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Family Control of Industries – A Major Hurdle In India

Obviously,  Government of India is doing whatever it can to boost industrial and economic growth, inspite of several constraints . Of course, some  investors and industry houses seem to think that even more proactive steps are required , particularly with regard to taxation measures and   extending protection for Indian companies from global competitors  in India.

by N.S.Venkataraman

Many industry observers, policy planners and economists , both in India and abroad , often wonder as to why the Indian industries are not forging ahead to the level of it’s potentials.

Considering the land area of India , large coastal belt, mineral deposits,  variety of soil conditions and climate that the  country has   as well as the   huge manpower strength in the form of engineers, technologists as well as skilled personnel, many people think  that  there is no reason as to why Indian industries  should not grow faster than the present pace.

In recent times, to give a big push for industrial growth   and improve the investment  climate , Government of India has introduced an innovative PLI (production linked incentive ) scheme, hoping that it would encourage more industries and service oriented units to be set up, speed up the technology development and expand the  manufacturing base and the production level in the country. Of course, this innovative scheme of the Government of India has caught the imagination of industrialists and investors and some positive response has already been seen in the country. Certainly, the climate of growth has been strengthened to some extent by the PLI scheme.

The other innovative scheme introduced by Government of India is the “start up  initiative”,   to encourage the new  entrepreneurs to set up projects in industrial , services and other sector,  which too has received reasonably good initial response so far.  The level of commitment of the Government of India to this start up scheme is more than evident from the fact   that the Prime Minister has declared 16 th January as the “National Start Up Day” to be celebrated every year. 

Obviously,  Government of India is doing whatever it can to boost industrial and economic growth, inspite of several constraints . Of course, some  investors and industry houses seem to think that even more proactive steps are required , particularly with regard to taxation measures and   extending protection for Indian companies from global competitors  in India.

While the above scenario  is continuously being evolved , modified and fine tuned ,  it is high time that the industry houses   and project promoters in India should also carefully analyse, examine and evaluate whether they have played their own role adequately well  in fast tracking the growth of  industrial and services sector in the country.

One of the issues in Indian industry  and services sector and  in commercial business establishments is that most of the project promoters , while taking policy decisions, often balance between the interests of their families and the interests of the industries and establishments which they promote and manage.   This sort of family   and dynastic culture   ( like the dynastic politics that is now becoming a matter of concern in India ), has become a hurdle in the rapid progress  of the industries and services sector.

This ,obviously , means that professionalization of management practice in India   still have a long way to go and the” family love”  of the project promoters  often  block the way of   professionalization of management . This is not a healthy sign.

In the case of  several medium and large scale  industries  and commercial establishments in private sector that have reasonably good track record, we often find the sons , daughters, nephews or nieces or close relatives of the project promoters  are  suddenly entrusted with the responsibility and authority by being posted as top executives even if they are in the age group of late twenties or early thirties,   as  succession management practice.

In such circumstances, senior professionals and technocrats with several decades of experience and valuable expertise gained   over a long period by serving in challenging assignments , are forced to report to those   inexperienced top executives who form part of the family tree.  In other words, the senior professionals face the embarrassing  experience of having to explain the problems   and suggest solutions and provide guidance to the inexperienced   top executives ,who happen to be the top  executives only due to the fact that they happen to be the son, daughter , nephew or niece or other relatives of project promoters.

In such developments where  the family members are imposed  on the industries and establishments , it is often seen that costly mistakes happen in decision taking process and sometimes, even  the companies lose the  sense of direction due to the whims and fancies of the young and inexperienced top executives.

Another disturbing aspect is that companies are often split by the project promoters  amongst the siblings   to accommodate each one of them .  In the process, several companies are formed from one company and investment capability and technology expertise  of the  newly formed companies by splitting suffer enormously.  The net result is that  the  growth of the industries and establishments suffer .  Many examples can be cited to highlight how the companies are split   by the project promoters only with the sole purpose of accommodating the siblings and perhaps, even to prevent the family quarrels.

One example that is known to everybody is that of Reliance Industries. After Dhirubhai  Ambani , his two sons split the enterprise between themselves. Now, these sons want to split the enterprise  further to accommodate  their own sons and daughters. Perhaps, the chain will go on endlessly in future by several more split ups!

Because of the concept of family  hierarchy , it is also very well known about sons and daughters quarreling  with their father (  project promoter )   due to family claims and  finally ending up in courts where the cases prolong  for very long time. In the process, the companies suffer and consequently the progress of the country is impacted.

It appears that adequate research studies on the extent to which the control of industries and business  by families  have retarded  the progress and growth of Indian industries and economy are yet to be taken up with the seriousness that it deserves.

Thirty Years after the USSR

Thirty years on, the residents of the individual republics are seen to be better off in some measures than they were at independence. All 15 Republics have seen life expectancy improve since 1991. 

by Victor Cherubim 

It has been 30 years ago since the Soviet Union dissolved in the wake of a bangled reform by Soviet leaders on 26 December 1991. The Soviet Union was created by the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. It did not happen overnight. It was no surprise. The collapse of the 15 republics which made up the Soviet Union faced both internal and external pressures. Back in the USSR, they endeavoured to establish political structures and reform economic systems, which failed. They faced unresolved territorial questions, socio-economic crisis and particularly ambiguity about which direction to take in the future.

I don’t want to discuss the causes of the breakup in a short write-up, other than to state there was an unwieldly empire, a permanent food shortage, the official exchange rate was 78 Kopeks, whilst the Black Market rate was 48.70 Roubles to the US Greenback. Unlike a revolution, the outlying Soviet Empire was eager for reform brewing over a long time. Soviet General Secretary, Mikhail Gorbachev stepped down and Boris Yeltsin became President of a newly independent Russia. The breakup of this colossus was already a question of time.

President Putin’s Russia

Fast forward to President Putin who has stated: “the breakup of historic Russia (Imperial Russia) has lost 40 % of its territory built over a millennium (1000 years) and lost its largest production capacity.” He has had an ambition to build Russia to its pristine days. But his dream has been blocked, not necessarily by Alexei Navalny, Russian Opposition Party called, “The Future of Russia”. He has been cornered by punitive economic sanctions by the West.

Vladimir Putin according to western reports, is a ruthless dictator. He however, is known in Russia for the salvation of Russia from disintegration, for the end of the war in Chechnya and the destruction of ISIS and other terrorist groups in Syria. Russia lost blood and sweat to accomplish all this, including to get out of Afghanistan.  

My personal experience, now only a memory

Looking back some 60 years ago (Feb. / March 1962) during Khrushchev regime, when I was “foot loose and fancy free,” I visited the Soviet Union from my educational stay in United States enroute to Ceylon (Sri Lanka). I was really fortunate in spending a full month travelling around the Soviet Union visiting some of the capital cities of its Republics: Moscow, including Leningrad in Russia; Kiev, capital of Ukraine and also Odessa and Sochi in Ukraine, Erevan capital of Armenia, Tbilisi in Georgia, Baku in Azerbaijan, and Tashkent in Uzbekistan. I learned a lot about the then Soviet way of life, the Kolkhoz “Collective” farm systems, the Soviet education. I had read much about Soviet Space Exploration while in President Kennedy’s USA. I wrote three feature articles published in 1962 in the Times of Ceylon, which readers can access, including the one I recall: “Russian students are paid to study”.  

I came to realise that both the Russian and Ukrainians were from the same stock of people, speaking both Russian which then was the official language; and Ukrainian which was the language of Ukraine. The Ukrainians were naturally very proud of their “Zaporozhe Cossack” tradition of their history. I was most welcome and treated with much courtesy because I came from Mrs. Srimavo Bandranaike’s friendly country. So much for my credentials, which I am sure my readers will forgive me for it.

Today, Ukraine is a separate and rightly free nation. But both Russian speaking brothers are at loggerheads thanks in large measure to NATO and the stirring up of emotions, because Russia invaded Crimea in 2014 and annexed it. 

Russia now states it has stationed near 100,000 “border patrols” on the eastern flank of Ukraine. This could well be in fear of Ukraine becoming coerced as a NATO member. 

Diplomacy or deterrence, is Russia’s choice says United States?

US Deputy Secretary of State, Wendy R. Sherman, a veteran diplomat, recently states: “De-escalation and diplomacy as opposed to deterrence and the very significant costs to Russia, if they choose invasion, subversion or coercion”. She goes on: “I am not quite sure why Russia feels so threatened by Ukraine. President Putin will have to make a judgment about where he can get the kind of progress he wants”.

“Why are they threatened by a much smaller country that’s just a developing democracy? It makes no sense.” Are we witnessing a form of “gun diplomacy?” 

Nearly 8 hours of US/ Russia bilateral talks in Geneva a few days ago has yielded no progress. Nerves are on end.

Of course, NATO and the West is nervously watching Russian build up, a formidable build-up of forces alongside the Ukrainian border, it’s eastern border with Russia with an estimated alleged 600,000 Russian troops, including tanks for invasion. But Moscow has denied plans for an all-out strike attack, which could engulf in a world war. Will it be in Moscow’s interest to escalate, is any body’s guess?

President Putin has not wanted to fall into the same mistake made after the collapse of the Soviet Union, or by Ukraine wanting to ever join NATO, a threat to the security of Russia. He has Estonia and other Baltic States, within earshot of Russian border. He has the Nordstrom Oil Pipeline to Germany issue un-resolved. But 8 years later, he still has held Crimea.   

President Putin has put forward an eight point draft treaty laying out the requests, his conditions for withdrawal, including long term security guarantees, including NATO will halt its eastern expansion, rule out membership for Ukraine, and roll back US and NATO forces stationed in Central and Eastern Europe. Is it a tall order? 

United States wants to protect the borders and sovereignty of Ukraine. The US already is using sanctions, to curtail Russian intervention. The Biden Administration and its allies are signalling to Russia that they would face financial, technological and military sanctions against Russia. They say they would go into effect within hours of an invasion of Ukraine, if Russia sends troops across the border. 

What has been achieved by the Old Soviet Republics in these 30 years of freedom?

Thirty years on, the residents of the individual republics are seen to be better off in some measures than they were at independence. All 15 Republics have seen life expectancy improve since 1991. They have seen a decrease in poverty levels, through reliable comparison data, is difficult to ascertain. There is however, some nostalgic for Soviet days,

understandably, especially among the elderly citizens, who knew how to ……………. in the Old Soviet Union.

Will Putin use diplomacy rather than deterrence is the trillion dollar question?

The Future of Reproduction

An urgent plea for a broader understanding and awareness of the unconsidered dangers of new genetic technologies. Since 2010 it has been possible to determine a person's genetic makeup in a matter of days at an accessible cost for many millions of people. Along with this technological breakthrough there has emerged a movement to use this information to help prospective parents "eliminate preventable genetic disease." As the prospect of systematically excluding the appearance of unwanted mutations in our children comes within reach, David B. Goldstein examines the possible consequences from these types of choices.

Excerpts from the author's latest book, The End of Genetics, published by Yale University Press

by David B. Goldstein

The first decade of the twenty-first century marked a turning point in the relationship between society and the human genome. For the first time it became possible to determine the genetic makeup of any person in a matter of days and at a cost already within range for many millions of people. Even before this genomic watershed was reached, a movement had emerged to provide genetic information directly to consumers.1 In some cases the offerings to consider included help to make “more perfect babies.”2 The obvious question upon reading such a claim is this: What would qualify as a more perfect baby? Until recently, this question was of primarily academic interest. Ethicists could debate the benefits and the risks, but there was no realistic prospect of systematically prohibiting the appearance of unwanted mutations in our children. For better or worse, the genomic engineering of future generations has suddenly become a very real prospect and is therefore something, I believe, that society must urgently consider. There are two key questions about such reproductive genomic engineering that need to be considered and understood: What do we want to change in the genomes of our children, and what are we likely to be able to change?

In terms of what we would like to change, in my experience, most people are comfortable with the idea of ensuring that children do not carry mutations that cause devastating childhood diseases. Indeed, there are already ongoing efforts throughout the world to reduce the transmission of severe childhood genetic diseases such as Tay-Sachs disease. Many couples already opt for a procedure called carrier screening, which seeks to identify genes for which both mom and dad carry mutations that, when combined, would result in a severe childhood genetic disease. And many fertility centers offer the option of testing embryos for mutations that would cause such diseases in order to select for transfer those that do not carry two such mutations, among other genetic testing options.

But how far should these efforts go? Is it also appropriate to test for mutations that predispose one to, but do not deterministically cause, later-onset conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease? And what about non-disease traits, such as height or eye color or, indeed, traits such as sexual orientation, where the genetics is often only probabilistic but where those probabilities can in principle be tested for and parental preferences acted upon? Even if we restrict attention to disease, we face the question, What is or should be classified as a disease? These questions become particularly acute when we recognize that different people will have very different ideas about what they would like to see in the genomes of their children. And views about what is and is not a disease have changed in important ways over time. As one stark illustration, a certain minority of the deaf community has a preference for deaf children. What if a couple wants to use genomic technologies to ensure that their children would also carry the same deafness mutations that they themselves carry? In the past, professional geneticists could draw a certain comfort from technological constraints. As our ability to identify the mutations that make us different from one another grows along with our ability to not only select but, as we shall see, edit what is present in the genomes of our children, what we should and should not do will emerge as one of the defining questions for societies and individuals.

The second part of the question about what we might change in the genomes of our children relates to what kinds of traits we are able to influence and how much we can influence them. When the personal genomics movement was first gaining traction, it was heavily focused on common genetic variants, mainly for technical reasons related to how genetic studies at the time were performed. These common variants are conventionally considered sites in the genome where there is a common form and a minor form, and the minor form is observed about 5 percent or more of the time. This represents a tiny fraction of the variable sites in the human genome. As you will learn in some detail through the course of this book, there are around three billion different positions in the human genome, and we know that most of these three billion sites vary in one or more humans alive today. As you will also learn in the chapters that follow, while we know that most of these sites will vary somewhere in the human population, we still do not know the consequences of the vast majority of that genetic variation.

In the early days of personal genomics, there were two clear drivers of consumer interest: genetic ancestry and the results of “genome-wide association studies,” or GWAS. Genetic ancestry is just what it sounds like—your genetics telling you something about where your ancestors are from in a geographic sense and, sometimes, something about relatives you may not have known you have. And GWAS is a fancy, and somewhat overstated way of describing a type of genetic experiment that allows the assessment of whether any of the common variants in the human genome influence a particular disease or trait. A typical GWAS might, for example, compare a million common variants between patients with schizophrenia and those without schizophrenia to see if any of them are associated with an increased risk of disease. As of this writing, many thousands of different common variants have been associated with hundreds of different diseases and traits, including, by now, almost all the common diseases and many other traits such as height and weight, skin and hair color, and even complex behavioral traits such as educational achievement, IQ, and sexual orientation. All of this can be reviewed using a catalog of GWAS findings.

In the case of ancestry testing, consumers could learn something, albeit rather coarse, about the geographic origins of their Y chromosomes or their mitochondrial genomes, reflecting, respectively, their paternal or maternal ancestry. Or they might get a composite picture of a kind of average of the various geographic ancestries represented in their entire genomes, learning, for example that their ancestry overall appears to be from some part of Europe, Asia, Africa, or the New World. Or they could learn that they are related, to some degree, to someone else who has also been tested. In the case of comparing their genomes against the results of GWAS studies of diseases and other traits, consumers might learn that they have a marginally greater or lesser risk of type 2 diabetes than the population average or that they carry stronger risk factors for certain autoimmune or neurodegenerative diseases. In most cases, however, there has been no reputable advice that could be offered as a function of the genetic information gleaned from such “genomic profiling.” For example, one of the very strongest effects for any common variant in the human genome is due to variation at the ApoE gene. Those who carry the risk forms of this gene have a greatly increased likelihood of developing late-onset Alzheimer’s disease, but there is currently nothing that carriers can do to meaningfully alter their risks of developing the disease.

This lack of clinical impact led me, in a New York Times interview in 2008, to sum up the entire enterprise as “recreational genomics.” Referring to the field as recreational was not only intended to convey that what was being discussed in the guise of “personal genomics” was of little to no clinical value but also reflected a degree of exasperation that I (and many other geneticists) feel about how many personal genomics companies implicitly or explicitly oversell what they offer and, in consequence, badly mislead the public about the nature of human genetics. Evidence of how personal genomics companies oversell and misinform is not hard to find. Sometimes it is subtle; sometimes it is egregious.

Alistair Moffat is a journalist and former rector at St. Andrews College in Scotland. He is also the former chief executive officer of Britain’s DNA, a now-defunct for-profit personal genomics company that once offered consumers a variety of DNA tests. In the summer of 2012, Mr. Moffat described some of what Britain’s DNA had discovered. He first claimed that a volcano seventy thousand years ago “blew itself to smithereens” and destroyed all the human genetic lineages except for those of two individuals, dubbed Adam and Eve. He went on to claim that Britain’s DNA discovered a remarkable individual who has Eve’s DNA, that they had found a genetic marker from “Queen Sheba,” that 33 percent of the men of Britain carry the “founding lineages of Britain,” and that 97 percent of men with the surname Cohen share a genetic marker. The earlier description of what some personal genomics companies offered as “recreational genomics” can hardly cover excesses like this. An English geneticist, Mark Thomas, who was involved with me in some of the work that provides the grain of science behind these absurdities, more accurately described them as genetic astrology. Astoundingly, Mr. Moffat’s initial reaction to being challenged about the accuracy of these claims was to threaten legal action against Dr. Thomas and one of his colleagues, Dr. David Balding, a highly respected and talented mathematical geneticist. Mr. Moffat’s science-­free musings would almost be amusing if their potential consequences were not so serious.

The egregious misrepresentation of genetics for what seems to be commercial gain reflects an increasingly complicated relationship between professional geneticists and a public eager to know what the vaunted genomics research might mean for them in terms of their personal histories and the diseases they might face. When the personal genomics craze got started, many professional geneticists felt there was little that was really useful for anyone to know from having their genomes profiled in the ways possible during the dawn of personal genomics. It was very awkward, however, for geneticists to insist that people have no reason to learn anything about their genetic makeups if they are interested in doing so.

Click here to order your copy 

David B. Goldstein is John E. Borne Professor of Genetics and Development and director of the Institute for Genomic Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center. He is the author Jacob’s Legacy: A Genetic View of Jewish History. 

Are Western Wealthy Countries Determined to Starve the People of Afghanistan?

This unraveling humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is the reason for the January 11 appeal to the international community by the UN. 

by Vijay Prashad

On January 11, 2022, the United Nations (UN) Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths appealed to the international community to help raise $4.4 billion for Afghanistan in humanitarian aid, calling this effort, “the largest ever appeal for a single country for humanitarian assistance.” This amount is required “in the hope of shoring up collapsing basic services there,” said the UN. If this appeal is not met, Griffiths said, then “next year [2023] we’ll be asking for $10 billion.”

The figure of $10 billion is significant. A few days after the Taliban took power in Afghanistan in mid-August 2021, the U.S. government announced the seizure of $9.5 billion in Afghan assets that were being held in the U.S. banking system. Under pressure from the United States government, the International Monetary Fund also denied Afghanistan access to $455 million of its share of special drawing rights, the international reserve asset that the IMF provides to its member countries to supplement their original reserves. These two figures—which constitute Afghanistan’s monetary reserves—amount to around $10 billion, the exact number Griffiths said that the country would need if the United Nations does not immediately get an emergency disbursement for providing humanitarian relief to Afghanistan.

A recent analysis by development economist Dr. William Byrd for the United States Institute of Peace, titled, “How to Mitigate Afghanistan’s Economic and Humanitarian Crises,” noted that the economic and humanitarian crises being faced by the country are a direct result of the cutoff of $8 billion in annual aid to Afghanistan and the freezing of $9.5 billion of the country’s “foreign exchange reserves” by the United States. The analysis further noted that the sanctions relief—given by the U.S. Treasury Department and the United Nations Security Council on December 22, 2021—to provide humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan should also be extended to “private business and commercial transactions.” Byrd also mentioned the need to find ways to pay salaries of health workers, teachers and other essential service providers to prevent an economic collapse in Afghanistan and suggested using “a combination of Afghan revenues and aid funding” for this purpose.

Meanwhile, the idea of paying salaries directly to the teachers came up in an early December 2021 meeting between the UN’s special envoy for Afghanistan Deborah Lyons and Afghanistan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai. None of these proposals, however, seem to have been taken seriously in Washington, D.C.

A Humanitarian Crisis

In July 2020, before the pandemic hit the country hard, and long before the Taliban returned to power in Kabul, the Ministry of Economy in Afghanistan had said that 90 percent of the people in the country lived below the international poverty line of $2 a day. Meanwhile, since the beginning of its war in Afghanistan in 2001, the United States government has spent $2.313 trillion on its war efforts, according to figures provided by Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University; but despite spending 20 years in the country’s war, the United States government spent only $145 billion on the reconstruction of the country’s institutions, according to its own estimates. In August, before the Taliban defeated the U.S. military forces, the United States government’s Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) published an important report that assessed the money spent by the U.S. on the country’s development. The authors of the report wrote that despite some modest gains, “progress has been elusive and the prospects for sustaining this progress are dubious.” The report pointed to the lack of development of a coherent strategy by the U.S. government, excessive reliance on foreign aid, and pervasive corruption inside the U.S. contracting process as some of the reasons that eventually led to a “troubled reconstruction effort” in Afghanistan. This resulted in an enormous waste of resources for the Afghans, who desperately needed these resources to rebuild their country, which had been destroyed by years of war.

On December 1, 2021, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) released a vital report on the devastating situation in Afghanistan. In the last decade of the U.S. occupation, the annual per capita income in Afghanistan fell from $650 in 2012 to around $500 in 2020 and is expected to drop to $350 in 2022 if the population increases at the same pace as it has in the recent past. The country’s gross domestic product will contract by 20 percent in 2022, followed by a 30 percent drop in the following years. The following sentences from the UNDP report are worth quoting in full to understand the extent of humanitarian crisis being faced by the people in the country: “According to recent estimates, only 5 percent of the population has enough to eat, while the number of those facing acute hunger is now estimated to have… reached a record 23 million. Almost 14 million children are likely to face crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity this winter, with 3.5 million children under the age of five expected to suffer from acute malnutrition, and 1 million children risk dying from hunger and low temperatures.”

Lifelines

This unraveling humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is the reason for the January 11 appeal to the international community by the UN. On December 18, 2021, the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) held an emergency meeting—called for by Saudi Arabia—on Afghanistan in Islamabad, Pakistan. Outside the meeting room—which merely produced a statement—the various foreign ministers met with Afghanistan’s interim Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi. While in Islamabad, Muttaqi met with the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Thomas West. A senior official with the U.S. delegation told Kamran Yousaf of the Express Tribune (Pakistan), “We have worked quietly to enable cash… [to come into] the country in larger and larger denominations.” A foreign minister at the OIC meeting told me that the OIC states are already working quietly to send humanitarian aid to Afghanistan.

Four days later, on December 22, the United States introduced a resolution (2615) in the UN Security Council that urged a “humanitarian exception” to the harsh sanctions against Afghanistan. During the meeting, which took place for approximately 40 minutes, nobody raised the matter that the U.S., which proposed the resolution, had decided to freeze the $10 billion that belonged to Afghanistan. Nonetheless, the passage of this resolution was widely celebrated since everyone understands the gravity of Afghanistan’s crisis. Meanwhile, Zhang Jun, China’s permanent representative to the UN, raised problems relating to the far-reaching effects of such sanctions and urged the council to “guide the Taliban to consolidate interim structures, enabling them to maintain security and stability, and to promote reconstruction and recovery.”

A senior member of the Afghan central bank (Da Afghanistan Bank) told me that much-needed resources are expected to enter the country as part of humanitarian aid being provided by Afghanistan’s neighbors, particularly from China, Iran and Pakistan (aid from India will come through Iran). Aid has also come in from other neighboring countries, such as Uzbekistan, which sent 3,700 tons of food, fuel and winter clothes, and Turkmenistan, which sent fuel and food. In early January 2022, Muttaqi traveled to Tehran, Iran, to meet with Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and Iran’s Special Representative for Afghanistan Hassan Kazemi Qomi. While Iran has not recognized the Taliban government as the official government of Afghanistan, it has been in close contact with the government “to help the deprived people of Afghanistan to reduce their suffering.” Muttaqi has, meanwhile, emphasized that his government wants to engage the major powers over the future of Afghanistan.

On January 10, the day before the UN made its most recent appeal for coming to the aid of Afghanistan, a group of charity groups and NGOs—organized by the Zakat Foundation of America—held an Afghan Peace and Humanitarian Task Force meeting in Washington. The greatest concern is the humanitarian crisis being faced by the people of Afghanistan, notably the imminent question of starvation in the country, with the roads already closed off due to the harsh winter witnessed in the region.

In November 2021, Afghanistan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai urged the United States to reopen its embassy in Kabul; a few weeks later, he said that the U.S. is responsible for the crisis in Afghanistan, and it “should play an active role” in repairing the damage it has done to the country. This sums up the present mood in Afghanistan: open to relations with the U.S., but only after it allows the Afghan people access to the nation’s own money in order to save Afghan lives.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest book is Washington Bullets, with an introduction by Evo Morales Ayma.

Thoughts for the End of Days: A Morning Star, Insatiability, DishBrain, Xenobots

The current version of humanity just isn’t up to the task of running this planet or governing it. It is as if the entire species is shooting and asking the tough questions later.

by John Stanton

“He had also gone through a bad divorce, become estranged from his only daughter and been diagnosed with skin cancer, but he insisted that all of that, however painful, was secondary to the sudden realization that it was mathematics—not nuclear weapons, computers, biological warfare or our climate Armageddon—which was changing our world to the point where, in a couple of decades at most, we would simply not be able to grasp what being human really meant.”

“We can pull atoms apart, peer back at the first light and predict the end of the universe with just a handful of equations, squiggly lines and arcane symbols that normal people cannot fathom, even though they hold sway over their lives. But it's not just regular folks; even scientists no longer comprehend the world. Take quantum mechanics, the crown jewel of our species, the most accurate, far-ranging and beautiful of all our physical theories. It lies behind the supremacy of our smartphones, behind the Internet, behind the coming promise of godlike computing power. It has completely reshaped our world. We know how to use it, it works as if by some strange miracle, and yet there is not a human soul, alive or dead, who actually gets it. The mind cannot come to grips with its paradoxes and contradictions. It's as if the theory had fallen to earth from another planet, and we simply scamper around it like apes, toying and playing with it, but with no true understanding.” ~ When We Cease to Understand the World, Benjamin Labatut

****

Karl Nausgaard’s novel A Morning Star and Insatiability by Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz are two brilliant and vitally important works of literature that should be required reading by students and adults in the Western World. One, Insatiability, written in 1927, and set in the year 2000, is an often prescient work that speaks, in some instance, to our fractured and dystopian times, particularly  the loss and creation of new identities. Both speak in their own way to the decline and destruction of the West, although Witkiewicz culminates with a definitive result. Witkiewicz, upon learning of the Soviet Army tanks rolling into Poland killed himself rather than live n a world he had largely predicted in his exceptional novel. Daniel Gerould writing in Science Fiction Studies, November 1979, summarizes the book nicely.

“This wild, lunatic, and phantasmagoric book has proved to be one of the most prophetic works of 20th-century fiction, not so much in its particular predictions (although some of these are quite uncanny) as in its capturing of the age's sensibility through brief composite portraits of the "psychosocial" environment. The fractured picture that results is that of an incoherent ersatz world which resembles our own. In the Witkacian era of insatiability, everything from genius to revolution, from food to mystical experience, from art to patriotic heroics, is an inauthentic manifestation of pseudo-culture. Change has accelerated so strongly that ‘the distances between generations had diminished to the point of being ridiculous: people just a few years younger than others were apt to refer to the latter as their ‘elders'. Throughout all the media there is systematic falsification of the news, while the government is perceived by all as an organized mafia behind a mafia, causing such a loss of belief in politics that the state becomes regarded as a sport. In the background, the superbly disciplined Chinese communists, after subduing counter-revolutionary Russia, are poised to take over the blandly Bolshevized states of Western Europe and ultimately eliminate “the poison of the white man”. Murti-Bing pills pushed by the Chinese softens up the already demented and debilitated Europeans so that they can painlessly adjust to the political control which will definitively liberate them from their own madness and despair and turn them into smoothly functioning members of the state machinery.”

Knausgaard’s Morning Star, exactly 666 pages in length, concludes with this ominous phrasing:

And last night a new star appeared in the sky.

It shines above me now.

The Morning Star.

I know what it means.

It means that it has begun.

There are any number of ways to interpret those five lines above. I don’t want to spoil what comes before; but for me; with much of A Morning Star’s focus on the boundary between life and death— and the biblical significance of the Morning Star— I think that Knausgaard has a both painful and joyous reckoning for Norway and the Western World. This passage strikes me as a clue to the fate of the Western World, “…the dead, like the sun, descended in the West, the land of the dead being referred to accordingly as the West and the dead as westerners.” For what is “the West” now other than automatons pushing through the daily grind. Knausgaard has the uncanny ability to go from horrifying at points to another form of horror: the excruciating steps involved in making a cup of coffee, working the cellphone, and summoning up the mundane words necessary to be a social human being in meatspace. None of the characters seem certain of anything, particularly the priest who doubts like Thomas. God and myth are largely absent in the Western World now, having undergone an incision and removal in the cultural body by science and capitalism.

Knausgaard, via one of his characters, asks if death is dead. In other words with genetic manipulation, synthetic biology might not one day see a humans leading a relatively “eternal life.” Eternal life after death is something that certainly Christianity proposes. Any yet, it is science that holds out the offer of eternal/extra life, not religion. People believe the scientists, not the priests or gods.

Xenobots: The Did That?

Late in 2020,reconfigurable organisms or Xenobots were created by the University of Vermont and Tufts University researchers. The Xenobots are about the size of the period located on a computer keyboard. They were created by an evolutionary Artificial Intelligence software program and frog DNA cells. They appear as little Pac-man type cells that developed, unexpectedly, the ability to reproduce. 

According to Science News, “The fact that they were able to do this at such a small scale just makes it even better, because you can start to imagine biomedical application areas. Minuscule xenobots might be able to sculpt tissues for implantation, for instance, or go inside bodies to deliver therapeutics to specific spots. Beyond the possible jobs for the xenobots, the research advances an important science, one that has existential importance for humans, says study coauthor Michael Levin, a developmental biologist at Tufts. That is, ‘the science of trying to anticipate and control the consequences of complex systems,’ he says. ‘Originally, no one would have predicted any of this,’ Levin says. ‘These things are routinely doing things that surprise us.’ With xenobots, researchers can push the limits of the unexpected. ‘This is about a safe way to explore and advance the science of being less surprised by things,’ Levin says.”

And so it should be no surprise that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) had a hand in funding the creation of the Xenobot life forms, part of the Pentagon’s push into Synthetic Biology: a means to enhance human warfighters metabolisms and, henceforth, reduce the cycle time of the kill chain. 

DishBrain Cyborgs: Would You Like to Play a Game?

Big news in 2021! Scientists in the UK and Australia taught human braincells growing in a petri dish to play the legacy video game Pong. According to the authors of In vitro neurons learn and exhibit sentience when embodied in a simulated game-world (writing at bioRXiv)“Integrating neurons into digital systems to leverage their innate intelligence may enable performance infeasible with silicon alone, along with providing insight into the cellular origin of intelligence. We developed DishBrain, a system which exhibits natural intelligence by harnessing the inherent adaptive computation of neurons in a structured environment. In vitro neural networks, from human or rodent origins, are integrated with in silico computing via high-density multielectrode array.”

Some hundreds of years from now, there will be human sized cyborgs created in the public and private genetics/bio-machine laboratories around the world. It is inevitable. What military wouldn’t want super human fighting organisms? What Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk billionaire would not want to be biologically modified to live longer? 

The ethics of it all is a bunch of malarkey. The sanctity of human life? Ha! When the Director of the CDC Rochelle Walensky jumps for joy at the fact that Covid is killing mostly the elderly, you know eugenics will return somewhere in the future.On Good Morning America during an interview, Walensky said this: “The overwhelming number of deaths, over 75 percent, occurred in people who had at least four comorbidities, so really these are people who are unwell to begin with, and yes,  [this is] really encouraging news in the context of Omicron.”

Can’t you hear it? Sometime, one day in the future, this decision comes down: “After all, grandma and grandpa just don’t make the cost-benefit analysis cut and so they will have to kill themselves. They did not make the human augmentation life extension program either, so that’s it for them. I mean they are part of humanity 1.0, older models, sorry,” says the social services cyborg.

This is the End

The current version of humanity just isn’t up to the task of running this planet or governing it. It is as if the entire species is shooting and asking the tough questions later. Take the Xenobot example. Researchers had no clue that the Xenobots would procreate on their own. It’s just one small experiment, but over the coming years these “surprises” are likely to explode into the wild. There will be a Humanity 2.0 for sure: genetically altered, machine augmented, superior to the current model. Humans are well on the way to becoming their own gods at their own peril. They believe in nothing but production and consumption, and the selfishly gratifying sense of being the center of the world. We simply do not know what we are doing nor do we seem to care about outcomes. There is no guide post, no apparent order as 2022 begins. Belief and faith are absent in government, each individual or in something beyond oneself. Order is necessary.

Maybe Knausgaard and Witkiewicz are right: the beginning of the end has begun.

But maybe the late Roberto Calasso is on to something: “We should hardly be surprised, then, looking back to the origins of human thought, if we invariably run into works like rta, asha, ma’at,me,dike, simati, dao, torah. Their can be no gods, no God, unless connected to those words that indicate an order. Divinity itself is inseparable from those words. What much later came to be understood with the term Science is just our most recent attempt to articulate an order that had already been spoken of with many other names. All endless, open, provisional, unsettled. All indispensable if some form of life was to keep going.The figure of the Messiah is the shadow one glimpses behind the perennial branches of order.” The Book of All Books, Roberto Calasso

John Stanton can be reached at jstantonarchangel@gmail.com

Why Xinjiang Has Been a Touchy Subject in China for Centuries

China’s increasing security measures in Xinjiang reflect its historical territorial vulnerability and concerns over internal stability. Balancing these with its international ambitions and foreign relations will be no easy feat.

by John P. Ruehl

For over a decade, increasing international attention has been focused on China’s treatment of Xinjiang’s Uyghur population. While Beijing is wary of all forms of separatism—Hong Kong and Tibet being its other major concerns in this regard—maintaining an iron grip on Xinjiang is of utmost importance. The Xinjiang region’s natural resource deposits, strategic location in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which involves the creation of economic and trade corridors, and links to the physical defense of China are the most obvious reasons for China to want to keep a stronghold in the region. But the appeal of the Islamic and Turkic nationalism in Xinjiang has also highlighted the difficulty China faces in managing internal stability without upsetting the wider Islamic and Turkic worlds.

Xinjiang’s largely flat terrain made it a primary part of the historical Silk Road route. The region’s geography and proximity to numerous Eurasian cultures and civilizations have also made it a contested land for centuries, with competing narratives over its history and cultural traits. The name Xinjiang, for example, translates to “New Frontier” or “New Dominion” in Chinese, while Uyghur nationalists refer to the region as East Turkestan. Chinese scholars posit that Uyghurs are descended from nomadic Uyghurs from modern-day Mongolia and settled in Xinjiang in the ninth century (joining other groups, including the Han Chinese). Uyghur historians, on the other hand, tend to stress their Central Asian Turkic origins, with East Turkestan their historical homeland.

Regardless of the historical debate over the lineage of Uyghurs, a distinct Muslim and Turkic identity had emerged among portions of Xinjiang’s population in the 18th century when China’s Qing Dynasty reconquered the region. According to historical records, the Chinese campaign split the Uyghur population from the other Turkic groups of Central Asia, which later came under the control of the Russian Empire. Hostility toward Chinese rule in Xinjiang among Muslims from a variety of different cultural backgrounds culminated in the Dungan Revolt from 1862 to 1877, with rebels receiving support from both the Ottoman and British empires. Despite the successful Chinese suppression and pacification of Xinjiang afterward, nationalist sentiment grew within the Muslim-Turkic population, and the term Uyghur began to be used to describe much of the local Muslim-Turkic population around the Tarim Basin by the early 20th century.

The fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1912 gave way to China’s Warlord Era and ensuing civil war. Chinese nationalists, communists, Uyghur groups, and Russian/Soviet expeditions all competed with one another for control of Xinjiang. While the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) emerged victorious in 1949, the Kuomintang Islamic Insurgency (1950-1958) across Xinjiang and other nearby regions underlined the threat of political Islam to China’s fragile new leadership. In addition, the Soviet Union encouraged Uyghurs to revolt (as well as Kazakhs living in Xinjiang) to destabilize China after the Sino-Soviet split in the 1960s.

In the 1990s, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Uyghurs’ resistance to Chinese rule of Xinjiang changed in nature. The Soviet collapse allowed independent Turkic states to emerge in Central Asia, inspiring similar nationalist sentiment among Uyghurs. The rise of international terrorism also led Islamic and Turkic militant groups within Xinjiang and across the region to coordinate activities. These developments caused considerable alarm in Beijing, and following public demonstrations by Uyghurs against Chinese rule in the city of Yining in 1995—after “the Chinese authorities [had already] tightened their control over Islam in Xinjiang”—the CCP issued a document called the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee Document No. 7 in 1996, which stated that “national separatism and illegal religious activity” should be categorized as “main threats to the stability” of the country in response to the situation in Xinjiang. Thereafter, a “Strike Hard Campaign against Violent Terrorism” was adopted in the Xinjiang region in 2014, and further public demonstrations were violently suppressed while numerous Uyghur political figures were imprisoned or killed.

However, violent resistance against the policies of the CCP in Xinjiang continued to grow during the first two decades of the 21st century. Knife attacks and bombings increased, while riots in Urumqi in 2009 saw almost 200 people killed. To quell the protests by the Uyghurs, Chinese authorities responded with force and arrests and in 2017 introduced further new and oppressive measures, which included “[detaining] many hundreds of thousands of Uighurs, Kazakhs and other Muslims in internment camps,” according to the New York Times. These camps have been referred to as re-education camps by the state. Mass surveillance, checkpoints, and an increased security presence in Uyghur regions have placed greater pressure on the Uyghur population. The suppression of Uyghur cultural norms and creation of detention centers where more than 1 million Uyghurs have been detained “against their will over the past few years” have drawn the greatest international scrutiny regarding China’s policies in the Xinjiang region, which have been defined as “crimes against humanity and possibly genocide” by several countries, including the U.S. and human rights groups. China continues to restrict international access to the region in the lead-up to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, leading to some countries announcing diplomatic boycotts of the Olympics.

For several reasons, Beijing is willing to maintain its pressure on Xinjiang in the face of international outcry from the West and certain elements from across the Islamic and Turkic worlds. Xinjiang contains 40 percent of China’s coal, roughly 20 percent of its oil reserves and the largest natural gas reserves, and significant deposits of building materials like marble and granite. As the Chinese economy continues to increase its energy requirements, maintaining access to Xinjiang’s coal, oil, and gas reserves is vital to China’s current and future energy security. Additionally, the region’s location makes it an essential part of the route for China’s BRI project to connect European and Asian economic markets.

The success of greater regional autonomy (or outright secession) in Xinjiang would also not bode well for Chinese attempts to dissuade similar attempts across the country. Hong Kong, Tibet, and even less notable secession movements would be incentivized to increase their own efforts should secessionists in Xinjiang succeed. The loss of Xinjiang would also make China more susceptible to hypothetical future invasions. A more likely and immediate scenario would be challenges to Chinese authority across its border regions, including its violently disputed territory with India, Aksai Chin, which forms part of Xinjiang and Tibet, and which India claims is part of its Leh district in the country’s Ladakh union territory.

While China’s motives for its tight control on Xinjiang are clear, the consequences of its policies are also becoming more pronounced. Anti-Chinese sentiment in Central Asia has risen in recent years, despite attempts by Central Asian governments to curtail it and ensure continued Chinese economic investment. While many Turkic countries and communities continue to fight among themselves, they are often unified by their disdain toward China’s treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. For China to realize its BRI project, a positive perception of it among the Turkic populations in Central Asian states’ populations will be crucial.

China’s outreach to Central Asian states has been further complicated by Turkey. Owing to its own Turkic heritage, the country has been a primary proponent of pan-Turkism, hosting the first Summit of the Heads of Turkic Speaking States in 1992. Turkey has taken a particularly hard line with China on the issue of Uyghurs, leading to several diplomatic disputes over the last decade. Organizing greater international objection to China’s treatment of the Uyghurs could galvanize pan-Turkism into a viable ideology, with Turkey seeking to take a leadership role in the movement.

So far, China has managed to avoid widespread condemnation from the Muslim world. Beijing has been careful to emphasize its more favorable treatment of the Hui Muslim population who also inhabit Xinjiang and other Chinese regions. China’s positive relations with major Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, Egypt, and Indonesia show it has been somewhat successful in its efforts to avoid any backlash from these Muslim nations for its treatment of Uyghurs. But these countries must themselves take care not to downplay the issue, for fear of incentivizing extremist Islamic forces. Radical Salafism has become increasingly popular among Uyghur and other Chinese Muslim populations in Xinjiang, exemplified by the popular support for the Turkistan Islamic Party (formerly known as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement). If Uyghurs feel they have no international Muslim allies, the appeal of extremism will grow further.

While China’s domestic security situation is of paramount importance to the CCP, it remains sensitive to international perceptions of its policies in Xinjiang. In addition, its repressive policies may help instill a stronger and more resistant identity among the local Uyghur population. The CCP’s economic development of Xinjiang will not be enough to significantly erode centuries-old beliefs and cultural loyalties. The historical precedent has shown that foreign states will take advantage of unrest in the region to promote their own interests.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

John P. Ruehl is an Australian-American journalist living in Washington, D.C. He is a contributing editor to Strategic Policy and a contributor to several other foreign affairs publications. He is currently finishing a book on Russia to be published in 2022.