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Modi’s obduracy amid raging pandemic

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India Modi

The protesting farmers have announced to hold a countrywide protest to demand annulment of the newly enacted farm laws on May 26, 2021. Despite having seen the havoc of the Kumbh congregation, Modi government is stone-wall silent to the ultimatum.  Twelve opposition parties have pilloried Modi government for its obduracy.

India spent the sum of Rs. 41 lakh on the ceremony to induct the first batch of Rafale aircraft (Anbala airbase) under contract to purchase 36 aircraft costing Rs. 59000 crore. Apathetic to plight of the people, Indian army chief talked to US army chief to enhance cooperation under Basic Exchange and

Cooperation agreement to hit Pakistan’s land and surface targets in real time. There being no freebies, the BECA equipment will cost billions. 

About 4000 COVID patients are dying each day for want of beds or oxygen. Poor people dump dead bodies of their loves ones in Holy Ganges River as they can’t afford costly wood to cremate them. In just one day 150 dead bodies were recovered to save them from vultures and stray dogs. There is only one electric incinerator/cremator in India at Calcutta yet to be operated.

Shobhaa Dea asked  `What’ll it take for Modi to stop playing ostrich? (Deccan Chronicle May 15 2021). The national students’ union registered an FIR against “missing” home minister Amit Shah

It is time India diverted its resources to stop the third wave.

Because of insanitary conditions and infested oxygen, the scourges of white and black fungi have emerged adding to COVID fatalities. , White fungus is also known as candidiasis. The Black fungus is called the Mucormycosis. Steroid treatment can cause white fungal infection in Covid patients while unsterile use of oxygen cylinders can also be a reason. White Fungus infection is more dangerous than black fungus because it affects vital organs including the lungs, brain, kidney and private parts along with the mouth, stomach and skin. Symptoms of white fungus infection are similar to that of corona virus infection. Chest pain and low oxygen levels are seen in critical patients while white patches in the oral cavity, white discharge and skin lesions are also seen among patients.

Medicines like caspofungin or micafungin are used to treat critically ill patients. But besides vaccines there is shortage of almost everything, beds, oxygen, and even wood to cremate the dead bodies. Media reported 100 to 150 dead bodies floating in the River Ganges.

Criticism stifled under the National Security Act

Instead of facing the truth, The BJP states prosecute even social posts about COVID situation under India’s National Security Act.  For instance, journalist Kishorchandra Wangkhem and activist Erendro Leichombam were booked under the NSA for Facebook posts that point out that cow dung or urine cannot cure COVID-19. Cow sheds are being used as COVID19 clinics. Oxygen and concentrators are being sold at exorbitant prices. Even en fire-extinguisher cylinders were sold as oxygen cylinders (Fire extinguishers painted and sold as oxygen cylinders, 3 arrested, India Today May 6, 2021).

Modi impervious to warnings

Engrossed in holding “mammoth” rallies during the state-assembly elections, the Narendra Modi government shrugged off warnings of imminent upsurge in COVID19 wave. For instance, on May 1, Reuters released a story headlined “Scientists say India government ignored warnings amid corona virus surge”. It claimed some scientists from the government-appointed consortium of national laboratories tasked with genome-sequencing, had “warned Indian officials in early March of a new and more contagious variant of the corona virus taking hold in the country”. But, the government was in no mood to impose social restrictions to prevent the contagion.  

The Modi-Amit Shah duo was shouting “oey Didi” “oey Didi” (contemptuously calling Bengal chief minister) when the pandemic had assumed alarming proportions.  On April 17, the cases started growing by over 260,000 a day. Yet, the BJP government did not truncate its elections rallies. Instead, he applauded the massive turnout of milling unmasked throngs at the Asansol rally.

The Rashtraya Swayamsevak Sangh supported the Modi government in election rallies. Yet, even it was compelled to admit neither the people nor the government cared a fig for social-distancing norms.

Why Modi was obdurate

Less than two months before Pulwama, a survey by the Association for Democratic Reforms, a New Delhi-based non-profit body, found, that most of the voters gave top priority to employment followed by primary health care and drinking water. Only 3.6 per cent of the 27, 3000, people surveyed gave importance to issues of terrorism.

The people were more concerned about the government’s lackluster performance in the realm of welfare.

But, the so-called surgical strikes altered people’s perceptions.  They began to image Modi as

“The strongman who avenged the Pulwama killings by bombing the terrorists inside Pakistan”.  The image change brought dividends in the 2019 lok sabha (house of the people.  Jingoism reigned supreme. In five pre-election speeches he made in Moradabad, Panaji, Bhagalpur, Buniadpur and Kendrapara, Modi used the word ‘chowkidar’ a whopping 106 times. The reference to development was a mere 31 times in comparison. Poverty was mentioned only thrice and unemployment did not find any mention at all.

Continued chest thumping and jingoism

Starting his campaign on March 28, 2019, from Meerut, he referred to the First War of Independence that began from Meerut in 1857. He drew a parallel between the soldiers killed during the Pulwama attack and martyrs of the War of Independence. He paid homage to Pulwama martyr Ajay Kumar in Meerut, and claimed: “Whether it is the land, the sky or the surgical strikes, your chowkidar has done it all.  The opposition had to retort “chowkidar chor hai” (the guard is himself a thief).

Ladakh flare-up

India and Chin has signed accords not to use firepower in case of any conflagration. Modi admitted at an all-party conference that China has not annexed an inch of India’s territory. Yet. The tiff between the Chinese and Indian troops was portrayed as a landmark achievement.

In view of the pandemic, India should have diverted its troops from borders to pandemic duty. But, no such initiative is visible. Even in May there was a faceoff between the Chinese and the Indian troops.

Patriotism appropriated

Through propaganda onslaught, Modi’s government has brought home the message that Congress is unpatriotic and bent upon disintegrating India (tukreh tukreh gang).

Referring to self-professed patriots, in 1774, Samuel Johnson had said that patriotism was the last refuge of the scoundrel. The irony in calling the Congress (or other BJP opponents) “anti-national” is that politicians of the Congress (and others too) had actually gone to jail fighting for India’s freedom from the British. Leaders of the BJP’s ideological predecessors did little during the freedom movement.

No clash during incident in no-patrolling zone in early May, say officials

There was a minor face-off between Indian and Chinese troops in the no-patrolling zone at Galwan Valley in Eastern Ladakh in the first week of May, a senior government official told The Hindu. However, no clash occurred and the two sides disengaged quickly.

There was some talk to pull back Indian troops to deploy them on COVID-19 duty. However that was later ruled out,” On April 2, the Ministry of Defence in a communication to Konchok Stanzin, councillor, Chushul said that “due to the present operational situation in Ladakh, grazers have been asked to restrict their cattle movements.”

Time for détente and divert military outlays to welfare

India should mend its fences not only with China but also with Pakistan. Many Pakistan rulers including Parvez Musharraf offered out-of box solutions to resolve the lingering Kashmir dispute. But, India shrugged off the offers with disdain. In his memoirs In the line of fire (pp.302-303), president Musharraf proposed a personal solution of the Kashmir issue.  This solution, in essence, envisions self-rule in demilitarised regions of Kashmir under a joint-management mechanism.   The solution pre-supposes reciprocal flexibility.

The out-of-box Musharraf’s Kashmir solution is in fact a regurgitation of former Indian foreign secretary Jagat S. Mehta’s proposals.  Mehta presented his ideas in his article, ‘Resolving Kashmir in the International Context of the 1990s’.  Some points of Mehta’s quasi-solution are: (a) Conversion of the Loc into “a soft border permitting free movement and facilitating free exchanges…” (b) Immediate demilitarisation of the Loc to a depth of five to 10 miles with agreed methods of verifying compliance. (c) Pending final settlement, there must be no continuing insistence by Pakistan “on internationalisation, and for the implementation of a parallel or statewide plebiscite to be imposed under the peacekeeping auspices of the United Nations”. (d) Final settlement of the dispute between India and Pakistan can be suspended (kept in a ‘cold freeze’) for an agreed period. (e) Conducting parallel democratic elections in both Pakistani and Indian sectors of Kashmir. (f) Restoration of an autonomous Kashmiriyat. (g) Pacification of the valley until a political solution is reached. Voracious readers may refer for detail to Robert G. Wirsing’s book India, Pakistan and the Kashmir Dispute (1994, St Martin’s Press).

Besides Kashmir, there are Sir Creek and Siachen Glacier issues. India’s former foreign secretary Shyam Saran, in his book How India Sees the World (pp. 88-93) makes startling revelations about how this issue eluded solution at last minute. Saran says India itself created the Siachen problem.  He reminisces, in the 1970s, US maps began to show 23000 kilometers of Siachen area under Pakistan’s control. Thereupon, `Indian forces were sent to occupy the glacier in a pre-emptive strike, named Operation Meghdoot. Pakistani attempts to dislodge them did not succeed. But they did manage to occupy and fortify the lower reaches’.

He recalls how Siachen Glacier and Sir Creek agreements could not fructify for lack of political will or foot dragging. He says ‘NN Vohra, who was the defence secretary at the time, confirmed in a newspaper interview that an agreement on Siachen had been reached. At the last moment, however, a political decision was taken by the Narasimha Rao government to defer its signing to the next round of talks scheduled for January the following year. But, this did not happen…My defence of the deal became a voice in the wilderness’.

Similarly, demarcation of Sir Creek maritime boundary was unnecessarily delayed. Saran says ` if we accepted the Pakistani alignment, with the east bank of the creek as the boundary, then Pakistan would get only 40 per cent of the triangle. If our alignment according to the Thalweg principle was accepted, Pakistan would get 60 per cent. There was a keen interest in Pakistan to follow this approach but we were unable to explore this further when the Siachen deal fell through. Pakistan was no longer interested in a stand-alone Sir Creek agreement’ (Thalweg principle places the dividing line mid-channel in the river).

Concluding remarks

The Modi government should turn a new leaf in India’s relations with its neighbours by shunning the strong-man image.

Mr. Amjed Jaaved has been contributing free-lance for over five decades. His contributions stand published in the leading dailies at home and abroad (Nepal. Bangladesh, et. al.). He is author of seven e-books including Terrorism, Jihad, Nukes and other Issues in Focus (ISBN: 9781301505944). He holds degrees in economics, business administration, and law.

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South Asia

India’s Unclear Neighbourhood Policy: How to Overcome ?

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India has witnessed multiple trends with regards to its relations with its neighbours at a time vaccine diplomacy is gaining prominence and Beijing increasing the pace towards becoming an Asian superpower, whereby making these reasons valid for New Delhi to have a clear foreign policy with respect to its neighbourhood.

Introduction

The Covid Pandemic has led to increased uncertainty in the global order where it comes to power dynamics, role of international organisations. New Delhi has tried to leave no stone unturned when it comes to dealing with its immediate neighbours.  It has distributed medical aid and vaccines to smaller countries to enhance its image abroad at a time it has witnessed conflicts with China and a change in government in Myanmar. These developments make it imperative for New Delhi to increase its focus on regionalism and further international engagement where this opportunity could be used tactically amidst a pandemic by using economic and healthcare aid.

According to Dr. Arvind Gupta, New Delhi has to deal with threats coming from multiple fronts and different tactics where it is essential for New Delhi to save energy using soft means rather than coercive measures.. India under Vaccine Maitri has supplied many of COVAXIN doses to Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka where many have appreciated this move. The urgency of ensuring humanitarian aid during these periods of unprecedented uncertainty are essential in PM Modi’s Security and Growth For All ( SAGAR) initiative, which focusses on initiating inclusive growth as well as cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region.

This pandemic witnessed various threats coming in India’s neighbourhood through multiple dimensions which include maritime, land, cyber as well as air threats where adversaries are using these to put pressure on New Delhi to settle land as well as marine disputes as per their terms.  These encirclement strategies have made it necessary for India to open up various options such as holding maritime joint exercises with like-minded countries, developing partnerships, providing economic as well as healthcare support to weaker countries plus having a clear insight about changing global dynamics and acting as per them.

This piece will discuss about various changing tactics, pros and cons which India has with respect to developing its national security vis-à-vis its neighbourhood, why should it prioritise its neighbourhood at the first place?

Background

India’s Neighbourhood is filled with many complexities and a lot of suspicion amongst countries, some viewing India because of its size and geography plus economic clout as a bully where it is wanting to dominate in the region putting others aside. This led to New Delhi play an increased role in nudging ties first with its neighbours with whom it had multiple conflicts as well as misunderstandings leading to the latter viewing Beijing as a good alternative in order to keep India under check.

Ever since PM Modi has taken charge at 7 RCR, India’s Neighbourhood First Policy has been followed increasingly to develop relations, to enhance understandings and ensure mutual cooperation as well as benefit with its neighbours. The relations with Islamabad have not seen so much improvement as compared to other leaders in the past. Even though former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was invited for PM Modi’s 1st Swearing In ceremony in 2014, terrorist activities have never stopped which could be seen through Pathankot, Uri and Pulwama terror attacks which killed many of the Indian soldiers. Even though surgical strikes were conducted on terror camps in retaliation to these bombardments, Islamabad has not changed its heart at all about its security or regional demands. New strategies and friendships are being developed where Beijing has played a major role in controlling power dynamics.

The Belt and Road initiative, first time mentioned during President Xi’s 2013 speech in Kazakhstan, then officially in 2015,  lays emphasis of achieving a Chinese Dream of bringing countries under one umbrella, ensuring their security, providing them with infrastructure projects such as ports, railways, pipelines, highways etc. The main bottleneck is the China Pakistan Economic Corridor when it comes to India’s security threats, passing through disputed boundaries of Gilgit and Baltistan in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir till Gwadar. Other projects have been initiated in Chittagong, Hambantota, Gwadar , Kyapkyou. These projects form a String Of Pearls in the Indo Pacific where New Delhi is being balanced against through economic plus development incentives being given to the member countries under the project. That’s why in the recent past, New Delhi is asserting its influence in the region, looking at new dimensional threats where Beijing’s threats in the maritime domain in the islands in East as well as South China seas are not being seen favourably in many countries such as ASEAN, US, Australia and Japan which is giving India an opportunity to look towards countries with a common threat. Amidst this great power struggle between Washington and Beijing, New Delhi is stuck between a rock and hard place i.e., having a clear and strong foreign policy with its neighbours.

In this region, India has a sole threat which is mainly Beijing where the latter has achieved prowess technologically and militarily where New Delhi lags behind the latter twenty fold. So, there is a need for improvising military technology, increase economic activities with countries, reduce dependence on foreign aid, ensure self-reliance.

Situation

South Asia is backward when it comes to economic development, human development and is a home to majority of the world’s population which lives below poverty line. The colonial rule has left a never-ending impact on divisions based on communal, linguistic and ethnic grounds. Even, in terms of infrastructure and connectivity, New Delhi lags behind Beijing significantly in the neighbourhood because the latter is at an edge when it comes to bringing countries under the same umbrella. Due to these, many initiatives have been taken up by New Delhi on developing infrastructure, providing humanitarian aid to needy countries.

There have been numerous efforts made by India with respect to reaching out to the Neighbours in 2020 through setting up of the SAARC Covid Fund where many Neighbourhood countries such as Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka gave contributions to ensure cooperation, joint scientific research, sharing information, healthcare kits where the countries contributed USD $ 18 million jointly towards this fund where New Delhi made an initial offer of USD $ 10 million.

New Delhi has even mustered ties with the Association of Southeast Asian countries during the pandemic under its Act East Policy where proper connectivity through the Northeast could be useful in easing movement of goods but currently, the infrastructure in Northeast needs more improvement where issues such as unemployment, poor connectivity are prevalent whereby disconnecting it from rest of the other states. This region could play an important role in linking Bangladesh, Myanmar to New Delhi along with the proposed India-Thailand –Myanmar Trilateral Corridor. Focus has also been laid to develop inland waterways, rail links and pipelines to ease connections between countries, making trade free and more efficient.

India is focussing on developing the Sittwe and Paletwa ports in Myanmar under the Kaladan Development Corridor, at the cost of INR 517.9 Crore in order to provide an alternative e route beneficial for the Northeast for getting shipping access

Summing Up

 These above developments and power display by a strong adversary, give good reasons for New Delhi to adopt collective security mechanisms through QUAD, SIMBEX and JIMEX with a common perception of having safe and open waters through abiding to the UNCLOS which China isn’t showing too much interest in, seen through surveillance units, artificial islands being set up on disputed territories which countries likewise India are facing in context to territorial sovereignty and integrity. These developments make it important for India to look at strategic threats by coming together with countries based on similar interest’s vis-à-vis Chinese threat.

There is a need for India to develop and harness its strength through connectivity and its self reliance initiative ( Aatmanirbharta ) so that there is no dependence on any foreign power at times of need . Proper coordination between policy makers and government officials could make decision making even easier, which is not there completely because of ideological differences, different ideas which makes it important for the political leadership to coordinate with the military jointly during times of threats on borders. Self-reliance could only come through preparedness and strategy.

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India is in big trouble as UK stands for Kashmiris

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 A London-based law firm has filed an application with British police seeking the arrest of India’s army chief and a senior Indian government official over their alleged roles in war crimes in Indian-administered Kashmir.

Law firm Stoke White said it submitted extensive evidence to the Metropolitan Police’s War Crimes Unit on Tuesday, documenting how Indian forces headed by General Manoj Mukund Naravane and Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah were responsible for the torture, kidnapping and killing of activists, journalists and civilians – particularly Muslim – in the region.

“There is strong reason to believe that Indian authorities are conducting war crimes and other violence against civilians in Jammu and Kashmir,” the report states, referring to the territory in the Himalayan region.

Based on more than 2,000 testimonies taken between 2020 and 2021, the report also accused eight unnamed senior Indian military officials of direct involvement in war crimes and torture in Kashmir.

The law firm’s investigation suggested that the abuse has worsened during the coronavirus pandemic. It also included details about the arrest of Khurram Parvez, the region’s most prominent rights activist, by India’s counterterrorism authorities last year.

“This report is dedicated to the families who have lost loved ones without a trace, and who experience daily threats when trying to attain justice,” Khalil Dewan, author of the report and head of the SWI unit, said in a statement.

“The time has now come for victims to seek justice through other avenues, via a firmer application of international law.”

The request to London police was made under the principle of “universal jurisdiction”, which gives countries the authority to prosecute individuals accused of crimes against humanity committed anywhere in the world.

The international law firm in London said it believes its application is the first time that legal action has been initiated abroad against Indian authorities over alleged war crimes in Kashmir.

Hakan Camuz, director of international law at Stoke White, said he hoped the report would convince British police to open an investigation and ultimately arrest the officials when they set foot in the UK.

Some of the Indian officials have financial assets and other links to Britain.

“We are asking the UK government to do their duty and investigate and arrest them for what they did based on the evidence we supplied to them. We want them to be held accountable,” Camuz said.

The police application was made on behalf of the family of Pakistani prisoner Zia Mustafa, who, Camuz said, was the victim of extrajudicial killing by Indian authorities in 2021, and on behalf of human rights campaigner Muhammad Ahsan Untoo, who was allegedly tortured before his arrest last week.

Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the past two decades in Kashmir, which is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both in its entirety.

Muslim Kashmiris mostly support rebels who want to unite the region, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.

Kashmiris and international rights groups have long accused Indian troops of carrying out systematic abuse and arrests of those who oppose rule from New Delhi.

Rights groups have also criticized the conduct of armed groups, accusing them of carrying out human rights violations against civilians.

In 2018, the United Nations human rights chief called for an independent international investigation into reports of rights violations in Kashmir, alleging “chronic impunity for violations committed by security forces”.

India’s government has denied the alleged rights violations and maintains such claims are separatist propaganda meant to demonize Indian troops in the region. It seems, India is in big trouble and may not be able to escape this time. A tough time for Modi-led extremist government and his discriminatory policies. The world opinion about India has been changed completely, and it has been realized that there is no longer a democratic and secular India. India has been hijacked by extremist political parties and heading toward further bias policies. Minorities may suffer further, unless the world exert pressure to rectify the deteriorating human rights records in India.

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S. Jaishankar’s ‘The India Way’, Is it a new vision of foreign policy?

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S. Jaishankar has had an illustrious Foreign Service career holding some of the highest and most prestigious positions such as ambassador to China and the US and as foreign secretary of India. Since 2019 he has served as India’s foreign minister. S. Jaishankar also has a Ph.D. in international relations from JNU and his academic background is reflected in this book.

His main argument is simplistic, yet the issues involved are complex. Jaishankar argues that the world is changing fundamentally, and the international environment is experiencing major shifts in power as well as processes. China is rising and western hegemony is declining. We are moving away from a unipolar system dominated by the US to a multipolar system. Globalization is waning and nationalism and polarization is on the rise (p. 29). The old order is going away but we cannot yet glimpse what the future will look like. This is the uncertain world that Dr. Jaishankar sees.

Dr. Jaishankar also argues that India too has changed, it is more capable and more assertive. The liberalization program that began in 1991 has made the Indian economy vibrant and globally competitive and it is well on track to becoming the third biggest economy in the world, after China and the US.  The war of 1971 that liberated Bangladesh, the liberalization of the economy after 1991, the nuclear tests in 1998 and the nuclear understanding with the US in 2005, Jaishankar argues are landmarks in India’s strategic evolution (p. 4). So given that both India and the system have changed, Jaishankar concludes, so should India’s foreign policy.

But his prescription for India’s foreign policy, in the grand scheme of things, is the same as before – India should remain nonaligned and not join the US in its efforts to contain China. India will try to play with both sides it seems in order to exploit the superpowers and maximize its own interests (p. 9). But he fails to highlight how India can find common ground with China other than to say the two nations must resolve things diplomatically. He also seems to think that the US has infinite tolerance for India’s coyness. In his imagination the US will keep making concessions and India will keep playing hard to get.

Jaishankar has a profound contradiction in his thinking. He argues that the future will be determined by what happens between the US and China. In a way he is postulating a bipolar future to global politics. But he then claims that the world is becoming multipolar and this he claims will increase the contests for regional hegemony. The world cannot be both bipolar and multipolar at the same time.

There is also a blind spot in Jaishankar’s book.  He is apparently unaware of the rise of Hindu nationalism and the demand for a Hindu state that is agitating and polarizing India’s domestic politics. The systematic marginalization and oppression of Muslim minorities at home and the growing awareness overseas of the dangers of Hindutva extremism do not exist in the world that he lives in. He misses all this even as he goes on to invoke the Mahabharata and argue how Krishna’s wisdom and the not so ethical choices during the war between Pandavas and Kauravas should be a guide for how India deals with this uncertain world – by balancing ethics with realism (p. 63). Methinks his little digression in discussing the ancient Hindu epic is more to signal his ideological predilections than to add any insights to understanding the world or India’s place in it.  

One aspect of his work that I found interesting is his awareness of the importance of democracy and pluralism. He states that India’s democracy garners respect and gives India a greater opportunity to be liked and admired by other nations in the world (p. 8). Yet recently when he was asked about the decline of India’s democratic credentials, his response was very defensive, and he showed visible signs of irritation. It is possible that he realizes India is losing ground internationally but is unwilling to acknowledge that his political party is responsible for the deterioration of India’s democracy.

This is also apparent when he talks about the importance of India improving its relations with its immediate neighbors. He calls the strategy as neighborhood first approach (pp. 9-10). What he does not explain is how an Islamophobic India will maintain good relations with Muslim majority neighbors like Bangladesh, Maldives, and Pakistan.

The book is interesting, it has its limitations and both, what is addressed and what is left out, are clearly political choices and provide insights into how New Delhi thinks about foreign policy. So, coming to the question with which we started, does India have a new foreign policy vision? The answer is no. Dr. Jaishankar is right, there is indeed an India way, but it is the same old way, and it entails remaining nonaligned with some minor attitudinal adjustments.  

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