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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.

Professor (Dr.) Rajaram Panda, former Senior Fellow at IDSA and ICCR India Chair Professor at Reitaku University, Japan is currently Lok Sabha Research Fellow, Parliament of India, and Member of Governing Council, Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi.

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South Asia

Is Pakistan the next Yemen?

Nageen Ashraf

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The long going Shia-Sunni conflict became more turbulent after the Iranian revolution of 1979. Shia-Sunni divide had never been more severe. And then the Arab spring of 2011 had its own repercussions on this divide. This sectarian divide is a major bone of contention between Iran and Saudi Arabia and has affected other states in the Middle-Eastern region too. Syria and Yemen are the states where Arab Spring became an “Arab disaster” and the uprisings failed to remove the authorities. Instead, the mutiny turned into a civil war which is still going on in both the states. What made these civil wars worst was the involvement of various foreign actors in the conflict. In Syria, the two major oppositions are supported by a set of different actors. The Bashar Al Assad regime, which is Shia, is backed by Iran and Russia. And the Sunni rebels are backed by Saudi Arabia and USA. The involvement of Saudi Arabia and Iran is to gain sectarian dominance. Iran wants the Shia regime to stay in power; however KSA wants the Sunni rebels to gain control in Syria. Similarly, in case of Yemen, the regime is Sunni and is again backed by Saudi Arabia and USA; and the Houthi rebels who belong to the Shia branch are strongly backed by Iran. Here again, the aim is to get the dominance of the region as well as respective branches of Islam. Saudi Arabia considers itself the leader of Sunni branch and Iran considers itself the leader of Shia branch and both want to increase their influence in other Islamic states.

With increasing tensions between both the Islamic branches in Pakistan, the situation seems much familiar to the states of Middle-East. The current rioting against the Shia community which overlapped with the Holy month of Muharram, where “#ShiaGenocide” trended on Twitter and rallies have been carried out on streets enchanting anti-Shia slogans, made Shia community more fierce and boisterous. A data shows that from 2001 to 2008, more than 4000 Shias have been killed on the basis of their sect. Shias have been continuously harassed, bullied, and even killed just because they belong to a different sect. This is an alarming situation because these actions are only radicalizing the Shia community and doing no good to the state. There have been dozens of cases of discrimination, public hate speeches, and biased killings of Shias which can lead to a proper divide and even uprising of Shias against the government, making it another Yemen. And Iran, being a very neighbour of Pakistan would definitely not hesitate to support the Shia community, which can make the situation worse. Even if Pakistan gets the support from Saudi Arabia (which is also very likely to intervene in the conflict to counter Iran), the risk of getting involved in a conflict with its neighbour seems a really bad idea. Pakistan’s rival, India is already looking for opportunities to make this divide deeper. Indian politician Subramanian Swamy also mentioned in his tweet a few days ago, that India must get ready to protect Shias in India, and mentioned that Pakistani Sunnis have made an agenda to massacre them. No wonders India’s ready to not miss this opportunity. We need to rethink our policies and our attitudes towards this minority; a minority which can make Pakistan the next Yemen if things are not looked upon on time.

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How China Continues To Undermine India’s interests In The Brahmaputra

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Geopolitics in India China relations is not only limited to land disputes or competition in the oceans but also river disputes such as the one associated with the Brahmaputra basin. The water dispute between the two countries traces its origin to many decades, with China intending to start projects in the Tibetan Plateau surrounding the river since 1958 when Chairman Mao giving ideas regarding the Three Gorges Dam project on Yangtse river which after many years of difficulty, was finally constructed in2006.Following the construction of this dam, the Chinese government turned its focus to the Yarlung Tsangpo river projects, likely driven by challenges of water shortage it faced.

In contemporary times, the divergence between India and China over Brahmaputra is primarily driven by construction of hydropower power projects by China as well as the lack of transparency over hydrological data by the country. As a lower riparian state, India is at a disadvantaged position vis-à-vis China, which possesses the capability constructs dams as well as change the course of the river. These possibilities have direct implications for India’s North East region, where economic opportunities are already scarce. An alteration in the course of the river that feeds large swathes of land in the region could severely impact the residents of these states. Moreover, opaque data practices by China pose additional threats to India’s North East region that is home to many flood prone areas along the Brahmaputra basin.

China at many instances, has undermined India’s interests by not sharing the hydrological data regarding its hydropower projects, where the latter has requested for it numerous times since 2002 with water sharing agreements being signed between the Water resources ministries from both sides in 2013[i] and 2018[ii] for the riparian countries to further strengthen mutual understanding regarding natural resources in the rivers, which have not yet been implemented because of geopolitical differences from both sides. The sharing of hydrological data is necessary for India for keeping a close watch on the levels of floods in vulnerable areas.

It has been observed in an IDSA report[iii] that, China basically undermines India’s reservations on various dam projects being initiated by the former in the western route of the Grand Western Water Diversion Plan. Without consulting India, it has planned to construct dams near the river. It has done so with the construction of the Zangmu dam in 2014.China has also remained non-transparent regarding construction of three dam projects- Dagu, Jiaga and Jiexu, also situated on Yarlung Tsangpo basin.

China’s Leverage In The Brahmaputra

In 2017, when the Doklam crisis took place, China didn’t share any hydrological data at that time for its own political leveraging citing reasons such as floods wiping out one of the hydrological sharing areas.

A water sharing agreement[iv] was signed between India and China in Qingdao in 2018 for the latter to share hydrological data during flood season for the Brahmaputra basin between the months of May and October. Dam construction has led to change in colours of the Siang riverwhich turned blackish grey the same year, where this portion of the river became contaminated and unsafe for consumption, therefore impacting water supplies in the region.

Always it seemed that there has been a slight positive developments in sharing hydrological data with the Indian government from the Chinese side which the latter agreed but these agreements never came into full force. A noted Indian newspaper, New Indian Express highlighted that, the three areas have agreed to share hydrological data on May 15th this year from hydrological stations- Nugesha, Yangchun and Nuxia which are located in Tibet.[v]There have been instances when China has agreed to share details about its hydrological details but for its own security and strategic interests, it has chosen to not declare any crucial details of the same.

China’s Geopolitical Strategy With The Water Flow

China through river diplomacy could put pressure on India to focus more on its national security by deterring its role in territorial claims.  It could also be seen as a passive assessing tool of checking India’s strategy which means that China will play its cards when a weaker country is unprepared and the latter losing all any territory or water body. China’s selfish geopolitical ambition to claim South Tibet where the tributary –Siang flows, is another reason behind which it is highly prioritising hydrological river projects.

This policy is being given strategic importance by the Chinese government authorities under the New Foreign Policy initiated by Xi Jinping which lays emphasis on prosperity and security being important for economic development[vi] where the Grand Western Water Diversion Plan[vii] is being used as a way by China to address its water problems giving it a good reason to divert the courses of Yarlung Tsangpo, impacting India, making it difficult to address its concerns. 

Concluding Points

The water resource strategy is a good example of explaining the silent strategy which China could use for coercing India regarding sharing of waters and territories instead of using armed conflicts. China seems to benefit through this river initiative in terms of economic development and also defence. The MoU signing is process where China is trying to buy time to increase its presence and henceforth, being the main beneficiary while putting India under a period of uncertainty.


[i]“Memorandum of Understanding between the Ministry of Water Resources, the Republic of India and the Ministry of Water Resources, the People’s Republic of China on Strengthening Cooperation on Trans-border Rivers””, Ministry Of External Affairs, October 23,2013, https://mea.gov.in/bilateral-documents.htm?dtl/22368

[ii]“India China sign Bilateral Agreements In Qingdao”, Ministry Of External Affairs , June 09,2018, https://www.mea.gov.in/bilateral-documents.htm?dtl/29966/IndiaChina_Bilateral_Agreements_signed_in_Qingdao_China

[iii]Shreya Bhattacharya,” China’s Hydropower Ambitions And The Brahmaputra”, IDSA Backgrounder,, July 23,2018, pp 2-8

[iv] MEA ,2018

[v]PTI,” Amid Border Tensions With India ,China starts sharing Hydrological Data For Brahmaputra River”,New Indian Express, May 16, 2020,https://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/2020/may/16/amid-border-tensions-with-india-china-starts-sharing-hydrological-data-for-brahmaputra-river-2143909.html

[vi] Nilanjan Ghosh ,Jayanta Bandopadhyay and Sayangshu Modak , “China India Data Sharing For Early Flood Warning In The Brahmaputra: A Critique”, ORF Issue Brief,Issue 328, December 2019,p. 2

[vii]Ibid

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Pakistan’s War with COVID-19: A Victory for Now

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From rethinking health care systems to the redefining of global movement and migration, the coronavirus has undoubtedly changed the world – Pakistan being no exception. However, Pakistan, one of the highest populated countries in the world and a developing nation, somehow weathered the storm far better than most countries in the world – leaving many international experts and doctors questioning how.

A state of panic and chaos gripped Pakistan when the first two cases of the novel coronavirus were registered near the Iranian border, back in February of 2020. With flimsy healthcare infrastructure, insufficient public awareness and overcrowded urban spaces succumbing to grisly sanitation system, Pakistan was globally perceived to be a misfit for this kind of war, and also thought to be amongst the brutally hit ones. The notable trust deficit between the government and public, and the ignorance of both could make matters even worse.

The concept of social distancing, not new to the modern world, was alien to a mighty chunk of the masses. Pakistan, one of the only two countries still battling polio, was forecasted by prominent experts to fall deep into a quagmire, if timely actions were not taken. During May the cases began rising and in June, they peaked – hospitals were put on high alert and fear enveloped the populace. Pakistan’s already frail economy also struggled due to the coronavirus – specifically due to the nationwide lockdown that began in March 2020.However, soon after the country hit its peak, the plans finally started to kick off well; active cases began dropping by the end of June. Miraculously, Pakistan has accelerated its recovery rate to 96% in a matter of 6 months, which is surprising, given the current economic and demographic situation of the country.

Out of the 307,000+ active cases registered, more than 6,400 infected have fell victim to this disease so far, according to the Government of Pakistan. Pakistan’s surprising comeback from the pandemic has prompted World Health Organization (WHO) to declare Pakistan as an influential player in the fight against Covid-19.But how was Pakistan able to avert this public health crisis with a handful of resources and poor health infrastructure?

Source: Wikipedia

Graphical Analysis: The trend shows that the country witnessed the peak of the epidemic by mid-June as a result of direct or indirect violations of SOPs by the general public, especially during the Islamic month of Ramadan and Eid ul Fitr. However, the country observed a decline in daily cases by the end of June.

CLOSED CASES*(Recovered/Discharged +Deaths)298,719
Recovered/Discharged292,303 (98%)
Deaths6,416 (2%)

*As of 21st September                         Source: Worldometer

Lockdown Policy

Amidst the national outcry for straining financial capacity, Pakistan’s healthcare infrastructure stood tall like a “Jenga” tower, with the government’s sensitive decision-making on one hand against the public’s negligence. The opposition politically capitalized on the public’s doubt about the government’s capability in dealing with a catastrophe of this scale initially, given the past experiences in dealing with natural disasters, like floods and earthquakes. Under such pressure and insecurity, PM Khan came up with a different solution.

After imposing a complete lockdown in March, a popular containment strategy, Pakistan pursued partial lockdown by closing down vicinities. The ruling party in consensus with other major elements also decided to keep crucial sectors of the economy, the livelihood of millions of wagers, open for economic activity. The government’s take on the countrywide lockdown seemed like a catalyst for an economic, social and political collapse, especially for a developing country like Pakistan.

Despite so many fingers raised at the government’s approach, PM Khan staunchly defended his position by explaining how it could give birth to greater problems like unemployment and eventually push the country into mass starvation. Reports about recession and market crashes from the neighboring India further emboldened the government on its anticipated approach – the smart lockdown.

While many believe that the policy was successful in slowing the spread of the disease in the country, notable health experts believe that the lockdown policy has only saved the country from an economic crisis, and not the disease itself yet. They believe other factors, like demography, have a bigger role to play in the country’s defense so far.

Youthful Demography

The major factor to consider is the demographic structure of Pakistan. Pakistan stands in the list of the countries with the highest number of independent population (youth, adults) against its dependent population (children, old-aged). In other words, Pakistan is home to a large number of youth or working age population; the number of old-aged individuals is significantly less.

Although COVID-19 can fatally affect people of all ages, analysis of the global death figures from the virus in the developed countries in light of the data of median age from the developed countries taken from Global health observatory data (WHO), specifically Italy, UK, France, suggests that the virus has caused more deaths in countries with the average age above 40. According to the above mentioned source, average age in Pakistan is 22; which means that the number of people with stronger physiological immunity is high, and the virus eventually dies down when the transmission occurs between large communities of young people. Thus, it can be said that the youth aspect of Pakistan’s demography might have a key role to play in the apparent success so far.

The Reporting Conspiracy

Pakistan’s testing capacity has also been subject to criticism, with claims that the health system is not sufficiently testing its population on a daily basis. Despite the Prime Minister’s sole credit to the government’s micro-lockdown policy, the data reveals an evident relationship between the decline in testing and reduction in new cases. The statistics released by Our World in Data indicate that Pakistan’s daily tests per thousand people, by July 16, was 0.1. The above source also shows that figure was estimated to be 0.13 back in June, the peak-month; the figures reveal a notable decline in overall testing from June to July.

Misreporting at the district level might have understated the official figures, but the notable thing is that even if we consider the fact that the country’s general testing has declined, it has still managed to show a positive rate less than 5%, according to Al Jazeera. According to the World Health Organization, any country with a positive rate less than 5% is in control of the disease outbreak.

Vulnerability to the Virus

By June, the disease spiraled out of control and started spreading at a very rapid pace. Due to religious gatherings in the month of Ramadan despite the lockdown restrictions, and the lifting of lockdown few weeks after Eid Ul Fitr, the country witnessed a boom in new cases. If we analyze the trend in the aforementioned graph, we can see that the number of cases almost tripled in a month. However, you can also see that after hitting a peak (6,825) in new cases, the rate of new infection steadily begin to decline over the next few days.

In an interview to Al-Jazeera, a health professional in Pakistan suggests that despite the highly contagious nature, the vulnerability to getting infected by the virus varies from individual to individual; a concept known as “population heterogeneity” in epidemiology.

Polio Response Force to the Rescue

With a big question mark on the healthcare’s capacity to accommodate sufficient ventilators for patients nearing respiratory breakdown, Pakistan defied all odds by deploying its polio eradication infrastructure to grapple the virus from spreading. The infrastructure, solely built to combat polio in rural and remote areas, has borne a great deal of innovation and research over the years due to immense pressure from the global health authorities to extirpate it.

Without the presence of a digital integrated health information system on a national level, Pakistan marched forward by integrating its polio eradication system with the COVID-19 monitoring system, an effort highlighted by the World Health Organization in a press conference. Highly trained health workers who were tasked to visit every door around the country for polio vaccination, were now directed to strategize exceptional practices that could effectively monitor, trace and contain the virus.

Even though the healthcare system does not have many epidemiologists in its infantry, Pakistan’s unique strategy has been able to considerably counter the virus than the countries widely accredited for their breakthroughs in the domain of disease control. Pakistan has received much deserved worldwide recognition in its unanticipated yet effective battle against the contagion.

The War Continues…

Pakistan might have pulled a narrow victory in what is considered as the first round of the pandemic, but the threat of the second wave still lurks around the corner. Health officials are continuously ringing bells for a potential disaster and advising the government to brace for it early on. They have also requested the government to pursue a total lockdown, if the country goes through a second wave, in the coming months as historical data suggests that second waves have usually taken a higher toll on the population as compared to the predecessor waves, like that of the Spanish influenza.

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