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Federal Conservatives Unfair to Ontario’s new comers and new Canadians Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty

Posted on 12 April 2011 by admin

“We’re resilient … resourceful.

We always find a way forward.

The graduation rate has jumped from 68 to 81%.

When you compare us with the 34 OECD countries …

We’re on top …

We’re building 18 new hospitals.

We have almost 11,000 more nurses …

And 2,900 more doctors.

We’ve gone from zero to 200 family health teams serving 2.3 million patients.

And in another first for North America, we now have nurse practitioner clinics.

Today, 94% of all Ontarians have a family doctor.

Here’s another number: $11 billion dollars!

That’s how much we spend in Ontario every year to treat illness that is preventable.

All because of … Inactivity levels, bad diet, and smoking.

We’ve built 400 new schools

Our “Long-term Energy Plan” will rebuild 80% of our system over the next 20 years.

Now, some people say they can rebuild our electricity system and our bills won’t go up by one penny.

That’s magic.

I don’t have magic.

I just have reality.

And a sense of responsibility.

We need to do this work.

And there is a cost to it.

I understand that new costs aren’t something families welcome … Especially as they emerge from the recession.

So we’re helping out with our new Clean Energy Benefit.

So far, our plan has helped create over 20,000 clean-energy jobs …

In communities like Windsor, Tilsonburg … Hamilton, Cambridge and Welland.

This year those jobs will grow to 45,000.

Next year, we’ll have 60,000.

Plato once said: ‘A life without criticism is not worth living.’

So you might say, I’ve been living life to the max.

This year, a typical Ontario restaurant will pay 67% less in provincial, corporate and sales taxes.

The savings for a software publisher are 58%.

For a manufacturer, they’re 89%.

In fact, we have cut the cost of new business investment almost in half.

And then there’s our, Ontario Child Benefit.

It’s up to $1,100, and it’s helping 1.3 million children in low-income families.

Our Opposition would act recklessly in cutting taxes and public services alike.

That’s not our way.

I just don’t believe you can cut your way to strength.

You build.”

These were the highlights of the remarks made by Premier Dalton McGuinty at an event held in Toronto to outreach Ontario’s diverse communities. He was presenting Liberal’s plan for “Jobs and Growth” in Ontario.

Premier McGuinty’s remarks painted such a rosy picture of Ontario’s education and healthcare system, clean energy plan, families and businesses that I had to wonder why there is so much criticism laid upon the McGuinty government’s tax reform policies, healthcare, education and clean energy initiatives.

Generous with his time, Premier McGuinty responded that the story he is telling to Ontarians is based on the facts and measurable progress.

He stated that when McGuinty Liberals came in power, there was no system in place to measure wait times. Seven years later, an independent study suggests that wait times in Ontario are the lowest in the country.

“Those are just the facts, they are measureable, they are objective,” he said.

Responding to the question about the quality of jobs that have been recovered, Premier McGuinty noted that the jobs recovered “are not the same jobs. 85 per cent of those are full time jobs,” however.

He explained that “in this new era of globalization” there are “no jobs for life” like his parents had. People will be changing jobs eight to ten times in their life. So the government’s job is to ensure that there are means by which “training from one job to the other,” “acquire[ing] new skills, upgrade your knowledge” are available to people.

On the issue of Ontario’s approach to new comers to Ontario and new Canadians, Premier McGuinty said in his earlier remarks “Ontario’s ability to do everything we can to attract new Canadians..Bring families together..And get newcomers into the workforce quickly …Is being held back by the federal government.”

Premier McGuinty noted that the federal government has “shortchanged” Ontario by more than $200 million. With “no advance notice” Conservatives decided “on a particular date that they are making these cuts” – the cuts that are devastating for Ontario’s newcomers. This is how “these [Conservatives] guys operate,” he stated. Federal Conservatives have cut more than $44 million from Ontario’s settlement services to newcomers.

The Ontario government insists that federal Conservatives have been “inflexible” since they have begun the negotiations on Canada Ontario Immigration Agreement (COIA). Conservative Minister Jason Kenney states that these are not “cuts” but “reallocation of funds” as the number of immigrants coming to Ontario has dropped. Ontario Minister Eric Hoskins retorts that the statement is “untrue.”

Premier McGuinty states that in the new COIA agreement Ontario wants to have decision making power in “selection process [of immigrants], matching skill set [of immigrants] to meet the demands of the workplace,” and he wants to bring Ontario’s “values to family reunification.” Ontario wants to have the same deal with the feds as Quebec, British Columbia and Manitoba have. It’s interesting that Conservatives want to win a majority government by targeting Liberal ridings in the GTA, yet they are “cutting” funds from organizations that service these very communities and the communities from which the Conservatives want votes from.

Since Ontario Liberals understand that immigrants are key to Ontario’s labour force, the Ontario government announced the stabilization fund to address the needs of settlement agencies that service immigrant communities after the federal government announced “unilateral cuts” to Ontario’s settlement services.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty at a press briefing with multicultural media.

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PC Party’s platform will reflect Ontarians’ advice - PC leader Tim Hudak

Posted on 12 April 2011 by admin

PC party of Ontario has extended the survey “Have Your Say Ontario” www.haveyoursayontario.ca in three additional languages: Punjabi, Urdu and Tamil to hear from diverse communities of Ontario said PC leader Tim Hudak. He was in Mississauga making the announcement.

Mr. Hudak said that PC had launched the biggest political survey in the history of Ontario. So far he has heard back from almost 20,000 people via tweets, Facebook messages, online messages and through mail.

“The bottom line is that we want more mums and dads, small business owners and students to tell us the best way to create jobs” so that PC knows priorities of people and not the priorities of the government, he declared.

Mr. Hudak said that since becoming the opposition leader he has heard from people across Ontario in terms of what Ontarians want from the government. In Caucus meetings, PC candidates talk about what they have heard from their communities in their ridings.

Based on what Mr. Hudak and his PC colleagues are hearing from Ontarians, PC will put forth its platform. So far Liberals have criticized Mr. Hudak for not telling Ontarians what he will do for them.

In response to the question that will PC Party have time to read through 20,000 responses, tweets, Facebook messages and put forth a platform, Mr. Hudak said “Yes. You’ll see all that advice reflected in our platform.”

He added that PC Party’s platform will not be cooked up by “bunch of insiders or consultants in the backrooms, it [PC platform] will come out as a voice of people.”

In response to the question will PC party vote for Liberal’s budget, Mr. Hudak said no.

“The only way for Dalton McGuinty’s budget to add up is another big tax increase. Ontario families cannot handle anymore tax hikes. There’s a pattern here. Dalton McGuinty said he won’t raise taxes…but there was a so called health tax. Then he said I won’t do it again. But he brought in the HST..we won’t be fooled the third time.

The day Mr. Hudak has held this press conference was also a day that broke the news of PC candidate Salman Farooq’s arrest on fraud related charges. Mr. Farooq was nominated from Pickering-Scarborough East. Mr. Hudak acknowledged that there was “a candidate who has resigned..no longer standing as the candidate.”

PC leader Tim Hudak at a press conference at Mississauga Sweets and Catering Ltd. Behind him from left to right are PC candidates Shan Thayaparan (Markham-Unionville), Sanjeev Maingi (Bramalea-Gore-Malton), Pam Hundal (Brampton Springdale) and Ben Shenouda (Brampton West).

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Brampton is getting much needed national attention Mayor Susan Fennell

Posted on 12 April 2011 by admin

“The 10th largest city in the country and we do not have a single federal office in Brampton! Every federal service you need, you need to go to another municipality. Just imagine! I make that point clear. I made it clear to the current federal government. I’ve made it clear to the members who serve Brampton. Where are the federal jobs..Ottawa has certainly agreed and Brampton should be in line. There’s no politics to it. It’s simply what’s right,” emphasizes Mayor Fennell.

Mayor of Brampton is pleased that Brampton is getting the much needed attention from national leaders. Mayor Susan Fennell, a strong advocate for the City of Brampton, recalls that on the eve of election results, several Liberal leaders were present in the City of Brampton. “At the time Mr. Harper wasn’t there,” she recalls 2008 elections.

Nonetheless she is pleased with Prime Minister Harper’s two visits to Brampton in week 1 of election campaign. “People like to meet and shake hands and touch the person that they are choosing as their prime minister. I am certain we will be seeing lots of Mr. Layton and Mr. Ignatieff in coming days..it’s time that Brampton gets the attentions it is getting,” she stated.

Having national leaders in town is also an opportunity for the City of Brampton to raise its concerns with whosoever forms the federal government. For her part, Mayor Fennell is incredulous that the 10th largest city has no federal office or jobs in the City.

“The 10th largest city in the country and we do not have a single federal office in Brampton! Every federal service you need, you need to go to another municipality. Just imagine! I make that point clear. I made it clear to the current federal government. I’ve made it clear to the members who serve Brampton. Where are the federal jobs..Ottawa has certainly agreed and Brampton should be in line. There’s no politics to it. It’s simply what’s right,” emphasizes Mayor Fennell.

Mayor Fennell who is also an executive at Federation of Canadian Municipalities noted that in the last decade the national governments have realized the importance of municipalities.

“Paul Martin, the Liberal Prime Minister initiated the Gas Tax plan. When Mr. Harper formed the government, people said oh, you won’t get Gas Tax now, but Mr. Harper saw the wisdom in investing in municipalities and extended the program..it has been legislated as a permanent transfer so we [municipalities] don’t have to worry,” stated Mayor Fennell.

Mayor Fennell notes the City of Brampton needs the implementation of national housing policy in the City of Brampton. While she is content that the federal governments have taken concerns of municipalities into consideration and have created a number of fiscal programs, she also makes a point to note that “we need to move forward.”

So far the clearest signal for the federal government’s commitment to investing in municipalities is 2011 federal budget put forth by the Conservative government. But she also believes that Mr. Ignatieff, the Liberal leader would have done the same thing for municipalities.

Brampton has been in the limelight because Conservatives are targeting voters in Brampton. “There were a couple of close calls in last elections. There’s no safe seat in any election. The candidate has to earn the respect,” says Mayor Fennell.

Mayor Fennell believes that Liberal MPs serving the federal ridings of Brampton have done a good job “but it’s a difficult task when you are not sitting as the member of the government but in fact the member of the loyal opposition.” She also believes that “outside of the rhetoric of campaign,” members of the governing party can do more to serve the constituents.

“It’s obviously better for your member of parliament to be the member of the government,” she added.

Brampton Mayor Susan Fennell

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Tory-Liberal brawl leaves Ontario’s newcomers nowhere

Posted on 12 April 2011 by admin

Ontario Liberals didn’t want to extend same COIA agreement – Federal Minister Jason Kenney

Federal Tories are unfair to Ontario’s newcomers – Ontario Minister Eric Hoskins

Canada Ontario Immigration Agreement (COIA) expired last week because the Government of Canada and Government of Ontario could not reach an agreement on how to deliver services to Ontario’s new comers.

Ontario Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Dr. Eric Hoskins has been “frustrated” that the federal government was “very inflexible” and “did not budge one single inch” since it started renegotiating the agreement in January 2011.

Premier Dalton McGuinty, in a press conference with diverse community media reiterated that the Conservatives are hindrance in delivering services to Ontario’s new comers. They make funding cuts “unilaterally” with no consultations with stake holders. This is how “these [Conservatives] guys operate,” Premier McGuinty said.

The federal government had cut almost $44 million from settlement agencies that serve Ontario’s newcomers. In addition to this another $207 million has not been spent by the Tory government.

In an interview with Generation Next, federal Minister of Citizenship and Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney responded harshly to demands the Ontario government made in extending the COIA agreement.

“We are frustrated that the Ontario liberals were not prepared to extend the COIA agreement..on the original basis,” he said.

The original COIA agreement has clauses whereby the Government of Canada will consult the Government of  Ontario on the delivery of settlement services through local service provider organizations.

The Ontario government was seeking a stronger voice in selecting newcomers that come to the province, reducing administrative burdens and duplication by flowing funds directly to the province; and asking the federal government to reverse the $44 million in recent cuts to services.

“I made it clear to Minister Hoskins that that was not going to happen. We had turned down the similar requests by Saskatchewan and Alberta..there are important federal rules in delivering services to newcomers,” he said.

He also noted that since 2006 the funding to Ontario’s settlement agencies has been increased from $10 million to $356 million in 2011. “Since then there has been no increase in provincial government funding,” he pointed out. These funds are used to provide language classes and employment services to Ontario’s newcomers.

The Ontario government has released onetime $500,000 “stabilization fund” on February 24th. The investment was made to stabilize services, such as settlement and job-search assistance after the federal cuts were announced.

Widely known as “pa ji” [dear brother] in Brampton, Mr. Kenney also stated that the scandal in Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration revealed by provincial Auditor General whereby “organizations were receiving funds without even applying for it” did not inspire federal government’s confidence in the Liberal Ontario government. “We feel that federal government should have direct relations with the service providers,” he responded.

Minister Eric Hoskins has been persistent in saying that Ontario’s newcomers are “shortchanged” and that Ontario is not offered the same deal as Quebec, Manitoba and British Columbia.

“There is important federal role in nation building, in informing new Canadians..there’ no benefit to new comers by transferring funds to provincial bureaucracy where it will be cycled around,” retorted Mr. Kenney.

He also said that he does not want to hear complaints like federal dollars are being wasted and services are not delivered to newcomers. He has heard such complaints from communities in British Columbia and Quebec. “I do not want to hear the same complaints from Ontario’s newcomers.”

As for the $207 million that have not been spent by Ottawa, Minister Kenney says “between 2006 and 2008, COIA agreement committed a certain level of funding without making an assessment that service providing agencies actually have the capacity to provide those services.”

He also said that with tremendous increase in funding after 2006, Citizenship and Immigration Canada “did not receive enough eligible applications from settlement agencies..and we won’t follow the example of Ontario government to send checks [to organizations] that haven’t even applied for funding.”

By Asma Amanat

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“Invest in Downtown Toronto condominiums. You’ll make money.” Robina McCracken, commercial real estate lawyer and realtor

Posted on 12 April 2011 by admin

Robina McCracken

Robina finds it hypocritical that people give sermons when they themselves “eat halal with beer.”

“We [South Asians] are the force to be looked at.”

“Invest in real estate because it’s solid, you can see it and you can sell it and make money on it.”

South Asians arrive in Canada with the culture of saving for the rainy day. Canadian economy booms because these savings turn into homes, and having homes results in construction and manufacturing jobs says Robina McCracken, commercial real estate lawyer and realtor.

“When they [South Asians] come in, the first thing they do after they have a job is to save and buy that house..most mainstream Canadians don’t have that mindset, they will spend that money on the vacation or on their personal enjoyment. But when people come as immigrants, they want to have a nest where kids can grow,” she said in a conference room of her office in Mississauga.

A child of immigrants who came to Canada in 1970s, Robina says “the immigrant talent wasn’t recognized at that time.”

Almost four decades later “We [South Asians] are the force to be looked at,” she says.

In her job as a commercial real estate lawyer and realtor, she has dealt with some very high profile developers who are not quite used to negotiating the prices.

“They [the high profile developers] are not used to the way we negotiate,” Robina comments.

But are they willing to change?

“Oh! They better change,” she remarks because the way most South Asians buy is to bargain and hunt for the best deals.

Robina can make this comment. She sold $12 million worth of real estate in the last few weeks.

As an individual who doesn’t only advise in investing in real estate, Robina is someone who invests in the real estate also.

She doesn’t recommend investing in bonds or RRSPs, “invest in real estate because it’s solid, you can see it and you can sell it and make money on it,” she says.

But to invest in real estate, she warns, you need the right person and the right advice.

“Who is the right person,” we ask?

“I am the right person,” she responds promptly.

She believes that the South Asian community has come to the point where people you would never imagine will invest are investing. “Even youth is interested in investing to make money.”

Although mortgage rules have tightened and it is hard to get loans from the banks, she says “this is a thing about investment, you may not need mortgage.”

The way Robina explains how it works is simple and understandable for someone who doesn’t understand the investment portfolios. Even after explaining it in simple language, she recommends that the best way for someone who is interested in investments is to ask the professionals’ qualifications, area of expertise, “check out the property yourself, ask for second opinions.”

Does the South Asian community of the Greater Toronto Area know what they need to ask?

“No. The South Asian community needs to be educated..if we give them the right information and you are sincere with them, they will succeed. If you invest money in the wrong portfolio with the wrong person, they’ll tell everybody not to do it,” she tells us. Robina also wants to offer seminars on real estate invest at some point.

Robina had completed her undergrad in Psychology and went on to University of Ottawa for her law degree. She worked her way through the law school without taking any loans.

She never wanted to work under anybody in a big law firm. “I wanted to be my own boss,” she tells us. And here she was, the Queen of her palace, renting out space to a judge, just to note one of her tenants.

With 18 years of experience in commercial real estate, she decided to embark into the real estate market as a realtor recently.

She has made her share of mistakes and she has learned from those mistakes. Learning from these mistakes has given her confidence. She doesn’t give much thought to the growing trend in the South Asian community where real estate agents are lowering the standard of professionalism as well as the profit margin.

“Everybody has the right to earn..If you are worth something, you have to know that you are worth something. Sometimes you have to make a short cut..but when you explain to them [client] that if they want to come here they will get the best service and best experience without cutting any corners,” she says.

These days buying properties in the United States has become popular too.

Robina is cautious of making investments in the United States for a number of reasons: different laws for non-residents, not being able to rent the property for certain time period, not being able to cross the border at times. And for herself, she is also not interested in investing in India, her ancestor’s land.

Very much in touch with “ethics and morals,” Robina finds it hypocritical that people give sermons when they themselves “eat halal with beer.” For her part, Robina wears her religion  on her sleeve.

And her final word of investment advice is “invest in Downtown Toronto condominiums. You’ll make money.”

Robina McCracken can be reached at

LAW OFFICES OF KHAN MCCRACKEN PROFESSIONAL CORPORATION

120 Traders Boulevard East, Unit 114

Mississauga, ON, L4Z 2H7

Office: 905-949-0101 Fax: 905-949-0103

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Difficult craft of writing fiction

Posted on 12 April 2011 by admin

Reading fiction is different from writing fiction. The first is an acquired taste; the second is pure torture for a first time writer.

As many of an older generation do, I began to read rather early and not for me the children’s books of Enid Blyton; I preferred Harold Robins’ Carpetbaggers and Jacqueline Susan’s Once is Not Enough. Steamy stuff and thoroughly enjoyable.

Of course, thanks to the insistence of my “elders,” I also read almost the entire works of Charles Dickens and then with age more contemporary writers of the 20th century. My personal all-time favourite novel: Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 published a few months before my birth.

But this piece is not about my reading; it’s about my writing.

Many years ago, when it was time to choose a career, I stumbled upon journalism quite by accident and thoroughly enjoyed myself for more than a decade.

Never once did I attempt to write fiction. That happened only in Canada.

Once a writer, always a writer is an adage that is true in my case. The urge to write stayed with me even after I quit journalism and went on to do other things while in India; I remained an active freelancer.

When I came here, I was keen to start writing, but couldn’t because of several reasons – I didn’t know anyone, I didn’t know the country and I didn’t have any money so had to do survival job.

Two new acquaintances – Sunil Rao and Nick Noorani (both originally from Mumbai) graciously offered me a platform in their publications South Asian Focus and Canadian Immigrant respectively. I even did a journalism program at Sheridan College, where I met some interesting internationally trained journalists.

However, when you’re doing night shifts as a security guard it doesn’t leave too much time to pursue active journalism.

So, I did something new – write a short story.

Today, when I read the first draft of the short story that I submitted to Diaspora Dialogues in 2009 for its mentoring program I cringe with embarrassment.

The judges must have seen something in it because I was selected as a mentee. The tough, uncompromising taskmaster MG Vassanji was my mentor.

After three months of mentoring, my story was published in TOK 5: Writing the New Toronto in May 2010. My stint as a mentee at Diaspora Dialogues changed my life, so to speak, and I thank Helen Walsh, the President of the organisation for inspiring many like me to take writing fiction seriously.

I developed my short story into a novel.

I submitted the second chapter of my novel for Canadian Voices 2 that was published by Bookland Press in September 2010. Jasmine D’Costa’s Trade Architects Inc, the creative agency that selected the prose and poetry for the anthology, came up with the idea of Indian Voices 1.

Another part of the second chapter of my novel is published in Indian Voices Volume 1. It’s a unique book because while all the writers in the anthology are of Indian descent, they clearly have very different sensibilities considering they are at present living in 16 different countries.

I’m excited about this book also because so far both my stories have been published in Canadian anthologies, Indian Voices is published in India. The Canadian launch of Indian Voices 1 is on April 7 at the Supermarket Art Bar in Toronto.

Mayank Bhatt

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10 Fun things you can do during Earth Hour

Posted on 01 April 2011 by admin

1. Host a Green Party Get your friends together for an Earth Hour eco-party. Fire up the flashlights and battery lanterns, serve organic food, avoid the disposable utensils, use natural décor (like flowers and hanging plants) and have a friend provide acoustic music. Talk to your guests about how you’re each reducing your environmental footprint and share ideas and solutions for saving more energy, money and carbon dioxide.
2. Give Yourself an Energy Makeover Use Earth Hour to make your home more energy efficient: Replace your old light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs; install power strips (so you can turn computers and electronics on and off more easily); and change your air conditioner filters. Or go one step farther and install one new energy-efficient item, like an EnergyStar qualified DVD player. And on Monday, call your local utility and sign up for green power-like wind, hydro or solar.
3. Go Green with Your Kids
Earth Hour is a perfect time to talk to your kids about the environment and why we need to protect our planet from the dangers of climate change. Check out books on the environment from the library and read by flashlight, or head into the yard and have a night picnic. Or how about a night of board games?
4. Do a Recyclables Scavenger Hunt Get your flashlights and scour your cabinets and shelves for cans, bottles and cardboard (like cereal boxes) that you don’t normally recycle. Make a list of all the non-recyclable containers you’re using now (like plastic shopping bags and butter tubs), and figure out ways to reduce your consumption of items that end up in landfills. One easy tip: get reusable grocery bags… and reuse them!
5. Green That Workspace! Working the night shift? Even if you can’t turn off all the lights at work, look around and see what you can unplug, turn down or use less of (like consuming less paper by printing double-sided). Every day millions of computer screens and speakers are left on overnight–shut ‘em off! And talk to your coworkers about what they can do to help make a difference, too.
6. Involve Your Local Leaders If your city or town isn’t hosting an Earth Hour event, ask your local government to set up a community “green” discussion this spring. Help organize attendance by reaching out to local environmental and community groups, and come prepared to ask your leaders what they’re doing to make your city greener.
7. Clean Up Your Neighborhood Grab a flashlight and take a long walk through your neighborhood, picking up trash and recyclables as you go. It’s a great chance to do some stargazing, too!
8. Unplug and Chill Out Most of our daily activities–like watching TV, shopping online and texting friends–require loads of electricity, but do we really need to do so much stuff all the time? Take one hour for yourself to just chill… turn off the screens, put down the handheld devices and just take some “you” time to reflect, read or talk to your family. After all, why do more when you can do less?
9. Take Your Temperature Your thermostat and your refrigerator are responsible for a huge portion of your carbon footprint. If you lower your thermostat by just 2 degrees and set your fridge to 37 degrees F. and the freezer at 0 degrees F., you’ll make a big difference.
10. Make a Pledge for the Planet Earth Hour shouldn’t end at 9:01 pm–it’s a chance to take a first step toward lowering your overall impact on the environment. So use part of that hour to make a personal pledge to do more–recycle, drive less often, turn off or unplug electronics, and beyond. The only way we’re going to stabilize our climate is if we make real changes in our everyday lives. That change begins with Earth Hour, and ends with a healthy planet.
Source: http://wwf.worldwildlife.org/site/MessageViewer?em_id=11502.0

1. Host a Green Party Get your friends together for an Earth Hour eco-party. Fire up the flashlights and battery lanterns, serve organic food, avoid the disposable utensils, use natural décor (like flowers and hanging plants) and have a friend provide acoustic music. Talk to your guests about how you’re each reducing your environmental footprint and share ideas and solutions for saving more energy, money and carbon dioxide.2. Give Yourself an Energy Makeover Use Earth Hour to make your home more energy efficient: Replace your old light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs; install power strips (so you can turn computers and electronics on and off more easily); and change your air conditioner filters. Or go one step farther and install one new energy-efficient item, like an EnergyStar qualified DVD player. And on Monday, call your local utility and sign up for green power-like wind, hydro or solar.3. Go Green with Your KidsEarth Hour is a perfect time to talk to your kids about the environment and why we need to protect our planet from the dangers of climate change. Check out books on the environment from the library and read by flashlight, or head into the yard and have a night picnic. Or how about a night of board games?4. Do a Recyclables Scavenger Hunt Get your flashlights and scour your cabinets and shelves for cans, bottles and cardboard (like cereal boxes) that you don’t normally recycle. Make a list of all the non-recyclable containers you’re using now (like plastic shopping bags and butter tubs), and figure out ways to reduce your consumption of items that end up in landfills. One easy tip: get reusable grocery bags… and reuse them!5. Green That Workspace! Working the night shift? Even if you can’t turn off all the lights at work, look around and see what you can unplug, turn down or use less of (like consuming less paper by printing double-sided). Every day millions of computer screens and speakers are left on overnight–shut ‘em off! And talk to your coworkers about what they can do to help make a difference, too.6. Involve Your Local Leaders If your city or town isn’t hosting an Earth Hour event, ask your local government to set up a community “green” discussion this spring. Help organize attendance by reaching out to local environmental and community groups, and come prepared to ask your leaders what they’re doing to make your city greener.7. Clean Up Your Neighborhood Grab a flashlight and take a long walk through your neighborhood, picking up trash and recyclables as you go. It’s a great chance to do some stargazing, too!8. Unplug and Chill Out Most of our daily activities–like watching TV, shopping online and texting friends–require loads of electricity, but do we really need to do so much stuff all the time? Take one hour for yourself to just chill… turn off the screens, put down the handheld devices and just take some “you” time to reflect, read or talk to your family. After all, why do more when you can do less? 9. Take Your Temperature Your thermostat and your refrigerator are responsible for a huge portion of your carbon footprint. If you lower your thermostat by just 2 degrees and set your fridge to 37 degrees F. and the freezer at 0 degrees F., you’ll make a big difference.10. Make a Pledge for the Planet Earth Hour shouldn’t end at 9:01 pm–it’s a chance to take a first step toward lowering your overall impact on the environment. So use part of that hour to make a personal pledge to do more–recycle, drive less often, turn off or unplug electronics, and beyond. The only way we’re going to stabilize our climate is if we make real changes in our everyday lives. That change begins with Earth Hour, and ends with a healthy planet.Source: http://wwf.worldwildlife.org/site/MessageViewer?em_id=11502.0

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South Asian community issues and what it must do?

Posted on 25 March 2011 by admin

By Asma Amanat

Many times politicians do not acknowledge the unique needs of cultural communities suggesting that they are the same as the broader community. While this may be true for certain issues, the statement is not necessarily reflective of deeper understanding of the needs of the diverse communities. Ontario’s healthcare providers are now realizing that diverse communities have certain beliefs and values that have an impact on how they access healthcare. This is a good first step, however much more needs to be done.
Having South Asian elected officials at federal and provincial level is an asset for the South Asian community; however these officials can do much more to raise the issues of the largest visible minority – the South Asian community – in their respective legislatures.
We asked South Asian elected officials at the federal and Ontario level to reflect upon the positive aspects of the community and to highlight the areas where South Asian community can do better to be part of the Canadian society.
What is interesting about the South Asian community is that while its votes are frequently courted by the politicians, this community often remains neglected. Targeting “very ethnic” ridings is just one example. However both the federal and the provincial governments make little effort to impart information in this community. While the mainstream media is flooded with advertisements about the  healthcare system, Foodland Ontario, Human Resource Skills Development Canada, Department of Finance and so on, the South Asian media is not considered to be worthy of our government’s dollars. No wonder South Asian community has very little knowledge about the healthcare system, the tax benefits, legal system of Canada and the benefits offered by the government to its citizens.
While we are “applauded” for taking the government’s message back to the community, elected officials of South Asian descent state that the government has to spend resources equally. A survey conducted by Peel Newcomer Strategy Group indicates that the poverty among immigrants is higher and they earn less when compared to average Canadians. The report also suggests that services in Peel region are not catching up with its development. We must note that many of these ridings are represented by the South Asian elected officials.
We must also emphasize that these South Asian MPs and MPPs are in a position to address many of the issues. To name just the few these representatives can raise the awareness of Canada’s role in Afghanistan, bridge gaps between Canada and the South Asian countries and address radicalization among our youth. And this needs to be done beyond just paying lip-service.
Generation Next had contacted all MPs and MPPs of South Asian descent for this story. The elected officials not quoted in the story did not respond to us.Many times politicians do not acknowledge the unique needs of cultural communities suggesting that they are the same as the broader community. While this may be true for certain issues, the statement is not necessarily reflective of deeper understanding of the needs of the diverse communities. Ontario’s healthcare providers are now realizing that diverse communities have certain beliefs and values that have an impact on how they access healthcare. This is a good first step, however much more needs to be done. Having South Asian elected officials at federal and provincial level is an asset for the South Asian community; however these officials can do much more to raise the issues of the largest visible minority – the South Asian community – in their respective legislatures. We asked South Asian elected officials at the federal and Ontario level to reflect upon the positive aspects of the community and to highlight the areas where South Asian community can do better to be part of the Canadian society. What is interesting about the South Asian community is that while its votes are frequently courted by the politicians, this community often remains neglected. Targeting “very ethnic” ridings is just one example. However both the federal and the provincial governments make little effort to impart information in this community. While the mainstream media is flooded with advertisements about the  healthcare system, Foodland Ontario, Human Resource Skills Development Canada, Department of Finance and so on, the South Asian media is not considered to be worthy of our government’s dollars. No wonder South Asian community has very little knowledge about the healthcare system, the tax benefits, legal system of Canada and the benefits offered by the government to its citizens.While we are “applauded” for taking the government’s message back to the community, elected officials of South Asian descent state that the government has to spend resources equally. A survey conducted by Peel Newcomer Strategy Group indicates that the poverty among immigrants is higher and they earn less when compared to average Canadians. The report also suggests that services in Peel region are not catching up with its development. We must note that many of these ridings are represented by the South Asian elected officials. We must also emphasize that these South Asian MPs and MPPs are in a position to address many of the issues. To name just the few these representatives can raise the awareness of Canada’s role in Afghanistan, bridge gaps between Canada and the South Asian countries and address radicalization among our youth. And this needs to be done beyond just paying lip-service.  Generation Next had contacted all MPs and MPPs of South Asian descent for this story. The elected officials not quoted in the story did not respond to us.
With hard work barriers will be broken down
MP Deepak Obhari (Vancouver South)

The Prime Minister and I will be inaugurating ‘Year of India.” (It has already been inaugurated). Pakistan is Canada’s important ally in our efforts in Afghanistan; we have helped communities post civil war in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh’s foreign Minister was in Canada just a few day ago.  To build stronger ties between Canada and these South Asian countries, local communities can act as a bridge. The links of the local communities with the South Asian countries are very valuable to us.
I would like to see the South Asian community engaged  overall – culturally, economically, politically businesswise. Their contribution is multi-dimensional.
There is a glass ceiling. As we highlight the disparities, things will change. There is resistance to change. But barriers are broken down every day  and more and more people from visible minorities are serving at higher executive positions.
When there is democracy people thrive and have the right to do what they choose to do. But people must understand that the laws of the country cannot be broken. If they are broken there will be consequences. Beyond that Canada is a free country where people can do whatever they want to do.
Second generation is stranded
MP Navdeep Bains (Brampton South)
Our real success lies in representing more than the South Asian communities. W represent our national interest. The South Asian community has fair amount of political influence.
I frequently hear concerns regarding education, child care services, healthcare and infrastructure.  Many of the issues are related to the second generation people, that is taking care of their elders and parents, making sure that their kids are doing well. This second generation can act as a bridge to understanding mutual interests. This will lead to the development of stronger sense of belonging and participation. As a community, we must hold our community leaders to a higher standard.
Let’s address operational challenges of places of worship
MP Gurbax Malhi, (Bramalea-Gore-Malton)
The over 1.3 million Canadians of South Asian descent have made significant contributions to the development and general welfare of Canada.
Our South Asian origin community is working hard and giving back to its new country. It includes businesspeople, lawyers, doctors, politicians, and individuals performing in numerous other professions. In every field, Canada has been and continues to be greatly enriched by the contributions of its South Asian background community.
Let us resolve to reinvigorate the dialogue and work together toward more sustainable operational models to address the operational challenges faced by some of our places of worship. Let us not engage in infighting, but collaborate to seize the opportunities that will help us realize a brighter and even more prosperous future for ourselves and for our country.
Well known for its ingenuity and ambition, our community has much to offer to Canada and the world.
Political influence transitioning from ceremonial to substantive
MPP Dr. Shafiq Qaadri (Etobicoke North)
One of the great benefits of having so many members of the community elected is the signal sent worldwide.
The political influence exerted currently is moving steadily from soft and ceremonial to hard and substantive. Of course, different parties move at their own rate, some quite reluctantly.”
Treat the new generation better
Ontario Minister of Government Services Harinder Takhar (MPP from Mississauga Erindale)
The greatest strength of the South Asian community lies in the importance we place on education. There are many issues which the newcomers face. The newcomers’ issues are the recognition of foreign credentials, finding a job and the right resources to help them.  The community that has lived here longer holds on to the old customs in the new country. The aging population needs senior centres where other seniors can meet each other. Pension and protection of properties back home is another issue the community faces.
The old and the new generation needs to work together. The old generation needs to understand the new generation better and understand that they cannot be treated the way we were treated back in the day forty or fifty years ago.
Let’s work together and stop leg pulling
- Liberal MP Ruby Dhalla (Brampton Springdale)
As the Member of Parliament for one of the most multicultural, multilingual, and multireligious communities in Canada I have seen firsthand the contributions of immigrants, especially those from the South Asian community who have helped build the foundation of our country. In fact, in Canada’s Parliament the Punjabi language is the 4th most common spoken language by Parliamentarians.  These achievements are a reflection of the dedication, hard work and vision of the South Asian community and serve as a reminder of the many barriers broken, and sacrifices made by those that have come before us. The South Asian community is to be commended for its entrepreneurial spirit, its passion for political participation, and charitable contributions which in my riding of Brampton-Springdale resulted in the Brampton Civic Hospital naming their wards in honour of the followers of the Sikh faith through the establishment of the “Guru Nanak Emergency Services Department.”
I believe a weakness of the community that needs to be improved is the “leg pulling” that occurs. The entire community needs to make a better effort of working together on common issues and challenges facing the Diaspora.
It will only be by working together that we can work to ensure there is greater representation of the Diaspora in decision making capacities on boards, organizations, and elected office so that issues such as foreign credential recognition is addressed to  ensure that professionals immigrating to Canada have their credentials recognized and accredited. In fact, to address this issue one of the first initiatives I undertook when I was elected was to bring forward a private member’s motion that called on the government to work in collaboration with all stakeholders to create a separate department for Foreign Credential Recognition. Since this motion was passed in parliament there has been much progress and I hope moving forward there will be more with the
cooperation and support of the community.
Please be on time
Liberal MP Sukh Dhaliwal (Newton-North Delta)
I believe that the South Asian community is very strong when it comes to the role of the family and the loyalties that bind us all together. Through multi-family households and large extended families, generations are brought together, so that our grandparents and uncles and aunties are all pseudo parents to children and cousins when growing up.
South Asians are also extremely business oriented, and there seems to be an intrinsic inclination towards entrepreneurship and enterprise within the bloodline.  Ingenuity breeds the ideas, hard work solidifies success, and South Asians have never shied away from putting effort into their efforts.  With this success comes the spirit of generosity, which South Asians tend to offer freely due to an appreciation of their good fortune in Canada, and their understanding of the way many have to struggle in their countries of origin.
Finally, I think that South Asians are very strong when it comes to political activism.  For those that have originated from India in particular, the largest democratic system in the world has left a lasting mark when it comes to comprehending the importance of getting involved in the political process.
The only weakness that I can think of off the top of my head is our tardiness when comes to showing up to appointments or scheduled events!
In terms of South Asian youth, the most important piece of advice I can offer is that they should follow their interests, and spread their enthusiasm, talents and work ethic as broadly as possible.  South Asian young people being involved in a variety of activities, causes and fields is an extremely positive thing.
South Asian social life’s attached to places of worship
MPP Kuldip Kular MPP MPP Kuldip Kular (Bramalea-Gore-Malton)
South Asian community brings energy, ambition, determination, drive and passion to Canada. South Asian newcomers understand that in order to succeed they have to struggle. They are industrious people.
Sometimes we have issues like divisions in the South Asian community just like any other community. Coming from countries where the government denies its citizens a lot of things, we try to get things done faster. Many South Asians try to settle down in the areas that we can call ghettos but the South Asian social values are aligned with the mainstream social culture. Being in the government, we cannot just put resources for the South Asian community, we put the funds where they are needed.
As South Asians, our main social life is attached to our faith, so we take our challenges and issues to gurdwaras, mandirs and mosques. Sometimes things like corruption charges happen at the places of worship.
Get involved in broader society
Conservative MP Tim Uppal, (Edmonton–Sherwood Park)

One of the strengths of the South Asian community is its history in Canada that dates back to one hundred years.  South Asian community is well integrated in the society with the focus on building their family and the network. Their hardworking skills and family values are well suited for the Canadian society.
It is true that in some areas the South Asian community is ghettoizing. It is very important that the South Asian community holds on to its traditions and cultures; it’s a good thing. But we have to make sure that the community has the language and the cultural skills to communicate with its neighbours outside of their comfort zone.
The political influence of the South Asian community can be much more
Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh (Vancouver South)
The South Asian is not that well organized nationally at least. There are organizations like Indo Canada Chamber of Commerce, Canada-India Foundation but there is lack of consistent perception of the needs of the South Asian community. I don’t believe that given its vast numbers, the South Asian community has political influence as it could have.
Although there are South Asian MPs and MPPs, some of us are individually more ambitious and perhaps more participating, but I believe the community has a potential to be very very strong and be more effective voice in the Canadian political system.
“As representatives from the largest visible minority in Canada, we do count. Witness the recent appointments to the upper chambers both in England and Canada. All parties know that cultivation of multicultural communities must be part of a successful election coalition.
Canada is home. We will live and die in Canada; we must realize that
MPP Yasir Naqvi MPP (Ottawa Centre)
The South Asian community is very hardworking, very focused and determined. We place a lot of emphasis on education as there is cultural tendency to be doctors, engineers, lawyers and accountants. Though education is becoming expensive, it’s far cheaper than any world country and Ontario has the best graduation rate in the G8 countries.
The South Asian community must realize that Canada is home. This is where we live and this is where we will die. Members of the South Asian community should get involved beyond the ethno-cultural organizations to the broader community based organizations in the neighbourhood we live in. When our community grows, we all grow.
Our youth should take ownership of the community to instill the change; that’s where belonging, acceptance and inclusion comes from.

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Nicknaming Your Girlfriend

Posted on 10 February 2011 by admin

By Billal Sarwar, Toronto

When using a “sweet” nickname, make sure to choose a well established sweetness such as sugar or honey. New sweeteners such as aspartame, and splenda may not have the same appeal. Although if your girlfriend is Pamela Anderson, artificial may be the way to go.

I’ll be honest with you I can’t stand it when couples give each other cute nicknames. They’re almost always awkward and embarrassing, and when I say “awkward and embarrassing” I mean for the people AROUND the couple. The other day I was playing the third wheel having lunch with my friend and his girlfriend. I kid you not, their nicknames for each other are “Luvy-Wuvy” for him, and “Snugly-Bear” for her. After hearing both those names repeated over, and over again I wanted to throw-up in my mouthy-wouthy, and then toss the pair of them of a cliffy-wiffy. I was so appalled by their offensively cute nicknames that I felt it was my civic duty to slap them both in the face…in unison. It had to be in unison, they can’t stand doing anything separately. When thinking of a nickname for your significant other, there tends to be more rules for nicknaming a girl rather than a guy. For example, whatever nickname you choose it can’t be large, heavy, aggressive or overtly sexual. Although coincidentally, “large, heavy, aggressive and overtly sexual” are the traits I find most appealing in a woman.  Those traits also happen to be the names of the rejected dwarfs in Snow White, along with Staby, Rapy, and Drunky. Anyway, the following nicknames may be considered “inappropriate” for the reasons vaguely outlined above:

1. Juggernaut
2. Big Daddy Diesel
3. Thug Crusher
4. The Castrator
5. BIG DOG! [A WOOOF!]
6. Jugzzz
Following my logic, the worst possible nickname to give a girlfriend would be, “The giant, laser, death vagina of infinite doom”. A preferred or typical nickname for a girlfriend is usually something that is small, cute, sweet (literally) and possibly rhyming, or ending with the letter “y”. Some spices such as cinnamon may also work as a nickname, however basil and oregano are out of the question. Furthermore, when using a “sweet” nickname, make sure to choose a well established sweetness such as sugar or honey. New sweeteners such as aspartame, and splenda may not have the same appeal. Although if your girlfriend is Pamela Anderson, artificial may be the way to go. But at the end of the day I say we let the love birds keep their nicknames. I mean really, what’s the point of being in love if you can’t anger, and nauseate the people around you just a little bit.
iambillal.wordpress.com

I’ll be honest with you I can’t stand it when couples give each other cute nicknames. They’re almost always awkward and embarrassing, and when I say “awkward and embarrassing” I mean for the people AROUND the couple. The other day I was playing the third wheel having lunch with my friend and his girlfriend. I kid you not, their nicknames for each other are “Luvy-Wuvy” for him, and “Snugly-Bear” for her. After hearing both those names repeated over, and over again I wanted to throw-up in my mouthy-wouthy, and then toss the pair of them of a cliffy-wiffy. I was so appalled by their offensively cute nicknames that I felt it was my civic duty to slap them both in the face…in unison. It had to be in unison, they can’t stand doing anything separately.When thinking of a nickname for your significant other, there tends to be more rules for nicknaming a girl rather than a guy. For example, whatever nickname you choose it can’t be large, heavy, aggressive or overtly sexual. Although coincidentally, “large, heavy, aggressive and overtly sexual” are the traits I find most appealing in a woman.  Those traits also happen to be the names of the rejected dwarfs in Snow White, along with Staby, Rapy, and Drunky. Anyway, the following nicknames may be considered “inappropriate” for the reasons vaguely outlined above:1. Juggernaut2. Big Daddy Diesel3. Thug Crusher4. The Castrator5. BIG DOG! [A WOOOF!]6. JugzzzFollowing my logic, the worst possible nickname to give a girlfriend would be, “The giant, laser, death vagina of infinite doom”. A preferred or typical nickname for a girlfriend is usually something that is small, cute, sweet (literally) and possibly rhyming, or ending with the letter “y”. Some spices such as cinnamon may also work as a nickname, however basil and oregano are out of the question. Furthermore, when using a “sweet” nickname, make sure to choose a well established sweetness such as sugar or honey. New sweeteners such as aspartame, and splenda may not have the same appeal. Although if your girlfriend is Pamela Anderson, artificial may be the way to go.But at the end of the day I say we let the love birds keep their nicknames. I mean really, what’s the point of being in love if you can’t anger, and nauseate the people around you just a little bit.iambillal.wordpress.com

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Maintain Momentum in Afghanistan

Posted on 10 February 2011 by admin

The announcement of a withdrawal date discourages Pakistan from breaking ties with its former Taliban proxies, on whom it believes it would need to rely in the event that coalition forces depart the region prematurely. The best way to solidify Pakistan’s cooperation and shift its calculations on support for the Taliban is for the U.S. to reassure the Pakistanis that it is committed to the region over the long term.

President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night included brief words on the war in Afghanistan, where nearly 100,000 U.S. troops are deployed. While he was clear on U.S. objectives in the war when he stated, “By preventing the Taliban from establishing a stranglehold over the Afghan people, we will deny al-Qaeda the safe haven that served as a launching pad for 9/11,” he also undermined overall U.S. strategy by saying that he would begin withdrawing U.S. troops this July. The U.S. should maintain a robust U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan until it is clear that the recent progress is sustainable. In addition to scrapping arbitrary timelines for withdrawal, the Administration should take a stronger leadership role in driving political reconciliation inside Afghanistan, intensify efforts to work with Pakistan in denying the Taliban sanctuary on its side of the border, and bolster diplomatic efforts that encourage regional support for a stable, peaceful, and unified Afghanistan that is inhospitable to international terrorists. Don’t Quit When You’re Ahead General David Petraeus, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, recently wrote a letter to the troops under his command commending them for recent progress in the war, according to media reports. He credited gains to the American troop surge, the growth and improving quality of the Afghan security forces, and the work of the international community in providing crucial development aid, education, and health care to the Afghan people. General Petraeus said the 30,000 additional U.S. troops sent to the Afghan theater in 2010 “halted a downward security spiral in much of the country.” Instead of reiterating the unhelpful July 2011 withdrawal date, Obama should have spent more time in his address telling the American people about these recent gains in Afghanistan and thus lifting public confidence in the ability of the United States to achieve its objectives in Afghanistan. Republican leaders support the President on the war in Afghanistan, but they reject arbitrary timelines for withdrawal. As Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R–FL), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, stated: Tonight, the President’s speech reflected a strong commitment, which I support, to defeating insurgents in Afghanistan and rooting out al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, I am concerned that the President has placed a timeline beginning in July for the withdrawal of our troops. This sends a mixed message to our troops and to the enemies they face. I steadfastly believe that, going forward, leaders in Washington must look to our commanders on the ground when determining our troop levels. At last November’s NATO summit in Lisbon, the Administration had appeared to back away from the July 2011 withdrawal date and highlight instead 2014 as a target date for transferring security responsibilities to the Afghan government. It seemed the Administration had finally accepted that repeatedly talking about a July 2011 date for withdrawal was unhelpful to the overall strategy and thus had decided to alter its narrative accordingly. Obama’s statement in the State of the Union, however, raises doubts about his genuine commitment to success in Afghanistan that will create confusion among America’s allies and encourage its enemies to simply wait it out. Another problem with repeating the July 2011 drawdown mantra is that it weakens Pakistan’s resolve in its fight against extremists on its territory. The announcement of a withdrawal date discourages Pakistan from breaking ties with its former Taliban proxies, on whom it believes it would need to rely in the event that coalition forces depart the region prematurely. The best way to solidify Pakistan’s cooperation and shift its calculations on support for the Taliban is for the U.S. to reassure the Pakistanis that it is committed to the region over the long term.

Lead Political Reconciliation  Succeeding in Afghanistan requires a sustained and multi-pronged commitment. Now that the tide is beginning to shift against the Taliban on the battlefield in Afghanistan, the U.S. should keep up the military pressure while also pursuing avenues for political reconciliation.  Afghan and Pakistani officials are stepping up their engagement and enhancing efforts to negotiate a peace settlement in Afghanistan. The Afghanistan High Peace Council, led by former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, visited Pakistan earlier this month. The U.S. should take a proactive role in these talks in order to protect U.S. equities and ensure that U.S. military and financial investment in the region over the past decade will not be squandered.  The Administration should counter the perception that the U.S. is war-weary and ready to strike a grand bargain, which could allow Taliban leaders friendly to al-Qaeda to return to power. Instead, the U.S. should support political reconciliation that involves all ethnic groups in Afghanistan and upholds a vision for the region that strengthens those who support democracy, human rights, and religious pluralism and weakens those who adhere to destructive, extremist ideologies. Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s efforts to promote reconciliation have been inconsistent and threaten to inflame ethnic tensions among groups who fear that he will not protect their interests. The Tajik, Uzbek, and Hazara ethnic minorities fear a return to the atrocities carried out against their communities during Taliban rule of the country in the late 1990s. If they conclude that the Taliban are in a position to regain influence, they are likely to re-arm and prepare for a return to civil war. The debacle last November in which Karzai was duped into negotiating with a Taliban imposter demonstrates that the U.S. and coalition strategy for political reconciliation is still at the early stages and requires more serious attention. The Obama Administration will have an opportunity to assert a leadership role in the reconciliation process when the Afghan and Pakistani leaders come to Washington for trilateral talks some time in late February. In these talks, the goal should be to convince the Pakistan military to shift its strategy in Afghanistan so that it does not invest in the Taliban and instead develops political alternatives. While Washington should acknowledge Pakistani regional security concerns, it should also make clear to Islamabad that it is prepared to devote substantial military, economic, and diplomatic resources to the goal of preventing a Taliban-dominated Afghanistan.
A Genuine Reconciliation Effort
A hasty retreat from the fight in 2011 because of a U.S. political timetable would squander hard-fought military gains made last year and jeopardize U.S. national security by returning the battlefield advantage to the Taliban, whose leadership remains allied with al-Qaeda. Instead of talking about withdrawal timelines to score domestic political points, the Obama Administration should lead a genuine reconciliation effort between Afghanistan and Pakistan that will strengthen those who support democracy and pluralism and weaken those who support extremist ideologies that breed terrorism in the region.
Lisa Curtis is Senior Research Fellow for South Asia in the Asian Studies Center and James Phillips is Senior Research Fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International studies, at The Heritage Foundation.

President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night included brief words on the war in Afghanistan, where nearly 100,000 U.S. troops are deployed. While he was clear on U.S. objectives in the war when he stated, “By preventing the Taliban from establishing a stranglehold over the Afghan people, we will deny al-Qaeda the safe haven that served as a launching pad for 9/11,” he also undermined overall U.S. strategy by saying that he would begin withdrawing U.S. troops this July. The U.S. should maintain a robust U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan until it is clear that the recent progress is sustainable. In addition to scrapping arbitrary timelines for withdrawal, the Administration should take a stronger leadership role in driving political reconciliation inside Afghanistan, intensify efforts to work with Pakistan in denying the Taliban sanctuary on its side of the border, and bolster diplomatic efforts that encourage regional support for a stable, peaceful, and unified Afghanistan that is inhospitable to international terrorists. Don’t Quit When You’re Ahead General David Petraeus, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, recently wrote a letter to the troops under his command commending them for recent progress in the war, according to media reports. He credited gains to the American troop surge, the growth and improving quality of the Afghan security forces, and the work of the international community in providing crucial development aid, education, and health care to the Afghan people. General Petraeus said the 30,000 additional U.S. troops sent to the Afghan theater in 2010 “halted a downward security spiral in much of the country.” Instead of reiterating the unhelpful July 2011 withdrawal date, Obama should have spent more time in his address telling the American people about these recent gains in Afghanistan and thus lifting public confidence in the ability of the United States to achieve its objectives in Afghanistan. Republican leaders support the President on the war in Afghanistan, but they reject arbitrary timelines for withdrawal. As Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R–FL), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, stated: Tonight, the President’s speech reflected a strong commitment, which I support, to defeating insurgents in Afghanistan and rooting out al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, I am concerned that the President has placed a timeline beginning in July for the withdrawal of our troops. This sends a mixed message to our troops and to the enemies they face. I steadfastly believe that, going forward, leaders in Washington must look to our commanders on the ground when determining our troop levels. At last November’s NATO summit in Lisbon, the Administration had appeared to back away from the July 2011 withdrawal date and highlight instead 2014 as a target date for transferring security responsibilities to the Afghan government. It seemed the Administration had finally accepted that repeatedly talking about a July 2011 date for withdrawal was unhelpful to the overall strategy and thus had decided to alter its narrative accordingly. Obama’s statement in the State of the Union, however, raises doubts about his genuine commitment to success in Afghanistan that will create confusion among America’s allies and encourage its enemies to simply wait it out. Another problem with repeating the July 2011 drawdown mantra is that it weakens Pakistan’s resolve in its fight against extremists on its territory. The announcement of a withdrawal date discourages Pakistan from breaking ties with its former Taliban proxies, on whom it believes it would need to rely in the event that coalition forces depart the region prematurely. The best way to solidify Pakistan’s cooperation and shift its calculations on support for the Taliban is for the U.S. to reassure the Pakistanis that it is committed to the region over the long term. Lead Political Reconciliation  Succeeding in Afghanistan requires a sustained and multi-pronged commitment. Now that the tide is beginning to shift against the Taliban on the battlefield in Afghanistan, the U.S. should keep up the military pressure while also pursuing avenues for political reconciliation.  Afghan and Pakistani officials are stepping up their engagement and enhancing efforts to negotiate a peace settlement in Afghanistan. The Afghanistan High Peace Council, led by former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, visited Pakistan earlier this month. The U.S. should take a proactive role in these talks in order to protect U.S. equities and ensure that U.S. military and financial investment in the region over the past decade will not be squandered.  The Administration should counter the perception that the U.S. is war-weary and ready to strike a grand bargain, which could allow Taliban leaders friendly to al-Qaeda to return to power. Instead, the U.S. should support political reconciliation that involves all ethnic groups in Afghanistan and upholds a vision for the region that strengthens those who support democracy, human rights, and religious pluralism and weakens those who adhere to destructive, extremist ideologies. Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s efforts to promote reconciliation have been inconsistent and threaten to inflame ethnic tensions among groups who fear that he will not protect their interests. The Tajik, Uzbek, and Hazara ethnic minorities fear a return to the atrocities carried out against their communities during Taliban rule of the country in the late 1990s. If they conclude that the Taliban are in a position to regain influence, they are likely to re-arm and prepare for a return to civil war. The debacle last November in which Karzai was duped into negotiating with a Taliban imposter demonstrates that the U.S. and coalition strategy for political reconciliation is still at the early stages and requires more serious attention. The Obama Administration will have an opportunity to assert a leadership role in the reconciliation process when the Afghan and Pakistani leaders come to Washington for trilateral talks some time in late February. In these talks, the goal should be to convince the Pakistan military to shift its strategy in Afghanistan so that it does not invest in the Taliban and instead develops political alternatives. While Washington should acknowledge Pakistani regional security concerns, it should also make clear to Islamabad that it is prepared to devote substantial military, economic, and diplomatic resources to the goal of preventing a Taliban-dominated Afghanistan.
A Genuine Reconciliation Effort A hasty retreat from the fight in 2011 because of a U.S. political timetable would squander hard-fought military gains made last year and jeopardize U.S. national security by returning the battlefield advantage to the Taliban, whose leadership remains allied with al-Qaeda. Instead of talking about withdrawal timelines to score domestic political points, the Obama Administration should lead a genuine reconciliation effort between Afghanistan and Pakistan that will strengthen those who support democracy and pluralism and weaken those who support extremist ideologies that breed terrorism in the region. Lisa Curtis is Senior Research Fellow for South Asia in the Asian Studies Center and James Phillips is Senior Research Fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International studies, at The Heritage Foundation.

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