Authors: Tridivesh Singh Maini & Mahitha Lingala*
The Sri Lankan election result, was closely observed, not just for its likely impact on domestic politics in Sri Lanka, but it’s impact on geopolitical dynamics in South Asia. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Former Defence Secretary, and brother of former President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, won by a massive margin, defeating his opponent Sajith Premadasa (son of a former President who was assassinated in 1993). He was sworn in on Monday, November 18, 2019 as President.
While Rajapaksa, the candidate of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP or People’s Party) polled over52% of the vote, the runner up Sajith Premadasa of the United National Party (UNP)polled 42% of the votes. It is pertinent to note, that the UNP did much better in North Eastern districts of the South Asian country, which are dominated by Muslims and Tamils.
Analysts believe, that the triumph of the former Defense Secretary, is likely to result in Sri Lankamoving closer to China – as was the case during Mahindra Rajapaksa’s term (which ended in 2015, Rajapaksa lost to Maithripali Sirisena, the latter had served in Rajapaksa’s government but in 2014 he decided to part ways and was the Presidential candidate of the opposition).There is a belief however, that Gotabaya Rajapaksa, may not veer as much towards China, as his brother given the changing ground realities.
Sri Lanka’s tilt towards China during Mahindra Rajapaksa’s tenure
During Mahindra Rajakapsa’s tenure, Sri Lanka took a turn towards China, much to the chagrin of India. While one of the reasons cited for the same, was China’s economic prowess, and ability to deliver fast on key infrastructure politics. It would be pertinent to point out, that there was an equally, if not more important reasons for the Former President warming upto China –Beijing turned a blind eye to the Human Rights violations (an estimated 40,000 Tamils – which included journalists and opponents) were killed in operations against Tamil separatists)
New Delhi-Colombo ties also took a hit, during Rajapaksa’s tenure, due to the opposition of regional parties – AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) and DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) — from the Southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Political parties from Tamil Nadu have been constantly alleging Sri Lankan govt failed to follow their 13th amendment (which sought to provide devolution to the Tamil Community and reduce the harmony with the community) and also allege, that many innocent civilians were killed during the war for which Mahinda Rajapaksa must be held accountable. The previous Congress led UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government voted against Sri Lanka in 2009, 2012 and 2013, supporting a US passed resolution against Sri Lanka at the UN. In 2014, India made a slight change to it’s approach and rather than voting directly against Sri Lanka, New Delhi abstained from voting against Sri Lanka. In 2013, Indian PM Dr. Manmohan Singh due to pressure from Tamil Nadu’s regional parties did not attend the Common Wealth Head of Government Meeting (CHOGM) meeting in Colombo.
In 2015, when Mahinda Rajapaksa lost elections, Tamilian parties including the BJP TN unit in India termed it as a victory of the Sri Lankan Tamils. Indian PM, Narendra Modi had invited Mahindra Rajapaksa for his swearing in as PM in 2014 and also congratulated Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Modi also invited the newly elected President to visit India. The new President is likely to visit India on November 29, 2019.
Economic tilt towards China under Mahindra Rajapaksa
Colombo’s economic tilt to Beijing, was strongly reiterated by the Hambantota Port project, which was handed over to China, and given on lease for 99 years. The port was built with 85% of the funds coming from Exim Bank in China. After money shortage in 2017 in regard to this loan, Sri Lankan government handed over the port and 15,000 acres of associated land to China Merchants Port Holdings for 99 years. This was cited, as one of the strong instances of China’s ‘Debt Trap’ Diplomacy. US drew attention to this, and so did a report by the Centre for Global Development (CGD)but Sri Lanka has rejected this fear while admitting that the debt pressure is huge.
China remains one of Sri Lanka’s largest creditors accounting for an estimated 10% of its total foreign debt. China is investing in large infrastructural projects through its flagship programme the Belt and Road Initiative(BRI) in Sri Lanka, some of the major ones include; Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport, Mahinda Rajapaksa International Cricket Stadium, and the Magampura Mahinda Rajapaksa Port in southern Sri Lanka. Another project which has proven to be controversial is the Lotus Tower. The 17 story structure – South Asia’s tallest self supporting structure – has been criticised not just for the fact that it represented a wrong utilisation of resources, but the company which had the contract for building the tower was accused of misappropriating funds (a whopping 11 Million USD) by former President Maithrapali Sirisena.
Balancing of relationships
Rajapaksa’s successor, Maithripali Sirisena did try to balance out relationships, and reduce the South Asian country’s dependence upon China, but was unable to do so. President Sirisena said that he would treat major Asian countries equally. India and Sri Lanka in February 2015 signed a nuclear pact to improve relationships and agreed to improve defence ties.
A number of important projects were taken over by Japan, and there have also been some strong instances of India-Japan working together in Sri Lanka. India, Japan and Sri Lanka have signed an agreement to develop the East Container Terminal (ECT) of Colombo Port. While India and Japan will retain 49% stake in this project, while Sri Lanka will have 51% (work on the project will begin in March 2020).
This investment has been seen as a joint effort by India- Japan to counterbalance China’s growing influence in the Indian Ocean region. Apart from this project, both India and Japan have also been working on an LNG project terminal near Colombo. India’s Petronet LNG (one of the country’s energy giants) will have a 47.5% stake in the project, while Japan’s Mitsubishi and Sojitzcorp will have a 37.5% stake)
US has also been trying to make Sri Lanka part of the Indo-Pacific narrative.
The US has also begun to pay more attention to Sri Lanka, especially in the context of being an important stakeholder in the US vision for a ‘Free and Open Indo Pacific’.
US Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale, and Sri Lankan Foreign Affairs Minister Tilak Marapana held the third US-Sri Lanka Partnership Dialogue in Washington DC in May 2019. Both sides, according to a joint statement issued after the dialogue, resolved to work together for a“a safe maritime domain in the Indian and Pacific oceans through a rules-based order that ensures respect for international laws and norms” . Furthermore, after the defeat of Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka also became a Logistics hub for the US Navy in the Indian Ocean
It is not just geo-politics, even in the context of Sri Lankan politics, it remains to be seen what approach he takes towards Muslims and Tamils. The electoral verdict is polarized. On his part, the newly elected President, did state that
“I am conscious that I am also the president of those who used the vote against me…. “It is my duty to serve all Sri Lankans without race or religious discrimination. I promise to discharge my duties in a fair manner’
In conclusion, it remains to be seen whether there will be a drastic change in both domestic policies, as well as Sri Lanka’s foreign policy orientation. While, Sri Lanka is dependent upon China, in the economic sphere, it is important to acknowledge the fact, that there have been a number of economic and geo-political changes in recent years. First, China’s economy has witnessed a slowdown, and Beijing will be unable to assist Sri Lanka to the degree it did earlier – though it’s overall economic influence could grow. Second, US has been paying attention to Sri Lanka, due to it’s strategic importance especially in the context of Indo-Pacific, as was mentioned earlier. In this context, it is likely that US, Japan and India could work jointly in Sri Lanka (Japan and India have already initiated some projects) .The new Sri Lankan President would do well to pay attention to the fact, that South Asian countries like Bangladesh have been able to balance ties and not remained solely dependent upon China.
Finally, the US reaction to the election, and the warning with regard to Human Rights is significant. The outside world, is likely to keep a close watch on Sri Lanka, and it is likely, that the new President while upgrading economic ties with China will do a balancing act, so that Colombo is not totally dependent upon China.
*Mahitha Lingala is a student at the OP Jindal Global University
India’s open invitation to a nuclear Armageddon
Army chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane said that “India was not averse to the possible demilitarisation of the Siachen glacier , the world’s highest battleground and an old sore in India-Pakistan ties , provided the neighbour accepted the 110-km Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) that separates Indian and Pakistani positions. Acceptance of AGPL is the first step towards demilitarisation but the Pakistan side loathes doing that”. He said, ‘The Siachen situation occurred because of unilateral attempts by Pakistan to change status quo and countermeasures taken by the Indian Army’ (Not averse to demilitarisation of Siachen if Pak meets pre-condition: Army chief, Hindustan Times January 13, 2022).
Reacting to the Indian army chief’s statement, Pakistan’s former foreign secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan reminisced that the Siachen could not fructify into a written agreement because India wanted Siachen and Kashmir to be settled together. India’s approach ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ scuttled the agreement. As for Kashmir, “a simultaneous effort was made through the backchannel …in what is commonly known as the Four-Point Formula” (Siachen recollections, Dawn January 16, 2022). Riaz laments Indi’s distrust that hindered a solution.
Shyam Saran, a voice in the wilderness
Shyam Saran, in his book How India Sees the World (pp. 88-93) makes startling revelations about how this issue eluded solution at last minute. India itself created the Siachen problem. Saran reminisces, in the 1970s, US maps began to show 23000 kilometers of Siachen area under Pakistan’s control. Thereupon, Indian forces were sent to occupy the glacier in a pre-emptive strike, named Operation Meghdoot. Pakistani attempts to dislodge them did not succeed. But they did manage to occupy and fortify the lower reaches’.
He recalls how Siachen Glacier and Sir Creek agreements could not fructify for lack of political will or foot dragging. He says ‘NN Vohra, who was the defence secretary at the time, confirmed in a newspaper interview that an agreement on Siachen had been reached. At the last moment, however, a political decision was taken by the Narasimha Rao government to defer its signing to the next round of talks scheduled for January the following year. But, this did not happen…My defence of the deal became a voice in the wilderness’.
Saran says, `Kautliyan template would say the options for India are sandhi, conciliation; asana, neutrality; and yana, victory through war. One could add dana, buying allegiance through gifts; and bheda, sowing discord. The option of yana, of course would be the last in today’s world’ (p. 64, ibid.).
India’s current first option
It appears that Kautliya’s last-advised option,yana, as visualised by Shyam Saran, is India’s first option nowadays. Kautlya also talks about koota yuddha (no holds barred warfare), and maya yuddha (war by tricks) that India is engaged in.
By unilaterally declaring the disputed Jammu and Kashmir its territory does not solve the Kashmir problem. This step reflects that India has embarked upon the policy “might is right”. In Kotliyan parlance it would be “matsy nyaya, or mach nyaya”, that is big fish eats the small one. What if China also annexes disputed borders with India? India annexed Kashmir presuming that Pakistan is not currently in a position to respond militarily, nor could it agitate the matter at international forums for fear of US ennui.
India’s annexation smacks of acceptance of quasi-Dixon Plan, barring mention of plebiscite and division of Jammu. . Dixon proposed: Ladakh should be awarded to India. Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (including Gilgit and Baltistan) should remain with Pakistan. Whole Kashmir valley should have a plebiscite with no option to independence. Jammu should be divided on religious basis. The river Chmab should be the dividing line. Northern Jammu (Muslims dominated) should go to Pakistan and Hindu majority parts of Jammu to remain with India.
In short Muslim areas should have gone with Pakistan and Hindu-Buddhist majority areas should have remained with India.
India’s annexation has no legal sanctity. But, it could have bbeen sanctified in a mutually agreed Kashmir solution.
India portrays the freedom movement in Kashmir as `terrorism’. What about India’s terrorism in neighbouring countries?
The world is listless to accounts of former diplomats and RAW officers about executing insurgencies in neighbouring countries. B. Raman, in his book The Kaoboys of R&AW: Down Memory Lane makes no bones about India’s involvement up to the level of prime minister in Bangladesh’s insurgency.
Will the world take notice of confessions by Indi’s former intelligence officers and diplomats?B. Raman reminds `Indian parliament passed resolution on March 31, 1971 to support insurgency. Indira Gandhi had then confided with Kao that in case Mujib was prevented from ruling Pakistan, she would liberate East Pakistan from the clutches of the military junta. Kao, through one RAW agent, hijacked a Fokker Friendship, the Ganga, of Indian Airlines hijacked from Srinagar to Lahore.
India’s ambassador Bharath Raj Muthu Kumar, with the consent of then foreign minister Jaswant Singh, `coordinated military and medical assistance that India was secretly giving to Massoud and his forces’… `helicopters, uniforms, ordnance, mortars, small armaments, refurbished Kalashnikovs seized in Kashmir, combat and winter clothes, packaged food, medicines, and funds through his brother in London, Wali Massoud’, delivered circuitously with the help of other countries who helped this outreach’. When New Delhi queried about the benefit of costly support to Northern Alliance chief Massoud, Kumar explained, “He is battling someone we should be battling. When Massoud fights the Taliban, he fights Pakistan.”
Death of back-channel
In his memoirs In the line of fire (pp.302-303), president Musharraf had proposed a personal solution of the Kashmir issue. This solution, in essence, envisioned self-rule in demilitarised regions of Kashmir under a joint-management mechanism. The solution pre-supposed* reciprocal flexibility.
Death of dialogue and diplomacy
Riaz warns of “incalculable” risks as the result of abrogation of Kashmir statehood (Aug 5, 2019). Both India and Pakistan are nuclear powers. In the absence of a dialogue on outstanding issues, war, perhaps a nuclear one, comes up as the only option.
Sans sincerity, the only Kashmir solution is a nuclear Armageddon. Or, perhaps divine intervention.
Major Challenges for Pakistan in 2022
Pakistan has been facing sever challenges since 1980s, after the former USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan. The history is full of challenges, but, being a most resilient nation, Pakistan has faced some of them bravely and overcome successfully. Yet, few are rather too big for Pakistan and still struggling to overcome in the near future.
Some of the challenges are domestic or internal, which can be addressed conveniently. But, some of them are part of geopolitics and rather beyond control of Pakistan itself. Such challenges need to pay more attention and need to be smarter and address them wisely.
Few key areas will be the main focus of Pakistan in the year ahead. Relations with China and the US while navigating the Sino-US confrontation, dealing with Afghanistan’s uncertainties, managing the adversarial relationship with India and balancing ties between strategic ally Saudi Arabia and neighbor Iran.
Pakistan has to pursue its diplomatic goals in an unsettled global and regional environment marked by several key features. They include rising East-West tensions, increasing preoccupation of big powers with domestic challenges, ongoing trade and technology wars overlying the strategic competition between China and the US, a fraying rules-based international order and attempts by regional and other powers to reshape the rules of the game in their neighborhood.
Understanding the dynamics of an unpredictable world is important especially as unilateral actions by big powers and populist leaders, which mark their foreign policy, have implications for Pakistan’s diplomacy. In evolving its foreign policy strategy Pakistan has to match its goals to its diplomatic resources and capital. No strategy is effective unless ends and means are aligned.
Pakistan’s relations with China will remain its overriding priority. While a solid economic dimension has been added to long-standing strategic ties, it needs sustained high-level engagement and consultation to keep relations on a positive trajectory. CPEC is on track, timely and smoothly progress is crucial to reinforce Beijing’s interest in strengthening Pakistan, economically and strategically. Close coordination with Beijing on key issues remains important.
Pakistan wants to improve ties with the US. But relations will inevitably be affected by Washington’s ongoing confrontation with Beijing, which American officials declare has an adversarial dimension while China attributes a cold war mindset to the US. Islamabad seeks to avoid being sucked into this big power rivalry. But this is easier said than done. So long as US-China relations remain unsteady it will have a direct bearing on Pakistan’s effort to reset ties with the US especially as containing China is a top American priority. Pakistan desires to keep good relations with the US, but, not at the cost of China. In past, Pakistan was keeping excellent relations with US, while simultaneously very close with China. When the US imposed economic blockade against China and launched anti-communism drive during the cold war, Pakistan was close ally with the US and yet, keeping excellent relations with China. Pakistan played vital role in bring China and the US to establish diplomatic relations in 1970s. Yet, Pakistan possesses the capability to narrow down the hostility between China and the US.
Pakistan was close ally with the US during cold war, anti-communism threat, war against USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1980s, and war on terror, etc. Pakistan might be a small country, but, possesses strategic importance. As long as, the US was cooperating with Pakistan, Pakistan looked after the US interest in the whole region. In fact, Pakistan ensured that the US has achieved its all strategic goals in the region. Since, the US kept distance from Pakistan, is facing failure after another failure consecutively. The importance of Pakistan is well recognized by the deep state in the US.
US thinks that withdrawal from Afghanistan has diminished Pakistan’s importance for now. For almost two decades Afghanistan was the principal basis for engagement in their frequently turbulent ties, marked by both cooperation and mistrust. As Pakistan tries to turn a new page with the US the challenge is to find a new basis for a relationship largely shorn of substantive bilateral content. Islamabad’s desire to expand trade ties is in any case contingent on building a stronger export base.
Complicating this is Washington’s growing strategic and economic relations with India, its partner of choice in the region in its strategy to project India as a counterweight to China. The implications for Pakistan of US-India entente are more than evident from Washington turning a blind eye to the grim situation in occupied Kashmir and its strengthening of India’s military and strategic capabilities. Closer US-India ties will intensify the strategic imbalance in the region magnifying Pakistan’s security challenge.
Multiple dimensions of Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan will preoccupy Islamabad, which spent much of 2021 engaged with tumultuous developments there. While Pakistan will continue to help Afghanistan avert a humanitarian and economic collapse it should not underestimate the problems that may arise with an erstwhile ally. For one, the TTP continues to be based in Afghanistan and conduct attacks from there. The border fencing issue is another source of unsettled discord. Careful calibration of ties will be needed — assisting Afghanistan but avoiding overstretch, and acknowledging that the interests of the Taliban and Pakistan are far from identical. Moreover, in efforts to mobilize international help for Afghanistan, Islamabad must not exhaust its diplomatic capital, which is finite and Pakistan has other foreign policy goals to pursue.
Managing relations with India will be a difficult challenge especially as the Modi government is continuing its repressive policy in occupied Kashmir and pressing ahead with demographic changes there, rejecting Pakistan’s protests. The hope in establishment circles that last year’s backchannel between the two countries would yield a thaw or even rapprochement, turned to disappointment when no headway was made on any front beyond the re-commitment by both neighbors to observe a ceasefire on the Line of Control.
Working level diplomatic engagement will continue on practical issues such as release of civilian prisoners. But prospects of formal dialogue resuming are slim in view of Delhi’s refusal to discuss Kashmir. This is unlikely to change unless Islamabad raises the diplomatic costs for Delhi of its intransigent policy. Islamabad’s focus on Afghanistan last year meant its diplomatic campaign on Kashmir sagged and was limited to issuing tough statements. Unless Islamabad renews and sustains its international efforts with commitment and imagination, India will feel no pressure on an issue that remains among Pakistan’s core foreign policy goals.
With normalization of ties a remote possibility, quiet diplomacy by the two countries is expected to focus on managing tensions to prevent them from spinning out of control. Given the impasse on Kashmir, an uneasy state of no war, no peace is likely to continue warranting Pakistan’s sustained attention.
In balancing ties with Saudi Arabia and Iran, Pakistan should consider how to leverage possible easing of tensions between the long-standing rivals — of which there are some tentative signs. With Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman keen to use economic power to expand his country’s diplomatic clout by making strategic overseas investments, Pakistan should use its political ties with Riyadh to attract Saudi investment through a coherent strategy. Relations with Iran too should be strengthened with close consultation on regional issues especially Afghanistan. The recent barter agreement is a step in the right direction.
In an increasingly multipolar world, Pakistan also needs to raise its diplomatic efforts by vigorous outreach to other key countries and actors beyond governments to secure its national interests and goals.
Afghanistan: UN launches largest single country aid appeal ever
The UN and partners launched a more than $5 billion funding appeal for Afghanistan on Tuesday, in the hope of shoring up collapsing basic services there, which have left 22 million in need of assistance inside the country, and 5.7 million people requiring help beyond its borders.
Speaking in Geneva, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths said that $4.4 billion was needed for the Afghanistan Humanitarian Response Plan alone, “to pay direct” to health workers and others, not the de facto authorities.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi called for $623 million, to support refugees and host communities in five neighbouring countries, for the Afghanistan Situation Regional Refugee Response Plan.
“Today we are launching an appeal for $4.4 billion for Afghanistan itself for 2022,” said Mr. Griffiths. “This is the largest ever appeal for a single country for humanitarian assistance and it is three times the amount needed, and actually fundraised in 2021.”
Needs could double
The scale of need is already enormous, both UN officials stressed, warning that if insufficient action is taken now to support the Afghanistan and regional response plans, “next year we’ll be asking for $10 billion”.
Mr. Griffiths added: “This is a stop-gap, an absolutely essential stop-gap measure that we are putting in front of the international community today. Without this being funded, there won’t be a future, we need this to be done, otherwise there will be outflow, there will be suffering.”
Rejecting questions that the funding would be used to support the Taliban’s grip on de facto government, Mr. Griffiths insisted that it would go directly into the pockets of “nurses and health officials in the field” so that these services can continue, not as support for State structures.
UN aid agencies describe Afghanistan’s plight as one of the world’s most rapidly growing humanitarian crises.
According to UN humanitarian coordination office OCHA, half the population now faces acute hunger, over nine million people have been displaced and millions of children are out of school.
Asked to describe what might happen if sufficient support was not forthcoming, the UN emergency relief chief replied that he was particularly concerned for one million children now facing severe acute malnutrition. “A million children – figures are so hard so grasp when they’re this kind of size – but a million children at risk of that kind of malnutrition if these things don’t happen, is a shocking one.”
But humanitarian agencies and their partners who will receive the requested funding directly can only do so much, Mr. Griffiths explained, before reiterating his support for the 22 December UN Security Council resolution that cleared the way for aid to reach Afghans, while preventing funds from falling into the hands of the Taliban.
“Humanitarian agencies inside Afghanistan can only operate if there’s cash in the economy which can be used to pay officials, salaries, costs, fuel and so-forth,” he said. “So, liquidity in its first phase is a humanitarian issue, it’s not just a bigger economic issue.”
Stave off disease, hunger
He added: “My message is urgent: don’t shut the door on the people of Afghanistan. Humanitarian partners are on the ground, and they are delivering, despite the challenges. Help us scale up and stave off wide-spread hunger, disease, malnutrition and ultimately death by supporting the humanitarian plans we are launching today.”
Highlighting the need to avoid a wider regional crisis emanating from Afghanistan, UNHCR chief Grandi, insisted that what was needed most, was “to stabilize the situation inside Afghanistan, including that of displaced people who are displaced inside their country. Also, to prevent a larger refugee crisis, a larger crisis of external displacement.”
Nonetheless, Afghanistan’s immediate neighbours had sheltered vulnerable Afghans for decades, Mr. Grandi explained, as he appealed for $623 million in funding for 40 organizations working in protection, health and nutrition, food security, shelter and non-food items, water and sanitation, livelihoods and resilience, education, and logistics and telecoms.
Decades of shelter
No-one should forget “that there is a regional dimension to this crisis, represented by the Afghan refugees but also Afghans with many other ‘stay’ arrangements in neighbouring countries in particular,” Mr. Grandi said, “especially in Pakistan and Iran that have hosted Afghans for more than 40 years, but also Central Asian States.”
Since the Taliban takeover last August, women’s and girls’ rights have continued to come under attack, OCHA noted in a statement, “while farmers and herders are struggling amid the worst drought in decades and the economy is in freefall”.
On the issue of protecting fundamental rights, Mr. Griffiths underlined the fact that UN humanitarians were continuing to hold “conversations” with Afghanistan’s de facto authorities at a national and sub-national level, on issues such as aid and education access for all.
Echoing that message, UN refugee chief Mr. Grandi noted that humanitarians on the ground were well aware of the importance of stressing the need to protect the rights of minorities and other vulnerable Afghans.
“Our colleagues are there every day, and that’s what they talk about every day; they certainly talk about access, and delivery and needs, but they also talk about women at work, women in school – girls in school – rights of minorities, but it’s that space that we need to preserve.”
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