North Korea

North Korea
The always bombastic and unpredictable North Koreans go hysterical again. This time the country is prepared to "go to war" with South Korea because that country is playing loudspeakers directed at North Korean territory. A headline from a UK paper reads, "More than 50 North Korea submarines 'leave their bases' as war talks with South continue "

Thursday, July 28, 2011

India and Pakistan take a small but friendly step forward

One of the world's most tension-filled relationships is between India and Pakistan. The contested high mountainous region of Kashmir has been the scene of a constant high-altitude standoff ever since 1947 at the time of partition between what had before been a single British colony. India and Pakistan have fought three wars over it in 1947, 1965, and 1999, both making claims to the same territory.

Along the northern reaches of both India and Pakistan, the region of Kashmir is claimed by both countries.

Now, nearly 55 years later, the fortunes of the two countries are diverging. Pakistan is mired in Islamic terror politics, much of it a result of its own meddling in Afghanistan's affairs since the 1979 invasion of that country by the USSR. The country has suffered military coups and assassinations of its leaders, yet possesses nuclear weapons.

A huge drain on each country's coffers, the military entrenchment along the high altitude, treeless line of confrontation is also a testimony to frozen political perspectives.

India, in contrast, while subject to much internal strife and conflict amid its billion plus population, has maintained a working democracy, and has moved slowly towards an increasing prosperity recognized around the world.

A recent meeting between India and Pakistan's foreign ministers has unexpectedly resulted in a more comfortable working relationship, raising hopes that the issue of Kashmir might be brought down from its flashpoint status, along with a general sense of cultivating more neighborly relations.

The dynamics are intriguing. While Pakistan struggles with islamists, the government has appointed the country's first female and youngest-ever Foreign Minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, 34. At her first meeting with her Indian counterpart, S.M. Krishna, 79, she emphasized that both governments needed to acknowledge a ''mind-set change'' among a new generation of Indians and Pakistanis. The old tensions and perspectives are no longer seen with the same intensity by the upcoming leaders, and they have been pressing their governments to engage more constructively than in the past.

The appointment of Khar in the middle of a ruinous internal conflict between modernists and islamists is just one of many incomprehensible aspects of Pakistan's internal politics.

The newly-installed Khar, a businesswoman and politician, blunted concerns about her lack of experience by appearing to charm her Indian hosts. Studiously avoiding the word Kashmir at a joint media appearance after two and a half hours of talks with her vastly experienced Indian counterpart. Khar said both sides wanted the dialogue to be ''uninterrupted and uninterruptible.'

Pakistan's Khar meets with India's Krishna

Will this one event change a long running, serious and deep dispute and distrust? Not likely, but it is a reminder that generational change can bring fresh eyes and perspectives to long standing issues. As in so many situations, what should be remembered and how allows for the possibilities of moving on.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Norway mourns its loss


Yesterday, Norway suffered twin acts of violence, apparently by a lone right-wing extremist. Government buildings in the capitol, Oslo, were damaged in a bomb explosion leaving 7 dead and two seriously injured.

The main government building after the bombing

Workers flee the building after the blast

A few hours later, the individual showed up at a youth camp being run on an island, and there shot over 80 individuals dead in a systematic rampage through the facilities. Many of those lost (presumably most are teenage victims) at the camp had taken to the waters, trying to swim away from the carnage, yet were picked off by the gunman.

Utoya Island where a large camp was running

Youth attending the camp proceedings

Norwegian police have arrested and charged a 32 year old Norwegian citizen who, from reports, has right-wing Nazi sympathies, Anders Behring Breivik. A farmer from Eastern Norway, he also worked as an agricultural material supplier and had purchased at least six tons of fertilizer several weeks prior to the twin attacks, the Associated Press reported.

Suspect Breivik

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The idyllic island setting - notice field of tents in which the young were staying

Utoya island was not just another camp. It was an important place for people from all over Norway to gather to discuss the future of their own nation as well as the problems plaguing other parts of the world. This was a place to get away from the daily grind, the day-to-day debates in parliament, and think big. It was a place of fraternity, of peace. On this day when the peace was shattered, over 600 youth had gathered.

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Rescue workers tend to the injured on the Island

There is little more to be said as the story is still unfolding. It emphasizes again, the fragility of life, the work that goes into making a peaceful society, and the forces against such an atmosphere.