How India Alienated Kashmir

November 10, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Aijaz Zaka Syed, Arab News

Kashmir_mapAN unjust law is no law, warned Martin Luther King, the celebrated US human rights icon. The Kashmiris have been living with such laws for decades. At least one in every five Kashmiris has at some point or another in his/her life suffered violence, humiliation, torture and old-fashioned abuse at the hands of security forces without any recourse to justice or a distant promise of retribution.

The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act has been a license to abuse, torture and kill the Kashmiris in their own land. A law that confers “special powers” on men in uniform to do as they please and get away with it; a law that the UN says violates “contemporary international human rights standards” and a law that cannot be challenged in any court of law no matter how grave the crime.  

Following the division of the subcontinent in 1947 when India and Pakistan actively courted the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, it was promised a “special status” and special treatment by New Delhi. The Article 370 of Indian Constitution was supposed to protect that “special status” of Kashmir.  We made a lot of other promises as well that are too familiar to revisit here.      

And we have ensured and protected that “special status” of Kashmir by gifting them the AFSPA that offers sweeping powers to the security forces while ensuring their total immunity. This special law has turned the Vale of Kashmir that the Moguls believed was paradise on earth into a beautiful hell.

Is it any wonder then the Kashmiris today find themselves hopelessly alienated and persecuted even as our politicians never tire of pronouncing the state an “integral and inseparable” part of India?
How did we end up here? Who lost the paradise? The answer is out there and everyone knows it. In our desperation and determination to keep Kashmir with us and away from our neighbor, we have ended up losing the Kashmiri people.

Of course, the role played by Pakistani agencies, not to mention groups such as the one led by Hafiz Saeed, who have made a business enterprise of jihad, in adding to the woes of Kashmiris isn’t in anyway insignificant.

But if an entire generation of Kashmiris has grown up loathing all things Indian it is because of the excessive presence of the security forces in the Valley and their heavy-handed approach to the local population. And if there is one thing that epitomizes all that has gone wrong with India’s Kashmir affair, it is the AFSPA. This black law has created a dangerous, ever deepening disconnect and gulf between the Kashmiris and the rest of India. A draconian law that belongs in a police state, not in the world’s largest democracy.

Thanks to these “special powers”, just about anybody could be picked up from anywhere any time, kicked, abused, raped, killed in broad daylight or simply disappeared and no one including the state government can do anything about it.

Security forces are a law unto themselves. And you see their power in full display all across the state including in capital Srinagar. There are more soldiers than tourists or even locals constantly reminding the Kashmiris of the original sin of being born in this land of incredible beauty. Peaceful protests last year saw scores of young people, some of them as young as nine, felled by the bullets of the forces that are supposed to protect them. In the course of fighting terrorists and cross-border infiltrators, we have turned this beautiful land into a permanent war zone and its proud people a hostage in this never-ending conflict with the neighbor. This war has claimed more than a hundred thousand Kashmiris over the past two decades, not to mention the tens of thousands who have gone “missing.”

If the 2,730 unmarked mass graves recently discovered across the state had been found elsewhere they could have shaken the world, as they did in Srebrenica, in Iraq and Rwanda. But they were met with stony silence in the ever-shrill Indian media and its self-righteous Western counterparts.

Human rights groups including the State Human Rights Commission that finally acted on the complaints of thousands of families of “disappeared persons” unearthing graves with hundreds of bullet riddled bodies fear this may be a tip of the iceberg. The dead in Kashmir have finally begun to speak up, as Arundhati Roy so evocatively puts it.  But justice may still elude the victims as long as the AFSPA reigns in Jammu and Kashmir.  And India’s powerful security and defense establishment, including the army, are determined to retain it. And why wouldn’t they? It’s this law that allows the security forces to rule and treat Kashmir as their fiefdom without anyone, including the elected government, questioning their authority and excesses. Despite being a fine and vibrant democracy with robust democratic institutions and judiciary that we can justifiably be proud of, we are yet to realize that no people can be governed at gunpoint. Not in this age and time. Not with black laws like the AFSPA and not by constantly waving half a million guns that have contributed to the alienation of Kashmiri society and radicalization of its youth.  If India is to win Kashmiri hearts and minds, it could do so only with love, compassion, respect and justice.

— Aijaz Zaka Syed is a Middle East-based commentator and can be reached at aijaz.syed@hotmail.com

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Top Five Reasons to Review your Estate Plan

October 27, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Adil Daudi, Esq.

A very common question asked by many is, “I have an Estate Plan, but how often do I need to make changes to it, or review it?” I have witnessed clients having their estate plan completed over fifteen years ago and have not reviewed it once. This is definitely not the recommended approach.

Drafting an Estate Plan is essential for all families, whether you are single, married, or married with kids; but, reviewing those documents on a consistent basis is just as important. If you established a plan ten years ago when you were married, you could find yourself now having three kids with the same plan, but the consequences could be significant; because at the time of the drafting you didn’t include any kids (since you didn’t have any), but now by not having done a review, your plan still does not make any mention of your kids – not what you initially planned out.

That is why it is always important to have a sit-down and take the time to go over your Estate Plan and make sure it still fits your primary objective. The following is a list of tips that will help you decide whether it is time for you to review your Estate Plan.

No Kids/Young Kids – A review is a must if at the time you drafted your Estate Plan you had no kids, or your kids were relatively young (under the age of 18).

New Grandkids – If at the time of your Estate Plan you had no grandkids, but if you find yourself with grandkids, and would like to leave something for them, you should definitely have a review of your trust.

Difference in Wealth – Significant changes in your personal wealth also plays a role in your overall Estate Plan, as there could be new strategies/goals that would better suit your current situation.

Marital Status – If you had a change in your marital status (married or divorced), then a review of your plan is important, as you may need to include and/or exclude certain individuals.

No Review for Two Years – Some may find this too early, but through experience it is found that over a course of two years, a lot changes for families, whether it’s dealing with new kids, grandkids, change of wealth, or personal preferences. Therefore, it is advisable to make sure you complete a review at least once every two years.

One issue many have with this is that the Attorney they completed their plan with charges for the reviews. For anyone looking to draft an Estate Plan, always make sure the law firm you proceed with explains their fees (not just for the actual drafting, but for any changes that may be needed, or for follow-up meetings). Many firms charge less for the Estate Plan, but make-up the cost by charging for meetings and changes, which more often than not, is not properly explained to the client.

Adil Daudi is an Attorney at Joseph, Kroll & Yagalla, P.C., focusing primarily on Asset Protection for Physicians, Physician Contracts, Estate Planning, Shariah Estate Planning, Business Litigation, Corporate Formations, and Family Law. He can be contacted for any questions related to this article or other areas of law at adil@josephlaw.net or (517) 381-2663.

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Sovereignty and a New Reality

August 11, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Palestinian Recognition at the U.N.

By Geoffrey Cook, TMO

Washington–Your reporter has devoted much time to the (progressive) Israeli position on any possible peace discussion with the rightful Arab claimants to the Holy Land.  The Palestine Center, housed in the American capital city, has given your narrator the opportunity to voice the opposing Palestinian position on their march to recognition towards their legitimate status at next month’s meeting at the United Nations.

“Ambassador” Maen Areikat gave a formal speech on his “country’s” formal position on a potential declaration next month of his country’s independence in New York City a month ago here in the District of Columbia with the most knowledgeable legal expert on Ramallah’s right for national agency, Professor John Quigley.  

This, presented in July, was part of the Palestine Center’s public examination of what they termed “The Arab Spring becomes the Palestinian Autumn” — something your scribe does not as yet subscribe.

“Ambassador” (your raconteur only puts parenthesis around his title because Areikat represents a stateless State, and his credentials may not be officially recognized here in D.C.) Mean Areikat is the main PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) representative in the U.S. officially commissioned with the rank of Ambassador by President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian National Authority (PA). 

He has held high positions in negotiating teams and delegations with the Israeli occupiers.   Maen, also, served as Desk Officer over English-speaking powers within the PA’s Orient House’s International Relations Department.

From your author’s recent research on Israel, the attitude of the Palestinians going directly to the U.N. on Manhattan’s River for an official acknowledgment of their natural entitlement is anathema to Tel Aviv.  As John Quigley pointed out, the Israeli parliament (or Knesset) recognized the PLO as  representing a State by recognizing the legitimacy of the Oslo Accords or the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arraignments or more succinctly the Declaration of Principles (DOP) of September 13th 1993.  Further, under the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, the Turks under their then Ottoman Empire ceded their former territories (including Palestine) as States to the (former) League of Nations who gave them in trust to the victorious (post-)World War I European Empires as temporary Mandates. 

Erekat noted, whatever,  the Security-Council does not have the right to recognize or deny nationhood, but it must be passed by two-thirds of its members to be sent on to the General Assembly (GA) , but, if it does pass the initial hurdle, it will most likely be bureaucratically shunted into a Committee.  Here, this Committee can be slowed down in referring it to the General-Assembly. 

The leading legal expert on this process this process is Professor John Quigley of Ohio State University in Columbus.  Besides the law, Quigley’s interests includes human rights; and, thus, Palestine.

Professor Quigley simply states that, after the matter has been referred to the General-Assembly without obfuscations, the Security-Council has to defend their position on whether to grant Statehood or not to the G.-A.   This can actually go back and forth between the two bodies for some time.

The Ambassador showed that it is only the G.-A. that can bestow the legal status of Statehood, and that standing can have several different levels.  Under the U.N. Charter the U.S. can’t say  “We don’t like it [our bid], or give Israel more time to make peace.”  Both of these are invalid under the United Nations’ Charter. 

There is a question of what exactly is legally binding because the Charter is ambiguous here:  It is not clear whether the General Assembly has the authority to admit a country into the U.N. without the Council’s approval to do so, and there has been no precedent to establish it one way or the other.  To continue the pun we are proceeding on uncharted ice.

Only Israel is claiming that this move is unilateral.  It is not so, as the Ambassador declares, “ We are going for full admission into the United Nations to be acknowledged as a sovereign entity!”    In the General Assembly the Palestinians only require a plurality of fifty (percent) plus one.  Debate is proceeding back home in Ramallah on which course to proceed.  According to the District of Columbia, the U.S. insists that Palestinian State’s status should only come through negotiation, but negotiations for Tel Aviv denotes the avoidance of the two-country agreement whereas Palestine advocates a dual realm resolution by fighting against the unjust Settlements.  The real cost of the Occupation is borne by the international commune.  This is “Not an effort to isolate Israel,” for “We are committed to non-violent peaceful resistance, but we shall not tolerate the Occupation!”

The Right Honorable Maen Areikat continued, “The only way we shall reconsider [this bid for recognition] is if the community of nations can guarantee our security; then, discussions can go on in good faith.”

Quigley, further, adds that, if Palestine achieves its place amongst the family of sovereign states, the War Crimes committed against the Canaanites can be brought before the International Court under the Treaty of Rome of 2003.

If Palestine would be welcomed into that august body on the Hudson, then, as a sovereign nation, “We would have [to have] responsibilities,” too, Areikat stated.  “We would [then] have to follow the U.N. Charter,”  Conversely, “The Quartet [the  nations acting as interlopers between Tel Aviv and Ramallah – the United States, the United Kingdom (U.K.), the Russian Federation, the European Union (EU) and the United Nations  as a coordinator] is concerned about [this forthcoming] September[‘s confrontation], for [it is bound] to be more favorable to the Arabs.  It is a foregone conclusion that Ramallah will gain the fifty plus one in the General Assembly guaranteeing a Palestinian nation, but alternatively, they can merely grant Observer  Status; but, thereby, we shall gain international legality,” also.

Areikcat said, “We may just be headed for New York  as a rouse..[but we have the ]the right to tell…people our options!”  Concluding, “We can move towards independence!…We have rights under the U.N. “  Then, “We can move forward towards [true] Independence…We’ll have our rights under the U.N.!”  There “will be a change in international relations.  In 1948,Israel agreed to be a neighbor of a bordering Arab State.  The PLO’s position is a two-State solution!”  Ultimately, the agreement will be made between the Palestinians and the Israelis.  Although there is EU support, His Excellency felt the European vote is in question.

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Urban Art Flourishes in Dubai’s Dusty Industrial Zone

May 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Martina Fuchs and Shaheen Pasha

DUBAI, May 5 (Reuters) – A dusty industrial zone in flashy Dubai has become an unlikely home for a flourishing underground art scene that has grown even as the emirate’s fortunes declined, curbing appetites for extravagant pieces.

Al Quoz, home to stark warehouses and a huge cement factory in the shadow of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, is a far cry from the glitz and glamour that has come to be associated with Dubai.

“It’s raw. It’s a clean plate that we can work on. This is a growing cultural hub, a warehouse district where the ceilings are high and rents are low,” said Rami Farook, founder of the Traffic gallery, where Emirati, Iranian and Saudi artists show works ranging from graffiti art to blaring video installations.

That’s a far cry from the art scene just a couple of years ago, when upscale galleries hosted champagne-fuelled purchases that reflected big money and status, like the Maseratis and Bentleys cruising along the emirate’s palm-lined streets.

Now, affordability and artistic message seem to carry more weight, and the seemingly underground vibe is drawing in a different crowd.

At Etemad Gallery, a former furniture warehouse in Al Quoz, a beige wax sculpture of a human torso riddled with bullets and shells stands in the shadows. Nearby is a series comparing the iris of the human eye to constellations of dying stars.

“There is a growing confidence in local contemporary artists and also an increase in interest in women artists from the region,” said Rory Miller, director of Middle East and Mediterranean Studies at Kings College in London.

“Following the economic downturn which hit Dubai hard, there is a move, especially among the younger age group, to look to art that is grittier, more relevant and reflective of their own lives and recent experiences.”

Art houses have taken note of shifting local tastes, even as the higher end of the art market sees signs of a rebound on the back of Dubai’s economic recovery.

“We included a lot more younger artists who are more affordable because we want to increase the depth of participation,” said Michael Jeha, managing director of auction house Christie’s Middle East, which recently held a sale focusing on contemporary artists from Saudi Arabia and Iran.

A number of the pieces sold for less than $10,000, Jeha said, with others available for between $2,000 and $3,000.

All of the works in the Traffic gallery priced between $1,000 and $3,000 sold out. “This made me realize that people in Dubai had this passion for the alternative,” said Traffic’s Farook. “This is the niche I am trying to tap into.”

Raj Sehgal, managing director at Credit Suisse Private Banking in the Middle East and Indian Subcontinent, said some of his clients were looking for investments that could deliver future returns.

“A trend that is quite evident among many of our clients in Dubai is that they have started buying street art due to its appreciation value over time,” Sehgal said.

The political and social upheaval sweeping across the Arab role also appears to be playing a role in the renewed interest in more affordable and urban art.

At Art Dubai, the emirate’s annual contemporary art fair, a number of politically-themed pieces were on display, including one painting that portrayed ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s using icons from Facebook, the social networking site that played a role in uniting street protesters against him.

“Possessing a piece of art because of a certain name or status is holding little relevance,” said Omer Alvie, creative director at Villa No. 6, which showcases emerging artists from Pakistan and arranges exhibitions of alternative art in Dubai.

“Now collectors are interested in the theme of the piece and what the artist is saying. It’s a record of history.”

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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Is the U.S. Experiencing its First Brain Drain?

April 2, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Courtesy New America Media, Vivek Wadhwa

brain_drain Editor’s Note: When high-skilled immigrants and foreign students completing their degrees in the United States both consider returning to their home countries, it might be a sign that the United States is experiencing its first brain drain in history. NAM contributing writer Vivek Wadhwa has been tracking the effects of globalization on labor markets as a professor at Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering and Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program. Immigration Matters regularly features the views of immigration experts and advocates.

The USA has long served as a magnet for the world’s talented scientists, engineers and mathematicians. But, this trend may now be reversing and the United States may be experiencing the first brain drain in its history.

Between 1990 and 2007, the proportion of immigrants in the US labor force increased from 9.3 percent to 15.7 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Approximately 45 percent of the growth of the workforce over this period consisted of immigrants.

They came for the traditional reasons – education, professional opportunities, a chance at a better life. With them, many of these immigrants brought high levels of education and advanced skills. As a result, immigrants have contributed disproportionately to the most dynamic part of the U.S. economy — the high-tech sector. In Silicon Valley, over 50 percent of the startups over the last decade have had an immigrant as a chief executive or lead technologist. Immigrants have co-founded firms such as Google, eBay, Intel and Yahoo, to name a few.

Now many are going back. While the economic downturn has caused a rise in xenophobia and the enactment of populist legislation to restrict the hiring of foreign nationals by some financial institutions, the economies of India and China have been rising. Some of the most highly skilled workers in American corporations are returning to the lands where they were born and foreign students who would normally be the next generation of U.S. science and engineering workers are buying one-way tickets home.

There are no hard numbers available, but anecdotal evidence suggests a sizeable reverse migration of skilled talent is in progress. Our team of academics at Duke, UC Berkeley and Harvard interviewed hundreds of company executives, surveyed more than 1,000 foreign students and more than 1,000 returnees, and made multiple trips to India and China to understand the trend.

What we learned should alarm policy-makers who are concerned about long-term U.S. competitiveness.

The average age of the skilled workers we located was in the low 30s, and more than 85 percent had advanced degrees — precisely the type of people that the United States needs to fuel economic recovery. Among the strongest factors cited by these ex-immigrants as a reason for coming to the United States were professional and educational development opportunities. Ironically, this was the same reason they returned home. And, they had advanced their careers in the process.

Respondents reported that they have moved up the organizational chart by returning home. Only 10 percent of the Indian returnees held senior management positions in the United States, but 44 percent found jobs at this level in India. Chinese returnees went from 9 percent in senior management in the United States to 36 percent in China. Opportunities for professional advancement were considered to be better at home than in the United States by 61 percent of Indians and 70 percent of Chinese. These groups also felt that opportunities to start a business were significantly better in their home countries.

Surprisingly, visa status was not the most important factor determining their decision to return home — even U.S. citizens and permanent residents were returning home. Three out of four indicated that considerations regarding their visa or residency permit status did not contribute to their decision to return to their home country. In fact, 27 percent of Indian respondents and 34 percent of Chinese held permanent resident status or were U.S. citizens. In addition to job opportunities, the returnees we surveyed were lured by social factors such as closeness to friends and ability to care for aging parents.

The rationale for returnees moving home was echoed by responses of surveyed foreign nationals currently enrolled in U.S. universities. These groups have traditionally represented a disproportionate percentage per capita of advanced degree students. During the 2004–2005 academic year, roughly 60 percent of engineering doctoral students and 40 percent of master’s degree students were foreign nationals, and foreign nationals made up a significant share of the U.S. graduate student population in all STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Medicine) disciplines.

In the past, the overwhelming majority of these students worked in the United States after graduation. The five-year stay rate for Chinese holding Ph.D.s has been 92 percent and for Indians 85 percent. Most end up staying permanently. Yet, the overall consensus among students we surveyed was that the United States was no longer the destination of choice for their professional careers.

Most students in our sample wanted to stay in the United States, but only for short periods. Among respondents, 58 percent of Indian, 54 percent of Chinese, and 40 percent of European students said that they would stay in the United States for at least a few years after graduation, if given the chance. However, only 6 percent of Indian, 10 percent of Chinese, and 15 percent of European students said they wanted to stay permanently. The largest group of respondents— 55 percent of Indian, 40 percent of Chinese, and 30 percent of European students— wants to return home within five years.

Visa concerns were more evident among students. More than three-fourths of these students expressed concern about obtaining work visas, and close to that number worry that they will not be able to find U.S. jobs in their field. Few said they found anything but a warm reception here from the American people. But their concern over work visas could only have been exacerbated by the ongoing attempts to curtail work possibilities for foreign nationals in the United States.

Further, the students’ assessment of their individual opportunities mirrored their view for the future of the U.S. economy. The survey found that only 7 percent of Chinese students, 9 percent of European students, and 25 percent of Indian students believe that the best days of the U.S. economy lie ahead. Conversely, 74 percent of Chinese students and 86 percent of Indian students believe that the best days for their home countries’ economies lie ahead.

The anti-immigrant groups will no doubt celebrate the departure of foreigners. But the impact of a reverse brain drain could potentially be profound and long lasting for the United States. The country is effectively exporting its economic stimulus.

Vivek Wadhwa co-authored his survey of returnees (http://www.kauffman.org/newsroom/united-states-losing-immigrants-who-spur-innovation-and-economic-growth.aspx) and foreign students (http://www.kauffman.org/newsroom/foreign-national-students-in-united-states-plan-to-return-to-native-countries.aspx) with the Kauffman Foundation.

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