Tasleem was a good Muslim girl living in the slums of Lahore, Pakistan, until she was seen with a Christian man. A young girl who behaves outside of the strict code of conduct placed on women in Pakistan brings great dishonor to her family, enough dishonor that family members often believe that the only option is death. According to her brother, Rajhu, she had brought dishonor to her family, but mostly to him, and because he had such thin skin and was unable to withstand the constant teasing at work, he decided the only course of action was to commit a barbaric killing. Photo: Qandeel Baloch, from her official Facebook PageRead More
ASIA - Indian Prime Minister Modi addressed the U.S. Congress last Wednesday June 8th, marking his fourth visit to the United States since taking office. The state of India-U.S. relations as described by Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is a “pillar of strength in an important region of the world." Prime Minister Modi has also recently met with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who emphasized the growing cooperation between India and Russia as he reiterates his support for “developing the privileged strategic partnership between India and Russia.”
India, the world’s largest arms importer, continues to purchase Russian arms in large and growing amounts. While policymakers in the United States stress over India’s recent growing appetite for Russian weapons, Russian officials disapprove of India’s defense deals with the United States and its allies such as Israel.
Historically, India had been a major purchaser of Soviet armaments. After the 1990s, however, India started to turn to the United States for arms imports. In the past 20 years, India has relied largely on the United States to supply it with arms.
This is not to say that the relationship between the two nations’ leadership have always been peachy. In 2005, members of the American Congress banned Prime Minister Modi from obtaining a visa to visit the United States based on his failure to stop the anti-Muslim attacks three years’ prior in the Indian state of Gujarat. Since then, American leaders and Prime Minister Modi have reconciled under President Obama’s administration. The shared interests of the United States and India included and still include maintaining maritime security in the India-Asia Pacific, such as maritime transportation of legal goods, as agreed during Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter’s visit with Indian Defense Minister Raksha Mantri this year in April. A major drive for cooperation to maintain maritime security has to do specifically with the territorial disputes in the South China Sea, which was called upon to reach a resolution by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) under the “U.S.-India Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region” agreement. As demonstrated in Prime Minister Modi’s meetings with President Obama, Congress, and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, both India and the United States intend to cooperate on matters in the India-Asia Pacific.
However, India has also started to seek out Russian bilateral ties in an attempt to change its image as an American subordinate to a more complex player in international politics.
This is great for Russia’s defense exporters. As European nations that were traditionally reliant on Russia for defense are starting to develop their own arms or purchase more Western arms than Russian, the importance of Russia’s arms exports to Asia increases. An estimated 60 percent of all Russian arms exports are to Asia, with 39 percent going specifically to India. Last year in December, India purchased five Russian S-400 supersonic air defense systems, which estimated a cost of roughly 6 billion USD. India shares a great deal of Russia’s goals when it comes to counterterrorism. In past talks, both Modi and Putin were troubled by the security in and bordering around Afghanistan. Both leaders have also expressed support for the termination of terrorist ‘safe havens’ in Pakistan. On the other hand, Russia has also supplied Pakistan with Mi-35 Hind attack helicopters and Klimov RDP93 engines for the JF-17. Despite Prime Minister Modi’s calling Russia “a strong and reliable friend”, it remains to be seen if Russia will continue to provide Pakistan with armaments without requiring it to ban ‘safe havens’ for terrorists.
This is not to say that India has decreased its American defense purchases over the recent years. In 2004, India spent 200 million USD on American arms. In 2014, India spent 2 billion USD and it was during this year that India purchased more from the United States than Russia.
The business to export more weapons to India grows even more competitive with India’s plans to expand its own defense manufacturing and to spend 250 billion USD over the next ten years upgrading its military. Both the United States and Russia have expressed interests to contribute to the development of India’s domestic defense manufacturing. Recently, India has produced the 155mm Dhanush field artillery while it is currently working on the Vibrant-class aircraft carrier.
The United States is the world’s largest arms exporter, with Russia coming in second. The competition to export to India is not exclusively for the reasons of financial gain in the defense industry. Exporting arms leverages cooperation and the cooperation of a nation with a geopolitical advantage such as India will pave way for tactical gains in counter-terrorism and security in the Asia Pacific.
ASIA - The phenomena of child marriage, the taking or marrying off a girl at an age that is well below what modern society deems socially acceptable, sounds like a practice that belongs in a history book rather than in the twenty-first century. However, though hard to believe, the practice not only exists in these modern times, but also that it is thriving. In fact, emerging evidence indicates that the marrying off these child brides is becoming more widespread in many parts of the world. Whether due to socioeconomic pressures or to cultural preferences, the world is witnessing a steady resurgence of the practice of child marriages in places such as Africa, the Middle East, and now more prevalent in Asia.
One country in particular which has experienced an increase in the number of child marriages is poverty-stricken Bangladesh. This country has been identified in a report by the International Center for Research of Women (ICRW) as number 3 on a list of the top 20 countries with the highest incidents of child brides. This is because nearly 68.7% of all Bangladeshi girls under the age of 18 are married off to older men. The drastic rise in the practice has become so prevalent in recent years that researchers describe it as a full-blown “epidemic”. According to current estimates, nearly one third of girls in the country are married off before they reach the age of 15. This figure is staggering, and girls who are married off at such a young age often face high rates of domestic abuse, increased risks in childbirth, and the prospect of life-long poverty. Unfortunately, in many rural areas of countries with emerging economies young women are often considered a burden. It is these societal standards which is sanctioned and even encouraged that families use to justify pressing their young daughters into marriage to older men.
Concomitant factors such as poverty, lack of education, and the destabilization of the economy from natural disasters like typhoons, which are known for causing widespread destruction in Southeast Asian countries, also play a role in propagating acceptance of this practice. Parents often resort to marrying off their daughters in order to save money to pay for the education of their sons who are seen as better able to support the family once they reach the age of maturity. Bangladesh is not the only country to face the ever increasing problem of child marriage. Afghanistan is another country in the region known to the world as a region of innumerable human rights abuses.
Many of these abuses are due to complex forces, such as the oppressive patriarchal culture, the violent influence of the Taliban, and the subjugation of women who are often publicly executed. Given these influences the marriage of young girls to older men seems a foregone conclusion. Here, and most notably in the country's north-eastern province of Badakhshan, women experience the most extreme lack of independence. In this nation plagued by chronic food shortages, brought about by decades-long conflicts in the region, girls are being sold and traded off at an alarming rate. The money that the families get for the sale of their daughters enable them to purchase food, livestock, or other necessities.
The situation is particularly bleak in Badakhshan which according to a report by the United Nations (U.N.). Young girls experience some of the highest rats of abuses and death at the hands of their husbands who are often decades their senior. These men repeated and violently rape their young brides, who once they become pregnant do not allow them to access prenatal care with the intention of isolating these girls. According to the ICRW young girls are most afflicted by the following.
- Premature Pregnancy: Child brides almost always bear children before they are physically - or emotionally - ready.
- Maternal Mortality: Girls younger than 15 are five times more likely to die during child birth or pregnancy than older women. Pregnancy-related deaths are the leading cause of mortality for girls aged 15 to 19 worldwide.
- Infant Mortality: Mortality rates for babies born to mothers under age 20 are almost 75% higher than for children born to older mothers. The children that survive are more likely to be premature, have a low birth weight, and are more at risk for contracting HIV/AIDS.
- Health Problems: Premature childbirth can lead to a variety of health problems for mothers, including fistula, a debilitating condition that causes chronic incontinence. Girls with fistula are often abandoned by their husbands and ostracized by society. There are approximately 2 million girls living with fistula, and 100,000 new cases every year.
- HIV/AIDS: Married girls may be more likely to contract sexually transmitted disease, including HIV/AIDS, than unmarried girls. Young girls are more physically susceptible to STD's, have less access to reproductive education and health services and are often powerless to demand the use of contraception. (Source: ICRW)
Girls under the age of 15 are most at risk to this tragic outcome because of their physical immaturity. These young girls also face the specter of contracting HIV from infected husbands. Experts are in agreement that the best way to counter this growing trend is by working to alleviate the country's desperately crippled economy.
While the prevalence of the practice is closely associated with poverty and destruction, this is not true in every country. China, for example, has experienced steady economic growth in the past several decades. Despite its overall financial stability, the country is also experiencing a rise in the number of child marriages. The increase in this practice is largely driven by political factors such as the long-standing one-child policy. This policy, first enacted in the late 1970's to alleviate China's issue with unchecked population growth, has in fact resulted in a problematic and wide scale gender imbalance. Thus, the country now has approximately 33 million more men than women in the country. Despite this, the cultural bias toward boys remains, particularly in the rural areas where parents routinely force their daughters to marry young so that they aren't a financial burden to the family.
Additionally, China’s gender gap has led to a dramatic rise in the rates of human trafficking. Young girls are being sold or kidnapped then smuggled out of the country to neighboring Vietnam. Those who aren't 'lucky' enough to be sold for purposes of marriage, face the horrifying specter of sex slavery. These girls, as young as 13-years-old, are sometimes sold by their parents who have been solicited by the smugglers to sell their daughters who are subsequently drugged as a means of controlling them while they are removed from their homes. The girls are then marketed to potential buyers and sold for the deplorable price of $3,000 or less.
Sadly, with the continued growth of China, and the growing need for increased human capital to produce low costs products which the West is increasing dependent upon. This has resulted in the rise of another type of enslavement of girls and women in the manufacturing sectors found in cities like Shanghai, Beijing, Tianjin, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen. Often chained to their work stations for up to 16 hours a day, they are not even allowed bathroom breaks in order to maximize high production at low costs.
The documentary 'Santa's Workshop' provides a chilling look into the abuse of the laborers in many Chinese factories. The majority of these workers are children and women. Thus, it is unfortunate and disheartening to realize that for a female to make it to adulthood having escape sexual enslavement or child marriage, is not a guarantee of avoiding future exploitation. There are many organizations dedicated to advocating for the rights of child brides, women, and forced labor, but this abuse, irrespective of the fact that it is occurring in locations quite foreign to us, should in no way inure us to the suffering these girls and women face. Nor to our obligation to remain engaged in trying to make a difference, even if this difference is as simple as sharing these statistics and stories with friends, family, and associates. In so doing we may become more conscious and conscientious, two things which help to complete us as human beings.
ISRAEL - It is always the innocent who end up suffering the most, no matter what the conflict happens to be. This is a sad reality of the world we live in, and one in which we are confronted with daily, because of an increase in global conflict, terrorism, and the instability of nations. Weaponized hatred and terror has significantly increased in the present day, as leaders of extremists’ groups radicalize individuals and deploy them in unexpected attacks which are difficult to predict. The inability to anticipate these attacks has resulted in nations being forced to introduce stringent security measures that are more restrictive on innocent citizens, but at the same time fail in curtailing the acts of real terrorists, who often slip through undetected.
The recent terror attacks in Paris and Brussels are both examples of radicals who inflicted mayhem in a misguided attempt to express their loyalty to groups like ISIS. These individuals were easily manipulated into committing a series of reprehensible acts; acts which were concocted without any real goal in mind other than to instill terror, confusion, and suspicion. Unlike true revolutionaries, who have set and clearly defined objectives (which may at times result in violence), and whose methods are usually meant to garner support for their cause, these radicals are primarily focused only on differentiating themselves from whatever element they strove to rebel against. In short, their acts of terror promise peace if only the citizens would choose their cause over that of the incumbent government. Usually, nothing could be farther from the truth as citizen’s usually replace the devil they know with an equally deceptive regime.
It is a sad matter of fact, but domestic and international terrorists are only increasing in their attempts to target America, the E.U., Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Indeed, few places in the world now seem off limits. At times, it seems as if these terrorists enjoy a twisted pleasure in targeting innocent men, women, and children- regardless of their country of origin, background, or religion. When people think of terrorism, they usually associate it with organization such as ISIS or Al-Qaeda. In reality, however, these groups are not always behind the attacks. There are just as many attacks by ‘lone’ wolves (individuals who act on their own accord) who seek revenge for real or perceived offences. Such was the case with Yosef Haim Ben David, an Israeli settler who orchestrated the murder of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdair, who was beaten and burned alive in the summer of 2014. By his own admission, Ben David admitted that Khdair’s murder was largely in response to Hussam Qawasmeh’s kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens in the West Bank in that same year. These examples are particularly worthwhile to note, because they go to highlight the fact that acts of terror are not always attributed to any one side or the other. Instead, they should be seen for what they are - baseless crimes of hate. Blame for these actions should be placed squarely on the person or persons who are solely responsible for perpetrating these heinous acts.
On Tuesday, 19 April 2016, the BBC News reported that the ringleader in the murder of Abu Khdair was found guilty by an Israeli court. Ben David has yet to be sentenced, but judgement is anticipated to be harsh and followed by a lengthy prison sentence. Meanwhile, in a similar case, The New York Times reported on January 6, 2015 that Hussam Qawasmeh, the Palestinian behind the Kidnap and Murder of the 3 Israeli teens, received 3 consecutive life sentences for his role in the murders. Both cases are extreme examples of people who acted on their own accord; individuals who took out their anger on innocent bystanders, in a misguided attempt to inflict pain on those whom they perceived as having harmed or insulted them. While they truly believed they were furthering the agendas of their governments, the fact of the matter is that in reality they had little or no insight into the broader political and security process which governments take into consideration when combating terrorism. The heinous acts committed by these men are theirs alone, and for these crimes they have been judged and found guilty. It is a case in which respect for and protection of human rights trumped all other agendas.
By the same note, it is the job of respective governments to strive to put aside their differences when confronting the global threat from extremists. World powers must unite in this endeavor, and the responsibility of overcoming these threats must be shared. Great examples of this can be seen through the workings of countries such as India and Pakistan, who have recently learned to cooperate in tackling this issue. Just this past month, for example, The Indian Express reported that intelligence from Pakistan’s security apparatus was shared with its long-time rival, India, in preventing a large-scale terror attack from being carried out on Indian soil. This selfless act undoubtedly helped to save lives and must be praised for showing what can be achieved when countries work in setting aside their personal differences, and instead choose to protect innocent civilians - regardless of their creed or nationality. Countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East can (and indeed should) all learn to follow suit, because It’s not too late.
What people must now come to a consensus on is that tragedy should cease to be politicized. Pain is not a zero-sum game. One tragedy, should not work in taking away from another. Nor should it justify it. In this sense, the pain and strife which has befallen the Palestinian people, for example, should not take away from the pain and strife which is now unfolding in Israel. Both sides are equally right in hurting, and both sides must learn to empathize with the other. Only in this way, will real progress be made. Not only in the now decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also throughout the traumatized region.
BANGKOK, Thailand - The brutal terrorist attack on the Bangkok Erawan Shrine, seems to be another in an ever increasing string of violence that is plaguing the world. Unfortunately, terrorist groups like Islamic State (IS) have bombarded us with increasingly violent, bizarre, and senseless attacks, and thus less spectacular attacks may seem to lose their news worthiness.
However, the bombing of the Erawan Shrine which has not been attributed to them, was appalling to millions worldwide. This bombing occurred in one of Thailand's busiest tourism spots and at 8 casualties in the initial blast, and another 20 in the second blast twelve hours later the number of victims increased to include 100 injured.
The target of this attack left the critically injured survivors, the citizens of Thailand, and people around the world with a sense of horror that could only be assuaged by prayer.
Erawan Shrine in Bangkok is to Thailand what Times Square in New York is to the United States. It can be surmised that one of the strategic objectives of this attack was to disrupt tourism, a significant driver of Thailand's economy. Bangkok is a premiere travel destination for people from many Western countries, and the Bangkok Shrine is most frequently visited by citizens of China and India. The shine is venerated as having "immense powers" including the ability to bless visitors with "riches". It is also a shrine dedicated to Brahma, a Hindu god which is worshiped by Indian Hindus, but is also revered by some Chinese Buddhists.
The government hasn't ruled out terrorism; however, it is believed that the bomb attacks were coordinated and that one or more suspects may be from the anti-government group known as the "Yellow Shirts." This group was formed as part of a movement called the "People's Alliance for Democracy" in reaction to a corrupt billionaire named Thaksin Shinawatra. A successful businessman turned politician in 1994, he later became prime minister in 2001. Initially viewed as a philanthropist, Shinawatra launched programs to reduce poverty, instituted programs designed to help small businesses, as well as legislating universal healthcare coverage.
But, after declaring a "war on drugs" and selling billions of shares of his company to foreign investors without paying taxes, Thaksin critics denounced him, even going so far as to call him a dictator.
An article on The Guardian pointed out the similarities between this attack and the 10 January 2014 incident in which two bombs were detonated minutes apart by anti-government protesters who sought the ouster ofthen Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. But, though this group were suspected in this attack, as in the case of the Erawan conclusive evidence has not been found to identify the perpetrators.
It is suspected that the true motives of these bombing were to disrupt Thailand's tourism industry and frighten and discourage foreigners from visiting the country. While the "who did this" and the "why" are still a blur, the "what, when, and how did it happen"are very clear. Despite this, as with other governments facing similar external and domestic terrorism, the Thai government led by the current prime minister have responded quickly and appropriately, but have been understandably cautious in not making a rush to judgement. The focus has been and continues to be the capture and bringing to justice the culprits.
Contributing Journalist: @toritorinicole