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UK aid helps to fund forced sterilisation of India’s poor

Money from the Department for International Development has helped pay for a controversial programme that has led to miscarriages and even deaths after botched operations.

The Guardian

Tens of millions of pounds of UK aid money have been spent on a programme that has forcibly sterilised Indian women and men, the Observer has learned. Many have died as a result of botched operations, while others have been left bleeding and in agony. A number of pregnant women selected for sterilisation suffered miscarriages and lost their babies.

The UK agreed to give India £166m to fund the programme, despite allegations that the money would be used to sterilise the poor in an attempt to curb the country’s burgeoning population of 1.2 billion people.

Sterilisation has been mired in controversy for years. With officials and doctors paid a bonus for every operation, poor and little-educated men and women in rural areas are routinely rounded up and sterilised without having a chance to object. Activists say some are told they are going to health camps for operations that will improve their general wellbeing and only discover the truth after going under the knife.

Court documents filed in India earlier this month claim that many victims have been left in pain, with little or no aftercare. Across the country, there have been numerous reports of deaths and of pregnant women suffering miscarriages after being selected for sterilisation without being warned that they would lose their unborn babies.

Yet a working paper published by the UK’s Department for International Development in 2010 cited the need to fight climate change as one of the key reasons for pressing ahead with such programmes. The document argued that reducing population numbers would cut greenhouse gases, although it warned that there were “complex human rights and ethical issues” involved in forced population control.

The latest allegations centre on the states of Madhya Pradesh and Bihar, both targeted by the UK government for aid after a review of funding last year. In February, the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh had to publicly warn off his officials after widespread reports of forced sterilisation. A few days later, 35-year-old Rekha Wasnik bled to death in the state after doctors sterilised her. The wife of a poor labourer, she was pregnant with twins at the time. She began bleeding on the operating table and a postmortem cited the operation as the cause of death.

Earlier this month, India’s supreme court heard how a surgeon operating in a school building in the Araria district of Bihar in January carried out 53 operations in two hours, assisted by unqualified staff, with no access to running water or equipment to clean the operating equipment. A video shot by activists shows filthy conditions and women lying on the straw-covered ground.

Human rights campaigner Devika Biswas told the court that “inhuman sterilisations, particularly in rural areas, continue with reckless disregard for the lives of poor women”. Biswas said 53 poor and low-caste women were rounded up and sterilised in operations carried out by torchlight that left three bleeding profusely and led to one woman who was three months pregnant miscarrying. “After the surgeries, all 53 women were crying out in pain. Though they were in desperate need of medical care, no one came to assist them,” she said.

The court gave the national and state governments two months to respond to the allegations.

Activists say that it is India’s poor – and particularly tribal people – who are most frequently targeted and who are most vulnerable to pressure to be sterilised. They claim that people have been threatened with losing their ration cards if they do not undergo operations, or bribed with as little as 600 rupees (£7.34) and a sari. Some states run lotteries in which people can win cars and fridges if they agree to be sterilised.

Despite the controversy, an Indian government report shows that sterilisation remains the most common method of family planning used in its Reproductive and Child Health Programme Phase II, launched in 2005 with £166m of UK funding. According to the DfID, the UK is committed to the project until next year and has spent £34m in 2011-12. Most of the money – £162m – has been paid out, but no special conditions have been placed on the funding.

Funding varies from state to state, but in Bihar private clinics receive 1,500 rupees for every sterilisation, with a bonus of 500 rupees a patient if they carry out more than 30 operations on a particular day. NGO workers who convince people to have the operations receive 150 rupees a person, while doctors get 75 rupees for each patient.

A 2009 Indian government report said that nearly half a million sterilisations had been carried out the previous year but warned of problems with quality control and financial management.

In 2006, India’s ministry of health and family welfare published a report into sterilisation, which warned of growing concerns, and the following year an Indian government audit of the programme warned of continuing problems with sterilisation camps. “Quality of sterilisation services in the camps is a matter of concern,” it said. It also said the quality of services was affected because much of the work was crammed into the final part of the financial year.

When it announced changes to aid for India last year, the DfID promised to improve the lives of more than 10 million poor women and girls. It said: “We condemn forced sterilisation and have taken steps to ensure that not a penny of UK aid could support it. The UK does not fund sterilisation centres anywhere.

"The coalition government has completely changed the way that aid is spent in India to focus on three of the poorest states, and our support for this programme is about to end as part of that change. Giving women access to family planning, no matter where they live or how poor they are, is a fundamental tenet of the coalition’s international development policy."

Filed under News UK Forced Sterilisation India Poor Poverty Climate Change

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Tragedies don’t end wars, even in Siachen

By Myra MacDonald

One of the most frequently cited misconceptions about the Siachen war – where 135 Pakistani soldiers and civilian staff were buried by an avalanche this weekend – is that it is somehow contained to a relatively small area, as though it were a mountain version of a 19th century battlefield.  The Indian and Pakistani troops, we are told in an oft-used and incorrect phrase, are“deployed on the Siachen Glacier at elevations as high as 22,000 feet.” From there, it becomes a relatively easy step to say, as many are saying after the tragedy, that India and Pakistan should end their futile conflict on the world’s highest battlefield. The argument has gathered momentum with a successful private-turned-state visit by President Asif Ali Zardari to India, generating expectations that Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will in turn visit Pakistan this year.

Continue down this track and you overlap with another frequently made argument - that a meaningful and important agreement must be ready to be signed in order to give substance to Singh’s trip. Enter a deal on Siachen, where India and Pakistan have competed over an uninhabitable wasteland of snow and ice high in the Karakoram mountains since 1984. Such an agreement, so the argument goes, would act as a major confidence building measure, building the momentum to reach a settlement of the festering Kashmir dispute and lasting peace between India and Pakistan.

But if tragedies could end wars, India and Pakistan would have made peace in 1947. And if Siachen were indeed an isolated and contained battlefield, contained on the Siachen glacier – which at 22,000 feet would have it floating improbably at the height of the mountains peaks above it – it too would have been settled long ago.  Far from being confined to the Siachen glacier – in fact Pakistan has no troops deployed on the glacier itself – the soldiers are spread across a wide area after fighting for control of the heights above before eventually agreeing a ceasefire in late 2003.

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Filed under Editorial India Pakistan Tragedy War

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First deployment of US marines arrives in Australia’s Darwin


About 200 United States Marines have arrived in Australia for a six-month deployment in the Northern Territory, as part of plans to expand the US military presence in the Asia-Pacific.

According to a US Marine Corps spokesman, the first of 2,500 Marines, who entered the northern Australian city of Darwin late Tuesday, are expected to engage in exercises with the Australian Defense Forces and are scheduled to travel to other countries in the region for training and exercises, Reuters reported on Wednesday. 

The spokesman added that the troops will eventually form a rotational Marine Air Ground Task Force. 

The unit was reportedly involved in recent active service in Afghanistan. 

"The world needs to essentially come to grips with the rise of China, the rise of India, the move of strategic and political and economic influence to our part of the world," Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith said in Darwin.

"And we need to ensure that we do that in a way in which the international community responds to that change, manages that change," he noted, adding that he believed the presence of Marines in Australia would support those efforts. 

The troops are deployed under a last November security deal between US President Barack Obama and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard to increase bilateral military cooperation and training. 

Meanwhile, a senior Pentagon official disclosed last week that Washington was engaging in two sets of trilateral dialogues — one with Japan and Australia and the other with Japan and South Korea — to expand US missile systems to Asia and the Middle East. 

The Australian government also announced last week that it would allow the Pentagon to use one of its remote islands in the Indian Ocean as a base to fly spy missions over South and Southeast Asia. 

Filed under News Australia US Military Marines China India Obama Pentagon South Korea Imperialism

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Anti-US protests rock Pakistan

Activists of Jamaat-ud-Dawa Pakistan, set fire to a US flag during a protest rally in Karachi on April 6, 2012. Hundreds of Pakistani Islamist activists poured onto the streets on April 6, demanding holy war and torching US flags to condemn a $10 million US bounty slapped on the founder of a terror group.


Hundreds of Islamist activists hit the streets of Pakistan yesterday, demanding holy war and torching US flags to condemn a $10 million bounty slapped on the founder of a terror group.

The Defence Council of Pakistan, an alliance of right-wing, religious and extremist groups, organised the rallies to denounce the US move against Hafiz Saeed, whose Lashkar-e-Taiba group was blamed for the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

Protests were organised in Islamabad, the neighbouring garrison city of Rawalpindi, the central shrine city of Multan and in Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistani-administered Kashmir.

In Muzaffarabad, around 500 activists shouted “Al-Jihad, Al-Jihad (holy war)” as they marched on the city and set fire to a US flag in a main square.

Speakers urged President Asif Ali Zardari to cancel a visit to India on Sunday and demanded an American apology for the bounty.

“We condemn American announcement against Hafiz Saeed,” cried a banner at the rally, which was attended by members of other banned and religious groups.

Activists of Jamaat-ud-Dawa and Jamat-e-Islami, which has seats in parliament, gathered in Islamabad and Rawalpindi to shout anti-American and anti-Indian slogans.

In Rawalpindi, around 150 activists set fire to an American flag, shouting “death to America” after yesterday prayers, an AFP photographer said.

In Islamabad, around 150 Islamists assembled outside the national press club and shouted “Al-Jihad and we stand by Hafiz Saeed”.

“Our government should summon the US ambassador in Islamabad and lodge a strong protest against the US decision,” former Jamat-e-Islami lawmaker Mian Muhammad Aslam told a news conference before the rally.

He also told Zardari to cancel his visit to India, the first by a Pakistani head of state since 2005.

Hundreds of protesters took to the streets in Multan and also burnt an American flag, an AFP reporter said.

“Our protests will continue until the US withdraws its bounty of $10 million against Hafiz Saeed,” Defence Council of Pakistan organiser Hafiz Abdul Ghaffar told AFP.

Filed under News Protest Pakistan USA War India

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Developing countries face digital divide: study


The World Economic Forum said Wednesday that the BRICS countries, despite their booming economies, are lagging behind their rivals when it comes to capitalizing on Internet technologies.

The Switzerland-based non-profit group released a report highlighting that the world’s most developed countries dominate the top of a “networked readiness” list while the highest ranking BRICS nation was China in 51st place.

The acronym “BRICS” is used to refer to surging economies in Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Although BRICS are fiercely competitive in the global arena, they are hampered by challenges when it comes to adopting information and communications technology (ICT), according to the “Living in a Hyperconnected World” report.

A lack of skilled workers and shortcomings in institutional environments for businesses were cited as factors stifling entrepreneurship and innovation.

The forum’s chief business officer Robert Greenhill said the Internet was causing a shake-up for traditional organizations and “we are beginning to see fundamental transformations in all areas of the economy and society.”

Sweden was ranked highest in networked readiness, followed by Singapore, Finland, Denmark, Switzerland, Netherlands, and Norway.

The United States was in eighth place, with Canada and Britain rounding out the top 10 list.

The Networked Readiness Index combined data from publicly available sources with feedback from a survey of more than 15,000 executives.

Filed under News BRICS United States Tech Technology Singapore Finland Denmark Switzerland Netherlands Norway Canada Britain China Internet Brazil Russia India South Africa

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Asia Is Up in Arms

By John Feffer

The geopolitical centre of gravity, as measured in arms spending and transfers, has shifted to Asia. The top five arms importers over the last five years, according to new datafrom the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), are from Asia. And, led by deep-pocketed China, Asia is poised to overtake Europe for the first time in modern history in overall military spending. 

The Cold War ended in Europe in the early 1990s. But Asia continues to buy and sell weapons as if the Cold War never went out of style. 

The biggest pull factor for the global arms trade is now South Asia. India is the world’s top weapons importer, accounting for 10 percent of the global total, with Russia as the top supplier. Pakistan is number three on the list, with China and the United States providing the bulk of the weapons. 

After being the world’s largest arms importer from 2002-2006, China is now surging as an arms exporter. But the top five global arms suppliers remain non-Asian countries. The United States accounts for nearly one-third of all military exports, with Russia at the number two spot, supplying nearly one-quarter. Germany, France, and the United Kingdom round out the list. 

"Those top five have been at the top for decades," explains Paul Holtom, director of the SIPRI Arms Transfers Programme. "If you go back to the SIPRI data from the 1950s, they were always there. The one thing we’ve noted is that their share is declining. So there is now competition with the dramatic increases of China." 

So far, China’s major purchaser is Pakistan. The two countries have teamed up to produce the JF-17 Thunder combat aircraft, a rival to the U.S. F-16. If other countries begin to purchase this big-ticket item – and several countries including Azerbaijan have so far expressed interest – then China will continue to rise in the ranks of arms exporters. 

Other changes affecting arms sales in Asia include Japan’s decision at the end of 2011 to further relax its 1967 ban on arms exports to facilitate participation in missile defence and fighter jet production. 

South Korea, meanwhile, doubled its arms sales last year and is on pace to reach a record three billion dollars for 2012. As the United States executes its “Pacific pivot”, it has asked allies to spend more money on the military either as part of burden-sharing or to promote the interoperability of allied weapons systems. 

"Arms sales are following the general global shift in power to the Asia," explains Patrick Cronin, senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Programme at the Center for a New American Security. 

"More impressive than the arms trade to and from Asia is the rising indigenous production capabilities. The qualitative advances in Asian arms are gradually leveling the playing field with arms produced in the United States and Europe. These trends are likely to continue, even if the pace varies from year to year. " 

Read more …

Filed under News Commentary Geopolitics Foreign Policy Europe Asia China Pentagon Weapons India Pakistan South Korea Japan Militarisation United States

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Can the Brics create a new world order?

By Simon Tisdall 

Brics summit in New Delhi, March 2012

Today’s one-day annual summit of the so-called Brics countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – has received scant attention in the west. That may be because the grouping has achieved little in concrete terms since its inception in 2009. Critics deride it as a photo-op and talking shop.

But this neglect, or disdain, may also reflect the fact that the Brics, representing almost half the world’s population and about one-fifth of global economic output, pose an unwelcome challenge to the established world order as defined by the US-dominated UN security council, the IMF and the World Bank. The truth of the matter probably lies somewhere in-between. The five national leaders – presidents Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, Dmitri Medvedev of Russia, Hu Jintao of China and Jacob Zuma of South Africa and their host in Delhi, India’s prime minister Manmohan Singh – are not noted for iconoclastic radicalism.

Rousseff has been the most outspoken, insisting that developing countries must be protected from the global “tsunami” of cheap money, unleashed by the US and the EU in the wake of the financial crisis, that was rendering their exports less competitive. “We will defend our industry and prevent the methods developed countries use to escape from crisis resulting in the cannibalisation of emerging markets,” she said this month.

Brics boosters project a grandiose vision. India’s commerce secretary, Anand Sharma, said this week the group sought nothing less than “to create a new global architecture”. But commentators interpret such ambitions as essentially anti-American hot air. Pointing to a signal lack of substantive policy agreements, they suggest a desire to counter Washington’s global dominance is the Brics’ sole unifying objective.

"There are calls to establish a permanent secretariat and even a development bank in an effort to bolster the grouping’s political impact,"wrote Walter Ladwig of the Royal United Services Institute. “But this focus on institution-building is misplaced. It is the fundamental incompatibility of the Brics nations, not their lack of organisation, which prevents [them] acting as a meaningful force on the world stage”. Ladwig continued: “Beyond the issues of economic governance, in many key areas the Brics nations are actually in strategic competition. Within Asia, India and Russia are potential obstacles to China’s presumed regional dominance. At the international level, Russia, Brazil and India desire the emergence of a multipolar international system in which they are major actors, with the latter two seeking membership in an expanded UN security council.

"In contrast, China aims for a bipolar world in which it serves as the counterbalance to American power." So far, Beijing has opposed India’s bid for a permanent security council seat.

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Filed under News BRICS New World Order Brazil Russia India China South Africa World Government

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Brics’ move to unseat US dollar as trade currency

South Africa will this week take some initial steps to unseat the US dollar as the preferred worldwide currency for trade and investment in emerging economies. 

Thus, the nation is expected to become party to endorsing the Chinese currency, the renminbi, as the currency of trade in emerging markets.

This means getting a renminbi-denominated bank account, in addition to a dollar account, could be an advantage for African businesses that seek to do business in the emerging markets.

The move is set to challenge the supremacy of the US dollar. This, experts say, is the latest salvo in the greatest worldwide currency war since the 1930s.

In the 30s, several nations competitively devalued their currencies to give their domestic economies an advantage over others. 

And this led to a worldwide decline in overall trade volumes at the time.

The north will be pitted against the entire south in a historic competitive currency battle – whose terrain has moved to the Indian capital New Dehli – where the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India China and South Africa) nations will assemble next week. 

China seeks to find new markets for its currency and to lobby to internationalise it throughout the Brics states.

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Filed under BRICS Dollar News Banks Wallstreet Brazil Russia India China South Africa New Dehli US Dollar

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