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Swiss -Lanka Relations: Forging closer ties through Commercial Diplomacy

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Sixty-five years on from establishing formal diplomatic ties between Switzerland   and Sri Lanka, both   nations have undergone notable foreign policy changes.  Reviewing the pros and cons on the current links between Switzerland   and Sri Lanka will undoubtedly be of interest to foreign policymakers. From Swiss, Lanka standpoint, it is essential that both nations pursues a unwavering foreign policy position that does not alter course each time there is a change of government. Looking at the foreign relations today Switzerland remains among the principal investors in the South Asian nation with over 14,000 Sri Lankans working for Swiss companies. (Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, 2015). The other important story worth mentioning in this age-old connection is the 50,000 Sri Lankans living in Switzerland. 

Beginning a new era in bilateral relations during the post conflict phase altered the nation’s approach of handling its foreign affairs with Switzerland. As Sri Lanka became more prosperous economic diplomacy became an important feature in the strong ties between the two nations. Over the past few years, Swiss companies have established various business ventures together to promote prosperity and to create sustainability in Sri Lanka. Swiss companies such as A. Baur & Co. (Pvt) Ltd , Colombo Mövenpick   Hotel owned by Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts of Switzerland have set up business ventures in Sri Lanka . By re-examining the current trade, aid and migration policies    through   various   ways and means will boost future diplomatic efforts. In the future, Swiss companies could benefit from South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) and Indo-Lanka Free Trade pacts with Sri Lanka   that could pave the way for Swiss goods to access the 1.6 billion South Asian consumer market.

Besides trade and investments, Swiss also plays an significant role in Sri Lanka’s tourism sector.  Tourist arrivals from the Switzerland have steadily increased with over 20,000 Swiss tourists visiting the South Asian nation annually (Estimates, 2018).  In recognition to the need for close ties financial aid had been a priority area of Switzerland’s assistance to Sri Lanka.  Setting a good example in this direction of Aid diplomacy the well respected   European nation provided an average of about 7 million Swiss francs (CHF) a year in foreign assistance and funding programs to the Indian Ocean island nation during the post war recovery period.

The establishment of diplomatic links of more than six decades has seen many milestone flash points on the way to a fruitful two-sided diplomacy.  In reinforcing the six-decade-old Swiss -Lanka diplomacy, demands a far-sighted external policy outreach going beyond its customary foreign policy patterns to enhance these unshakable old bonds is necessary. 

Research scholar at Jindal School of International Affairs, India and an editor of Diplomatic Society for South Africa

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South Asia

Pakistan is striving enthusiastically to quell the COVID-19

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International cooperation has become necessary for the nations across the globe, to defeat the Coronavirus pandemic -an invisible enemy. For that, states are taking diverse measures ranges from domestic to international level, to win the war against the said disease. No doubt, big motives demand courage. Since observing the first coronavirus case in the country, Pakistan has been taking serious measures to deal with the COVID-19. Pakistan’s response to the COVID-19 has been acknowledged as ‘World’s Best’ by the country head of World Health Organization Dr Palitha Gunarathna Mahipala. She stated ‘At a time when other countries were reporting cases, Pakistan was keeping the virus at bay, which is something quite praiseworthy’

In Pakistan, prime minister Imran Khan and his team are working enthusiastically to curb the menace of Corona pandemic. Recently, PM Imran Khan declared a state of emergency within the country and announced a multi-billion package to relief for the country’s labour and unprivileged class. This big relief package was announced amid severe economic crises; at the time when the country is in great debt and looks for international aids and assistance to overcome the economic deficit. Surely, these measures would help the country to deal with the pandemic. For any government deal with any challenge is a big issue but stimulated and target-oriented efforts are to be needed to deal with its aftermaths. Let’s hope for the best.

According to the latest to report, 1291 cases have been reported in the country in which 21 people has been recovered, while 9 cases could not survive. Although the reported cases in four-digits are presenting a huge volume, it is due to the continuous efforts of Pakistan’s administration and paramedical staff, that the death is limited to the single-digit only. Most of the cases identified with the pandemic moved from abroad. The least number of pandemic transformations cases within the country is also representing the nation’s seriousness to the precautionary measures. With all these facts, Pakistan is to be ranked with the countries which are rationally managing this microscopic virus.

Like the developed countries, the higher educational institutions within Pakistan, and their student councils are also working with great zeal and zest to help with poor families and daily wager class of the country. Each day these volunteer teams are distributing life commodities, food, COVID’s precautionary essentials in the deprived areas of the county and spreading awareness the people through counselling sessions. Along with it, the bourgeoisie of the country, is also taking part in ration distribution drives throughout the country. Student societies based in Pakistan are also introducing online short certified courses on public health and civic educations to grace the youth with the basic health principle and precautionary measures and methods.   

During this hard time, the role of doctors cannot be neglected. With the limited recourse, they are tirelessly working, to help the nations with the ongoing pandemic. Besides the tough duties and long-hour duties, the doctors are also offering their assistance in various community groups. Today (on Friday), a Salute Day was observed in Pakistan, to pay tribute to the exemplary efforts of the Doctors and Paramedic staff. People across the country shared their kind wish and prayers with them through social media.

Pandemics are always beyond the territorial boundaries. It never discriminates on the basis of religious, colour and socio-economy& technological developments of the states. It always spread due to un-identification, unawareness and incautiousness the precautionary measures.To deal with such challenges across the country and in the wake of the increasing number of positive cases, Prime Minister Imran Khan announced the establishment of task force named ‘Corona Relief Tigers’. This workforce would also assist the government in mapping out the corona cases across Pakistan.

It would be hard for any country if it is to be look downed. Primarily, economies are infected by doing so.  Even the developed countries like the state like the United States, China, Germany and Japan would face severe economic crises if it does implement there for a long period. It is too early to predict what the situation of Pakistan would be after two weeks. To tackle with such economic challenges, the government has started to request the overseas Pakistani to donate in Pakistan, by stating “Right now, the Pakistani people are most in need of donations from abroad. I want overseas Pakistanis to deposit their money here so pressure from our foreign exchange reserves is relieved. This will be the fund that will pull the country out from these difficult time”.Along with the government, civil institutions and the citizens, Pakistan’s army is also actively taking part to contain the novel coronavirus.

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SAARC against COVID-19: Is everybody in?

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On 15th March, under the initiative led by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, distinguished dignitaries of SAARC nations came together through a video conference and joined their hands to chalk out a common strategy to fight against the deadly COVID-19 in the region. They raised their concerns about the disease and shared possible preventive measures among themselves. This initiative received a huge appreciation both from member states and other parts of the world. Notably, SAARC leaders did not meet on a regional platform since after attending the 18th SAARC Summit. In 2016, the 19th SAARC Summit was scheduled to be held in Islamabad was later got canceled. 

In the video conference, the Indian Prime Minister expressed his faith in regional cooperation. He proposed the establishment of an emergency COVID-19 Fund that can be utilized by any member states for meeting up their cost of immediate actions. India has made an initial offer of USD 10 million for this fund. Simultaneously, all SAARC members have made a significant contribution to this fund including Afghanistan (USD 1 million), Bangladesh (USD 1.5 million), Bhutan (USD 100,000), Maldives (USD 200,000), Nepal (USD 831,393.45), and Sri Lanka (USD 5 million). Pakistan is the only SAARC member that has yet not made any contribution to the fund (data is collected on 25th March 2020 from the website of SAARC Disaster Management Centre.

During the video conference, Pakistan Prime Minister’s Special Assistant on Health Dr. Zafar Mirza made a remark on Kashmir that was howsoever unrelated to the mandate of the video conference. Article II of the SAARC Charter specifically mentions that “Cooperation within the framework of the Association shall be based on respect for the principles of sovereign equality, territorial integrity, political independence, non-interference in the internal affairs of other States and mutual benefit.” Pakistan is an essential part of the SAARC region. It is a home for around 12% of the South Asian population. As of 25th March, it has the highest number of people affected by a coronavirus, that is, 887 in the region. This makes it more important for Pakistan to actively engage with the joint measures for the welfare and prosperity of the region.

There is a difference between politics and pandemic. Both of them should not be mixed at this juncture. Our development has been halted. Our movement has been restricted. Recently, UN Secretary-General António Guterres has also called for an immediate global ceasefire. We are not living a similar life, as we were a few months ago. This is a crucial time when countries should keep aside their differences and come together facilitating each other in the common fight against such global concern. 

SAARC is aptly being utilized in these challenging times when the COVID-19 virus has already infected 1647 people and causing the death of 20 people from the region. The initiative aimed to discuss measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 in the region. SAARC is founded upon historical and cultural ties among its member states and advocates for a co-operation for the development of the region. Preambular paragraph of SAARC Charter specifically recognizes the commonalities within the region and provides for cooperation to: 

“Aware of the common problems, interests, and aspirations of the peoples of South Asia and the need for joint action and enhanced cooperation within their respective political and economic systems and cultural traditions;”

It further provides, “Convinced that regional cooperation among the countries of South Asia is mutually beneficial, desirable and necessary for promoting the welfare and improving the quality of life of the peoples of the region; Recognising that increased cooperation, contacts and exchanges among the countries of the region will contribute to the promotion of friendship and understanding among their peoples;”

Similarly, Article I of the SAARC Charter provides the objectives of this Association that includes: “to promote the welfare of the peoples of South Asia and to improve their quality of life; to contribute to mutual trust, understanding and appreciation of one another’s problems; to promote active collaboration and mutual assistance in the economic, social, cultural, technical and scientific fields”. Indeed, SAARC can bring all members together and collectively overcome this pandemic. Also, the effective co-operation among its members can play a significant role in the success of this initiative. 

On 26th March, SAARC Health professionals shall meet again to share their experiences and build up joint actions for the prevention and cure of the disease. It will be pertinent to observe the role of SAARC members in their collective fight against COVID-19. What advancements will be brought to its status after the eradication of this disease? How SAARC members will proceed jointly before the international community? These are a few questions that can be answered over time. Meanwhile, this initiative has provided a good opportunity for the region to strengthen its loose ties while fighting against COVID-19. The SAARC initiative on COVID-19 is making good progress. Member parties are significantly willing to cooperate. If everything goes well, SAARC could re-emerge as a significant voice in the global east.  

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South Asia

SAARC Video Conference: Reclaiming the Humanness

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The opportunity provided by crisis in the backdrop of worldwide emergency due to lethal Corona pandemic (Covid 19) has re-set the button to once again appreciate the values of human connectivity and to co-exist on March 15, 2020 in South Asia as well. A call by the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi in a bid to foster collective thinking amongst the SAARC countries after a hiatus of four years, was a welcome step responded enthusiastically by all the member states. Reclaiming the space essential for a multilateral or even a bilateral dialogue, particularly between Pakistan and India, scuttled by the protracted and historically generated acrimony, this nature’s intervention has a lesson to learn from, as humans. It is a lesson needed much more than ever, against merciless encroachment allowed to the politics of might through arms race, nuclear supremacy and economic concentration. Already, the arrogance of nationhood has significantly destroyed the peace of the stressed habitat belonging to the South Asian region occupied by 3% of the world’s landmass and 21% of world’s population. The SAARC countries have even agreed to set up COVID-19 fund with India contributing an initial corpus of $10 million. All the leaders shared country situations and experiences in the aftermath of the outbreak of COVID-19, as well as measures taken by them to control the spread of the virus. They also recognized the need to analyze and address the long-term economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic in the region and continue with the consultation process through meetings at the ministerial and experts’ level; identifying the Nodal Experts to take further action on the proposals discussed during the Conference; and formulating a comprehensive regional strategy against COVID-19 through the SAARC process and other appropriate steps.

South Asia has managed to resist the COVID-19 assault so far, given the vast region it covers but the unpredictability continues to loom. How long will this sense of cooperation and coordination prevail and help the nations of the region transition the defunct SAARC? It is direly essential to improve the immunity required to counter unprecedented challenges? How sustainable will these measures be in the absence of building confidence ruined so brutally over the years?

The Advisor to the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Dr.Zafar Mirza, in his address to the video conference of South Asian Association Regional Cooperation (SAARC),very pertinently pinpointed the member states; India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhuttan, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, and urged them to gear up its resources as a region to fight against the deadly virus collectively. However, while highlighting the core human issue, realizing the freedom of Kashmiris living in Indian Occupied Kashmir forcefully quarantined for more than 200 days is could be the first step of not only towards the humanness, but also would encourage the importance of unanimity. India itself was the first one to have taken the Kashmir issue to the world’s international forum, UN, way back in 1958 while respecting the collective solution of the outstanding issues. The issue has taken an ugly curve due to India’s non-compliance with the UN decision of holding plebiscite. Instead Kashmiris are suffering from worst denial of human rights by using the brutal mechanism of state terrorism. They are being constitutionally ripped off their demand for self-determination. More so, the exponential rise in communal progrom seen in the recent past has further exasperated the fear of non-secular behavior. The contradiction in the primary role itself along with the fancied or may be masquerated in a perpetual hypocritical policy already fractures the collective mechanism proposed by India itself. India needs to do more to initiate a human gesture.

Already, founded in 1985, the cooperative outcomes denied by the pain of non-socialisation of the member states particularly after the Uri attack, mainly initiated by India during the 19th SAARC Summit, which was to be held in Islamabad in November 2016; undermined the vitality of regional integration.  In March 2018, during his visit to Kathmandu, Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi once again sought the help of Nepal, the chair of SAARC, to revive the organisation by convening the pending Summit in Islamabad. Pakistan has also solicited the support of Sri Lanka. Aimed at achieving peace, freedom, social justice, and economic prosperity by promoting a shared understanding, good neighbourly relations, and meaningful cooperation, improving the quality of life in the member countries by fostering self-reliance, promoting mutual assistance, and strengthening the relations has been a baseline objective. However, the mismatch between SAARC’s ambitions and achievements has been unfortunately profound. Unlike the other regional forums like European Union (EU), The South East Asian Association of ASEAN etc,no tangible economic or political benefits have been realised by SAARC so far. It is mostly termed as a case of ‘retarded regionalism’. Regrettably, the regional behavior of India has also not been very encouraging, since no initiatives have been portrayed by India to transcend the parochial politics with Pakistan as a co-member of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) unlike the other smaller states of the organization. In fact, the behavior had been on the contrary with continuing strategic offense. The resonance of surgical strikes, the pronounced offensive nuclear doctrines, the politics of diplomatic and economic isolation desired for Pakistan, all add more weight to the disrespect of peaceful co-existence rather than the cooperative and coordinated step. The re-buttoning of SAARC is a welcome opportunity and holds silver line, yet the journey holds massive ifs and buts for its structure to sway the temporariness in the call. The mechanism of this Regional Association has to be strengthened with more permanent sincerity.

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