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Archive for February 8, 2011

Peace in min(d)e?

In late 1980’s, a British sergeant went to Afghanistan to conduct emergency relief in a country that lay in ruins after years of Soviet occupation. His plan was to work on agricultural projects, but when he arrived he discovered something terrible. Across the country, the soil was full of hundreds of thousands of antipersonnel mines, which had intended to kill or maim anyone who would plow the soil. The former officer ended up starting the first program in the world to clear landmines.

Other organizations had worked for several years to raise enough artificial limbs to victims of land mines, but they felt that they should do more. Appalled by the results of what mines did to individuals and the community, the organizations began to form a joint organization to achieve a global ban. The formal launch happened in New York, in October 1992 and was named The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL).

Their aim was to get an international ban on the use, production, storage and transfer of antipersonnel mines and increase resources for humanitarian response to the removal of landmines and assistance to victims.

Landmines are not only dangerous to enemies, but it’s very destructive towards civilians and the agricultural system, because when peace comes, the mines won’t recognize it. Many people get killed, and the survivors are left back with so much damage that they cannot function normally. In addition the mines make it impossible to cultivate the soil so that the country is deprived of food supply of food that is needed to survive.

What more does it take to get a total ban?

Land mines were designed for two main uses — to create tactical barriers, to act as area-denial weapons. The latter use seeks to deny access to land areas by military and civilian traffic. When used as a tactical barrier, they serve to deter direct attack from or over a defined and marked area. This is the stated reason for their use in the demilitarized zones of warm spots such as Cyprus and Korea.

The most important countries producing and stockpiling landmines that have not signed are China, India, the United States and Russia. The United States refuses to sign the treaty because it does not offer a “Korean exception”, as landmines are said to be a crucial component of the U.S. military strategy in South Korea. According to the US government, the one million mines along the DMZ between North and South help maintain the delicate peace by deterring a North Korean attack. The Ottawa Treaty or the Mine Ban Treaty, formally the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction, bans completely all anti-personnel landmines (AP-mines). As of May 2009, there were 156 States Parties to the treaty. Two states have signed but not yet ratified it. Thirty-seven states, including China, India, Russia and the United States, are not party to the Convention.

Layla and Majnun – Divine Love Story

Love is known to be an overwhelming, all-consuming, intense passion. But just how intense can love be? No one knows the answer, and examples of such a love are rare. But whenever one talks about the depth of love, the intensity of passion, two names almost immediately come to mind- Laila and Majnu.

The love story of Laila and Majnu is a very famous one and is no less than a legend. Even today, people know them as Laila Majnu; the “and” in between is missing. They were two in flesh, but one in spirit. It is based on the real story of a young man called Qays ibn al-Mullawah from the northern Arabian Peninsula, in the Umayyad era during the 7th century. The love story of “Laila and Majnu” is an eternal one albeit a tragic one.

Laila was a beautiful girl born in a rich family. Being no less than a princess, she was expected to marry a wealthy boy and live in grandeur and splendor. But love is born from the heart; it knows no rules. Laila fell in love with Qays and he too loved her dearly. Qays was a poet and belonged to the same tribe as Laila. He composed splendid love poems and dedicated them to his lady-love, telling in them his love for her and mentioning her name often. Qays’ friends knew about his affair with Laila and they often teased and made fun of his love. But such taunts had no effect on Qays. He was deeply in love with Laila and it was her thoughts alone that possesed his mind for all time.

“ I pass by these walls, the walls of Layla

And I kiss this wall and that wall

It’s not Love of the houses that has taken my heart

But of the One who dwells in those houses”

It had been for quite sometime that Qays toyed with the idea of seeking Laila’s hand in marriage from her parents. One day, he went up to them and put the big question before them. But Qays was a poor lad. And when he asked for Laila’s hand in marriage, her father promptly refused him as he didn’t want her daughter to marry below her status. It would mean a scandal for Laila according to Arab traditions.

As fate would have it, the two lovers were banished from seeing each other. Soon after, Laila’s parents married her off to a wealthy man and she went on to live in a big mansion.

When Qays heard of her marriage he was heartbroken. He fled the tribe camp and wandered in the surrounding desert. His family eventually gave up on his return and left food for him in the wilderrness. He could sometimes be seen reciting poetry to himself or writing Laila’s name in the sand with a stick. Day and night, he pined for her.

Laila was no better. Seperated from Qays, she was shattered in mind, body and spirit. Not long afterwards, in 688 AD, she moved to Iraq with her husband, where she fell ill and died eventually. When Qays’ friends came to know about Laila’s death, they went looking for him all over to give him the news. But they could not find him.

Not much later, , their search for him came to an end. Qays was found dead in the wilderness near Laila’s grave. On a rock near the grave, he had carved three verses of poetry, which are the last three verses ascribed to him. Qays went mad for his love; for this reason he came to be called “Majnu”, or “Majnun Layla”, which means “Driven mad by Layla”. Such a love is hard to find today. So if ever you love someone, try to love like these two did. Even today, lovers swear by their name. It is their love affair that has made Laila and Majnu immortal in the accounts of great love stories.

Ferghana Valley – Land of Timur

The picturesque Ferghana Valley is located in the eastern part of Uzbekistan where the Timurs’ ruled & where the first Mughal King of India Babur lost his Empire; is the land which he loved the most & remebered till his death , the description of this serene heaven was also noted in his famous book Babur Nama. It is the most densely populated region of Uzbekistan, with almost a third of the country’s population. The diamond-shaped valley is 300 km from east to west and 170 km from north to south.
The mild climate of the Ferghana Valley allows a growing season of 240 days per year. The primary emphasis on the production of cotton, silk and other agricultural crops has turned a large part of the valley into an oasis.  With nearly 25,000 sq. km of fertile land, it is a great oasis surrounded by the Kuramin mountain range in the North-West, Chatkal mountain range in the North, Ferghana mountain range in the East, and the Alai and Turkestan ranges in the South. There is scarcely a hectare of uncultivated land, the primary crop being cotton. In ancient times, the exceptional flora of the region gave the Ferghana Valley the name “Golden Valley”.

The Ferghana Valley is divided into five regions: Ferghana, Andijan, Namangan, Khojand (located in Tajikistan) and Osh (located in Kyrgyzstan).  The Ferghana Valley is rich in a number of natural resources, including gold, oil, copper and other raw materials. The Sirdarya, one of the great rivers of Central Asia, runs across the valley. It is fed by more than 70 mountain streams. However, most of these streams are diverted for irrigation purposes and do not reach the Sirdarya. A nature exhibit is devoted to the wildlife of the area. Birds, including seagulls, pheasants and crows, are plentiful on the shores of the Sirdarya. The mountains are home to birds of prey, as well as bears, foxes, wolves, jackals, porcupines, badgers and red groundhogs. Several animals in Uzbekistan are included in the “Red Book”, a world-wide list of animals in danger of extinction, which was completed in 1980. It is illegal to hunt these animals. The first ancient settlements in the Ferghana Valley appeared 5-6 thousand years ago. It has been assumed that the Ferghana of the 6thc.-4thc. BC was in cultural contact with Southern and South-Western civilizations. The valley’s richness includes its millennia-old history and the traditions of its master craftsmen in silk, ceramics, woodcarving and a bounty of other ancient arts of humanity.

Wakhan Corridor – Afghanistan

Wakhan Corridor is commonly used as a synonym for Wakhan, the area of far north-eastern Afghanistan which forms a land link or “corridor” between Afghanistan and China. The Corridor is a long and slender panhandle or salient, roughly 140 miles (220 km) long and between 10 and 40 miles (16 and 64 km) wide. It separates Tajikistan in the north from Pakistan in the south. The corridor was a political creation of the Great Game. On the corridor’s north side, agreements between Britain and Russia in 1873 and between Britain and Afghanistan in 1893 effectively split the historic area of Wakhan by making the Panj and Pamir Rivers the border between Afghanistan and the Russian Empire. On its south side, the Durand Line agreement of 1893 marked the boundary between British India and Afghanistan. This left a narrow strip of land as a buffer between the two empires, which became known as the Wakhan Corridor in the 20th century. The corridor has 12,000 inhabitants. The term Wakhan Corridor is also used in a narrower sense to refer to the route along the Panj River and the Wakhan River to China, and the northern part of the Wakhan is then referred to as the Afghan Pamir.

Although the terrain is extremely difficult, the Corridor was historically used as a trading route between Badakhshan and Yarkand. It appears that Marco Polo came this way. The Jesuit priest Benedict Goëz crossed from the Wakhan to China between 1602 and 1606. In May 1906 Sir Aurel Stein explored the Wakhan, and reported that at that time 100 pony loads of goods crossed annually to China.

Early travellers used one of three routes:

  • A northern route led up the valley of the Pamir River to Zorkul lake, then east through the mountains to the valley of the Murghab River, then across the Sarikol Range to China.
  • A southern route led up the valley of the Wakhan River to the Wakhjir Pass to China. This pass is closed for at least five months a year and is only open irregularly for the remainder.
  • A central route branched off the southern route through the Little Pamir to the Murghab River valley.

As a through route the Corridor has been closed to regular traffic for over 100 years. There is no modern road through the Corridor. There is a rough road from Ishkashim to Sarhad-e Broghil built in the 1960s, but only paths beyond. It is some 100 km from the road end to the Chinese border at Wakhjir Pass, and further to the far end of the Little Pamir.

As Fahad Hussain has once said about Wakhan:

“Once here roamed the kings & angels from the soul

Now left with the twigs played by the horse

Red crystals changed the colors of the white puff

Where the pass remained empty with winds gone bye”

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