las Vegas Shooting.” This fatalism is borne of hard-won experience. Congress has failed repeatedly to pass any gun-control measures after past calamities, even the 2012 massacre of 20 first-graders and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.…
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A Question of Trust

Above: Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale with Chinese minister Wang Yi/Photo Courtesy: Twitter Though the foreign secretary’s visit to Beijing was meant to get ties back on the rails, Doklam-type incidents are likely to take place again as China pursues territorial claims  ~By Seema Guha India’s new foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale’s weekend visit to China recently is an obvious attempt by Delhi and Beijing to get relations back on track after last year’s Doklam stand-off. Though the two sides reached an agreement then, relations remained testy. Prime Minister Narendra Modi travelled to China for a multilateral meet afterwards. Now both the Asian giants are actually hoping to repair the damage and get bilateral ties moving again. Modi is scheduled to be in China in June for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit. Now is as good a time as any to start work on getting the optics right for future high-level visits. ASIAN RIVALRY India and China share a complex relationship and are natural rivals in Asia. Though China is far ahead in both economic and military might, and is angling to take on the US, it will first have to stamp its dominance in Asia. India, an equally large and populous nation, is an obvious challenger, though it is neither as rich or as powerful as China at the moment.…
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Much Twittering over a Tweet

Trump’s Twitter tirade It is unprecedented for a US president to conduct his foreign policy through tweets but the times, they are a-changin’ Relations between the US and Pakistan have deteriorated ever since the new American administration took over. President Donald Trump didn’t help matters this week when he used a Twitter tirade the way a Texas barbecue chef uses charcoal lighter fluid. He said: “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than $33 billion in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies and deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!” Given Trump’s attitude towards nations with a majority Muslim population, his rhetoric is hardly shocking, but few global leaders communicate policy by Twitter, a medium not known for its nuanced presentation of information. Box picture: US troops conduct a patrol in Baylough, Afghanistan/Photo: Staff Sgt. William Tremblay, U.S. Army Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi then called a meeting of his National Security Committee which issued a statement noting “deep disappointment… (recent remarks) were completely incomprehensible as they contradicted facts manifestly, struck with great insensitivity at the trust between two nations built over generations, and negated the decades of sacrifices made by the Pakistani nation”.…
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Wailing at Jerusalem’s Wall

Above: President Trump spends a quiet moment at the Wailing Wall, Jerusalem, in May. Photo: UNI President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital triggers anger and condemnation across the world. The decision has far-reaching geopolitical consequences, including for India.  ~By Dilip Bobb On American television late night shows, the joke in the wake of President Trump’s dramatic recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was that he had finally found his wall. The president’s obsession with building a wall on the Mexican border has provided ample fodder for late night comedy but the latest joke has a macabre element. While global leaders, the Pope and the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation have reacted in shock and horror and Palestinians return to the streets, the full import of Trump’s decision has created a new definition of The Wailing Wall, Jerusalem’s holiest and most iconic heritage site. It gets its name from the millions of Jews who visited over centuries and shed tears while praying for the city to be rebuilt as Urusalim, or the City of Peace. What Trump has done, in a move avoided by past American presidents, is to destroy any hope of resolving the half century old bitter and bloody feud between Israel and the Palestinians, described as “the world’s most intractable conflict”.…
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Has India Missed the Bus?

Above: Maldivian minister Mohammed Saeed (left) and his Chinese counterpart Zhong Shan finalise the Free Trade Agreement in Beijing/Photo: zhongshan2.mofcom.gov.cn Maldives is cosying up to Beijing which has pumped in money for infrastructure projects. Unless India has something better to offer, China is there to stay ~By Seema Guha China has been steadily ramping up its presence in India’s neighbourhood. The latest is the Free Trade Agreement between it and the Maldives. This comes even as concern grows in Delhi over China’s predatory moves in the Indian Ocean region. However, this should not have come as a surprise as the negotiations have been on for at least two years or more. It was rushed through in a brief session of parliament ahead of Maldivian President Abdullah Yameen’s visit to China. The unseemly haste in getting the deal endorsed, with no opposition members present, has naturally angered the opposition. “A Free Trade Agreement between Maldives and China will be detrimental to our economy as the balance of trade is greatly in favour of China. The agreement must be in the best interests of the people of the Maldives,” said former president Mohammed Nasheed and leader of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in a statement.…
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Myanmar: China’s New Playground?

Above: Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and Chinese Premier Xi Jinping (R) in Beijing. Photo:UNI With Beijing mediating between Bangladesh and its neighbour in the return of Muslim refugees to Rakhine state, is China assuming a bigger role in the region? ~By Colonel R Hariharan The first-ever visit of Pope Francis to Myanmar to convey a message of peace and conciliation to a nation wracked by ethnic confrontation is perhaps the latest of the international efforts to defuse the Rohingya crisis. This year, the pontiff appealed twice to the Myanmar government to end the campaign of ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya minority from his balcony overlooking St Peter’s Square in Rome. However, his failure to mention the Rohingyas in his meeting with Myanmar’s de facto leader of the government, Aung San Suu Kyi, at Naypyidaw is significant. Perhaps the fear that the use of the “R” word would trigger an anti-Christian backlash, rather than diplomatic nicety, kept the pontiff from specific reference. Myanmar’s allergy to the “R” word is perhaps the essence of the Rohingya problem. The international community, alarmed after the number of Rohingyas fleeing Myanmar swelled to 6,20,000, has taken a number of initiatives. These cover a wide range of issues.…
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UK Sex Scandals: Westminster Hit by Pestminster

Prime Minister Theresa May’s government is in a precarious position as it is buffeted by the sexual misdemeanours of its leaders, ministerial blunders and Brexit headaches ~By Sajeda Momin in London Theresa May’s already beleaguered government has been weakened further by a string of sexual harassment scandals that have hit Westminster. Bets are being placed on how many more ministers, MPs and senior political leaders will be forced to resign and when May will have to call a general election. The domino effect, which started with allegations of sexual misconduct by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, seems to have had a massive impact on the corridors of power in the British parliament. It has already claimed the defence minister, Sir Michael Fallon, who resigned over past behaviour “that had fallen below standard”. Also, May’s “comfort blanket” and old friend Damian Green is under investigation by the Cabinet Office over claims of sexual harassment as well as allegations of watching porn on an office computer. Apart from Green, who is the deputy prime minister, Mark Garnier, the trade minister, is also being investigated as well as a host of other MPs, some of whom have been referred to the police or subjected to disciplinary proceedings.…
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