Monday, October 6, 2014
The Bahraini regime spends some 95 million dollars a year to crack down on the country’s pro-democracy protesters, a new report has revealed.
President Obama announced his endorsement Monday of D.C. mayoral candidate Muriel E. Bowser, lending the support of the nation’s most prominent Democrat to the party’s nominee amid a hard-fought campaign against two independent candidates.
The United States has expressed its concern with the United Nations Development Program over the administration of a trust fund to pay Afghan National Police. In two letters released by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the U.S. showed irregularities in the fund. These included a $23.8 million diverted as a result of a "pension deduction," other dubious deductions from ANP salaries, evidence of fraud and payments to "ghost employees" who may not be reporting to work. The U.S. and other donors have contributed roughly $3.17 billion to the fund since 2002. The UNDP responded in a letter stating that it had gone "beyond" its responsibility for the fund and brought the concerns to the government of Afghanistan, and created a working group to address payroll issues.
Over just two days last week, two landmark political events took place in Afghanistan: On Monday, the country's first peaceful transfer of power, and on Tuesday, the signing of a U.S.-Afghan Bilateral Security Agreement. Both events signal a chance — but hardly a guarantee — of political and security stabilization that will be necessary to reverse gains made by the Taliban and other militant groups. The transfer of power may have been the result of an election, but Afghanistan is far from a Jeffersonian democracy. Instead, allegations of widespread fraud in the June voting threatened new fault lines that could have spiraled Afghanistan into even more chaos and warfare. But largely due to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's dogged diplomacy, a power-sharing agreement was hammered out between two rivals. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, whose experience includes working for the World Bank, became president despite the disputed vote. Among those crying foul were Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan's former foreign minister, who contested a controversial 2009 election that was won by outgoing President Hamid Karzai. The power-sharing pact made Abdullah Afghanistan's chief executive, a position that will be similar to a prime minister. Despite the distrust between the men and their supporters, both seem to recognize that the real enemy is the Taliban, which has made a remarkable comeback after being routed in the initial U.S. invasion in 2001. On Inauguration Day alone, for instance, the Taliban claimed credit for two bomb blasts in Kabul that killed 15. One of the reasons for the resiliency is that the Taliban fed off allegations of Karzai's corrupt and incompetent rule. Yet Afghans aren't the only ones who won't miss Karzai. He was an unreliable, ungrateful "ally" whose public threat to join the Taliban was just one of many transgressions against the United States, which sacrificed more than 2,300 lives, and billions of dollars, propping up his government. One unifying issue between Ahmadzai and Abdullah was their commitment to sign the BSA. On Tuesday, Ahmadzai lived up to that promise and signed a similar agreement regarding NATO forces. The BSA will allow the United States to keep about 10,000 troops in Afghanistan after the international combat mission winds down at the end of the year. The remaining troops would have two main missions, according to the Obama administration: Targeting al-Qaida remnants, and advising, assisting and training the Afghan National Security Forces who will be called on to defend the national government. It's perfectly understandable that many war-weary Americans hoped for a full withdrawal of U.S. forces. But they should consider what happened in Iraq when the Obama administration couldn't ink a status-of-forces agreement. While there are many reasons why Iraq has plunged back into the abyss of sectarian warfare with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and other extremists, the vacuum created by the U.S. pullout certainly didn't help matters. Keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan to accomplish these key missions doesn't necessarily mean more war. In fact, it could mean less if their presence helps steel Afghans to fight for their country with as much valor as Americans have.
Health authorities in Pakistan said on October 3 that they have registered 15 new cases of polio, raising the total number of new cases this year to a record high of 202. Previously, the worst year for the crippling disease in Pakistan was 2001, when 199 new cases were registered. All of the most recent new cases were from the North Waziristan tribal region bordering Afghanistan. Rana Mohammad Safdar, from Pakistan’s National Institute of Health, says it has been impossible to launch a polio eradication campaign in the region because of threats from Islamic militants. Pakistan is one of only three countries where polio is endemic. The highly contagious virus is transmitted in unsanitary conditions but is easily fended off with a vaccine. But Taliban militants have banned immunizations and attacked polio vaccination teams, accusing them of acting as spies for the United States.
THE government has made a sudden appeal for cash assistance from donor agencies to deal with the destruction caused by the latest floods. The appeal comes a week after the donors had been assured that no assistance would be required. It has been delivered to them through a bureaucrat in the finance ministry, instead of by the minister himself, who, it seems, is too busy in a roadshow to raise funds for the Diamer Bhasha dam project. The donors want a detailed damage assessment, as well as an action plan for rehabilitating the victims, before the request can be entertained. The authorities say that a variety of flood relief funds have been set up by the federal government as well as the Punjab government, and the donors should simply deposit cash assistance into these. This is the fifth consecutive year of floods in Pakistan, and each episode has seen an appeal for international assistance. Meanwhile, the donor agencies and their respective governments are entitled to wonder what steps Pakistan has taken to increase its preparedness for what is clearly becoming an annual trend. Have forecasting capabilities been improved? Have SOPs been created for the myriad government departments involved in managing the consequences of flooding while the disaster unfolds? Are rapid assessments drawn up in the aftermath of each episode? If so, why is there a sudden about-turn in asking for assistance this year? The World Bank has offered Pakistan the services of state-of-the-art flood forecasting technology that successfully predicted the previous two flooding episodes with a 10-day lead time. But the offer has been greeted with complete disinterest by the government. Currently, forecasts are issued with 48-hour lead time at best, which is grossly insufficient. Technology exists which can increase this lead time to 10 days and this technology has been offered to Pakistan. Not only that, there is no single government department that is tasked with coordinating the response once a flood alert has been issued. Instead, the same game is played out every year, with a muddled and uncoordinated response once the flood peak actually arrives, followed by the same finger-pointing and blame game in the aftermath of the deluge. Once the waters subside, the same appeals emerge to build more hydrological infrastructure as a flood-control mechanism. Donors might want to think twice about entertaining the request for cash assistance without a detailed plan of action. They should insist that a proper disaster preparedness plan be drawn up first, which must include measures to upgrade forecasting capabilities as well as an action plan for coordinating the response once the flood alert has been issued. Muddling through the same disaster year after year, and following this up with requests for cash assistance and hydrological infrastructure, is turning into a farce. And nobody is laughing.