Indonesia to host Pakistani, Afghan scholars for peace conference

Indonesia will host a meeting of “ulema” (Islamic scholars) from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Indonesia next week in an effort to support the Afghan peace process, the country’s Vice President Jusuf Kalla announced. (AFP)
Updated 05 May 2018
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Indonesia to host Pakistani, Afghan scholars for peace conference

  • Indonesia will host a meeting of “ulema” (Islamic scholars) from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Indonesia next week
  • Kalla said Indonesia could play a role in building peace in Afghanistan by hosting the meeting on May 11

JAKARTA: Indonesia will host a meeting of “ulema” (Islamic scholars) from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Indonesia next week in an effort to support the Afghan peace process, the country’s Vice President Jusuf Kalla announced on Thursday.
In a concluding speech at a three-day gathering of international Muslim scholars, Kalla said Indonesia could play a role in building peace in Afghanistan by hosting the meeting on May 11. It was scheduled to be held in March in Jakarta but was delayed after a call from the Taliban to boycott it.
“We hope to resolve the conflict in Afghanistan, we still have a problem there,” Kalla said.
The plan to hold the meetings of the ulema from Indonesia, Pakistan and Afghanistan arose after a delegation from the Afghan High Peace Council led by its chairman Karim Khalili visited Indonesia in November. The council had asked Indonesia to support the peace process in Afghanistan through the ulema’s role.
The plan was further discussed when Kalla visited Kabul in late February to attend the Kabul Process conference, where he was the guest of honor.
“The people will listen to the ulema and they have trust in fatwas that the ulema issued,” Kalla said.
Afghan cleric Fazal Ghani Kakar, who was one of the participants in the conference, confirmed that the meeting will take place and that he has been invited to attend.
Kakar, who is the former chairman of Afghanistan’s Nahdlatul Ulama, said that the meeting would be timely because there was an urgent need to find resolution to the problem in Afghanistan, which he said was suffering from radicalism and extreme interpretation of Islam.
“The core issue will be how to build trust between the Afghan and Pakistan ulema because both sides have their own influence on the warring factions in Afghanistan,” Kakar told journalists at the vice presidential palace.
“This will be the first round and we hope this will open the gate for further discussion,” Kakar said.
He said that he had high hopes for the meeting because “most of the extreme ideas are coming from the Pakistani side, so sitting with the Pakistani ulema is the first step together to reach a better solution.”
He said that there would be at least five ulema from Afghanistan attending, and ulema from the Taliban were expected to come because the political faction of the Taliban has expressed interest in joining the meeting.
“We are very thankful for Indonesia; it has always played its role in brokering peace within the country, and in neighboring countries. We are looking forward to this being a good step for Afghanistan,” Kakar said.
Rifqi Muna, a foreign policy researcher at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, told Arab News that there was a lot that Indonesia could share from its experience as a Muslim-majority country with a stable democracy that has had its own share of seccesionist and communal conflicts.
“We are not lecturing them, but there are best practices experiences that we can share, so it is necessary for Indonesia to take part in pushing for peace process in conflict-torn countries,” Muna said.
“Facilitating a place for conflicting parties to meet is a step to build peace and for conflict resolution,” he said.


The Philippine Rise: An untouched treasure

Map of the Luzon and Philippine Rise (Benham Rise) region. (Philippines' NAMRIA via Wikipedia)
Updated 21 May 2018
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The Philippine Rise: An untouched treasure

  • The Benham Bank exhibits a rich marine biodiversity. Its reefscapes contain corals, algae, sponges and Halimeda, which sustain a variety of fish. 
  • The UN approved the Philippines’ claim to the area in April 2012. On May 16, 2017, Duterte signed an order renaming it the Philippine Rise.

MANILA: A team of Filipino scientists last week sailed to the Philippine Rise, situated on the eastern side of the country, to explore unknown treasures in the resource-rich undersea region.

A ceremony was held on May 15 aboard the Philippine Navy’s amphibious landing dock vessel BRP Davao Del Sur. 

President Rodrigo Duterte led the send-off of the team, which will undertake the Coordinated National Marine Scientific Research Initiatives and Related Activities (CONMIRA).

Duterte was supposed to visit the Philippine Rise and ride a jet ski around the area, but instead he led a program aboard the BRP Davao Del Sur while it was docked in Casiguran Bay in Aurora province. 

The activity was to commemorate the awarding of the Benham Rise to the Philippines by a UN tribunal. 

The UN approved the Philippines’ claim to the area in April 2012. On May 16, 2017, Duterte signed an order renaming it the Philippine Rise.

He also signed a proclamation formally declaring parts of the undersea feature a marine resource reserve.

After Duterte left, a flotilla with the BRP Davao Del Sur sailed to the Philippine Rise. The flotilla included eight other ships.

A flag-raising ceremony was held on May 16 aboard the BRP Davao Del Sur, simultaneous with the laying of an underwater flag marker at the Benham Bank, the shallowest point in the Philippine Rise.

Gil Jacinto of the Marine Science Institute at the University of the Philippines told Arab News that the two-day event raises awareness among government agencies and the Filipino people “about this part of the country that we have sovereign rights over,” and “the needed work by the scientific community.” 

He lauded Duterte’s commitment to support marine science research, adding that the Benham Bank contains a “very good coral cover” and “almost wall-to-wall carpeted corals.”

Jacinto said: “Studies related to tuna fisheries, biology and migration patterns can also be pursued.” 

Oceanographers want to understand physical processes, such as major currents and the movement of water from the Pacific to the eastern side of Luzon island all the way to Mindanao island.

“Our understanding of physical processes and features of the Pacific side can perhaps be useful in some of the models that project the trajectory and intensity of typhoons,” said Jacinto. 

“That’s of interest and perhaps of benefit not just to the Philippines but also in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea region.”

Scientists will also be looking at prospects for energy sources in the area, and the possibility of obtaining compounds on marine organisms that may benefit the medical and pharmaceutical fields.

“One thing I’m very glad about for this event is this part of the country is now in the mindsets of our people,” said Jacinto. “There’s so much that can be done here.”

The scientists opted to sail to the Philippine Rise instead of the West Philippine Sea because they can work in the area “relatively unimpeded,” whereas in the West Philippine Sea there are security issues due to maritime border disputes, he added. 

The Philippine Rise is a 13-million-hectare underwater plateau located some 250 km east of northern Luzon. 

Its original name came from American geologist Andrew Benham, who surveyed the area in the 1930s. 

The Benham Bank exhibits a rich marine biodiversity. Its reefscapes contain corals, algae, sponges and Halimeda, which sustain a variety of fish. 

Results of exploratory fishing suggest that the Philippine Rise yields the highest catch rate of tuna species compared with other areas of the country.

The Philippine Rise may also contain seabed resources such as cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts, and hydrothermal polymetallic sulphides that contain minerals used in the aerospace industry.

Experts have revealed vast deposits of methane hydrate in the area, believed to be a larger hydrocarbon resource than the world’s oil, gas and coal resources combined.