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What India Needs to do to Counter Increasingly Aggressive China

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During the recent Eastern Ladakh standoff, India has, again, felt the dire need to dampen the widening power parity equation with China. C Raja Mohan, rightly contends that “Unlike in the past, China now has the military power to make good its claims and alter the territorial status quo, if only in bits and pieces.” The tickler point is how can India do so?

The circumstances engulfing the modern history of India and China are more or less similar. While China is still working to heal the wounds of its “century of humiliation” – a period between 1839-1949 during which China faced subjugation by western powers and its aggressive neighbours (Japan and Russia), India faced cultural, economic and political subjugation & plunder for 1,200 years – successive Islamic invasions for nearly 1,000 years and 200 years of colonial rule – and thus got the scars of a “millennium of humiliation”.

After India got independence and the success of the Communist revolution in China, both nations pursued their bilateral relations on five principles of ‘Panchsheel Agreement’. However, a Chinese ‘Aggression’ and recourse to ‘Use of Force’ in 1962 sowed the seeds of enmity and distrust between the two most populous countries of the world.

Economic Journey: Relative Prosperity of China vis-à-vis India

From 1979 onwards, China undertook a progressive step towards the realization of the goal of liberalization, privatization and globalization (LPG). Faced with a ‘Balance of Payments’ crisis, India, after freeing itself from the shackles of Licence Raj and state control of businesses, undertook LPG in 1991. Statisticstimes.com puts the following figures for historical comparison of Chinese and Indian economy:

“In 1987, GDP (Nominal) of both countries was almost equal. But in 2019, China’s GDP is 4.78 times greater than India. On PPP basis, GDP of China is 2.38x of India. China crossed $1 trillion mark in 1998 while India crossed 9 year later in 2007 at an exchange rate basis.”

China, once sharing equilibrium status vis-à-vis India at one time, made a great jump in economic prowess. How? There are plentitude explanations and here are some non-exhaustive ‘selected’ areas which, in my opinion, makes the difference deeper and firmer.

The first & quintessential element is the level of ‘political stability’, persisting in the political setup of the country. The one-party communist society has hardly faced any ‘threatening’ political instability or ‘internal disturbances’ during the last three decades (1990-2020). Even if it faced, it dealt with them with a great amount of brutality. Tiananmen Square protests are evidence to Chinese iron hand dealing with dissent.

India was undergoing through the phase of ‘political upheavals’ during this period. The onset of coalition era politics with the demise of congress dominance speaks volume about political instability. During the last three decades, India elected its Prime Minister (PM) 8-times while China had 3 new Presidents during the same period. The greatest and most unfortunate phase of turbulence was the decade of 1990-2000 when India effected 6-times change in PM and holding 4-times Lok Sabha elections.

Apart from this, the terrorism, supported & abetted by Islamic Pakistan, which was rooted in Kashmir during the 1990s, still drains India’s sweat and blood. It is also fighting with a daunting challenge of ‘Naxalism’ and ‘Insurgency’ in central Indian states and north-eastern states, respectively. India’s democratic spirit and multi-party political system have hamstrung its capability to quell anarchies, unlike China. Notwithstanding this, the given comparison is a selective one to prove the point of ‘political stability’ and must not be construed to suggest that the Tiananmen Square protests and terrorism in Kashmir are comparable in nature & scope and India should use undemocratic means to crush militancy.

Second, India followed the unconventional path of economic growth. Contrary to the familiar primary-secondary-tertiary trajectory of development, India witnessed primary-tertiary economic growth pattern, thus grossly neglecting its manufacturing sector. This begot lesser level of industrialization in the country having further consequences in form of higher level of unemployment and lesser avenues for export-led economic growth – contrary to the path what East Asian Tiger economies had undergone through in the 1990s.

Third, India’s R&D (Research and Development) expenditures have been, abysmally, at lower levels in comparison to that of China. According to the World Bank, China has increased its R&D expenditure from 0.56% of GDP in 1996 to 2.06% in 2015. India’s figure stood out at 0.63% & 0.62% for 1996 and 2015, respectively. While China cumulatively increased its R&D expenditure, India has unsatisfactory statistics during the above-mentioned period and on an average, maintained the level of expenditure constant – even after thirty years. It has never crossed the mark of 1% of GDP! R&D neglect produces a cycle of backwardness and for India, it has diverse consequences – bigger effects are limpid in a lower share of indigenised technology out of total defence assets being used in service.

Juxtaposing economic size disparity with R&D expenditure figures reveals further alarming statistics for India. In 1996, China’s GDP (nominal) was 2.2 times larger than India while in 2015, it ballooned to 5.2 times. The conclusion emerges that China spent, in 2015, around 17 times more money than India in R&D! The gap is only widening with each passing year.

Then comes the role of Diplomacy spearheaded through instruments of soft power. Diplomacy and Wars have been recognised as two instruments to pursue national interests. In the 21st century, wars have become costly to involve in, therefore, nation-states employ the chief tool of diplomacy. India, being a liberal democracy, having large diaspora, and her image as a peace-loving nation has greatly contributed to raising its goodwill in dealing with foreign nations. But in increasingly economic diplomacy driven world politics, its lack of deep pocket vis-à-vis China do hamstring its foreign policy objectives many a time. The Lowy Institute’s 2019 ‘Global Diplomacy Index’ place China, overtaking the USA, at 1st position with 276 diplomatic posts while India occupies 12th position with 186 posts.

Traditionally, India has been inadvertent in government-endorsed propaganda and advocacy at international platforms, unlike the USA or China. For example, Indian representatives to international institutions are more likely to be diplomats, not field experts – the latter group is preferred by US & China. While this may serve the needs of political institutions like the United Nations, it hinders India’s efficient engagement with the world in its dealing with expert and technical institutions. When the Government of India promulgated CAA and nullified article 370 of the Indian constitution, India faced huge international criticism. Had India deputed some international lawyers or expert to defend its case at international level – through the seminar, talks etc. – perhaps the scenario would have been entirely flabbergasting.

In this context, C Raja Mohanwrites: “Over the last few years, China has learnt to deploy international law in pursuit of its larger global goals. It has trained armies of international lawyers who argue from the first principles of jurisprudence, inject Chinese political conceptions like the “Belt and Road” into multilateral agreements and push for new international norms to suit Beijing’s interests.”

The Way Forward

The tradition of appointing IFS & other Indian civil servants as the representative at the international level needs to be replaced by experts of the field. For example, a trade law expert is better suited to represent India at WTO than an IAS officer. As C Raja Mohan suggests:

Delhi could learn a trick or two from Beijing on how to make international law the keystone of India’s diplomacy, especially in the multilateral domain. If China could emulate US and Britain on leveraging legalpolitik for strategic ends, India should not find it too hard to reinvest in the geo-legal arts that Delhi inherited from the Anglo-Saxons but seems to have lost along the way.”

Effectively, it may mean appointing ambassadors from the pool of academia and experts from private sectors. This will be a revolutionary reform and is amenable to be resisted by IAS-IFS lobby!

India believes in rule-based world order while China’s recent action runs contrary to the latter’s claim of its ‘peaceful rise’. While ‘Use of Force’ for solving territorial disputes is prohibited by International law, China openly flouts this rule. Be it with India in the Himalayas in 1962 or Vietnam in 1974 and 1988 in the South China Sea. In Bangladesh-India sea arbitration award, the former got 80% of the contested area and India complied with the award. The scornful and disrespecting attitude of arbitration award regarding South China Sea Dispute is reminding us of the hollowness of the Chinese claim of its ‘peaceful rise’. India needs to cash on its rule-following approach vis-à-vis the rule-breaking approach of China for securing diplomatic edge over China among the comity of nations.

Countering Chinese military adventure requires a coordinated approach by affected states. When cold war was taking shape, NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) and Warsaw Pact came into existence which ensured greater equilibrium between Capitalist & Communist blocs and protected smaller states against potential aggression of superpowers. China has disputes with nearly all stakeholders in the South China Sea (SCS) region where they are at comparatively disadvantaged in strategic power position vis-à-vis India. An ‘Asian Security Charter’ may involve – India & Japan being at the forefront – a coalition of countries, supportive of rule-based world order undertaking commitment to oppose and fight the practice of any Asian power to take recourse to ‘Use or Threat to Use of Force’ to resolve the territorial or maritime dispute. USA will, of course, be a natural ally of this democratic alliance. This will ensure peace as belligerent states like China will be deterred to pursue military adventures with smaller states of the Asian region.

Incidents of 15/16 June reveal scores of Indian and Chinese fatalities. Experts are opining that China has less or more advantage over India in terms of border infrastructure which limits India’s option to undertake escalation measures. Both India and China, do not want to escalate – this fact seems to be proven by conspicuous silence of senior leaders of both governments. But in the longer term, India needs to inculcate ‘defence culture’ on the lines of Russia and Israel. By defence culture, I mean greater strength or competitiveness of indigenous defence industries over adversaries to offset the greater economic imbalance.

Two geopolitical realities prove that this deterrence has worked so far. First, notwithstanding USA’s economic superiority, Russians have not been at disadvantageous position vis-à-vis Americans in the arena of defence technology. Same applies to China – despite being economically superior over Russia, former still imports high-end defence assets from later. Second, Israel has been able to fight an unholy alliance of Islamist states due to its superior defence culture.

With the termination of a coalition dominated central government, India is enjoying much needed political stability from last six years. This needs to continue further on. Economic factors along with military power will continue to serve as two key areas where India will have to make a significant investment to level power parity equation with China. Continuous economic growth, which incorporates a strong ‘defence culture’, along with effective & simultaneous diplomatic manoeuvres will ensure India more allies at global level vis-à-vis China, notwithstanding latter’s extensive and disproportionately high economic influence. A mighty, peaceful and prosperous India is the sine qua non for preserving rule-based order in Asia, more importantly in the Indo-Pacific region.

Pursuing LLM in International Law (2019-21), Faculty of Legal Studies, South Asian University (A University Established by 8 Member-States of SAARC Regional Grouping), New Delhi, 110021.

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South Asia

Promoting Projects and Practices in Community Health in India

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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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Sino-India Himalayan Chess Game: Breakthrough or Stalemate?

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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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