x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Zimbabwe's forgotten misery

Famine, cholera, contaminated water supplies, riots, hyper-inflation, mass unemployment - all of these now afflict a country that has been in a spiral of collapse while Robert Mugabe still clings to power. Thailand's political crisis is defused after its constitutional court disbands the governing political party. A former Pentagon officials claims US intelligence indicates that former officers from Pakistan's army and the Inter-Services Intelligence agency helped train the Mumbai attackers.

Famine, cholera, contaminated water supplies, riots, hyper-inflation, mass unemployment - all of these now afflict a country that descends down a spiral of collapse while Robert Mugabe still clings to power. "The twin miseries of crop failure and economic collapse have left Zimbabwe's villages without food. Millions survive on nothing but wild fruit, and many have died," the Los Angeles Times reported. "There are no official statistics. But ask people here in Zimbabwe's Matabeleland South province whether they know anyone who died of hunger recently, and the answer is nearly always yes. Sometimes it's four or six people in the last couple of weeks. Sometimes they just say 'plenty'. "'Children are dying out in the bush,' one foreign doctor says, on condition of anonymity. 'We are all guarded. We have to keep quiet or else we'll be kicked out' by the government. "The crisis has been exacerbated by President Robert Mugabe's decision in June to suspend humanitarian aid during the run-up to his one-man presidential runoff. The long-ruling Mugabe, stunned when he won fewer votes than opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai in the first round in March, accused aid agencies of supporting the opposition and didn't lift the ban until August. Critics say the regime, which has a history of denying food to opposition areas, was using hunger as a political tool to force people to vote for Mugabe." The Times said: "Water supplies to residents in Harare were cut by the authorities yesterday as Zimbabwe's cholera epidemic tightened its grip and the city witnessed its worst unrest for a decade. "The Zimbabwe National Water Authority turned off the pumps in the capital after it ran out of purifying chemicals. With cholera cases soaring above 11,000 across the country, and an anthrax outbreak ravaging the the countryside, David Parirenyatwa, the Health Minister, urged Zimbabweans to stop shaking hands to avoid spreading disease." The Guardian reported: "Dozens of Zimbabwean soldiers rioted in Harare yesterday, attacking banks after they were unable to withdraw their near worthless pay, in a further sign that Robert Mugabe may be losing control over the forces that have kept him in power. "The unarmed soldiers also looted shops and were backed by some civilians as they clashed with riot police who fired teargas to break up the protest. The drastic cash shortages are caused by the country's 231m percent inflation rate, which has led the government to restrict people to withdrawing the equivalent of just 18p a day - not enough to buy a loaf of bread."

"Sondhi Limthongkul, the co-leader of Thailand's People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) anti-government protest group, proclaimed Tuesday a 'joyous day' and declared victory after a 193-day campaign to oust the People's Power Party-(PPP)-led government," Asia Times reported. "The PAD announced that by 10am on Wednesday all of its anti-government protesters would stand down. Bangkok's two main airports and Government House - Thailand's top government office - were returned to the authorities to allow them to resume operations. By noon, the longest-running political protest in the history of Thailand came to an end. "The decision to cease demonstrations followed a ruling on Tuesday by the Constitution Court to disband the PPP-led government of Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat - a watershed verdict meant to end Thailand's months of violence, embarrassment and economic disaster. Numerous politicians, including Somchai, were banned from politics for five years." Newsweek said: "At Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport, which opened today after being shut down for the past week, thousands of yellow-clad protestors lingered - apparently wanting to savor the taste of victory overnight. Much of Bangkok's attention was shifting to plans to mark the 81st birthday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej on Friday. "The apparent settlement of the conflict between the government and the protesters - members of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) - was viewed as a good omen for the revered monarch's celebrations. It may not be a good omen for Thailand's democracy, however. PAD, despite its name, is an essentially royalist party from the elite, urban portion of the country. And the settlement promises only a temporary end to the simmering conflict." In The Atlantic, Jarrett Wrisley wrote: "Thailand has long been a politically turbulent place, and there have been 18 coups here since World War Two. The situation now is unsettling. In 2006, the military deposed then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who fled the country, but was convicted in absentia of violating political ethics, and was sentenced to two years in jail. Though Thaksin has not set foot in Thailand for several months, he is still believed to wield great power in the People Power Party (PPP), which has a large electoral majority. In protest against Thaksin's continuing influence, the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) marched on and shut down both of the country's airports last week, seeking to rid the government of Thaksin's allies (his brother-in-law, Somsai Wongcharat, became Thailand's Prime Minister earlier this year). "What makes the situation unprecedented, in this country where obeisance to one's alleged superiors has long been an ironclad rule, is that Thaksin and his followers have pitted themselves against the perceived wishes of an adored monarchy, and a powerful upper class."

"A former Defense Department official said Wednesday that American intelligence agencies had determined that former officers from Pakistan's army and its powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency helped train the Mumbai attackers," The New York Times reported. "But the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that no specific links had been uncovered yet between the terrorists and the Pakistani government. "His disclosure came as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held meetings with Indian leaders in New Delhi and Adm Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met with their Pakistani counterparts in Islamabad, in a two-pronged effort to pressure Pakistan to cooperate fully in the effort to track down those responsible for the bloody attacks in Mumbai last week." In The Australian, Bruce Loudon reported: "Pakistan was bracing last night for a retaliatory airstrike by India against the sprawling headquarters of the al Qa'eda-linked Lashkar-i-Taiba terrorist organisation near Lahore. "As Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari warned the LiT militants 'had the power to precipitate war in the region', India demanded that Islamabad hand over a list of about 20 people, including India's most-wanted man Dawood Ibrahim. "India's military chiefs were exerting strong pressure on the country's political leaders to give permission to attack the headquarters, an 80ha site at Muridke, close to the Punjab capital of Lahore, just across the border from India. "The reports came as the Indian Government summoned the Pakistani high commissioner in New Delhi yesterday to demand 'strong action' against the Pakistani militants who it says were responsible for last week's attacks on Mumbai." ABC News said: "US counter-terrorism officials say Lashkar-i-Taiba's ability to operate with impunity inside Pakistan is one reason US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has warned Pakistan 'this is a time for complete, absolute, total transparency and co-operation'. "A warning issued by US intelligence agencies to Indian officials in mid-October suggests the US may know the precise location of the training camps or headquarters in Pakistan, according to sources in the intelligence community. "'There's going to have be retaliation, but it could be a while,' said former CIA intelligence officer John Kiriakou, an ABC News consultant. "'The location of those bases is the worst kept secret in South Asia, but by now they probably have been abandoned,' he said." In The New York Times, the writer, Amitav Ghosh, warned about the dangers of comparing the Mumbai attacks to 9/11. "As a metaphor '9/11' is invested not just with the memory of what happened in Manhattan and at the Pentagon in 2001, but also with the penumbra of emotions that surround the events: the feeling that 'the world will never be the same,' the notion that this was 'the day the world woke up' and so on. In this sense 9/11 refers not just to the attacks but also to its aftermath, in particular to an utterly misconceived military and judicial response, one that has had disastrous consequences around the world. "When commentators repeat the metaphor of 9/11 they are in effect pushing the Indian government to mount a comparable response. If India takes a hard line modeled on the actions of the Bush administration, the consequences are sure to be equally disastrous. The very power of the 9/11 metaphor blinds us to the possibility that there might be other, more productive analogies for the invasion of Mumbai: one is the Madrid train bombings of March 11, 2004, which led to a comparable number of casualties and created a similar sense of shock and grief. "If 9/11 is a metaphor for one kind of reaction to terrorism, then 11-M (as it is known in Spanish) should serve as shorthand for a different kind of response: one that emphasises vigilance, patience and careful police work in coordination with neighbouring countries. This is exactly the kind of response India needs now, and fortunately this seems to be the course that the government, led by the Congress Party, has decided to follow. Government spokesmen have been at some pains to specify that India does not intend to respond with a troop buildup along the border with Pakistan, as the Bharatiya Janata-led government did after the attack by Muslim extremists on India's Parliament in 2001."

pwoodward@thenational.ae