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South Asia

Afghanistan: Girls’ Enrollment in Schools Increases with New Facilities

MD Staff

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Photo Credit: Rumi Consultancy/World Bank

KHOST CITY – It is early morning and girls in their black dresses and white scarves are lined up neatly in the school yard for assembly. After the recitation of the Holy Quran and a short speech by the principal, students go in single file to their classes.

This is the daily ritual in Matoon Sarnakot Secondary School in Khost city, the provincial capital of Khost Province. Students in the school come from different villages in the area. When the school was first set up in 2010, classes were held in tents. The hot, sunny days of summer followed by the rainy days of autumn made it difficult for students to attend classes comfortably.

“During the warm and rainy days, it was difficult for teachers and students to continue their lessons in the tents,” says Zabihullah, 28, who has taught English and Dari for the past five years at the school. “But, now, teachers and students don’t need to worry as they have proper classrooms in a concrete building.”

Today, students attend classes taught by 11 teachers in two sessions in an eight-classroom building. Nahida, 14, a 7th grader who comes from Zakriaan village, is happy for the school building, “After the construction of the new building, we learn in a safer environment,” she says.

The school building was made possible through an Infrastructure Development Grant (IDG) of $99,000 from the Education Quality Improvement Program (EQUIP). Construction took about a year and was completed in 2013. “The school is equipped with classrooms and teaching materials,” says Malmir Eamal, principal of Matoon Sarnakot Secondary School. “It enables us to perform much better than in the past.”

Increase in Girls Enrolling

Matoon Sarnakot Secondary School is one of 365 schools in Khost Province covered by EQUIP. The program, which closed on December 31, 2017, sought to increase equitable access to quality basic education, especially for girls. It was implemented by the Ministry of Education and was first funded by the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank Group’s fund for the poorest countries. The Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF) took over funding as co-financier of the program.

The World Bank is currently working with the Ministry of Education to prepare a follow-on project – EQRA. The development objectives of EQRA will be to to increase equitable access to primary and secondary education in selected lagged behind provinces, especially for girls, to improve learning conditions and transparency in the Ministry of Education’s resource management.

The school, which started with 350 students, has 1,400 students, 650 of whom are girls.

Student enrollment has seen a jump since the building was constructed. “The building has allowed the school to open its doors to more students and our enrollment has increased,” says Eamal. “Just this year, we have enrolled more than 220 students.”

Student enrollment has been boosted by the increase in girls enrolling. Having a school building has been crucial for the girls in the community as villagers are now happy to allow their daughters to attend school. Eamal talks about the need for another building to accommodate the increasing student population.

EQUIP started its work in Khost Province in 2004. It has constructed 38 school buildings in all 12 districts and the provincial center. “We are actively working in the province and none of the schools have closed down,” says Abdul Nasir Haqmal, EQUIP Provincial Officer in Khost Province. “We are also witnessing an increase year by year in the number of girls participating in school.”

Building Close Ties with Community

Since its inception, EQUIP has established 356 School Management Shuras (councils), which brings together community representatives, parents, and the school administration. It is also responsible for implementing Quality Enhancement Grants (QEGs) awarded by EQUIP. In Khost Province, 181 out of 250 schools have received the grant twice.

Matoon Sarnakot School is one of the schools that have received an additional QEG of $2,000. The grant was spent on equipping the school’s library and laboratory. However, the school still faces a shortage of materials and books. “We have a good building and teachers, but we do not have enough materials in our laboratory,” says Sabrina, 16, an 8th grade student at the school. “Since some of our lessons need practice, it becomes hard for us to understand the subject.”

The School Management Shura and EQUIP have pledged continued support to help overcome the challenges still facing the school, according to the principal, Eamal. The Shura meets monthly and works closely with the school administration to resolve the problems. The monthly meetings have resulted in good relations and trust between the community and school. “The construction of the building was contracted together with the community. They built it and it has given them a sense of ownership. We have solved lots of issues related to the school,” says Eamal.

Source: World Bank

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South Asia

The Expansion of China’s Public Diplomacy Towards Pakistan

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China is practicing public diplomacy globally but inducing neighboring regions is its initial priority. China’s active involvement in peacekeeping and public diplomacy are an effective tool for its global affairs. It has positively expanded its canvass by focusing on cultural, academic, and language exchange programs as well. It has also very suitably utilized diplomacy as a tool of soft power.

South Asia is an important neighboring region for China as many South Asian countries have common geographical boundaries with China that makes them important considerations in Beijing’s foreign policy. Pakistan is geographically and strategically important country for China. Both states are sharing time-tested and deep-rooted bilateral relations because of compact foundation based on mutual trust and non-interference, though the two countries have different ideologies, culture and language. Both states respect and support each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, and are working together to meet various shared challenges. China-Pakistan relations are very strong at state-to-state level and although people of both states generally share a mutual affection and great respect but people-to-people contacts are not consistently developed. In recent years, the governments of both states have started realizing and emphasizing on the importance of genuine people-to-people contacts

China has been constantly engaging Pakistan, at various bilateral levels through institutional mechanisms, primarily to encourage youth of Pakistan by offering them incentives and modern-day facilities to learn Chinese language in Pakistan and China. Academic relationship between leading Pakistani and Chinese academic institutions also begun, such as between the Punjab University and Sichuan University, Chinese Foreign Affairs University and the Foreign Service Academy of Pakistan and the Communist Party of China (CPC) School and National Defense University of Pakistan. Significantly, President Xi Jinping’s first ever visited to Pakistan in April 2015, further gave enhancement to China’s ‘public diplomacy’ in Pakistan. Every year 200 new as well already studying Pakistani students in China are being provided scholarships under Chinese Government Scholarship Bilateral Program.

Meanwhile, for 2017-18, China Scholarship Council has awarded Chinese Government Scholarship to 131 new Pakistani students, of whom 107 are recommended by the Ministry of Inter-Provincial Coordination of Pakistan. The Chinese Government Scholarship program is a government-to-government undertaking, and aimed at promoting all provinces and the students of Pakistan including from small cities like Gwadar, Gujranwala, Multan, Swat, Mingora, Sargodha, and Dera Ismail Khan to expand its public diplomacy. Chinese universities have also been attracting many private Pakistani students. Chinese language is being taught across the Pakistani from school to university levels.

The steps taken by China to strengthen people-to-people relations with Pakistan under the public diplomacy practices and progresses resulted a better relationship among the both states. As youth is main target for China all around the world and also in Pakistan, for influencing their opinions China is providing scholarships and also conducting students exchange programs. In this regard, institutions such as Confucius Institute Islamabad (CII) play magnificent role in leading educational programs and cultural exchange programs to modernize its public diplomacy.

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South Asia

Pakistani Gwadar Port: A double-edged sword for Iran

Vahid Pourtajrishi

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Authors: Vahid Pourtajrishi & Elaheh Shirvani

Gwadar port is located in the province of Baluchistan in Pakistan and on the coast of Arabian Sea. The port’s plan was first established in 1954 when it was owned by the Oman’s kingdom. The distance between Gwadar and Karachi, the main commercial city of Pakistan, is 533 km and the distance to Iran’s border is 120 km. After 200 years of Oman’s Kingdom governance over Gwadar Port, by US mediation in the negotiations between Pakistan and Oman, finally this port was sold to Islamabad on 8th Dec. 1958 at the price of 3 million dollars.

The initiary plans for the development of Gwadar was first introduced in 1992 but due to lack of resources on one hand and international sanctions against Islamabad for examining atomic bomb on the other, the plan did not become operational. Finally by the agreements that were reached between Pakistan and China and China’s investment in this project, the first phase of the development plan started to be studied and constructed in 2002. In 2007 the construction of the first phase was completed and on 15th March 2008 Gwadar Port was launched by the entrance of a 70000 ton cargo. (www.psagwadar.com.pk)

The new plans for developing Gwadar were first proposed by the Prime Minister Parviz Mosharaf in 2007 (New York Times, Jan 2013).
Gwadar Port’s Construction Trends:
In fact construction of Gwadar is divided into two separate phases which are as follows:

Phase I (2002-2006)
As it was mentioned earlier, the first phase of this project was first introduced in 2002 and was completed in 2006 by the cost of 248 million dollars. The measures which were taken in the first phase are as follows (the official website of Gwadar Port www.gwadarport.gov.pk):
•    Docks: construction of 3 multi-purpose docks with the capacity of commercial ships of 30000 tons
•    Length of dock: 6.2 m
•    Dimensions of the port’s entrance channel: 4.5 km length, 12.5 m depth
•    Turn-round tank: 450 m
•    Repair dock: a dock with the length of 100 m
•    The required infrastructure equipment in the port including staff boat, hauler, researching ships and etc.
But as we are aware, development of Gwadar Port goes back to the financial agreement which was signed between china and Pakistan (CPEC) in 2015. At the time of signing the contract, China guaranteed to invest 1.62 billion dollars for the construction and development of this port based on BOT contract (China Daily News Paper, July 2016). The goal of this project was connecting Pakistan to western China.

The two countries plans for development and construction of phase II are:
•    Construction of 2 container docks along 3.2 km of Gwadar coast
•    Construction of 1 bulk cargo terminal
•    Construction of 1 grain special terminal
•    Construction of 1 Ro-Ro terminal
•    Construction of 2 oil terminals
•    Port’s entrance channel: the depth of channel will be increased to 14.5 m
•    Construction of a four-lane highway to connect Gwadar Port to Makran Coastal Hwy
•    Construction of a new airport
•    Construction of a gas terminal with a capacity of storing 500 million cube meters daily (for storage of the transported gas from Iran based on peace pipeline contract)
•    Construction of special economic zone with the area of 2292 hectares
•    Construction of water desalination center
•    Construction of 360 MW power plant for electricity production with fossil fuel

Future plans estimated in phase II:
•    Increasing port’s entrance channel to 20 m
•    Constructing150 docks by the year 2045
•    Increasing cargo arrival and departure capacity up to 400 million tons per year

But what draws the attention of each and every expert in the field of international transport is the reason behind Chinese investment in this new port and investigating the future of rival neighboring ports such as Chabahar Port in Iran.

1)    China’s One belt-One road Policy:
As we know, one belt-one road Policy was introduced by China’s president Shi Jen Ping. The new Silk Road or one belt-one road plan is an investment plan in the infrastructure of more than 60 countries of the world and development of two commercial routes of “Silk Road Economic Belt” and “Maritime Silk Road” which were introduced by China in 2013. This plan plus China’s military power can lead to China’s hegemony in East Asia and turn this country into a super power (Monthly Review, Jan 2017). “Silk Road Economic Belt” links the traditional Silk Road to Europe through Central Asia, Russia and Middle East. “Maritime Silk Road” connects China to southeast of Asia and Africa via the sea. The reason behind introducing these two plans was that China’s economy including the development of the local economy infrastructure and exporting goods to the developing countries was not as effective as before. Furthermore, western economies have encountered recession and there was a decrease in returning of the local investment due to the industrial production surplus in China. Therefore the mail goal of the plans was to strengthen Chinese economy and turn the Chinese manufacturing companies into international companies which operate to develop the infrastructure in different countries under the brand “one belt-one road”. China has specifically designated 65 countries as the targets of infrastructure investments.
In order to develop goods and energy transport in Moscow highway to Kazan in Russia, Beijing is seeking investments to launch projects such as Kazakh Railway from Khorgas to Aktau Port on the bank of Caspian Sea, some pipelines from Turkmenistan to China, China-Kazakhstan-Uzbekistan railway, Trans-Asia railway from China to Europe via Kazakhstan and Russia, Silk Road railway from China to Iran (via Kazakhstan) and China-Pakistan highway (Financial Times, 14th Sep, 2015).

2)    One belt-one path, Chinese Version of US’s TPP
By the time that Donald Trump was elected as the president of US in 2017, most of Obama’s adventurous goals and ambitions regarding a liberal economy and international trade reached to an end. One of the international accords of US during Obama’s government was the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Most of the opponents of this accord believe that accords such as TPP will do nothing for US except extensive costs.
In fact one belt-one rath is a substitute for Obama’s unsuccessful TPP which is proposed by Beijing this time.

3)    Gwadar Port and China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)
China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is considered as one of Beijing’s solutions for achieving one belt-one road policy and confronting the difficulties of passing through Indian Ocean without India’s disturbance as the most important regional rival of China. Providing the requirements for one belt-one road project will be burdensome and costly. The initiary investment for CPE was estimated about 46 billion dollars by China but later this amount was increased to 54 billion dollars. As estimated by Pakistan, the worn-out transport network of this country results in wasting almost 3.5% of Pakistan’s GDP. As the framework of this project, new networks of transport will be built which will connect Gwadar and Karachi ports to northern Pakistan, Western China and Central Asia. Based on the statistics given by Chinese experts, modernizing the mentioned transport network will cost 11 billion dollars, make 2.3 million job opportunities between the years 2015-2030 and increase the country’s economic growth by 2-2.5% annually. Based on what was mentioned earlier, CPEC is considered as China’s main plan for achieving the required technical and economic infrastructures in Pakistan.

4)    Chabahar Port
In fact Chabahar International Port is the most important project of Gwadar port which is considered as one of the main competitions between Iran and Pakistan. Chabahar port at a glance:
1.    Entrance to Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean which consists of a sensitive and suitable geographical location
2.    The only ocean port in Iran
3.    Consists of more than 541 km maritime border
4.    The least land distance to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia. Transit of goods via this port is considered as the most economical port with the least transportation cost
Chabahar and International Transit of Goods
Chabahar port is the intersection of two important corridors; North-South and East-West corridor. In the recent measures taken by Pakistan’s government, Makran’s Coastal Highway was established in South of Pakistan which links Karachi port in Pakistan to Gwadar and then to Rimadan Border Market in Chabahar (Iran).
Chabaahr-Zahedan-Mashhad Railway Project, 1350 km
Chabaahr-Zahedan Railway is located in Sistan and Baluchestan province in Southeast of Iran. This railway connects Chabahar Port to the city of Zahedan and then Mashhad. Currently the speed limit is estimated to be 120 km/h for passenger trains and this number is 90 km/h for freight trains.
Based on the estimations, 300000 passengers and 1.3 million tons of freight will be carried by this railway in the first year of its operation and these numbers will be increased to 500000 passengers and 35 million tons of freight by the twentieth year.
Technical Specifications of the Project:
–    Maximum gradient of the route: 15 in 1000
–    Minimum radius within curve: 1000 meter
–    Number of specific tunnels: 17
–    Total length of tunnels: 11000 meter
–    Number of tunnels: 20
–    Number of stations: 5 main stations and 25 grade III stations
Based on the contract between Iran and India, New Delhi has undertaken to invest 500 million dollars for developing and launching Chabahar port based on BOT contract.
Lack of required rail infrastructure is the main difficulty of Chabahar port to transport the cargo to Afghanistan. Due to this reason the cargo needs to pass through Pakistan by road which decreases the competitiveness of Chabahar port since this will become a permanent challenge for the customers in long term. To transport freight from Chabahar to Herat in Afghanistan, 1784 km of rail is needed which is way less than Gwadaar-Karachi-Afghanistan route.

5)    The Role of the Railways of the Islamic Republic of Iran:
Based on Chabahar’s project development plan, this port has been linked to the transit routes of Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Turkey and Azerbaijan Republic via rail and in fact Chabahar links to the North-South Corridor at Bafgh intersection.
–    According to China’s strong support of the construction and development of Gwadar port, the future of Chabahar is completely dependent on its construction speed.
–    On the other hand, Kabol and Afghanistan do not fulfill their duties to RAI. Afghanistan is the only country which benefits from both Chabahar and Gwadar projects since linking to these two ports can solve Afghanistan’s geo-economic problems for connecting to international waters.
–    Attempting to rehabilitate Pakistan’s worn-out lines and linking it to Zahedan is considered important since in this way Afghanistan’s attempts to become the rail transit path between Pakistan, Central Asia and Turkey will remain unfruitful.
–    Another treat for Gwadar port project in one road-one path framework is China and Pakistan’s attempt to connect to Europe via the Caspian Sea.
Based on UIC reports, there are a total of 7 routes for connecting China to Europe. Due to inappropriate consition of the infrastructure along the route and the need for development, the travelling time for China to Europe via Tehran cannot be estimated.

Hurry up Iran!
Based on what was mentioned before, what is obvious is that the time factor plays an important role in making Iran as the key to access Poland as the main Europe transit hub. Iran needs to act faster in launching and strengthening all the corridors passing through the territory of Iran. Iran needs to put India under pressure by emphasizing the threats made by India’s rivals, i.e. China and Pakistan, to complete the project in the shortest time possible.
Another measure proposed to Tehran for confronting with the negative impacts of Gwadar port on the rail transit through south of Iran is to launch ITI corridor which is a win-win project for China and Iran since by putting Islam Abad-Zahedan route into operation, at least some parts of China’s exported goods to Europe can be transported through Iran to Turkey instead of being transported via the insecure route of Afghanistan. ITI corridor is way less expensive than the corridor passing through Caspian Sea. This is an opportunity for Iran to attempt to activate ITI corridor before China launches Afghanistan’s route.

First published in our partner Mehr News Agency

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The Not-So-Missing Case of Indian Innovation and Entrepreneurship

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Photo by Anastasia Zhenina on Unsplash

Hitendra Singh and Gauri Noolkar-Oak*

Recently, an article published in Modern Diplomacy caught our attention. The author has cited Mr. Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, and found his famous statement on Indians lacking enterprise and innovation to be ‘music to his ears’. He has then gone on to paint Indians in broad strokes – ironic, for it is something he has accused Indians of doing – and labelled them as a nation lacking entrepreneurial and innovative spirit. While his reasoning certainly has an element of truth and an instant appeal, our response looks to add nuances to his argument and provide a more realistic and complete picture of enterprise and innovation in India.

To begin with, the terms ‘entrepreneurship’ and ‘innovation’ cannot be used interchangeably; not all entrepreneurs are innovators, and vice versa. There are more than 50 million medium and small businesses operating in India which contribute 37% of India’s GDP and employ around 117 million people. These numbers sufficiently prove that entrepreneurship is alive and kicking in the Indian society; Indians are running businesses not only in India but are leading and successful entrepreneurs in many countries of Asia, Africa and rest of the world. Hence, an argument that Indians lack entrepreneurship does not hold much strength.

In the case of innovation and creativity, a different story is emerging. It is slow but is happening and it is solving some of the largest social and developmental challenges in India – from grassroots, to research labs, to top-tier institutions such as ISRO and various DRDO labs. At a global level, India has not only moved up six places in its GII ranking in 2017, but is also ranked second in innovation quality. India has also won international acclaim for its innovative and cost-effective technology; such as its first mission to Mars in 2014, the Mangalyaan, was successful in the first attempt, made entirely with domestic technology, and cost less than the Hollywood movies ‘Gravity’ and ‘The Martian’. It is surprising that the author spots lack of innovation in a household broom but does not see innovation in a nation that sends a successful Mars mission on a budget that is less than that of a Hollywood movie about Mars.

At the national level, grassroots innovation and entrepreneurship are gaining more and more institutional recognition; the National Innovation Foundation (NIF) and the annual Festival of Innovation at the Rashtrapati Bhavan are perhaps the only high-level government initiatives supporting and celebrating innovation in the world. Additionally, many universities and educational institutes across the country host innovation competitions, festivals and incubators.

Several remarkable individuals are nurturing India’s growing innovative and entrepreneurial spirit.Prof. Anil K. Gupta founded SRISTI (Society for Research and Initiatives for Sustainable Technologies and Institutions) in 1993 and the Honey Bee Network in 1997 to connect innovators from all sections of the society to entrepreneurs, lawyers and investors. For more than 12 years, he has walked around 6000 kilometres across the country, discovering extraordinary grassroots innovations on the way. Dr. Raghunath Mashelkar, an eminent chemical scientist, has led multiple scientific and technological innovations in the country, earlier as the Director-General of Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, and now as the President of the National Innovation Foundation.

And then, there are thousands of common men and women, hailing from various walks of life, innovating continuously and creatively to solve pressing everyday problems in the Indian society. There are the famous Arunachalam Muruganantham, who invented a cost-effective way of manufacturing sanitary napkins, and Mansukhbhai Prajapati, who invented a clay refrigerator which runs without electricity. Then there are Mallesham from Andhra Pradesh, who sped up the process of weaving Kochampalli sarees and reduced the physical pains of the weavers, and Shri Sundaram from Rajasthan, who found a way to grow a whole tree in a dry region with just a litre of water. Raghav Gowda from Karnataka designed a cost-effective and painless machine to milk cows, while Mathew K Mathews from Kerala designed a solar mosquito destroyer. Dr. Pawan Mehrotra of Haryana has developed a cost-effective version of breast prosthesis for breast cancer survivors while Harsh Songra of Madhya Pradesh has developed a mobile app to detect developmental disorders among children.

Three women from Manipur, OinamIbetombi Devi, SarangthenDasumati Devi and Nameirakpam Sanahambi Devi invented an herbal medicine that is proven to promote poultry health. Priyanka Sharma from Punjab developed a low-cost biochip to detect environmental pollutants, while Dr. Seema Prakash from Karnataka revolutionised eco-agriculture by inventing a cost-effective plant cloning technique. AshniBiyani, the daughter of Future Group CEO Kishore Biyani, leads the Khoj Lab, which collaborates with the NIF to help commercialise grassroots innovations and ideas.

These and thousands of such examples present a very encouraging picture of the creativity and innovation of Indians. The innovation that the author admires are rooted in a context. Apple and Google (or Lyft or Uber or Spotify) could be created because there was an end consumer who was looking to pay for their products. There are many India innovator-entrepreneurs, such as those mentioned above, who have created products for a necessarily less glamorous but useful India context. Products like brooms and packaged food add convenience to the time-stretched urban and middle and upper middle classes; with a large unskilled and semiskilled workforce competing vigorously for such jobs, does the Indian society have an incentive to invest in innovating them?

Having said that, it is true that upsurge of innovation in India is relatively recent, i.e. about two to three decades old. It is also true that the Indian society has been experiencing socio-economic affluence on such a broad scale only for the past three decades, since the market reforms of 1991. It has been 70 years since Indians have gained sovereignty and control over their resources. The top five innovative countries according to the GII – Switzerland, Sweden, Netherlands, USA and UK – have been sovereign states for about at least two and a half centuries. It would perhaps then be more accurate to compare India’s current innovation scenario with, for instance, the USA’s innovation scenario in the mid-19th century.

Further, given the economic and resource drain faced by the Indian society over centuries, Indian innovation was geared more towards surviving rather than thriving. This explains the ‘group mentality’ strongly rooted in mainstream Indian society; staying and cooperating in a group increased one’s capacity to cope with and survive through all kinds of adversity. Individualistic aspirations, beliefs and actions were then a price to be paid for the security blanket it offered. And yet, once relative stability and affluence began to set in, the innovative and creative instincts of Indians lost no time in bursting forth.

Long story short, both innovation and entrepreneurship are thriving in India. They might not be as “macro” or glamourous as Apple or Uber, but they are solving fundamental problems for the Indian masses. Undoubtedly, there is a lot of room for improvement and growth – India has a long way to go to be recognised as a global leader in innovation and entrepreneurship. However, the scenario is not by any means bleak, as these many examples point out. The trajectory of enterprises and innovation in India is only upward. The future is promising.

* Gauri Noolkar-Oak is Policy Research Analyst at Pune International Centre, a liberal think tank based in Pune, India.

Views expressed by the authors are personal and do not reflect those of the organisation.

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