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A Chip off the Old Block

Understanding Indo-Pak politics is a matter that does not and cannot sink into a common man’s head. Entwine the irrationality of the Mad Hatter with a dash of the absolute stupidity of tweedle dee and tweedle dum, pour your torrid mixture into a smoldering vat of boiled frog’s liver and then too, will you not arrive at a plausible equivalent. They are beyond human understanding. They run in concentric circles, moving on and on and on – reaching no conclusion.
In the summer, I was stationed in India’s busiest city, the hub of all activity, Mumbai. And as usual, as a holder of the Green Passport, I found numerous hindrances popping up in my path – but that’s a different story.
During the course of the three weeks spent here, I found myself, no doubt, overcome by the constant flurry of activity that surrounded me. True, the city never sleeps and the honking of cars and whirring of auto rickshaws is incessant, nerve wracking. However, to an outsider striking a superficial comparison between the two neighbouring countries, apart from differences of religion and language, Pakistanis are simply a chip off the old block.
But this article or blogpost or whatever is not highlighting the importance of ‘cordial relations between India and Pakistan.’ Geo TV and Aman Ki Aasha have already done that.
Rather, this writer wishes to bring to you knowledge, the fact that the socio-economic status of Indians and Pakistanis is more or less the same. And incase you haven’t forgotten already, sixty-three years ago, Pakistan was part of India.
This writer also wishes to inform all bitter, stereotypical Indians that all Pakistanis are neither illiterate nor clones of Ajmal Kasab. Infact, we mourn the events that took place in Mumbai on 26/11. Dozens of people die in Pakistan every month and each day, a portion of our country is shaken by bomb blasts. We know what it’s like to have our sovereignty infringed upon and innocent people – men, women, children – brutally murdered on our soil.
And lastly, this writer wishes to inform all such Pakistanis that India is not ‘bad’ or ‘evil’. Just because they won the World Cup and you didn’t doesn’t mean you should hate them.  By the way, if you really think they’re that horrid, how come Salman Khan’s latest flick is in your DVD player?
No matter what the situation is, hypocrisy is NOT cool K

Beneath the Shadows
We’re tired of watching streams of wailing police vehicles zooming alongside a car belonging to a senator or a member of parliament. We’re tired of witnessing our President ensnare the land around his residence, turning his house into a fortress. We’re tired of strikes and protests and riots, of target killings and showers of bullets. We’re tired of lawlessness which has become the order of the day, of bribery, which has become standard-bearer of our society. We’re tired of witnessing increasing poverty, of lack of water, natural gas, electricity. We’re tired of the indifference and colossal extent of lavishness displayed by the upper crust of our social hierarchy who argue for Human Rights and Education For All only to step inside their mansions at the end of the day where they’ve carelessly employed underage servants living in a tiny shack, snatched away from their parents, existing in dire poverty with no access to education, leading wretched, miserable lives which their flamboyant employees have absolutely no sympathy for.
We’re tired of blatant hypocrisy, of lies, of double-standards, of living in pretense.
And we need change.
It’s about time someone arose from the shadows to guide us towards salvation.
The Times, They Are A-Changin’
Billions of years ago, when the earth was born, when the first golden rays of sunshine shone upon its lush plains, when nature thrived in undisputable harmony, when mere existence was drenched in purity, Gaia – Mother Earth – couldn’t have possibly foreseen the disastrous course of events that were to wear her down, tear her apart, shatter her completely.
We talk about milestones and progress and covering leaps and bounds. We talk about sustainability and diversity and interdependence. Each day, we take new steps; uncover the secrets of life that have been mystifying the inhabitants of earth since the beginning of time. We are living in an age where we have proven that nothing is impossible for the human race.
Speaking of discoveries, let us step back into the weathered and worn pages of history, into the life of a little boy thrown out of school at the tender age of nine for being ‘retarded’. We’re talking about Einstein here, incase you’re feeling lost.
Einstein, with his theory of relativity, Swedish braniacs Marie and Pierre Curie and her discovery of radium and polonium and further developments carried out by Lise Meitner and Neils Bohr, took the world by storm; gave birth to an idea that was to change the face of the earth as we see it today – harnessing nuclear energy – and, in turn, paved away for the deadly nuclear bomb.
We have delved into discoveries, making our lives simpler, easier and more manageable. Progression has caused the human race to accomplish feats that seemed impossible just a few generations ago. Coal, oil and today, nuclear energy poses to take the position of the fuel of the future. Less than five kilograms of Uranium possess the ability to produce energy equivalent to several thousand tones of coal. As we sit in our bedrooms, rattling off facts and figures at the tips of our fingers, we ignore a possibility that may, very soon, turn into reality. Nuclear destruction.
1945. World War Two. Total loss of lives: 50 to 70 million
6th and 9th of August of 1945; two atomic bombs dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Within these few minutes, the lives of hundreds of people plunged into chaos. Utter misery.
The severe effects killed 90,000–166,000 people in Hiroshima and 60,000–80,000 in Nagasaki.
200,000 had died by 1950, due to cancer and other long-term effects.
Indeed, life has become a lot simpler.
On April 26th, 1986  the fourth reactor of a nuclear power plant in Chernobyl, Ukraine, exploded at 1:23 AM local time, resulting in the expulsion of radioactive material and consequently, the evacuation of about 135,000 people. Radioactive particles settled on trees, killing approximately 400 hectares of pine forest.
On the 28th of Match 1979, the US of A experienced its worst nuclear accident – a partial meltdown of the reactor core at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant near Middletown, Pennsylvania. A recent study concluded that the death rates for infants, children and the elderly soared in the two years that followed after this incident, in Dauphin and surrounding counties.
Turning back to Mother Earth here, as she withers with pain, threatens to crack under the pressure and strain inflicted upon her – do we stop to think? Do we bother disengaging ourselves from our entirely self-absorbed, self-centered lifestyles to pause, stop and think? Think about the colossal consequences of our seemingly harmless actions. And most importantly, do we realize where we’re headed?
By Zuha Siddiqui

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What will happen to Libya?

It has been 8 arduous months since the revolutionary uprising by the anti –government rebels against Col. Muammar -el Qaddafi and while he has been deposed two months ago, Libya is still walking a tight rope as support for the ousted dictator still exists and poses a threat to the Transitional National Council which has taken temporary control of the Libyan government. After a month of much needed peace in the volatile country, fighting broke out on Friday between the rebel fighters and armed men which raised cries of support for Col. Muammar –el Qaddafi. Though there were no reports of casualties, this incident will no doubt be a worrying sign for the provisional government and draw more focus to the last of Qaddafi’s strongholds in Libya – The coastal city of Surt and the desert enclave of Bani Walid. The hundred’s of fighters that occupy this area are a “resilient and fierce” threat as said by The commander of NATO’s air campaign, Lt. Gen. Ralph J. Jodice II.
Though it is difficult to predict how well the eventual interim government of Libya will handle the running of the country, a lot of concerns are being voiced about the Islamist nature of the current leadership and how it will play out in the eventual handling of the country. The most influential politician in the country is arguably Ali Sallabi and though he has no official title he is revered by the masses as an Islamic scholar and populist orator.
The most powerful military leader is Abdel Hakim Belhaj, an ex-leader of a group believed to have close ties with Al Qaeda.
However the people of Libya are not worried and have reinforced their support for a democratic system which they believe the interim government will adapt to the best of its abilities. Therefore, it is not surprising that an anti-Islamist, anti-Sallabi rally in Martyrs’ Square on drew only a few dozen demonstrators. Jeffrey D. Feltman, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs also believes that the government will adopt a moderate path in the future. “Based on our discussions with Libyans so far,” he said, “we aren’t concerned that one group is going to be able to dominate the aftermath of what has been a shared struggle by the Libyan people.”
Presently though, Libya is still covered by a shroud of uncertainty but the future does seem bright politically for the country that’s been marred by killings and bloodshed since the turn of the year.

Muhammad Ahmad Altaf

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World Affairs Society Art Competition 2011

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Winner: Mazia Syed FY-W

Runner-up: Shanze Farooq SY-M

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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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Recession – Going Deeper

Nowadays, the words “downturn”, and “crisis” are synonymous with the world economy. People have become immune to hearing about the declining financial system. Every other news channel, firm, and person is talking about the credit crunch and affiliated problems such as the slashing of numerous jobs, shrinking in total output etc. But how much does the average person know about the problem- apart from the superficial association of it with the words ‘downturn’ and ‘crisis’. The term recession is defined as the decline of economic activity which is evident in real economic growth, employment levels, and industrial production. It is important to note that the general decline was not due to a widespread flaw in the economy, rather it stemmed from a few root causes namely, the US housing market and the subprime mortgage crisis [which was caused by financial instruments i.e. mortgage backed securities (MBS) and collaterized debt obligations (CDO) .]

A Mortgage Backed Security is a bond that is backed by a pool of mortgages that are being paid by homeowners across the United States. These are bought by the investors from the lenders who see it as a insured alternative. The lenders basically sell the loan off to the investors who pay them right them in exchange for the bond. When an investor buys a bond, they are essentially buying the cash flow from different homeowners as they make their monthly mortgage payments. If a homeowner defaults on their mortgage or misses a payment, the MBS holder suffers. A CDO is a way that some investors, such as banks tried to evade the risk of buying these mortgage backed securities. Think of this as a MBS on steroids; instead of one investor owning the cash flow of a mortgage – multiple investors could own it. The investors tried to take out insurance that the mortgage-backed security wouldn’t default, with the CDO paying off if the MBS didn’t. The investment banks bought CDOs from the insurance brokers, such as AIG, who saw the investments as fairly risk-free because as long as the housing market kept going up, any borrower who defaulted on their loan could simply give the home back to the mortgage holder, who would re-sell it, getting at least the money owed for it, if not more. Thus the credit received by the MBS holders would be maintained or increased, depending on the mortgage payments.

The meltdown began because the original lenders were selling mortgages to large investment banks and so did not particularly care how credit-worthy the people taking the loans out were. They started offering these mortgages to less credit-worthy borrowers, otherwise known as sub-prime borrowers. (Government policies such as low interest rates also encouraged higher risk lending practices several years prior to the crisis.)

Subprime lending is a term that involves financial institutions lending to borrowers who are less likely to pay the money back, such as those with a recorded bankruptcy, high debt-to-income ratio, lack of income documentation or limited debt experience. An increase in loan incentives such as easy initial terms and a long-term trend of rising housing prices had encouraged borrowers to assume difficult mortgages in the belief they would be able to quickly refinance at more favorable terms. The subprime mortgage crisis was triggered by a dramatic rise in mortgage delinquencies (inability to pay debt) and foreclosures in the United States. A foreclosure is a legal proceeding in which a lender obtains a court ordered termination of a borrower’s equitable right of redemption. Before receiving the mortgage loan the borrower must pledge an asset such as his house to the lender to secure the loan. If the borrower defaults (becomes delinquent or does not pay on time), the lender can try to repossess the asset but courts grant the borrower the right of redemption if he repays the debt within an allotted period of time. However due to uncertainty of repayment, the lender seeks to foreclose the right of redemption (in other words seize the property and sell it). Now this doesn’t seem that bad for the lender as he is still able to sell the property and make a profit.

The credit crisis arose when US house prices started to fall after the bursting of the housing bubble in 2006-07. Thus many homeowners (subprime borrowers) who defaulted were in a position of negative equity- a mortgage debt higher than the value of their property. Since the repossessed houses were sold for less than the debt owned on them, lenders had to call in banks such as AIG as reinsurers to cover their losses which were too great even for these major banks leading to a significant tightening of credit around the world. This has had a profound impact on MBS and CDO investors who also saw their credit decline as sub prime mortgage payments declined. A major consequence of all this is a close integration of the US housing markets with the global financial markets which stimulated a worldwide recession.

The causes of this recession can thus be summed up as factors stemming from both the credit and housing market. The fall in housing prices, inability of homeowners to make their mortgage payments and monetary policy (increased interest rates) all contributed to different degrees to the current credit crunch which initiated a domino effect- People cut their expenditure hence businesses produced less due to fall in demand. To keep costs minimum and maintain profit as revenue fell, they also started laying off workers (wage bills went down). The unemployment levels drastically rose which caused people to spend even less and thus began a global chain of economic uncertainty and ‘downturn’.

Asad Akhter

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