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By Tahira Saleem
Tahira is one of AIDemocracy’s 2010-2011 Issue Analysts. Find out more about Tahira below or take a look at the  Student Issue Analysts.

President Obama’s coming into the office was heralded as the wind of change and people pinned their hopes on the new leadership in the White House; their aspirations were fulfilled when he announced a new policy for Iraq and Afghanistan. Ever since his announcement of troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and Operation New Dawn in Iraq, a question has arisen about the future of youth in these two countries.

In the wake of troop withdrawal, the youth have got an enormous opportunity for carving their dream countries. The Iraqi youth, who have been grappling with an authoritarian rule and violence perpetrated by the state, can translate their dreams of liberalism, democracy, and blooming economy by playing a pivotal role in the reconstruction of their country. As Iraqi people are coping with a relentless wave of terrorism and violence, the youth of Iraq must take on the responsibility of their country’s security and safety by joining the national forces, because there can be no reconstruction and rehabilitation of the war-stricken people without peace in Iraq. Moreover, the youth must not join the ranks of extremists who promise to liberate Iraq from occupant forces.

Though Afghanistan has yet to see the troop pullout, but the tide of fundamentalism can be reversed and Afghan history can be re-written only when the Afghan youth realize the gravity of situation. They say “waters of vengeance run deep in Pushtun culture”, but this vengeful policy will push the country deeper into an abyss. In this critical phase, the Afghan youth must lend a helping hand to the International Security Forces for bringing relief to the local population from the obscurantist ideology. Youth in Afghanistan can enjoy an uninterrupted period of peace and tranquility, only when they believe that challenge is an opportunity to make the things better.

Tahira Saleem is a young writer and researcher from Multan, Pakistan. A regular contributor to Pakistan’s leading English daily DAWN, she has a couple of research projects on her credit. She is the only Pakistani whose research paper “Persecuted by Law” by has been selected for the panel presentation in the World Forum 2010.

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About 40 % of the Afghan population are Pashtuns, and there are 4 million Pashtuns living in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is a nation divided, a nation that holds the key to security in the region. Afghan President Hamid Karzai, a Pasthun native, has to some degree neglected the Pasthun population the past 9 years, and while keeping up a tight relationship with India, Pakistan is stirring up the Pashtuns in order to undermine the Afghan government.

The relationship amongst the Pashtun people is one of the reasons why the U.S. objective of a secure and stable Afghanistan has failed so far. Pashtunwali, the Pashtun social code, was one of the reasons the Pashtun population of Baluchistan, FATA and the North West Frontier Province in Pakistan gave shelters to the Taliban and al-Qaeda warriors, and thereby letting them regroup and conduct operations, rest and recreate, and train from inside their bases within Pakistan. This creates a situation that makes it difficult for the U.S. and NATO to achieve their goals in Afghanistan, as most of the main insurgent groups have their bases in Pakistan. The provinces of Helmand, Kandahar and Kunar are the most violent regions in Afghanistan, and the insurgents in these provinces conduct their operations from Pakistan (e.g. the Quetta Shura and the Haqqani network)

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As the international community views all Israel settlements as illegal, Israelis moved in to 4 new villages only hours after the 10 month building moratorium was over. The political goal of the settlers is to occupy so much land that a shared state between Israel and Palestine will be impossible. What will happen to the peace talks between Israel and Palestine now is uncertain. The Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said this Saturday that Israel now will have to choose between “peace or settlements”. Abbas now is in a tight spot, as he risks losing support with both the Palestinians and members of his own Fatah party if he continues the peace talks even though the Israelis are restarting their settlements processes. At the same time, Fatah has started a reappeasement process with Hamas, and they have appearantly agreed upon the procedures for new elections. As Israel sees Hamas as a terrorist group, and so does the EU and the U.S., it might be difficult for Abbas to have a normalized relationship with Hamas, and still negotiate peace talks with Israel.

Abbas has said that the peace talks will end if Israel restarts the building of the settlements, but the Palestinian president has called a meeting with the Arab League on October 4th to discuss the situation, and review his options. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has said that his intentions for peace are genuine. The big issue still remains that as long as the Israelis are building settlements in the middle of the West Bank, the more unlikely will we see a two-state solution to this conflict. And even if the peace talks will be somewhat successful, the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip will still be in conflict with Israel, as Israel only recognizes Hamas as a terrorist organization.

However, the U.S. pressure to keep the peace talks going might be the extra push to the backs of both the Palestinians and the Israelis (at least to get back on track). The U.S., in the long run, is hoping that the parties will go back to negotiate the Arabian Initiative from 2001/02 that said that if Israel will withdraw from the occupied areas, there will be a total peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had a meeting with the Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem. Syria is essential in this, considering that Israel still occupies the Golan Heights. Even though such an agreement may seem long ahead in the future, it is a beginning.

By Eamon Penland

As a follow-up to my first post, and in a response to a recent AIDemocracy tweet, I decided to address the issue of development with regards to our security.

Just the other night I had a conversation with a friend who tried to argue against our foreign aid budget. He argued that development should neither be an objective of U.S. foreign policy, nor an issue we should be concerned with.

I think the role that the United States plays in the development of other countries is still seen by many in the light of “liberal tree huggers that just want to save the world”. It should be seen in a light of the ultimate form of American protectionism.

We need to realize that terrorism is more than just an ideology. It is an economic system as well. In David Kilcullen’s book, The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One, Kilcullen argues that a majority of terrorists have no interest in what he calls “Takfiri Islam”. This is the radical form of Islam that we associate with terrorism. Takfiri believers infiltrate tribes by marrying into families, thus they are able to conceal themselves amongst the local more moderate believers. These radicals are small in numbers, and they become extremely difficult to pick out of local populations.

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This past month, authorities in Moldova (a former USSR territory) arrested a group of traffickers who were trying to smuggle two kilograms of highly radioactive uranium, specifically uranium 238 for the price of $11 million US dollars. Although this type of uranium is not what would be needed to be used for the production of nuclear weapons (nor is it even enough), it nevertheless could still produce a so-called “dirty bomb,” spreading radiation in concentrations above what is considered safe for humans to be exposed to. You can find out more about this arrest and arrests similar to it here.

From my perspective, these incidents tell me several things. The first is that the ease of access to nuclear material in the territories of the former Soviet Union is a security issue that needs to be addressed immediately. The second is that the black market for these materials is thriving and shows no sign of stopping, which is certainly aided by how freely available the materials are to gain access to. The third is that nuclear terrorism needs to be recognized as the number one national security threat the US and the world faces. The reason being because the people most likely to purchase this smuggled nuclear material are terrorists themselves who seek to use a “dirty” bomb, or worse, a nuclear bomb, against their enemies. The fourth and final observation I gleamed from these various smuggling incidents is the need to expedite the process towards getting to nuclear zero (a world without nuclear weapons).

The elimination of nuclear weapons will undoubtedly require the halting of the production of new nuclear materials and the safe storage and/or reprocessing of old nuclear material, like that stored all over the territories of the former Soviet Union. Taking these steps will dramatically reduce the threat of nuclear terrorism. However, in the current political environment, the successful negotiation of an FMCT (Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty) is still a long way off. However, we do have an immediate step that we can take. We can ratify New START. Ratifying New START will not only reduce the threats posed by nuclear weapons, but it will also be an enormous step in building trust again between the US and Russia, which may go a long way to also helping Russia secure the nuclear materials that smugglers seem to so easily get their hands on. President Obama has already made a commitment to secure all loose nuclear materials across the globe by 2013. An ambitious goal to be sure, and only attainable if a first step is taken to START the process.

We should help in this critical effort, so if you would like to take action on getting New START ratified, follow this link to our action page where you can write and/or call your Senators urging them to ratify New START once they return from Congressional recess in September!

It seems that given all of the fire and brimstone that Republicans love to shout will be raining down upon us for our shameless “tax and spend” policies of recent years, you would think that they themselves, to remain consistent with their statements, would be hawks when it comes to federal spending. And indeed they are, when it comes to spending on providing adequate health care of America’s citizens and various other social welfare services. However, there seems to be a rather large exception for when it comes to military spending, particularly when it comes to nuclear weapons, and especially when the spending can directly affect how much money comes into a particular state.

Take Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) as an example, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is tasked with the responsibility of voting the New START out of committee so it can be put to a vote before the full Senate for its ratification. Recently, he has stated that he feels the federal funds for the upkeep of the nuclear weapons complex, of which the Obama administration has already allocated $80 billion for (which is already an unprecedented increase), is somehow $10 billion short of what is needed. There is much debate in Washington about where he actually is getting that figure from, and most accounts say that he is pointing to inaccurate and outdated figures, but that’s not what the larger issue is here. What is at play here is Sen. Corker’s willingness to delay the ratification of New START, thus tampering with our nation’s national security efforts, all because he wants some more funding for the Uranium Processing Facility planned for the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

Do you know what they call this type of frivolous and unnecessary spending? You should, and so should Sen. Corker because he and his party have used the term constantly to derail various other spending projects, especially by Democrats. It’s called “pork.” However, don’t count on Sen. Corker using that term when talking about acquiring more money for this facility in his home state. Why would he anyway? Hypocrisy and irresponsibility seem to be a suit that’s tailor-made for him.

Given the title of this post, you may be understandably asking yourself, “what’s New START?” Well, let me explain. New START is the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) between the United States and Russia to reduce the numbers of strategic nuclear weapons that each of us have in our nuclear arsenals down to 1,550 each, a reduction of about a third of the current stockpiles. The reason the treaty is preceded by the word “New” is because there was a previous START, which was negotiated and ratified back when President George H. W. Bush was in office in 1991. That treaty expired on December 5th, 2009. Therefore, we have not had a treaty in place to replace the first START in almost a year. New START attempts to fill this gap.

I provide all of this background to you for several reasons. One, because I feel it is critically important to simply be aware of current events, especially with regard to nuclear weapons. However, more importantly, it is crucial you understand the issues surrounding arms control and nonproliferation if you are to work towards the goal of the elimination of all nuclear weapons, of which ratifying New START is an integral step.  Now you may be asking yourself, but why do I want to work towards the elimination of nuclear weapons? Don’t they assure that another country who also has nuclear weapons won’t launch an attack against us because they know we would do the same to them? Again, allow me to explain briefly.

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Worldwide there are approximately 80 million unwanted pregnancies each year. Half of those pregnancies end in abortion, and half of those abortions, an estimated 20 million, are unsafe abortions. These unsafe abortions result in nearly 70,000 maternal deaths each year, and tens of thousands of additional complications and injuries.1

In many cases, even where abortion is legal, there are barriers to safe abortion care, such as a shortage of skilled health care providers, a shortage of equipment or medications, the cost of paying for abortion, lack of information, distance to health centers, or stigma around seeking abortion. In developing countries receiving US Foreign assistance, these barriers, particularly shortages in supplies and training, have been exacerbated in the past by the Global Gag Rule and continue to be exacerbated by the Helms Amendment. Read more about these two detrimental pieces of legislation in my previous blog posts about the Global Gag Rule, here, and about the Helms Amendment, here, to find out what you can do about it.

However, in countries where abortion is still illegal, the situation for women is even more dire. Read the rest of this entry »

Most people know that Iran developing and possessing a nuclear weapon is a major problem that we have to solve, and we need to do it soon. And the latest poll from the Pew Research Center confirms that conclusion.

Public Supports Military Action Against Iran to Prevent Nuclear Weapons – Pew Research Center.

However, what the poll also shows is that although most Americans believe that we should pursue a diplomatic solution to the problem, they also, almost paradoxically believe that such efforts will ultimately fail. Therefore, a majority also said they would support military action to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. And keep in mind as well that there is not much partisan division over this approach. A majority of Democrats, Republicans and Independents support this.

I completely agree with and understand the sentiment of the people polled, Iran developing a nuclear weapon is incredibly dangerous and the problem needs to be resolved sooner rather than later. But where we differ is in the last part, the use of military force part.

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On Monday the 21st, I went with our Global Health Program Director, Priti, to a panel discussion organized by the Center for Global Development.  It was titled “What is Country Ownership Anyway?” and addressed (you guessed it) issues of country ownership in development projects, what exactly that means, and why it’s vital to the success of foreign assistance.

Country ownership is a bit of an ambiguous term.  As Minister of Health Ghebreyesus of Ethiopia pointed out, it can mean very different things to very different people.  For some, it means that the country is the driving force behind the development project, and is integral in all stages, from planning to implementation and evaluation.  For others, it simply means that country authorities are informed of what aid groups are doing within their borders.  The consensus in the room seemed to lean toward the former option – that for proper country ownership, it is important for the country to have a say in the program design, goal, and implementation.

Minister Ghebreyesus compared it to the driving of a car, and said that the country needs to not only be in the driver’s seat, but also be the one deciding where the country is going, not just chauffeuring the passengers (the aid groups).  The aid groups are welcome to and should in fact warn of dangerous roads and potential roadblocks, but ultimately the driver decides which path to take.  It is, indeed, the locals who probably know the roads best.

After the talk I read a very illuminating article by Laurie Garrett published in Foreign Affairs a few years ago that gave me another perspective on country ownership.  A short section of it is available online, here.  The article deals much more with the importance of comprehensive health systems strengthening (as opposed to separate groups tackling specific health issues) than with country ownership, but it seems to me that the two issues are inextricably related. Read the rest of this entry »

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