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Home »Current Affairs» International Current Affairs of January 2010

International Current Affairs of January 2010


Commonwealth Speakers’ Conference, 20th

The 20th Commonwealth Speakers’ Conference was held in New Delhi from January 5, 2010. It was inaugurated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Describing the growth of regional parties as a challenge for governance and conduct of parliamentary democracy, Mr Manmohan Singh said: “Though the aspirations of smaller parties may often be anchored in narrow considerations, they carry great weight for their constituents. In the end, democracy must respond to everyday concerns of the common man and Parliament should be the forum to address such concerns.” The remark was in obvious reference to the growing influence of sub-regional parties in coalition politics and Parliament.

Presiding officers from 42 Commonwealth nations were present (some in traditional Speaker robes). The Conference discussed, among other things, the Speaker’s role as a mediator and administrator of Parliament and use of technology in disseminating information on Parliamentary proceedings.

The forum also saw India voicing the aspirations of developing nations on climate change.

London Declaration

A one-day international conference on Afghanistan was held on January 27, 2010 in London. Seventy Foreign Ministers and officials of international organisations attended the convention at the 185-year-old Lancaster House.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, hosting the conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, announced in his opening address the establishment of a $500 million 'trust fund' to buy "peace and integration" with warriors who are engaged in violence for economic rather than ideological reasons. A whopping $140 million has been pledged already for 2010.

During his pre-conference discussion with the British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, External Affairs Minister of India, S.M. Krishna, specifically said, “there should be no distinction between a good Taliban and a bad Taliban.” But this clearly fell on deaf ears. The participants rejected India's argument that there were no degrees of Talibanism.

It was also unclear whether remnants of Afghanistan's Northern Alliance, once cultivated by India, would be accommodated in any way. There was also no reference to the erstwhile Foreign Minister, Abdullah Abdullah, who put up a spirited fight in the first round of the recent controversial Presidential election and exposed fraud before withdrawing from the contest.

Pakistan supports a differentiation between Taliban segments, including being generally soft towards the Afghan Taliban, which was sponsored by the Pakistani Army's Inter-Services Intelligence.

As a goodwill gesture, the conference was preceded by a lifting of United Nations sanctions on five leaders of the obscurantist Taliban regime, which was ousted by armed forces led by the United States after the 9/11 attack on New York by the Afghanistan-based Al Qaida. Among the beneficiaries is a former foreign minister Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil.

In keeping with United States President Barack Obama's plan to start withdrawing American troops in a little over 18 months, Brown also declared that to fill the breach the strength of the Afghan army would be increased to 134,000 by October 2010 and to 171,600 by October 2011. Corresponding enlargements would also occur in respect of the Afghan police. The template for Afghanistan is similar to the one utilised in Iraq.

The Taliban central leadership rejected the London declaration on Afghanistan while several top Pakistani leaders said they support dialogue with the Taliban to end the conflict.

The statement by the Leadership Council of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan issued in Pashto said: “The US and its allies should have freed all prisoners from jails in Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere, removed the names of all Taliban members from the UN ‘blacklist’ and refrained from sending more troops if they really meant to take the proper steps for ending the Afghan conflict.”

The statement argued that the ‘Mujahideen’ were not fighting for money or to grab power. Describing as baseless that most Taliban fighters were not ideologically committed, it claimed that nobody compelled the ‘Mujahideen’ to take up arms and fight the invaders.

Accusing President Obama and Prime Minister Brown of trying to deceive their people by organising conferences on Afghanistan like the one in London to win public support for a failed war, the statement reminded that such conferences did not work in the past and would not succeed this time as well.
Arguing that the only solution of the conflict was the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan, the Taliban statement also tried to reassure the West and rest of the world about their future plans in case they returned to power.

Rajapaksa re-elected President

On January 27, 2010, Mahinda Rajapska emerged victorious in the bitterly-fought first post-LTTE era Presidential elections. He won fighting against former army chief Sarath Fonseka, securing nearly 60 per cent of the total votes polled.

On 59-year-old Fonseka's charges of poll rigging, the sources said it was "absolutely untrue" and pointed out that even former Prime Minister and opposition UNP chief Ranil Wicremasinghe had given a clean chit on the issue.

Biodiversity protocol divides rich and developing world

An international protocol on biodiversity has become the new bone of contention between the developed and developing countries. The rich countries are opposing an international legal framework for use of biological resources.

The agreement will deal with the issue of bio-piracy, which is a cause of concern for countries like India. Negotiations are on to finalize the protocol that is expected to be adopted at Nagoya, Japan, in October 2010.

India and other developing countries are pushing for a protocol on access and benefit sharing (ABS). Bio-piracy is an important issue for India, which is keen on the adoption of the Nagoya Protocol.

The Convention on Biological Diversity, adopted at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, is the first comprehensive global agreement addressing all aspects of biodiversity. The convention reaffirms sovereign rights of nations over their biological resources. It has three main goals — the conservation of biological diversity, sustainable use of its components and fair and equitable sharing of the benefits from the use of genetic resources.

While an international legal framework appears to be a distant possibility, India has been taking steps at the national and bilateral level to protect its biodiversity. Besides the Biological Diversity Act, 2002, and the national Biodiversity Authority, India has also put in place a traditional knowledge database — the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL). Managed by the CSIR, TKDL is a computerised database of documented information available in Indian texts, relating to Indian systems of medicine. Over 10 years, more than 2 lakh formulations of Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani and Yoga have been documented under the TKDL.

Natural disasters not linked to global warming

The United Nations climate science panel, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), faces a new controversy for wrongly linking global warming to a rise in natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods. It based the claims on an unpublished report that had not been subjected to routine scientific scrutiny and ignored warnings from scientific advisers. The report's author later withdrew the claim because the evidence was too weak.

The link was central to demands at Copenhagen climate summit by African nations for compensation of $100 billion from the rich nations blamed for creating the most emissions. According to The Sunday Times the IPCC knew in 2008 that the link could not be proved but did not alert world leaders.

The latest criticism came less than a week after IPCC was forced to retract claims that the Himalayan glaciers would be largely melted by 2035. It turned out the claim had been lifted from a news report published in 1999 by New Scientist magazine.

Two scientific reviewers who checked drafts of the IPCC report urged greater caution in proposing a link between climate change and disaster impacts, but were ignored.

The paper at the centre of the latest questions was written in 2006 by Robert Muir-Wood, head of research at Risk Management Solutions, a London consultancy, who became a contributing author on the IPCC report on climate change impacts. In the research, Muir-Wood looked at a wide range of hazards, including tropical cyclones, floods and hurricanes. He found from 1950 to 2005 there was no increase in the impact of disasters once growth was accounted for. For 1970 to 2005 he found a 2% annual increase that "corresponded with a period of rising global temperatures," but said almost all of it was due to strong hurricane seasons in 2004 and 2005. Despite such caveats, the IPCC report used the study in its section on disasters and hazards, but cited only the 1970-2005 results.

Google, China face-off over Internet

On January 13, 2010, Google threatened to shut down its operations in China after uncovering “highly sophisticated” hacking attempts into e-mail accounts of Chinese human rights activists.

“These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered, combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web, have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China,” David Drummond, senior V-P of corporate development and chief legal officer, said in a blog post.

“We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all,” he said.

Evidence indicated that the attackers were trying to get access to mail accounts of Chinese human rights activists, according to Drummond. At least 20 other large companies, including finance, Internet, media and technology were similarly attacked, according to Google.

Taliban attack on match in tribal Pakistan

A northwest Pakistani village that tried to resist Taliban infiltration mourned on January 2, 2010 the victims of an apparent revenge suicide bombing that killed 96 residents during a volleyball game. The attack on the outskirts of Lakki Marwat city was one of the deadliest in recent Pakistani history and sent a bloody New Year’s message to Pakistanis who dare take on the armed Islamic extremists.

Lakki Marwat district is near South Waziristan, a tribal region where the army has been battling the Pakistani Taliban since October 2009.

Across Pakistan’s north-west, where the police force is thin, underpaid and under-equipped, various tribes have taken security into their own hands over the past two years by setting up citizen militias to fend off the Taliban. The government has encouraged such “lashkars”, and in some areas they have proven to be a key to reducing militant activity. Still, tribal leaders who face off with the militants do so at high personal risk. Several suicide attacks have targeted meetings of anti-Taliban elders, and militants also often go after individuals. One reason militancy has spread in Pakistan’s semi-autonomous tribal belt is because insurgents have slain dozens of tribal elders and filled a power vacuum.

Af-Pak strategy unveiled

In a candid assessment of the fragile relationship of USA with Pakistan, a US State department policy paper has admitted that there is a degree of mistrust between Washington and Islamabad, but democratic rule in Pakistan has created a window of opportunity. The report makes a point of noting that while the US military presence in the region is not open-ended, its non-military commitment would be a long-term one.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton unveiled the Obama administration's strategy to stabilise Pakistan and Afghanistan, noting that the challenge in both countries is immense.

US officials have expressed concern over Pakistan's selective war on extremists within its borders, noting the Pakistani army's offensive ignores deadly terrorist groups such as the Haqqani network, responsible for attacks against US troops in Afghanistan.

The State department report outlines US objectives in Pakistan and Afghanistan. "While our combat mission in Afghanistan is not open-ended, we will remain politically, diplomatically and economically engaged in Afghanistan and Pakistan for the long-term to protect our enduring interests in the region," it says. On Pakistan, it lays out the intention of USA to lead the international community in helping Pakistan overcome the political, economic and security challenges that threaten its stability, and in turn undermine regional stability. "And we seek to build a long-term partnership with Pakistan based on common interests, including a recognition that we cannot tolerate, a safe haven for terrorists whose location is known and whose intentions are clear," it added.

"Achieving progress will require continued sacrifice not only by our military personnel, but also by more than the 1,500 US government civilians serving in Afghanistan and Pakistan," Clinton said, pointing out that for the first time since this conflict began, the US has a true whole-of-government approach. She said the Obama administration's policy, rather than being an exercise in nation-building, was aimed to achieve realistic progress in critical areas, and that Afghan and Pakistani governments had endorsed this strategy.

Asia free-trade zone

On January 1, 2010, China and 10 South-east Asian nations ushered in the world’s third-largest free-trade area. While many industries are eager for tariffs to fall on things as diverse as textiles, rubber, vegetable oils and steel, a few are nervously waiting to see whether the agreement will mean boom or bust for their businesses.

Trade between China and the 10 countries that make up the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, also known as ASEAN, has soared to $192.5 billion in 2008, from $59.6 billion in 2003. The new free-trade zone, which will remove tariffs on 90% of traded goods, is expected to increase that commerce still more.

The zone ranks behind only the European Economic Area and the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA) in volume. It encompasses 1.9 billion people. The free-trade area is expected to help ASEAN countries increase exports, particularly those with commodities that resource-hungry China desperately wants.

The China-ASEAN free trade area has faced less vocal opposition than the European and North American zones, perhaps because tariffs were already low and because it was unlikely to alter commerce patterns radically. However, some manufacturers in Southeast Asia are concerned that cheap Chinese goods may flood their markets, once import taxes are removed, making it more difficult for them to retain or increase local market shares.

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