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The Costliest Pearl- Book Review

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Indian Ocean has always been instrumental in expanding India’s influence. From the ancient times when Indians had trade relations with Sumerian and Greek Civilizations to the times of Chola Empire when whole of South East Asia was under the ambit of Indian influence. Indian Ocean has not only served as a medium of trade but also linked the nations around culturally and religiously. India has always considered Indian Ocean as its own backyard. This changed in 21st century with the rise of China. Suddenly this prized possession was not safe from Chinese ambitions. Celebrated journalist and author Bertil Lintner explains the geopolitical ambitions of China to master the Indian Ocean. He argues that economic diplomacy of China is nothing more than a veil for a grand strategic takeover. Through various facts and scenarios he delivers a warning to the stakeholders of Indian Ocean about the changing reality.

China’s interest in the Indian Ocean coincides with its rise as an economic power. Historically China has never been present in the Indian Ocean in centuries. The only example is of Admiral Zhang He who in 15th century travelled across Malacca Strait to reach India and from there to the Horn of Africa. This feat was not repeated till the end of the 20th century partly because of China’s Middle Kingdom syndrome. However in the 21st century China increased its trade with Africa and Middle East therefore needed a presence in Indian Ocean to guard its interests. China is looking for shortcuts for its trade routes to relieve itself from strategic checkpoints of Malacca and Hormuz .Indian Ocean is an arena housed by various powers like US, UK, France, India and Australia. This book describes how China is winning over small island states in the Indian Ocean to establish its supremacy and pushing all these major powers on back foot. The title of the book is inspired by a US Strategy paper of 2005 which described the concept of ‘String of Pearls’. With US losing its supremacy in the arena it depends on other regional powers to counter China. Lintner also provides some insights on the future course of action of major powers of Indian Ocean to push back China and why it’s important to do so.

The pearls that China included in its strategy include Djibouti, Gwadar, Hambantota, Kyaukyu, Mauritius, Maldives, and Seychelles etc. One of the most important geographic points on earth is Djibouti. A small state in Africa houses military bases of all major powers in the world. Lintner correctly describes it as a new Casablanca as it has become of a hotspot for confrontation. China has the biggest military base in Djibouti which can house 100,000 troops. Djibouti is a resource less country therefore allotting land for bases was a viable option for the tiny nation. China has trapped Djibouti in its debt trap by offering huge amounts of money for its development and can cause turmoil in the region. Two states are extensively dealt with are Myanmar and Mauritius. Myanmar has tried to balance out China and India. It gives shelter to networks of Indian rebel and Chinese rebel groups which cause havoc in their respective countries. India specially had trouble dealing with military junta government in Myanmar. China has provided extensive economic support to Myanmar for infrastructure. It was also instrumental in development of Kyaukyu port which couldn’t materialize because Myanmar realized that it could fall into the debt trap of China and lose its sovereignty. On the other hand India is building Siitwe port as part of its Kaladan multimodal project to compete with China. Mauritius has an interesting history as lots of migrant labours were taken away from India during British Raj. Now the Indian origin population makes a significant portion of the local populace and hence is favorable to India’s ambitions. The British and French interests in Mauritius have not faded due to adjacent strategic islands around Mauritius. Still China has invested large amounts of money and wants to build a smart city and uses tourism as a big factor to change policies of these island nations. Seychelles also stands as a frontline nation in Sino-Indian rivalry. Since it is the link for BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) China has used all means to keep Seychelles on its side from financial to military cooperation. China has trained an elite force of Seychelles army and provided them with naval equipments. China has also used tourism as a significant policy tool as island states’ income depend on tourism and overwhelming tourists of China drive the change. Examples have been given that how China crippled Palau’s economy by denying its tourists to visit it. However India has also maintained friendly relations and maintained a coastal surveillance system in Seychelles. Similarly Maldives also present an avenue for competition between India and China with both states promoting their candidates in the election. With Mohamed Solih’s election India could sigh relief for some time as Maldives leaders have also tried to outbalance both giants. In spite of India’s favored candidate winning presidency Maldives is under China’s stranglehold and it would be very difficult to free Maldives from this power struggle. Besides these islands Lintner talks about French Departments in the Indian Ocean, British Indian Ocean Territories including American base Diego Garcia and Australia’s island bases. These bases could prove effective in the possibility of a grand coalition against China’s aggressive policies in the Indian Ocean.

Present situation could be understood alternatively as a new Cold War. Strategy of China is to replace US as a world power. It is the classic Thucydides trap where war between rising power and established power is unavoidable. Author list historical examples from World War II when Japan wanted to replace US power in Pacific and Germany wanted to replace UK, the war was inevitable between them. If this theory is to be believed ‘Policy of Appeasement’ of China by US won’t work because China is not seeking compromise but World domination. Lintner dismisses a formation like G-2 to solve security crises and there is no point in pursuing compromise like British PM Chamberlain which failed to contain Germany. In this Sino-US struggle Australia finds itself in a dilemma. It has always aligned itself with western nations but now its economy is dependent on China, at the same time it is strategically important to counter China. Its decision would be important in security architecture of Indian Ocean. Lintner believes that countries response have been inadequate while China sprints in the region. India and Japan have signed various strategic documents but it has yet to come to life. He criticized India’s lopsided Look East policy because of India’s less investment in infrastructure hence not been able to compete with China in South East Asia. Lintner asks US and India to understand BRI as a strategic tool of China and do not mistake it as only economic plan. However he concludes in the end chapter that not everything is rosy for China. It’s facing a pushback in Myanmar and its pipelines in Pakistan are attacked by militants. There is a possibility that China won’t succeed through its aggressive techniques because it will antagonize small states. Hambantota port in Sri Lanka is a clear example of that. Besides India- Japan- US enhanced cooperation would be able overcome China’s maritime strength. India has also started to make a base in Seychelles and has tactical arrangement with Japan’s base at Djibouti to counter China. In the end challenges that China faces will have to be seen: Aging population, overstretching of BRI resources, Japan and India as an alternative security provider and a politically aware citizenry would be too great factors to cut short its ambitions. Lintner has adopted the lengthy narrative history of the territories. It’s important to understand the relation of these island states with China. Bertil outlines the economic dependence of these states on China but has not focused on security dimensions. He has ignored the proximity of islands with French and British powers which could also drive their policies. The book includes Myanmar as a case study while others were island states. Other nations like Thailand, Vietnam, and Bangladesh could have been included in the discussion. Despite India being a major power it was not mentioned enough in the book. A mention of its investment and military bases was there but no discussion about the strategy. Similarly he mentions China’s military overtures and investment, client patron relations but fails to give a wider perspective on their strategic intent and defence capability. Lintner writes as a journalist and makes information accessible but it does not provide in depth information and analysis for the researchers. But overall the book provides good insights on small nation states of Indian Ocean as the information is not readily available. This would help the policymakers in making efficient decisions when dealing with small island states and dealing with resurging China in India’s backyard.  

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South Asia

Promoting Projects and Practices in Community Health in India

Prof. Pankaj Jha

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Street scene in India, August 2020. © UNICEF/Vinay Panjwani

One of the most populated countries in the world, India has been facing problems with regard to well-being of its citizens while sustaining their developmental needs. The need for better health facilities, and developing antidotes for new kinds of pathogens and viruses have made the task more challenging. The respective governments, pharma companies, and testing labs are trying to develop safe trial mechanisms and developing safeguards for protecting the lives of vulnerable sections of society. Within India, the community health programme involves the non-governmental sector, healthcare professionals, economics aspects and social interaction through people and voluntary workers. While the health ecosystem exists, the problem has been finance, support and critical knowledge repository. India did well to address issues such as polio vaccination and creating community awareness for regular medication against tuberculosis. There is a mounting impact of chronic diseases in economic and social sectors, need for quality health services in the wake of changing demographics, and increasing life expectancy have made matters more complex.

In terms of understanding the requirements for building better resilient and health-conscious societies, it is important that the vaccines, lifesaving drugs, and medicines should be developed with certain generalised regulations which can improve the health of the society and address problems faced by people living across regions. While India is a subcontinent comprising of all geographical features, it is also a cauldron of different ethnic communities, and physical features which provides exceptional opportunities for testing and developing medicines which can cater to different physical and pathological profiles of people. Within India, one can find people with different levels of immunity. As the eating and food habits have been different, there is higher incidence of diabetes, hyper tension and cardio diseases in a cross-section of people. It has also been seen that people who are above 40-70 years of age have been more vulnerable to pandemics, and other communicable diseases. A sizeable mortality profile of people suggests that.

In this context it becomes very important that medicines which should be developed should have a better shelf life and give results which can be corroborated with testing facility, with a cross-section of people. The results have usually varied with regard to people with different eating habits and also nutrition factor. Pandemics such as COVID-19 have brought to the fore that India has better resistance mechanisms which has helped in relatively less mortality rate when these people have been infected with COVID-19. The duration of sickness because of COVID -19 has varied from five days to more than three weeks. In such certain times, it has been found that because of lack of any effective medicine or any sure shot diagnostic mechanisms the treatment has prolonged and the recovery has been slow. In terms of legal and other regulatory mechanisms, it has been found that most of the clinical trials which are done in India enroll the vulnerable  and poor people and human trials are conducted. There is a grey area of medical compensation and addressing post-tests complications from legal point of view.

For India it has become imperative to develop projects and conduct feasibility studies through government mechanisms rather than through medical companies. While projects have been undertaken to study different kind of diseases that school children and adults will be facing in the next two decades, it has been found that most of the complications will be related to teeth, eyesight, anxiety and mental well-being. However, in the case of pandemics and community health programmes it has been encouraging signs that initiatives such as creating awareness with regard to AIDS, mental well-being, depression and anxiety disorders have been fruitful and rewarding with institutionalising counselling and telephone helplines. Most of the programs have been done and supported by NGOs as well as a few voluntary organisations.

The projects and programmes which can be initiated in India should address core issues. Firstly, the incidence of non-curable diseases, depression, immunity disorders, other issues related to community transmission, and the development of proper safeguards and awareness with regard to pandemics and life-threatening diseases. Secondly, the COVID-19 has opened a Pandora’s box with regard to the incidence of diseases which impact community, and thereby also affect government health budget. Lastly, it is necessary that India will have to create medical soldiers and inform voluntary workers so that the community transmission and community health well-being should be addressed on a priority level.

As the COVID vaccine is in different trial stages, many countries are looking for testing facility in India and also conduct human trials, as legal structure in medicinal trials is still in infancy. India needs to address the issue of IPR on developing vaccines and medical history should be addressed jointly as it has been found that many western countries have been purchasing medical history of the patients living in developing Asia, providing vaccines through great testing mechanisms and subsequently using copyright laws to deny cheap medicines to the larger community.

 In this regard it is important that India should conduct research on immunity vectors of its population and develop generic drugs which can help in protecting communities from most transmissions. It is also pertinent to note that in terms of the temperature variance across India it provides unique testing opportunities in different conditions. However, there is a need for a holistic approach and therefore it is important that training and sensitisation of the personnel working in this field is of paramount importance. Initiatives related to preventive and therapeutic services is critical. Also, looking for quick alternatives would save the lives of personnel.

Just like any emergency, there is a need for rapid action medical force which can provide immediate assistance and better cognitive abilities track critical illnesses and the reasons thereof. It has been seen in the case of midwifery and associated postnatal diseases that it has worked wonders with a better equipped and knowledgeable person existing in each society for better assistance and awareness.

The critical importance of voluntary workers is that with sufficient technical assistance (which might come from government and state units) gives them confidence and also strengthens their application of knowledge for better informed public health practices and policies. Technical assistance and quick action through centralised control centre has to create the first line of defence in case of a pandemic. 

The institutes which have been working in this field are Public Health Foundation of India, Indian Institutes of Public Health and All India Institute of Hygiene & Public Health, which have been disseminating information through online workshops, seminars, and social media. They have created affiliates and sister agencies working in the field all across India. Networking of public health institutions in medical education need to address issues such as environmental health and countering new kind of diseases which are dominating.

This clearly highlights the fact there is a need for understanding pandemics, developing awareness among communities about public health, and stress on hygienic environment, conducting long term  research on emerging diseases and promoting research in tropical medicine.

India need to allocate separate fund for public health initiatives and promote exchange of medical workers with third world countries for better understanding the nuances of medical and health research. In fact, in most of the think tank meetings, public health and awareness is not listed as topics whenever Track II dialogues are held. There is also a need for better practices in public health, education, and developing health demonstration projects, barefoot nurses and doctors, strengthening an eco-system of education, training, and scholarship. Developing traditional medicine and making it easily accessible should be the bulwark against diseases. Restructuring Community Medicine/ Preventive and Social Medicine colleges which impart this kind of education in developing countries is required as the number is relatively less. Across developing world scholarship in community medicine and hospital administration is low and needs structural financial support. The data collection and diagnostics apparatus need micro management to create better response chain. COVID-19 has provided the reason for public health to be taken as a national initiative.

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South Asia

Sino-India Himalayan Chess Game: Breakthrough or Stalemate?

Vineet Malik

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The continuous geopolitical blame game between India and China hasn’t witnessed any positive development with respect to either sides pulling back their respective troops, dragging the recent skirmish even further till winter.

In 45 years, India for the first time has witnessed a conflict-like situation vis-a vis China which witnessed the martyrdom of 20 troops on June 15thand rounds of shot firing in the LAC where the Indian Foreign Affairs Ministry confirmed about the PLA first initiating the firing ,after which the two sides have constantly held each other responsible for increased tensions whereas India has tremendously shown goodwill, hopefulness and looking at many factors to keep the ties stable. The year 2020 was supposed to be the 70th Anniversary of Sino-India Cultural ties where unfortunately, the celebrations were overshadowed with this recent border mishap.

The Himalayan Chess- Game

The Chinese Foreign Ministry’s scepticism on the territorial claims and debate on Aksai Chin are not new, which has its roots to the abrogation of article 370, the recently changed rule declaring Ladakh as an integral portion of the Indian Union was unfavourable to the Chinese side, reiterating about India getting into a strategic misadventure by violating their own territorial sovereignty and national interest and the former justifying on those and trying to flex its muscles in the Pangong Tso, Galwan Valley, Gogra, Kongka La, Depsang.

Border infrastructure is becoming a new method for these two aspiring Asian powers to assert their economic cum political interests with respect to further claiming of territories leading to the road towards being victorious, where the Indian side has further increased its focus viewing the strategic ramifications in the neighbourhood .by providing 8 bridge infrastructure projects each  in Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh , which India requires to ensure easy connectivity in harsher terrains, promote tourism, distance reduction in order to reduce time for movement of goods to ensure welfare and safety for troops and natives residing in high terrains which again China suspiciously looked at in its counter statement, blatantly opposing any infrastructure in disputed boundary.

Notable defence experts, Victor Gao and Prem Shankhar Jha, opined that China is aiming at a strategic bargain and believe that this move of the Indian side developing infrastructure in Ladakh could be a counter to the Chinese G219 highway , covering a distance of 179 km connecting Xinjiang and Tibet which is in close proximity with Daulat Beg Oldi, where a 450 metre bridge over the Shlyok river was constructed last year which was only accessible by air before the construction of this project .

Amidst this prolonged crisis, 7 rounds of the India China Military Commander Meetings were held on a frequent basis at the Line Of Actual Control, in order to maintain tranquillity, peace, further enhancement of mutual understandings and deterrence to reduce the chances of an armed conflict, nevertheless there has been no proper agreement and the troops aren’t stepping out from their current positions either side.

Also, even the recent Moscow visits of Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Foreign Minister, Mr. S Jaishankar in September for meeting their respective counterparts, haven’t been completely fruitful where they have also held discussions on showing respect towards each other on territorial claims and not cause these ties to deteriorate towards an upper trend which means that no country wants to compromise on its territorial claims and any change in status quo, which has led to unprecedented uncertainty in the relations as of now.

CCP Apprehensions of an Alliance

Chinese scholar, Fu Xiaoqiang , in his article, stated about India creating unnecessary tensions in the border leading to further straining of relations which are motivated by selfish political agendas. He also felt that India is being persuaded by the US to join an alliance like structure such as the Quadrilateral Initiative and set preferences with respect to choosing friendships with countries such as Japan and Australia, which have a common perception likewise India, regarding China as a potential competitor in the region.

Currently, China is fearing any conflict or alliance like structure with respect to its role in spreading the pandemic for which it was hiding its strategy, due to which these justifications are being used by Xi Jinping to protect his own image in the masses so that no crisis or dissent arises which could put the Communist Party’s survival and reputation at stake at a time where he is being questioned about the corruption and internal party pressure. There is a reason behind why China is involved in scapegoating on this conflict to show an innocent and a positive image by blaming Indian politicians using nationalism to mobilise the public, narrating their growth story, ideology, rich historical as well as cultural heritage, where the same goes for the dragon’s promotion of their nationalism  as well.

Alliances are important for India but they will take time to come in support if any mishap takes place in the neighbourhood, keeping India under uncertainty with regards to its strategic autonomy, it was following for many decades.  These alliances can be useful only to deter an enemy organising territorial strikes and put the latter on check creating some amount of fear and introspection.

Recently, steps have been undertaken by the Indian government to ban Chinese products and apps due to surveillance plus information threats in security. It is looking towards making itself self-reliant (aatmanirbhar) to reduce any more dependence on countries which have their own interests which could change anytime, if it doesn’t suit them which could be seen through India’s past experiences, where the same mistakes can’t be repeated again like 1962 or 1975, at a time when the multipolar world is moving towards Asian multi-polarity where China is currently at an edge.

Concluding Points

The Chinese feel that the ball is in India’s game to choose between the have’s or have not’s while looking at the opportunity costs involved .The dragon is basically assessing the elephant’s capability and coping strategies in the winter, leading the standoff to be extended even further for which it is crucial for India to enhance its capacity in order to build up on its equipment, give support to the troops and further focus towards economic development in the borders.

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Immediate broad-based Reforms needed in the Political system of Pakistan

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Image source: Pakistan PM’s website

Opposition parties have launched a comprehensive campaign to de-seat the PTI Government by its grand show of power on 16 October 29020 at Gujranwala. All major opposition parties attended the Jalsa, and opposition leaders delivered speeches, criticizing the PTI government and even the military.

In a democratic country, it is common practice for that opposition to criticize the ruling party. Pakistan, with no exception, has a long history of agitations, protests, strikes, criticizing, rallies, blames on the ruling party, from opposition parties. Even PTI also played a very aggressive role as the opposition party in 2014, against the Government of PML-N. It was the longest Dharna in the history of Pakistan, and the first time protesters entered into Parliament house, PTV, Pak. Secretariate and sensitive areas, etc.

But the current behavior of opposition since 16 October is even more severe and blame on Pakistan Military is rather unacceptable. However, PTI ministers are also giving irresponsible statements. The ruling party must maintain political temperature under control. The opposition wanted to create chaos and confrontation, but the ruling party should mild-down the conflicts and manage the situation to complete its tenure. Either the ruling party’s ministers, spokespersons, advisors are unaware of consequences or lacking the understanding of the real issue.

Till this moment, the masses of Pakistan are not convinced with the narrative projected by the opposition parties, but neither happy with the ruling party. The common man is concerned with the issue he faces daily – inflation, price-hike, jobs, health care, education, social justice, and welfare. The ruling party failed to deliver, and the common man kept suffering.

Indeed, the masses do not love opposition, but neither the ruling party. It is their sufferings, which might help the opposition to convince them to stand the Government.

The majority of people are still admiring PM Imran Khan and believe that he is honest and a man of integrity. Yet, he failed to recover the economy or provide any relief to the common man. He was unable to recover to looted money from corrupt politicians of past governments. He also failed to punish the national criminals too. However, the people of Pakistan acknowledges his contribution toward foreign policy, Kashmir issue, and International relations, where Pakistan’s narrative was projected appropriately and improved the county’s image.

The people of Pakistan think that all wrongdoings by the ruling party are due to his wrong cabinet,  nothing to do with PM Imran Khan himself. His economic team, imported and landed by helicopter, are failed to revive the national economy. Although the oil prices in the international market have dropped to record low levels, even minus yet, Pakistan could not improve its economy. Even due to the Pandemic, Global Financial Institutions have extended a helping hand, yet, Pakistan could not improve its economy. The Sugar crisis or Wheat crises are traced back to the ruling elite, and responsible is sitting on the right and left side of PM.

The intellectuals of the nations think that PM Imran Khan might be a pious person. Still, he is responsible for selecting his team – consisting of foreign nationals, dual nationals, elect-ables, corrupts, and incompetents ministers and advisors. It was his choice, and he could have refused to take anyone into his team if he was not satisfied fully. If there were some pressures from certain quarters, he should stand against such pressure. He should have judged the person before admitted into his team. He knows the importance of merit, and he has announced on several occasions the importance of merit. Even though if he misjudged anyone and admitted into his team, but it is never too late; as soon as he understands the person and found unsatisfactory, he can change immediately.

The country is passing through a very critical era, the geopolitics are changing too rapidly, challenges are enormous, and time is too short. Pakistan can not afford the luxury of any mistake anymore. The nation needs unity, the right policies, appropriate reforms, legislations, merit, and consistent hard-work. Attention may not be diverted and struggle with a clear focus and pre-set goals. Divide, intolerance, extremism, corruption, incompetency are the curse for a nation, must be averted.

Although PM Imran Khan is a visionary leader and has all the leadership qualities to lead the nation, but alone may not be able to achieve anything. A strong team, equipped with knowledge, wisdom, patriotism, honesty, and integrity, needs the time. Reforms based on proven successful experience, addressing the futuristic issues are required urgently. The nation has the potential to revive its past glories.

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