What We Are Reading Today: A Velvet Empire by David Todd

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Updated 15 January 2021

What We Are Reading Today: A Velvet Empire by David Todd

After Napoleon’s downfall in 1815, France embraced a mostly informal style of empire, one that emphasized economic and cultural influence rather than military conquest.

A Velvet Empire is a global history of French imperialism in the 19th century, providing new insights into the mechanisms of imperial collaboration that extended France’s power from the Middle East to Latin America and ushered in the modern age of globalization, says a review on the Princeton University Press website.

David Todd shows how French elites pursued a cunning strategy of imperial expansion in which conspicuous commodities such as champagne and silk textiles contributed to a global campaign of seduction.

French imperialism was no less brutal than that of the British. But while Britain widened its imperial reach through settler colonialism and the acquisition of far-flung territories, France built a “velvet” empire backed by frequent military interventions and a broadening extraterritorial jurisdiction. Todd demonstrates how France drew vast benefits from these asymmetric, imperial-like relations until a succession of setbacks around the world brought about their unraveling in the 1870s.


India, Pakistan militaries agree to stop cross border firing in Kashmir

Updated 1 min 21 sec ago

India, Pakistan militaries agree to stop cross border firing in Kashmir

  • Such exchange of gunfire has been frequent in recent months on the disputed border
  • Military operational heads of the two countries spoke over telephone, agreed to discuss each other’s concerns

NEW DELHI: India and Pakistan’s militaries said on Thursday that they had agreed to stop firing along their disputed border in Kashmir, where such gunfire has been frequent in recent months, often killing or maiming people living in the area.
“In the interest of achieving mutually beneficial and sustainable peace along the borders, the two DGsMO agreed to address each other’s core issues and concerns which have propensity to disturb peace and lead to violence,” a joint statement said, referring to the military operations heads of the two countries.
The nuclear-armed neighbors signed a cease-fire agreement along the Line of Control (LoC) — the de facto border in the Kashmir region — in 2003, but the truce has been fraying in recent years.
An official in New Delhi said the cessation was partly aimed at easing the fraught situation for civilians living along the border, who are regularly caught in the crossfire.
“We are cautiously optimistic that the violence levels and tensions along the LoC will come down,” the official said, declining to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.
But India will not ease up on deployments along the LoC that aim to stop infiltration or counterinsurgency operations in the Kashmir valley, the official said.
Last summer, Indian and Pakistani troops were locked in their most frequent cross-border fighting in at least two years, amid surging coronavirus outbreaks.
Kashmir has long been a flashpoint between the neighbors, but tension was renewed after New Delhi withdrew the autonomy of the Himalayan region last August and split it into federally administered territories.
Both countries claim the region in full, but rule only parts.


Wheelchair athlete’s dream to see Peshawar Zalmi play upended, again, by coronavirus 

Updated 17 min 15 sec ago

Wheelchair athlete’s dream to see Peshawar Zalmi play upended, again, by coronavirus 

  • Despite childhood polio, Amjad Ali is Pakistan no. 4 in wheelchair tennis and a national-level player of wheelchair cricket, basketball and handball
  • But for years now, security reasons and now the coronavirus have kept Ali from fulfilling his dream of watching his favorite team play in a stadium

KARACHI: Amjad Ali has been a fighter all his life: despite losing control of his legs after childhood polio, he was able to fulfil his dream of becoming a successful wheelchair athlete.
But one dream keeps eluding him. For six years now, one reason or another — ‘home’ matches played abroad for years due to security risks and now limited spectators allowed at stadiums because of the coronavirus — has kept him from being able to watch his favorite cricket team play in a stadium.
Ali, a resident of Karachi, is a diehard fan of Peshawar Zalmi, one of the teams playing in Pakistan’s hugely popular Super League cricket tournament. It represents the city of Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa — Ali’s home province.
The inaugural national cricket league was launched in 2016 and has been a spectacular success, even though many of the matches in the first five editions had to be played in the United Arab Emirates due to security risks, preventing fans like Ali from attending.

Amjad Ali teaches children from his neighborhood in Farid Colony, Karachi, Pakistan, on February 24, 2021. (AN photo)

Last year, however, all matches of the series were played in Pakistan for the first time, and an overjoyed Ali bought a ticket to see Peshawar play against the Multan Sultans. But he never made it to the stadium on that March 13: the coronavirus pandemic broke out in February and lockdown restrictions were imposed, including a ban on spectators at stadiums.
This year again, Ali said, with only 50% spectator capacity allowed at stadiums due to the coronavirus, getting his hands on a ticket was no easy task.
“Last year, I had purchased a ticket to watch the match of my favorite Peshawar Zalmi but unfortunately I couldn’t go due to the coronavirus outbreak,” Ali told Arab News. “This time around, the government has allowed [limited] crowds only which has made obtaining tickets difficult.”

A digital poster made by Amjad Ali, a Peshawar Zalmi supporter, for the 2021 edition of the Pakistan Super League. (Photo courtesy: Amjad Ali)

Ali was born in Shangla, a hilly district in northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, and now lives in a sprawling slum neighborhood in the seaside metropolis of Karachi. He was only one years old when he contracted polio and never walked.
But disability did not dampen his dream to become a sportsman: he is now Pakistan no. 4 in wheelchair tennis and a national-level player of wheelchair cricket, basketball and handball. He also works as an accountant at a school during the day and teaches neighborhood children in the evenings.
“I have struggled a lot in my life and have become a sportsman despite my disability,” Ali said, adding that his favorite player was Darren Sammy, a Saint Lucian-Pakistani cricketer who played international cricket for the West Indies. “I see a fighter in him.”
He hopes to one day meet Sammy as well as Pakistani players Shoaib Malik, Wahab Riaz and Haider Ali.
“Now coronavirus is a hurdle between me and Peshawar Zalmi,” Ali said. “But I believe, God willing, one day we will defeat coronavirus and I will be able to meet Peshawar Zalmi players.”


Philippines to receive first COVID-19 vaccines, start inoculations next week

Updated 15 min 38 sec ago

Philippines to receive first COVID-19 vaccines, start inoculations next week

  • The Philippines will be the last Southeast Asian country to receive its initial set of vaccines
  • Vaccination program will be crucial for Philippine efforts to revive its economy
MANILA: The Philippines will take delivery of its first COVID-19 vaccines at the weekend, allowing it to kick off its inoculation program from next week, a senior official said on Thursday.
Despite having among the highest number of coronavirus cases and deaths in Asia, the Philippines will be the last Southeast Asian country to receive its initial set of vaccines.
The delivery of 600,000 doses Sinovac Biotech’s vaccines, donated by China, will arrive on Sunday, said Harry Roque, spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte.
“It rolls out on Monday because our countrymen are excited,” he said of the vaccination program.
Among the first to be inoculated will be an official from a hospital who lost both parents to the coronavirus, plus a tricycle driver, Roque said.
The Philippines has ordered 25 million doses from Sinovac and was supposed to receive its first batch on Feb. 23. That was delayed emergency use authorization was only given this week.
Aside from Sinovac, 10,000 doses of a vaccine developed by China’s Sinopharm will arrive soon, under a “compassionate use” for Duterte’s security detail. Doses from AstraZeneca will arrive in March, Roque said.
“I have to admit, if we insisted on Western brands, we will still wait for its arrival,” he added.
Duterte, who has pursued warmer ties with China and has a strained relationship with many Western countries, has previously said he wanted to procure COVID-19 vaccines from China or Russia.
The vaccination program will be crucial for Philippine efforts to revive its economy, which suffered a record 9.5 percent slump last year due to strict and lengthy lockdowns that hit consumer spending and saw big job losses.

Pakistan eases coronavirus restrictions, regular school restarts March 1

Updated 25 February 2021

Pakistan eases coronavirus restrictions, regular school restarts March 1

  • Time limits on commercial activities lifted and indoor dining allowed from March 15
  • 50% spectators allowed at Pakistan Super League pool matches, full attendance at semifinals and final 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan this week announced it would ease a number of coronavirus restrictions, including lifting time limits on commercial activities, allowing indoor dining at restaurants from March 15 and restarting regular five-day classes at schools from March 1.
Pakistan recorded 1,361 news cases on Thursday, taking the total number of COVID-19 infections to 575,941, with 12,772 deaths.
Education minister Shafqat Mahmood said on Thursday regular classes would restart at schools from March 1.
“Important announcement. All schools will go back to regular 5 day classes from Monday March 1,” he said on Twitter. “Restrictions imposed in some major cities on schools to conduct staggered classes was only till Feb 28.”


The National Command and Operation Center (NCOC), which oversees Pakistan’s coronavirus response, said in a statement on Wednesday that it had devised new rules after a “comprehensive review” of the coronavirus situation.
“Time-limit lifted from commercial activities and amusement parks, condition of 50% work from home removed,” NCOC said. “Indoor wedding ceremonies will be allowed from 15th March 21 … Indoor dining allowed from 15th March subject to the review on 10th March.”
The NCOC also allowed cinemas and shrines to reopen from March 15, with coronavirus guidelines in place.
“Wearing of mask, social distancing, smart lockdowns will continue and will be ensured,” the body said.
It said Pakistan Super League pool matches would be allowed with 50% spectators while “full attendance” would be permitted at semifinals and the final match of the tournament.
The NCOC added that these rules could be reviewed and revised whenever necessary.


Helicopters, firefighters battle 2 forest fires in Japan

Updated 25 February 2021

Helicopters, firefighters battle 2 forest fires in Japan

  • News footage showed smoke billowing upward from the hills
  • An evacuation order for Ashikaga was first issued Tuesday for about 50 households

TOKYO: A forest fire broke out in a rural area north of Tokyo on Thursday, near another blaze burning for a fourth day.
One man suffered burns and was hospitalized, and firefighters have been deployed, said Hitomi Hirokami, an official at Kiryu in Gunma prefecture, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) northwest of Tokyo.
News footage showed smoke billowing upward from the hills.
Another fire has been raging in nearby Ashikaga in Tochigi prefecture, where 207 households have been asked to evacuate, said spokesman Minoru Takayama.
Firefighters were working on the ground, while military helicopters were dousing the area. No one has been injured.
The two fires are not directly related, but the area has not had much rain lately, causing flames to spread, officials said.
An evacuation order for Ashikaga was first issued Tuesday for about 50 households, underlining how the stricken area was growing.
The cause of the fire was unclear, but there’s a rest stop for hikers in an area where it’s believed to have started.
Three evacuation centers were set up with social distancing measures and disinfectants and everyone is wearing masks, Takayama said.

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