The World in 2016: Bleak beginnings?

As a new year begins, one always hopes that things will be better than the year before. Unfortunately, this hope is often belied by events which burst on the world stage that may impact all of us, however far removed they may be geographically because we live in a connected, globalised world. Like it or not, we are bombarded with 24/7 news and headlines covering issues that can potentially dictate the global course of things.

President Obama’s State of the Union speech delivered to the American Congress on 13th January is one such event which is closely watched around the world, and is widely commented upon. The Economist under the title ‘A voice in the wilderness’ noted how the Republicans contending for the presidential election this year ‘describe a country enfeebled militarily, ailing economically and culturally corrupted by seven years of Democratic rule.’ However, this image was countered by President Obama in his speech, who ‘delivered a rebuke to that miserabilism.’

In fact in this last speech of his as President, Obama naturally set out to showcase some of his achievements and America’s continued strength as an economic and military superpower, despite setbacks that shake it up from time to time. About the cultural corruption, one needs some more clarification, which will perhaps come from the currently most favoured and most visible Republican candidate, Donald Trump whose loud outbursts and frankness have caused a tsunami not only in the American polity but pretty much everywhere.

However, despite some tall claims that Obama has made, such as curing cancer – which has been qualified as being unrealistic – the four questions he raised at the beginning of his speech and which he set out to elaborate upon reflect much of what concerns us all (except the second part of the third question):

*        “First, how do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity and security in this new economy?

*        Second, how do we make technology work for us, and not against us — especially when it comes to solving urgent challenges like climate change?

*      Third, how do we keep America safe and lead the world without becoming its policeman?

*      And finally, how can we make our politics reflect what’s best in us, and not what’s worst?”

On the local scene, as the country gears itself to create the 25 000 jobs promised per year and create the highest number of smart cities per square kilometre in the world, we may ponder too whether the politics that we have been practising so far has been reflecting what’s best, or what’s worst, in us?

Politics all over the world is, unfortunately, becoming increasingly disgraceful, when one listens to the diatribes that political opponents fling at each other and the political witch-hunts which take place after every change of government. And that shows no signs of abating.

* * *

Ongoing terrorism

The latest incident is a particularly grim one, involving as it does an educational institution. This is the Bacha Khan university in Pakistan, not far (about 30 km) away from the military school in Peshawar where over a year ago nearly 125 children were savagely gunned down. In the current incident at Bacha Khan university, militants moved in and fired at students and so far 25 deaths have been reported. The Pakistan army has managed to kill four of the terrorists, and it is feared that the number of dead on the campus may be more.

Writing in the newspaper Dawn in Karachi, a very respected and generally very objective paper, author and journalist Zahid Hussain under the title ‘The demon we created’ observes, ‘Surely, it will not be so easy to wrap up the witches’ brew of militants that this country has been turned into. But it is our own survival that is now at stake because of these very same rogues.’ And concludes, ‘Most of Pakistan’s terrorism problems have roots in our past policy of promoting militant groups like JeM to fight proxy wars. It is now time to undo that historical wrong. One hopes the tipping point has finally arrived.’

He alludes also to the militant attack on the Pathankot airbase in India, which Pakistan’s ex-President Pervez Musharraf has blamed upon ‘non-state’ actors from Pakistan. President Obama also made a reference to terrorist safe havens in Pakistan, which the latter’s National Security Adviser has denied, in contradiction to Musharraf’s assertion. However, such claims and counterclaims aside, the reality is that terrorist incidents either within countries from homegrown elements, such as the Bacha Khan, Peshawar and other incidents in Pakistan and elsewhere in the region, or from foreign or foreign-inspired groups such as at Bataclan in Paris and Pathankot in India do take place, and their frequency and severity seem to be on the rise.

There has been a call for the UN to frame a convention to deal with terrorism in a global and united, integrated manner. It has stalled so far on a definition of terrorism acceptable to all parties concerned. But the time has come to stop the dilly-dallying and come up with such a framework because even the advanced countries have realized no country can fight terrorism alone, it has to be a global effort. Hopefully 2016 will see some concrete developments on this front.


* Published in print edition on 22 January 2016

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