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South Asia

SAARC against COVID-19: Is everybody in?

Siddharth Singh

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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

Nepal need lobbying group in Brussels

Saurav Raj Pant

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For most common Europeans; Nepal is not “known” country as like India or China. Yet, they might have heard of Mt. Everest—the world’s highest peak. Yes, it is in Nepal. Nepal surrounded by India on three directions (East, South and West) and China on the Northern side. American’s often blame for looking Nepal from the India’s lens and they usually deny this. Europeans also more or less follow the same American pattern. For more than 250 years of its official existence as a country “Nepal” it has been struggling to survive in between two fastest growing economies of the world: i.e India & China. Nepal’s international exposure is limited. It too has Embassy in Brussels. But Nepali academic, capital and diplomatic lobbying in this de-facto capital of the Europe is negligible.

These days, two debate in Nepal is heating up. First: Sino-US proxy war in Nepal & second: Nepal-India border dispute. The US had already identified, China as its core rival. So, conflict between them is not new. Nepal has been the interest for the US since 1960s during the time of CIA brokered Khampa movement in Nepal. China being the immediate neighbor of Nepal has a natural interest in Nepal.  Belt & Road Initiative(BRI) is the China’s signature grand strategy whereas Indo-Pacific Strategy( IPS) is the US strategy. Both BRI & IPS are playing the “geopolitical” flute in Nepal. They have started bottom up to down diplomatic strategy to persuade Nepali lawmakers and leaders. If pro or anti comments made on IPS or BRI each party put watershed on each others. Recently, Millennium Challenge Corporation(MCC) awarded $500 million grant to Nepal for the time limited period of 5 years. Nepal became eligible for this grant by passing 16 out of 20 indicators in the Score Card developed by MCC. This Score Card is assessed in three policy categories: Ruling Justly, Investing in People and Encouraging Economic Freedom. This grant will be used on the Electricity Transmission Project and the Road Maintenance Project. Electricity Transmission Line will be constructed from Lapsephedi-Glachi, Galchi-Damauli, Glachi-Hetauda and Damauli-Sunwal as well as road upgrading will be from Hetauda-Bhimphedi, Dharan-Basantpur, Kadmaha-Gaighat and Amelia-Dhankhola roads. But, this grant has been deadlock within ruling Nepal Communist Party in Nepal: whether to approve it by parliament or not? Is it the part of the IPS  or not? Is there any threats of American Military arrival after approval of this grant? Such questions are heating up debate in Nepal. Some report support that; China is heavily influencing to derail this grant in Nepal as this is the US funded support. So, being rival of the US; China doesn’t want American influence in its front yard.

Second debate is: India had constructed link road passing from Lipulekh to Kailash Mansarovar. This is a 80 KM link road which had shorten the trip to Kailash Mansarovar by one week. This road was inaugurated by India’s Defense Minister; Mr. Rajnath Singh  on 8th May, 2020. After inauguration of this road, it erupted protest in Nepal. The relationship of Nepal with India was already low at a time when India had shown Kalapani in its side on the new released map of November 2019. Historical facts suggest us that, India had encroached Nepali land Kalapani during the Sino-India war of 1962. This high altitude Kalapani where Lipulekh is based provided India better strategic location to observe Tibet. The Indian Military Mission was established in Nepal-China borer since 1952 and continued till 1969 to protect India from Chinese threats . There were altogether 18 Indian Check Post in Nepal-China border(Tinker, Taklakot, Muju, Mugugawn, Chharkabhot, Kaisang, Thorang, Larkay Pass, Atharasaya Khola, Somdang, Rasuwagadhi, Tatopani, Lambagar, Namche, Chepuwa Pass, Olangchungola, Thayachammu, Kalapani and Chayangthapu). Among them, all 17 Check Post were removed in 1969 but Check Post on Kalapani remained as it is. Since then, removing Indian presence in Kalapani became the strong slogan of nationalism for left politicians in Nepal especially after 1990.

Countering to the Indian move on constructing link road in Nepali land; Nepal had responded by releasing its new map  on May 2020 that incorporates Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura in Nepali land. In June, 2020 Nepal had even ratified this map via parliament. This had given serious blow to several Indian politicians regarding the Nepali move. Indian Foreign Ministry had responded by saying “noted” on the new released map by Nepal. The central problem of the border dispute between Nepal and India is the source of Kali river. India believes that the source of Kali river is Kalapani area whereas Nepal believes that the source of Kali river is Limpiyadhura. Sugauli Treaty of 186 between Nepal and British India had clearly mentioned that, “ East of Kali river is Nepal and the West of Kali river is the British India”.  However, India interpretation of the demarcation of border based on Suguali Treaty differ. This has created a dispute between Nepal-India border.

Way forward

Underlining above two heated debate; Nepal need proper international lobbying to secure its national interest from foreign powers. Brussels host more than 200 embassies as well as consulates and it is one of the vibrant diplomatic hub of the world. It is second city after Washington DC to be active number of lobbyist. According to DR2 Consultants; there are 15,000 and 30,000 active lobbyists representing corporate companies, industry, agriculture and many other sectors. So, Nepal need to establish its lobbying group in Brussels to strengthen Nepali voice in European Parliament and across Europe like other foreign governments who has also lobbying group in Brussels represented by Consulting firm and Think Tank. Corporate Europe Observatory had said, it research found examples of lobbying for 15 foreign governments in Brussels– Armenia (Burson-Marsteller), Azores (APCO), Belarus (Bell Pottinger), Botswana (Hill & Knowlton), Bulgaria (Alber & Geiger, Burson-Marsteller, Dominique de Villepin), Ethiopia (DLA Piper), Georgia (Aspect Consulting, Kreab), Jersey (White & Case), Kazakhstan (BGR Gabara, APCO), Pakistan (Alber & Geiger), Portugal (Kreab & Gavin Anderson), Republika Srpska (Hill & Knowlton), Russia (GPlus, Hill & Knowlton), Sri Lanka (Bell Pottinger) and the Ukraine (APCO). At last, Nepal need to re-modify its diplomatic working pattern based on timely manner and current practice; so that it will make her able to survive in between the two fastest growing economies of the world.

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South Asia

Covid-19 and Digital Education Failure in Pakistan

Mohsin Rasheed

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The Covid-19 pandemic has gripped life globally. Education system is getting worst in many countries because digital education. As coronavirus control measures spread throughout South Asia, universities such as India, Pakistan and Afghanistan find themselves poorly prepared for online learning or distance learning because their campuses are closed and their students return home, some remote areas are without internet facilities and offline facilities to continue the classes system.

Pakistan’s Higher Education Commission (HEC) asked universities to engage faculty and quickly develop online courses and broadcast those to the students in view of the coronavirus situation in the country. Coronavirus pandemic has endangered us all and online education is the solution for the safety of the faculty and the students. But there are some issues regarding online system in Pakistan, most of the students don’t have smart phones and internet facility which leads to failure. Before Covid-19 the education system was not up to the mark, after this pandemic era it badly effect the students and their future. Many students return from abroad because of this pandemic era, after the flights suspension most of the students stuck in their home country and facing problems such as study, financial and time research.

Pakistan has already faced university closure in Pakistan in the past due to the terrorist attack and the political threats but that time universities did not adopt the online education system for students. A suddenly change to online learning is create many challenges to the system as majority of student do not have their smart phones and personal computer for online classes. On the other side there are many other Government schools in Pakistan like “Government High School Barranga Bakkhar” which i have visited personally and asked some question with MR Asim Shahzad (School Teacher). He told that government is not providing books to their student, and students do not have smart phone access even from their parents due to poor condition.

Boarding students have left for their homes located mostly in less developed areas, and the international students from different counties move to their home town. Another Student Muhammad Abbas from Pakistan who is Studying PHD in Zhengzhou China went back to his city Lahore, near Shezan factory, when the closure of academic institutions was announced. He said, he is on Chinese government Scholarship about 4500 yuan per month. After pandemic cause china has stop funding to all scholarships students except one or two universities from March onwards until 1 September 2020. It is very hectic situation for all PHD scholars, its creates financial, study, also lead to fail in research without labs availability he said.

In some countries like China where community transmission of the virus has reduced significantly, schools are reopening in phases by employing rotation models which use time and the school space flexibly. This seems like a plausible way forward. Although, it is interesting and ironic to note how the serious measures that are being put in place to protect children from a deadly disease are not very far from their everyday routine in schools i.e. sitting in assigned seats, usually remaining in the same room all day long, walking along a marked track, listening passively to instructions, and enjoying limited time outdoors.

Perhaps this lockdown has given us an idea of ​​how we can improve our educational institutions to ensure that students get the maximum possible benefits. We can use this as an opportunity to redesign learning spaces / communities, in collaboration with parents, to further facilitate student learning. More than anything, this abrupt wake-up call should prompt all relevant stakeholders to reflect on the true purpose of schools and the future of learning in this country.

Students try to convince experts through all possible forums to review the decision about classes and exams online, but unfortunately their voices are simply ignored. Instead of suggesting academics with a logical path forward in this crisis situation, the administrators appointed at HEC and HEI are introducing policies to increase confusion among students. In the meanwhile Pakistan digital learning system failed due to covid-19.  Most of the student have out their focused towards studies/education.

The provision of quality education is the sole responsibility of the government and educational institutions. HEC is mandated to guarantee the quality of education without compromising established standards. This unfortunate situation requires an intelligent contribution from all concerned. Advanced countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Prime Minister of Pakistan himself advise people to learn to live with the coronavirus for a certain period until such time as no lasting treatment is invented to fight the virus. Given this prevailing scenario, the government, HEC and universities are required to take a futuristic, achievable and positive approach to safeguard the valuable time of millions of students across the country and the sole purpose of education.

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South Asia

Sino-India Emerging Rivalry: Implications for Stability of South Asia

Tahama Asad

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India and China, both heirs to ancient civilizations, have emerged today as the two most powerful and influential Asian nations in terms of their economic clout and geopolitical standing in the international arena. The two countries recognize the need to eliminate enduring mistrust between them and have been focusing on building a rational partnership underpinned by China’s pragmatism. However, despite the recognition that cooperation may be in their mutual interest, this will be easier said than done. India-China relations have always been complexing with multifaceted regional and global dimensions, which have complicated their bilateral relationship. Even as India and China have crossed a long road from being friends to adversaries to rational partners, a factor which has been constant in the conduct of their affairs, is the that they are neighbors who have as much to gain from each other as to fear from the other. Both the states clearly understand that cooperation could work to their mutual advantage and benefit. Any conflict between the two countries would not only jeopardize their national security but would also have serious implications for their regional and global security perspectives. Tensions along the India-China border high in the Himalayas have again flared up the situation between both the countries. Thousands of soldiers from both sides have been facing off just a few 100m from each other in Ladakh’s Galwan Valley. China has objected to India building a road through the valley connecting the region to an airstrip, possibly sparking its move to assert control over the territory along the border that is not clearly defined in places. India and China engaged in a similar standoff for 73 days at Dokhlam, at the other end of their disputed border in 2017, when Indian troops were mobilized to counter what was seen as moves by the Chinese side to expand its presence along the border with Bhutan. The situation was later defused through diplomatic channels

In political realism, power is the capability to make another state do something it would not otherwise do and vice versa. What makes a state powerful is its capability to influence the other. The South Asian region is home to one fourth of the world’s population which is the least economically unified regions in the world. Intraregional trade remains well below its potential due to historical political tensions and mistrust because of cross-border conflicts and security concerns. Since the advent of the 21st century, China has been conducting multi-dimensional cooperation with all the South Asian countries (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka). China’s major interests in South Asia include promoting stability in both Pakistan  and Afghanistan in order to curb the influence of extremists, to facilitate trade and energy corridors throughout the region that China can access, and to increase its presence in the Indian Ocean Region . India fears that China’s investment in South Asian ports not only serves its commercial interests, but also facilitates China’s military goals. India perceives the Chinese presence in South Asian countries as a design to thwart what was once considered as India’s sphere of influence.

China has so far been successful in influencing South Asia because of many factors. One of the major reasons is that China has managed to project itself as a neighbour that would not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries least of all in the internal affairs of its friends and partners. In the light of its “Good Neighbourhood” policy, China’s increased diplomatic and economic engagements in South Asia are aimed to enhance its strategic influence in the region. China is focusing on construction of a chain of airfields and ports at Gwadar-Pakistan, Hambantota-Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Chittagong-Bangladesh  has part of its “String of Pearls” strategy, which also includes China’s influence in South China Sea, the Strait of Malacca, the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf. India, on the other hand has been trying to consolidate influence over its smaller South Asian neighbours other than Pakistan and holds almost complete sway over the SARRC setup. Defining Indian strategic environment, former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee once stated, “India’s strategic environment extends from the Persian Gulf to the Strait of Malacca, across the entire Indian Ocean, including Northwest Central Asia and Afghanistan, East Asia, China and Southeast Asia. Our strategic thinking must be extended to these horizons Line”.

The changing alliances and power equilibrium among the United States, China, India, and Pakistan bear key implications on the inter-state rivalry and the consequent crisis dynamics in South Asia. Since the introduction of the US Indo-Pacific Strategy 2018, mutual suspicion and hostility between India   have intensified. There is a shift in the regional dynamics with the United States and India being on one side and Pakistan-China on the other. These changing dynamics will have significant implications for U.S. policy toward South Asia and crisis management down the road. Previously, the US had rendered constructive support in Pakistan-India crisis management. This role was taken up due to US perception of India-Pakistan’s relative power balance. However, US strategic interests in Asia Pacific region. Since Pakistan finds itself unable to serve as China’s balancer against India in the region, the immediate solution in Chinas calculus has been to strengthen Pakistan’s capacity and potential for economic growth and stability through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a fusion of infrastructure projects and funding aimed at reviving Pakistan’s economy. The CPEC will also serve China’s own strategic interest to reach out to the world through the shortest trade corridor offered by Pakistan due to its geopolitical location.

It is widely believed across the Chinese political circles that Indian aggression in the region is generally triggered by China’s support to Pakistan. India’s increasing inclination and reliance on the US has resulted in a heightened aggressive regional outlook of Prime Minister Modi. For instance, India’s revocation of Article 370 followed five months after India-Pakistan- brinkmanship resulting from the Pulwama crisis. The Indian decision to break the occupied state of Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories had directly challenged the territorial claim of Ladakh by China. China’s support to Pakistan is not perceived as China’s good will but as a concession extracted due to India’s might. Therefore, India might make even more encroachments on the LAC if China’s support for Pakistan increases. However, the change in China’s policy orientation regarding South Asia’s crisis management does not suggest that China will actively expedite or facilitate a crisis in the region. Traditionally, China has resorted to mediation for Pakistan-India crises. China can be helpful under a situation when US treats crisis management in the region as a significant priority and Chinese cooperation as an inevitable factor. But Beijing’s relations with Washington have deteriorated in the past few years. Beijing has been seeking to highlight issues of convergence that can lead to cooperation with US to improve bilateral ties. In case the US wishes to mutually manage a crisis in the South Asian region, Beijing might be open to cooperation. However, it is also expected that China might not assist in seeking a solution that would continue to capitalize on US need for cooperation. In the light of the current great power competition between US and China, crisis management in the South Asian region might be another case of collateral damage.

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