diplomacy

Shared Prosperity: A Vision for South Asia

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Following article is based on the Lakshman Kadirgamar Memorial Lecture 2023 by the author as the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh in Colombo

I am profoundly honoured to have the opportunity to deliver this prestigious Lakshman Kadirgamar Memorial Lecture 2023. I thank the Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka Mr. Ali Sabry for this honour.

As an academician, it is my immense pleasure to share my thoughts with the esteemed audience of our close neighbour Sri Lanka. I am also happy to return to this beautiful island in less than a year after the BIMSTEC Summit held in Colombo.

At the outset, let me pay my homage to late Mr Lakshman Kadirgamar, one of Sri Lanka’s finest sons. He was Foreign Minister during some of the most challenging times in your recent history. Still, he steadily moved towards achieving his dream to build a multi-religious and multi-ethnic united Sri Lanka where all communities could live in harmony. He was a legal scholar and a leader par excellence. He served to raise the level of the political discourse of Sri Lanka, both at home and abroad. His assassination was one of the most tragic losses for the country. However, we are confident that Lakshman Kadirgamar will be remembered by future generations of Sri Lankans for the values and principles he lived and died for which are even more relevant in present-day Sri Lanka.

I am aware of the regard Late Lakshman Kadirgamar held for Bangladesh. I am also aware that my Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina knew him well. Let me share an anecdote. During one of his visits to Bangladesh, after meeting my Prime Minister, on the way out she impromptu took him to the stage of her political, public meeting and introduced him to the audience. He even spoke there for a few minutes. Mrs. Kadirgamar who is present here today, was a witness to that episode. That was an indication of how highly Late Kadirgamar was regarded by my Prime Minister. Perhaps all these prompted Mrs Suganthie Kadirgamar to think of hearing from Bangladesh at this year’s Memorial Lecture. I am deeply touched by this gesture. Thank you, Madam.

We see this as an extension of collaboration between LKI and our think tank BIISS.

Today I would like to share my thoughts on the theme “Shared Prosperity: A Vision for South Asia” which we hold very dearly to our heart.

It cannot begin without recalling our Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who provided our foreign policy dictum “Friendship to all, Malice to None” which he later focused more on promoting relations with neighbours first. His able daughter Hon’ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina aptly picked up the philosophy and extended it and went for its implementation.

Before I delve into the theme, it would be pertinent to put Bangladesh-Sri Lanka bilateral relations in perspective. The relationship is based on multitude of commonalities and close people-to-people contacts. Last year, we celebrated 50th anniversary of the establishment of our diplomatic ties. We regularly exchange high level visits, are engaged in bilateral discussions on sectoral cooperation including shipping, trade and commerce, education, agriculture, youth development, connectivity and so on. Our relationship is all about friendship, goodwill and good neighbourliness. Therefore, it is comfortable for me to speak before you in a broader perspective involving the entire region’s development aspect.

Now, why do we think of a holistic approach to prosperity? It is firstly due to the compulsion of the contemporary evolution of global order. We are now going through one of the most significant phases of human history having already experienced an unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic. Just as we showed our capacity to tame the pandemic, another challenge came in our way–armed conflict in Europe. This has not only slowed down our recovery from the havoc done by the pandemic but also caused a global economic recession due to increase in energy and food prices and more importantly, disruption of supply chain and financial transaction mechanism owing to sanctions. Besides, we are also victims of rivalry between big and emerging economies and their strategic power play. All these necessitate the developing countries to get together.

The vision of shared prosperity becomes more relevant when we compare the development trajectory of South Asian countries. Indeed, we have made substantial progress. Some South Asian countries have already graduated to middle income status while others are making their way. Yet, poverty is still high in region.

One predominant characteristic is that our economies display greater interest in integrating with the global economy than with each other. Regional cooperation within the existing frameworks has made only limited progress being hostage to political and security considerations. The problems have their roots in the historical baggage as well as the existing disparity in the regional structure. In addition, there are a number of outstanding issues and bilateral discords.

All these realities have left us a message that for survival, we need closer collaboration among neighbours setting aside our differences; we must have concerted efforts through sharing of experiences and learning from each other.

In this backdrop, Bangladesh has been following a policy of shared prosperity as a vision for the friendly neighbours of South Asia. Guided by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, we are advocating for inclusive development in the region. Our development trajectory and ideological stance dovetail our vision of shared prosperity for South Asia. Let me tell how we are doing it.

In Bangladesh, human development is the pillar of sustainable development. Our Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in his maiden speech at the UNGA in 1974 said and I quote, “there is an international responsibility … to ensuring everyone the right to a standard living adequate for the health and the well-being of himself and his family”. Unquote.

As the top enabler of the country’s diplomacy, then the Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka, Mr. Lakshman Kadirgamar, called on the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh in New Delhi on February 26, 2005. [ File Photo]

This vision remains relevant even today. In that spirit, we are pursuing inclusive and people-centric development in association with regional and global efforts. 

In the last decade, we have achieved rapid economic growth ensuring social justice for all. Today, Bangladesh is acknowledged as one of the fastest growing economies in the world. We have reduced poverty from 41.5% to 20% in the last 14 years. Our per capita income has tripled in just a decade. Bangladesh has fulfilled all criterions for graduating from LDC to a developing country. Bangladesh is ranked as world’s 5th best COVID resilient country, and South Asia’s best performer.

Last year, we inaugurated the self-funded ‘Padma Multi-purpose Bridge”. A few days ago, we started the first ever Metro Rail service in our capital. Soon, we shall complete the 3.2 kilometer Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Tunnel under the river Karnaphuli in Chattogram, the first in South Asia. Several other mega-projects are in the pipeline which will bring about significant economic upliftment.

Our aspiration is to transform Bangladesh into a knowledge-based ‘Smart Bangladesh” by 2041 and a prosperous and climate-resilient delta by 2100. We hope to attain these goals by way of ensuring women empowerment, sustainable economic growth and creating opportunities for all.

The priorities of Sheikh Hasina Government are the following:

First, provide food, Second, provide cloths, Third, shelter and accommodation to all and no one should be left behind, Fourth, Education and Fifth, Healthcare to all. To achieve these goals, she promoted vehicles like Digital Bangladesh, innovation, foreign entrepreneurs and private initiatives in an atmosphere of regional peace, stability and security, and through connectivity. Bangladesh has become a hub of connectivity and looking forward to become a ‘Smart Bangladesh’.

When it comes to foreign policy, we have been pursuing neighbourhood diplomacy for amiable political relations with the South Asian neighbours alongside conducting a balancing act on strategic issues based on the philosophy of “shared prosperity”. I can name a few initiatives which speak of our commitment to the fulfilment of the philosophy.

Bangladesh, within its limited resources, is always ready to stand by her neighbours in times of emergency-be it natural calamity, or pandemic or economic crisis. We despatched essential medicines, medical equipment and technical assistance to the Maldives, Nepal, Bhutan and India during the peak period of Covid-19 pandemic.

We had readily extended humanitarian assistance to Nepal when they faced the deadly earthquake back in 2015. Last year, we helped the earthquake victims of Afghanistan. Prior to that, we contributed to the fund raised by the United Nations for the people of Afghanistan.

Further, our assistance for the people of Sri Lanka with emergency medicines during the moment of crisis last year or the currency SWAP arrangement is the reflection of our commitment to our philosophy. These symbolic gestures were not about our capacity, pride or mere demonstration, rather it was purely about our sense of obligation to our neighbours. We strongly believe that shared prosperity comes with shared responsibility and development in a single country of a particular region may not sustain if others are not taken along.

In addition, we have resolved most of our critical issues with our neighbours peacefully through dialogue and discussion. For example, we have resolved our border demarcation problem with India, our maritime boundary with India and Myanmar, and also our water sharing with India peacefully through dialogue and discussion.

For an emerging region like South Asia, we need to devise certain policies and implement those in a sustainable manner. I would like to share some of my thoughts which could be explored in quest for our shared prosperity and inclusive development:

First of all, without regional peace and stability we would not be able to grow as aspired for. To that effect, our leaders in the region have to work closely on priority basis. We may have issues between neighbours but we have to transcend that to leave a legacy of harmony for our future generation so that a culture of peace and stability prevails in the region. We can vouch for it from our own experience. In Bangladesh, we are sheltering 1.1 million forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals. If remains unresolved, it has the potential to jeopardise the entire security architecture of South Asia. So, here the neighbourhood should support us for their own interests.

Second, we need to revitalize our regional platforms and properly implement our initiatives taken under BIMSTEC and IORA. We are happy that BIMSTEC is progressing better, but we should endeavour to make it move always like a rolling machine.

Third, we need to focus on regional trade and investment. Countries in South Asia had implemented trade liberalization within the framework of SAFTA but in a limited scale. Bangladesh is in the process of concluding Preferential Trade Agreement/Free Trade Agreement with several of its South Asian peers. We have already concluded PTA with Bhutan; are at an advanced stage of negotiations for PTA with Sri Lanka and discussions for PTA with Nepal are on. In the same spirit, Bangladesh is about to start negotiations on Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with India.

Fourth, a well-connected region brings immense economic benefits and leads to greater regional integration. To maximize our intra- and extra-regional trade potentials and enhance people-to-people contacts, Bangladesh is committed to regional and sub regional connectivity initiatives. Bangladesh’s geostrategic location is a big leverage which was rightly picked up by our Hon’ble Prime Minister. She benevolently offered connectivity in the form of transit and trans-shipment to our friendly neighbours for sustainable growth and collective prosperity of the region. As for Sri Lanka, if we can establish better shipping connectivity which our two countries are working on, the overall regional connectivity would be more robust.

Fifth, We live in a globalized world, highly interconnected and interdependent. Our region has gone through similar experience and history. Bangladesh believes and promotes religious harmony. We have been promoting “Culture of Peace” across nations. The basic element of “Culture of Peace” is to inculcate a mindset of tolerance, a mind set of respect towards others, irrespective of religion, ethnicity, colour, background or race. If we can develop such mindset by stopping venom of hatred towards others, we can hope to have sustainable peace and stability across nations, leading to end of violence, wars, and terrorism in nations and regions. There won’t be millions of refugees or persecuted Rohingyas. Bangladesh takes special pride in it as even before Renaissance was started in Europe in the 17th century, even before America was discovered in 1492, in Bengal a campaign was started by Chandi Das as early as 1408 that says “সবার উপরে মানুষ সত্য; তাহার উপরে নাই”- humanity is above all and we still try to promote it.

Sixth, we have to look beyond a traditional approach of development and challenges and revisit the non-traditional global crises of the recent time. We are experiencing food, fuel, fertilizer and energy shortages due to global politics and disruption of supply chain; as littoral and island countries we face similar challenges of natural disasters; we have vast maritime area which needs effective maritime governance; we need to curb marine pollution and ensure responsible use of marine resources. Our collective, sincere and bold efforts are required to minimize the impacts of climate change as well.
In this context, I would like to share Bangladesh’s understanding and position.

Ocean Governance:

Blue Economy: Bangladesh is an avid proponent of Blue Economy and responsible use of marine resources for the benefit of the entire region. We are keen to utilize the full potential of our marine resources and have developed an integrated maritime policy drawing on the inter-linkages between the different domains and functions of our seas, oceans and coastal areas. Bangladesh also values the importance of sound science, innovative management, effective enforcement, meaningful partnerships, and robust public participation as essential elements of Blue Economy.  At this stage, we need support, technical expertise and investment for sustainable exploration and exploitation of marine resources. As the past and present chairs of IORA, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka should find out ways of bilateral collaboration particularly in Blue Economy in the Bay of Bengal.

Controlling of Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing:
IUU fishing in the maritime territory of Bangladesh needs to be monitored and controlled. Our present capability of marine law enforcement in this regard is limited. Here regional collaboration would be very useful.

Marine Pollution: Marine pollution is a major concern for all littoral countries. Micro-plastic contamination poses serious threat to marine eco system. Responsible tourism and appropriate legal framework underpinned by regional collaboration would greatly help.

Climate Change and Climate Security in the Bay of Bengal: We have taken a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach to make the country climate-resilient. Our Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan was formulated in 2009. Bangladesh has pioneered in establishing a climate fund entirely from our own resources in 2009. Nearly $443 million has been allocated to this fund since then.

Moreover, we are going to implement the ‘Mujib Climate Prosperity Plan’ to achieve low carbon economic growth for optimised prosperity and partnership. Green growth, resilient infrastructure and renewable energy are key pillars of this prosperity plan. This is a paradigm shift from vulnerability to resilience and now from resilience to prosperity.

As the immediate past Chair of the Climate Vulnerable Forum, we had promoted the interests of the climate vulnerable countries including Sri Lanka in the international platforms. Bangladesh is globally acclaimed for its remarkable success in climate adaptation, in particular in locally-led adaptation efforts. The Global Center on Adaptation (GCA) South Asia regional office in Dhaka is disseminating local based innovative adaptation strategies to other climate vulnerable countries.

To rehabilitate the climate displaced people, we have undertaken one of the world’s largest housing projects which can shelter 4,500 climate displaced families. Under the “Ashrayan” project, a landmark initiative for the landless and homeless people, 450,000 families have been provided with houses. Keeping disaster resilience in mind, the project focuses on mitigation through afforestation, rainwater harvesting, solar home systems and improved cook stoves. In addition, the government has implemented river-bank protection, river excavation and dredging, building of embankment, excavation of irrigation canals and drainage canals in last 10 years at a massive scale. We feel, our national efforts need to be complemented by regional assistance.

As the chair of CVF and as a climate vulnerable country, our priority is to save this planet earth for our future generations. In order to save it, we need all countries, specially those that are major polluters, to come up with aggressive NDCs, so that global temperature remains below 1.5 degree Celsius, they should allocate more funds to climate change, they should share the burden of rehabilitation of ‘climate migrants’ that are uprooted from their sweet homes and traditional jobs due to erratic climatic changes, river erosion and additional salinity. We are happy that “loss and damage” has been introduced in COP-27.

Seventh, South Asia needs a collective voice in the international forum for optimizing their own interests.

Finally, and most importantly, South Asian leaders need similar political will for a better and prosperous region.

We hope that Bangladesh and its neighbours in South Asia would be able to tap the potentials of each other’s complementarities to further consolidate our relations to rise and shine as a region. May I conclude by reminding ourselves what a Bengali poet has said, and I quote,

“মেঘ দেখে কেউ করিসনে ভয়
আড়ালে তার সূর্য হাসে”

Don’t be afraid of the cloud, sunshine is sure to follow.

With this, I conclude. I thank you all for your graceful presence and patience.

Joy Bangla, Joy Bangabandhu!

China reaffirms the Support for Sri Lanka

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China is the first official bilateral creditor to have taken the initiative to announce debt extension to Sri Lanka. This speaks to China’s sincerity and action to support Sri Lanka’s effort to achieve debt sustainability, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning yesterday told the reporters at Regular Press Conference.

The complete statement issued by the Chinese Foreign Ministry is as follows;

Shenzhen TV: It is learned that the Export-Import Bank of China has provided Sri Lanka a letter as required, offering an extension on the debt service due in the next two years and saying it would like to have friendly consultation with Sri Lanka regarding medium and long-term debt treatment. Can you confirm this?

Mao Ning: On January 19, the Export-Import Bank of China, as the official bilateral creditor, provided a financing support document to the Ministry of Finance, Economic Stabilization and National Policies of Sri Lanka, saying the Bank is going to provide an extension on the debt service due in 2022 and 2023, which means Sri Lanka will not have to repay the principal and interest due of the Bank’s loans during the above-mentioned period, so as to help relieve Sri Lanka’s short-term debt repayment pressure; meanwhile, the Bank would like to have friendly consultation with Sri Lanka regarding medium- and long-term debt treatment in this window period; and the Bank will make best efforts to contribute to the debt sustainability of Sri Lanka. The Bank also noted that it will support Sri Lanka in its loan application to the IMF; in the meantime, the Bank will continuously call on commercial creditors (including the International Sovereign Bondholders) to provide debt treatment in an equally comparable manner, and encourage multilateral creditors to do their utmost to make corresponding contributions.

As we have said several times, as a friendly neighbor and true friend, China has been providing assistance for Sri Lanka’s economic and social development to the best of our capabilities. The financing support document is aimed at combining an “immediate contingency measure” and “medium- and long-term debt treatment” to rapidly, effectively and truly resolve Sri Lanka’s debt issue. As far as I have learned, China is the first official bilateral creditor to have taken the initiative to announce debt extension to Sri Lanka. This speaks to China’s sincerity and action to support Sri Lanka’s effort to achieve debt sustainability.

China calls on all other creditors of Sri Lanka, especially multilateral creditors, to take synchronized, similar steps and give effective, strong support to Sri Lanka to help the country emerge from its default status at an early date and eventually work out an arrangement for Sri Lanka to achieve medium- and long-term debt sustainability. China also calls on the IMF to take into full consideration the urgency of the situation in Sri Lanka and provide loan support as soon as possible to relieve the country’s liquidity strain.

Going forward, China will continue to support relevant financial institutions in actively working out the debt treatment. We will work with relevant countries and international financial institutions to jointly play a positive role in helping Sri Lanka navigate the situation, ease its debt burden and achieve sustainable development.

Taliban in Kabul: Exploiting International Generosity

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The Taliban administration in Kabul known variously as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan [self-declared] or Defacto authorities remained defiant over international and regional stakeholders’ request for observing universal human rights particularly towards women and the media. The Taliban claimed that the world must honor its culture and traditions which are based on interpretation of the Sharia by the top religious leadership led by Mullah Hibatullah, known as the Supreme Authority.

Numerous delegations from the United Nations, Organization for Islamic Cooperation, international and regional stakeholders visited Afghanistan in the month of January seeking the Taliban to open education for women and permit them to work in the NGO sector. A number of stakeholders visited Afghanistan during the month to appeal to the Taliban to mainstream with international human rights amongst other issues. The United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed and UN Women Executive Director Sima Bahous visited Kabul and met with the Taliban authorities to discuss Afghan women’s rights and other issues.

Minister Muutaqi expressed his gratitude and hoped that the UN delegation would portray Afghanistan’s true image to the international community. “Women are engaged in educational and health sectors in significant numbers whereas those who used to work in government offices are paid salaries at home. The number of female inmates has reduced considerably, and broad facilities have been provided in the business sector,” Muttaqi said. Muttaqi also reiterated that not recognizing the Afghan government, travel bans on the Islamic Emirate authorities and restrictions on the banking system have led to numerous problems. While the senior Taliban officials met the delegation and appeared ready to engage in a discussion on women’s rights, but there were no serious breakthroughs, or even major progress, on getting the country’s rulers to back down on their policies on women’s rights.

The Organizations of the Islamic Cooperation held an extraordinary meeting on Afghanistan in Jeddah aimed at “considering the situation in Afghanistan following the decisions taken by the de facto Afghan authorities to close down schools and universities to girls and women for an unspecified period and suspend women from working in all national and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in violation of the purposes of Islamic law and the methodology of the Messenger of Allah, Prophet Muhammad.” Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) continued the distribution of aid to at least 47,400 vulnerable families in Afghanistan.

The Taliban has blatantly ignored the appeals by organisations and high officials as Antonio Guterres, the United Nations Secretary General for reversing the ban on education for women.

There has been only limited breakthrough in this direction as the Taliban continued to defy these requests. In the interim the Group has tightened conservative religious edicts and implementation such as public flogging for crime.

On January 28, Taliban’s Ministry of Higher Education issued a new decree banning female students from taking university entrance exams (Kankor) this year in all public and private universities in Afghanistan. The international benevolence towards the hardline extremist Taliban regime is based on the empathy for the Afghan people who have suffered for the past many decades and in case ignored now may fall into the trap of extreme penury, human suffering and loss of lives of the most vulnerable essentially the children.

The aid and assistance to the Taliban includes packages of hard cash flowing in the country sustaining the economy and providing for the peoples livelihood to some extent despite a very harsh winter. There are apparently no signs of weakening of the Taliban resolve to maintain its ideological extreme beliefs even though some amongst them have from time to time called for a change.

These latter voices are few and far between and are coming mainly from officials who are in Kabul the capital whereas the ideological edicts have been issued from Kandahar the clerical headquarters of the de facto authorities. Under the circumstances hoping for a change of approach in Afghanistan soon is unlikely.

Source: Security Risks Research

Do Something Meaningful Rather Than Beating Around The Bush – China to US on Sri Lanka

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Following a comment made by the US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland’s during her visit to Sri Lanka, China said US should show some sincerity and actually do something to help the island nation.

Responding to Nuland’s statement that the terms extended by China to Sri Lanka for getting IMF debt relief are not enough, the Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning said in a regular press conference on Thursday, that what was said by the US side does not reflect the truth.

The US Under Secretary said the US expects China, as the largest bilateral creditor to Sri Lanka, to give credible and specific assurance that matches IMF’s standard on debt restructuring.

 The Spokesperson said the Export-Import Bank of China has already provided Sri Lanka with a letter to express support for its debt sustainability and Sri Lanka has responded positively and thanked China for that.

“Rather than jabbing fingers at China’s close cooperation with Sri Lanka, the US might as well show some sincerity and actually do something to help Sri Lanka weather through the current difficulties,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson retaliated.

Spokesperson Mao Ning said as a friendly neighbour and true friend, China has been closely following the difficulties and challenges facing Sri Lanka and providing assistance for its economic and social development to the best of its capabilities.

“As to Sri Lanka’s debt to the Chinese side, we support Chinese financial institutions in having consultations with Sri Lanka to seek a proper settlement,” she added.

When asked whether there is any conversation or talk between China and the IMF where the IMF has confirmed that China’s assurances are credible and enough for the IMF to disburse the debt relief financial support, the Spokesperson said China supports the Chinese financial institutions in having consultations with Sri Lanka to seek a proper settlement to its China-related debt issue.

“China stands ready to work with relevant countries and international financial institutions and continue to play a positive role in helping Sri Lanka navigate the situation, easing its debt burden and helping it achieve sustainable development,” Spokesperson Mao Ning said at the regular press conference.

Adani’s Calling Off Public Offer: A Big Setback for India’s Green Hydrogen Projects

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All those who are keen that India should successfully set up massive green hydrogen projects to overcome the impending energy crisis are greatly disappointed that Adani group has decided not to go ahead with the fully subscribed  Rs.20,000 crore   Follow On Public Offer.

Using this public offer of Rs.20,000 crore,  Adani group earlier announced that it would spend a substantial amount to set up green hydrogen projects,  which are unlikely to happen now.

Need for green hydrogen energy project

India presently imports around  80% of it’s crude oil requirement amounting to around 250 million tonne per annum,. India is also importing around 50% of India’s requirement of natural gas, which amounts to around 35 billion cubic metres per annum.

Import requirement of crude oil and natural gas is likely to increase at 6 to 7% per annum in the coming years, as domestic production of crude oil and natural gas is likely to remain stagnant in the coming years.

Amongst many plans being implemented by the government of India to reduce the use of fossil fuel and avoid global warming, the promotion of green energy projects in a big way is one of the very important strategies.

The government of India has allotted Rs.35,000 crore for green energy projects in the 2023-24 annual budget.

The government of India is targeting to generate five million tonnes of green hydrogen annually from the year 2030, which is the industry’s total amount of (non-green) hydrogen consumed today.

This shift to green hydrogen would avoid  30  to 40 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per annum and avert import of more than ₹60,000 crore worth of natural gas and crude oil.

Adani group’s proposed plans:

Adani group’s business spans coal trading, mining, FMCG (Adani Wilmar), seaport, solar power manufacturing, airports, roads, data centres, green hydrogen and so on. 

If the proposed public offer would have been accepted by Adani group, about ₹10,800 crores would have been used to fund the capital needs of green hydrogen projects, airports and expressways. 

Green hydrogen project proposal of Adani group covers the green hydrogen ecosystem from scratch.

While a few other green hydrogen projects are in the preliminary stage in India, the green hydrogen project proposal of Adani group is one of the largest.

A big setback for India’s project investment plans:

Private sector investments in projects like what Adani group has announced have to happen in a big way if India is to attain the target of 5 trillion dollar economy in the coming years.

Obviously, to attain this target, many massive projects require huge investment, for which large public issues of several thousand crores of rupees are required. 

If such public issues were to be throttled and sabotaged by vicious and motivated campaigns by some so-called research groups, then,  it would result in big setbacks for India’s future development programmes.

When an industrial group achieves spectacular growth, it is seen that those who cannot match the performance of the fast-growing group view such performance with surprise and disbelief. 

There have been cases and instances, where competitors from India or abroad would try to indirectly launch campaigns against the fast-growing group and support negative campaigns.

There have also been cases where motivated environmental groups have scuttled projects by carrying out hate campaigns and stating unproven environmental violations against particular companies. The immediate example is the closure of Sterlite Copper unit in Tamil Nadu

There have been many instances to show such motivated campaigns across the world for whatever reasons.

These conditions cause setback to India’s plans to achieve big leap forward.

Adani group   – A victim of motivated campaign  in this case:

A vicious campaign   against Adani group   was carried out by a US-based investment research firm known as  Hindenburg Research, stating several  vague  allegations, some unproven violations 

Due to the massive publicity given to such campaigns in Indian media before proper investigation, the gullible investors became panicky.  In such circumstance, the share of Adani group have seen massive losses.

In such extraordinary circumstances, Adani group felt that going ahead with the fully subscribed issue will not be correct,  since the interest of the investors have to be protected.

The net result of the situation is that  India has lost massive investment opportunities in green hydrogen projects.

Further, the motivated American research team and the detractors against India, wherever they may be,   seem to be highly pleased and satisfied.

The entire Adani episode is a case of negative forces winning ,  which is a very unfortunate situation for a growing and developing country like India.

Writing About a Joy That Invades Jenin

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5 mins read

Israel calls its latest military campaign Operation Break the Wave, a lyrical description of a brutal reality. This year, 2023, will be the seventy-fifth year after the Nakba, the catastrophe of 1948 when Israeli troops illegally removed Palestinians from their homes and tried to erase Palestine from the map. Since then, Palestinians have resisted against all odds, despite Israel’s formidable backing by the most powerful countries in the world, led by the United States.

Operation Break the Wave started in February 2022 with the assassination of three Palestinians in Nablus (Adham Mabrouka, Ashraf Mubaslat, and Mohammad Dakhil) and continued with terrible violence along the spine of the West Bank, spreading into brutalised Gaza. On 26 January 2023, Israeli forces killed ten Palestinians – including an elderly woman – in Jenin and in al-Ram, north of Jerusalem, and then shot at an ambulance to prevent it from assisting the injured – a clear war crime. The Jenin massacre provoked rocket fire from Palestinian resistance forces in Gaza, to which the Israeli Air Force responded disproportionately, shooting at the densely populated al-Maghazi refugee camp in the centre of Gaza. The cycle of violence continued with a lone Palestinian gunman killing seven Israelis in the illegal settlement of Neve Yaakov in East Jerusalem. In reaction to that, the Israeli government has put in place ‘collective punishment’ systems – a violation of the Geneva Conventions – which allows the state to target the gunman’s family members, and the Israeli government will make it easier for Israelis to carry firearms.

The Israeli government launched Operation Break the Wave in response to habbat sha’biyya (‘popular uprisings’) that have begun again across Palestine and express the frustration generated by Israeli pressure campaigns and the near collapse of economic life. Some of these uprisings took place not only in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza where they are more common, but amongst Palestinians living inside the 1948 Green Line of Israel. In May 2021, these protestors gathered under The Dignity and Hope Manifesto and called for new agitations, a ‘united Intifada’ which unites Palestinians in exile, inside Israel, and in the Occupied Territories. These moves and the gains of Palestinians in the United Nations system indicate a new dynamism within Palestinian politics. Most recently, on 31 December 2022, the UN General Assembly voted 87 to 26 to ask the International Court of Justice to provide an opinion on Israel’s ‘prolonged occupation, settlement, and annexation of Palestinian territory’. The new phase of Israeli violence against Palestinians is a reaction to their achievements.

In the midst of all this, the Israeli people voted Benjamin Netanyahu into office to form his sixth government since 1996. Already, Netanyahu has been Israel’s prime minister for over fifteen of the past twenty-seven years, as he heads into another seven-year term. His government is fiercely far-right, although from the standpoint of the Palestinians there is steady continuity in Zionist state policy, whether the government is led by the far-right or by less right-wing sections. On 28 December 2022, Netanyahu defined his government’s mission with clarity: ‘The Jewish people have an exclusive and unquestionable right to all areas of the Land of Israel. The government will promote and develop settlement in all parts of the Land of Israel – in the Galilee, the Negev, the Golan, Judea, and Samaria’.

Netanyahu’s maximalist standard – that the Jewish people, not just the Zionist state, have the right to the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea – is not something that has appeared precipitously in this government’s statements. It is rooted in Israel’s Basic Law (2018), which says, ‘The land of Israel is the historical homeland of the Jewish people, in which the State of Israel was established’. This legal manoeuvre established Israel as the land of Jewish people, not a multinational or multi-ethnic territory. Furthermore, every administrative definition of the ‘State of Israel’ asserts its control over the entire territory. For example, Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics has, since at least 1967, inaccurately counted any Israeli living to the west of the Jordan River, even in the West Bank, as an Israeli, and official Israeli maps show none of the internal divisions produced by the 1993 Oslo Accords.

Israeli state policy, rooted in a settler-colonial mentality, leaves no room for a Palestinian state. Gaza is throttled, the Bedouins in an-Naqab are being displaced, Palestinians in East Jerusalem are being evicted, and illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank are growing like a plague of locusts. Netanyahu’s governmental partner Otzma Yehudit (‘Jewish Strength’) is willing to conduct Palestinicide in order to create a Jewish-only society in the Levant. The promise of Oslo, a two-state solution, is simply no longer factually possible as the Palestinian state is eroded and contained. The idealistic possibility of a binational state – made up of Israel and Palestine with Palestinians given full citizenship rights – is foreclosed by the Zionist insistence that Israel be a Jewish state, an ethnocentric and anti-democratic option that already treats Palestinians as second-class residents in an apartheid society. Instead, Zionism is in favour of a ‘three-state solution’, namely expelling Palestinians to Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon.

In 2016, the United States and Israel signed their third ten-year Memorandum of Understanding on military aid, which runs from 2019 to 2028, and under which the US promises to provide Israel with $38 billion for military equipment. This aid is unconditional: nothing in the agreement prevents Israel from using the equipment to violate international law, kill US citizens (as it killed Shireen Abu Akleh, a reporter), or destroy humanitarian projects funded by the US government. Rather than mildly rebuke Israel for its ethnocidal policies, US President Joe Biden welcomed Benjamin Netanyahu, his ‘friend for decades’, to assist the US in confronting illusionary ‘threats from Iran’. Furthermore, just after Netanyahu’s government deepened Operation Break the Wave, the US military arrived in Israel in force to conduct a joint military exercise called Juniper Oak, the ‘largest and most significant exercise we have engaged in’, according to Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brigadier General Pat Ryder. Backed to the hilt by the US and nonchalant about condemnation from international bodies, the Israeli state continues its fatal project to erase Palestine.

Maya Abu al-Hayyat, a Palestinian poet living in Jerusalem, wrote a beautiful poem called ‘Daydream’, which settles into a rhythm of Palestinian life and geography defined by little towns in the West Bank. There are children playing, women dancing, life where life is denied by an occupation that has lasted for generations and generations, where the screams of the occupied mimic the loud alarm of the Palestine Sunbird, the national bird.

I’ll write about a joy that invades Jenin from six directions,
about children running while holding balloons in Am’ari Camp,
about a fullness that quiets breastfeeding babies all night in Askar,
about a little sea we can stroll up and down in Tulkarem,
about eyes that stare in people’s faces in Balata,
about a woman dancing
for people in line at the checkpoint in Qalandia,
about stitches in the sides of laughing men in Azzoun,
about you and me
stuffing our pockets with seashells and madness
and building a city.

My pockets are filled with rage and hope, an expectation that our struggles of solidarity alongside the Palestinian people will prevail, because the ‘process of liberation is irresistible and irreversible’.

The West sees Iran in a new way

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The Wall Street Journal reported from Tehran on Wednesday that “a lethal crackdown and an ailing economy have quieted anti-government street demonstrations … organised protests have largely tapered off.” The paradox is, this interpretation is widely applicable in the contemporary world situation, including many G7 countries. How can one pretend there are no “protestor grievances” in Britain or France today, and, yet, how come they are mute? 

The western narrative never cared to admit that Iran is ruled by elected governments. The big question is, would such street violence have erupted in Iran without the covert support and  coordination by foreign intelligence agencies? It is pointless to discuss Iran’s politics while in denial mode about the whole history of foreign interference in that country’s internal affairs. 

Michel Foucault’s famous essay on the Iranian Revolution What Are the Iranians Dreaming About? begins with the author’s exchange with an Iranian activist in the streets of Tehran heaving with revolutionary fervour in 1978: “They will never let go of us of their own will. No more than they did in Vietnam.” I (Foucault) wanted to respond that they are even less ready to let go of you than Vietnam, because of oil.” 

Today, four decades later, this historical reality continues. Arguably,  it may now become even more complicated and intractable, as Iran’s oil and gas is set to combine with Russia’s,  another energy superpower. Meanwhile, Associated Press reported today that Iran and Russia are also moving toward linking their banking systems, turning their back on the petrodollar. 

Read the US Energy Information Administration data — here and here — to know why the AP report matters. Simply put, almost a quarter of the world’s oil reserves and around 40 percent of the world’s gas reserves may potentially be traded outside the western banking system if Russian and Iranian policies work in tandem, dealing a body blow to the “world currency,” American dollar.

Suffice to say, there is no question that the protests in Iran were a  western reaction to the emerging alliance between Iran and Russia. Now that the protests over hijab have “tapered off,” the modus operandi will shift from colour revolution back to the classic mode of sabotage and assassinations (especially after Benjamin Netanyahu’s return to power in Israel.) 

The burgeoning military cooperation between Iran and Russia puts Tehran on Washington’s crosshairs. In the context of the Ukraine conflict, the West see Iran in a new way. Indeed, the Russian interest in getting Iran on board the Moscow-brokered process of Turkish-Syrian rapprochement underscores that the Kremlin has jettisoned whatever past reserve it would had about aligning with Iran in geopolitical projects. 

On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated at a press conference with the visiting Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry in Moscow that “Russia, Iran, and Turkey are members of the Astana troika, which has been handling the Syrian settlement. Therefore, I consider it absolutely logical that any further communication on bringing relations between Turkey and Syria back to normal will also involve Russia and Iran. 

“As for the timeframes and specific formats of participation, be it at the military, diplomatic or any other level, they are currently being specified. We have a full understanding that it is necessary to move step by step, so that every step forward should yield specific, albeit minor, results.” 

What the US and its Western allies (and Israel) will find particularly galling will be the warm words of welcome extended by Turkey to this development, which highlights the ascendance of “Astana troika” in the geopolitics of Syria. 

Turkish President Recep Erdogan’s foreign policy advisor Ibrahim Kalin has said: “We are pleased that Iran is joining this process. Iran is an important side. I think it will be able to contribute to this process. The participation of Iran in the negotiating process, which is held with the mediation of Russia, will make it easier. As part of this process, we are talking about ensuring the security of our borders, the neutralisation of the terrorist threat with respect to our country, the return of Syrian refugees, a worthy and safe return.”

Kalin disclosed that a foreign minister level meeting between Russia, Turkey, Syria and Iran can be expected “within the next few weeks.” Unsurprisingly, a convergence of interests between the US, Israel and Kurds (and Kiev) to settle scores with Iran is only to be expected.  

The early signs are already there. According to Iran’s defence ministry, three drones were involved in the attack on Friday at about midnight on a military facility in the city of Isfahan. It said one drone was destroyed by air defence systems and two were caught by “defence traps”, causing minor damage to a building. There were no casualties. 

Pentagon spokesperson Brig Gen Patrick Ryder promptly said the US military played no part in the strikes, but declined to speculate further. However, Wall Street Journal quoted unnamed “US officials and people familiar with the operation” as saying Israel had carried out the attack. The New York Times also named Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service, citing “senior (US) intelligence officials”. (here)

Isfahan province is home to a large air base, a major missile production complex and several nuclear sites. Iran’s official Irna news agency said the drones had targeted an ammunition manufacturing plant. The BBC highlighted that “The attack comes amid heightened tensions over Iran’s nuclear programme and its supply of arms to Russia’s war in Ukraine.”

NourNews, which is wired into Iran’s national security establishment, disclosed on Wednesday that forensic experts have matched the body, engines, power supply and navigation system of the downed UAVs and “precisely determined their manufacturer and revealed important clues.”

second report by NourNews on Wednesday went into further details according to which Kurdish terrorist elements based in Iraqi Kurdistan were deployed by “a foreign security service” to smuggle parts of the drones and explosive materials across the border through “one of the inaccessible routes” in northwest” Iran, which were later assembled in “an equipped workshop using trained forces.” It seems Iran’s security establishment had some inkling of such a terrorist attack on the basis of the interrogation in August of a terrorist Kurdish group working for the Israeli agency Mossad. 

However, a stunning dimension to this sordid affair is that a top aide to the Ukrainian president Zelensky linked the Isfahan attack to the alleged supply of Iranian drones to Russia. An unnamed Iranian official has since reacted that unless Kiev disowned any such linkage, Tehran too may adopt “a new approach that is appropriate to the behaviour of the Kiev government.” 

Not much ingenuity is needed to connect the dots in the Isfahan attack — Ukrainian and Israeli intelligence (and the American masterminds in Kiev) operated through the Kurdish groups based in Iraqi Kurdistan, which have long-standing links to both the US and Mossad, and “sleeper cells” within Iran. 

The bottomline is that today, almost anything concerning Iran’s security  would have a foreign dimension — albeit hidden behind hijab or rubrics of democracy and human rights. That is what history testifies. No doubt, time present and time past are linked in such a way in Iran that both could be present in time future, and — to borrow from English poet TS Eliot — the time future can as well be deemed as “contained in time past.” 

Russia and Pakistan Energy Diplomacy

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3 mins read

 The economy of Pakistan is under pressure, and several important economic indicators specify a dire scenario. The decision-makers must have a real debate about how they intend to take genuine action to address the difficulties ahead as the problems with oil, gas, and power worsen for the general public and the government. Unfortunately, we are mired in a political drama that never seems to let up.

The first shipment of crude oil and petroleum products is anticipated to enter Pakistan in late March after the completion of a definitive agreement between Pakistan and Russia. In Pakistan, to negotiate the contract, Russian Energy Minister Nikolay Shulginov said that we have already resolved to prepare an agreement to address all of the concerns that we have with respect to volume, payments, insurance, and transportation.

Even though certain important elements still need to be worked out, the agreement would greatly impact Pakistan’s economy and relations with the rest of the world if it were to go through. It is the first significant step that Pakistan and Russia have taken toward developing their bilateral cooperation in oil and gas trading. In the past, discussions in this respect remained at the level of first expressions of interest. Pakistan now intends to meet 35% of its whole crude oil need from Russia and start imports in a few months. If all goes according to plan, the trade may significantly alter the bilateral relationship, enabling both nations to better organize their interactions.

The possibility of importing gas and oil from Russia also gives Pakistan another outlet to acquire oil at a lower cost. This is crucial since Pakistan’s foreign currency reserves are adequate to pay for three weeks’ worth of oil imports, putting the country in a similar scenario to the default. Most of Pakistan’s imports are made up of energy, and the country would benefit from cheaper oil from Russia by being able to control its growing trade imbalance and balance-of-payments issue. To pay for Russian oil, Pakistan is anticipated to utilize the Chinese yuan. The joint declaration states that the oil and gas trade transactions would be set up such that both nations profit after an agreement on the technical specification has been reached. This may lessen some of the strain on Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves.

The outcome is also a significant diplomatic victory for Pakistan. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it seems that Pakistan has discovered a means to evade the sanctions imposed by the West. Pakistan might not have gone this far in talks with Russia if it had been concerned that the agreement would upset the United States and its allies. This is especially significant since Pakistan is now in negotiations for another review to allow the release of significant money from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The speed at which Pakistan and Russia are closing a deal suggests that the United States may not oppose the two nations doing commerce. It’s also probable that Pakistan accepted American advice while deciding to acquire Russian oil. The United States and Pakistan’s usual Gulf energy suppliers have not yet made any public declarations objecting to Islamabad’s continuing talks with Moscow.

The U.S. seems ready to ignore the agreement. Ned Price, a spokesman for the State Department, said that “the U.S. was sensitive to the difficulty of stabilizing Pakistan’s economy. I know Pakistan’s collaboration with the IMF and other global financial organizations. We want Pakistan to be in a situation where its economy is stable”. According to reports, Washington has increased financial involvement with the present Pakistani administration. A team of top U.S. Department of Treasury officials is scheduled to visit Pakistan shortly to address various areas of financial assistance for Pakistan. In addition, the American embassy in Islamabad plans a seminar on energy security challenges for Pakistan in March.

For Pakistan, everything seems to be going well. It is encountering little opposition in its efforts to reach an agreement with Moscow. Now, Islamabad should concentrate on fulfilling all technical requirements to guarantee that Russian supplies reach Pakistan’s ports as soon as possible. Thus, the IGC session is crucial and significant. The general diplomacy in the Asian area around energy and gas has also caught Pakistan off guard. A power struggle between the two giants has developed out of what started as China’s economic sway over the ASEAN area. It is now being fueled by Russia’s attempts to advance east. India’s oil consumption appeared to have no boundaries as it devoured roughly 60 million barrels of Russian oil in 2022. Is India only trying to restock its oil supplies, or is it attempting to sway regional oil diplomacy on the Quad’s behalf? With the best U.S. oil refineries awaiting Russian oil supply, which has been speculated as another reason for the increased Indian oil supply, a ban on Russia from Europe does not have a significant impact on its oil and gas supply. The officials’ nerves will be tested as they attempt to clinch a successful deal, particularly with the IMF watching their every move intently.

Pakistan’s greatest failure has been the inability to recognize the actual problems that we are currently facing and the propensity of moving funds from one area to another over the last 75 years without truly paying our bills and commitments. The most recent Geneva Convention is a prime example of this pattern when Pakistan obtained bank and soft loans totaling more than $ 9 billion to avoid the looming economic crisis. The facilitators of Pakistani government machinery need to reevaluate several things, including their upcoming diplomatic commitments and agreements as well as our internal competence.

Russia’s gas union eyes Pakistan, India

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Pakistan’s acute energy crisis is the immediate backdrop against which Foreign Minister Bilawal Zardari’s forthcoming talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow today need to be understood.

But then, Lavrov is a ‘Renaissance man’ in the world of international diplomacy and is sure to synchronise his watch with Zardari’s. For both countries, things have changed, old friends are leaving and life doesn’t stop for anyone. 

The Russian Foreign Ministry press release on Zardari’s visit stated tersely, “The foreign ministers will discuss the state of bilateral relations, regional and international issues. Special attention will be paid to the development of trade and economic relations.” 

The MFA spokesperson Maria Zakharova subsequently disclosed that the Russian and Pakistani companies are “actively working to resolve the remaining issues” concerning the supply of Russian energy resources to Pakistan. She noted that the payment system is an issue, as Russia wants an arrangement in national currencies “or in the currencies of third countries that are protected from sanctions risks.” 

Also, energy cooperation by its very nature involves substantial long-term investments and the fact remains that, as Zakharova put it, “the US currency is a soap bubble, unsecured money that is printed even despite America’s huge public debt.” 

Importantly, Zakharova highlighted that the two countries have also decided to “discuss a comprehensive plan for energy cooperation, which provides for the construction of infrastructure and the supply of energy carriers” within a framework that holds the potential to “ensure the sustainable development” of Pakistan’s gas industry. A  Russian gas pipeline to Pakistan is in the making. 

Zardari’s visit to Moscow comes within 3 weeks of a  tripartite gas cooperation arrangement between Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan making headlines in the news cycle. The termination of Russia’s decades-old energy ties with Europe, including gas supplies via pipelines, motivates Moscow’s search for new markets, Asian markets being a priority. 

Thus, late last year, Moscow proposed a gas union with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan offering to help out the two Central Asian states that are struggling with gas shortages. Earlier this month, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan signed two separate agreements with the Russian giant Gazprom cementing the new partnership. A new vista is opening for Russia to use the existing gas pipelines in these two countries to export gas to their domestic market in immediate terms. 

Albeit in a bilateral format, this arrangement also positions Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan potentially as transit countries enabling Russian gas supplies to the regional and world market, especially China, South Asian countries and the ASEAN region. (Russia has proposed a similar arrangement to Ankara to route its gas to the European market via an energy hub in Turkey.)   

All energy projects are “geopolitical,” as the recent destruction of Russia’s Nord Stream pipelines, masterminded by the US, would show. But this one is a “win-win” for both Russia and the two central Asian states, as the income accruing to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan out of transit fee will be very substantial and long-term, whilst Russia gains access to new markets. 

Enter Afghanistan. On January 11-12, Russia’s presidential envoy for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov came down to Kabul and held in-depth consultations with the Taliban leadership in pursuit of “Moscow’s unwavering commitment to developing a comprehensive dialogue with Kabul.” The Russian Foreign Ministry press release stated that the focus was on “mutually beneficial cooperation in such sectors as energy, agriculture, transport, infrastructure, industry, mining, in particular, the organisation of regular commercial supplies of Russian fuel and agricultural products to Afghan companies.” 

The press release said, “As the situation in Afghanistan stabilises, domestic economic operators may participate in the construction and operation of the Turkmenistan–Afghanistan–Pakistan–India gas pipeline, as well as in the restoration of large infrastructure projects built on the territory of Afghanistan during the Soviet era.” 

Most important, the MFA added that “During the consultations, considerable attention was paid to the prospects of political and diplomatic recognition of the current Afghan Government by the international community, including by the Russian Federation.” It concluded that “The leadership of Afghanistan highly appreciates the efforts of the Russian Federation to assist the Afghan people in building a peaceful, independent and economically self-sufficient State.” 

Interestingly, in a TV interview soon after his return to Moscow, Kabulov openly alleged that the ISIL in Afghanistan is nothing but an Anglo-American project with an agenda to cause instability in the region. Indeed, the regional setting is changing dramatically. Russia has become intensely conscious of the burden of history and realises the imperative to strengthen its leadership role as the provider of security for the Central Asian region. The western threat to Central Asia and North Caucasus is continuing. 

Russia hopes to lead a regional effort to stabilise the Afghan situation and counter extremist groups, which act as a geopolitical tool for Washington. Russia (and China) increasingly deals with the Taliban rulers as the established government of Afghanistan. Fundamentally, terrorism is a major concern for Russia (and China).

Moscow estimates that the Taliban has the political will to act against the ISIS optimally, but lacks the financial resources. To be sure, Afghanistan will figure in Lavrov’s talks with Zardari. India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval will also be visiting Moscow shortly for consultations on Afghanistan. 

This is an appropriate time for India to improve its relations with Pakistan. Fortuitously, the SCO-related events will bring Pakistani leaders to India. PM Modi has announced that India’s G-20 Presidency “will be grounded in the theme ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ or One Earth, One Family, One Future.’” Conceivably, India should invite Pakistan to the G20 Summit in Delhi in September as a special guest.  

At a pragmatic level, the TAPI gas pipeline project  dovetails with the tripartite gas union that Russia is putting together with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The Russian daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote recently that Moscow has high hopes of extending the Central Asian gas grid to the South Asian region and to the ASEAN region in the medium term.

Andrei Grozin, head of the Department of Central Asia and Kazakhstan at the Institute of CIS Countries and senior researcher at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told the Russian daily that “This is already a new state policy of Russia, and it is obvious that neither Astana nor Tashkent will be able to refuse to participate in this project. Experts agree that by the middle of this century, Southeast Asia will become the main energy-consuming region. No matter how fantastic the expansion of the gas pipeline network to Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, China may sound now,  it will soon become a reality. Therefore, it is necessary to promote our raw materials to the southern markets today.”

Of course, such a mega project will raise hiccups in Washington. It comes as no surprise that the US Undersecretary of state Victoria Nuland (who midwifed the 2014 regime change in Kiev and openly gloats over the sabotage and destruction of Russia’s Nord Stream gas pipeline) is arriving in Delhi this week. 

Washington is upset that Western sanctions pressure on Russian oil exports has led to a significant strengthening of India’s energy ties with Russia. Not only is Russian crude sold to India twice as cheap as world analogues, but the Russian production of petroleum products is actually transferred to India.

After the entry into force of the European embargo on Russian oil products w.e.f February 5, India is set to become the main supplier of refined Russian oil to Europe with a potential export turnover in tens of billions of dollars. (Please see Russia gives India the supply of Europe with petroleum productsNezavisimaya Gazeta, Jan. 16, 2023Exports of diesel fuel from India are already increasing.

Technically, this does not violate EU sanctions against Russia. But it annoys the Biden Administration, which had anticipated that there would be potential to boost US exports to replace Russian  petroleum products in the lucrative European market.

The US will be uneasy about a “gas union” betwixt Russia, Pakistan and India. But India has vital interests in safeguarding its energy security. The western hegemony in the world order is ending. Russia’s “gas union” in Central Asia signals that the time has come for regional states in South Asia to respond with a unity of purpose. 

Flight MH 17 and The Little Dutch Girl – A Personal Reflection

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4 mins read

You are an open wound

And we are standing

In a pool of your blood

Rupi Kaur

25th of January 2023 was significant from a judicial standpoint, but it was a grim reminder of how many lives were stolen in the most violent and egregious way.

The Destruction

One of the worst atrocities in the annals of civil aviation was perpetrated when Flight MH 17 was destroyed over Eastern Ukraine by a ground-based missile. Was Russia to blame? Or was it Ukraine? Or even the airline for flying over dangerous territory?  The aircraft operating the flight was shot down in eastern Ukraine about 60km from the Russian border on 17 July 2014, allegedly by pro-Russia separatists.  All the 298 passengers – 193 of whom were Dutch – are believed to have died, and some of the remains of those who perished were never recovered. It is now revealed that death was not instantaneous.

Everyone seemingly responsible for the heinous act started deflecting blame, and a little girl (and all others on board) on the flight was forgotten, except for her  devastated father who grieved the unbearable loss of his only child. 

From then on, everything became clinical and adjudicatory.

Seven and a half years later, The European Court of Human Rights ruled on 25th January 2023 – on a purely procedural and technical issue –  that complaints against Russia from Ukraine and the Netherlands should go to trial, but it was not about what the little Dutch girl lost. Who would care anymore, anyway?

The European Court of Human rights, in a press release said: “Among other things, the Court found that areas in eastern Ukraine in separatist hands were, from May 11, 2014 and up to at least January 26, 2022, under the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation” , referring to “the presence in eastern Ukraine of Russian military personnel from April 2014 and the large-scale deployment of Russian troops from August 2014 at the latest.”

The Little Dutch Girl

One day in mid July 2014 a young girl –  full of hope for her future and bubbling with the energy of youth – boarded a Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777, in Amsterdam.  She had everything in life to be thankful for  – a university education,  romance and courting, a good life  with a warm home and a family – all  in front of her.  The best was yet to come.  It was time for new life to start with the freshness of hope and all the happiness that her young  heart could take.  Her  penalty for being born was not even in the distant horizon.

Her destination was Kuala Lumpur, and she was looking forward to a lighthearted romp on a fun flight and a glorious holiday with her family who were travelling with her.  

Yet she did not make it.

Every day, people die of accidents caused by their own negligence, or diseases beyond their control. People also die of intentional killing by others. Somewhat rarely, people suffer death through random acts of violence – like the little Dutch girl. For her there was no second chance.  There was no going back to the perfumed meadow of Summer. It was as though an alien sky swallowed her that clear day and the future became an illusion.

There are no answers no good, no evil only a million promises not kept that day when it raised its ugly head.  We can only fill the craters with ashes; level the furrows plant grass, trees, flowers lay white gravel path some rustic benches – a public park and hush the cries of orphaned parents.

But there was no one when darkness fell that night and all the lights went out.  She should have had someone that she could find.  She should not have been alone to weep.

My Reflections

Today, that little girl would have been in her early twenties. What would she be doing? Perhaps reminiscing over her first and only love at university? The first time she saw him and looked down and walked away? How memories of him protecting both under a tiny umbrella when they walked alone in the rain flood her mind? How she forgot to tell him what was on her mind? How she hurt for having forgotten to tell him what was on her mind? How excited she felt when she scored high grades and ran up to tell him? The look on dad’s face when she told him of her grades.

Maybe she would be holding her first born lovingly and tenderly, while her baby peered at her radiant like a pearl in an oyster that had a little door. She would have been overwhelmed with joy as though her whole world had been invigorated by the touch of a butterfly and the splash of a drop of dew. She could have had many days walking through tender meadows of sunshine and warmth amidst the laughter and joy of simple pleasures.

We Failed Her

We did not keep our promises to a little girl who depended on us for her safety We did not have stringent regulations, and Standards to stop that flight.  We knew the area was dangerous,  infested with unscrupulous elements holding  ground-based missiles. Yet we did nothing to prevent the ominous and grave risk that was posed to the flight. We did not have a system of sharing and disseminating threat information in a timely manner. We did not know to whom this information should have been relayed.  We don’t seem to have known what risk avoidance was – that it involved a risk assessment technique that entails eliminating hazards, activities and exposures that place valuable assets at risk.  In the case of civil aviation within the context of conflict zones this would mean eliminating hazards by avoiding the airspace over that zone entirely.  Unlike risk management, which is calculated to control dangers and risks, risk avoidance totally bypasses a risk.  The information to States on threats posed to their civil aviation over conflict zones would therefore had  to be disseminated through policy and procedure, training and education and technology implementations.

We did not do that.

Sorry little girl. May the doors of heaven open at the sound of your footsteps May a bright angel watch over and follow you  through your  inevitable journey. May we meet again on the horizon of eternity when our ship finally sails beyond every limit of our sight.

Above all, may we never walk away from you.

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