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Pakistan’s President Imran Khan and Indian PM Narendra Modi (Getty Images)
Pakistan’s President Imran Khan and Indian PM Narendra Modi (Getty Images)

The BulletinFebruary 28, 2019

The Bulletin: Crisis erupts between India and Pakistan

Pakistan’s President Imran Khan and Indian PM Narendra Modi (Getty Images)
Pakistan’s President Imran Khan and Indian PM Narendra Modi (Getty Images)

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Military crisis erupts between India and Pakistan, top marine biologist disowns Te Papa connection, and DHBs still desperate for nurses.

A hugely important story is unfolding right now in a critical part of the world. India and Pakistan, two nuclear armed powers and fierce geopolitical rivals, have been shooting down each other’s planes. It’s a situation that seems to be escalating rapidly, with the outcomes and consequences unclear.

The latest is covered by the BBC, who report that Pakistan claims to have shot down two Indian planes, and captured a pilot alive. India has demanded the immediate safe return of that pilot, and India claims to have also shot down a Pakistani jet that was trying to attack targets. These escalations follow India making the first aerial attack on Pakistan territory since 1971, which they say was a successful mission to destroy an Islamist militant camp. Pakistan disputes this, and says there were no casualties from the Indian strike. Planes flying across what is called the ‘Line of Control’ which is the effective border is a significant development from both sides.

The tensions go back a long way – arguably all the way back to 1947 when the two countries were partitioned. Since then there have been four distinct wars, constant skirmishes, and a long running and ongoing dispute over the administration of the Kashmir region. The chain of events that led to this conflict effectively started in Kashmir two weeks ago. A terrorist attack claimed by an Islamist militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed killed 42 Indian paramilitary troops. The group is one of many based in Pakistan, and India has accused the Pakistani state of a spectrum of tolerance for both that group specifically, and others like it, from turning a blind eye to their activities to active support.

New Zealand was briefly dragged into a diplomatic conflict in the wake of that attack. The NZ government was criticised for not immediately offering condolences and condemnation of the attack – which many other countries around the world had done, and ended up happening from NZ a few days later. It was an interesting moment, because it wasn’t entirely clear that such events would necessarily always be met with a diplomatic response – from certain perspectives it could arguably also have been considered a military action against an occupying force, rather than a terrorist attack. But the event caused huge ructions in India, and the lack of response from the government clearly caused deep offence to Indian people who identify with the country of India.

Yesterday afternoon, the NZ government expressed concern over the unfolding situation, and urged both sides to remain calm. The statement, attributed to foreign minister Winston Peters, made it very clear that the New Zealand government considered the earlier Kashmir attack to be terrorism, and called for diplomacy and dialogue.

But the respective leaderships of India and Pakistan don’t exactly offer high hopes for peace. India has taken a sharply nationalistic turn under PM Narendra Modi. Meanwhile Pakistan’s new President Imran Khan is facing the start of his tenure with a desperately weak economy, while being basically beholden to the military for his position. The ABC reported yesterday that he planned to meet with the chiefs of the country’s nuclear arsenal – which includes dozens of missiles. Mr Khan seems more keen to talk, with Al-Jazeera reporting that he is calling for de-escalation, because with the weapons each side possesses, a miscalculation could be utterly devastating.

Local media coverage of the developing situation has also highlighted how much stronger India is in conventional military and economic terms. The Times of India are reporting that the air strikes are adding to Mr Modi’s “muscular image,” and will give his party a boost in upcoming elections. The Hindustan Times is reporting that families of some of the Indian soldiers killed in the Kashmir attack say it’s justified vengeance, and they want more done to attack militant groups. Meanwhile columnists in the Pakistani newspaper Dawn are accusing India of turning towards fascism, and warning that war will bring destruction to everyone. After all, it’s not really a war that Pakistan could possibly hope to win in conventional terms.

Top marine biologist Steve O’Shea has asked Te Papa to remove any association to his name from the museum, in protest of potential redundancies, reports Radio NZ. Dr O’Shea’s name is synonymous with the iconic giant squid. It’s the latest escalation in opposition from scientists to changes being proposed the national museum. For an elaboration of what scientists are so concerned about, read this from Dr Nic Rawlence and Dr Trevor ‘Mr Moa’ Worthy on The Spinoff.

DHBs still have large numbers of unfilled vacancies for nurses, reports Newsroom. There was a big pay boost last year, but that was really only part of the industrial battle nurses were trying to fight – they were also saying the was unsafe and leading many to burnout through overwork. In total, there are more than 1500 vacancies for nurses around the country, and a promise for 500 extra nurses remains unfulfilled and unseen.

Building industry experts are expecting the final Kiwibuild target to be reduced from 100,000, as the government comes to terms with sector constraints. Radio NZ reports only 10,000 houses are currently contracted to be build before 2028, and while more will undoubtedly follow, but the chances of the other 90% being contracted in time is seen as unlikely. Issues remain with finding buyers for the houses as well, with questions being raised over whether there really are enough first home buyers out there.

The rollout of the capital gains tax really doesn’t seem to be going to plan for the government. I haven’t really covered it, because at this stage there’s sort of saturation coverage happening in other media of something we don’t actually have the faintest clue what the final product will look like. But here’s three pieces that highlight the hammering the government has taken.

First of all, Newstalk ZB’s Barry Soper has written about how the government has been taken aback by how negative the reaction has been, and are scrambling as a result. Guyon Espiner says Labour is buckling, and it’s putting at risk their claims and plans to be a transformational government. And Danyl Mclauchlan argues that the whole palaver has shown just how entrenched those at the top of the pile have become, and how unwilling they’ll be to give any of it up.

There was a brief note in the Bulletin a few days ago about a big fine put down on some fishing companies for under-reporting their catch. Stuff’s Marty Sharpe has unpacked why it was such an important verdict, and why the hefty penalties matter. Basically, it was a case of putting profit above all other considerations, including ecological health and the sustainability of the fishery. The case also underlines how much the fishing quota system runs on trust – and how easily that trust can be abused by bad actors.

A correction, and apology to the fine folks at the Taxpayers Union: In yesterday’s Bulletin, I mistakenly misrepresented the relationship between the TPU and Auckland mayoral candidate John Tamihere, and apologise unreservedly. The TPU have not been contracted by Mr Tamihere, rather he is “engaging with the local government researchers at the Taxpayers’ Union to identify potential savings at the council.” To clarify the distinction, executive director Jordan Williams said the following:

“We would never take funding from a politician (or party) to do work for them, or on their behalf.  We don’t work like that, and as an independent pressure group, the claim does our organisation and ability to attract donors and supporters damage.”

From our partners: Climate change has already affected how electricity gets delivered to customers, and it’s only going to get more challenging. Vector’s Chief Networks Officer Andre Botha outlines what the lines company is doing to respond.

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Right now on The Spinoff: The Side Eye by Toby Morris is back – this month looking at our cultural hangups about modesty. Liam Hehir looks back at the golden age of New Zealand political blogging, in the wake of news Cameron Slater is stepping away from Whaleoil. Sam Brett writes about the declining attractiveness of studying journalism in this media era. And Sam Brooks continues his bizarre journey into the cesspit of internet that exists around video game breast physics.

I also want to highlight this piece by Jordan King, who writes that New Zealand absolutely must start paying attention to Indonesia. Why? Well, because they’ll potentially be one of the most important countries in the world to our future, if we engage with them now. Perhaps fittingly, not a lot of people read it yesterday but it’s really very good.

Let’s check in on Brazil today, with the new Presidency of Jair Bolsonaro a little over a month old. Many people predicted the administration would incompetently bungle their way through dreadful deeds, and as this report from The Intercept shows, that’s exactly how it has ended up happening. Here’s hoping they never learn how to govern properly, as that may make them more capable of enacting their terrible policy platform. Here’s an excerpt:

To an American observer in 2019, all of this might sound insane and yet quite familiar. A corrupt, nepotistic, right-wing populist is elected on a platform to end corruption; his handful of policy prescriptions please the base but do nothing (or worse) to solve the problems they are supposed to fix. This leader’s own ignorance and incompetence end up forcing him to spend most of his time cleaning up the messes that he and his allies inadvertently created. All the while, he blames the press for pointing out multiple times a day that his pants — and his administration — are on fire.

In such a chaotic environment, stories that would have been major scandals in other administrations — like a foreign minister who believes that Nazism was a leftist movement and “climatism” is a manufactured, totalitarian “globalist” plot, or the revelation that intelligence agencies may be spying on the Catholic Church because they wish to “neutralize” their “leftist agenda” — have become minor footnotes.

NZ Rugby has come surprisingly strongly against junior rep rugby, in a letter to provincial unions reported on by the NZ HeraldThey feel it’s counterproductive to have funnelling going on for kids under the age of 14, and instead want to maximise participation. It follows North Harbour’s decision to scrap their junior rep teams. And as Simon Wilson – renaissance rugby man and coach of future stars – wrote earlier in the week, it’s very rarely obvious at that age which kids will go on to be professionals.

Keep an eye on squash player Joelle King tomorrow around midday, as she plays in the quarterfinals of the PSA World Championships in Chicago. Māori TV reports she’s in confident form at the tournament, and won her round of 16 match in 3 straight games. King is the 4th seed at the tournament, and is currently ranked 3rd in the world.

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