G5 Sahel leaders pay tribute to 71 soldiers slain in Niger

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Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta(L), the President of Mali, Mahamadou Issoufou(2ndL), the President of Niger, Roch Marc Christian Kaboré(C), the President of Burkina Faso, Idriss Déby(2ndR), the President of Chad, and Mohamed Ould Cheikh Mohamed Ahmed Ould Ghazouani(R), the President of Mauritania, pose for a photo at the G5 Sahel summit in Niamey, on December 15, 2019. (AFP)
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Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta(L), the President of Mali, Mahamadou Issoufou(2ndL), the President of Niger, Roch Marc Christian Kaboré(C), the President of Burkina Faso, Idriss Déby(2ndR), the President of Chad, and Mohamed Ould Cheikh Mohamed Ahmed Ould Ghazouani(R), the President of Mauritania, at the G5 Sahel summit in Niamey, on December 15, 2019. (AFP)
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Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta(L), the President of Mali, Mahamadou Issoufou(2ndL), the President of Niger, Roch Marc Christian Kaboré(C), the President of Burkina Faso, Idriss Déby(2ndR), the President of Chad, and Mohamed Ould Cheikh Mohamed Ahmed Ould Ghazouani(R), the President of Mauritania, pose for a photo at the G5 Sahel summit in Niamey, on December 15, 2019. (AFP)
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Updated 15 December 2019

G5 Sahel leaders pay tribute to 71 soldiers slain in Niger

NIAMEY: Leaders of the G5 Sahel nations held summit talks in Niamey Sunday, after the death last week of 71 Niger soldiers in a jihadist attack, calling for closer cooperation and international support in the battle against the Islamist threat.
Burkina Faso President Roch Marc Christian Kabore, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the regional G5 group, called for a minute’s silence for the victims of Tuesday’s attack at a military camp in Inates, near the Mali border.
“These endless attacks carried out by terrorist groups in our region remind us not only of the gravity of the situation, but also the urgency for us to work more closely together,” said Kabore.
“The terrorist threat against the Sahel countries is getting worse,” said Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou, the host of the summit.
The attacks were aimed not just at military targets but increasingly “civilian populations, notably traditional local leaders.”
Earlier four of the five Sahel leaders paid homage at the graves of 71 Niger military personnel killed. Kabore and Issoufou attended along with Mali’s Ibrahim Boubakar Keita, Chad’s Idriss Deby Itno for the short ceremony at an air base in Niamey.
The Daesh group claimed responsibility for the assault, in which hundreds of jihadists attacked a camp near the border with Mali with shells and mortars.
The attack in Inates in the western Tillaberi region was the deadliest on Niger’s military since Islamist militant violence began to spill over from neighboring Mali in 2015, and dealt a blow to efforts to roll back extremism in the Sahel.
At Sunday’s ceremony, a large panel painted in the red, white and green of the Niger flag bore the inscription; “rest in peace, worthy and valiant sons of the nation. The Fatherland will be eternally grateful.”
The G5 leaders announced on Saturday they would hold the extraordinary summit in Niger to show solidarity and to “consult” after the large-scale attack. The meeting had originally been due to take place in the Burkinabe capital Ouagadougou.
Niger has been observing three days of national mourning from Friday to Sunday.
Militant violence has spread across the vast Sahel region, especially in Burkina Faso and Niger, having started when armed Islamists revolted in northern Mali in 2012.
In the last four months, the insurgency has claimed the lives of more than 230 soldiers in Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso. Last month, 13 French troops were killed in a helicopter collision while hunting jihadists in northern Mali.
Thousands of civilians have also died and more than a million have been forced to flee their homes since the jihadist revolt began.
Analysts note an escalation in the jihadists’ operational tactics, which seem to have become bolder and more complex in recent months.
From hit-and-run raids by a small group of Kalashnikov-armed guerrillas, the extremists are now carrying out operations that involve hundreds of fighters, armed with mortars and using vehicles for suicide attacks.
Ranged against them are the impoverished armies of Chad, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, plus a 4,500-man French force in the Sahel and the 13,000-man UN force in Mali, MINUSMA.
Tuesday’s attack prompted French President Emmanuel Macron to postpone a meeting scheduled for next week in the southwestern French town of Pau, where he and five presidents from the Sahel were due to discuss security in the region.
The talks will now take place early next year.
The Sahel region of Africa lies to the south of the Sahara Desert and stretches across the breadth of the African continent.


A tale of two cities: Project aims to retell lost stories from Lahore, Delhi

Updated 22 January 2020

A tale of two cities: Project aims to retell lost stories from Lahore, Delhi

  • Will give migrants a virtual tour of their childhood towns and homes torn apart by partition of 1947

NEW DELHI: Sparsh Ahuja and Ameena Malak grew up listening to their grandparents narrate stories of the partition from 1947.
Ahuja’s grandfather, Ishar Das Arora, was 7 years old when the Indian subcontinent was divided into two by the British, creating India and Pakistan. 
More than 14 million people were displaced at the time, and about one million perished in the fighting that followed.
Arora moved from a Pakistani village, named Bela, to Delhi after living in several refugee camps and escaping the violence.
Meanwhile, Malak’s grandfather, Ahmed Rafiq, moved from the Indian city of Hoshiarpur to Pakistan’s Lahore.
Now in their 70s, both the grandparents yearn to go back home and see the places where they were born and spent their childhoods. 
However, the constant uncertainty in the relationship between India and Pakistan and their old age has made the task of visiting their respective birthplaces extremely difficult.
To fulfill the wishes of their grandparents, and several others who yearn to visit their ancestral homelands, Ahuja and Malak decided to launch Project Dastaan (story).
“What started as an idea for a student project last year at Oxford University became a larger peace-building venture,” Ahuja, the director of the project, said.
Project Dastaan is a university-backed virtual reality (VR) peace-building initiative reconnecting displaced survivors of partition with their childhood through bespoke 360-degree digital experiences.
Backed by the South Asia Programme at Oxford, it uses VR headsets to give these migrants, who are often over 80 years old, a virtual tour of their childhood towns and homes. It shows them the people and places they most want to see again by finding the exact locations and memories that the survivors seek to revisit, and recreates them.
“It is a creative effort to start a new kind of conversation based on the direct experience of a now-foreign country in the present, rather than relying upon records and memories from the past,” Ahuja told Arab News.
He added that Pakistan-based Khalid Bashir Rai “teared up after his VR experience, and told us we had transported him back” to his childhood.
“At its heart, the project is a poignant commentary on its own absurdity. By taking these refugees back we are trying to highlight the cultural impact of decades of divisive foreign policy and sectarian conflict on the subcontinent. This is a task for policymakers, not university students. In an ideal world, a project like this shouldn’t exist,” Ahuja said.
Other members of Project Dastaan — Saadia Gardezi and Sam Dalrymple — have a connection with partition, too. Gardezi grew up with partition stories; her grandmother volunteered at refugee camps in Lahore, and her grandfather witnessed terrible violence as a young man.
Dalrymple’s grandfather had been a British officer in India during the twilight years of the British Empire. So scarred was he by the partition that he never visited Dalrymple’s family in Delhi, even after 30 years of them living there.
“I think Dastaan is ultimately about stripping away the layers of politics and trying to solve a very simple problem: That children forced to leave their homes, have never been able to go back again,” Dalrymple told Arab News.
Ahuja added: “The partition projects are a peace offering in the heart of hostility. It is an attempt at creating a wider cultural dialogue between citizens and policymakers of the three countries.”
The project aims to reconnect 75 survivors of the partition of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh with their childhood memories, when the subcontinent observes 75 years of partition in 2022.
Project Dastaan is also producing a documentary called “Child of Empire” that will put viewers in the shoes of a 1947 partition migrant, and will be shown at film festivals and museums.