The World Today for March 29, 2016

March 29, 2016


Pakistan: Selective Targets

When did it so specifically become a war on children?

Two decades ago, Pakistanis didn't travel on modern highways. Few had telephones or clean drinking water, and many, many children didn't go to school.

Flash forward to the present and the country has transformed into one whose development Afghans say they envy. Cell phones and computers are ubiquitous, education rates — especially for girls — have risen significantly, and recently, the legislature passed a bill making violence against women a crime.

Yes, poverty lingers, especially in the countryside. Honor killings are too frequent and the young still lack opportunities. But Pakistan's most stubborn scourge is the militancy that continues to flourish, and worse, target Pakistan's young.

On Sunday, militants killed more than 70 in a park on the Easter holiday. A Taliban offshoot, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, affiliated with Islamic State, claimed responsibility. The group said it was targeting Christians. But actually, it was taking aim at children because guess what, that's who hangs out at parks.

It's children like Waqar, 16, who just wanted to show off his new clothes to his buddies. Or Arun, 13, who wanted to play. Or Sunil, 11, who convinced his family into going to the park.

Unfortunately, it's only the latest outrage against children in Pakistan: Most remember girl's education advocate Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head on a school bus in 2012 in Swat Valley. Two years later, militants attacked a school in Peshawar killing more than 130 students. They hunted children down in hallways and classrooms.

Firing at children specifically isn't limited to Pakistan, though. The Taliban in Afghanistan regularly targets schools teaching girls — a no-no in their bylaws — after being pushed out of power in Kabul by the US-led coalition in 2001. Even today, there are secret schools in provinces such as Wardek where the Taliban hold sway that take forced 'holidays' when the group's leaders come to town from their base in Pakistan.

In Nigeria, Boko Haram targets both boys and girls at school, and has kidnapped and killed hundreds in the past six years of their existence: Their name is commonly translated as “Western education is a sin.”

But Afghanistan and Nigeria lag in development benchmarks behind Pakistan, and that makes it more difficult to fight terror. The Pakistani government has said since the 2014 attack that it would get serious about cracking down on militants.

So what's the problem?

Maybe it's this: “Pakistan has not…cracked down on all terrorist groups,” said Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States. “Its policy of selective crackdown — tolerating some and even supporting other terrorist groups — is only making things difficult. In Lahore, the terrorists made it clear that they won't give up. Now it is up to the government to fight them effectively.”

If they don't, more children — playing or studying — will die.


EgyptAir Hijacking: Out of Love?

A hijacker who commandeered an Egypt Air plane and forced it to land in Cyprus did it for the mother of his four children, a Cypriot woman, said Cyprus president, Nikos Anastasiades: “It was all done for a woman.”

He is being identified as a 27-year-old Egyptian man once married to the Cypriot woman, local Cypriot media said. This has not been confirmed yet by officials. 

The plane took off from Cairo Tuesday morning for Alexandria before it was forced to land at Larnaca airport – as the hijacker who threatened to detonate a bomb demanded. Still, most of the passengers on board were released Tuesday unharmed, officials said. Four people and the crew are still captive and the hijacker is demanding a four-page letter be given to his ex-wife.

Cypriot media reported that the hijacker wanted political asylum.

The incident offered a light counterpoint to the recent bombings around the world and Twitter was alive with jeers and jokes against the professor.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian foreign ministry was not amused and tweeted: “He's not a terrorist, he's an idiot.”

Cuba: Holding a Grudge

Relations between the U.S. and Cuba may be thawing but one hardliner never lets go of a grudge.

Former dictator Fidel Castro dashed off a pointed letter to “Brother Obama” Monday letting him know that Cuba doesn't need anything from “the empire.”

During President Obama’s visit earlier this month — the first by an American leader in almost 90 years — the president said that the two countries should “leave the past behind.” The former strongman scoffed at the idea.

Instead, in the letter printed in state newspaper, Granma, he brought up the botched Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 and the decades-long economic embargo against the Caribbean country.

Trying to make nice, the US State Department recently announced a $753,989 internship fund for young Cuban leaders.

After the visit, some Cubans expressed skepticism over America's new stance toward their country but most welcomed the improved relations, hoping the new relationship will usher in change at home.

Iran: Pushing For Yes

Some regimes just can’t take no for an answer.

Iran vowed to press on in its pursuit of a strategic ballistic missile program despite a US blacklist of companies helping to develop the arsenal: The US Treasury Department banned 11 companies in January for their involvement in the program and two more last week.

Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the head of the army’s aerospace development program, told Iranian media, “Even if they build a wall around Iran, our missile program will not stop. They are trying to frighten our officials with sanctions and (threats of) invasion.”

President Hassan Rouhani piped in, according to Reuters, “We should remain vigilant so that Iran's enemies do not find any excuse to take advantage of the situation.”

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps test fired ballistic missiles from its current stock this month, which some believe violates the United Nations agreement with the country that led to the easing of an embargo.


The Arctic's Picky Birds

The brown skua, an Antarctic seabird, can distinguish one human from another humans — and sometimes they don't like what they see.

Scientists from the Korean Polar Research Institute found that the birds show an unusually high cognitive ability that allows them to distinguish between researchers – and choose the ones they like.

The revelation came after some researchers getting too close to their nests were attacked – but only specific ones. And when these researchers returned – in different clothes, the protective birds would still attack.

Scientists believe it is not smell but visual cognitive ability that allows these birds to recognize individuals. They also think the birds are either unusually smart or have learned through past experience that nosey researchers are just up to no good.


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— Compiled and written by Jabeen Bhatti

Tue, 03/29/2016 – 05:45

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