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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.

Hitendra Singh is Head of Social Innovation Unit and Gauri Noolkar-Oak is Policy Research Associate at Pune International Centre, a liberal think tank based in Pune, India

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South Asia

India’s Harebrained Nuclear Behaviour

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Politics with an opportune, proportionate, precise and unequivocal resolve represents the continuous face of nuclear signaling within the Indo-Pak rivalry. As has been evident, strategic restraint is so far being ingeniously and perpetually reinstated to redefine the archetypal connectivity between politics and war. It does, however, reassert the proclivity of a paradox. Lowering the nuclear threshold towards one’s redlines represents a gradual upward gradience of threat. Penetrating through the inherent blurriness of fluid and whirled debates in arms control and disarmament regime to establish fear, honor and interest (Robert E. Osgood) is calculated but mutually fatal. Deterrence is made ever more relevant in a setting of nationalist predominance particularly in India. On the other hand, Indian force posture driven through deterrence while skillfully synchronizing the four components of national power; the diplomatic, economic, conventional and nuclear ability allowed by a hypocritic environment of international order cannot be taken dismissively.

Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) manifesto of 2014 in relation to India’s nuclear doctrine was raised initially by India’s Strategic Force Command (ISF). It urged India’s stated nuclear doctrine of No First Use (NFU) to change and emphasized massive retaliation. Rather than having a flexible and limited nuclear response and looking for counter-force instead of counter-value targets reaffirms the Indian wish of twining the battle of nerves by the arms of death. The caveated description of surgical strikes and attacks on non-state base points while breaching the sovereign geographical identity of the state of Pakistan, as demonstrated in February 2019 by India, has certainly enhanced an uncertain security environment. “In taking aim at each one of its doctrinal pillars, albeit in language that is caveated and cautious, Menon is indicating that the Indian nuclear doctrine should not be taken for granted, whether by Pakistan or China.” Such a warning espoused along with a doctrinal shift is fraught with serious risks but does it really aspire any trust or confidence? Can the threat of targeting Pakistan’s nuclear weapon’s program in an act of preemption be presumed as a false promise?  Is a consequent aggressive and competitive conventional and nuclear arms build-up by both India and Pakistan more reassuring?

The recently promulgated Joint Doctrine for the Indian Armed Forces (JDIAF) to fully address the growing Chinese threat in cyber and information warfare, also apparently suggests “a written national security strategy document that would help to outline the primary tenets of a “comprehensive defence strategy” by India. The doctrine categorically indicates the Indian decision of dealing cross border threats with surgical strikes. Akin tothe Doctrine for the Armed Forces of the United States (JP-1),the JDIAF elaborates on the basic fundamentals of power and excellence in war-fighting across the full spectrum of conflict closely knit into a triad.  Both the JDIAF and LWD are coercive and are aimed at deterring Pakistan. India believes that the conventional options for military ‘counter terrorism’ against Pakistan are limited, so the adoption of “Deterrence through Punishment” rather than “Deterrence through Denial” is more viable in order to maintain the notions of ambiguity, uncertainty, short and swift yet lethal and intense, precise and non-linear, unrestricted and hybrid. The JDIAF represents the operational integration of the three armed services. Publically presented in April 2017, the JDIAF-2017,is the second edition of the doctrine meant to expanding India’s overseas operations. The JDIAF may also lead to a nuclear disaster owing to its ambiguity on “the first-use or no first use of nuclear weapons”. Similarly, the LWD promulgated in the latter half of December 2018, offers an insight into Indian strategic thinking and the dominant logic that drives Indian posturing and behaviour towards Pakistan.

Both the JDIAF and LWD have the potential to transform into adventurism at any time. Already the presence of security dilemma, conventional asymmetries, the conventional and strategic arms race between these countries, gaps in defense production, offensive and defensive nuclear capabilities and the non-existence of arms control and threat reduction measures (TRMs) between India and Pakistan have increased the threat of conflict escalation or even initiating conflict among regional powers.

John J. Mearsheimer in theTragedy of Great Power Politics maintains that states are not satisfied with a given amount of power but seek hegemony for security. Similarly, Carl von Clausewitz, also linked tactics to a wider objective and ultimately, of course strategy to policy. Operations, intelligence, technology management, human resources development, operational logistics whether conventional or nuclear, diplomacy and politics all bear ample testimony that the character of conflict is changing. The trends are new for the strategic equilibrium, however, throwing challenges and opportunities at the same time for both India and Pakistan. At Pulwama, Pakistan clearly exposed India’s long-held myth of conventional superiority. At the same time, it does urge Pakistan to rethink on non-contact warfare abilities. To resuscitate the debate on nuclear thresholds and the uncertainty it generates is equally orchestrated. Understanding of both these doctrines in view of the recent episode of escalations have almost brought the thresholds of nuclear exchange at their lowest. Nonetheless, the political nature of war/conflict and use of military force remain predominant which would keep the Indian nuclear behavior dangerous particularly under the radical Hindutva mindset.

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India’s De-Humanizing Path to Global Catastrophe

M Waqas Jan

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For a country that has since its inception prided itself as the world’s largest democracy, India has seen its very identity being bastardized by the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party for well over a decade now. With its divisive and religious inspired brand of politics, the BJP’s populism is based primarily on exploiting some of India’s most deep seeded fault-lines in what has been repeatedly ascribed by many as nothing short of pure and simple fascism. Not only does this go against what India’s founding fathers such as Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi had envisioned for a united India, it also goes against the very principles of an inclusive more secular democracy in which India’s minorities were afforded equal protection under its own constitution.

It is extremely distressing to see how lynch mobs, cow vigilantes and their enthusiastic apologists, some of whom hold the highest offices in the Indian state, have come to dominate mainstream socio-political discourse within the country. The rampant fanaticism that is being witnessed under the garb of preserving the age-old customs and traditions of India’s Hindu majority, has led to a near unprecedented level of hate being directed at India’s religious minorities. These include Christian, Sikh and especially Muslim and Dalit communities all of whom combined comprise of nearly 20% of India’s population of 1.37 billion people.

What’s more troubling is the fact that such hate is being directed in an almost systemic and carefully concerted manner at the state level. This has been evident throughout the BJP’s divisive and exclusivist politics that has been clearly manifest in its policies. For instance, the ruling government’s partisanship in the Ayodhya Dispute, its near overt support for the many cow vigilante groups that have sprung up, and its attempts at re-writing science and history being taught in Indian schools all represent a newfound zeal for culturally re-appropriating India’s national identity as a predominantly Hindu one. Not to mention, the sizeable amount of funds and resources the Indian state has devoted to its revisionist and fundamentalist agenda. This for instance is evident in the $400 million annual budget set aside for its cultural ministry which its leaders have charged with enforcing its vision. A vision that is based on nothing more than religious inspired hegemony, that harks back to the glorious near mythic past of Hindu civilization. In addition, the government has also directed crucial staff and resources towards its religiously driven policies as apparent in its decision to assign State Police with ‘cow protection’ responsibilities. While the protection of animals may be justified along the lines of human decency, even when stripped off its more religious connotations; the fact that the same police and civil bureaucracy are forced to look the other way when innocent minorities are beaten, burnt and slaughtered by enraged mobs represents an appalling state of affairs. 

The way such rampant abuse of power and privilege has come to define Indian society is extremely ironic when considering the vast body of work that has been done by Indian academics and policymakers in an attempt at better understanding and addressing such socio-political divisions. The likes of Shashi Tharoor and Arundhati Roy for instance have long written of the dangers of letting hardline zealots run rampant with official state affairs. In fact, the entire field of post-colonial studies owes a great deal to the likes of Homi Bhabha and Gayatri Spivak for their exposition and detailed explanation of concepts such as the ‘subaltern’. Rooted in the politics of otherness, these concepts are derived primarily from the historic and cultural subjugation of some of the most oppressed cultures and peoples. These have historically included some of India’s most vulnerable communities such as Dalits, whose historical and institutionalized marginalization as the voiceless subaltern has been enshrined in the very belief system that has now come to dominate Indian politics.

While the Indian state had in the past recognized and championed the secular foundations of the Indian Union as the basis for awarding equal rights to all its citizens, the present government is unabashedly dismantling those very foundations. Considering how vehemently mainstream socio-political discourse within India is geared towards simply dehumanizing the country’s minorities through a perversion of its own ancient belief system, it is an absolute shame to see the ruling government use some of the most archaic aspects of its history to justify its own legitimacy and controversial vision of an ultranationalist society. A vision that already runs dangerous parallels with the many fascist and totalitarian regimes of the past. Hitler’s Final Solution, Mussolini’s justification of a glorious hereditary past, or the Khmer Rouge’s purges along even the most basic socio-political and racial lines, all offer horrifying reminders to how the politics of hate and division can lead to some of the worst excesses of humanity upon one another, even in our modern world.

Considering how the same Indian government after consolidating such power within its borders is looking to project the same outwards; one wonders why the world watches in silence as its second most populous country with the second largest military embarks upon a direction that once saw the entire world embroiled in the throes of an unprecedented global war. Even with the benefit of such hindsight, should such a history really be allowed to rhyme let alone repeat itself?

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India-Japan 2+2 Strategic Dialogue Resets Strategic Ties

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India-Japan bilateral ties reached another milestone when the maiden Foreign and Defence Ministerial Dialogue (2+2) was held on 30 November in New Delhi during which the two sides discussed boosting defence and security ties besides other issues of mutual interest. While the Indian delegation was led by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Foreign Minister S Jaishankar, Japan’s Foreign Affairs Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Defence Minister Taro Kono led the Japanese side. The 2+2 ministerial dialogue is seen as an upgrade of the meeting between foreign and defence secretaries of the two countries, the first round of which took place in 2010. The upgrade to the ministerial level talks follows an agreement reached between Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi and his Japanese counterpart Abe Shinzo during the 13th India-Japan Annual Summit held in Japan in October 2018. So far, India holds similar ministerial level 2+2 dialogue only with the US and with the start of similar format with Japan, the strategic congruence between the three countries comes into focus.

The significance of this bilateral ministerial meeting can be deciphered from the fact that it came weeks ahead of the annual summit of the two prime ministers, the 14th summit, scheduled to be held in Guwahati later in December 2019. The choice of Guwahati as the summit venue is in line with the Modi government’s policy to hold such high-profile meets outside Delhi to give glimpses of India’s rich cultural history to visiting dignitaries. The Japanese Prime Minister may also visit Imphal in neighbouring Manipur, once a battlefield between Japan and the Allied forces during World War II and pray for peace.  

The 2+2 meeting provided an opportunity for the two sides to review the status and exchange further views on strengthening defence and security cooperation between the two countries and also aimed to give stronger spine to the existing India-Japan Special Strategic and Global Partnership. Besides, the two sides exchanged views on the situation in the Indo-Pacific region and their respective efforts under India’s ‘Act East Policy’ and Japan’s ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific Vision’ for achieving their shared objective of peace, prosperity and progress to realize a better future for the people of the two countries and the region.

The 2+2 ministerial dialogue reflects the growing relations between the two countries, especially on strategic and security issues. The focus was on seeking ways to advance cooperation for peace and progress in the Indo-Pacific region and the desire of both countries to create a rules-based framework to ensure the Indo-Pacific region remains free, fair and inclusive. The two countries, both major importers of energy, are keen to ensure freedom of navigation in regional waters against the backdrop of China’s increasingly assertive behaviour. India and Japan have also made progress in efforts aimed at maritime domain awareness in regional waters and are currently engaged in negotiations for an Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement, which is aimed at boosting joint efforts on military hardware.

The armies and air forces of the two countries held their first bilateral exercises in 2018. Though there is a great deal of convergence of interests in the strategic and security domains, a Japanese proposal to sell the Shin Maywa US-2 amphibious aircraft to the Indian Navy appears to have run into trouble, largely due to the cost of the aircraft. If an agreement on this strategic asset is concluded enabling India to purchase the aircraft, it could enhance India’s capability mix in the context of the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) efforts. It would also be a good addition to India’s recent maritime capability acquisitions including the P-8I maritime patrol aircraft and the potential acquisition of the Sea Guardian armed drone.

Japan is keen that an agreement on this is reached as soon as possible. In order to entice India for this acquisition, Japan has committed to manufacture 30 percent of the aircraft in India and this could eventually help improve Indian defense manufacturing. The two have also established a working group to study the possibilities in Visual Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) Based Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) Augmentation Technology for UGV/robotics. Opportunities in the areas of technology collaboration are significant. Defense electronics is particularly important for India since its domestic defense electronic manufacturing segment is still at a nascent stage and it has to partner with its strategic partners in building a domestic capability base but also direct procurement of those capabilities in the interim.

At the last 2+2 dialogue at the official level in 2018, the two sides had “discussed measures to strengthen cooperation in fields such as counterterrorism, maritime security, defence equipment and technology

[and]

peacekeeping operations”. These issues were taken up at a higher level at the ministerial level dialogue. During the India-Japan defence dialogue last September, defence minister Rajnath Singh and his Japanese counterpart Takeshi Iwaya had stressed that peace and stability in the Indian and Pacific Oceans are “crucial for ensuring prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region”. They had also discussed the security situation in the Indo-Pacific, including developments on the Korean peninsula and the South China Sea. The Prime Ministers of India and Japan in their Vision Statement in October 2018 had reiterated their commitments to working together towards a free and open Indo-Pacific. Both sides have an inclusive approach in the region and defined their emerging Asian strategic framework with that goal in mind. Both see China’s approach in the region as being exclusivist. There is a clear clash between their two visions of the region.

This time around, the ministerial dialogue added strategic heft to the special relationship in the wake of growing Chinese assertiveness on regional affairs.  No wonder, maritime cooperation in the Indo-Pacific topped in the ministerial talks. There is strategic congruence between the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) and the Indian Navy demonstrated by participation in multilateral exercises, including participation as observers. Both the Japan-India-US trilateral maritime exercise ‘Malabar 2019’ held from late September to early October 2019, and the second Japan-India-US trilateral mine-countermeasures exercise (MINEX) held in July 2019 are aimed at deepening cooperation in the maritime domain. Similar trilateral exercises in the same framework are likely to continue at an annual basis. 

Besides, the Armies and Air Forces of India and Japan held their first bilateral exercises, ‘Dharma Guardian’ and ‘Shinyuu Maitri’ in 2018. Last year, Japan also joined the India-US Air Force exercise ‘Cope India’ as an observer for the first time. The two countries have made steady progress in Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) based on implementing the arrangement for deeper cooperation between the two navies, signed in 2018. With an eye on China, both the countries are also close to concluding negotiations on Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ASCA), a military logistics sharing pact. Such an agreement could expand the strategic reach and influence of both the militaries that would allow both countries to access each others’ naval bases. While Japan could gain access to Indian facilities in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, India could have access to Japan’s naval facility in Djibouti. India took more than a decade to finalize such an agreement with the United States, but now that it has been done once, New Delhi has found it less problematic to do others. It has now concluded such deals also with France and South Korea; talks for a similar deal with Australia are at an advanced stage. The negotiations for the ASCA with Japan commenced after the October 2018 summit meeting. Discussions on global commons including maritime, outer space, and cyber space have been key themes in the dialogue process.

When India opted to stay out of the RCEP in November 2019 Bangkok summit, reports surfaced that Japan shall make a big push to convince India to join the mega pact. But soon it transpired that Japan itself would not be a part of the RCEP without India. Japan’s deputy minister for economy, trade and industry Hideki Makihara made it clear that Japan was at the moment thinking only of negotiations. China has sought to accelerate the RCEP deal but India is unwilling without adequate safeguards and commensurate market access to the rest of the 15 RCEP members for its IT and services sector.

In a meeting with Kono and Motegi in New Delhi, Prime Minister Modi reiterated that joining the free trade pact in its present form would be detrimental to India’s interests. Modi was assured that Tokyo was working with other RCEP countries to address “core concerns” raised by India. Kono and Motegi referred to the RCEP joint statement issued in Bangkok which said India had outstanding issues and that all participating countries will work together to resolve these in a mutually satisfactory way. China in particular that hoped to benefit massively through market access in India seems to be perturbed by India’s decision not to join the RCEP deal, effectively wrecking its aim to create the world’s largest free trade area having half of the world’s population.  

Japan sees free trade as one of the pillars of its Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy and is keen that India joins the RCEP. Japanese foreign ministry deputy press secretary Atsushi Kaifu, who accompanied Motegi to India underlined to working with India for regional peace and prosperity by enhancing connectivity. Japan acknowledges its commitment to the infrastructure development and increase connectivity, with the north-east as the focus area. It remains unclear at the moment if India will be willing to change its stance on the RCEP.

War against terror is a common issue between India and Japan. In strong words on Pakistan’s sponsorship of terrorism, the ministers from both sides asked Islamabad to take “resolute and irreversible” steps against terror networks operating from its soil. The two countries called upon Islamabad to “fully comply” with its international commitments to deal with terrorism including the steps prescribed by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). The Indian defence and foreign ministers will be meeting their US counterparts Mike Pompeo and Mark Esper for the next round of the 2+2 dialogue on December 18. It is likely that some of the issues discussed with the Japanese counterparts would be shared with Pompeo and Esper, contributing further towards mutual understanding.            

The India-Japan ministerial level 2+2 strategic dialogue is an important initiative. It emphasizes the deep interest that both sides have to further strengthen their security and strategic engagements. Unlike Japan’s relations with China, Koreas and some ASEAN countries which suffer from the shadow of history, India-Japan ties have no such historical baggage, the only aberration being when Japan reacted harshly after India detonated a nuclear bomb in 1998. The China factor also propels both to see common grounds and their worldviews are shaped accordingly. India and Japan alone are unlikely be able to cope with the China challenge. They need a larger coalition to balance China effectively. The Quad initiative could be a possible channel that can address issues in the larger Asia and the world.

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