Environment Our planet must be at the heart of pandemic recovery

Environment Our planet must be at the heart of pandemic recovery

If the coronavirus pandemic has taught the world one thing, it is the high price we pay — in lost lives, damaged economies and wasted human potential — when we undervalue resilience. By applying this lesson, we can bolster our ability to weather future shocks. Over the last few centuries, societies have found a simple formula for progress and prosperity: Economic growth. A steady increase in output and productivity is seemingly the panacea for all troubles, including food insecurity, poverty and disease. But have we now reached a point where the strategy of growth is becoming a trap, generating new problems on an ever-larger scale?
It appears so. In a recent report published in advance of this month’s first Nobel Prize Summit, “Our Planet, Our Future,” my colleagues and I argue that the world’s failure to value social and ecological resilience means that shocks this century will hit harder, be more disruptive, and have longer-lasting effects over centuries and even millennia. But we can build social resilience by promoting equality, trust and collaboration, as well as ecological resilience by valuing diversity and complexity over efficiency and simplicity. The pandemic has cruelly highlighted the risks of ignoring resilience. Our economies have become so mutually dependent that the fate of one rests on the performance of others half a world away. Our cities, usually hives of industry and innovation, have become disease hotspots. Our transport systems are perfectly designed for shuttling pathogens around the planet. And some of our main communication networks prioritize lies and misinformation over truth, making it difficult to distinguish fact from fiction.
Extreme levels of inequality reduce societal resilience, often in obvious ways. Poorer countries, with fewer hospitals, less research power and weaker governance, have less capacity to manage the pandemic. In wealthy societies, poorer people are often the most vulnerable because their risk factors are greater. They are exposed to higher air pollution, are more likely to suffer from obesity, and live in more crowded conditions than the wealthy. The pandemic has thus hit them harder and spread among them faster.
But economic inequality can also erode resilience in other ways. Trust in governments tends to be lower in more unequal societies, partly because poorer citizens think politicians mainly serve the interests of elites. This can encourage the rise of populist leaders and makes it difficult to pursue long-term policies affecting all citizens within and across societies.
All of this is challenging enough. But, in our report, we conclude that by far the biggest likely shocks this century stem from our toxic relationship with nature. The biosphere — the zone close to the Earth’s surface where life thrives — is at least 3.5 billion years old. But in a single lifetime, largely since the 1950s, humanity has systematically reduced the resilience of its own home, resulting in climate change and biodiversity loss.
Humans are slicing, dicing and simplifying the biosphere. We manage 75 percent of habitable land on Earth, largely for agriculture. We have commandeered about a quarter of all energy from plants on land, and humans and their livestock account for 96 percent of all mammals by weight. As we hack our way through forests, wetlands and grasslands, the most resilient species — the ones that can adapt fastest and even thrive in a human environment — are often those like bats and rats that readily host deadly pathogens.
The biosphere’s resilience — its ability to persist, absorb shocks and develop under ever-changing conditions — depends on variety and on the ability of life to regenerate materials and evolve in novel ways in the face of uncertainty and the unknown. Boos-ting this resilience requires us to respect planetary boundaries and support ecological diversity. But, above all, we need to appreciate and value the global commons in new ways. We are facing a perfect storm. Our survival on Earth will require us to rethink our approach to valuing the resilience of our global civilization, starting with acknowledging that it is embedded within and dependent on the biosphere. Simply put, we must start collaborating with the planet on which we live. We cannot calculate the value of the Amazon rainforest in the same way we value the company of the same name. Likewise, the stability of ocean circulation or Antarctica — both of which are showing signs of fragility — cannot be priced in the same way as consumer goods. We also need to value cohesive societies, inclusiveness, collaboration and trust. Humanity has systematically reduced the resilience of its own home, resulting in climate change and biodiversity loss.
The pandemic is a transformative moment for societies. We know we need to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. We know a Fourth Industrial Revolution has begun. And we have known since the 2008 global financial crisis that returning to business as usual is not the way to build a prosperous and sustainable future.
We must now transform our economies to prioritize diversity and resilience over simplicity and efficiency. This means, first and foremost, moving beyond facile and destructive growth strategies that are disconnected from the planet we call home. Instead, governments must redirect economic dynamism toward ensuring resilience for both humans and their natural environment. Ultimately, valuing resilience means valuing our future.
—Arab News

Quest for regional solutions to Afghan problems

Dr Zia Ul Haque Shamsi

Once upon a time, Pakistan was the fastest developing country in the region. Also, Pakistan was a peaceful country which was regularly visited by foreign nationals, continental ships, international airliners etc. Then, erstwhile Soviet Union decide to enter Afghanistan, perhaps to reach warm waters of the Arabian sea through Pakistan’s province of Balochistan. This particular action of the Soviets in 1979, not only led to its own breakup, but physically destroyed Afghanistan and peace in Pakistan.
Pakistan became home to over three million Afghan refugees who now refuse to go back due to better opportunities here. I do not blame them because all the regional and global power houses including Afghans, are responsible for the state Afghanistan is in for the last four decades. Unfortunately, Afghanistan was treated as a battlefield by the regional and extra-regional actors and not as a sovereign state. The poor people of Afghanistan were bombed and robbed, not only the invaders but their own war lords. Hence, they were forced to flee their homeland and take refuge in the neighbouring countries: mostly in Iran and Pakistan. Iran kept them in refugee camps, but Pakistan opened its doors across the country, and now its their third generation that is living in Pakistan. The political, cultural, societal, and economic freedom that they have in Pakistan would not have been available anywhere in the world, including Afghanistan. Therefore, it is natural for any human being to stay at a place where he can live peacefully and earn his livelihood for his family.
Perhaps for the first time, an effort is made to find a regional solution to Afghan problem and Pakistan is leading the way. Obviously, there is no other country, except Afghanistan, which is more affected due to continuing Afghan wars than Pakistan.
While Afghan stakeholders are still waiting for the implementation of Doha Agreement under which United States and NATO troops are to withdraw from Afghanistan, regional actors are busy discussing the way forward. In the given circumstances, this appears to be a viable strategy. However, regional stakeholders must be aware that several spoilers are active in Afghanistan because the exiting US and NATO, supported by India may not be very keen to see peace in Afghanistan.
Peace in Afghanistan is desperately needed for the regional integration and development, for which all the major players: Russia, China, Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan are doing their bid. However, extra-regional players: US, EU, unfortunately supported by India may not be interested to see rising stakes and interests of its Russian and Asian competitors
Peace in Afghanistan would mean trade for Russia and Central Asian states via Pakistan and its vast warm water coastline. Peace in Afghanistan would mean Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline becoming a reality. Peace in Afghanistan would mean peace in Pakistan which may not be a desirable omen for India and the US. Peace in Afghanistan would mean expansion of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is highly undesirable for the US and India.
Peace in Afghanistan is desperately needed for the regional integration and development, for which all the major players: Russia, China, Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan are doing their bid. However, extra-regional players: US, EU, unfortunately supported by India may not be interested to see rising stakes and interests of its Russian and Asian competitors.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visited Pakistan on April 6-7, 2021. This was the first visit by a senior Russian minister in nine years and came at an overly critical time. Pakistan has been cozying up with Russia for some time now. Pakistan’s efforts for an all-inclusive Afghan solution which is well supported by the regional nations, rather than extra-regional powers, seems to be gaining ground. FM Lavrov’s high level meetings were augmented by his call on to the Prime Minister Imran Khan and perhaps more importantly to COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa, is significant in cementing the defense ties. Russia and Pakistan have been conducting bilateral and multilateral defense exercises for the last few years.
International and Indian media has widely covered FM Lavrov’s visit to Pakistan and projecting it to be a beginning of a new era of relationship with Russia. If termed successful, Lavrov’s visit may pave the way for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s maiden visit to Pakistan which was called off in October 2012. In the meantime, Indian analysts have started of a negative campaign about Pakistan’s potential interests in Russian Air Defense systems: S-300 and S-400. Indians very well know that Pakistan’s strength lies in maintaining and upgrading its Air Defense systems, which are key to its strong territorial defense due to geographical contiguity with its archrival India.
Perhaps, Pakistan is moving in the right direction and cementing ties with its nearby powers: China and Russia, instead of relying on already tried-but-failed friends located in far flung regions. It is India’s turn now to try friends located in far-regions: US, Japan, and Australia.

America choosing wrong side in India

Shubh Mathur

India’s dramatic decline from a shaky but functional democracy into an authoritarian dictatorship under the hard-right Hindu nationalist BJP is nearly complete. But deeply rooted traditions of dissent and tolerance, which had long been in abeyance, have during the past 15 months created a strong democratic challenge that has caught both the government and seasoned observers by surprise. The first wave of poplar protests against a new and discriminatory citizenship law were followed a few months later by the ongoing farmers’ protests against new laws handing over the keys to Indian agriculture to a few select corporate cronies of the BJP.
This powerful and spontaneous democratic surge poses the most serious challenge in decades to the mixture of populist sectarian violence, political repression, and crony capitalism that has kept the Hindu right in power. Embracing tolerance, democratic rights, and social justice, the protest movements explicitly reject the religious hatred that has fueled Hindu nationalism. Given that the new U.S. administration has committed to supporting human rights and democracy, and is still engaged in its own struggle with populist ultra-nationalism at home, the Biden administration should naturally support these protest movements. It hasn’t.
Although the Biden-Harris victory generated high hopes, it is becoming increasingly apparent that, in foreign policy, the bipartisan Washington consensus is holding its own, at least for the moment. In the case of India, new adm-inistration suggested in its campaign platform that it would hold autho-ritarian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to acco-unt for his growing rec-ord of political repression and massive human rights abuses.
Instead, after some initial efforts to support democratic movements and human rights in India and Indian-administered Kashmir, both under dire threat, the new administration has fallen into the default mode of setting up India as a counterweight to China. In the so-called Indo-Pacific region, the Biden team has focused on strengthening the Quad, a loose alliance of the United States, India, Japan and Australia, aimed at containing Chinese influence. Absent from this alliance are the southeast Asian nations of the region that are enjoying a long reign of peace and prosperity. They may have reservations about China, but they also have memories of American and Japanese military action in their lands that they have ed.
The recently-concluded Quad summit defined its mission in terms of fighting the pandemic and climate change and made no direct mention of China. However, the United States has also recently joined India in military exercises in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh, which borders China, and the Quad along with France is carrying out military exercises in the Bay of Bengal, prompting fears of escalating confrontation with China. As the U.S. exit from Afghanistan approaches, Washington is seeking a continued military and diplomatic foothold in the region and a new enemy to justify a continuing presence. That’s bad news for both the United States and India.
In the days following the Quad summit, the BJP was emboldened by its diplomatic success in avoiding censure from the Biden administration It quickly accelerated its repressive measures, while also triggering sectarian violence in neighboring Bangladesh following Modi’s unpo-pular visit there last week.
From March 13 onwards, in the areas India controls in the disputed region of Kashmir, the military escalated operations against pro-freedom militants by burning houses, sho-oting civilians, and banning journalists from reporting on the carnage. On March 23, in the BJP-ruled state of Bihar, the police beat opposition members of the state legislative assembly protesting against a new military police bill . On March 29, the Indian president approved a law transferring powers from the elected state government of Delhi, led by an opposition party, to the lieutenant governor, an official appointed by the central government. These moves come amid the continuing clampdown on digital and political rights and arrests and harassment of journalists and human rights advocates .
The democratic upsurge within India comes at a late stage, when both state institutions and civil society seem to be in the iron grip of Hindu nationalism. Despite continuous government attempts to provoke violence through police action and provocateurs, they have remained peaceful. However, to ultimately succeed they will have to reckon with not only the immediate violence and repression unleashed by the BJP but also a longer history of the denial of minority rights and regional autonomy that has enabled these autocratic measures. The decades of Indian repression and state violence in the borderlands of Kashmir, the northeast, and Punjab have finally come home to the Indian heartland.
The United States, too, has a critical choice to make. The sympathy of certain sections of the American public to the farmers’ protests and the Kashmiris’ right to self-determination was an opportunity for the new administration to do the right thing and live up to the standards it set for itself. Instead, by continuing to support the BJP government, Washington is effectively giving it carte blanche to continue its program of violence and repression, at a terrible human cost.
—Eurasia Review

Europe’s complacency trap

Europe’s complacency trap

COVID-19 has wounded almost every developed country, but the truth is that living standards in many of them had been stagnating or declining for years. Many metrics highlight this trend, but perhaps the most telling comes from the OECD, which reports a 4 percent decline in household median net wealth across its member countries since 2010. No wonder advanced economies have experienced periodic explosions of anger in recent years ― from Donald Trump’s election and the Brexit referendum in 2016 to the subsequent gilets jaunes (“yellow vests”) protests in France and an election in Italy that brought two anti-establishment parties to power. Despite these upheavals, predictions of democratic collapse have not been borne out. On the contrary, the establishment has re-established itself.
Whenever an angry public puts political adventurists in power, it is only a matter of time before they reveal that they have no real solutions to people’s problems. One therefore should not read too much into failures of “populist” governance. Historically, populists have tended to be more effective from the outside, where they can help to focus mainstream politicians’ minds on questions they would prefer to avoid.
Even during revolutions that appeared to upend all institutions, the chaos often masked an underlying continuity. The French Revolution started two years after Louis XVI’s finance minister, Charles-Alexandre de Calonne, failed to sweep away the privileged classes’ tax exemptions. Looking back 60 years later, Alexis de Tocqueville concluded that the apparent cataclysm of 1789 had in fact changed little about how France was governed.
Culture, it seems, trumps revolution. In Russia, the Bolsheviks seized power with the fanatical millenarian goal of reinventing society, but they ended up governing as a traditional autocracy ― albeit with uniquely cruel and murderous methods. But while revolutions often fail to effect much change, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fear them. After all, the human costs are usually high. Even if abrupt institutional change occurs without violence, it is almost certain to harm livelihoods. Democracy’s doomsayers perhaps should be heeded after all, especially in Europe. Sclerotic governance and chronically depressed living standards have created the conditions for further breakdowns and dislocations. It is no secret that labor-replacing technologies and the globalization of labor have hollowed out the mid-skilled and salaried jobs that long underpinned living standards and social stability in developed countries. But during the past decade, this problem has been compounded by financial repression, owing to the combination of fiscal austerity and historically low interest rates.
Against this backdrop, the deepening of institutional fault lines in the European Union has created the sense that something must give. Today’s hybrid arrangement of federalism (through the European Central Bank), supranationalism (through the European Commission), and traditional national governance has both strengths and weaknesses. While it seems to reflect most Europeans’ preference for some limited degree of shared governance, it rules out effective policy action.
Consider the EU’s vaccination fiasco. In a show of European solidarity, EU countries agreed to delegate their “competence” in this area to the European Commission. The intention was noble. But the Commission was never equipped to run a massive public health procurement program, and national regulators and politicians soon undercut the effort (and public trust) by suspending the AstraZeneca vaccine ― thus infringing on the competence of the EU-level regulator (the European Medicines Agency).
Whenever such problems arise, the overwhelming consensus is that Europe should simply muddle through. Rarely is there any willingness to change things, either by creating a genuine European government with the necessary fiscal muscle to reverse the continent’s relative economic underperformance, or by reversing the integration process.
Instead, institutional purgatory makes Europe a poor cousin to its friends and allies. As U.S. interest rates rise on the back of a relatively buoyant economy, the ECB will once again be reduced to a now-familiar position.
The flow of capital into higher-yielding dollar instruments will weaken the euro, and Europe will use that depreciation to eke out whatever growth it can by tapping external demand, rather than by materially boosting domestic demand. Even if European citizens prove ready to live with this tired state of affairs, the United States and others cannot be expected to tolerate it forever. European-level paralysis stands in contrast to politics within EU member states. In France, the political establishment collapsed after decades of failure by successive governments (of left and right) to solve several basic problems, not least sky-high unemployment. As a result, the two traditional parties were supplanted in the 2017 election by a single mainstream movement led by Emmanuel Macron, which handily defeated a fragmented array of anti-establishment challengers. Macron’s victory showed that longstanding blockages are surmountable at the national level. But the new French establishment has since blocked itself by attempting to transcend left and right. Macron’s famous catchphrase “en meme temps” (“at the same time”) has come to sound like an attempt to have everything both ways. A typical example is the impasse on managing COVID-19. Rather than deciding between a robust lockdown and a lighter, Swedish-style approach to social distancing, Macron’s government cobbled together a congeries of curfews and other measures that delivered the worst of both worlds.
A further swing of the pendulum in the next national elections ― just over a year away ― would redound to the benefit of the main anti-establishment challenger: Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Rally. Recent polls show Macron defeating Le Pen by only a narrow 52 percent majority (compared to his two-to-one margin in 2017), putting Le Pen within striking distance of the Elysee Palace.
But even if Le Pen were to shock France and the world, her presidency, like previous “populist” interludes, probably would generate more noise than substance. Beyond her own limitations, Europe’s institutional interdependencies would again emerge as the decisive obstacle to change, especially within the monetary union. Europe’s muddling underperformance can and most likely will last for some time to come. But this prospect is as uninspiring as it is ultimately dangerous.
—The Korea Times

The totalitarian undertow of social distancing

The totalitarian undertow  of social distancing

Social distancing, mask mandates, and lockdowns have put civil society on ice. Church congregations either do not meet, “meet” in socially distancing congregations, or try to fellowship over video conferencing. Many schools are still closed, still trying to replace face-to-face learning with farcical “distance learning.” Public sporting events have been almost nonexistent. Many small businesses have gone under, and many of the survivors are struggling. Most remaining social interaction has been pushed to social media, which at its best is a weak substitute for face-to-face human interaction. Even ardent supporters of mask-wearing can’t deny that they stifle communication, verbal and nonverbal. When was the last time you saw someone smile in public? Some restrictions were perhaps unavoidable, even prudent measures to slow the spread of COVID-19, but the restrictions have clearly harmful side effects. Our government has deliberately fragmented society to protect ourselves from a disease.
What are the unintended consequences of allowing government to overwhelm civil society, even for good reasons?
The closest parallel in recent history to prolonged social distancing may be the atomization of societies under totalitarian regimes. Totalitarian regimes usually take power during periods of massive social and political upheaval, and they must perpetuate the upheaval through reigns of terror in order to retain power. This completely isolates the individual, subjecting him or her to the full power of the central government to prevent any coherent political opposition from forming. Intervening institution such as families, churches, schools, media, unions, and political parties are co-opted or eliminated. Local and regional governments, the military, and the police are brought under central control. Any legislative and judicial bodies are either dissolved or converted into rubberstamps for the ruler, whether one man (e.g., Hitler) or an oligarchy (e.g., the Soviet and Chinese politburos). The net result is no one can truly trust anyone in a totalitarian state. Against such overwhelming state power, the isolated individual cannot stand. The individual does not matter. He or she must either submit, take a fun-filled vacation to a “re-education camp,” or die. This contrasts sharply with American democratic society. Aristotle observed, “Man is by nature a social animal,” and American society demonstrates that truth in spades. Alexis de Tocqueville wrote: Americans of all ages, all conditions, and all dispositions, constantly form associations. They have not only commercial and manufacturing companies, in which all take part, but associations of a thousand other kinds — religious, moral, serious, futile, extensive, or restricted, enormous or diminutive. . . Wherever, at the head of some new undertaking, you see the government in France, or a man of rank in England, in the United States you will be sure to find an association. The strength of the United States lies in its people and their voluntary associations, not their government — regardless of how well organized or well run it may be.
The measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 may ultimately prove more harmful in the long term than the disease itself. Marriage rates in the U.S. have “dropped between 26% and 44% since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.” Deaths from drug overdoses reached a record high. More adults have seriously considered suicide. Preventative medical care has understandably taken a back seat to dealing with the coronavirus, but the payment will come due in reduced health for some, possibly resulting in otherwise avoidable deaths. Educators now routinely refer to the “lost year” of K–12 instruction in which children fell far behind, despite “distance learning.” Even worse, many abused children are likely suffering in silence because teachers don’t see them in school and therefore can’t report suspected cases of abuse or neglect. The pandemic’s indirect toll on physical and mental health may never be known, but we know the devastating results of social fragmentation: Russia is still trying to recover from the effects of Soviet totalitarianism (e.g., rampant alcoholism, declining life expectancy, and a shrinking population). Looking at the collateral damage to society and the individual in the United States, it’s reasonable to reassess whether our leaders have chosen wisely. The government’s response to the pandemic has taken giant steps toward centralizing control of some very basic personal decisions — an extreme of government intervention into their personal lives that Americans would have considered unimaginable and absolutely intolerable before the pandemic. Once given a power, even “temporarily,” government rarely surrenders new power willingly. Those in power either find ways to prolong the crisis and their power, or they discover new crises that justify maintaining and expanding their centralized power. With the pandemic apparently waning, would-be benevolent despots are already finding other crises — such as fighting climate change — to justify continuing their control.
—American Thinker

Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Pakistan

Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Pakistan

The world is witnessing shifts and transforming into multipolarity after experiencing a brief span of unipolarity which emerged in the wake of the disintegration of erstwhile Soviet Union that resulted in to the end of the Cold war politics. In this environment, Pakistan and Russia have entered into a mutually-beneficial relationship, which is soon to set tone for regional geo-politics too. History of Pakistan-Russia (before 1991 it was USSR) relationship reveals that both countries have not enjoyed sustained friendly relationship rather they have been occupied with irritants which made the bilateral relationship between Pakistan and Russia as difficult and complex. From the foes of Cold War to friends of today, both Russia and Pakistan have come a long way.
The new realities of the region and the world are changing, and both countries have revealed the futuristic challenges. In this regard, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Pakistan on 6-7 April 2021 is considered as momentous in the history of bilateral relationship betwe-en Pakistan and Russia. Many developments at regional and international level are in the pipeline especially the Afghan peace process which has entered into a crucial phase in the wake of approaching of the May 1 deadline set by former US President Trump administration for withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan.
The new realities of the region and the world are changing, and both countries have realised the futuristic challenges. They share common viewpoint towards the Afghan peace process where both countries consider the Afghan Taliban as key stakeholder, being what Lavrov spoken in New Delhi on his visit to India on April 5, 2021, “a part of Afghan society”.
Pakistan and Russia urged the need for an inclusive solution of the Afghanistan issue. And, this can be viewed as blow to prospective active role of India in the peace process in Afghanistan which she is aspiring for decades. The Russian Foreign Minister, during his recent visit to Pakistan, reiterated that Russia and Pakistan had convergent positions on the Afghanistan peace process.
The current phase of Russia-Pakistan relations can also be viewed in the larger strategic theatre wherein increasing confrontational relationship between China and the US while close relationship between Beijing and Moscow are important drivers. Pakistan’s strategic partnership with China as well as being partner of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) — a vital segment of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) — raises its importance in regional strategic environment especially in South Asia and west Asia.
Russia’s growing closeness with Pakistan can also be observed in the changing dynamics of relationship among regional powers like Australia, Japan and India; and global powers such as US, China, Russia and European Union. The Quad- the US-Japan-India-Australia Quadrilateral security dialogue- is being perceived by Russia as “Asian NATO” and Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov has termed it, what The Indian Express-an Indian newspaper has quoted as “counter-productive” and contrary to “inclusive cooperation”. These remarks reflect the changing dynamics of bilateral relationship between Russia and India. Owing to it, it is being observed that Lavrov’s recent visit to India and Pakistan indicates a departure for Russia-India ties.
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrovheld talks in Islamabad on 7th April 2021 and emphasized on reinforcement of bilateral economic and defence relations and discussed the Afghan peace process. Mr. Lavrov is the first Russian Foreign Minister, since 2012, who has visited Pakistan. There is a wide scope for economic cooperation particularly and deepening the growing bonds of cooperation and collaboration generally. Russian For-eign Ministry in an official statement, before formal begi-nning of the Russ-ian Foreign Minis-ters visit to Pakis-tan, underscored significance of Pak-istan as foreign policy partner of Russia.
The statement reads that “the cooperation between Moscow and Islamabad is based on coincidence or similarity of positions on most of the problems of the world community, including issues of strategic stability and counter terrorism.” Both countries have also agreed to start work as soon as possible for laying of the Pakistan Stream Gas Pipeline, previously known as the North South Gas Pipeline, with major shareholding for Islamabad. The proposed the pipeline of 1,100 kilometres has to be laid between Karachi and Lahore and now Pakistan wants it with a diameter of either 52 inches or 56 inches with capacity to transport 1.6 billion cubic feet re-gasified liquefied natural gas (RLNG) per day. This project is being considered as landmark in enhancing of the Pakistan-Russia economic connections and will open up a new market for Russian companies. The construction of the pipeline will provide orders for Russian industrial enterprises and will contribute to an increase in non-oil exports.
An improvement in Pakistan-Russia relations can be noticed when a military cooperation agreement between Russia and Pakistan was signed during Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu’svisit to Islamabad in 2014 which marked a significant shift in relations between the two countries. However, pace of enhancing of bilateral relationship between Pakistan and Russia has been slow due to Moscow’s close relationship with India while Pakistan’s cautious move towards connecting itself with Russia. Now, Russia and Pakistan are making serious efforts to enhance relationship yet it is still premature to say that Pakistan and Russia are on the track that will end up in sustained multidimensional and strategic relationship.
Since, the Pakistan-Russia bilateral relations have come a long way from the Cold War hostility to existing level of increasing cooperation one can only be optimistic about additional enlargement in it in coming years.
—The writer teaches International Relations at BZU, Multan

Post-covid recovery Global academic delay and digital divide

Syed Wajahat Ali

Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute (MDPI), Switzerland, published a study sampling 31,212 higher education students from 133 countries and 6 continents. The research finds “boredom, anxiety, and frustration” among students during lockdowns. The socio-demographic difference, gender, and nature of subjects are important variables in scoring the efficiency of online academics. Students classified as male, part-time, first-level, applied sciences, a lower living standard, from Africa or South Asia reported their academic life more distressful as compared to those from Europe with higher living standards and logistics.
According to the United Nations the COVID-19 pandemic “has caused the largest disruption of education in history”, having profound impacts on the academic evolution of students enrolled in Montessori and secondary schools, higher secondary colleges, technical institutions, universities, and research development centers. COVID-19 restrictions worldwide glaringly changed the economic, cultural, and emotional dimensions of human life. The educational disruption, ceasing on-campus curricular and co-curricular activities, however, would have long-term effects that can turn into a generational catastrophe, as feared by the United Nations.
Shawna Lee, associate professor of social work and director of the Parenting in Context Research Lab, University of Michigan, finds “high-stress levels, anxiety, and depression among parents” during lockdown affected the mental fitness of children enrolled in primary grades. About 35% of parents reported considerable changes in their child’s behavior during social isolation, “including being sad, depressed, and lonely”. “Social distancing and stay-at-home orders disconnected millions of children from in-person education and left little time for parents to prepare to support their children’s education at home,” she concludes. The relevance of mental fitness is acquiring knowledge is well-proven by many eminent educationalists all over the world.
Jean Piaget’s classification of cognitive development into four stages has a major impact on education planning. The Formal Operational Stage starts from the age of 12 and up. At this stage, the adolescent begins to investigate, reason, and conclude a hypothesis. Teens begin to search logic and evidence required to shape their social and political opinions. Piaget considers intellectual evolution a qualitative process using different schemas. A schema presents both abstract and material actions involved in knowing and understanding knowledge. Piaget’s schema includes the body of knowledge and the process of acquiring that knowledge.
The lockdown shifted interactive process of acquiring knowledge in a classroom into virtually conferenced lecture. Many studies situating the impacts of online learning on overall academics reveal that translation of learning experience from onsite to online has affected cognitive transmission by changing the psychological orientation, environment, and response of participants. The environment, proximity, presentation, and physical appearance constitute a conducive process for knowledge acquisition, equally important as knowledge itself. The experts of educational psychology agree that learning apps, electronic and social media have made knowledge more accessible but could not replace a classroom particularly for children. The classroom is the depository for acquiring a sustainable learning experience. The human mind is an intricate learner. Classroom modulates knowledge over the carriers of expression, formality, and sociability. The campus environment, peers, dress, designed to accomplish a learning task corroborate the knowledge-transfer process. The consolidation of academic outcomes using internet is a challenge that needs to be properly quantified and addressed for primary and secondary education.
The pandemic multiplied challenges for the developing countries. For instance, Pakistan’s public expenditure on education is estimated at 2.6%, of the total GDP, which is the lowest in the region. The Global Education Monitoring Report 2017-18 by UNESCO identified a lack of proper regulation, financial input, and teaching training sessions in Pakistan. Untrained teachers are hired by the private sector on low salaries to tackle the educational requirement of a massively exploding population, and to hit the maximum profits out of this “business”. Every single teacher is educating 80 students. These teachers cannot ensure a successful knowledge-transfer process in the classroom, how one can expect them to manage it online?
There is a greater “Digital Divide” appeared in global education. Students and teachers of the underdeveloped world “found themselves grappling with unfamiliar conferencing technology”, as reported by the UN. Internet is a life luxury in low-income countries. Class counts, timetables, assignments, quizzes, and exams are formally put in place online, nevertheless, the rigorous exercise or the process of obtaining knowledge is seriously lacking from kindergarten to universities. During the last year, UNESCO reported: “87 percent of the world’s students?—that is 1.5 billion learners?—have been affected by school closures in 180 countries”.
UNESCO reported last year some 830 Million students are deprived of internet services. In the sub-Saharan region, 82 percent of students are unable to make a conference online and 90 percent have no personal computers. A UNICEF official claimed: “We are now looking at an even more divisive and deepening education crisis”. Lockdowns in education institutes in present scenario when the pandemic has already consumed millions of human lives is understandable, nevertheless, the educational planners of the word need to grasp the scope and impact of the crises to compensate the academic delay when things will get normal. Tragically, despite facing such drastic dangers that can lead to a “generational catastrophe”, the national governments are not acting as an emergency to prognosticate solutions.

National politics Whose asset really is Jahangir Tareen?

National politics Whose asset really is Jahangir Tareen?

Until yesterday, Jahangir Tareen was the Secretary General of the PTI. It was his job to hunt for electable for his party. Being one of the most successful businessman in Pakistan, he brought innovation to his party by transforming it into a corporation. In each constituency, the party counted the votes and the votes of the candidates. Estimates suggested him where he could invest best to make the candidate successful. After the calculation were done, it was time to give tickets to our chosen candidates in the 2018 elections. These are the people who are going to the courts with Jahangir Tareen who were given tickets.
Regarding a member of the Provincial Assembly from Lahore, I have been thinking that he has the patronage of Abdul Aleem Khan. Seeing this MPA sitting in Jahangir Tareen’s luxury bus, two thoughts come to mind. One is that he is actually working for Jahangir Tareen, the other is that he is infiltrating the Tareen group to get information. For whose purposes can Jahangir Tareen be used? The answer will determine his future. The Muslim League and the PPP are giving alms to them. As soon as the principled position has crumbled in the last six months, it has hardly ever happened before. One thing is bad on Friday, it is considered good on Saturday, what is acceptable today becomes forbidden tomorrow. Jahangir Tareen was regard an ATM. There were stories of Jahangir Tareen’s plane. Jahangir Tareen was the jinn of the Aladdin’s lam who was ready to fulfilling every wish of the PTI. PPP and PML-N did not stood in his way.
But now the entire opposition is with Jahangir Tareen, appreciating his position, and supporting Jahangir Tareen on his position on accountability which he says is controversial. Jahangir Tareen went to court. He was accompanied by 22 PTI members of the Punjab Assembly, eight members of the National Assembly and some ticket holders. Jahangir Tareen laughed and avoided comments when asked about his contacts with Asif Ali Zardari and wondered as to why he was being pushed towards enmity. What he himself could not say, he said through the mouth of Raja Riaz. Jahangir Tareen called a meeting with like-minded members to consult on the next course of action. Now these are the days when even two people should not meet. Thirty or forty people gathered just to eat and gossip? The removal of Imran Khan’s government at the center requires almost as many votes as Usman Buzdar needs to leave Punjab. Jahangir Tareen has shown his cards. He is accompanied by several MNAs and MPAs. If these people start a movement to remove Usman Buzdar, they will have to support the PML-N and even form an alliance with it.
According to reports, the PML-N’s second-line leadership is in touch with Jahangir Tareen, while the PPP’s top leadership has already taken steps to seize the opportunity. What are the demands of Jahangir Tareen? He is insisting on transparent investigation into allegations of money laundering and fraud against him and his son. He believes that the inquiry team is biased against him and is acting on someone’s instructions. However, he did not name the person who gave the instructions over the phone. Who is with Jahangir Tareen? About 30 members of Punjab and National Assembly including Raja Riaz, Noman Langarial, Nazir Chauhan etc. appear with him. It is estimated that many members are not coming forward. The PPP’s response is cautious. No leader has made an aggressive statement regarding Jahangir Tareen or shot at the PTI.
The Daska election has added a little heat to the dead body of the PML-N. Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Rana Sanaullah are making predictions about ‘Jahangir Tareen’. One says that Imran Khan’s fate is in the hands of Jahangir Tareen and the other says that the government is gone.
A third voice is that of Ahsan Iqbal. He is saying that Jahangir is a political ploy to change Tareen Buzdar. The case of Jahangir Tareen is becoming sensitive for Imran Khan, PTI and national politics. Imran Khan and Jahan-gir Tareen have been friends. What Imran has said about non-discriminatory accountability is not in line with how it is being interpreted at home, although it is valuable. If the tradition of giving space to people in power is ended, only then then democracy will be become accountable. But this approach can backfire if applied to Jahangir Tareen. This is a sensitive issue for the PTI because Tareen has the ability to overthrow his governments in Punjab and the Centre. Then the whole reformation will come to the grinding halt. The effect on national politics may be that such a move can end up in the dissolution of the Assemblies.
Jahangir Tareen does not seem to be in hurry. He will gradually start getting the support of the opposition. Contacts will be enriched and then everyone will know whom actually Jahangir Tareen will side with.

Middle East New diplomatic initiatives to end Syrian imbroglio

Middle East New diplomatic initiatives to end Syrian imbroglio

The 10-year commemoration of Syria’s bloody civil conflict in March has evoked expressions of anguish and some new diplomatic initiatives. Nearly half-a-million people have been killed and several million more displaced since the conflict started on March 15, 2011.
The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, described the Syrian situation as a “living nightmare” and recalled the “atrocities” and “greatest crimes” that have been inflicted on its people. He noted that 60 percent of the population could suffer hunger this year. The UN special envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, mourned the “unimaginable violence and indignities” that the Syrian people have endured over the last decade, and applauded their “resilience.”
Widespread fatigue with the Syrian imbroglio was reflected at the online donors’ conference that the UN organized in Brussels on March 29. Mark Lowcock, head of UN humanitarian assistance and emergency relief, spoke of a decade of “death, destruction, displacement, disease, dread and despair” in Syria. But this exuberance of verbosity raised only SR24 billion ($6.4 billion) for the year against the target of $10 billion. Other than Germany, every other country reduced its commitment as compared to the previous year.
In an ironic move on March 18, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in Idlib, Al-Bab and Azaz in the northern opposition-controlled areas of Syria to mark the 10th anniversary of their “revolution.” They replayed their decade-old slogans of freedom, justice and dignity, and affirmed their pledge to bring down the regime of Bashar Assad. They chose to forget that their cause has failed and Assad now controls 60 percent of the country.
There are however some signs of fresh thinking on Syria. At the Arab League Foreign Ministers meeting in Cairo on March 3, the Egyptian minister, Sameh Shoukry, called for Syria’s return to the Arab League from which it was ousted a decade ago. He stressed that this would need to be part of a holistic “political solution” that would also include the Syrian opposition. Some Egyptian commentators believe that Syria’s return to the league would facilitate the national peace process while reducing the influence of non-Arab states in the country.
In this background, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, mounted a major diplomatic foray in the Gulf when he visited Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar on March 8-12. Syria was the main subject of discussion, signaling a new Arab interest in addressing Syria-related matters to facilitate the country’s return to the Arab fold.
Lavrov obtained a fairly clear understanding of present thinking on Syria in the region. The UAE Foreign Minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, described Syria’s return to the Arab ranks as in the interest “of Syria and the region.” He also criticized US sanctions on Syria under the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act.
An important development during the Lavrov tour was the meeting in Doha on March 11 of the foreign ministers of Russia, Turkey and Qatar. While Qatar opposed Syria’s early return to the Arab League, the three ministers announced their new “trilateral consultation process” to achieve a “lasting political solution” in Syria. In their joint statement, they affirmed their commitment to Syria’s territorial integrity and an inclusive political settlement, and their backing for the efforts of the constitutional committee and the early return of displaced persons to their homes.
This initiative suggests that the Astana peace process has reached the end of its useful life and the situation now needs a fresh approach with a new partner. Qatar’s inclusion in the tripartite process could perhaps help to moderate Turkey’s territorial and political ambitions in Syria. This will be a formidable challenge. In a Bloomberg article on March 15, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sought “Western support” for Istanbul’s agenda in Syria, which means backing for Turkey’s “safe-zone” in the north, its confrontation with the Kurds, and its military presence in northern Syria.
This approach seems to be another instance of Erdogan’s duplicity — seeking Western backing for an agenda that he knows is robustly opposed by his Astana partners, Russia and Iran. In any case, it is unlikely to succeed as Western powers have no wish either to abandon the Kurds or to accommodate Erdogan’s affiliation with extremist elements in Idlib.
At the same time, Russia, Iran and the Assad regime are happy to support a Kurdish-Assad engagement and mobilize themselves for the much-delayed assault on extremist elements holed up in Idlib under Turkish protection.
After 10 years of a lethal conflict, the situation in Syria remains as intractable and as murky as ever, with domestic contending parties continuing on the path of confrontation along with the backing of external powers. With large sections of the international community losing interest in Syria, there is every likelihood that the conditions in Syria will continue for many more years unless Arab leaders can come up with a new peace initiative.
—Arab News

Digital currency Where does Pakistan stand?

Digital currency Where does Pakistan stand?

If dirhams and dinars can be converted to paper notes, then it is natural that in the near future, digital currency is the next development. The earliest forms of digital currency, with their prospects and possibilities, are before us. The question is, where does Pakistan stand in this whole process? Are we having any level of thinking or are we, as usual, waiting in a lonely corner to see what happens next?
Currency laws in Pakistan date back to a time when things like the internet and e-mail were unthinkable. What we call ‘Pakistan Coinage Act’ is law enacted 41 years before the establishment of Pakistan. One year after the formation of Pakistan, the Pakistan Currency Ordinance was introduced and two years later, in 1950, the Pakistan Currency Act was introduced which allowed the government to print rupee notes and made it a legal method of transaction.
Seventy-one years have passed since this law was made. The world and the world’s financial system have changed. The question is, do we have to legislate under the changing requirements or do we just go there with contempt for each other, preoccupied with concessions and TADA? With the formation of Pakistan, in 1947, the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act was introduced in Pakistan which defined currency. This definition was very comprehensive in terms of that period and included all coins, currency notes, banknotes, postal notes, cheques. Money orders, etc. were also considered currency.
This definition of currency dates back to a time when there was no internet and no concept of digitalization. Now times have changed, so considering new concepts of currency, is there any way to adapt law to the requirements of the modern world? Section 2 of the Foreign Exchange Act, defining foreign exchange states that only the currency which is deemed legal under the SBP Act will be legal in the case of foreign exchange. Interestingly, this SBP Act also dates back to 1956 when digital currency did not even exist anywhere. Now that it is 2021, is it appropriate to look for the answer to the economic questions of the time in the six or seven decades’ old laws?
There is a strange confusion in the country. If the question is whether digital currency is legal and legal in Pakistan, then the government itself has no answer to this question yet. In May 2017, the government declared in a notification that any form of currency is illegal. Which has not been accepted by the State Bank of Pakistan as currency. Under this notification, bitcoin or any digital currency is illegal in our country. But three years later, in the Sindh High Court, the SBP took the opposite position that it had made bitcoin or any other digital currency illegal. No one still has the answer to the question of whether digital currency is legal or illegal.
There is a strange confusion in the country. If the question of whether digital currency is legal and legal in Pakistan, then the government itself has no answer yet. In May 2017, the government declared in a notification that any form of currency that was not accepted by the State Bank of Pakistan as currency would be illegal. Under this notification, bitcoin or any digital currency is illegal in our country. But three years later, in the Sindh High Court, the SBP took the opposite position that it had made bitcoin or any other digital currency illegal.
No one still has the answer to the question of whether digital currency is legal or illegal in Pakistan. If so, to what extent is it acceptable in the financial system? Interestingly, the SBP is saying that it has not outlawed digital currency and the FIA ​​is treating it as a fraud under the Electronic Crimes Act and the Pakistan Penal Code against those who trade in corrupt currency. And cases of fraud are being registered. Arrests were also made in Peshawar and Karachi. The High Court even had to order the FIA ​​to stop harassing the people. It has also come to light that the FIA ​​people themselves are involved in the business of cryptocurrency. For others, however, it is illegal. The debate over digital currency is gaining momentum at the societal level. There is a lot of talk about it on social media, but we have never heard of it being discussed in Parliament. The attitude of the underdeveloped and relatively backward countries in the world of technology is different from that of the developed countries. Countries that have banned it include Algeria, Bolivia, Egypt, Iraq, Nepal, Indonesia, Colombia, Bangladesh, Oman, Qatar, etc. On the other hand, there are countries like China, Russia and Japan have accepted it to some degree. According to newspaper reports, China has now decided to introduce digital currency at the regular state level. Japan has already done so in part, and the petro deal with Russia’s Venezuela is a form of digital currency. Thailand has also hinted at the establishment of a central bank of digital currency. That is, some countries are moving towards a new constitution and some are sticking to the old style.
We have to move towards digital currency. This is the writing on the wall. The paper currency has begun to disappear. Sooner or later it will come to an end. Countries that are already ready to tackle this challenge and explore its possibilities will be happy and the rest will regret it. It is natural for this new concept of currency to have constraints. They can be removed strategically. If there is an objection to the current form of this currency that it is not connected to any central system, then it is not the fault of digital currency, it is the fault of central systems.