Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Solar eclipse shrouds Asia in daytime darkness

A partial solar eclipse silhouettes birds surrounding a minaret of the shrine of Sufi Saint Bah-ud-din Zakria in Multan, Pakistan on Wednesday, July 22, 2009. The longest solar eclipse of the 21st century pitched a swath of Asia into near-darkness after dawn, as millions watched the once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon Wednesday. (AP Photo/Khalid Tanveer)

Source: The Associated Press: Solar eclipse shrouds Asia in daytime darkness

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Universalism of Islam

THE cardinal principle of Islam is belief in the absolute oneness of God, or tauhid. In the opening chapter of the Quran, God is described as Rabb al-‘alamin. As pointed out by Dr Fathi Osman, in the Quran, God is not related to any particular place or people but to all creation.
Whilst the Hebrew Bible or the Old Testament refers to God as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Quran does not refer to God as the God of a particular prophet. God is the one and only creator of everything that exists and from God’s unity comes the unity of creation. The Quran points out that God not only creates and sustains all creatures but also gives moral guidance to humanity which has been made “in the best of moulds” (Surah 95:4).
The Quran affirms that God “cares for all creatures” (Surah 2:268), and testifies that the message it contains is universal as may be seen from the following verses: “Hallowed is He who from on high, step by step, has bestowed upon His servant the standard by which to discern the true from the false, so that to all the world it may be a warning” (Surah 25:1).
“[The Quran] is but a reminder and a divine discourse, clear in itself and clearly showing the truth, to the end that it may warn everyone who is alive (of heart)” (Surah 36:69-70). “This (divine writ) behold, is no less than a reminder to all the worlds” (Surah 38:87). “This (message) is no less than a reminder to all humankind — to every one of you who wills to walk a straight way (Surah 81: 27-28).
The Quran also affirms the universal mission of the Prophet of Islam (PBUH) as, for instance, in Surah 34:28, it states: “Now (as for you, Mohammad) We have not sent you otherwise than to mankind at large, to be a herald of glad tidings and a warner.”
Islam’s non-exclusive spirit is embodied in many Quranic verses, such as the following: “Verily, those who have attained to faith (in this divine writ) as well as those who follow the Jewish faith, and the Christians, and the Sabians — all who believe in God and the Last Day and do righteous deeds — shall have their reward with their Sustainer; and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve” (Surah 2:62; this verse is repeated in an almost identical form in Surah 5:69).
“And they claim, ‘None shall ever enter paradise unless he be a Jew’ — or ‘a Christian’. Such are their wishful beliefs! Say: ‘Produce an evidence for what you are claiming, if what you say is true!’ Yea, indeed: everyone who surrenders his whole being unto God, and is a doer of good withal, shall have his reward with his Sustainer; and all such need have no fear, and neither shall they grieve” (Surah 2:111-112).
“And be conscious of the Day on which you shall be brought back unto God, whereupon every human being shall be repaid in full for what he has earned, and none shall be wronged” (Surah 2:281).
Since God is the universal creator who sends guidance to all humanity, Muslims are commanded by the Quran to affirm the divine message given to all the previous prophets. It is stated in Surah 40:78: “And, indeed, (O Mohammad,) We sent forth apostles before your time; some of them We have mentioned to you, and some of them We have not mentioned to you.” While only 25 prophets are mentioned in the Quran, the above-cited verse indicates the passage of other prophets as well. Indeed, Surah 16:84 tells us that God “shall raise up a witness out of every community”.
The Quran enjoins Muslims to affirm the continuity of Islam with previous revelations and prophets and not to make a distinction amongst them, as can be seen from verses such as the following: “Say, We believe in God, and in that which has been bestowed from on high upon us, and that which has been bestowed upon Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and their descendants, and that which has been vouchsafed to Moses and Jesus, and that which has been vouchsafed to all the (other) prophets by their Sustainer: we make no distinction between any of them. And it is unto Him that we surrender ourselves” (Surah 2:136).
The injunction is repeated in the third surah in identical words: “Say, We believe in God, and in that which has been bestowed from on high upon us, and that which has been bestowed upon Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and their descendants, and that which has been vouchsafed by their Sustainer unto Moses and Jesus and all the (other) prophets: we make no distinction between any of them. And unto Him do we surrender ourselves” (Surah 3:84).

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

NATO gets its supply route from Russia: What it means for Pakistan?

The summit between Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitri Medvedev at the Kremlin on Monday has produced an agreement that will let the NATO-US forces fly their troops and weapons across Russian territory. The agreement allows 4,500 US military flights annually over Russia “at no extra charge”. A White House announcement stated: “This agreement will enable the United States to further diversify the crucial transportation routes used to move troops and critical equipment to re-supply international forces in Afghanistan”.The joint statement issued after the summit had the following comment bearing on the situation in Afghanistan: “The two countries will work together to help stabilise Afghanistan, including increasing assistance to the Afghan army and police, and training counter-narcotics personnel. They will work together with the international community for the upcoming Afghan elections and they will help Afghanistan and Pakistan work together against the common threats of terrorism, extremism and drug trafficking.” President Obama’s own comment after the summit made it clear that the two countries had resolved “to reset US-Russian relations so that we can cooperate more effectively in areas of common interest”.The highlight of the summit, of course, was the supply route for NATO which Russia had opposed in the recent past. The next highlight of the summit, not spelled out but certainly a subject of mutual understanding, was NATO policy towards Russia, especially its US-led move to include under its umbrella those states that Russia considers within the orbit of its own influence. The Americans may therefore have agreed to soft-pedal on the Ukraine front, and policy rollback in Georgia, also a former member republic of the USSR, which Russia had attacked last August to target the military installations the Georgians had built according to NATO standards.The transit route issue has clearly forced the Obama administration to step back from the Russia policy of the Bush administration, signalled by the Monday summit’s new agreements on nuclear arms cuts and replacement of a key disarmament treaty, including figures for reduction in nuclear warheads to between 1,500 and 1,675 within seven years. This came under the unspoken rubric of undoing the Bush administration’s decision to renege on disarmament with Russia. Before the summit Kyrgyzstan had already indicated that it would “renegotiate” the American bases on its soil and will not insist on their immediate removal. Russia had been mollified and this mollification must have embraced Russia’s complaints in relation to the expansion of NATO in particular and the general feeling in Russia that America was spreading its tentacles eastward after destroying a Slav state in the Balkans in 1999. The consequent thaw will have direct bearing on the situation in Afghanistan; and it will include a nod from China which fears the terrorists more than the expansion of American influence in the region.Will this mean a reduction of Pakistan’s leverage in any way? Islamabad remains important because of the land route it provides for NATO supplies. If there is any reduction it will be bought by the US only at a big financial cost. But far more than that is the developing consensus in the neighbourhood of Pakistan behind the NATO presence in Afghanistan and the success of its mission against terrorism. This development will affect Pakistan’s policy of assistance to this mission conditional to rolling back the Indian encroachment in Afghanistan and resultant interference inside Pakistan. No one at the international level seems to worry about Governor NWFP Owais Ghani’s warning about “dangerous” American activities across the Durand Line.The summit will disabuse a lot of Pakistani analysts who have been hoping that Russia would defeat America, now that it is stuck in Afghanistan, the same way America had defeated Russia when it was stuck in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The other jolt the development will deliver is to the strategists who think nothing of the regional consensus gelling against Pakistan’s lingering policy of “strategic depth” and its permanent posture of deterring and challenging India. The general feeling in Pakistan is that if the NATO-US forces leave Afghanistan, the power vacuum thus created would be filled by Pakistan. That may be an erroneous conclusion. *

Source: Daily Times
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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Water scarcity and disputes

WITH unprecedented challenges of water scarcity facing the world, some new approaches have surfaced to tackle this problem.
The terms like ‘river diplomacy’ and ‘environmental peacekeeping’ are commonly used in non-traditional human security studies as tension between riparian states mount on water sharing, environmental degradation, irrigation and drinking water shortage and decline in food security.
Recent research studies on water related bodies warn that the world may be very close to its first water war due to the adverse climate change, energy and food supplies and prices, and troubled financial markets. Water scarcity is leading to political insecurity and inter and intra-state conflicts.
Glacier melting, global warming, water reservoir and dams affect shared ecological resources, upsetting political relationships between riparian states. Building of Kishanganga and Baghliar dams on river Chunab and Jhelum is an example of trans-boundary water dispute between two hostile neighbours: Pakistan and India. The future of peace and economic stability in South Asia also depends on the flow of water from Indian held Kashmir to the downstream Kotri, Pakistan.
The two states have also been locked in a dispute over the project for years. The Kishanganga or the Neelam River is the largest tributary of Jhelum. Pakistan believes that this project will not only impact its hydropower potential, but will also adversely affect the agriculture in the Neelam valley and the Muzaffarabad district. Experts on strategic studies and diplomacy are now terming water as oil of 21st century. Water is going to determine the foreign policy discourses of nationstates with their neighbouring countries that are sharing water resources. The future of political relationships of lower and upper riparian may be shaped by the water flows, both in terms of quantity and quality.
Pakistan and India are no exception to this. Per capita water availability is fast approaching the threshold of 1000 cubic meters of water per person per year in both countries. Pakistan at 1200 cubic meters per capita is slightly above this water stress threshold.
The Indus River Basin comprises of almost 1.2 million square km in Tibet, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. In the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) of 1960, three eastern rivers, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej were handed over to India.
In the IWT, India has also been allowed to develop 13, 43,477 acres of irrigated cropped land on the western rivers without any restriction on the quantum of water to be utilised. India has already developed 7, 85,789, acres for which 6.75 MAF has been used. Thus, for the remaining area of 5, 75,678 acres, 4.79 MAF would be required on pro rata basis.
Whereas three western rivers, Indus, Jhelum and Sutlaj were given for the exclusive use of Pakistan which irrigate 20 million hectares land out of total 69.6 million hectares land; four million hectares of land is rain-fed.
The source of water for these two nuclear rivals is Kashmir, which is a ‘jugular vein’ for Pakistan and for India "an integral part". In the Himalayan mountains of Kashmir high altitude glaciers are melting an at unprecedented rate.This phenomenon threatens the security of water supply of hundreds of millions of people.
The local environment of Kashmir and Himalayan range is suffering from the decades of military presence--habitats of snow leopards, brown bears, ibex are also under threat and garbage is being dumped into mountain crevasses. Conservationists and ecologists suggest that Siachan Glacier mountains be declared as ‘peace camp’. This would not only ensure protection of the landscape, but would offer the possibility of political peacemaking as well.
Kashmir’s strategic position is turning into a non-traditional human security protection zone in terms of water and environment.
Dawn photo library Pakistan is a rain scarce country and most of its water depends on melting Siachen Glacier in the Himalayan mountains in Kashmir.
In 1990, General (rtd) Pervez Musharraf, then a brigadier under training at the Royal College of Defence Studies in London, in a presentation, argued that the issue of Indus waters had the "germs of future conflict".
On June 18, 2002, Syed Salahuddin, chairman of the United Jihad Council and the leader of Hizbul Mujahideen, said "Kashmir is the source from where Pakistan’s water resources originate. If Pakistan loses its battle against India, it will become a desert." Few months back in Srinagar the chief of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) Mehbooba Mufti asked New Delhi to compensate Jammu and Kashmir on account of the Indus Water Treaty. She described the treaty as "discriminatory" and blocking the progress and economic development. She also came down heavily on the New Delhi-owned NHPC for its "arbitrary" exploitation of the state’s water resources. She said the NHPC was producing 1,500-MW of power from its projects in Jammu and Kashmir, but it was sharing just 180-MW with the state.
Pakistan realised this very late that except for Indus main and Kabul rivers, all the five vital tributaries of Indus river system (Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej), originate in Kashmir. Perhaps India knew all along, the importance of Kashmir and therefore it lied to the United Nations that it was prepared to hold a plebiscite in the valley. This realisation has given a new and a dangerous, twist to the Kashmir dispute.
India is also in the process of building the 330 MW Kishanganga dam on river Jhelum and the 450 MW Baglihar dam on river Chenab for hydro power generation, beside Tulbul (Wollar) barrage on Jhelum for navigational purposes.
Apart from these, Uri II hydro-electric project on Jhelum, and Pakul Dul and the huge, 1020 MW Burser hydro dam, both on Marusunder, a tributary of river Chenab, are in various stages of planning and execution.
According to the Indus Water Treaty, the country which completes the project first, will have the first rights on the river water. Pakistan has recently awarded a $1.5-billion contract to a consortium of China’s Gezhouba Water and Power Company and China National Machinery and Equipment Import and Export Corporation to build the 960-MW project in eight years. Against the estimated Rs13.36 billion cost, the NHPC received the lowest bid is of Rs29.60 billion. Officials said they are still negotiating with the lowest bidder.
On the other hand, the water availability in our rivers is highly unreliable. The highest annual water availability in the recorded history 1922 to date was 186.79 MAF (million acre feet) in the year 1959-60 as against the minimum of 95.99 MAF in the year 2001-2002. This includes the Kabul river which contributes a maximum of 34.24 MAF and a minimum of 12.32 MAF with an annual average of about 20.42 MAF to Indus main.
The conflict for controlling Indus river basin between Pakistan and India is increasing. In future, water is going to be a crucial issue in relations between the two countries, perhaps at par with the Kashmir question.
President Asif Ali Zardari has warned: "The water crisis in Pakistan is directly linked to relations with India."

Source: Daily Dawn

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Saturday, July 4, 2009

Independence Day (United States)

In the United States, Independence Day, commonly known as the Fourth of July, is a federal holiday commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, declaring independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain. Independence Day is commonly associated with fireworks, parades, barbecues, carnivals, picnics, concerts, baseball games, political speeches and ceremonies, and various other public and private events celebrating the history, government, and traditions of the United States. Independence Day is the national day of the United States.

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