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HEadHeadlines 08/05/2021


• US Pullout from Afghanistan a Test for Pakistan, Other Neighbours

• We are not Special’: How Triumphalism Led India to Covid-19 Disaster

• U.S., Russia, China Poke Each Other at U.N. Security Council


US Pullout from Afghanistan a Test for Pakistan, Other Neighbours

The United States wants to "stay in the game" in Afghanistan and sees a role for Pakistan within this game. However, it wants Islamabad to realise that it is in its own interest to do so.This is how US State Secretary Antony Blinken outlined his strategy for maintaining peace and stability in Afghanistan after September 11, 2021, when all US and Nato forces would have moved out of the war-ravaged country. In an interview with BBC Radio 4 on Thursday, the chief US diplomat made it clear that the US was only withdrawing its troops from the country and was not leaving Afghanistan. “We’re pulling our forces out of Afghanistan, we are not withdrawing. We are not leaving. We are remaining deeply engaged when it comes to supporting Afghanistan — economically, development assistance, humanitarian, supporting its security forces,” he said. “We’re staying in the game.” The interviewer reminded him that such a deep involvement would require continued support from Afghanistan’s neighbours, particularly Pakistan, which has the shortest, all-season supply route to Afghanistan. “Does not having to rely on Pakistan for a supply chain essentially change the dynamics, change what’s possible for you when it comes to influence in Afghanistan?” the interviewer asked. Secretary Blinken, however, argued that the Biden administration’s plan to withdraw all foreign troops by Sept 11 would be an eye-opener for all "free riders" in the neighbourhood. “The decision has concentrated the minds of pretty much everyone inside and outside of Afghanistan and the region as well. For the last 20 years, they’ve been — to some extent — free riders on us, on Nato, on our partners,” he said. He was referring to a popular perception in the US that American and Nato troops were being killed in Afghanistan, while its neighbours benefitted from their presence without making any contribution. “They now have to decide, including Pakistan, where their interests lie, and, if they have influence, how to use it,” he said. “I don’t think a single neighbour of Afghanistan’s, starting with Pakistan, has an interest in the country winding up in a civil war, because that would produce a massive refugee flow [to Pakistan].” In another interview to Andrea Mitchell of MSNBC, Blinken said that the troop pullout would also force the Taliban and the Kabul government to make their own calculations about what suits them. “Everyone has to now make some new calculations. That starts with the Taliban. It has to decide whether it wants to plunge the country back into a civil war, or whether it wants some kind of recognition and to be an accepted actor in the international community,” he said. The US state secretary acknowledged that the withdrawal plan has also forced the Biden administration to focus on diplomacy. Blinken’s explanation of the US strategy for Afghanistan after the pullout increases pressure on all its neighbours, particularly Pakistan, which has the shortest, all-season supply route to the land-locked country. Pakistan also has a 2,640 km-long porous border with Afghanistan and strong religious and ethnic links with its citizens. During the war against the Soviets, the US and its allies used this proximity to force the Russians out. [Source: Dawn]

Afghanistan has always been a pivotal state. In the 18th century, the Hotak Sultanate and the Durrani Sultanate ruled parts of the Safavid and Mughul territories. The Biden administration is fully aware of Afghanistan’s potential to project power into Iran and Central Asia, and would like to stabilize the country through Pakistan’s support after the withdrawal of American troops. Instead of working for US interests, Pakistan should annex Afghanistan and make it the launch pad for the soon to be established the Khilafah Rashidah (rightly guided Caliphate).

We are not Special’: How Triumphalism Led India to Covid-19 Disaster

With daily cases crossing 360,000, and recorded deaths beyond 3,200 per day, many see the lull between Covid-19 waves as a cruel illusion. “The elections, religious festivals and everything else opened up completely,” says Sujatha Rao, a former secretary of the Indian ministry of health and family welfare. “That was a very bad mistake and we have paid a very dear price, a heavy price for that oversight.” An outbreak the size of India’s second wave, apparently fuelled by Covid-19 variants that appear to be more infectious than earlier strains, would have overwhelmed most public health systems – let alone one of the most chronically underfunded in the world, serving a vast, spread-out population. But public health experts, including some involved in advising the government, say the scale of India’s current outbreak was also partly manmade, the result of a feeling of exceptionalism that emanated from the top of the Indian government and rippled across society, leading to countless administrative and personal decisions that, within a few months, would prove disastrous. “There was a misreading of the situation in January that we had attained herd immunity and were unlikely to see a second wave,” says K Srinath Reddy, the president of the Public Health Foundation of India. “India went into full-blown celebratory mode. And we know the virus travels with people, and celebrates with crowds. ”Alongside warnings that people should maintain precautions, governments at all levels relaxed restrictions, allowed massive social events to resume and pressed ahead with raucous electioneering, confident the continued circulation of Covid-19 in states such as Kerala or Maharashtra were the dying embers of the virus, not evidence of the sparks that would ignite a second firestorm. “There was a lot of mixed messaging coming through which made people very complacent,” Shahid Jameel, a virologist at Ashoka University, told a forum there on Tuesday. Some politicians and scientists boasted of low infection and death rates that gave Indians the impression “that somehow we are special”, Jameel added. “We are not special.” “The idea that India had hit herd immunity, that we only needed to be careful and we could eradicate the virus by February, and the implicit assumption that Indians were ‘exceptional’ in some way – in that most of those infected would be asymptomatic as a result of genetics or prior exposure – all of this was wrong,” says Gautam Menon, an expert in disease modelling at the Institute of Mathematical Sciences in Chennai. It was part of a stream of scientific advice flowing to the government, including more critical views warning there were still hundreds of millions of susceptible Indians, and that future strains of the virus could be more aggressive, as they had been in Europe and the US. In spite of warnings in November by an Indian parliamentary committee that the numbers of beds in government hospitals was “abysmally small”, four temporary hospitals in the capital were dismantled, according to the Indian Express, along with an 800-bed hospital in Pune and a Covid-19 facility in Assam state. “There was this huge window of opportunity to really set ourselves up,” Rao says. “The time could have been used on a very focused approach to scale up readiness for wave two. [But] we thought we were over the worst and had managed it.” For a stretch between 11 January and 15 April, the country’s national scientific taskforce on Covid-19, which advised on quarantine policies and testing and treatment protocols, did not hold a single meeting, according a report in the Caravan, confirmed by the Guardian. [Source: Guardian]

Covid-19 has exposed the rhetoric of populist leaders like Modi, Trump, Bolsonaro and Johnson. In the case of Modi, his right wing Hindu beliefs led him to prematurely open up society and this gave the virus a new lease of life. Trump, Johnson and Bolsonaro have made similar mistakes and the consequences have been devastating.

U.S., Russia, China Poke Each Other at U.N. Security Council

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken took a veiled swipe at Russia and China on Friday during a U.N. Security Council meeting chaired by his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, warning that the actions of some big powers portrays impunity to others. The meeting on multilateralism, convened by China as council president for May, comes amid a U.N. battle for influence between the world's two biggest economies as President Joe Biden seeks to reassert traditional U.S. leadership - reversing former President Donald Trump's favored unilateral approach - in the face of a more assertive Beijing. Blinken stressed the need for countries to uphold international commitments, focus on human rights and respect for the principle of sovereign equality. The United States has accused China of genocide by repressing Uighur Muslims in detention centers in its Xinjiang region. China denies accusations of abuse and says it is trying to stamp out extremism. "Asserting domestic jurisdiction doesn't give any state a blank check to enslave, torture, disappear, ethnically cleanse their people, or violate their human rights in any other way," Blinken said. While Blinken did not name Russia or China, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov bluntly criticized a U.S. plan to hold a summit on global democracy as "creating a new special interests club on an openly ideologized basis" that "could further exacerbate international tension and draw dividing lines in a world which needs a unifying agenda now more than ever." Moscow and Washington have long differed over a range of issues, but ties have slumped further after Biden said he believed President Vladimir Putin was "a killer".

Washington has also imposed sanctions over accusations Moscow interfered in the 2020 U.S. election, cyber hacking and "bullying" Ukraine. China and Russia were both critical of unilateral sanctions with Wang describing them as "illegitimate". [Source: Reuters]

In the Covid-19 world, relations between the great powers are becoming more intense and old fault lines are exacerbating tensions. China and Russia are growing bolder and are challenging the US on a variety levels as well as criticizing US policy at multi-lateral forums.

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