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World’s Longest Rail Tunnel

After being under the process of drilling for fifteen years the World’s longest tunnel has been completed in Switzerland, making way for a high-speed railway connection between northern and south-eastern Europe in the heart of Swiss Alps. The tunnel is 57 km in length (35.7 miles) and the distance between the two ends of the tunnel is 30 km (20 miles) and 9.5 m in diameter.
Around 200 dignitaries were present at the inauguration which was broadcast live on Swiss televisions. 9.8 Billion Swiss Franc have been spent on the construction of this tunnel which once completed will allow 300 trains to travel everyday at a speed of 250km/h.
It was a strenuous task for the laborers who had to bore and cut thorough 13 million cubic meters. Eight lives were lost in the process and the 2000 workers were in the limelight especially after Chilean miners were rescued.
The truck traffic through Gotthard base was causing great environmental damage and concerns were raised by the local people who demanded this traffic to be banned. They also persuaded the government to take action and find an alternate transport system in the region. Hence in response to this the idea of constructing a tunnel was taken into consideration.Thus, this tunnel once running will not only prove to be economically beneficial but will also save the beauty of the Swiss Alps which are of great significance to the country’s tourism sector.
The rail line is expected to be complete and operational in 2017 as it will then connect Italy’s Milan to Zurich in less than three hours and to Germany in the north in less than an hour.
Much work remains to be done on the link, but the Tunnel has secured the title of the World’s longest railroad tunnel from Japan’s 53.8 km Seikan Tunnel, constructed in 1988.

By Midhat Meraj


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Is Pakistan on the verge of collapsing?

I recently heard that a country could be said to be on the brink of collapse when three scenarios are taking place simultaneously. 1) there is a financial crisis 2) the social welfare of the people is declining and 3) when there is a law and order situation. When one reads this state of affairs he is immediately reminded of Pakistan’s political and economic condition. Many are of the opinion that what this country needs yet again is another dictator and through this article I would like to address the present situation.
When a democratic government fails to establish good governance in the country, this gives rise to public unrest. Bad governance can be seen in many aspects of pakistans socio economic condition. There is hyper inflation in the market due to the devaluation of the rupee, scarcity of food which has resulted in most of the general public having to forgo several basic necessities and above all there is a lack of security in virtually all areas. So dire is the state of affairs that the government may not have money to pay salaries in a few months. The alarm about the economy was first sounded when Mr. Shaikh, a former World Bank officer informed a meeting of political and military leaders that the government had enough money to pay only two months’ salaries. Mr Shaikh was quoted as saying that the economy was “teetering on the brink” before the floods but was now heading for the “abyss.” These present conditions meet the requirements of the military to initiate a coup which at this point, seems inevitable. However, the military, preoccupied by a war against militants and reluctant to assume direct responsibility for the economic crisis, has made clear it is not eager to take over the government,
Another important factor to keep in mind are the corruption charges being faced by the present government which are being constantly delayed on the slightest of excuses. The Supreme Court is also pushing the government on the issue of corruption by threatening to remove the president’s immunity from prosecution, a move that would expose him to charges of corruption in an old money-laundering case in Switzerland.The president has been subject to such charges even before his term began. However, corruption in Pakistan can not only be seen in financial matters but in violation of merit, as well as biased and unjust decisions in favour of self or ruling party.
Zadari’s indifferent behaviour towards his nation could be seen when he decided tovisit his familys Normandy chateau while the 2010’s flood victims were being rehabilitated. Hence the government’s performance since the floods which have left about 20 million homeless and the nation dependent on handouts from foreign donors, has lead to a rising disdain for the government due to the perception among the media and the public of the callous and inept handling of the floods by the nation’s wealthy ruling class. Consequently, this has left the Pakistani nation disillusioned with its leaders resulting in an increased demand for change.

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Labour Party Election

On the 25th of September Ed Miliband very narrowly beat his brother, David, for the leadership of the Labor party. David had been the favorite to win and last second backing from trade unions enabled him to get the top spot. Ed has been portrayed to be more left leaning than David, who is more central and has been branded “Red Ed”. After Ed’s nervy acceptance speech and David’s brilliant valedictorian one two days later, the people present at the party conference in Manchester, even the ones who had backed Ed, were probably wondering if they had made the right choice.
David was seen as the heir to the Labor party throne, and now the MPs and activists are probably cursing the trade unions for the results. David certainly was the one who most deserved to win, having the experience as foreign secretary and being Tony Blair’s protégé. He had also been waiting for this moment for a long time, and it was his dream to become Prime Minister.
Sadly, that dream has been snatched away from him by his brother, and some see this as unfaithfulness. Now that David Miliband has announced that he is leaving frontline politics, Britain will lose an experienced and extremely able politician. It is understandable that he would not want to work under his younger brother, who has followed him everywhere, from school to the same Oxford college, into the Labor party, into Parliament and finally into the race for party leadership and there ended up being one Miliband too many.
The Tories of course, will be delighted that they get to face the younger Miliband as opposition leader, because David would have made life quite difficult for them. They will aim to exploit the Red Ed tag to the fullest, but they cannot get too complacent. In the elections, they were denied a majority because of Labor, and had to form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats.
Labor are also currently neck and neck with the conservatives in the opinion polls, and that is with Red Ed and before the budget cuts have been unveiled.
Ed’s policies will be shaped by the decisions he takes during the first few weeks of his leadership. I think that he will be more towards the left, even though this is something Labor must avoid, because when the time for general elections comes, it will make people think about whether Labor are electable or not. He will also be supporting what the trade unions say and do. He will also recommend an increase on income tax and other taxes on the upper class and make benefits easier to get. The economy will be expanded to create more jobs. He will also be advocating the plan his brother came up with, to cut the deficit by half in four years.
Let’s hope that Ed’s “new generation” actually learns from New Labor’s mistakes. If he manages to shake the Red Ed tag and centralize the party a bit, Mr. Head of Labor may just turn into Mr. Prime Minister.

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A Failed State?

A semi-arid country with hardly any arable land faces the challenge of feeding its population of 9.1 million, a third of which depends on food aid. With a birth rate of 43.7 births/1000 population and a death rate of a staggering 15.5 deaths/1000, famine and diseases are the least of the problems of Somalia.

The country has lacked an effective central government since President Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991. After the failure of the fourteenth transitional government, the state’s situation has deteriorated into the world’s worst humanitarian and security crisis. Insecurity, violence and desperate poverty have been the norm. Within the complex web of problems in Somalia is that of Piracy. Various international organizations such as the World Food Programme and International Maritime Organisation have shown concern over this issue. In 2009 US President Barack Obama said that Somali piracy has to be brought under control and has prompted Nato to take the lead in anti-piracy operations.

However, what is new is that this issue has once again gotten the world concerned over the goings on of this collapsed state. The Somalis have learnt to live under the circumstances where risk of death and bloodshed are unexceptional hazards. Losing faith in the government, the Somali diaspora have helped create informal sector businesses and a fairly well maintained private sector leading to a growing economy. The brave country has a GDP per capita of $333 which is greater than that of Ethopia and Tanzania. However, about 40% of the population thrives on less than US $1 a day.

Piracy, however is a symptom of a much bigger problem. The core of the crisis is the dire need of a political settlement. Somalia, is a clan based society. The warring clans fiefdoms have greatly divided the country. A strong administrative system is required for the reconciliation of these warring militias. The rising Islamists stood in the way of the establishment of a central government since 2006. The Islamist insurgents fought against the government winning control of most of Southern Somalia by late 2008.

The absence of a long-standing government led to the rise of piracy as the only means of survival for the population which has seen a civil war for the past 20 years, combats with grinding poverty and hunger, shifting alliances, and international intervention with a steady supply of unemployed young men and cheap weapons.

While the internationally recognized government of President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmad struggles to gain control of is own capital city of Mogadishu, political stability remains a distant dream. In 2009, the Al-Shabab (maning ‘the youth’ in Arabic), drove Hizbul Islam out of the Southern port of the city and has declared its open alliance to Al-Qaeda emerging as the most powerful Islamic insurgent group in the region.

What Somalia needs is to end this internal warfare for which it requires international alliance which can be sought from nearby countries like Eritrea, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Qatar for training and equipping the country’s security forces.

An intriguing question is: Will Somalia see the return of UN peacekeeping forces in order to quell the chaos and lawlessness? This refreshes the memory of the 1993 peacekeeping mission when the bodies of the US soldiers were stripped naked and dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. What is expected of a peacekeeping mission is that the Al-Shabab will simply scatter and resurface once the peacekeepers run out of funds and leave forcing the region to become even more chaotic and dangerous.

This week Somalia’s 19th Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke resigned as the government’s failure to put an end to Islamist insurgency and the death of thousands of civilians continues. The outside world has for too long seen Somalia as a threat to its own security as a major exporter of terror. The piracy issue appears to have a silver lining as it may lead to a greater, and more serious engagement of the world with Somalia’s political and developmental problems, perhaps encouraging involvement in ending its chronic instability.

Samana Ali

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Somalia Youth Voice

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Cricket Scandal

The cricket stars, Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir have been accused of match and spot fixing, causing much distress to the people of Pakistan, and to all cricket lovers worldwide. This accusation has done more than shatter people’s hopes; it has made them lose interest in cricket. I feel that for a team that was working towards its peak, it has completely demoralised those few cricketers who actually wanted to continue with a fair approach to the game.

In my opinion strict action should be taken against the guilty players including the mastermind behind the fixing- Mazhar Majeed. A sting operation was carried out by the a newspaper News of The World in the UK which quoted him as saying,

“This is exactly what’s going to happen, you’re going to see these three things happen. I’m telling you, if you play this right you’re going to make a lot of money, believe me!”

Now this being quoted in a tabloid newspaper does kindle some hatred and anger to say the least. Is this country not suffering enough? Has it not been through trauma after trauma (i.e. a plane crash, devastating flooding, rioting, use of performance enhancing drugs and most of all terrorism) that it is now being stabbed by delinquents in the want for money?

Apart from the disgrace and shame that was thrust upon the country, it also presents a very damning image of Pakistani morals. They were ambassadors of Pakistan, they were supposed to possess the qualities of dignity, prestige and honesty— but they quite venally accepted illegal sums of money and had to be release was based on regonisance. I’ve come across people saying that Mohammad Amir is a juvenile and could be easily manipulated. Now this and other explanations are just excuses and it shocks me to the core, that even after such substantial evidence (i.e. tape recordings, bespoken witnesses, videos, undercover footage as part of the sting operations) has been given, some are still finding loopholes and are quite oblivious of the consequences. This is not being the first time that such allegations have been put forward. In fact in 1994 allegations were put forward against some other cricketers that eventually led to a conviction in 1999 by Justice Mohammad Qayyum after a detailed investigation. The cricket captain at the time, Salim Malik, and fast bowler Ata-ur-Rehman were banned for life along with penalties imposed on Pakistan’s star cricketers, Waseem Akram, Saeed Anwar, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Waqar Younus, Mushtaq Ahmed and Saqlain Mushtaq. Although, severe action was taken Pakistan has still not been able to rid itself of this menace. India, our neighboring country, with their at that time cricket captain, Mohammad Azharuddin and players Ajay Jadeja, Sharma and Nayan Mongia all received life bans for similar offences. Also, South African captain at that time, Hansie Cronje, was also convicted and placed under a life ban. Taking into account these examples where prompt and effective action was taken  resulting in no further convictions since, Pakistan continues dealing with incessant charges for other illicit activities such as altering the shape of the ball, the use of drugs for a better performance etc as our efforts are incomplete and ineffective.

There is a litany of scandals in Pakistan that the world media has fed on,  and now it is  time when prompt and decisive action must take place and Pakistan’s name should be cleared and put back in its place of dignity, where it rightly belongs!

Shanzeh Javed Agrawala                   X-K

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Pakistan and Conspiracy Theories

By M. S. Najam FY-W

We, as a nation, are obsessed with conspiracy theories. It’s become our national pastime. It’s fashionable to attribute everything from the floods to the cricket scandal to a global conspiracy against Pakistan.

It’s suprising to see the number of ‘educated’ individuals of the bourgeois who think that the world as we know it is run by a group of Zionist Jews who sit in a secret room deep in the Pentagon and conspire against Pakistan. There, this cabal wearing black robes and holding bloody daggers thinks of ways to undermine our nation. They used HAARP to cause the floods. And Photoshop to incriminate our cricketers. And don’t forget how the lasers they had hidden in the Margalla hills shot down the Air Blue jet.

9/11 must have been a conspiracy  and the suicide attacks that bleed Pakistan continously could never have been done by the Taliban. It must be a Zionist-Hindu-American-Blackwater-Xe conspiracy. Haven’t you heard that the bombers were actually Sikh RAW agents in disguise? It’s all India’s doing. They are the ones causing agitation in Balochistan. They are the ones who fight us with ‘water terrosism’, whatever that is. Pakistan is under developed because of the Illuminati and Freemasons. Not because of years of military dictatorship that left only one viable instituition in the country: the army.

Democracy is an evil, ‘Western’, ‘forgein’ concept. And how can it work in a country where the ‘masses’ are illiterate? And since politics is dirty and democracy clearly isn’t for us, let’s have ‘enlightened despotism’. We are an idiotic nation that needs a dashing ruler on horseback (and in his khaki uniform). Oh and give him a big stick to keep us in line.

This is the kind of garbage that is floated about in our drawing rooms and by our civil society.

But why are we so vulnerable to these ‘theories’? Conspiracy theories offer an easy way out. They seem to reduce the complex, chaotic social earthquakes of our world  into a managable, nay, fantastic framework that is as spectacular as it is sinister.

These theories speak of a deep insecurity. They speak of a deep-seated desire to know that social ripples are not random but are systematic, thought-out, long-term strategies by a cabal of men. Psychologists attribute this belief to a need by some to know that man isn’t adrift but part of a scheme. This belief further implies that the evil group can be defeated (or joined).

Conspiracy theories are an easy way out. Unfortunately, we are at a stage where there are no shortcuts, no ‘quick-fixes’. Instead of looking outward, it’s time for us to look in and see what we have become. It’s easy to place the blame on outside forces and that is exactly what we are guilty of doing.

Enough of this nonsense! Enough of this intolerance! Enough of this myopia! Instead of sipping coffee and bemoaning the state of the our ‘becharay’ proletariat, Pakistan’s ‘educated’ class would do well to get up and help Pakistan achieve it’s rightful place among the civilised nations of the world.

This requires constructive critisism, not blatant pessimism. It requires us to use our common sense. It requires tolerance of those who are different in religion, ethnicity and political ideology. It requires us to actually listen to the other person’s point of view before agreeing or disagreeing. How someone who does not know and practice this can claim to be ‘educated’ is beyond me. But Pakistan is full to the seams with such educated illiterates.

Although it’s now clichéd, Kennedy was right on the mark when he said that ‘ask not what your country can do for you, ask what YOU can do for your country’.

Pakistan Zindabad!

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Crisis in Darfur

Imagine a dry, parched land, filled with three different communities of farmers and a nomadic Arab population, all trying to eke out a living. Then imagine rebel militia attacking government targets, in a bid to attract attention and manifest the resentment felt by many at the perceived neglect of the central government. After over 4 years of fighting, clashes and uncertainty at every turn, more than 2 million civilians have become refugees, hundreds of thousands of fearful Darfuris (200,000 being the most widely accepted estimate) have been killed and attacks are renewed everyday. Welcome to the western Sudanese region of Darfur, a much harped-about but little known-about region playing host to some of the worst war crimes and human rights atrocities ever witnessed. (While the US and some activist groups claim that there is an ongoing genocide, the UN has denied this.)

From time immemorial, seasonal fluctuations in water and grazing land had led to conflict over natural resources in Darfur. This time, however, the crisis has escalated to a point where several million people, across borders, across ethnicities, tied together by nothing but their combined innocence, are at risk.

There are two main rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (Jem), although both groups have split, some along ethnic lines. These groups accuse the government of favouring Arabs over black Africans, and oppressing the later. The government denies this charge, as well as the accusation that it is supporting the Janjaweed militant group, who are accused of trying to ‘cleanse’ the region of blacks.

Meanwhile, while well-read individuals argue over how to label and group these different players, refugees tell tales of Janjaweed men riding into villages after government air raids, killing the men, raping the women and taking all that they can find. Multitudes of women have reported being abducted and kept as sex slaves for week by the Janjaweed groups.

The 7000-strong African Union observer mission is hard pressed to protect civilians in the region, facing armed opposition of bureaucratic restrictions at every turn. While the United Nations Security Council has approved a 26,000 strong peacekeeping force for the area, it has been refused entry by the Sudanese government. The government also opposes the UN’s attempt to try up to 50 key suspects at the International Criminal Court, promising to try members of security forces thought to have committed abuses, but this is seen as a panicked attempt to maintain its own authority. This is, after all, the same government that has promised to disarm the militant Janjaweed group, which still patrols the limits of refugee camps, attacking starving refugees who stray too far in search of food and water. At the end of the day, however, as many point out, what good are peacekeepers when there is no peace to keep?

Up to 200,000 refugees are camped along the border with Chad – close to escape, but still, inevitably, vulnerable. With diplomatic tussles putting their status at risk, they may seek shelter in Chad’s eastern areas, which have a similar make-up to Darfur. Following a 2006 deal with a major militant leader, it was hoped that the situation would improve, but it simply worsened. There has been a dramatic increase in violence and displacement since the deal was signed. While aid agencies are doing their best to help resolve the situation, they too are at great risk.

Today, the conflict between the government and the Janjaweed against armed opposition groups is not the only source of insecurity in Darfur. After more than four years of conflict, armed men on all sides are benefiting from the total collapse of law and order to loot the livestock of vulnerable people, hijack humanitarian vehicles and relief supplies, impose war “taxes” and extort “protection” money. The emergence of a strong war economy also threatens to perpetuate the conflict. Camps for the displaced have become so crowded and volatile, with so many uncontrolled small arms in circulation, that they present a danger even for those who are attempting to provide humanitarian services. In some camps, government police and AU forces are no longer allowed entry and there is no institution entrusted with guaranteeing security and administering justice. And so, even ‘refuges’ are no longer safe. It seems that security is an almost impossible fantasy, looking at the current situation – all that can be hoped for is, not surprisingly, a deal. Yet until wheeler-dealers resolve their arguments, whether or not there is a clean winner or loser, it is the common people who bleed, who suffer, who really lose.

By: Akbar S Ahmed

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The War on Terror – And Us

The Effect of the War on Terror on the Average Grammarian

When the World Trade Center collapsed on that fateful day that was September 11, I was in seventh grade. It was evening and I was watching an episode of Friends – coincidentally situated in New York City – when my screen flickered to an image of two buildings imploding into flames and dust and an ‘America Under Attack!’ caption blinking furiously underneath. This was clearly no comedy.
Going to school the next day was a feat. Everyone was talking about it. Students, teachers, canteen-wallas. All I remember was a general and unmistakable feeling of excitement. We knew what had happened was big – tremendous even. But few of us knew what it meant. And perhaps none knew what would happen next.
As Grammarians, we didn’t realize the implications of 9/11 for us when it just happened. We did a good job of distracting ourselves, first with the ‘What were you doing when the towers collapsed?’ and then the ‘Would you turn in Osama if he was hiding in your garage?’ epidemic. And then we distracted ourselves with the politics. We debated about the impact this would have on America’s foreign policy and budget. It all helped us get our minds off what it meant for our future. And perhaps that was good. Because that’s where it would hurt the most.
In the year 2000, 34 Grammarians got accepted into the top 10 US Colleges. In 2002 – one year after the September 11th attacks – that number was slashed by less than half and 14 students were admitted into the same top colleges. Ironically, even though we are moving further away from 9/11 – it is 2008 now – the numbers remain stuck where they are. Since 2001, a growing number of students have opted for UK colleges over American ones. Even those who are offered positions in US colleges may not eventually make it. Student visas are much harder to come by today. The War on Terror has broken homes; destroyed families. But it has also broken the dreams of many hopefuls; shattered the hope of getting into that college that many of us have worked tirelessly all our lives for.
It is not only college hopefuls who have been victimized by the War on Terror. Indeed, those already in college were dealt greater blows. Immediately after the attacks, one old Grammarian was asked to step off an American plane as it was ready for take-off on the requests of suspicious on-board passengers. Another Grammarian in college was approached by an American and asked, ‘Why do you hate us? What have we ever done to you?’ A third Grammarian, let us call him Ahmed, was taking a train from Canada to America. An official came by to check everyone’s passports and when he saw Ahmed’s green passport, he told him to stand at the back of the train so he could keep an eye on him. Tragically, it is not only us Grammarians but Muslims from every country around the world who have been victims of this discrimination.
We’re too enmeshed in school life and tests to really think about the war on terror’s affect on us. But the debris and shards left by that explosion are with us all. It has made us, as Grammarians re-examine and question our religion. It has created uncertainties. And it has given bloom to anti-West feelings where there were none.
The short drive to school is no longer safe. Suicide bombings occur by the day and protests rage on steps away from our campus. The War on Terror is now a natural, routinely part of our lives. Whether this War will ever end, is anyone’s guess. Until then, and for now, the War on Terrorism continues to terrorize all of us.

By: Minal Khan

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Kenya in crisis

Kenya used to be considered one of the most stable nations in Africa. But come December, 2007, that reputation was shattered, and it won a new one – the most violent democracy in the world. Following massive controversy and rigging allegations, which were confirmed by foreign observers, violence broke out on a colossal scale across the once-peaceful nation. The government, and President Mwai Kubeki, were condemned for rigging the polls, and the opposition, led by Raila Odinga and his Orange Democratic Movement gave vent to its rage by instigating the public and in the days that followed, over 900 people lost their lives.

Up to 600,000 people have been displaced following the chaos. The largest single loss of life was when a church providing shelter from the violence to 200 people was set alight by rioters, burning 35 people to death. The people who were sheltering were members of President Kibaki’s tribe, the Kikuyu, against whom the ODM have been accused of facilitating violence. Age-old tribal rifts have been torn open again by the polls, and in areas like the Rift Valley, where different tribes used to live together harmoniously, rape, kidnappings and, quite simply, racial violence and hatred have one again come to the fore. Yet it is Kenya’s poor who are pitted against each other, those who live without running water, and with infant mortality rates up to 7 times the national average. Those who have least are those who are losing the most. Another important issue has also sprung up; namely, the results of the massive fear and hectic violence nation-wide on the country’s numerous AIDs patients. Out of 600,000 people who have been displaced in Kenya’s post-election violence, at least 15,000 are HIV-positive.

Health officials are still trying to assess the impact six weeks of violence has had on the country’s battle with AIDs.

Just how big a setback this has been may only emerge once a durable peace deal is in place – for some AIDs patients that might simply be too late.

The economy has been hard-hit as well, as Kenya’s main industry, tourism, went down the drain, following foreign fears and international media coverage of the hectic state of the country. Tourism was on the crest of a wave. It was the country’s top foreign revenue earner and brought in about $1bn last year. And yet over the last month, over 20,000 people working in tourism have lost their jobs. The other big industry was also linked to tourism – horticulture, a thriving sector, with 65% of Kenya’s vegetables and flowers making their way to Europe. A recent meeting of 300 heads of Kenyan industry drew up a report estimating the damage to the economy. They suggested that the chaos of the past few weeks would cost $3.6bn by the end of the year, and as many as half a million people could lose their jobs. It is not a pretty picture, and such estimates simply strengthen the fears that the effects of this crisis will be felt for a long, long time, across many different strata.

There is a valuable example here for us in this country, a vision of what can happen when elections are controversial, rigged or simply not a capable of truly transmitting the views of the people. It is a blessing for Pakistan that we had such a peaceful election, widely hailed as relatively fair, with results accepted on all sides. Yet there is a warning in the Kenya example for politicians too – rousing the rabble may be effective as a show of strength, but it can quickly, and heartrendingly, spiral out of control. The politics of moderation are what is needed, the world over, without manipulation or instigation, but with just one all-important element: human participation, and the transmission of the people’s voices.

By: Akbar S Ahmed

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