Tag Archives: Pakistan

Once lauded as a peacemaker, Obama’s tenure fraught with war

Seven years ago this week, when a young American president learned he’d been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize barely nine months into his first term — arguably before he’d made any peace — a somewhat embarrassed Barack Obama asked his aides to write an acceptance speech that addressed the awkwardness of the award.

But by the time his speechwriters delivered a draft, Obama’s focus had shifted to another source of tension in his upcoming moment in Oslo: He would deliver this speech about peace just days after he planned to order 30,000 more American troops into battle in Afghanistan.

The president all but scrapped the draft and wrote his own version.

The speech Obama delivered — a Nobel Peace Prize lecture about the necessity of waging war — now looks like an early sign that the American president would not be the sort of peacemaker the European intellectuals of the Nobel committee had anticipated.

On matters of war and peace, Obama has proven to be a confounding and contradictory figure, one who stands to leave behind both devastating and pressing failures, as well as a set of fresh accomplishments whose impact could resonate for decades.

He is the erstwhile anti-war candidate, now engaged in more theaters of war than his predecessor. He is the commander-in-chief who pulled more than a hundred thousand U.S. troops out of harm’s way in Iraq, but also began a slow trickle back in. He recoiled against full-scale, conventional war, while embracing the brave new world of drone attacks and proxy battles. He has championed diplomacy on climate change and nuclear proliferation and has torn down walls to Cuba and Myanmar, but also has failed repeatedly to broker a lasting pause to more than six years of slaughter in Syria.

If there was consensus Obama had not yet earned his Nobel Peace Prize when he received it in 2009, there’s little such agreement on whether he deserves it today.

“I don’t think he would have been in the speculation of the Nobel committee now, in 2016, even if he had not already won,” said Kristian Berg Harpviken, director of the Peace Research Institute of Oslo, and a close watcher of the Nobel committee. Harpviken said he views Obama’s foreign policy as more conventional and limited than he expected, particularly when it comes to using multilateral cooperation and institutions.

When it comes to finding new instruments for peace, he said, “Obama has been stuck in the old paradigm.”

In many respects, Obama’s tenure has been a seven-year debate over whether the president has used the tools of war to try to make peace too much or little.

Obama has been sharply criticized for his refusal to use force to depose Syrian President Bashar Assad, cripple his air force or more aggressively engage in diplomatic efforts to end the fighting. Many view Obama’s policies as an unfortunate overcorrection from the George W. Bush-era Iraq war.

“The president correctly wanted to move away from the maximalist approach of the previous administration, but in doing so he went to a minimalist, gradualist and proxy approach that is prolonging the war. Where is the justice in that?” said Ret. Lt. Gen. Jim Dubik, a senior fellow at the Institute for the Study of War and the author of the book, “Just War Reconsider.” Obama should have worked harder to rally a coalition around a shared vision of a stable Middle East, he said.

“Part of the requirement of leadership,” Dubik said, “is to operate in that space between where the world is and where the world ought to go.”

The president’s advisers dismiss such critiques as a misguided presumption that more force yields more peace. Cold-eyed assessments of the options in Syria show no certainty of outcomes.

“In Syria, there is no international basis to go to war against the Assad regime. Similarly, there’s no clearly articulable objective as to how it would play out. What is the end that we’re seeking militarily? “ said deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes. “The president doesn’t believe you can impose order through military force alone.”

But Obama has in many other cases been willing to use limited force to achieve limited objectives, even risking unintended consequences.

He has ordered drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and Syria, actions that that have killed civilians and sparked tension in those countries and across the international community. What began as a secret program has become more transparent and Obama has aimed to leave legal limits for his predecessor on the use of unmanned warplanes.

But he has left unanswered the question of how or when those actions will lead to peace, some argued.

Looking back on his Nobel speech, that dilemma was already there, said Jon Alterman, a Middle East expert and former State Department official.

“What’s strikes me most is how different our concept of war was seven years ago,” he said. “We are engaged in a whole series of infinitely sustainable, low-level actions that have no logical endpoint. When do we stop doing drone attacks in Yemen and Pakistan? What level of terrorism is acceptable? … We’re engaged in battles with a whole range of groups that are never going to surrender, so how do you decide to stop it? How do you decide what winning looks like?”

Review: ‘Malala’ is a gripping story, eloquently told

Many people know the basic elements of the story of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who was the youngest person ever to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. But He Named Me Malala retells that story in a deft and affecting way. Director Davis Guggenheim, who made the Oscar-winning An Inconvenient Truth and the controversial Waiting for Superman, does some of his most heartfelt work in this tribute to Malala and her entire family.

The film opens unexpectedly, with a beautiful animated sequence recounting the legend of the young woman for whom Malala was named, a 19th-century freedom fighter against the British in Afghanistan. Elegant pastel drawings are incorporated throughout the film, and although some may feel that the animation is overused, Guggenheim clearly wanted to find ways of filling in some of Yousafzai’s story without relying on talking-head interviews. He certainly benefited from the collaboration of Jason Carpenter, a talented young animator.

A more troubling choice that Guggenheim made is to tell the story in a non-linear manner. This kind of storytelling has become too faddish in all kinds of movies, and it leads to some unnecessary confusion here. The basic story is compelling: When the Taliban took over Malala’s village in the Swat Valley of Pakistan, books and videos were burned, and girls were forbidden any education except religious education. Malala spoke out against this policy, first on a BBC blog and later more publicly, and she was shot in the head by the Taliban at the age of 15. Miraculously, she survived and was transported to England for surgery. She spent months in the hospital recuperating. Although the left side of her face is partially paralyzed, Malala has become an eloquent spokeswoman for female education, and with her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, she has traveled all over the world as an advocate, in addition to co-authoring the best-selling book, I Am Malala.

All of this information is in the film, but not in chronological order, and this leads to disjointed moments. We see Malala in Kenya and Nigeria before we have a full understanding of her educational mission. Despite these few glitches in storytelling, Guggenheim scored marvelous interviews with Malala and her entire family, including a younger brother who is an uninhibited and engaging imp. The fact that he earned their trust is a tribute to his empathy as a filmmaker. One of the most affecting moments comes when Malala’s mother admits that she misses her home in Pakistan. The Yousafzais now live in Birmingham, England. This uprooting of a loving family is one of the prices Malala and her father paid for their outspokenness.

Beyond its protest of the subjugation of women in many parts of the Muslim world, the film contemplates the influence of parents on children. At the end of the movie, Malala ponders the question of whether her father chose her life by naming her after a rebel and by prodding her to speak out on issues of female education. But Malala answers calmly and decisively, “I chose this life,” although she acknowledges the influence of her family. These final scenes, which also incorporate Malala’s memorable address to the United Nations, are heartrending, though Thomas Newman’s score is a bit over-emphatic. The story itself is so powerful that it really doesn’t need any underlining.

He Named Me Malala, a Fox Searchlight release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “thematic elements involving disturbing images and threats.” Running time: 88 minutes

Study: Air pollution kills 3.3 million worldwide, farming plays a major role

Air pollution is killing 3.3 million people a year worldwide, according to a new study that includes this surprise: Farming plays a large role in smog and soot deaths in industrial nations.

Scientists in Germany, Cyprus, Saudi Arabia and Harvard University calculated the most detailed estimates yet of the toll of air pollution, looking at what caused it. The study also projects that if trends don’t change, the yearly death total will double to about 6.6 million a year by 2050.

The study, published in the journal Nature, used health statistics and computer models. About three quarters of the deaths are from strokes and heart attacks, said lead author Jos Lelieveld at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany.

The findings are similar to other less detailed pollution death estimates, outside experts said.

“About 6 percent of all global deaths each year occur prematurely due to exposure to ambient air pollution. This number is higher than most experts would have expected, say, 10 years ago,” said Jason West, a University of North Carolina environmental sciences professor who wasn’t part of the study but praised it.

Air pollution kills more than HIV and malaria combined, Lelieveld said.

With nearly 1.4 million deaths a year, China has the most air pollution fatalities, followed by India with 645,000 and Pakistan with 110,000.

The United States, with 54,905 deaths in 2010 from soot and smog, ranks seventh highest for air pollution deaths. What’s unusual is that the study says that agriculture caused 16,221 of those deaths, second only to 16,929 deaths blamed on power plants.

In the U.S. Northeast, all of Europe, Russia, Japan and South Korea, agriculture is the No. 1 cause of the soot and smog deaths, according to the study. Worldwide, agriculture is the No. 2 cause with 664,100 deaths, behind the more than 1 million deaths from in-home heating and cooking done with wood and other biofuels in developing world.

The problem with farms is ammonia from fertilizer and animal waste, Lelieveld said. That ammonia then combines with sulfates from coal-fired power plants and nitrates from car exhaust to form the soot particles that are the big air pollution killers, he said. In London, for example, the pollution from traffic takes time to be converted into soot, and then it is mixed with ammonia and transported downwind to the next city, he said.

“We were very surprised, but in the end it makes sense,” Lelieveld said. He said the scientists had assumed that traffic and power plants would be the biggest cause of deadly soot and smog.

Agricultural emissions are becoming increasingly important but are not regulated, said Allen Robinson, an engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University, who wasn’t part of the study but praised it.

Ammonia air pollution from farms can be reduced “at relatively low costs,” Robinson said. “Maybe this will help bring more attention to the issue.”

In the central United States, the main cause of soot and smog premature deaths is power plants; in much of the West, it’s traffic emissions.

Jason West and other outside scientists did dispute the study’s projections that deaths would double by 2050. That’s based on no change in air pollution. West and others said it’s likely that some places, such as China, will dramatically cut their air pollution by 2050.

And Lelieveld said that if the world reduces a different air pollutant — carbon dioxide, the main gas causing global warming — soot and smog levels will be reduced as well, in a “win-win situation in both directions.”

Nobel Peace Prize winners: Education for all

Nobel Peace Prize winners Malala Yousafzai from Pakistan and Kailash Satyarthi of India have stressed the importance of uniting people across borders and religions by educating children and freeing them from poverty.

The 17-year-old Malala, who was shot in the head two years ago for insisting that girls have as much right to education as boys, says it is “not only the right but the duty of children” to be educated.

Sitting side-by-side with Malala, the 60-year-old Satyarthi said that even if a single child is denied education “we cannot say we are enlightened.”

The Nobel Peace Prize winners were speaking to reporters in the Norwegian capital a day before being presented their awards on Dec. 10, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death in 1896.

Malala, the youngest Nobel Prize winner, said said she had been concentrating on her difficult school exams in recent weeks – she is pleased to have gotten As and Bs -and has only focused on writing her Nobel speech in the last week.

To spotlight her crusade, Malala invited four girls and a young woman who have fought for education rights in Syria, Nigeria and Pakistan to join her delegation.

“I’m really happy my friends are coming,” she said. “I feel I am speaking on their behalf. It is important they are able to join me. This is a very big platform.”

Meet the 10 semifinalists for World’s Funniest Person

The 10 semifinalists in the World’s Funniest Person competition are:

– Mustapha El Atrassi, France. Born in France to a Moroccan family, El Atrassi began doing stand-up as a teenager. He appeared in a one-man show in Paris at age 16 and two years later had his own sitcom in Morocco. Since 2008, he’s hosted a morning radio show in France.

– Ishmo Leikola, Finland. He does stand-up in both English and Finnish, appearing at clubs throughout Europe. He won his country’s stand-up rookie of the year award in 2003 and has been honored five times as the favorite performer at Tomatoes! Tomatoes!, the Nordic countries’ largest comedy festival.

– Vittorrio Leonardi, South Africa. Leonardi has appeared in comedy clubs throughout South Africa, given talks on comedy to Mensa members and taught comedy at St. Mary’s Diocesan School for Girls in Pretoria. He’s also the resident emcee at several South African comedy clubs.

– Saad Haroon, Pakistan. A founding member of the Pakistani improv group Blackfish and other comedy troupes, Saad also created the English-language Pakistani show “The Real News,” a mix of political and social satire. He’s performed on comedy tours in several countries, including the United States.

– Nitin Mirani, United Arab Emirates. Mirani bills himself as “Dubai’s much-loved comedic genius.” He has performed his Komic Sutra comedy show in India, the United States, Britain, Hong Kong, Singapore, the Maldives and several Middle Eastern countries. The publication DNA India called his show, “A laugh riot!”

– Archie Bezos, Spain. Bezos has been described as a Spanish pioneer among openly gay comedians. He made his TV debut in 2012 with an appearance on a Comedy Central show featuring upcoming comedians. The following year he won the top award at Madrid’s FIC comedy festival and recently toured Spain with his “Gay’s Anatomy” comedy show.

– Vivek Mahbubani, an ethnic Indian comic representing his native China. Mahbubani, who performs in English and Cantonese, was honored as Hong Kong’s funniest Chinese comedian in 2007 and its funniest English-language comedian in 2008.

– Tiffany Haddish, USA. Raised in foster homes in Los Angeles, Haddish says her social worker steered her toward a comedy camp for children after hearing her stories about her imaginary friends. She’s appeared on “Def Comedy Jam,” Comedy Central’s “Reality Bites” and recently took part in a USO Comedy Tour in Japan.

– Waddah Swar, Saudi Arabia. Originally from Bahrain, Swar has been described by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the pioneers of Middle Eastern comedy. He won the “Funniest in the Arab World” competition at the Kit Kat Comedy Break Show in Dubai in 2013.

– Lioz Shem Tov, Israel. A visual comedian, Tov frequently uses a range of props to work comically bad magic tricks into his act, which he can perform in either Hebrew or English. He made it to the semifinal round of the NBC series “Last Comic Standing” in 2008.

World’s most gay intolerant nations have most Google searches for gay porn

According to Google Trends, the world’s most intolerant anti-gay nations also record the highest volume of gay porn searches. The unexpected trend was first observed and reported by Mother Jones.

Kenya, where vigilantes routinely torture and kill gay activists, ranks No. 1 globally in searches for “gay sex pics” and “anal sex pics.” Nigeria and Pakistan rank in the top five for those searches, and Pakistan ranks first for the terms “man fucking man,” “teen anal sex” and “shemale sex.”

But, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll on LGBT acceptance, Nigeria and Pakistan are two of the world’s most brutally LGBT intolerant societies. And Kenya recently passed a law criminalizing homosexuality as well as gay rights. Only 1 percent of Kenyans said homosexuality should be tolerated.

In Pakistan, where homosexual behavior is criminal, only 2 percent of the population believes in tolerance for LGBT people. Open discussion of homosexuality in the Muslim nation is virtually forbidden.

Mother Jones asked Farahnaz Ispahani, an expert in Pakistani minorities at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a former member of Pakistan’s parliament, about the discrepancy between Pakistan’s anti-gay attitudes and their behavior.

She said that part of the popularity of gay porn could stem from the fact that even highly observant Muslim males often have physical relationships with men without considering themselves gay.

“The real love they can have that most of us find with a partner, they find with men,” Ispahani said. “They mostly see their wives as the mother of their children.”  

She added the persecution of minorities, including gays, has reached an all-time high in Pakistan.

“Religious extremism is at a height today,” she says. “Hindus are being forced to convert, Christians are being burned aliv – there’s very little personal safety for those seen as ‘the other.’ So what do (gay Pakistanis) do? They turn to pornography because they can’t live their lives openly.”

Perhaps the same phenomenon explains the discrepancy in other virulently homophobic countries.

Natural ‘Viagra’ found in bin Laden’s hideout

Avena syrup, a botanical product often used as “natural Viagra,” was discovered at the Pakistan compound where Osama bin Laden, 54, was living with three wives of his wives, according to NBC News. The al-Qaeda chief’s youngest bride was 29 years old.

Also known by the nickname “wild oats,” the Avena Sativa syrup found in the compound’s medicine cache is believed to increase sexual desire, although its effectiveness has never been proven. The substance is also used as an artificial sweetener for sour stomach.

“There is a lot of folklore around its potential as a natural Viagra, but not a lot of science,” said Dr. Nancy Snyderman, NBC News chief medical editor. “Of course, it could have provided Osama with a psychosomatic boost.”

The United States will be given access to interrogate bin Laden’s wives, Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik told CNN on May 10, but he did not say when and where the access would occur. All three women were taken into Pakistani custody after the May 2 raid that killed bin Laden.

U.S. officials hope to learn more about how bin Laden could have hidden for years in more or less plain sight in a city with a heavy Pakistani military presence. It is widely believed that the nation’s government, which receives massive amounts of U.S. taxpayer-funded aid, was purposely sheltering the mastermind behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.