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Archive for Europe & Americas

Polish now England’s second language

POLISH is now the main language spoken in England and Wales after English and Welsh, according to 2011 census data released by the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

The language-speaking figures recorded for the first time from a survey of 56.1 million residents of England and Wales show 546,000 speak Polish. It is now the second main language in England. There are still slightly more Welsh speakers in Wales at 562,000.

The next biggest main languages are the south Asian languages of Punjabi, Urdu, Bengali and Gujarati, followed by Arabic, French, Chinese and Portuguese. The statisticians said they recorded over 100 different languages and 49 main languages with more than 15,000 users. English was the biggest of that group and Swedish the smallest.

Chinese people alone listed 67 different languages or dialects, although a minority of those were different spellings of the same language. All but three of the London boroughs, excluding the City, Richmond and Havering, have residents speaking more than 100 main languages, the ONS said. Hillingdon is the most linguistically diverse, with 107 languages listed, followed by Newham, with 103.

Some of the languages are in a tiny minority. For example, there was only one person in Barnet who said they spoke Caribbean creole and one person in Bexley.

Fifty-eight people speak Scottish Gaelic, 33 speak Manx Gaelic and 629 speak Romany.

Ealing in west London is the nation’s hotspot for Polish speaking, the town of Slough for Punjabi/Urdu, the city of Leicester for Gujarati, Kensington in central London for French and Manchester for Cantonese and Mandarin.

One million households have no residents with English as a main language, although most had some proficiency in English, the ONS said.

Only 138,000 people could not speak English at all.

“The West Midlands is the region with the lowest percentage of people that can speak English very well or well at 72 per cent,” said Roma Chappell, census director. It was the region that also had the highest number of people who can’t speak English at all.

The latest figures from the 2011 census also revealed how people in England and Wales get to work. The university cities of Cambridge and Oxford were the cycling capitals with 18 per cent and 10 per cent of their populations commuting on two wheels but London had the most cyclists, with the number more than doubling from 77,000 in 2001 to 161,000 in 2011.

Half of London residents travel using public transport but two per cent now use bikes and nine per cent of the people of Hackney in east London cycle to work.

Source: Dawn News/Guardian News

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‘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.

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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.

Frankie Boyle donates £50,000 to help Guantanamo inmate sue M16

The comic uses his libel victory cash to fund landmark legal bid

He’s the television comedian best known for controversial jokes about swimmer Rebecca Adlington, The Queen and Down’s syndrome sufferers.

But Frankie Boyle is now using his fame, and wealth, for more serious ends, by donating tens of thousands of pounds of his money to help Britain’s last inmate at Guantanamo Bay to sue the MI6.

Yesterday the Glaswegian comic announced the £50,000 compensation he won from a recent libel victory against the Daily Mirror newspaper, would go towards a landmark legal attempt to sue Britain’s security services over accusations they have defamed Shaker Aamer, the only British resident still languishing without charge in Guantanamo.

Boyle, who has decided to retire from comedy early next year after repeated clashes over his controversial style of humour, unveiled his plan alongside Reprieve, the British-American charity which has long represented inmates of Washington’s extra-judicial jail.

Even Boyle, who is best known for his performances on BBC panel show Mock the Week, admits his involvement in the case sounds a little far-fetched. “I remember reading [the US pop star] Usher crashed a hot air balloon into something, and I thought ‘this is just a random word generator’”, he told The Independent yesterday. “It feels a bit like that.”

Clive Stafford-Smith, the director of Reprieve, admitted the libel action untested legal formula but said there was important legal ground that needed to be explored. “If the Daily Mirror says something bad about Frankie that embarrasses him or humiliates him then he has the right to sue,” he said.

“If, on the other hand, a far more powerful organisation, the British government and their agents, say something about Shaker – whereby instead of being humiliated he’s banged up in prison for eleven years for something he patently didn’t do and something he’s never been charged with –  then the British  government’s position is Shaker can  do nothing.”

Aamer was arrested in Afghanistan in late 2001 and is the only British resident left in Guantanamo, a US detention centre in Cuba. He has been cleared for release by the US authorities but has yet to be freed as the Americans have insisted on returning him to Saudi Arabia. Although he holds Saudi nationality with his British residency, Aamer’s wife and four children – one of whom he has never met – live in London. The British government are supportive of him returning to the UK but the Americans have so far refused to hand him over.

A Foreign Office spokesperson said they could not comment on any on-going legal proceedings but Reprieve claim that they have already seen a response from Government lawyers claiming the security services are protected by legal privilege.

“The claim they would make is they would have law enforcement privilege,” said Stafford-Smith. “But our response to that is they’re not enforcing any law because Shaker has not broken any law, he’s not been prosecuted for breaking any law and they’re not investigating him for breaking any law. So our position is they would have no such privilege.”

Source: The Independent Newspaper

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

Lagarde says ‘fiscal cliff’ threatens US supremacy

- File Photo

– File Photo

WASHINGTON: International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde said on Friday the looming “fiscal cliff” in the United States threatens the country’s international supremacy and the fragile global recovery.

In an interview with BBC World News, Lagarde noted the US fiscal cliff, a combination of severe tax increases and spending cuts due in January, would probably wipe out growth in the world’s largest economy.

“The real issues are, in a way, the supremacy of the United States and its leadership role in the world,” said the managing director of the IMF. “To make sure that that leadership endures, the uncertainty has to be removed because uncertainty fuels doubt as to that leadership.”

With the deadline fast approaching, President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans remain at loggerheads in talks to find a longer-term deficit reduction plan that would avert the cliff.

“It’s not purely a political issue, it’s not ideological, it’s broader than that. It really addresses the role of the United States in the world from a geopolitical and economic point of view,” said Lagarde, according to extracts of the broadcast interview.

Source: Dawn News

UK education comes sixth in global league table

Countries which do best have a culture which supports education, says report

The UK education system is ranked sixth best in the developed world, according to a new global league table.

Finland and South Korea top the new league table, followed by Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore.

The global study, carried out by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) for education firm Pearson, used data from international tests, as well as data on school literacy and university graduation rates to draw up the index.

UK education has come sixth in the world

The UK was found to have the second best education system in Europe, ahead of countries such as Switzerland, Denmark and Germany which were ranked 9th, 12th and 15th respectively.

The research is designed to help policymakers, school leaders and academics identify the key factors which drive improved educational outcomes.

For educational attainment, based on literacy and graduation rates from schools and colleges, the UK is second only to South Korea, while Finland, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan were ranked highly in the cognitive ability category based on international tests in maths, reading and science.

While investing in education “undoubtedly reaps rewards”, the report – called the Learning Curve – suggested that a culture of support for education is probably more important. It also added that there was no substitute for high quality teaching. “The best performing countries attract top talent, train teachers throughout their careers and allow them freedom too” the report stated.

Denis McCauley, executive editor, business research at the Economist Intelligence Unit said: “We hope our study serves as a catalyst for further collaborative efforts by academics, practitioners and policymakers to deepen our knowledge about what contributes to better education performance and outcomes.”

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers said: “This is great news for all those working in schools and colleges. The study by Pearson concludes that having a culture that is supportive of learning is vitally important to educational success.”

Learning Curve top 20 countries for education

  • Finland
  • South Korea
  • Hong Kong
  • Japan
  • Singapore
  • UK
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Switzerland
  • Canada
  • Ireland
  • Denmark
  • Australia
  • Poland
  • Germany
  • Belgium
  • USA
  • Hungary
  • Slovakia
  • Russia

Source: Guardian News