Geopolitics

Pakistan "Prays For Malala" - Teen Blogger Shot By Taliban Undergoes Surgery

AP OF PAKISTAN, PAKISTANI OBSERVER, PAKISTANI INTERNATIONAL NEWS (Pakistan), HINDUSTAN TIMES (India), DAILY MAIL, BBC (U.K.)

Worldcrunch

PESHAWAR - A wave of national and international support was growing for Malala Yousefzai, the 14-year-old girl shot in the head by the Taliban in Pakistan's Swat province, who remained in critical condition after her latest surgery Thursday morning.

Referred to as the "daughter of the nation," Yousefzai had gained province as an anonymous blogger who recounted how Islamic radicals were preventing her from going to school.

When the Pakistani army retook the northern province of Swat, Malala’s real name became known. She was shot Monday by bearded men dressed as policemen who stopped the van in which she was riding home from school. Two other schoolgirls, Shazia and Kainat were also shot. They are being treated in Swat and spoke to reporters on Thursday, said the Pakistan International News, which titled its story “Nation Prays for Malala.”

She was transferred from Peshawar to an army cardiology unit in Rawalpindi on Thursday. She was not yet out of danger, her doctors said. "The bullet has affected some part of the brain, but there is a 70 per cent chance that she will survive,” the AFP reported her doctor Mumtaz Khan as saying Thursday.

Malala became well known as an 11-year-old blogger for the BBC’s Urdu language news service when the Taliban was controlling Swat in 2009. The fundamentalist Islamist group closed and threatened girls’ schools, as they had done during their rule in Afghanistan.

Encouraged by her father, a poet and activist who runs a school, Malala, blogging under the Pashto name Gul Makai, or cornflower, described her struggles to go to school safely. The U.K. Daily Mail reported that in spite of her and her father’s bravery and resolve to stay in Swat, a beautiful valley in northern Pakistan that was once a tourist destination, a British visa has been obtained for Malala.

Threats and Koranic quotes

In justifying their action, Tehreek-iTaliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan, in an “undisclosed location,” issued a denunciation of secular education and said that anyone who spoke against Sharia (Islamic law) would be killed, reported Pakistan Today.

The group said it did not usually attack women and children, but then cited the Koran and Muslim religious texts in which the Prophet Mohammed approved killing a woman who spoke against him, and another revered prophet, Hazrat Kizar, killed a child who “would cause a bad name” to his parents. Ehsan went on to declare that Malala was a promoter of secular education and would be attacked again if she survived.

Denunciations of the Taliban action came from around the world. United Nations Secretary General Ban-ki Moon was deeply moved and was writing a letter to Malala’s family, as well as to those of the other two girls, reported the Hindustan Times. “Like so many other people in Pakistan and around the world, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is truly outraged by this attack,” his spokesman added.

Pakistani army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, visited the hospital in Peshawar where Malala underwent a tricky operation to remove the bullet from her head. In a rare public statement, Kayani said that the terrorists have failed to grasp that Malala was more than an individual, but an icon of courage and hope for the people of her province, and the symbol of a free Pakistan that the army is fighting to preserve from terrorism, said the Pakistani Observer, an English-language newspaper there.

The Pakistan Interior Minister announced on Wednesday that the girls’ attackers had been identified and would be “brought to justice,” reported the Hindustan Times. Malala is “the daughter of the nation,” Pakistan’s Minister for Information told a television station, according to AP of Pakistan; her “only mistake” was to raise her voice against illiteracy and extremism.

The government has announced a 10 million rupee ($105,000) reward for anyone who provides information that leads to the capture of the would-be assassins, the BBC reported.

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Society

Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum

-Analysis-

SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.


It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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