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Mission Creep: Pakistani military’s crackdown on Karachi

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By NewsGram Staff Writer

International news agency, Reuters, has come out with a revealing report disclosing the advancement of Pakistan military towards the largest city, Karachi as a ‘creeping coup’.

The latest and, some say, the boldest attempt, made by the military towards capturing control from the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) in the port city of Karachi, is being seen as renewed foray into the civilian life of the country.

The campaign is being spearheaded by the head of Pakistan’s spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Rizwan Akhtar.

Remarking on the ongoing takeover and the perpetrated attack on the MQM party, an official close to the ISI chief said, “There is a quiet, creeping takeover of Karachi by the military. Karachi is just too big … too much land, too much business, resources. No one party will be allowed to rule Karachi from now on.”

The military clampdown on the largest and wealthiest city of Pakistan began in 2013 when a spate of murders took place with the disfigured bodies being dumped in the alleys.

While officially the operation was aimed at eliminating criminals and militants, most people see it as a planned attack on MQM.

Straddling and stamping over MQM and weakening the grip of exiled leader, Altaf Hussain, over the party would ensure an easy playfield for parties close to the military, such as Imran Khan-led Tehreek-e-Insaf party.

Moreover, with the introduction of military courts to tighten stranglehold over the judiciary, foreign policy and national security, the military is trying to leverage Pakistan’s economic hub.

Karachi hosts the stock exchange, a giant port, central bank and accounts for more than half of the national revenues of Pakistan.

However, Pakistan army’s hawkish movements can prove to be counterproductive, particularly by making tougher and harder proposed rapprochement with India.

The army accuses the MQM of heinous crimes such as targeted killings, kidnappings and racketeering in Karachi.

According to the police estimates, more than 2,500 hundred murders took place in the city in 2013.

Even as the army levels allegations against the party, the MQM vehemently denies the charges saying that it has cooperated with the rangers in the past but will not allow the army to dismantle the party.

Meanwhile, senior government officials say that the civilian administration has been sidelined in Karachi and decisions are being taken by the Rangers and the chief military commander of the Sindh province.

As per the officials, the government was not consulted while lodging the complaint against Hussain and initiating the raid.

MQM’s leaders, on their part, blame the military for unfairly targeting them by launching a campaign of mass arrests and political “disappearances.”

At least 36 MQM workers have been killed so far and more than 2600 arrested.

The military, however, wants to completely annihilate the “militant” party.

All would be well if only the exiled leader, Altaf Hussain, steps down. An official close to the army said, “If Altaf Hussain steps down, the MQM will live on; if he doesn’t, the party will go down with him.”

A senior MQM leader, who did not want to criticize Hussain openly said, “We have built this party with our sweat and blood. Now a man living in exile is intent on destroying it.”

Irrespective of the critical opinions and the army onslaught, the by-elections in Karachi on Thursday handed down a comfortable victory for the MQM party.

In the wake of such conflicting developments, Hussain remains defiant saying, “The people and Altaf Hussain have a special relationship which cannot be shaken.”

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Nearly Three-Quarters of Young Americans Unfit to Serve in America’s Military

U.S. President Donald Trump encouraged Americans to enlist in the military

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Americans, Unfit, Military
FILE - Matt Elam, center, competes in a US Marine pull-up contest while Marine recruiters watch. VOA

As he reveled in the huge display of military might during last week’s Independence Day celebration on the National Mall, U.S. President Donald Trump encouraged Americans to enlist in the military.

“To young Americans across our country, now is your chance to join our military and make a truly great statement in life, and you should do it,” Trump said in his speech at the Lincoln Memorial.

Speaking to reporters outside the White House the following day, Trump predicted that his display would boost military enlistment. “Based on that, we’re going to have a lot of people joining our military,” he said.

However, with a 2016 Department of Defense report finding that nearly three-quarters of young Americans are unfit to serve in America’s military, Trump’s encouragement and military display may not be enough to reverse declining military recruitment.

Americans, Unfit, Military
President Donald Trump applauds during an Independence Day celebration in front of the Lincoln Memorial, July 4, 2019, in Washington. VOA

According to the Department of Defense, the Navy, Marines, and Air Force met their recruiting goals in 2018, but the Army, the military’s largest branch, fell more than 6,500 recruits short – about 8% below its target of 76,500.

A 2018 report by Mission: Readiness, a group of 750 retired military professionals that makes policy recommendations to increase the percentage of young Americans eligible to serve in the military, found that 71% of Americans between the ages of 17 and 24 fail to meet all of the basic requirements for military service.

The biggest disqualifier is obesity, with roughly 31% of American youths disqualified because they are overweight. Other factors explaining the shortage of eligible recruits are inadequate education, criminal history and drug use. According to Army Major Gen. (Ret.) Allen Youngman, a member of Mission: Readiness, almost 25% of high school graduates are unable to pass the basic military entrance exams, which not only disqualifies them from technical positions within the service but also from military service as a whole.

Not only is the pool of eligible recruits shrinking, but the number of young Americans interested in military careers is dropping as well, the report found. This is partly the result of a strong national economy, since plentiful civilian jobs may make military careers seem less appealing, according to Youngman.

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As the number of people serving in the military declines, the problem is likely to get worse. “The number of what we call influencers in a young person’s life – people who may have had military service of their own who would serve as a role model or even encourage a young person to consider military service – is down because the number of persons who participate in the military over the years has gone down,” said  Youngman. The U.S. Army Recruiting Command reports that 79% of recruits have a relative who also served in the military.

Relaxing education or criminal history standards in order to enlarge the recruiting pool in light of the obesity issue isn’t an option, said General Youngman. “The position today is that the standards are the standards. We’ve just got to work harder to find young people who can meet them.”

However, the trends are not encouraging.

By age two, 14% of American children are already considered obese, and the proportion of overweight or obese children increases with age, the Mission: Readiness report finds. In the 16-19 age group, 42% of Americans are overweight. These statistics carry over into adulthood, with 70% of overweight teens becoming overweight or obese adults.

Americans, Unfit, Military
This Tuesday, April 3, 2018 photo shows a closeup of a beam scale in New York. VOA

The problem is especially acute in southern states, which provide a disproportionately large percentage of military recruits, but also have some of the highest rates of obesity in the nation.

Efforts are under way to improve the health of America’s youth.

As an example, Youngman cited the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which provides improved nutrition guidelines for school lunches. The program is the latest in a series of initiatives beginning with the National School Lunch Program in 1946.

“A lot of people don’t realize that the School Lunch Program started right after World War II as a national security program,” General Youngman said. “There was such concern about the overwhelming numbers of young people who were not qualified for military service in World War II because they grew up during the Great Depression and they had all sorts of nutrition issues that resulted in health issues later on.”

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In the wake of the Great Depression, the goal of the School Lunch Program was to ensure that kids got enough calories from their school lunches. Today, calories are in general much easier to come by, so modern school lunch programs focus on helping students make healthier food choices. A 2014 study of 1,030 elementary-school children found that students selected 23% more fruit for their lunches and ate 16% more vegetables after the implementation of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

Programs that seek to improve nutrition for school-aged children as well as encourage active lifestyles are important not only for military readiness, but also for society as a whole.

“There are some bright spots out there, but as a nation we still have a long way to go,” Youngman said. (VOA)