Category Archives: Uncategorized

Rural Populations sent Packing in Pakistan

Violence and the environmental issues have caused people to flood into Pakistan’s cities, ultimately overwhelming Pakistan’s ability to provide basic services.

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Pakistan has historically struggled with urbanization due to violent conflict. For example, during the Partition around 6 to 8 million Muslims from India entered Pakistan, settling in eastern urban areas such as Punjab. Today, military offensive in rural areas and an increase in bandits, is fueling the migration into cities as people seek protection.

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A devastating combination of droughts in some rural areas, have forced fisherman and farmers into cities to find employment, and floods in other areas, result in droves of people seeking housing, has created a perfect storm for urbanization. This phenomenon is predicted to worsen as climate change continues.

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The masses  of people migrating is on top of Pakistan’s high demographic growth of 2% annually meaning that 180 million could become 450 million in 2050. The combination of factors results in Pakistan urbanizing at the fastest pace in South Asia. It is estimated that half of the rising population will live in cities by 2025.

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The more people that rush to cities, in many cases to receive basic services, the less able the government is to provide those services. One of the biggest problems is housing, in 2015, it was projected that 4.4 million housing units were needed in Pakistan’s major cities. Even if the population does not grow, pressure on the housing market will growas families split off.  The housing that is built is often extremely low quality and disjointed due to a lack of urban planning.

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Water is another major issue, only half of people in cities get water 4-16 hours a day and 90% of water supplied is not safe to drink. Solid waste management services are lacking and in cities with large populations on average one toilet is used by 20 people. This combined with poor health services causes a  large amount of dysentery related deaths especially among children.

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While many problems have arisen due to urbanization, not everything is negative. Urbanization has assisted their economy through diversification which could become more crucial if agricultural jobs continue to disappear due to climate change. Pakistan is also working on  planning urban development to try to steadily improve living conditions in cities, through legislation.

Poverty in Rural Poland

The rural-urban divide of Poland is most evident in the widespread rural poverty. While urban Poland is placed among highly developed countries, rural Poland still has not achieved this status. Rural Poland is widely known as a “second Poland.” Rural areas make up 93.2% of the country’s territory and 38.6% of its population. The low income or poverty and the social exclusion of rural Poland’s population is a big factor in the separation of rural and urban areas. Poverty in Poland is mostly recognized as rural poverty, as the extent of poverty in rural areas surpasses the respective values for urban regions.

As of 2005:

Overall Urban Rural
Living in extreme poverty 12.3% 8.2% 18.7%
Below the relative poverty line 18.1% 12.5% 27.0%
Living in poverty 18.1% 12.3% 27.3%

The groups and categories that are most at risk of poverty are children, multi-child families, families living in rural areas, and families with low level of education and unemployment of the head of the family. In Poland, many of the rural population are at risk of poverty and social exclusion, such as ex-workers of the former state farms and their families, farmers and their families, large families, and children in poverty.

The situation of extensive regional differentiation of Poland and especially of rural areas is widely acknowledged by researchers and policy makers. The Eastern regions, known as the “Eastern Wall”, belong to the poorest parts of Poland. The Northern voivodeships, such as areas where former farm-states are located, are heavily impacted by unemployment. In the People’s Republic of Poland there were over 1,600 state farms with about 500,000 workers that lived with their families – a total of about two million people. When these state farms were closed and the economy transformed in 1991-1993, about 100,000 people were left unemployed. In 2005 up to 29.9% of the residents in rural areas that neither own state farms nor have a source of income with social pensions, socials benefits, and unemployment benefits, live below the subsistence minimum in extreme poverty. Localised in rural areas, affected by long term unemployment, and with poor education of the head of the families, families in former state-farm communities bear the characteristics of Polish poverty.

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In the early 90s, 20% of the employed population worked in agriculture. By 2005, this number had decreased to 17.4% and now continues to gradually decline. In comparison to other EU countries, Poland’s productivity of agriculture is very low. This is a result of great fragmentation of agriculture, excess of labor, the low education level of farmers, and insufficient modern equipment of agricultural holdings. The share of agriculture in Poland’s GDP was only 4.1% in 2005. In the early 2000s, incompetent politicians rather than capable professionals directed the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy. Politics have an extreme impact on social policy in Poland, especially on rural issues.

Today, Poland’s most severe social problem is child poverty, as it poses an important threat to the future of the country’s society. The young age of poor and/or unemployed people is one of the most relevant and characteristic traits of contemporary poverty in Poland. In 2005, children and adolescents up to the age of 19 made up over 40% of the population living in extreme poverty. Extreme poverty rate among children up to the age of 14 was about 19% that same year. It is especially difficult for children and young adults from poor families to access education. Educational barriers and low level of education completed by children from poor families easily leads to poverty, unemployment and social exclusion in adult life.

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Contemporary poverty in Poland is also directly connected with the number of children in a family, and in Poland, rural families tend to have more children than urban families. Families with four or more children are at high risk of poverty, as about 40.1% of people from such families were living in extreme poverty in 2004. Since the overall percentage of households living in poverty was 11.8%, extreme poverty in households with many children was more than three times greater than average. In 2005, extreme poverty of children from multi-child families increased to 44%.

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Child poverty is a long-term situation especially in rural areas of poverty, such as former state farm settlements, and quickly leads to long-term, chronic unemployment. Many programs have been put into action in Poland, addressing unemployed young people from both rural and urban areas. In 2002-2005 several governmental programs were implemented for occupational activation of the youth. The European Social Fund finances the active measure on the labor market, such as trainings and workshops. This financial assistance covered 340,000 people (95% of the unemployed). The EU rural development policy also considers the issue of rural unemployment, youth unemployment, and various forms of “hidden unemployment” in rural areas.

India: Ill-equipped for Urbanization

As more people move to major Indian cities from local villages, problems arise with India’s infrastructure due to the dramatic surge in urban population. Overcrowding is affecting the economically weak and low income population as well as the cites as a whole.
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One major issue has derived from the fact this rapid urbanization was unplanned for in most cities and in turn, has lead to a severe water shortage. Only half of urban populations in India have access to piped water and only 18% of those in slums. Non-notified slums, making up 60% of all slums, have no access at all. Water supply has become increasingly unreliable as it only runs for a few hours a day and sewage often overflows into open drains. This problem will continue to worsen as the demand steadily goes up and the supply decreases.
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The demand for energy is expected to grow 4.2% a year by 2035, faster than every other major economy in the world. Although India has increased their production, they still rely heavily on imports. The electricity shortages affect both rural and urban areas and especially limits economic growth potential in cities. The increasing demand also puts a toll on the environment, they’re currently the third largest emitter of carbon monoxide and other greenhouse gases. India hopes to expand their power grid without increasing emissions but, they are still very dependent on outdated coal-fired plants. If they follow the historic path of emissions growing as urban living standards rise, it could be disastrous.
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Public transport’s effectiveness for the urban population is decreasing because of the masses of people moving to urban areas. For low income Indians, the fare for the use of public transport remains out of reach. Since such a large percentage of cities are unable to utilize the bus services, they have difficulty up keeping a fleet required for the urban needs. Those who can afford a car often opt for that over public transportation, as it’s easier to move about the city. However, the spike in personal vehicles causes chaos on ill-equipped roads and poorly designed traffic patterns.

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India has many improvements to make if they wish to provide sustainable cities with higher living conditions to their expanding population. However, finding funding to improve infrastructure could prove to be a challenge for the developing country. In the meantime, by diversifying job opportunities, India could increase job growth and opportunities for the unemployed to help alleviate pressure on the country to improve rapidly.

Rising Urbanization in Pakistan: The Causes & Consequences Of It

Since the country’s independence, Pakistan has always been dealing with urbanization. In 1947, around 6 million to 8 million Indian Muslims crossed the India-Pakistan border and settled in Pakistan’s major cities. In the 60s and 70s, more Indian Muslims sought refuge in Pakistan during the Indo-Pakistani Wars. These refugees then launched a political party that has taken over Karachi and the southern province. In the 90s, 4 million Afghans came into the country during the anti-Soviet insurgency in Afghanistan. These Afghan refugees soon journeyed to urban cities after the Pakistani government prohibited the Afghans to cultivate land after economic struggles in rural areas occurred in the western province. Today, for the past decade or so, urbanization is still going strong due to war, insecurity, and economic related reasons. Many rural Pakistanis flee to these cities to escape the conflicts between the Pakistan army and the Taliban. For others, they migrate to escape the bandits who take advantage of them.

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One thing to know about Pakistan is that the Pakistani government agrees and supports international agreements like the United Nations Vancouver Declaration on Human Settlements in 1976 that ensure people decent housing for everybody. Plus, in Article 38 in Pakistan’s constitution, it states that all Pakistanis have a right to get basic things like food, clothing, housing, education, and medical relief regardless of race, sex, sickness or unemployment. However, the situation in Pakistan shows that the government hasn’t been able to provide aid to every citizen.

Today, the country’s urban population is roughly one-third of the total population and a report from the United Nations Population Division predicts that nearly 50% of the country’s population will live in cities by 2025. The majority of Pakistan’s population live in rural areas, where the country’s biggest industries are based, and where some of the top political powers are stationed. Pakistan’s population has been urbanizing at a rate of 3% annually, which is the fastest rate in the South Asian region, and their total population is growing by 2% annually. Pakistan’s general population, 180 million people, is also expected to jump to 300 million by 2030, and possibly even more than 450 million by 2050.

Pakistan Charts and Graphs

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While most Pakistanis are moving to urban areas to escape the war, others move to cities to seek better conditions and economic opportunities. People like farmers and fishermen who can’t work anymore due to water shortages move to these urban areas. Other Pakistani citizens also move to these cities because they believe urban areas provide better healthcare, education, and other basic services like electricity. However, that may change if the government decides to do nothing.

Even though urbanization helps make urban-based political parties stronger, it also increases the risk of political violence in cities across Pakistan. Surprisingly, many Pakistan cities aren’t safe and it may soon become a much bigger problem when more people from different ethnic groups arrive in the same urban area. This is already happening in Pakistan’s fastest growing city, Karachi. Karachi is filled with many different ethnic groups like the Pashtuns, the Mohajir, and the Sindhis. Expert analysts are worried that ethnic tensions will quickly erupt into ethnic violence in Karachi if the government doesn’t find a way to resolve the issue soon. Also, the mass migration to cities has led to thousands of Taliban fighters to sneak in and operate in cities like Karachi, the most populous city in Pakistan.

Karachi

In 2018, Pakistan was placed 8th out of 10 countries that hold 60 percent of low-quality housing around the world. One of the world’s fastest developing megacities, Karachi, was placed the 2nd most minimal in the South Asian regions and the sixth least around the world according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2017 index. The livability index includes housing, transportation, civic services, healthcare, environmental conditions, and many more.

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There is another major issue that is plaguing the nation and that is the housing condition in poor settlements and slums that exist in the cities. In most urban areas, the majority of the population live in slums and most are under the poverty line. According to a UN report, the government has only reduced only 6% out of 51% of slums in the last 15 years. Furthermore, Pakistan’s biggest problem is providing enough houses to the poor who live in urban environments. There are shortages of around 8 million houses, and there is an extra 300,000 being added to that list every year. By the end of 2017, it will have passed 10.5 million and more than 13 million by 2025.

Slums

 

As the urban population increases, Pakistan will soon have to quickly resolve other problems such as combating the energy crisis, fixing the city roads, resolving traffic jams, and finding a better alternative to transit services as many of them are unaffordable to most of the poor. It is already difficult for these urban areas to provide water, energy, housing, healthcare, and education to more arriving migrants.

Despite the various problems that urbanization has created for urban areas in Pakistan, the government has been slow to take action against this from becoming worse. If they don’t find a resolution soon, city and government officials will have a harder time dealing with these situations later on.

Dhaka, Bangladesh — 18,000,000 people and counting…

Dhaka, Bangladesh just doesn’t seem to stop growing. The city cannot keep up with the rapid influx of people and, therefore, faces challenges regarding air pollution, flooding, and infrastructure.

In Dhaka, over 18 million people live within just 115 square miles.

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With more than 150,000 people per square mile, Dhaka is nearly 75 percent more dense than Hong Kong. New York, a familiar city for many Americans, does not even hit 1/20th of the population density of Dhaka. Worldwide, no megacity comes close to Dhaka’s astonishing population density.

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Statistics on some specific neighborhood densities in Dhaka are even more staggering. Some slums have population densities reaching 1000 people per acre. To put that in perspective, my family of four lives on more than one acre.

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Between 2000 and 2010, the urbanization of Bangladesh was faster than South Asia as a whole. The population of urban Bangladesh increased by 1.69% per year.

With the seemingly perpetual influx of people, Dhaka faces immense struggles with infrastructure, land, housing and the environment. In 2015, Dhaka ranked 139/140 on the livability index of the Economist Intelligence Unit.  Before that, in 2012, the city ranked 140/140. The city just seems too congested to do anything productive.

The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Livability Survey

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Even though Dhaka is the densest urban area in the world, it remains one of the least economically productive, and none of its problems are going away.

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An increasingly threatening result of Dhaka’s urbanization is air pollution. According to a recent survey, Bangladesh ranks 131st out of 132 countries in controlling air pollution and its effects on human health.

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PM2.5 are tiny particles in the atmosphere that can easily get into the lungs of humans and cause serious and permanent health problems. The readings for PM2.5 are often used in air quality and environmental reports. This report shows the extreme concentration of these dangerous particles in Bangladesh’s air.

The air in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, is easily classified as some of the dirtiest on the planet. By reducing the air pollution in Dhaka considerably, 3,500 lives could be saved and 230 million cases of respiratory diseases could be avoided every year. Economically, this would save about $500 million US dollars per year in health care costs.

Furthermore, Dhaka is unfortunately located within extensive wetlands and is surrounded by some of the greatest rivers in the world.

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The lowest parts of the city are only five feet above sea level, which welcomes serious flooding. The risk for flooding continues to grow as sea levels rise globally. On top of that, as the urban area of Dhaka expands, the city is forced to build within these flood zones.

The geography of rivers around Dhaka has forced the city into a north-south orientation. The urban area of Dhaka measures three to seven miles from east to west and about 30 miles from north to south. A circular development that is common for an inland urban area is made impossible by rivers.

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The growing demand for infrastructure to serve the ballooning population along with the poor geography of Dhaka creates quite the dilemma. On top of that, the government in Bangladesh does not have access to many resources for new infrastructure or for maintaining existing infrastructure. The infrastructure is notoriously under and unequally developed. This has negatively affected the economic development of Bangladesh. Due to the geographic barriers, crucial urban expansion will be very expensive. As more and more people flee to urban areas from rural areas, the problems associated with high densities and slums will make expansion increasingly difficult.

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In 1970, before East Pakistan separated from Pakistan and became Bangladesh the urban population was just 1.3 million. By 2025, the UN predicts Dhaka will reach a population of 23 million. In the meantime, Dhaka continues to grow at a mind-boggling pace.

United Urban Emirates

Urbanization in the United Arab Emirates

Urbanization in Modern Dubai
Urbanization in Modern Dubai

In 1973 the UAE was found to possess a massively profitable sum of oil. Use of this resource lead to intense economic growth that far out past the global relations and industrial capabilities than the UAE previously possessed. Between 1973 and 2018, the countries urbanization grew from a meager 50%  to an absurd 85%, with mass groups of people migrating into newly founded and developing cities. This intense period of progress is responsible for transforming the UAE into the powerhouse that it is today, but the rapid pace of the transformation came with consequences. The manpower behind this development rested on the backs of right-less migrant workers, and a lack of preexisting  environmental regulations create myriad environmental concerns. The growth of cities like Dubai appears fantastical from the outside, with the true costs of this appearance hiding in the shadows.

 

Urbanization in Dubai
Urbanization in Dubai
Urbanization over Time
Urbanization over Time

The previously beautiful deserts of the UAE have been largely overrun with myriad housing and development projects. This is a the result of a lack of regulations both on emissions and work sights, a theme that has very negative consequences today. The UAE is currently a massive world polluter, having held the greatest ecological footprint at 9.5 global hectares per capita. Alongside this, the UAE has one of the highest water consumption rates, a product of hundreds of fountains and developments. Water is a massive issue in itself for the UAE, as the plethora of migrants and tourists requires large yearly expenses of resources. People need fresh water to drink, and water is essential in industry and hydropower. Natural resources in the UAE had never been taxed like they are today, thus government action is being taken to better direct the country towards a sustainable future. Even then, the water within the UAE is becoming heavily polluted, with salinity levels rising from a healthy 23,000 ppm to an environmentally dangerous 47,000 ppm within the last 30 years, creating environmental fears for fish and other marine life.

 

Waste and Dryness
Waste and Dryness

Of course all these concern have only come about due to an overall rise in construction a project that requires a massive workforce to succeed,a workforce possible only through migration. With migration comes the UAE’s biggest issue, as a lack of both Government regulation and overall control of companies has created an environment rife with safety concerns and workers rights violations. Companies recruit employees through government funded, but privately operated “Tadbeer Centers” which help funnel migrants into jobs. These are the places where employers of ill repute can obtain undocumented and unprotected labor for cheap, only increasing the workers rights issues within the greater country. Stories of seized passports, inhumane living conditions, disease and even sexual assault are common from Tadbeer-associated companies, permanently staining the massive towers they build.

 

Migrant Working Conditions
Migrant Working Conditions
Migrant Worker Living Conditions
Migrant Worker Living Conditions

The UAE’s government acknowledges these issues; however, and as of recently has set its priorities on setting stricter laws. A major success would be putting all Tadbeer-Centers under government control with a blacklist on abusive companies, but even then the laws are filled with loopholes and missing parts. To remedy this, a law is being adapted that provides workers with the basic rights to leave and rest, things that almost seem give-in but were not yet in place. It further opens the door for the unionization and fair employment regulations that the country has been missing. The UAE is a bright country with a dark past, but it has the resources and wealth to change that. With government stability and reformative action on the rise, the future looks optimistic.

Uzbekistan: A Government With Too Much Power on the Loose?

Uzbekistan was under control of the Soviet Union until it became an independent nation in 1991. Until 2016, Uzbekistan still had the same leader for 25 years, Islam Karimov, and the country still had not changed. It was as if it were still under the rule of the Soviet Union. What lingers in Uzbekistan are some of the political habits left by the Soviets. Today, Uzbekistan is still living under a regime that resolutely and brutally resists change. Ever since Islam Karimov’s death, a constant struggle for power has taken over the country. But while political opponents fight to be as powerful, strict and iron-fisted as Karimov, Uzbekistan continues to struggle with a terrible human rights problem and a slow modernizing economy. It is the power of the seven clans in Uzbekistan that prevent gangs or guerilla groups from gaining power in Uzbekistan. Although the clans are very powerful, there are present to serve more as political parties in Uzbekistan, with weaker clans uniting with the three most powerful clans in Uzbekistan.

In Uzbekistan, the population is divided into seven clans, the most powerful clans being the Tashkent, Samarkand, and the Fergana clans. During Soviet control, Moscow manipulated the competition among the three clans for its own gain. Without Soviet management to limit the power of the clans, the competition between them grew more dangerous, posing a threat to the stability of the country, during Karimov’s presidency. In attempting to consolidate his power, Karimov affiliated himself with the Tashkent clan, despite being part of the Samarkand clan, and attempted to create a balance between the clans, but was unsuccessful. To strengthen the Tashkent clan once again, Karimov appointed Rustam Inoyatov as the head of Uzbek National Security Services in 1995, giving him a limitless power to rebuild the weak institution. Many believed that Karimov was preparing Inoyatov to be his successor after giving him this amount of power, but it became clear in 2014, that these were no longer Karimov’s intentions. Inoyatov used this unlimited power to strengthen the Tashkent clan, but soon enough he was the man behind alleged coup attempts, car bombings and mass arrests and counter-arrests of people he saw as opposition. Only after President Shavkat Mirziyoyev took office after Karimov’s sudden death in 2016, did he remove Inoyatov from his position, which removed the center of the Karimov-era repressive machine that created a system of ever-present fear to control society.

Because Karimov was able to consolidate so much power during his authoritarian presidency, after his death concerns arose, that the predominantly Sunni Muslim country could face prolonged infighting among clans over its leadership. As a result of this fighting, the people of Uzbekistan believed that the conflict would be something the Islamic radical movement of Uzbekistan could exploit, giving an entryway for radical Islamic groups to enter Uzbekistan, a country that has made continual efforts alongside the United States, to fight against terrorist organizations. When thinking about successors, many believed that Inoyatov would become president, tapping into the people’s fears that he would be even more authoritative and oppressive than Karimov. Others also believed that Gulnara Karimova, ex-president Karimov’s daughter, would succeed him. She was a successful businesswoman that was very powerful in Uzbekistan and even once served as Uzbekistan’s ambassador to Spain. Inoyatov even targeted Gulnara Karimova because of her many ties with the Fergana clan, which Inoyatov saw as opposition. Unfortunately, her chance of succeeding her father was destroyed when two corruption cases were brought against her, and she was also guilty of fraud, money laundering and concealing foreign currency, concerning assets of around $1bn (£760m) belonging to her in 12 countries. In 2014 she disappeared and she is believed to still be under house arrest, and facing the horrible conditions of the National Security Services of Uzbekistan.

Although Uzbekistan still infringes on the rights of their people, using authoritative power to restrict media and their freedom of speech, Uzbekistan and its seven clans have always made it a priority to crackdown on  Islamic extremist groups that have tried to infiltrate the country. Within the clans and political officials, there may be a constant fight for more power, but Uzbekistan’s current president and the government continues to crack down on Islamic extremists.

The Tide of the Taliban

The Taliban formed in early 1990s by an Afghan faction of Islamic fighters, who resisted the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.“Taliban” means students in Pashto. The Taliban won popular support because it promised to impose stability and the rule of law. In 1996, the Taliban took the capital Kabul and declared Afghanistan an Islamic emirate and Mullah Omar its head of state. Since then, the Taliban tried to act as a government because Mohammed wanted to disarm the population (rivalry ethnic groups) and impose a puritanical Islamic order. It controlled 90% of the country before its 2001 overthrow. The Taliban regime in Afghanistan enforced a strict version of Sharia under which women were denied education and careers, were required to wear clothing covering them from head to foot, and were forbidden from leaving homes if no male family members were home. Men were required to wear long beards. The regime neglected social services and other basic state functions. Because of its extreme social discrimination and standards, the Islamic emirate was isolated internationally except for Pakistan, South Arabia, and the UAE. The UN imposed sanctions on the regime for harboring al-Qaeda. In 2001, the Taliban was overthrown by U.S. after its refusal to give up Osama Bin Laden, who led the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001.

After the Taliban was driven out of power, remainders either fled to Pakistan organized under Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan(TTP) or stayed in Afghanistan to rebuild power. The Taliban gained local support because Afghans don’t consider the current government as legitimate and see it as corrupt. In the Taliban’s resurgence, its factions have adopted warlord-like behavior: They levy taxes, extort companies in protection rackets, exploit natural resources, and traffic opium poppy.

The Taliban’s main financial income comes from the drug trade. Drug revenue accounts half of the Taliban’s income. The Taliban once exported drugs from Afghanistan in the form of opium syrup and then built labs to process opium into morphine or heroin. The Taliban’s action makes Afghanistan the world’s largest opium producer and exporter. Money from drugs is used in every aspect to finance the Taliban. Other income also includes, foreign donations, illegal gem mining, lumber trade, kidnapping, and extortion.

The Taliban has spread its power in the present days and created an organizational structure as government to manage both national and international issues. The Taliban nowadays has controlled or contested most areas in the south of Afghanistan and even spread its power to the north and the capital Kabul. By September 2017, the Taliban reportedly controlled or contested up to 45 percent of Afghanistan. It is still trying to act as a government and has been able “to create an organizational structure in which the top level provides strategic guidance and oversight while military political officials in the field make operational and tactical decision.” Mullah Akhundzada is responsible for overseeing the courts and judges. The Quetta Shura, the group’s ruling council, is responsible for much of the Taliban’s operations in southern and western Afghanistan. Below the emir is the deputy emir, reported to be Sirajuddin Haqqani. The Deputy emir is responsible for determining the “political and military affairs of the Emirate” according to UN. The Quetta Shura reportedly appoints a simulated government structure for Afghanistan, assigning “shadow” governors to many Afghan provinces and reviewing the performance of each governor.  In 2009, the Shura established a committee to receive complaints about the governors from Afghani locals. The Shura installs ‘shari’a’ courts to deliver enforced justice in controlled areas. It claims “to provide security against a corrupt government and to protect Afghan and Muslim identity against foreign encroachment”. In Jan. 2017, Akhundzada recently replaced Taliban shadow governors in 16 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces and appointed eight additional provincial-level officials as part of an effort to consolidate his influence. 

Akhunzada has attempted to win Afghan hearts by funding some development projects and promising to reform the education system. Today’s Taliban leaders abandoned the ban of no entertainment but use more technologies to advertise their websites, Twitter feeds, videos, and magazines for propaganda.

The Taliban is a strong guerrilla group that has functioned and aspire to function as a government, and its success is due to intense corruption of Afghan government.

Does this Power Couple Spell Trouble for Nicaragua?

The current president of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega, came to power as the leader of the Sandinista rebel group, also known as the National Liberation Front. The Sandinistas formally came to power with his 1985 election, following the overthrow of the longtime dictatorship of the Somoza family. Ortega has a long political history and has served three presidential terms, beginning his fourth in November of 2016. Ortega has also lost two elections, with the 1994 loss notably resulting in a transfer of power from the National Liberation Front. Rosario Murillo, his wife since 1979, has always been more involved than the typical first lady and not only contributes to his image, but is a guiding force in many of his political moves. It is unclear just how much she orchestrated behind the scenes before working in an official capacity.

With this couple, rules are made to be broken, or at least bent. Her 2016 election to vice president was unorthodox, requiring the reversal of a previous law banning relatives from running together. Ortega also required authorization from the Supreme Court to allow him to serve an additional term. Ortega has lost two elections, with the 1994 loss resulting in a transfer of power from the National Liberation Front. Perhaps support for Ortega stems from his familiarity as a historical figure, as he is nothing if not persistent. Many supported the couple as a welcome alternative and fresh start after the harsh rule of the Somoza family, but whether they live up to such high hopes remains to be seen.

There seems to be division based on class lines in regards to support for the couple. A series of questionable policies has led to doubt among the middle class, though many lower class people in the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere support Murillo’s programs for social reform, as demonstrated by her high ranking in opinion polls. Part of this is due to the couple’s reinvention as overtly spiritual and religious, a departure from their widely criticized atheist views of the past. Murillo has her hands in many pots, dealing directly with her husband’s political campaign as well as advising his policies. However, she still has time for expensive vanity projects in the form of hundreds of looming metal trees outfitted with bright lights and garish colors installed throughout the capital city.

Ortega is prone to similarly grandiose gestures, announcing plans for an ambitious Interoceanic Canal back in 2013. The large-scale project would surpass the Panama Canal in sheer size, cutting directly through the Lake Nicaragua. To accomplish this, Ortega pursued a strategic partnership with foreign investor Wang Jing in the hopes of increasing jobs and stimulating trading. It’s all in the family, with Ortega’s son serving as the government ambassador to the Chinese company, despite his dubious credentials as an opera singer.  The project is controversial for many reasons, notably the high likelihood of damage or pollution to the essential Lake Nicaragua. But although the project was approved 5 years ago, no progress has been made. Ortega has not mentioned his brainchild for quite some time, with the ProNicaragua government financial group also remaining mum on the subject.

As for Wang, he has not stepped foot in Nicaragua since the largely publicized opening ceremony and concerns are mounting over the power he still wields. With the exclusive rights granted by the 50 year contract ceding national sovereignty in relation to infrastructure projects, there exists the distinct possibility of generating harmful business activity designed to maximize profit without regard to the citizens of Nicaragua. These fears are not unfounded, as the building of the Interoceanic Canal was passed without input from anyone who lives in the surrounding area. The already poverty stricken population is at risk because of the deal. Although substantial work has not been done on the Canal, this does little to assuage the fears of Nicaraguans who live in limbo in fear the day the government comes to seize their remaining land. This project sets a dangerous precedent by prioritizing the government’s whims over the livelihood of the people who depend on Lake Nicaragua and the surrounding area for basic sustenance as well profit from agriculture farmed off the land. Hopefully, this does not set the tone for future endeavors by the increasingly powerful duo of Ortega and Murillo.

From Wedding Bombers to Politicians, The Moro Islamic Liberation Front

Hundreds of years ago, Spanish colonists entered the Philippines, converting the local Muslim population to Christianity in order to help maintain control. A small group of Muslims, known as the “Moro”, refused to convert and found themselves pushed to the countries southernmost islands. They have stayed there to modern times, making up the 5% of the Philippines population that practices Islam.  Anger over the Moro situation has surfaced for years in the form of violent guerrilla groups, but only recently has the prospect of political change for the Moro’s emerged. This change is the product of the late Hashim Salamat, the founder of the largest separatist group within the Philippines, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, dubbed the MILF, were revolutionary in their approach to what the government recognizes as the “Moro problem”. Under Salamat, the group took a policy of  consolidation and steady resistance, a far cry from the terrorist-like actions of previous separatists. Salamat believed that political interaction was necessary to truly improve the lives of the Moro’s, understanding firsthand that senseless violence against both the Government and random Christians was pointless.

Before founding the MILF, Salamat was a leader in the more radical Moro National Liberation Front, a group that frequently aligned itself with terrorists like Abu Sayyaf and the New People’s Army. Despite his work to link the group with these dangerous allies, Salamat secretly disliked how radical connections alienated the movement from the more moderate and political organizations. Following an especially rough period of violent activity, Salamat and like-minded leaders split to form the MILF, choosing their home base to be within the southern island of Mindanao.

Within Mindanao they took over the local government and began to consolidate resources and build up an a trained military of over 90,000, enough to prevent government assaults on their territory. In 1996 Salamat then revealed his group’s power to the government, and for the first time since colonialism negotiations between Muslims and Christians began. The negotiations were far from peaceful, leaving 120,000 dead and over a million displaced. It wasn’t until 2012 that the groups reached a historically pro-Muslim agreement, that provided the MILF with official government-like powers over the southern regions and a seat within the greater Philippines government. Alongside this, the deal removed the MILF’s designation as a terrorist organization, changing them into a the political entity Salamat had envisioned.

This development prompted a new age of MILF activity within the Philippines. MILF Separatists and the Philippine Government now acted as political opponents rather than warring countries. The Front cut ties with violent groups like Abu Sayyaf in an attempt to further improve their image, and furthermore rewrote their constitution to demonstrate their new political interests. Their old motto, “Jihad in the way of Allah” has been replaced with a far more moderate sounding “intent to establish equal rights and overcome corruption and social problems”, and although Salamat passed away during this period of reform, the new head Al-Hadj Murad Ibrahim has carried the torch in publicly denouncing extremism of all types. The MILF-controlled Mindanao region now receives foreign aid from larger countries such as the USA, and the group is active in the fight against extremism within the Muslim regions of the Philippines.

With collaborations between the government and the MILF at an all-time high, popular leader and Mindanao native Rodrigo Duterte has begun pushing for a unifying law known as the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) which is set to quell any further conflicts between the Muslim population and the government. Duterte has pushed the BBL to the top of his government’s to-do list, pledging to provide the Muslim population with the stability and political representation they deserve, saying in solidarity that he will get the law passed. Salamat’s separatists have come a long way from their wedding-bombing past, but accomplishing multiple centuries of work within a decade may bring unforeseen consequences. In less than 20 years  the MILF have transformed from violent guerillas to legal authorities and established politicians within the Philippines,  leaving the world to question if every wedding bomber and terrorist collaborator has truly set aside their old ways.