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Civilisation could fail say food experts

The upcoming era of food scarcity is said to mirror the times that led to the demise of other civilisations.

 

Over the last decade, world grain reserves have fallen by one third while world food prices have more than doubled.

The new geopolitics of food is said to be spreading hunger amongst poorer people while still allowing population growth, rising affluence, and the conversion of food into fuel for cars in wealthier nations.

Extreme soil erosion and growing water shortages are also leading to imbalances that could ensure that food prices continue to rise, eventually leading to world hunger and the end of our social system.

This tightening of world food supplies contrasts sharply with the last half of the twentieth century when overproduction in agriculture was a major issue.

During that time, from 1950 to 2000, there were large grain stock carry-overs which maintained stability in world grain markets.

Countries in over-supply were able to ship the excess grain to countries which were suffering from drought or other natural disasters as a means of averting famine.

But during that time the world had 2.5 billion people. Today it has seven billion.

World consumption started to exceed production from 2002, which is when the unprecedented period of world food security came to an end.

Food shortages undermined earlier civilisations.

For instance, the Mayan civilisation declined it moved onto an agricultural path that was environmentally unsustainable.

Like the Mayans, our lands are now being mismanaged, generating record losses of soil from erosion.

While deforestation and soil erosion defeated the Mayans, farmers are currently facing new threats such as depletion of aquifers, grain yield down-trends and rising temperatures.

Source: Pakistan New

‘Useless, useless, useless’: the Palestinian verdict on Tony Blair

Former Prime Minister’s role as representative of Middle East Quartet comes in for fiercest criticism yet 

Palestinian officials say Tony Blair shouldn’t take it personally, but he should pack up his desk at the Office of the Quartet Representative in Jerusalem and go home. They say his job, and the body he represents, are “useless, useless, useless”.

Mr Blair became the representative of the Middle East Quartet – the UN, EU, US and Russia – a few weeks after leaving Downing Street. Last week, he visited the region for what he said was the 90th time since being appointed in June 2007. He spends one week a month based in Jerusalem or globetrotting on behalf of the Quartet. His office is funded by the Quartet members and his 24-hour security detail is on secondment from Scotland Yard but he receives no direct salary.

After four years of renting 15 rooms at the American Colony Hotel for his full-time staff, Mr Blair put down more permanent roots in 2011 by renting the penthouse of a new office building in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem.

But senior Palestinian officials and analysts told The Independent the move was unnecessary – his sojourn in the region should be cut short. “The Quartet has been useless, useless, useless,” Mohammed Shtayyeh, an aide to the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said last week. He suggested that its constant need to reach internal consensus among its warring participants had rendered it ineffective.

“Always the statement of the Quartet really means nothing because it was always full of what they call constructive ambiguity that really took us to nowhere,” said Mr Shtayyeh, who had just ended a meeting with Mr Blair. “You need a mediator who is ready to engage and who is ready to say to the party who is destroying the peace process ‘You are responsible for it’,” he said.

Mr Shtayyeh is not alone. Last February, the Saban Centre for Middle East Policy at The Brookings Institution pronounced the body already dead in a report bluntly entitled The Middle East Quartet: A Post-Mortem.

“The Quartet has little to show for its decade-long involvement in the peace process. Israelis and Palestinians are no closer to resolving the conflict, and in the few instances in which political negotiations did take place, the Quartet’s role was usually relegated to that of a political bystander,” said the report. “Having spent most of the last three years in a state of near paralysis, and having failed to dissuade the Palestinians from seeking UN membership and recognition in September 2011, the Quartet has finally reached the limits of its utility.

“The current mechanism is too outdated, dysfunctional, and discredited to be reformed. Instead of undertaking another vain attempt to ‘reactivate’ the Quartet, the United States, the European Union, United Nations, and Russia should simply allow the existing mechanism to go quietly into the night,” the report concluded.

Mr Blair rarely travels to Gaza, citing security reasons. The Quartet website features a number of achievements in the West Bank, including the removal of Israeli army checkpoints and upgraded facilities for exports. Palestinian and Israeli officials told The Independent that the Quartet appeared to be taking credit for other people’s work.

“I think in general Palestinians are disappointed by the performance of the Quartet,” said Ghassan Khatib, vice-president of Birzeit University near Ramallah and a former Palestinian Authority cabinet minister. “I cannot think of any serious thing that the Quartet succeeded to help us in.

“Sometimes Tony Blair speaks about removing checkpoints, but I think Israel was going to remove these checkpoints with or without the Quartet,” said Dr Khatib. He said the Quartet’s announcements about assisting the Palestinian economy were as hollow as their political achievements, but he stressed that his attitude wasn’t personal. “It has nothing to do with Tony Blair … I think it’s the Quartet that failed to deliver.”

Mr Blair’s Jerusalem office did not respond to a request for a comment.

Timeline: Blair’s peace-making

June 2007

Tony Blair appointed Middle East envoy on behalf of the EU, US, UN and Russia.

May 2008

Launches peace plan for Israel-Palestinian conflict based on improving economic co-operation.

March 2009

On a visit to Gaza, Mr Blair calls on Israel to ease its blockade.

September 2011

Mr Blair warns that a bid for statehood at the United Nations by the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would be “deeply confrontational”.

October 2011

Nabil Shaath, one of the senior aides to President Abbas, has harsh words for the Palestinian leader, accusing him of talking “like an Israeli diplomat”.

Source: Independent Newspaper

Islamic financial system shows inherent resistance to global crises

Pakistan is a fast growing country with regards to Islamic finance. Starting from scratch in 2002, it is now about 8% of the local banking industry.

Islamic finance is one of the fastest growing segments of the global financial industry. In 2008 the size of the global Islamic banking industry was estimated about $820 billion. Now it is closer to $1.35 trillion according to Global Islamic Finance Report (GIFR), and is expected to cross $1.6 trillion before the end of the current fiscal year.

The Islamic financial industry now comprises 430 Islamic banks and financial institutions and around 191 conventional banks having Islamic banking windows operating in more than 75 countries, according to the GIFR.

Pakistan is also a fast growing country with regards to Islamic finance and growth has been phenomenal. Starting from scratch in 2002, it is now about 8% of the local banking industry.

While Islamic banks play roles similar to conventional banks, fundamental differences exist. The central concept in Islamic banking and finance is justice, which is achieved mainly through the sharing of risk. Stakeholders are supposed to share profits and losses, and charging interest is prohibited.

There are also differences in terms of financial intermediation, the paper notes. While conventional intermediation is largely debt based, and allows for risk transfer, Islamic intermediation, by contrast, is asset based, and based on risk sharing. One key difference between conventional banks and Islamic banks is that the latter’s model does not allow investing in or financing the kind of instruments that have adversely affected their conventional competitors and triggered the global financial crisis. These include toxic assets, derivatives, and conventional financial institution securities.

$1.35

Analysis done by the IMF suggests that Islamic banks fared differently, if not actually better than conventional banks during the global financial crisis. Factors related to the Islamic banking business model helped contain the adverse impact on their profitability. In particular, smaller investment portfolios, lower leverage, and adherence to Shariah principles—which precluded Islamic banks from financing or investing in the kind of instruments that have adversely affected their conventional competitors — helped contain the impact of the crisis when it hit in 2008.

The study used bank-level data covering 2007−10 for about 120 Islamic banks and conventional banks in eight countries — Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. These countries host most of the world’s Islamic banks (more than 80% of the industry, excluding Iran) but also have large conventional banking sectors. The key variables used to assess the impact were the changes in profitability, bank lending, bank assets, and external bank ratings.

While the study showed that Islamic banks were able to better withstand the initial impact of the crisis, the following year (2009), weaknesses in risk management practices in some Islamic banks led to a larger decline in profitability compared to that seen in conventional banks. The weak 2009 performance in some countries was associated with sectoral and name concentration—that is, too great a degree of exposure to any one sector or borrower. In some cases, the problem was made worse by exemptions from concentration limits, highlighting the importance of having a neutral regulatory framework for both types of banks.

Despite the higher profitability of Islamic banks during the pre-global crisis period (2005–07), their average profitability for 2008–09 was similar to that of conventional banks, indicating better cumulative profitability and suggesting that higher pre-crisis profitability was not driven by a strategy of greater risk taking. The analysis also showed that large Islamic banks fared better than small ones, perhaps as a result of better diversification, economies of scale, and stronger reputation.

Islamic banks contributed to financial and economic stability during the crisis, given that their credit and asset growth was at least twice as high as that of conventional banks. The IMF paper attributes this growth to their higher solvency and to the fact that many Islamic banks lent a larger part of their portfolio to the consumer sector, which was less affected by the crisis than other sectors in the countries studied.

However the post-crisis years have also shown where the Islamic banking sector is relatively weak. It lacks as efficient a structure for liquidity management as seen in conventional banking. The IMF report also recommended that the sector needs a stronger supervisory and legal infrastructure, including bank resolution.

The paper also recommended that Islamic banks and supervisors work together to develop the needed human capital, saying expertise in Islamic finance has not kept pace with the industry’s growth.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 17th, 2012.

Pakistan, 10 others to surpass EU by 2030: US govt report

The study is presented to US policymakers to plan for the best and worst possible scenarios. It includes a Goldman Sachs list of “Next Eleven” consisting of Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Korea, Turkey, and Vietnam.

WASHINGTON: The “Next Eleven,” which include Pakistan, will collectively overtake EU-27 in global power by 2030, says a US government report released on Monday.

Although America’s influence will reduce, it will remain the “first among equals,” adds the report prepared by the US National Intelligence Council with inputs from 18 American intelligence agencies and dozens ofthink-tanks.

Based on socio-economic trends across the globe, the study also presents the best and the worst case scenarios in the report titled, “Global Trends 2030.”

The best case scenario: Nearly two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities by 2030. The middle class will outnumber others. Most people will have access to technology, advanced health care and most countries will learn to link with each other. The United States and China will also cooperate with each other to lead the way.

In the worst case scenarios, rising population leads to conflict over water and food, especially in the Mideast and Africa, and the instability contributes to global economic collapse.

The study is presented to US policymakers to plan for the best and worst possible scenarios.

It includes a Goldman Sachs list of “Next Eleven” consisting of Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Korea, Turkey, and Vietnam.

The “Next Eleven” will collectively overtake the EU-27 in global power by 2030. “When this second tier is combined with the non-Western giants of China and India, the shift of power from the West to the emerging or non-Western world is even more pronounced,” the report notes.

The study suggests that China will surpass the US in 2022 if GDP is measured at purchasing power parity and sometime near 2030 if GDP is measured at market exchange rates.

India will most likely continue to consolidate its power advantage relative to Pakistan, says the report. India’s economy is already nearly eight times as large as Pakistan’s; by 2030 that ratio could easily be more than 16-to-1, it adds.

Both Pakistan and India probably will have youthful ethnic and regional populations that could remain a security concern.

Youthful age structures are likely to persist for most of the next two decades among tribal populations in Pakistan’s western provinces and territories.

In Pakistan and Afghanistan, the rates of childbearing are probably greater than five children per woman among the Pushtun.

The report warns that South Asia may face a series of internal and external shocks during the next 15-20 years. Low growth, rising food prices, and energy shortages will pose stiff challenges to governance in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Afghanistan’s and Pakistan’s youth bulges are large, similar in size to those found in many African countries. “When these youth bulges are combined with a slow-growing economy, they portend increased instability,” the study warns.

India is in a better position, benefiting from higher growth, but it will still be challenged to find jobs for its large youth population.

Inequality, lack of infrastructure and education deficiencies are key weaknesses in India, the report adds.

A growing sense of insecurity in South Asia will bolster military outlays. Conflict could erupt and spread under numerous scenarios.

Conflicting strategic goals, widespread distrust, and the hedging strategies by all the parties will make it difficult for them to develop a strong regional security framework.

Insufficient natural resources, such as water and arable land, and disproportionate levels of young men increase the risks of intrastate conflict breaking out. Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan also havefaltering governance institutions.

The study notes that nuclear powers such as Russia and Pakistan and potential aspirants such as Iran and North Korea see nuclear weapons as compensation for other political and security weaknesses, heightening the risk of their use. The chance of non-state actors conducting a cyber-attack, or using WMD, also is increasing.

Globally, power will no longer reside with one or two key nations, but be spread across networks and coalitions of countries working together.

Sixty present of the world’s population will live in cities.

Nearly half of the world’s population will live in areas experiencing severe water stress.

Among the anticipated crises is the worry of global economic collapse, fighting among nations that don’t adapt rapidly enough to change and the

possible spillover of instability in the Mideast and South Asia to the rest of the world.

Technology is seen as a potential saviour to head off some of this conflict, boosting economic productivity to keep pockets filled despite rising population, rapid growth of cities and climate change.

The report warns of the mostly catastrophic effect of possible “Black Swans,” extraordinary events that can change the course of history. These include a severe pandemic that could kill millions in a matter of months and more rapid climate change that could make it hard to feed the world’s population.

Two positive events are also listed, including “a democratic China or a reformed Iran,” which could bring more global stability.

APP adds: Pakistan-India economic relations will be critical to determining stability of the South Asia and Islamabad’s economy could grow on sustained basis if normalisation of trade between the two nuclear neighbours takes place, a new US report, looking into the world scenario in 2030, said Monday.

“In a Turn-the-Corner scenario, sustained economic growth in Pakistan based on the gradual normalisation of trade with a rising India would be a critical factor,” says the report.

An improved economic environment would produce more opportunities for youth entering the workforce, lessening the attractiveness of  militancy and containing the spread of violence, the authors of report say of Pakistan’s economic possibilities.

Intra-regional trade would also be important in building trust between India and Pakistan, slowly changing threat perceptions and anchoring sectors withvested interests in continuing economic ties, it argues.

The report projects a strong economic engine in India could lay down new foundations for prosperity and regional cooperation in South Asia.

Over several decades, Pakistan would grow into a relatively stable economy, no longer requiring foreign assistance and IMF support. However, authors of the report stipulate that such a scenario would need sustained good governance and tax reforms that spur new industries, jobs and more resources for modern education in Pakistan.

It also presents other scenarios with pitfalls, including the militants, retarding developments in the region with violence.

A collapse in neighbouring Afghanistan would probably set back any such civilian-led agenda, reinforcing security fears and retrenchment, the report cautions.

Source: Dawn News

Latest human rights report ‘embarrassing’ for India

An Indian paramilitary soldier stands guard at a closed market during a strike in Srinagar. – File Photo by AP

For the first time since the inception of popular armed uprising against Indian rule in Jammu and Kashmir in 1989, two leading human rights groups have named 500 “alleged perpetrators”— including two Major Generals and three Brigadiers of the Indian Army besides many other serving officers and soldiers — involved in killings, fake encounters, torture, rape and other serious crimes like abduction and enforced custodial disappearances in the disputed Himalayan region.

After the discovery of about 6,000 unmarked and mass graves in different parts of the Kashmir Valley not that long ago, the latest report could finally ‘embarrass’ the “world’s largest democracy”.

According to International Peoples’ Tribunal for Human Rights and Justice in Indian-administered Kashmir (IPTK) and the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) — two leading human rights bodies operating in the Valley — their report is the outcome of two-year-long painstaking research.

“Out of 214 cases a list emerges of 500 individual perpetrators, which include 235 army personnel, 123 paramilitary personnel, 111 Jammu and Kashmir Police personnel and 31 Government backed militants/associates. Among the alleged perpetrators are two Major Generals and three Brigadiers of the Indian Army, besides nine Colonels, three Lieutenant Colonels, 78 Majors and 25 Captains. Add to this, 37 senior officials of the federal Paramilitary forces, a recently retired Director General of the Jammu and Kashmir Police, as well as a serving Inspector General,” the report alleges.

“By naming names the report seeks to remove the veil of anonymity and secrecy that has sustained impunity. Only when the specificity of each act of violation is uncovered can institutions be stopped from providing the violators a cover of impunity,” the report further says. The institutional culture of moral, political and juridical impunity has resulted in enforced and involuntary disappearance of an estimated 8000 persons (as on Nov 2012), besides more than 70,000 deaths, and disclosures of more than 6000 unknown, unmarked and mass graves. The last 22 years have also seen regular extra-judicial killings punctuated by massacres. The Gow Kadal (Srinagar) massacre of around 50 persons on 21 January 1990 and other mass killings discussed in this report are symbolic reminders of the persistent human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir,” it adds.

The 354-page report released on December 6, 2012 in Srinagar by these groups also accuses India of institutionally ‘obstructing justice’. India has all along been dismissing allegations of such serious nature against its armed forces by saying that the unfortunate acts are a mere “aberration” and “error in judgment” on part of some individual soldiers, not a matter of policy.

But Khurram Parvez, one of the co-authors of the report, told Dawn that the Indian State has used its various institutions in Jammu and Kashmir – judicial and otherwise – in a sophisticated manner to “continue its control over territory”. “This fits in with the State’s policy and design in Jammu and Kashmir. The State has ensured a lowering of the standard of the serious human rights discourse. Our analysis of the cases in this report clearly evidences this. The State on occasion allows for the filing of FIR’s (First Information Reports), or ordering investigations but it will not allow prosecutions despite information being present,” Parvez writes in response to our questionnaire.

Asked how confident his group was about the findings of the report, he writes: “We are confident of our documentation and analysis in this report. We intend to engage on this report with international rights groups and UN working groups and Special Rapporteurs. We will use this [report] to build awareness in India and internationally regarding the processes of injustice in Jammu and Kashmir.”

Programme coordinator of the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) and Tribunal Liaison, Parvez, hopes that the international community will take notice of their group’s report.

The other authors of the report are Kartik Murukutla, who has worked in a UN tribunal in Rwanda for five years, and leading human rights activist in Kashmir, Parvez Imroz.

The authors of the report have a word of caution, though: “The IPTK cannot conclusively pronounce on the guilt of any of the alleged perpetrators, but it is clear that enough evidence exists to warrant further action. However, in the absence of any institutional or political will to take the evidence to its natural conclusion – a trial where the crime and the guilt of a perpetrator can be proven beyond reasonable doubt – the Indian State stands indicted,” read the contents of the report’s executive summary.

How significant are the findings of this report released by IPTK and APDP? When I posed this question to Anuradha Bhasin, executive editor of Jammu and Kashmir’s oldest English daily The Kashmir Times, she had this to say: “Well, I feel this report is significant because the groups have used the information from the same government that is involved in crimes against humanity. In this report a pattern is revealed and that is to bury the investigation.”

She feels that the government can not deny the findings of the report. “Human rights groups have heavily relied on the government version, court case proceedings and information gathered after filing Right to Information (RTI) applications with different state-run departments,” she adds.

How embarrassing could it [the report] be for the state? “The state is too thick skinned to be embarrassed,” she mocks.

Until now, the state government officials and ruling party spokespersons are sounding over cautious and, therefore, reluctant to give a detailed official reaction.

Tanvir Sadiq, spokesperson of the ruling pro-India party National Conference (NC) while speaking to Dawnsaid it will be “too premature to give a reaction” on a report which is of course of “serious nature”. “Let us read the contents of the report first; study them properly so that we will be in a position to give our party’s reaction.” Asked about the coalition government’s position, Tanvir said: “Our Chief Minister, Mr. Omar Abdullah, has already informed the media in Jammu — the winter capital of Jammu and Kashmir which is about 300 kilometres from the summer capital, Srinagar — that the State home department has asked for the copy of the report to study and examine it, and once that is done; the official reaction will come.”

“This report, prepared over two years using information gleaned mostly from official State documents in addition to witness testimonies, in cases available with IPTK/APDP, portrays the state of impunity prevalent in Jammu and Kashmir. Where identities of individual perpetrators of crimes are known it seeks a process of accountability for institutional criminality. The State documents used range from police records, judicial and quasi-judicial records and Government documents. IPTK/APDP using the Right to Information (RTI) legislations sought information on First Information Reports (FIRs), High Court petition numbers and other documentation,” claim the authors of the report.

The contents of the report paint a grim picture of the law and order situation and also highlight the environment of impunity under which Indian forces are operating in Jammu and Kashmir. Experts say that the draconian laws like the AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act), PSA (Public Safety Act) and DAA (Disturbed Area Act) have served as “shield” for the armed forces in Kashmir to “avoid punishment” under law.

Many in Kashmir are expecting a strong reaction from the international community.

Zareef Ahmad Zareef, noted Kashmiri humourist-poet based in Srinagar at his home. – photo by writer

Zareef Ahmad Zareef, noted Kashmiri humourist-poet based in Srinagar at his home. – photo by writer

Zareef Ahmad Zareef, a renowned Kashmiri humorist-poet, believes it is time for the powerful world nations to act. “For one Malala Yousufzai — a victim of Taliban violence in Pakistan — the entire world community expressed solidarity and made special arrangements for her treatment outside a sovereign country to ensure she was safe. Now, we shall see what is the measuring rod for justice and equality? If they’re genuinely sincere and care for justice and human rights everywhere across the globe, they should come forward to the rescue of the victims of Indian state-sponsored violence in Jammu and Kashmir,” Zareef says. The report, according to Zareef, has exposed India’s “hollow claims of being a secular and democratic” nation having a “responsible and professional army”.

“India has declared a war on the civilians in Kashmir. There is no Kashmiri family which is not either directly or indirectly a victim of the state violence. There are some Indians who care for human rights and justice and I’m sure they will not remain silent on this. Whatever has come in open through the report, it is clear that Kashmir has a strong case against India in the International Criminal Court (ICC),” he adds.

Parvez also sounds hopeful about it. “We have flagged issues regarding the application of international criminal law for crimes committed in Jammu and Kashmir. These issues need to be further debated. We ourselves and particularly, other countries that are members of the United Nations need to read this report and push the Security Council to consider further action, including possibly engaging with the procedures at the International Criminal Court. Towards this end, we will lobby with member States of the United Nations. Further, we expect other rights groups and the Kashmiri Diaspora to do the same. The process must continue,” he hopes.

There is also this perception that the international community is selective in its approach in relation to the cases of human rights abuses in different parts of the world. While there is an uproar if violation occurs in countries like China, Iran or Pakistan, very little or nothing is said against India even when the magnitude of excesses may be too big. Some experts opine that the Kashmiris need to learn “marketing their sufferings”, because their supposed supporters are currently on a weak wicket.

Dr. Sheikh Showkat, an expert in international law, says that Kashmir needs to “project its pain” so that the prosecutors at the ICC can take cognizance. “Our supporters are too weak at the moment. We need to market our pain and convince the international community to take action. Also, there is little doubt that there exists disparity because of powerful UN member nation’s selective approach on issues of human rights and self-determination,” Dr. Showkat believes.

Meanwhile, to all cases related to gross human rights excesses in Kashmir during the past 23 years, the Indian Army has more often used expressions like “it was a mistaken identity”, “it was an aberration”, “it was a rare error of judgment”, “we do not shoot with an intention to kill”, “anger of people against killings is justified, but we will conduct our own enquiry to ascertain the facts”, etc.

In a high-profile case, one Major Avtar of the 35 Rashtriya Rifles unit was accused of being involved in the killing of a well-known human rights defender in Kashmir, Jaleel Andrabi, and four counterinsurgents in 1996. Major (Retd.) Avtar Singh committed suicide on 9 June in California, USA before killing his wife and children. Fugitive Avtar had taken refuge in California and kept a low profile there. Some in Kashmir interpreted Avtar’s death as “divine justice”.

In March 2000, the Indian Army claimed neutralising five “terrorists” in Pathribal area and said they were responsible for the killings of 35 members of minority Sikh community in South Kashmir’s Anantnag district. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) — India’s premier investigating agency — conducted an inquiry and found that those killed by the army in an ‘encounter’ were actually civilians. The CBI then filed the charge sheet against the accused Army officers in 2006. Nothing has happened since except for the unconvincing court proceedings and open to doubt Court-Martials.

In majority of the abuse cases, the guilty haven’t been punished. ‘Not only is justice delayed but denied as well’ is the common perception in Kashmir!

Tailpiece: I remember covering an Army press conference in Kashmir in July 2005.  Lieutenant General S S Dhillon was the GoC (General Officer Commanding) at Srinagar-based sensitive 15 Corps of the Indian Army. The press conference was organised in the backdrop of killing of three teenaged boys in North Kashmir’s frontier district, Kupwara on 24 July that year. Tens of thousands of people had protested against this incident. I vividly remember Dhillon’s words then. “This incident was unfortunate and most regrettable. It was an ‘error of judgment’ on part of the troops who opened fire on the teenaged boys. The anger of people against the Army over the killings of three boys was justified.” Dhillon had visited Bungargund, an area falling under Trehgam hamlet in Kupwara, where he had himself witnessed the anger of people. Army bunkers were being attacked by the protesting crowds. Besides seeing the parents of those killed, I went to feel the anger of people, to see the anger of people, and I saw some of it. It (anger against the Army) is justified,” the then GoC of the most sensitive Corps said. After his assurances that there will be no such repeats, four more civilians were allegedly killed by the army in Kupwara district in February 2006. The town observed complete shutdown for five consecutive days and staged massive anti-India demonstrations. The unfortunate incidents kept repeating. Not that long ago, one more civilian named Hilal Ahmad, 25, was killed allegedly at the hands of 27-Rashtriya Rifles of the Indian Army in North Kashmir’s Bandipora district.

Source: Dawns News (Story by Gowhar Geelani)

Leveson report: newspaper editors’ reformed watchdog plan a ‘charade’

Hacked Off campaigners condemn proposals for a regulator without statutory underpinning

Newspaper editors’ plans to launch a reformed press watchdog without statutory underpinning is a “charade”, the Hacked Off group campaigning for tougher regulation has said.

At a press conference organised by Hacked Off in Westminster on Thursday, Natalie Fenton, professor of media and communications at Goldsmiths University, said that unless a new body to verify the performance of the watchdog was validated in law “everything else is pointless”.

She condemned David Cameron’s attempts to push through a private deal with newspapers and said victims’ voices were not being heard.

Baroness Hollins, a cross-bench peer, whose daughter Abigail Witchalls became of interest to the press when she was paralysed after being stabbed in the neck in 2005, called for Cameron to implement a press law recommended by Lord Justice Leveson in his report last week.

She said her family had endured press harassment on and off for five years and although the reporting of her daughter was “sympathetic” the majority was not “accurate or ethical”, including a revelation by the News of the World that she was pregnant when she was stabbed .

“I just don’t think there is a place for the sensationalism to which my family and daughter were subjected,” Hollins added. “I would support something in law to verify that the future press regulator is actually fit for purpose. I do not believe that this can be left entirely to the owners of newspapers.”

Editors of all national newspapers have agreed to implement 40 of the 47 recommendations made by Leveson.

The proposed new regulatory body will have serving editors on its board, like the discredited Press Complaints Commission, and will have the powers to levy fines of up to £1m.

Fenton said: “It is simply a charade for the politicians and the editors to get together and pick out some of the recommendations and say these are acceptable or not and take out the heart and soul of the Leveson recommendations, which provide the backbone for establishing a fair system going forward.

“We find ourselves very quickly in a smoke and mirrors situation.”

She added that editors were trying to remove the “heart and soul” of the Leveson report’s recommendations by ignoring the ones that did not suit them.

Source: Guardian News

Amazon, Google and Starbucks attacked by MPs over tax avoidance

Report also criticises HM Revenue & Customs for leniency in dealing with corporations that pay little or no corporation tax

Amazon, Google and Starbucks have been accused of an “immoral” use of secretive jurisdictions, royalties and complex company structures to avoid paying tax on British profits by a committee of MPs.

A hard-hitting report released on Monday by the Commons public accounts committee, the parliamentary spending watchdog, also criticises HM Revenue & Customs for being “way too lenient” in negotiations with corporations which pay little or no corporation tax. It calls on the government to draw up laws to close loopholes and name and shame companies that fail to pay their fair share.

The report’s scheduled release, following a humiliating parliamentary session for the three multinationals’ executives, prompted a flurry of media activity over the weekend. On Saturday night, Starbucks announced that it is reviewing its tax approach to Britain with a view to paying more following widespread criticism of the coffee chain’s tax regime.

George Osborne will on Monday announce an extra £77m a year for two years for more staff at Revenue & Customs to pursue companies which avoid paying tax. The chancellor said the extra investment would help secure an extra £2bn a year in unpaid tax.

He is also expected to confirm a deal with Switzerland which the chancellor hopes will raise more than £5bn in previously uncollected taxes from Swiss bank accounts over the next six years.

Danny Alexander, the Treasury chief secretary, said of the Starbucks statement: “I am delighted they are taking this issue seriously and they are listening to the feedback from their UK taxpaying customers.” He too had been boycotting Starbucks. “I might be able to buy a coffee from Starbucks again soon.”

Margaret Hodge, the chair of the PAC, said its report showed that corporations had been allowed to get away with “ripping off” taxpayers because of a weak tax authority, poor legislation and a lack of international co-operation.

“Global corporations with huge operations in the UK generating significant amounts of income are getting away with paying little or no corporation tax here. This is an insult to British business and individuals who pay their fair share.

“Corporation tax revenues have fallen at a time when securing proper income from taxes is more vital than ever.

“The inescapable conclusion is that multinationals are using structures and exploiting current tax legislation to move offshore profits that are clearly generated from economic activity in the UK,” she said.

Executives from the multinationals who appeared before the committee last month were singled out for criticism.

Responses to questions by Andrew Cecil, Amazon’s director of public policy, were “evasive”, “unprepared” and lacking credibility.

The company’s UK website reported a turnover of £207m for 2011, but its tax bill was just £1.8m.

Amazon avoids UK taxes by reporting European sales through a Luxembourg-based unit, MPs alleged. This structure allowed it to pay a rate of less than 12% on foreign profits last year – less than half the average corporate income tax rate in its major markets.

Troy Alstead, Starbucks’ global chief financial officer, claimed that the firm has lost money in the 15 years it has been operating in the UK except in 2006.

The world’s biggest coffee chain paid £8.6m in total UK tax over 13 years during which it recorded sales of £3.1bn.

Alstead’s claim was “difficult to believe” when contrasted with boasts of success sent to shareholders, according to the report.

Starbucks has been able to cut its tax bill, MPs said, by paying fees to other parts of its global business, such as royalty payments for use of the brand.

Google had £2.5bn of UK sales last year, but despite having a group-wide profit margin of 33%, its main UK unit had a tax charge of £3.4m in 2011.

The company avoids UK tax by channelling non-US sales via Ireland, an arrangement that has allowed it to pay taxes at a rate of 3.2% on non-US profits. It also diverts some profits through Bermuda.

Revenue & Customs has been asked by the committee to be bolder in challenging tax avoidance by multinationals and to be ready to prosecute if necessary.

“Top officials need to challenge the status quo and be more assertive, for example in accepting that excessive levels of royalty payments are appropriate when businesses are making a loss,” the report states. Benchmarks for common charges such as royalty payments and intellectual property rights could be published by the Treasury or tax officials. A company’s tax practices should also be made part of its mandatory reporting requirements, which would increase transparency, the MPs say.

The government and the tax authorities should also take a greater lead internationally in closing loopholes and increasing transparency in tax havens, particularly across Europe, the report concludes.

Osborne told BBC 1’s Andrew Marr Show that he will work closely with France and Germany to close tax loopholes. “It will be a big priority for the G7, G8, which we host next year,” he said.

A spokesman for HMRC said it had reduced tax avoidance by large businesses in recent years. “We relentlessly challenge those that persist in avoiding tax and have recovered £29bn additional revenues from large businesses in the last six years, including £4.1bn in the last four years from transfer pricing inquiries alone. These figures speak for themselves.”

Source: Guardian News