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South Asia

Lockout of Remote Learning

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A pandemic has forced a country to figure out the internet-deprived areas and devices for students. Pakistan is facing egregious problems of digital inequality.

In a country dealing with a grim financial crisis, an advanced health infrastructure required for vulnerable people. Pakistan wobbles on the edge of deep-rooted disaster with the coronavirus epidemic. Where most of the countries, including Pakistan, shut down the school, collages, and universities, as Pakistan currently has the 2nd highest figure of coronavirus confirmed cases in South Asia.

Even before the pandemic lockdown, According to GISW ( Global Information Social Watch) an estimated percentage of internet users in Pakistan is 28.15 percent. concomitantly, the rest of the population don’t have access to the internet and Pakistan ranked least internet inclusive nation in South Asia, while students having difficulties in completing routine academic assignments due to lack internet access in internet-deprived areas. The outcomes of letting the disease spread further would be disastrous, so the government shut down all the schools, colleges and universities to sway the epidemic — this gust up the chaos in educational institutes. Later on, some of the universities declared that classes would be held virtually, as the government imposed a partial lockdown.

If we dig into this, we have numerous perks of a virtual classroom; Students can engage in discussions, quiz sessions, and in lectures without riding a bike, or by any other transit although without wasting credit hours in semesters. This also helps to lift the anxiety from university administration as well from students who are worrying about their semester, and these results are reassuring at a time like the COVID-19 outbreak.

The COVID-19 pandemic likely to give us more challenges exceeding those that come up in the progression of routine virtual education. Even if this viral expanse subsides, or a vaccination becomes promptly available. The shift from virtual classes back to in-person learning may create interruptions of its own— due to essential rules in remote learning following, unaccustomed off phone-checking habits, and conveying remarks back to hard copies somewhat of digital notes. Hopefully, these aspects of troubleshooting can grant universities, professors and students with the possibility to practice pliability, endurance and flexibility. And inexperience teachers have chances to engage themselves in these activities as preparation for next challenges that may arise with the future pestilence, pandemic and other disasters; however, in reality, as the initial shift of virtual classes has created anxious behavior among students.

The savvy university systems that served connected populations seem to starts relatively sleekly with the new order of business. Concurrently, some of our regions that lack internet infrastructure and serve profoundly under the poverty line have given up altogether on remote learning. Still, universities are pursuing online classes through the virtual setup out of fear they might risking student’s future as broadband-deprived families cannot gain access to the internet

Students are claiming that the virtual classroom creates a timorous move that makes it challenging to have a back-and-forth discussion between multiple people. There is complete pandemonium and students are creating rusty sound. It’s nearly paradoxical to contribute thoughtful interpretation without feeling like you’re talking into a void.

Students have found it arduous to focus on a pixelated video screen. The problem, too, is that webinars technology doesn’t truly live up to the hype. The susurration of papers, background noise, wind, and feedback are like herding cats. Virtual classroom threatened the student’s grades.

Moreover, only a couple of universities managed to set up a virtual environment for students and all of them are private universities. In contrast, other universities students might have to face a semester break, which places a question mark to digital inequality in Pakistan.

The digital inequality curve shows that essential services take root in areas where all they have to better digital infrastructure. From there, fed by a technology enabler, they better and, over time, become proficient of undertaking more complex enigmas and serving more demanding users. That’s the opportunity remote learning now has in front of it, whatever future hold one thing is certain, it just won’t be the same as today

Given that university faculty are clambering to relocate courses online, it’s now painstakingly clear that universities ought to have had more hard preparation or strategies in place in the event of gaps in their campus administrations. But because many universities did not have such infrastructure in place and did not have significant support or devices to build great online courses quickly, virtual learning is about to get a nefarious reputation at many campuses, we suspect.

It has been noted that students in isolated areas lack internet access or facility and are forced to use transit to places with the means to attend a virtual classroom, which is reckless in the current scenario.

As we are new to remote learning, so there is real jeopardy that both cost-cutting exercises and well-meaning moves to extend access to higher education could lead to more significant numbers of disadvantaged students being consigned to cheap and inefficient online learning, with pernicious outcomes.

There are numerous risks that transferring vulnerable students online will create more critical problems rather than resolving the ostensibly intractable intricacy of unequal educational opportunity

These circumstances are taking place in an ambience of scepticism over how long the lockdown will last. Educational institutes will need more advance infrastructure— and new technical staff— if it turns out that a comprehensive online infrastructure is required for the haul.

Higher Education Commission, Pakistan (HEC) should take notice and take private universities on board to reconsider the decision on remote learning, as virtual classroom threatened students’ grades and also semester break for students living in internet-deprived areas. HEC should look to the current digital infrastructure given the desperate need in poor and rural areas; it would also be right to something like it — to bring permanent broadband into homes for millions of internet-deprived and support students.

Last but not least adjourning the digital divide — and bringing all Pakistani’s into the modern age — This requires a momentous effort to digitalize the whole country.

Faran Manj from Faisalabad, Pakistan. A researcher and social media activist, currently studying bachelors of legislative law. I have done several projects on current affairs for my university's journal

South Asia

Ensuring ‘Vaccine for All’ in the World: Bangladesh Perspective

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image credit: UNICEF/Vinay Panjwani

Health experts and analysts argue that the massive scale of vaccination is the most effective way to save people and the economy around the globe. Meanwhile, one can see a timid response of the global institutions in this regard. The neglect of multilateralism since the very inception of this crisis exacerbated the efforts of different countries, particularly in the developing and underdeveloped regions. The US withdrawal from World Health Organization (WHO) under the Trump Administration greatly hampered the global process in the early days of COVID-19. However, the US has rejoined WHO under the Biden Administration, but it has already been delayed and slowed down the global engagement. As a result, we have witnessed hectic vaccine diplomacy over the past year, where bilateral frameworks have played a pivotal role. It may be mentioned that COVAX was launched by WHO, EU and France in 2020 to deal with the global accessibility of COVID-19 vaccines. Coordinated by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the WHO, COVAX aims to ensure vaccines are shared fairly among all nations, rich and poor. However, the worrying issue is that the current level of access to vaccines for the developing and least developed nations is extremely low compared to the developed and rich countries. Against this backdrop, the vaccine for all becomes a critical global need to overcome the biggest humanitarian crisis in a century. Bangladesh has a unique contribution to advance the goal of vaccine for all, for that matter, facilitating the availability and accessibility of COVID-19 vaccines to every corner of the world.

With a motto of ‘vaccine for all’, the Bangladesh Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, warned the world during her speech for the 31st Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA)in September 2020. Bangladesh placed a three-point proposal in the special UNGA session to deal with the challenge of COVID-19: ensuring universal and equitable access to quality Covid-19 vaccine, transferring technology to developing countries to manufacture it locally, and providing them with financial assistance to face challenges in wake of the pandemic. She vehemently asserted that the COVID vaccine is for the global public good. In her words, “It is imperative to treat the vaccine as a ‘global public good’.” In this context, the World Health Organization (WHO) initiative of Access to Covid-19 Tools (ACT) and Covax facility can play a vital role in this regard. Highlighting the global responsibility of achieving the 2030 Development agenda of the fundamental role of Universal Health Coverage for achieving the SDGs guided by the principle of equity, Bangladesh underscored the need for universal access to vaccines. She argued, “In the same spirit, when it comes to access to vaccines, no one should be left behind … This would help us to defeat the pandemic, save lives and accelerate our economic recovery.”

Bangladesh Prime Minister called upon the developed countries to commit to technology transfer for the local manufacturing of vaccines in developing countries, using IP rights waiver under TRIPS Agreement. Sheikh Hasina reminded the international community that the fates of people across the globe were intertwined amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as she called on world leaders to ensure that any proven vaccine is made accessible to all at the same time. She also highlighted the need for multilateralism and reiterated Bangladesh’s ‘unflinching commitment’ to multilateralism as embodied in the UN Charter. She clearly spelled out, “The pandemic has indeed aggravated existing global challenges. It has also reinforced the indispensability of multilateralism.”She emphasized, “The UN, International Financial Institutions (IFIs), civil society alongside the national governments must do their share and actively cooperate with each other to combat Covid-19.” The crux of multilateralism on the COVID-19 global pandemic is pumping necessary financial assistance to the developing countries.

Bangladesh also pointed out that the world should recognize the vaccine manufacturing capacities of developing countries like Bangladesh. She floated the idea that Bangladesh’s pharmaceutical industry has the capacity to mass-produce a vaccine if given the “technical know-how and patents.”Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina asserted that Bangladesh is ready to produce Covid-19 vaccines. It is critical to remember that Bangladesh did forecast the current scenarios of vaccine crisis and politics long ago. The situation gets further worse when the US, the UK, and the European Union have all blocked the move of nearly 100 developing countries who petitioned the World Trade Organization (WTO) to temporarily waive intellectual property protections on vaccines during the pandemic so that they could manufacture generic vaccines domestically. Besides, developing countries, including Bangladesh, approached vaccine producing companies such as Oxford-AstraZeneca to share technical know-how and patents, which has not seen any positive responses. Serum Institute of India, a co-manufacturer of Oxford-AstraZeneca also appealed to the US President Joe Biden to consider exporting raw materials for producing COVID-19 vaccines. Besides, a local company in Bangladesh, Globe Biotech Ltd, also joined the global COVID-19 vaccine race with the announcement of its vaccine named Bongavax that started clinical trials.

The Bangladesh Prime Minister reiterated her vision for the vaccine for all at the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference virtually held on 20 April 2021. She clearly uttered that COVID-19 vaccines should be declared as global public goods. She asserted, “Countries producing the vaccines should help others produce the vaccines with a view to attaining universal vaccine coverage.”All nations and international organizations must work together to meet the medical requirements of this pandemic. WHO, GAVI and other relevant organizations must uphold the rights of member states and ensure equity and justice. The prime minister called the COVID-19 pandemic possibly the “greatest global challenge” and emphasized it had brought the world to a crossroad of human history. As cautioned by the Bangladesh Prime Minister in September 2020, the world witnesses a horrific race for vaccines leaving behind billions of marginalized people in the world.

The neglect of the causes of the survival of a great number of humanity by relying on politics, parochial national interests, and diplomatic considerations, the developed world will jeopardize the existence of global society. The so-called diplomacy of ‘zero-sum’ gains has brought about a devastating impact in the age of new normal. One can see alarming statistics of current scenarios in the world regarding vaccine procurement. Out of total worldwide confirmed purchases of Covid-19 vaccines, high-income country confirmed dose total 4.6 billion, upper-middle-income country totals 1.3 billion, lower-middle-income country total 608 million, low-income country total 670 million and COVAX total 1.12 billion. Besides, vaccine diplomacy has turned into a race for intensifying bilateral frameworks that contributes to more competition and rivalry in the world. Countries from Africa to Latin America have been witnessing this trend. Rivalries between the vaccine manufacturing countries such as the US vs China, Russia vs the US, India vs China, EU vs Russia and China are on display in the global arena.  

In conclusion, Bangladesh’s 3-point proposal in fighting against the COVID-19 pandemic through equitable access to vaccines must be the basis of any global or regional initiatives. It is the formula for saving humanity from the greatest disaster on earth. It is an inescapable option for the world to immediately declare COVID-19 vaccine as a public good that the Bangladesh Prime Minister urged to the world in the UNGA in 2020. Intellectual property rights mechanisms be immediately relaxed for sharing technology with Pharmaceutical companies in countries like Bangladesh, Brazil, India and Indonesia to produce vaccines for the world. Fair and equitable access to the COVID-19 vaccines must be based on the slogan of ‘vaccine for all’ and no time lost or delayed to save the humanity and economy.

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South Asia

The man who saved the world from Pakistan

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image source: voices.transparency.org

But for a few brave souls like Frits Veerman, Pakistan would have become the world’s most frightening nightmare. Not that it is not today but it could have been worse: we could have been facing a nuclear Armageddon now.

Veerman, a professional photographer in Amsterdam, was one of the first to ring warning bells about Pakistan’s skullduggery in stealing nuclear documents, materials and technology to build its own nuclear bomb. His warnings were brushed aside, he was forced to keep quiet, sacked and harassed to no end for speaking the truth. In a just world, he should have been hailed as an icon of courage. He died in relative obscurity recently.

His story will, however, continue to live, a story of courage to speak out in a world where truth often falls to realpolitik. When Pakistan was running a big nuclear smuggling ring from its diplomatic missions and other agencies, governments and security officials in different parts of the world chose to look the other way. In fact, many connived in the colossal thievery.  They  knew  what  Khan  and his  associates  were  doing  but business and political interests trumped over reason.

Veermen was the only one to say that `the emperor was naked`. He could have easily succumbed to pressure or greed but he did not, and even at a great cost to his life, he chose to speak out, rather than keep quiet.

Veerman discovered the Pakistani game when he was a   young professional photographer in Amsterdam. He used to work at a consultancy firm, FDO (Fysisch-Dynamisch Onderzoek), as a technical photographer. An important client of FDO was   Ultra Centrifuge Netherlands which was part of a top secret project run by a consortium of Dutch, British and German scientists at a nuclear plant in Almelo. In May 1972, a young and charming Pakistani scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan joined the team as a translator of technical documents. He soon became friends with Frits Veerman. He took pictures of centrifuges for him. The two shared an office and met at dinners in the evening. Veermen was introduced to Khan’s wife and two daughters and often went to their house for dinner.

Khan quickly expanded his circle of friends and he would freely access areas at the nuclear plant which were hitherto prohibited. It was sometime in 1973,  a year  after the Pakistani joined the consultancy firm,  that Veermen had his first doubts. He thought there was something fishy about the manner in which the Pakistani was charming his way through the rank and file of the establishment.

It was two years later that Veermen’s suspicions became stronger. He realised that the young Pakistani was in fact a thug–he was stealing classified papers from the plant. This happened one day when he went to Khan’s house near Schiphol airport for dinner.

What he saw took his breath away. He saw top secret centrifuge drawings lying around in Pakistani scientist’s house. They were supposed to be at the plant and locked up in vaults. As Veerman later recalled in an interview with BBC, “That was my biggest worry, what was he doing with those drawings? All the little pieces of the jig-saw put together made me come to the conclusion that Abdul was spying.“ Khan asked him to photograph the documents for him but Veermen refused. He also happened to overhear a telephonic conversation between the Pakistani and his old professor in Leuven about sensitive centrifuge matters. Veerman lost no time in reporting the matter to his superiors. His seniors heard him out and told him to keep quiet. He was asked not to speak about what he saw and found to anyone.

In late 1975, when AQ Khan realised that he was coming under greater scrutiny from a multitude of agencies, he took leave from the office, and along with his family flew back to Pakistan. He never returned. What many did not realise for some time was that Khan had smuggled out precious drawings and a no less useful rolodex of key suppliers of nuclear material and technology in Europe and elsewhere.

But Veerman had not heard the last of Khan. From Pakistan, his former friend wrote to him frequently seeking answers to technical questions about nuclear technology. When he showed one such letter to his superiors, he was asked to burn it. Less than a year after Khan fled Amsterday, FDO held a meeting on the issue where Veerman repeated his assertion that Khan was a spy. Veerman later gave a statement about Khan to Dutch police. But, as Veerman were to find out later, his blunt accusations did not endear him his superiors or others in the government. In fact, the nuclear consortium and consultancy firm, FDO, were delighted when Khan sent his emissaries with a long list of items and work he wanted to contract to European firms. Soon after, Khan’s technicians began arriving at FDO to take a “ “a course in ‘how to build an ultracentrifuge’’, Veerman commented.

In 1978, Veerman lost his job. No reasons were given but he knew he was being sacrificed for speaking out against Khan’s smuggling ring and the complicity of the nuclear plant officials as well as government authorities. The powerful nuclear industry lobby did not want any investigation because it would have exposed its laxity and complicity. The government too was not keen on any probe because it would have been embarrassing and would have impacted diplomatic relations with some countries. So they all kept quiet. The one man who spoke was asked to shut up.

In 1983, during a meeting with FDO officials, when he realised that his only crime was his outspokenness, Veerman was furious and decided to tell the story  to a Dutch newspaper. But nothing came out of his expose and he quietly retreated to a lowly paid job and into obscurity. The state, however, chose to punish him further–he was put on an international watch list and for many years questioned by police whenever he travelled abroad. He was stalked by the police. In one such instance, his family in a car was stopped by armed police.

It was only in 2016 that his role in breaking the world’s most dangerous nuclear smuggling network  was acknowledged by the authorities. The Whistleblowers Authority, a Dutch institution created in 2016, came to the conclusion that Veerman was unfairly treated at the time, as it considered it likely that whistleblowing was the reason for firing him in 1978. A recent report of the Huis voor Klokkenluiders, the Dutch Whistleblowers Authority, showed that the agency had finally absolved Veerman of any charges and in fact pointed out hy he, and not Khan, was punished.

In many ways, Veerman’s honesty and tenacity saved the world from even a more dangerous Pakistan. His act of courage deserves international recognition.

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South Asia

Pakistan and Germany are keen to Sustain Multifaceted and Mutually beneficial Cooperation

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Pakistan has varied history of relationship and cooperation with other countries in international arena. Despite of proactive foreign policy Pakistan has been struggling to acquire global or regional status as a major power. Now in the age of globalization, the foreign relations between states have become more significant than before. Global and regional organizations, societies, economic zones and countries have network to attract and develop relationship among them. A major goal of Pakistan’s foreign policy is to develop good relations with international community and to handle global and regional issues. Activism of Pakistan‘s foreign policy reflects on the domestic socio-economic development. The national interest of Pakistan also support to regulate inputs from the external atmosphere into internal situation and to strive security and territorial integrity in the region and glob which always remained top concern of Pakistan. As bearing geo-strategic position, Pakistan seeks good relations with regional and global powers like America, China and European Union. Within European Union Germany has emergence as the developed economy in Europe. It is not only playing vital role within European Union but at the global level. Pakistan is also enjoying cordial relations with Germany on the base of common interest and perception on all international issues. Germany is also very keen to see sustainable development in Pakistan and acknowledges that the Pakistan is playing constructive role for regional peace. Germany greatly values Pakistan intense to strengthen multifaceted and mutual beneficial cooperation. Both the countries have been engaged on political, economic and socio-cultural partnership.

In past, East and West Germany had tilted towards forming alliance with India in 1950s but in 1960s, President Ayob Khan‘s visit to West Germany established economic relation between both the countries. Post Pak-India war 1971, East Germany was the first country of the Europe who recognized Bangladesh. During 1990s, Pakistan and Germany established Pakistan German Business Forum and Germany had become the fourth largest trade partner of Pakistan in 2000.  Germany also was ally of Pakistan in the war against terrorism in the north-west part of the country. Since the last few years, both the countries developed trade relations as well as Germany invested in the field of science and technology in Pakistan. On August 24, 2014, Germany built Pakistan Gate in Berlin to provide business and trade facilities to the businessmen of both the countries.

In November 2018, Pakistan offered Germany to join CPEC and to invest in the Special Economic Zone (SEZs). The mutual trade between both the countries enhanced to 3.0 billion euro in 2019.In 2021, Both Pakistan and Germany are celebrating 70th anniversary of establishment of bilateral relationship. Both the countries are planning to undertake several activities in this regard. Last month German Ambassador visited Karachi Chamber of Commerce and industries to call German companies, entrepreneurs and investors to earn from the potential and opportunities which are available in Pakistan and to bring business communities of both the countries more closer as well. Foreign minister of Pakistan has visited to Germany and meeting with business and members of Pakistani community. The foreign Minister held meetings with the leadership of Germany and repeated the desire of expansion of bilateral economic activities and exchange of technology. Both sides also discussed rapidly changing situation of Afghanistan and South Asian region. During the discussion, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Foreign Minister of Germany Heiko Mass, Pakistan and Germany agreed to review the entire gamut of Pakistan-Germany relationship and tools of further deep bilateral cooperation in the field of trade, investment security and defense, health, education, tourism. The mass of both the countries want to utilize the potential of good relationship but it is observed that both sides have lack of political hierarchy, dedication and sincerity in past. The development and expansion of bilateral relationship lies on the path of peaceful coexistence and serious changes in the socio-economic structure is needed. Peace process with the neighboring countries like Afghanistan and India may attract Germany to invest in CPEC projects and other local project of education, vocational training, dam construction, tourism and economic activities in Pakistan. There is a need to organize a forum for the students and scholars of both the countries could interact and exchange their expertise for academic, economic and technology growth. There is potential of people to people interaction and development of cooperation between Pakistan and Germany. Pakistan may be more benefit from the relationship with Germany if the serious efforts be made on government level.

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