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Bolstering US-Bangladesh’s ties: Bangladesh Army Chief’s USA visit

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Bangladesh is a key ally of the United States in South Asia. On issues including as regional and global security, counter-terrorism, and climate change, the two countries enjoy substantial collaboration. Bangladesh has played an important role in the Obama administration’s major international development projects, including as food security, healthcare, and the environment.  In 2012, the two countries inked a strategic conversation agreement. In 2015, Marcia Bernicat, the US Ambassador to Bangladesh, praised relations as “vibrant, multifaceted, and important.

The United States’ strategy with Bangladesh places a premium on political stability, human rights, and democracy. Bangladesh is also seen by the United States as a moderate Muslim friend among Islamic countries.

One of Bangladesh’s most important strategic military partners is the United States. Defense cooperation between the United States and Bangladesh is growing day by day. Regular joint exercises are performed, particularly in the Bay of Bengal. The United States Pacific Command engages the Bangladesh Armed Forces on a regular basis. The US also assisted in the formation of the Bangladesh Navy’s elite SWADS marine unit, which is fashioned after American and South Korean special forces.

Bangladesh is the greatest donor to UN peacekeeping operations in the world. Bangladeshi peacekeeping missions have benefited greatly from the sponsorship of the United States.

Strong and expanding economic ties between the two nations are the bedrock of the US-Bangladesh relationship. Bangladesh has suddenly developed into one of the world’s fastest growing economies during the previous five decades. Bangladesh is on track to become the world’s 24th largest economy in 10 years, with an expected growth rate of 7.2 percent in 2022. Bangladesh’s growth and resiliency are built on development and foreign direct investment, and the United States remains a dedicated partner.

Bangladesh is located in the heart of the Indo-Pacific, a region that the Biden-Harris administration has prioritized for economic connectivity, bilateral relations are also focused on shared democratic values, free enterprise, resilient supply chains, and the prosperity and health of both countries’ people.

We see major areas of engagement that may be strengthened to deepen defense and security cooperation as both celebrate 50 years of US-Bangladesh relations on April 04, 2022.

This was notably true during the pandemic, when Bangladesh delivered over 6 million pieces of personal protective equipment to the United States during the first catastrophic wave of Covid-19.

However, 2021 was a challenging year for relations between the United States and Bangladesh.  Washington had imposed sanctions on Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and several current and former officers for a long history of human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings on December 10, 2021. The Biden administration did not extend an invitation to Bangladesh to the virtual Summit for Democracy that same month.

The US recently published a report on the state of human rights in 198 nations in 2021. Bangladesh has been accused of human rights abuses by the country’s state department.

According to the research, there has been widespread impunity for security force abuses and corruption in Bangladesh. But Bangladesh criticized the report.

Amidst these, the signing of a draft defense cooperation agreement during Nuland’s visit to Dhaka exemplifies that effort. However, Washington may continue to regard Dhaka as a security partner in the region. US now wants to build a strategic relation with Bangladesh.

President of the United States, Joe Biden, has voiced his belief earliar that the Dhaka-Washington relationship will thrive for the next 50 years and beyond.

In a letter to Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, he noted that ‘Our defense cooperation is stronger than ever,’ the US president said, adding that the Bangladesh Coast Guard and Navy are essential allies in ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific area, as well as contributing to the regional fight to combat human and illicit drug trafficking.

According to the US government websites, Bangladesh has received $66.9 million in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) and $7.29 million in International Military Education and Training (IMET) aid from the United States since 2015. FMF funding includes $10 million in bilateral programs and $56.9 million in regional FMF for the Bay of Bengal Initiative. Through FMF support, the Department of State’s Bay of Bengal Initiative aims to improve civilian and military actors’ capacity to detect illicit activity within their borders and in the region, build networks and habits of cooperation to allow countries to share information, develop their capacity to respond quickly to illicit activity, and support our partners in enabling a rules-based order in the Indian Ocean Region.

In support of the Indo-Pacific Strategy, US security aid to Bangladesh has improved maritime security, freedom of navigation, and humanitarian assistance/disaster response capabilities. These funds have been used to purchase patrol boats for the Bangladesh Army, additional patrol vessels for the Navy, international peacekeeping and border security missions; electronic and mechanical upgrades to the Bangladesh Navy’s fast patrol boats and former US Coast Guard cutters; technical and professional training for Bangladesh military and Coast Guard personnel; and joint military exercises. This assistance has helped Bangladesh significantly in its efforts to improve its marine domain knowledge and control.

On April 18, Bangladesh Army Chief General SM Shafiuddin Ahmed visited the United States at the invitation of US Army Chief of Staff General James C McConville, according to an ISPR release. This visit could help strengthen bilateral defense ties. Bilateral defense ties may boost up bilateral relations. USA needs Bangladesh in the region and vice versa. This visit conveyed the message that despite having some bilateral problems, both countries are very interested to strengthen further bilateral ties. This may help solve bilateral problems. Bangladesh and USA must engage as trusted partners to deal with some common problems.

According to the media reports, SM Shafiuddin Ahmed paid a courtesy call to General Daniel R Hokanson, the head of the National Guard Bureau and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Vice Chief of Staff of the Army General James M Martin, Marine Corps Assistant Commandant General Eric M Smith, and Director General of Southeast Asia Laurie Abel of the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy from April 20 to 22.

During the meetings, issues of common interest to the two forces were discussed, including UN peacekeeping missions and post-disaster humanitarian aid.

According to the press release, the chief of army staff was also inducted into the Near East South Asia (NESA) Center’s Hall of Fame as a past graduate of the NESA program at the National Defense University.

UN officials showed an interest in sending more Bangladeshi peacekeepers to the UN. The Bangladesh army leader requested that the Bangladeshi contingents of the UN peacekeeping force replace their old weapons and equipment with new weaponry and equipment sourced from Bangladesh.

The army chief met with Gilles Michaud, under-secretary-general of the United Nations Department of Security and Safety; Major General Maureen O’Brien, acting military adviser; Mohammed Khaled Khiari, assistant secretary-general (ASG), Department of Political and Peace Building Affairs; Christian Saunders, ASG, Department of Operational Support; and Police Adviser Luis Ribeiro Carrilho during his visit to the United Nations Headquarters in New York on April 25 and 26.

According to a news release from Bangladesh’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations, the conversations were quite successful and highlighted many facets of Bangladeshi peacekeepers’ vital commitment to UN operations.

During the meetings, the army chief emphasized Bangladesh’s constitutional commitment to world peace and raised issues of Bangladesh’s interest in UN peacekeeping operations, such as the recruitment of more Bangladeshi peacekeepers, including women, the appointment of high-ranking military officials in various peacekeeping operations, participation in peacekeeping missions co-pledging with other countries, the deployment of armed personnel carriers from Bangladesh, and the recruitment of armed personnel carriers from Bangladesh.

The United States intends to help Bangladesh modernize and institutionalize its armed forces by supplying defense equipment and training.

The United States emphasized the signing of two defense accords – GSOMIA and ACSA – that serve as foundations for defense trade and cooperation.

However, the majority of the US military assistance to Bangladesh is in the form of training for defense professionals and joint exercises between two forces. The United States Pacific Command engages the Bangladesh Armed Forces on a regular basis. US Defense Secretary Mark Esper paid a visit to Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and discussed military cooperation between the two countries, among other things. Bangladesh army chief paid his US visit this month after the successful completion of ‘Security Partnership Dialogue’ in April. 2022 in Dhaka.  This visit is very significant for Bangladesh and USA in the region. The USA and Bangladesh has strengthened their defense ties further through this visit.

I am a lady school teacher in Bangladesh. I am a resident of Rajshahi City Corporation in Bangladesh. Teaching is my profession. On the other hand, I am also a local social worker. My academic background: Honors and Masters in ' Political Science' from the University of Rajshahi.

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South Asia

The two Punjabs

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Even in the midst of tensions between India and Pakistan, people to people linkages between both countries – with both Punjabs (Indian and Pakistani) as key stakeholders – have given reason for cautious optimism.

While cultural commonalities and the emotional attachment on both sides has been the driving force for Punjab-Punjab initiatives, the potential economic benefits of improved relations have been repeatedly reiterated not just by the business communities, but political leaders (especially from Indian Panjab)

In recent years, ties between both countries have steadily deteriorated. After the Pulwama terror attack in 2019, economic linkages between both countries have got severely impacted, and this has taken its toll on the economy of Panjab (India). India imposed tariffs on Pakistani imports, and revoked Most Favoured Nation MFN status to Pakistan in February 2019, while in August 2019, trade links via the Wagah (Pakistan) -Attari (India) land crossing were snapped after the revocation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir. The suspension of trade ties between both countries has had a serious impact on the economy of the border belt of Punjab (India) with over 9,000 families being impacted as a result of job losses in the tertiary sector.

Developments of the past few months

The one glimmer of hope has been the Kartarpur Religious Corridor which was inaugurated in 2019 (in 2020 this was closed due to the covid 19 pandemic but re-opened in November 2021). The Corridor connects Dera Baba Nanak (Panjab, India) with Darbar Sahib (Kartarpur, Narowal, Pakistan) which is the final resting place of Guru Nanak (the founder of the Sikh faith). Devotees from Panjab (India) can pay obeisance at Darbar Sahib (Kartarpur) without a visa, though they do need to carry their passports. While the number of people crossing over, via the corridor, is way below the initial target of 5000, it has helped in promoting people to people ties as well as re-uniting a number of separated families. There has been a growing demand for easing out visa procedures for individuals over the age of 75 years and those from separated families (some of the individuals reunited at Kartarpur have been issued visas) which has been backed strongly by civil society organisations – as in the past.

 The phase from 2019-2022 has been witness to people to people linkages, especially with regard to religious tourism, but interactions between state governments of both the Punjabs, or what is referred to as ‘paradiplomacy’ unlike earlier years has been restricted. After the re-opening of the corridor in  November 2021, then Chief Minister of Panjab (India) Charanjit Singh Channi, and other political leaders from the state, paid obeisance at Darbar Sahib (Kartarpur), while also flagging the need for resumption of trade via the Wagah-Attari land crossing — though to no avail. 

There have however been calls for resumption of trade from sections of Punjab’s political class, business community as well as farmers from Indian Punjab. Pakistan which has been buying essential commodities including wheat at exorbitant prices could purchase the same from Panjab (India) and the Punjabi farmer could benefit by getting much higher prices for his produce.

Conclusion

In conclusion, even in the midst of strained ties between both countries, the Punjab has played an important role in trying to reduce tensions and build bridges between both countries, and the role of civil society, business community on both sides and the diaspora needs to be acknowledged. In the 75th year of independence while ties between New Delhi and Islamabad remain strained developments of the past few months, in the realm of people to people contact have given reason for hope as a result of the tireless efforts of civil society and some individuals committed to peace. The next stage of this should be easing out of visa regimes especially for certain categories of individuals – specifically those over the age of 75 who want to visit their ancestral homes. Resumption of trade via the Wagah-Attari land crossing will benefit not just Panjab (India) but other parts of North India and the Pakistani consumer. If both countries can focus on giving a greater fillip to people to people linkages and economic ties — with the Punjabs taking the lead – ties  between India and Pakistan could be less frosty.

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South Asia

The Need for Feminist Foreign Policy in India

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As more and more research is being done, there is a definitive link that connects gender equality with international prosperity and welfare; giving an equal opportunity for half the population can’t be just out of moral obligation. It is necessary for the economy and security of a nation. Currently, with resources that are in short supply, the way to maintain a good governance, growth in the economy, health, peace and security is to invest in women and girls. Various countries are promoting gender equality through development, diplomatic and security activities. Countries like Sweden, Canada, France and Mexico have adopted a comprehensive foreign policy that advances gender equality called “Feminist Foreign Policy.” India as a rising great power has to consider a more inclusive foreign policy.

Gender is hardly recognized or given importance when it comes to policy conversations, even though it plays a significant role in peace and security. It is often considered that it side-tracks the main problems with regard to international security and great power competition. However, there is no need for the contradiction between the two. A sign to see how far gender equality is embedded in society is to know the number of women in leadership positions, specifically in departments of security or even the academic study of security where the number of women is less.

According to research, women’s engagement in economics, politics, peace, and security procedures will result in stronger economic development, fewer human rights violations, and peace. Women empowerment is important for a country that aims to promote global security, increase the use of their foreign aid and continue to support stable and democratic allies. In the previous decade, numerous nations have adopted gender mainstreaming in their foreign policy. The critical areas of progress that have systematized gender equality are administration, strategy, and resource management. This comprehensive effort of bringing in gender equality in foreign policy is called as Feminist Foreign Policy. A foreign policy with a political framework focused on the security and safety of the marginalized community can be defined as a Feminist Foreign Policy.

The approach for defining and adopting a Feminist Foreign Policy will vary between counties and regions, depending on their lived experiences. However, that a conversation on Feminist Foreign Policy is an important one is under no debate, happening at a time when gender norms are evolving in our society. In the present-day scenario, there are countries around the world have laws preventing women from carrying out jobs in sectors like mining, manufacturing and construction, and millions of women live in countries where domestic violence is not punishable, gender mainstreaming in broader policy objectives and wider adoption of FFP can shape the future of our civilization.

In India’s foreign aid and assistance gender can be highlighted in bilateral as well as through multilateral institutions, directly impacting the neighborhood, as well as partners in Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean and Pacific and Small Island countries.

In a historic feat, India was elected as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council on June 18, 2020.  Following that, India also became a member of the prestigious UN Commission on the Status of Women in September 2020. India committed to pay attention to its efforts on peacekeeping, peacebuilding and women’s inclusion. In August, 2021 India assumed a month long UNSC presidency where it ended with its first resolution being passed on the Afghanistan situation demanding that the territory not be used for training terrorists. India’s diplomatic framework has embraced tools for soft power. The strategic moves taken up by India can be seen as step towards uplifting women.

A feminist foreign policy would give India a chance to create a beneficial surrounding for peace, remove domestic barriers against women, and also help in building strong bilateral partnerships. With India being surrounded by adversaries along its borders, this approach would also allow India to show itself as a nation that gives importance to various issues; have a better performance in indicators and indexes that are curated to assess the development of countries and gender gap such as the Global Gender Index and Gender Inequality Index; set an example for other nations and contribute continuously towards women empowerment.

It could also be a starting point for an internal shift with regards to India’s domestic context, particularly in terms of preconceived patriarchal gender roles, in which women are seen to be inferior to men. Empirical research has mentioned that for a progressive social and economic development of a nation, gender equality is a requirement. By removing the prevailing barriers that restrict the participation of women and other communities that are marginalized, India would develop a more inclusive policy. Domestic policies need to have a gendered lens that can protect the marginalized. Without having a balance internally, a feminist foreign policy will not sustain.

An FFP will give a major boost to the country’s international relations when its committed to women empowerment and extensively build a stronger partnership with countries that have adopted feminist foreign policy, for example, countries like Mexico, Canada and Sweden or those that are supporters of gender equality. Thus, FFP would allow India to deepen its commitments and make an impact as an emerging power.

Giving importance to human security and gender issues, would put India in a better position to achieve its international power ambitions. India slipped to 140th rank from 112th in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index 2020 – 2021. This is primarily due to the lack of political representation, absence of technical and leadership roles, inequal income, reducing women labour force participation rate, lack of proper health care and the literacy ratio gap between men and women.

A major boost for India would be a significantly better performance in the Global Gender Gap Index. This would lead to India becoming a role model for various countries. India can be an example by achieving gender parity in a variety of social indicators that is very important to assess a country’s development.

India’s record on women’s rights—or rather, women’s oppression—makes it far-fetched to quickly and successfully take on an FFP structure. Man-centric qualities are so profoundly instilled inside Indian culture that India has barely figured out how to achieve an adjustment of the arrangement of disparity at home. Subsequently, it does not have the credibility to take up feminist qualities in its international partnerships. An FFP approach may not just help India in cultivating imaginative ways of reasoning, yet in addition permit it to expand upon its traditional perspective on security, work with various representations, and develop strong bilateral partnerships.

Before adopting a Feminist Foreign Policy, India also needs to bring a change within the policies of the country. It is crucial for women to shape the outcomes and can’t just be receptacles, especially in peacebuilding, reconstruction and rebuilding. There are more women joining the Indian Foreign Service, but the Ministry has to make sure that they are taken up to the highest rank. The thought that women can’t handle challenging issues must be changed.

A feminist foreign policy would provide equal opportunity and basic human rights to women, girls, and other marginalised communities. A feminist foreign policy will aid India’s bilateral and multilateral alliances, as well as its attainment of great power status. For a feminist foreign policy to succeed, a country must first establish gender equality within its borders.

 Gender is clearly a significant factor in India’s development assistance. It must, however, be expanded to include other aspects of economy and security. Gender equality must be implemented within India. More women in government are needed.

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South Asia

Crisis in Sri Lanka and The India-South Asia Challenges: Way Forward

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Authors: Dr Aditya Anshu and Nipun Tyagi*

Lot of articles and theories which are describing the current state of Sri Lanka and major factors that contributed towards the deteriorating performance of Sri Lankan economy. The ongoing Sri Lankan crisis has been examined by experts from global economic perspective and regional security but India as a country faces multi-faceted challenges, which must be managed sensibly. The approach of India should be balanced and crafted politically as well as diplomatically to protect the strategic Indian interest in Indo pacific region and to counter the influence of China and its expansionist policy.

To believe economist and experts on Sri Lanka, the blame initially was colored upon the COVID 19 pandemic for economic fall and disparity that engulfed the Island nation. It was argued trade has been adversely hit, the foreign remittances from the tourist were near to none, which possibly caters biggest foreign currency deposit. To add, the series of deadly bomb blast in 2019 at Colombo could be direct possible connection towards the decreasing number of tourists in Sri Lanka. Hitherto no expert or possible specialist cared to argue the failure of Rajapaksa brothers far-right nationalist policy of last 10 years was creating a liability trap for Sri Lanka along with creating deep cleavage in peaceful multicultural society.

The ramifications of the ongoing war between Ukraine and Russia are also creating difficulties and is one of the other prominent factors for the sluggish economic conditions of Sri Lanka. The Russia – Ukraine war has further exacerbated the economic calamity of the country as Russia is the second biggest market to Sri Lanka in tea exports. On the other hand, Sri Lanka’s tourism sector is heavily reliant upon these two nations for the tourist arrivals. As a result, the Ukrainian crisis has further created an adverse graph of already ailing economy of Sri Lanka. 

When Rajapaksa-led governments, liaising with extremist Buddhist ideology, entered with full majority in Sri Lankan political regime post 2009. This resulted in the end of over the ground ethnic persecution of Tamil and other minorities community. However, the persecution and intimidation continued in more subtle and systematic way for Tamils and other minority groups resulting division, hate and selective development. Being anti-minority became the symbol of jingoistic nationalism which helped Rajapaksa winning elections for next two decades.

On the Indian domestic front, Congress and other opposition parties are comparing Indian economy and its slothful growth with Sri Lankan crisis and blaming government for inflation, food crisis, rising unemployment and imbalance of economic situations. Significantly, inter-religion conflicts, caste division, income disparity and rising unemployment in India has been severely criticized by opposition parties and civil society groups drawing similarity of parallel class conflicts in Sri Lanka during the period of 1990 till now. The political parties alleged that ruling BJP is adopting the same Sri Lankan pattern to prosecute the minorities and ignoring economic turbulence which can be resulted for crashing Indian economy in the long run. But in view of scholars and academics it would be too early to comment on the opposition political parties assertion on government and about the Indian economy’s performance, nevertheless India needs to seriously monitor the situation with caution that is developing in Sri Lanka on various-fronts.

The first and the foremost issue which needs to be handled cautiously will be that of displaced migrants landing on Indian shores. The impact of the Sri Lankan crisis can increase the burden of refuges towards India. It will be very challenging for India to absorb the possible migration from Sri Lankan for food, shelter, and job opportunities; creating clusters in southern cites in which they can be deprived of basic human needs and rights. To cater women and children will not only be tasking for India but also can create a situation like Rohingya crisis. The proximity of Sri Lankan peoples to southern Indian states can help them to enter Indian territories which may disturb the sovereignty, regional stability, and could be the cause of national security of the country. “There is no accurate data on the number of refugees, but India has about 400,000 refugees including 238,222 recognized and documented refugees according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Report, 2021.

The second issue of concern for Indian government is to handle security challenges, regional security, peace and maintenance of law and order in India and South Asia. There are several reports which indicated the presence of Islamic State (IS) and other terror outfits active in southern states of India which can manipulate and employ the poor migrants landing on Indian shores for terror and illegal activities.  Investigation in a series of cases by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), a federal agency to counter terror has revealed numerous times about the strong presence of Islamic State (IS) in the southern states of India.  The Ministry of Home Affairs confirmed in the Rajya Sabha (Upper House) of Parliament on 16 September 2020 about 17 cases registered related to the presence of Islamic State (IS) by in southern States of Telangana, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu resulting to arrest of 122 accused.

There is no doubt that deep set networks for terror finance, extreme ideology and human resources connected with Sri Lanka exist in parts of Southern India. It is already evident after the terror events of 2019 in Sri Lanka and activation of all these will spell potential threat to security of South-Asia in general and India in particular.  The IS and other terrorist organization may take the advantage of internal violence and fragile administrative capability in Sri Lanka and can become serious threats for India’s national security.

To extend further, it would be very dangerous for the country like India to have the political and economic instability in neighboring countries as near as Sri Lanka. This might trigger a ‘domino-effect’ in the region, creating socio-economic imbalance in South-Asia.  The recent political and economic changes in Sri Lanka have created a threat for India’s vision for regional stability and security in South-Asia region.  In 2014 government of India launched Act East policy focusing on boosting economic co-operation, building infrastructure for greater connectivity, improving important strategic & security ties, and Greater focus on defense cooperation with East and Southeast Asia countries. India’s ‘Neighborhood First’ policy towards Sri Lanka had resonated with Sri Lanka’s ‘India First’ foreign and security policy in 2020. Therefore, the role of India becomes very important as well as challenging, to help the Sri Lanka maintain its peaceful internal order and to counter the debt trap policy of China.

Geopolitical experts have also argued that India can make use of this opportunity to revamp its diplomatic ties with Sri Lanka, which have been at distant owing Sri Lanka’s proximity with China under Rajapaksa’s rule. It would be strategically and geopolitically important for India to extend assistance to Sri Lanka during this crisis times for a better and conducive atmosphere in southern Indian ocean area.

Sri Lanka’s economic collapse may be an opportunity for India to swing the pendulum back with massive financial assistance to Sri Lanka. This has been followed up with India’s four-pronged economic and financial assistance approach to Sri Lanka. It includes credit lines for the import of food, fuel, and medicines; currency swaps to boost foreign exchanges; modernization; and holistic investments, in the sectors of renewable energy, ports, logistics, infrastructure, connectivity, and maritime security.

As a friendly and cooperative neighbor, India must carry multiple role and responsibility for Sri Lanka’s political stability, economic recovery, and strategic security where with right-intent diplomatic strategy is the key to determining India’s geopolitical influence in the region to counter interventionist China and its not so friendly policies. We cannot ignore the fact that turmoil in Sri Lanka is always perceived to influence India. That was in a speech by the then US Defence Secretary Robert Gates in the 2009 edition of the “Shangri La Dialogue”, when he said, “We look to India to be a partner and net provider of security in the Indian Ocean and beyond…”. It  is the time for India to come forward and prove it .

*Nipun Tyagi is scholar of Defense & Strategic Studies and Currently looks the International Office at Bennet University, India.

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