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Understanding the Indo-Pacific Strategy: From the View Point of Subramaniam Jaishankar

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Abstract: In the narratives of international relations, the term ‘great game’ has been used to describe those events that have drawn the great powers into the conflict. In the 21st century, the region which is the confluence of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean is considered to be the arena of another ‘Great Game’ involving the US, China, EU, Russia, India, Japan, and Australia (Jaishankar, 2020, p. 182). Some call it a (Barauh, 2020). This region is increasingly been referred as Indo- Pacific region. In this essay, we shall understand the significance of the Indo – Pacific region from the perspective of India. Who would be a better person than the external affairs minister to explain India’s stance? We shall analytically discuss the insights and understanding of Subramanian Jaishankar from his newly released book ‘The India Way.’

The term ‘Indo-Pacific’ was first introduced by Dr. Gurpreet S. Khurana, Director of the National Maritime Foundation(Kuo, 2018). Even though such nomenclature leads people to think that India has a special role to play, it is rather a general mix of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. An interesting fact is known that during Obama’s office, the US decided to go with the name Indo- Asia- Pacific region encouraging India to be the ‘net security provider'(Ibid). However, Trump has made it short – calling it ‘Indo-Pacific’. The growing aggressive behavior of China in economic terms and physically in the South China Sea, and its string of pearls strategy engulfing the Indian Ocean region and extending its economic sea lanes till Northern Africa has become a cause of concern for the major powers. This makes the Indo- Pacific region a strategic hot spot of geopolitics.

China is India’s competitive neighbor with unresolved border issues. Accordingly, for India, securing its backyard – the Indian Ocean becomes a priority. However, India cannot challenge China’s rise and show the world that it belongs to the camp which will be hinged on containing China’s rise. Its huge titled balance of payments towards China shows strong economic dependence. It has to carefully manage the changing power dynamics and establish itself as one of the regional power in the upcoming multipolar world. Accordingly, India did not publicly declare Indo – Pacific to be the region of its strategic interest until 2018. It was in the Shangri La dialogue that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has defined Indo- Pacific expanding the strategic interests from Western Africa to the shores of America(PMO, 2018).

The importance of the Indo –Pacific region is reiterated by India’s external affairs minister in his book ‘The India Way.’ He asserted that it is not just India, but all the great powers are shifting their focus on to this region to counter the emerging hegemon. In the following section, we shall analytically understand his stand on this new great game using structural realist constructs.

Importance of the region and the reason for calling it a contemporary new great game(Jaishankar, 2020, p. 162)

  1. For India, it is a logical step to move beyond Act-East policy.
  2. For Japan, movement into the Indian Ocean would be a long term strategy.
  3. For the US, it is a necessary region to uphold its global dominance.
  4. For Russia, it is a new emphasis on the Far East.
  5. For China, it is a necessity to emerge as the regional hegemon
  6. For Europe, it is the return to the region from which it withdrew.

These assertions are easily understood from the Hegemonic Power Transition theory (Kugler & Organski, 1989). According to this theory, the international structure is considered hierarchical. When the nation-states reach their maturity of productivity, other great powers will soon catch up to the status of the dominant power. In such a scenario, the friction arises between the dominant and the challenger. Here, the dominant power would be the US and the great powers would be China, EU, Russia, and also India. The great power which has reached the position to challenge the dominant power is China. Japan’s long term strategy, and the US necessity, and the EU’s return to the region shows its limited options. They have to concentrate on the balancing strategies in the Indo- Pacific region. Such balancing needs a strong anchor in the region making India be the only option. When it comes to Russia, its focus would be on securing its SLOCs (Sea lanes of Communication) from the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean region, and a free movement From Vladivostok to the South China Sea. However, Russia and India would not be strongly associated here because of the former’s strategic ties with China.

This region has not only come up in the foreign policy discourses with the growth of dominant players in Asia. Its importance has historical, cultural, and economic importance attached to it. India’s cultural influence can be traced to the extensive reach of Buddhism, temple architecture of South East Asia, and also migrations. Even during the colonial times, the trade between Europe and South East Asia was carried out in the confluence region of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. Owing to the domination of the US and the fall of the UK, India’s role in this region both politically and economically dwindled. With China rising its stakes in the region, it has become inevitable for India to re-draft its balancing strategies and enhances its capabilities. With these challenging dynamics of the power relations between the great powers and the emerging multi-polarity, Jaishankar asserts that the Indian foreign policy strategy should adopt the real politic nature of Lord Krishna[1](Jaishankar, 2020, p. 49).

Jaishankar’s New Neo-realist stance on Indo- Pacific

Being a vivid structural-realist, he asserts that the Indo-Pacific policy should focus on strengthening India’s power as a regional dominant player. In achieving the same, it has to strengthen its centrality on the Indian Ocean by expanding the nation’s influence into the extended neighborhood. SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) is one such promising initiative that advances cooperative development without pushing the Indian Ocean Littoral states to the fear of India becoming the regional hegemon. BIMSTEC, IORA, IONS are some of the other initiatives highlighted and asserted that they have to be a dynamic and collaborative approach to strengthen the security apparatus.

Bringing the perspective of Organski’s power transition theory, today’s Indo-pacific region’s importance should be attributed to the rise of China which is a great power, and its challenge to the Dominant power, the US. The other great power(perhaps middle powers in the present geopolitical context) in the region will be India, Japan, and Australia. China’s rise as a dominant maritime power in the region is not a sudden and standalone change. The retrenchment of the US from this region is also opined to be the cause(Jaishankar, 2020, p. 184) for the change in power dynamics. Even though his explanations fall in line with the Organski’s propositions, Jaishankar’s strategies are more inclined towards defensive realism. His four-point framework for India to develop its Indo-Pacific strategy blow explain the Waltz’s balancing strategies in the uncertain Indo- Pacific region.

  1. Safeguard islands and littoral and make India’s capabilities available for others
  2. Deepening economic and security cooperation with maritime neighbors
  3. Collective action and cooperation to advance peace and security
  4. Integrated and Co-operative future for the region enhancing sustainable development

Concentric Circles Approach

Another approach provided is that – the strategy shall be developed in terms of concentric circles. First involves the core, the strengthening of India’s capabilities, and influence in its neighborhood. The second circle includes the ties with island states like Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Maldives, and Seychelles. Third, is the revival of the Indian Ocean as a community. The outermost circle is the periphery extending to the Pacific Ocean.

This conception appears to overcome both Makinder’s Heartland and Spyman’s Rimland theory. Heart land theory emphasizes on the Eurasian region to be the harbinger of the global control. Rimland theory states the same with an emphasis on the littoral region of Asian continent. Jaishankar’s concentric circles neither emphasizes only on the mainland or the Indian Ocean littoral which is the Rimland. The Oceanic region is considered to be the centrality.

Stretching the Neorealist perspective:

The Indian Ocean is not just a facilitator between the East and the West, it has got historical-cultural linkages across the Indo-pacific littoral states. India’s advantage in the region is its shared cultural history with its neighbors and East Asia. India’s Project Mausam is one such example where it promotes historical and archaeological research Soft power can be used to expand the cooperative development. Sectors such as technology sharing, tourism, education prove to be more practical for regional development.

While considering the African region, the total value of the Western Indian Ocean amounts to US$ $333.8 billion(wwf, 2017). India’s western coastline connects the oil reserves of the world and the untapped African natural wealth. There are a huge human capital and economic investments in the development projects apart from what the ocean itself provides. For the starters, India could use the established regional forums such as IORA and IONS where there are African member states.

Conclusion

Recognizing multi-polarity as the future, Jaishankar’s advocacy of having India’s strategic thought learning and making from its rich history is interesting and necessary. China is an immediate threat to both India and Japan. In such a situation, Jaishankar’s emphasis on the importance of a strategic alliance with Japan to uphold the strategic advantage in the Indo-Pacific region is welcomed. It is also opined that the contemporary region of the great game would culminate in having a multilateral setting with regional powers including the US at the high table. Notably, India’s strategic expansion of its naval interests also started with recent buzz around the Quad (Informal strategic forum between India, US, Japan, and Australia) also appears to have a strong push from Jaishankar.

However, his emphasis on the cooperation and multilateral setting have their difficulties. The difficulty is caused by the colonial rule which fragmented social harmony. It dissected the regions into small political units providing them a changed identity(Jaishankar, 2020, p. 192). This makes the restructuring of the Indian Ocean community a difficult task. With the growing skepticism towards China and the growing prowess of QUAD, India should assert its centrality by extending its developmental help towards its Indian Ocean littorals. The strength lies in making the Indian Ocean the transit hub for the Indo-Pacific region (Jaishankar, 2020, p. 188). Thus, strengthening the UNCLOS and advocating freedom of navigation on international waters should be the fundamental anchor point.

The book ‘The India way’ will give a clear perspective on the way the NDA II government approaches its foreign policy. It adopts a neo-realist policy with a flavor of cultural diplomacy. His approaches may be compared to Organski and Waltz as in the other chapters, he encourages the importance of nationalism and historical influence. The power substantiated by the public support and historical justification is opined to carry many responsibilities and pave the path towards the nation’s transition into the great power within the multipolar system.

References

Barauh, M. D., 2020. India in the Indo-Pacific: New Delhi’s Theater of Opportunity. [Online].

Jaishankar, S., 2020. The India Way. New Delhi: Harper Collins.

Kugler, J. & Organski, A. F., 1989. The Power Transition: A Retrospective and Prospective Evaluation. In: Handbook of war studies. s.l.:Routledge, pp. 171-194.

Kuo, A. M., 2018. The Origin of ‘Indo-Pacific’ as Geopolitical Construct. [Online]
Available at: https://thediplomat.com/2018/01/the-origin-of-indo-pacific-as-geopolitical-construct/

PMO, 2018. PM Modi’s Keynote Speech at Shangri La Dialogue in Singapore | PMO. [Online]
Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SRndujMJ99M

wwf, 2017. Western Indian Ocean valued at US$333.8 billion but at a crossroads. [Online]
Available at: https://wwf.panda.org/wwf_news/?290410%252FWestern-Indian-Ocean-valued-at-US3338-billion-but-at-a-crossroads#:~:text=Antananarivo%2C%20Madagascar%20%2D%20A%20groundbreaking%20new,absence%20of%20stronger%20conservation%20actions.


[1]A Hindu lord whose contribution to the Hindu philosophy can be understood from the texts of Mahabharatam.

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Huge blast on the Afghanistan-Iran border

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Migrants at the IOM Islam Qala Reception Centre. The Centre provided services to thousands of Afghan returnees daily, prior to the catastrophic fire on 13 February. IOM/Nick Bishop

On Saturday 13 February the Islam Qala reception center owned by the IOM was demolished at the border between Afghanistan and Iran, leading to a pause to repatriation service for afghans. This led to a devastating burn. At least 40 people were killed because of this huge blast, while 17 were wounded. Tens of thousands of repatriated Afghans obtained humanitarian relief from the center International Organization of Migration, (IOM) in 2020. None were injured in the fire by IOM workers or migrants returning from Iran.Whatever sparked this explosion was not instantly apparent. The provincial governor of Herat, Wahid Qatali, said the Afghan first responders did not have the means to light the enormous fires and required Iran’s assistance by firefighting aircraft.”We can’t even discuss the victims for the time being,” Qatali told The Associated Press. Emergency crews and Afghan security services moved hundreds of fuel and gas tankers from the region, while an appeal for air-firefighting assistance was made available to the International Resolute Support Mission, quoted by Reuters as quoted by Katali.

Mohammad Rafiq shirzy, spokesperson for the district hospitals of Herat’s Provincial capital and also called Herat, said that more than 500 trucks were carrying natural gas and diesel that have been destroyed by the severity of the fire, and he said that it was impossible for ambulances to reach the injured or to reach the explosion site. Hossein Akhundzadeh, a regional Iranian trade official, told Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) about the explosion of more than 300 coal, diesel, and petrol cars. The flash has not yet been contained, and precise evidence was not provided,”It’s not known whether the drivers were able to escape or not. The blaze has not been contained yet and exact information is not available,”We don’t know whether the driver might escape or not.The Power Supply Ministry Spokesman, Wahidullah Tawhidi, said the fire was continuing after nightfall and that Afghanistan was pressuring Iran to close down its electricity supply. It has been said that the burning of two pylons has disconnected 100 tons of electricity imported into the Herat Province by Iran. He said 60% of Herat, one of Afghanistan’s leading provinces, was powerless.A dangerous route Afghan people often pursue overnight because of fear of gangs of violence, attacks between Herat City and Islam Qalah. Taliban gunmen, on the other hand, travel freely across the area.Afghan government troops assembled defensive positions and aided emergency ambulances and cars from and to the border. According to Iranian State TV, the fire spread to the Irish customs facilities Dogharoon, and first responders, including the fire departments, the Iranian army, and the border guards, managed to extinguish the fire. The natural gas and diesel trucks were sent away from the scene.As part of a national concession exempting Kabul from US sanctions against Iran, the United States permits Afghanistan to import fuel and oil from Iran.

According to a statement from the Aghan organization, on Monday, “IOM anticipates a substantial decline in rates of return through the Islam Qala in the days to come as migrants are now re-routed from Iran into the main border crossing of Milak province of Nimroz, which lies over 1,000 km south-west.They have shown that in 2020, there returned a high number of Afghans.Nick Bishop, program manager of IOM reported in a cross-border return reply that “the initial inspection of reception centers for the return showed significant damage to the roof and walls.”The staff of the Afghan Ministry for Refugees and Returns (MoRR) are relocating people in need here to the IOM transit center in Herat before IOM staff are back, awaiting a full assessment and inspection of the safety situation before IOM staff can resume their work from here. “The organization takes exceptional steps to secure the continuing humanitarian assistance can take place.

Unfortunately, as the fire began all the returning residents, who had already moved to their next location at our reception center, that day.There was a drastic rise in return rates last year, as COVID-19 caused many Afghans residing in neighboring Iran to lose jobs and livelihoods. By 2020, the largest year of return was almost 860,000 illegal Afghan immigrants back from Iran.Approximately 15,000 people cross the Islam Qala border point daily, while nearly 1,500 per day need humanitarian assistance. Approximately 60% of Herat province was helpless as a result of flames, said DABS, an Afghan power supplier.Islam Qala is one of the main ports of Afghanistan that traffic most officially with Iran. Afghanistan has earned concessions from Washington to buy oil and gas from Iran amid the sanctions of the United States.A risky stretch of highway between Herat and Islam Qala, where Afghans barely ride by night for fear of criminal gang attacks. In the area, the Taliban are still free to work.Hope to rapidly repair all damage to the reception facility as soon as possible and continue vital humanitarian services to Afghans returning through this major transit route, but we will require increased support to do so.

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‘External forces’ won’t decide the actions of New Delhi

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India’s farmer’s protest is in the news for a while for the obvious reasons. In a democracy there should be protests, it keeps the power balanced. However, in India, the protestors and the government are both facing a common challenge, that is the external influence. To which, Indian External Affairs Minister and other government wings already made public statements. Before understanding the external factors, one needs to look into the farmer’s protest.

What are the farm laws?

Last year Government of India passed three laws in order to bring a reform in the agriculture sector in India, which are:

  1. The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act – provides for setting up a mechanism allowing the farmers to sell their farm produces outside the Agriculture Produce Market Committees (APMCs). Any licence-holder trader can buy the produce from the farmers at mutually agreed prices. This trade of farm produces will be free of mandi (marketplace) tax imposed by the state governments.
  2. The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance – Allows farmers to do contract farming and market their produces freely.
  3. Farm Services Act, and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act – amendment to the existing Essential Commodities Act. This law now frees items such as foodgrains, pulses, edible oils and onion for trade except in extraordinary (read crisis) situations.

According to the government – the new laws will help to strengthen basic farm sector infrastructure through greater private investments. Successive governments have found financial constraints in investing in farm and rural infrastructure. It is argued that with food markets growing exponentially in India, private players would make agriculture profitable for the farmers.

Why farmers are protesting?

It’s been around 3 months since the Farmers are protesting in North India, on the highways en-route Delhi. Despite having rounds of talks between the government and the farmers, they’re yet to find a common understanding.

Farmers are worried as they feel this may impact the existing structure and lead to the corporatization of the agriculture sector in which the big corporations will exploit the farmers. Moreover, the new farm bill talks about the establishment of the private Agriculture Produce Market Committee, which in turn will end the role of middleman involved in the market, However, the middleman is seen by farmers, not as one exploiting them but one who provides services to them. Their number in two states – Punjab & Haryana could cross 100,000. So, farmers and middleman fear that this will ultimately result in huge job loss and impact the structure.

Another point farmers fears that from individual-to-individual relation, these bills will change the market into the individual to corporate relations. With a changed dispute settlement mechanism the farmers also are worried that their pleas could not get the desired settlement.

MSP – Minimum Support Price is another demand forwarded by the farmers, which they apprehend that allowing outside-APMC trade of farm produces would lead to lesser buying by the government agencies in the approved Mandis (marketplace). The protesting farmers say the new laws would thus make the MSP system irrelevant and they would not have any assured income from their farming. Right now, the government announces fixed MSP for around two dozen crops.

The working of the MSP system has been such over the years that it benefits only a handful of farmers at the all-India level. The Shanta Kumar committee set up by the Modi government in 2015 says that only six percent of farmers benefit from the MSP regime.

The catch here is that for farmers of some states such as Punjab and Haryana, the MSP system has worked well. In these two states procurement of paddy and wheat range around 75-80 per cent.

So, the fear that the MSP system may crumble and get dismantled after the new farm laws are implement has become a very emotive issue for the farmers of Punjab and Haryana. And, that is why they are the ones who are most vocal in their protest against the farm laws and demanding that the MSP should be made mandatory for both APMC and private Mandis (marketplace).

The government, however, is constantly in touch with the farmers and trying to resolve the issues through dialogue and till then the laws have been kept on hold while talks are held.

External group’s interference

Many external elements are interfering in the protests and challenging the government, including a few fringes and notorious separatist organisations which are based and nurtured by the West during the days of the cold war days for the obvious reasons. In the garb of human rights and democracy, they know it very well that how to destabilise a nation. There are many examples in front of us, the Russian protests being one of them. 

The world has seen how after the new U.S. government’s arrival in the United States set the narrative for the socialist lobby around the world. President Trump very well assessed the threats of such groups and kept them in check but the new administration seems to propagate their ideology as the state policy. 

When President Biden said, “We must meet the ‘new moment’ accelerating global challenges” it indicates toward continuing the policies of Obama administration with new added ‘Biden’ characteristics. 

The tweets by American celebrities and people with clear political leaning are not about the protests, they in fact, do not know much about the protest, and their idea is to attack the ideology which doesn’t meet theirs. India is a land of protests, revolution, ideas and ideologies and both the Government of India and Indians respect the thoughts across the spectrum.

One of the American Congresswomen said that she will continue to monitor this situation closely and another expressed the solidarity but their thoughts are not driven by the plights of farmers, rather a particular ideology.

Recently, the State Department welcomed the reforms by the Indian government and also advocates for the protests. Which is contradicting in itself. India as a bearer of an Independent Foreign Policy should avoid any validation by any foreign government and let not the tweets by a particular mindset decide the course of protest or government actions.

India as a democracy respect different ideas but can’t allow any ‘vested interest’ groups influence any actions by New Delhi.

From our partner International Affairs

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Forced Cremation: Another bout of marginalisation in Sri Lanka

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A thermometer gun is used to take a boy's temperature in Sri Lanka. © UNICEF/Chameera Laknath

The agony of the Sri Lankan civil war is not worn off from history as yet. The 26-year war decimated the foundations of the country and highlighted the separatist fragment of the society. The massacre of the Muslim community and the wounds left to fester since 1990’s riots have still not subsided even after three decades. While the clash of the Sinhalese and Tamils climaxed in 2009, the violence against the Muslim minority never ceased. The recent strike over the rights of minorities is the forceful cremation of the deceased in the line of Covid prevention adopted by the Sri Lankan government. Regardless of the religious doctrines guiding the final proceedings of the dead, the Sri Lankan regime continues to ploy to utilise the pandemic as a tool to forcefully cremate the deceased Muslims irrespective of the sentiments of the Muslim families.

Sri Lanka, officially known as the ‘Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka’, is a South Asian country forming a tear-drop below the Indian subcontinent and located at the southwestern edge of the Bay of Bengal. The country was bloodied by the infamous civil war that incited in 1983; claiming mounds of lives and consuming countless communities. The 1990 Massacre was the flash point of the civil war; mosques attacked in the town of Batticaloa resulting in 300 Muslims brutally slain as a drive against the Sinhalese government. The end of the civil war should have marked an end to the inhumanity bestowed upon the Muslim minority given the fall of the ‘Tamil Tigers’; the main culprits of the 1990 massacre. However, the religious violence exponentiated instead of contracting under the Sinhalese dominated Sri Lanka as the anti-Muslimism campaigns picked up pace over the last decade, leaving the Muslim minority, making only 9% of the total population, insecure with respect to safety of life and prosperity.

Over the course of the decade, the spree of violence and discrimination against the Muslims transitioned into bloody chaos claiming mosques, shops and even crippling entire towns dwelled by the Muslims. The anti-Muslimism rhetoric led by the extremist Buddhist group ‘Bodu Bala Sena (BBS)’, backed by the Sinhalese government, paved the riots against the Muslim community in the form of mobs ravaging the Muslim towns during systematic protests. The repeated calls for protection went unheeded by the Sinhalese Buddhist Revivalist Groups, further nudging and encouraging the extremist monks to spread hatred against the Muslim community which came across as the mobster mentality boldly continued to oppress the Muslims.

The Human Rights abuse under the regime of president Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brother, the Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, has surpassed all the records of injustice etched in the Sri Lankan history. His promises to bring back the Muslims displaced amidst the civil war went in vain and he proved to be as much of a biased leader as his brother. When Gotabaya came into power in 2019, the Sinhalese Buddhist Nationalist Party (SLPP) had been mongering extremism under the pretence of mob-attacks while backing groups like BBS to simmer hatred and prejudice against the Muslim community. The Rajapaksa brothers are notorious of their Burma-like mentality of ethnic cleansing, rumoured to be following the footsteps of Myanmar to thin the Muslim minority in a similar exercise of genocide as against the Rohingya Muslims. Though the ‘ethnic cleaning’ allegations have been repeatedly put down by the SLPP leaders, the historical bloodletting of the Muslim community and the irrational policies adopted under the charter of litigation point to a very different and bleak picture of politics in Sri Lanka.

Since the Sri Lankan government adopted the mandatory cremation policy in March 2020, more than 80 deceased Muslims have been forcibly cremated against the will of their families. While the Rajapaksa-regime uses forced cremation as another tool to torment the Muslim community by trampling on their basic rights in the guise of Covid-prevention, World Health Organisation (WHO), along with the Sri Lankan doctors, has rejected the justification provided by President Gotabaya for adopting cremation as a safety procedure to prevent water contamination due to rituals related to burial. Despite of the assurance of WHO, the Sri Lankan government not only refused to consider burial as an accepted method but even the Supreme Court expended no time to shun the petitions filed against the forcible cremation law, pushing injustice in the face of the Muslim minorities. The UN experts remarked on the systematic persecution of the Muslim community: “We deplore the implementation of such Public Health decisions based on discrimination, aggressive nationalism and ethnocentrism amounting to persecution of the Muslims and other minorities of the county”.

It is clear from the stern attitude of the Rajapaksa-regime that it aims to undermine the voice of the minorities by crushing the rights and subsequently silencing the protests that ensue from the inhuman treatment. Though the global political circles have responded strictly to the ghastly abuse of power in Sri Lanka; UK being the prime country to hold active protests against the violation of human rights and even UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, threatening sanctions on Sri Lanka for proactively transgressing the rights of minorities. However, despite of the pressure building up, the spokesperson of the Sri Lankan government, Keheliya Rambukwella, rebutted the allegations by stating: “We do things only on expert advice and cannot take ad-hoc decisions”. The juvenile statements followed by the aggressive attempts to subterfuge the global community are enough to expose the extremist mindset of the Sri Lankan government. The debacle that is to follow, in retrospect, could be far worse than the civil war since even the dead are not spared of the tyranny in today’s day and age.

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