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Egypt & Pakistan: Global Response to Coronavirus Exposes Governments’ Fault Lines: OpEd

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There is a message in Pakistani and Egyptian efforts against the Coronavirus pandemic: neither ultra-conservative worldviews nor self-serving authoritarian policies aimed at regime enhancement produced initial prevention and mitigation strategies that could have blunted the impact of the disease.

Pakistan Has Become The Epicentre For Spreading Coronavirus To Other Islamic Nations – Israel Media

To be sure, Pakistan and Egypt, although different in what drove their responses, are in good company. Overwhelmingly, governments across the globe with the exceptions of Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea, failed to take the initial warnings signs seriously.

Unlike western democracies that have little to boast about in their handling of the crisis, countries like Pakistan and Egypt lack the checks and balances, robust civil societies, and independent media needed as correctives.

And both Egypt and Pakistan have gone out of their way to keep it that way.

Egypt, apparently taking a leaf out of China’s playbook, reprimanded foreign correspondents for The Guardian and The New York Times in Cairo for reporting that the number of cases in the country was exponentially higher than the 495 confirmed by authorities as of March 29.

The coverage was based on conclusions by infectious disease specialists at the University of Toronto who had analyzed flight and traveller data as well as infection rates.

The scientists estimated that “Egypt likely has a large burden of Covid-2019 cases that are unreported.” They put the number of Egyptian cases as high as 19,130 as of March 15.

In response, authorities withdrew the press permit of The Guardian’s Ruth Michaelson and expelled her from the country while The New York Times’ Declan Walsh was forced to delete a tweet. Furthermore, several Egyptians have been detained on charges of spreading false and fabricated rumours.

Yet, Egypt imposed strict measures including the closure of all educational institutions and the suspension of flights on March 15, the day the scientists published their findings. The government also announced a $6.38 billion USD fund to fight the virus.

A World Health Organization (WHO) official in Cairo said the group could not verify the scientists’ methodology but added that “it is possible that there are many other cases with mild symptoms which did not result in hospital visits, and therefore are not detected or reported.”

Independent reporting is a crucial node in an effective early warning system. It creates pressure for a timely response. The effort to suppress it was in line with Egyptian general-turned-president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s initial reaction to the virus.

Rather than focusing on early preventive measures at home, Mr. Al-Sisi sought to benefit from China’s predicament.

With only one officially confirmed case of a Chinese national arriving in February at Cairo airport who was hospitalized and cured, Mr. Al-Sisi sent his health minister, Hala Zayed, to China to praise it for preventing a far worse global outbreak by taking very strong precautionary measures. This despite Beijing’s costly failure to confront the disease firmly from the outset.

Pakistan’s approach in recent months was no less negligent.

Like Egypt, a country in which the power of the military is thinly camouflaged by hollowed-out institutions, Pakistan waffled until last week in its response to the pandemic.

The Pakistani government refused early on to evacuate some 800 students from Wuhan in a bid to earn brownie points in Beijing. It also failed to manage the return of potentially infected pilgrims from Iran. And finally, it catered to ultra-conservative groups whose worldviews were akin to ones long prevalent in Saudi Arabia with its significant cultural and religious influence in the South Asian nation.

As a result, Pakistan, a deeply religious country that borders on both China and Iran, allowed Tablighi Jamaat, a proselytizing group with a huge global following in some 80 countries that is banned in Saudi Arabia, to continue organizing mass events.

The group organized a 16,000 people mass gathering in early March in Malaysia where scores were infected with the Coronavirus.

Hundreds of Tablighi gathered from March 21 to 23 in the Mardan District of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province to pray, listen to speeches, and eat and sleep in congested quarters.

One participant, professing his belief that God would protect the Tablighi, described spending almost six weeks together with thousands of others at Tablighi headquarters near Lahore, a city of 11 million, just before travelling to Mardan.

Pakistan Religious Affairs Minister Noor-ul-Haq Qadri caved into demands by the clergy to keep mosques open but capped the maximum number of people at prayers at five.

The minister’s concession reinforced a popular perception of the government’s message that the virus crisis was less grave than projected by health authorities across the globe. “If the pandemic was serious, the government would’ve shut down all the mosques,” said Sadiq Bhutt, speaking through an interpreter, as he entered a mosque in Islamabad for Friday prayers.

Eventually, overriding government policy, the Pakistan military intervened in recent days to impose a lockdown like in much of the rest of the world.

But as in Egypt, it may be too late for Pakistan, the world’s most populous Muslim nation of 207 million, that is ill-equipped for a pandemic.

Ultimately, the lesson of Egypt, Pakistan, and China’s initial handling of the Coronavirus is that neither self-serving autocrats nor authoritarians have the wherewithal to confront a crisis like a pandemic in a timely fashion. Their much-delayed responses have failed to take the public’s interests to heart rather than those of elites that prioritize geopolitical or political advantage.

Western democracies have performed not much better with US President Donald J. Trump seemingly more concerned about the economic impact in an election year than about public health and people’s lives.

The difference, however, is that western democracies have the potential of holding leaders to account and implementing lessons learned from the costly mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s hard to hold out a similar hope for Arab autocracies or countries like Pakistan whose democratic façade is at best skin-deep.

James M. Dorsey is a Senior Fellow at the Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University

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Asia Pacific

India can ‘no longer’ choke China at the Strait Of Malacca as Beijing finds solution

The Strait of Malacca is a strategic waterway between Indonesia and Malaysia through which the majority of Chinese imports pass. The narrow waterway also makes the perfect chokepoint from the perspective of India, and should tension between Beijing and New Delhi rise, the Malacca Strait can be blocked easily by India. 

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Could the advantage that India enjoys over China due to the Strait of Malacca be coming to an end? Does China have a way to tackle the Indian plans of chocking Beijing at the Malacca Straits – the strategic waterway, in case of a war?

Africa emerges as a new battle ground for India and China for trade, commerce war

India’s position at the mouth of the Malacca Strait has created panic amongst Chinese officials as they try to find an alternative route, writes the Forbes.

The Strait of Malacca is a strategic waterway between Indonesia and Malaysia through which the majority of Chinese imports pass. The narrow waterway also makes the perfect chokepoint from the perspective of India, and should tension between Beijing and New Delhi rise, the Malacca Strait can be blocked easily by India.

India’s natural position in the Indian Ocean, with basing capabilities in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands at the mouth of the strait, would allow its navy to cut it off in the event of a crisis or war with China.

Indian Military Base In Sabang, Indonesia Can Strangle China At The Strait of Malacca

Keeping in mind the recent flare-up between India and China, Larry Bond, renowned naval author and creator of the Harpoon war game series, says that if India wanted to block trade with China, all it has to do is its park ships at the mouth of the Malacca Strait.

The vast majority of China’s oil imports, from the Persian Gulf, Venezuela and Angola, pass by this route. Due to the strategic importance of the waterway, there is fear amongst Chinese officials that India could block the Malacca Strait in case of war.

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Experts at EurAsian Times believe that the strategic importance of the Malacca Strait and the advantage it gives to India will likely reduce over time as Beijing find alternative routes.

Bypassing the Malacca Strait

The fact India enjoys a strategic advantage over China because of the Malacca Strait has forced Beijing to explore other options and find ways around the waterway.

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One such option is Gwadar Port in Pakistan. As part of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Beijing has developed the port in Gwadar so that goods unloaded there will be shipped overland to China.

On June 8 the Pakistani government approved a $7.2bn upgrade to a railway which will connect Gwadar to Kashgar, China. The port is not yet operating at capacity, but the direction seems clear.

Kashmir will get more affected than Tibet in India, China clash – British Author

While Gwadar is still susceptible to an attack by the Indian Air Force (IAF), it adds political and military risks as it is in a third country’s territory. The Indian Navy could try and block this port but it would require ships to move away from the Malacca Strait.

The other option Beijing is exploring is Northern Sea Route in the Arctic which could create a ‘Polar Silk Road.’ The importance of this is underlined by China’s 2018 Arctic policy. It asserts, “Geographically, China is a “Near-Arctic State”, one of the continental States that are closest to the Arctic Circle.”

Instigated by China, Sri Lanka could end port deal with India?

The policy statement goes on to say, “China hopes to work with all parties to build a “Polar Silk Road” through developing the Arctic shipping routes.”

Due to accelerated global warming, ice sheets are receding, thus making it possible for ships to travel via this route. Having sent its first ship through the region in 2013, Beijing is now investing in port infrastructure in the Arctic which connects to Europe.

China is also investing in designing ice breakers, vessels that would ease navigation through the Arctic. With help from Finnish Aker Arctic, China launched its first locally built ice breaker the Xue Long 2 in 2018.

India refuses to review RCEP decision over China’s border hostility – Reports

Apart from exploring new waterways and developing strategic ports, Beijing is developing a land route directly to Europe, as part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), mainly as a way to export goods.

Thousands of trains are transversing across Asia in recent times, the modern-day version of the ancient Silk Road. Land routes are one way China can reduce the criticality of Chinese sea routes.

The strategic importance of the Strait of Malacca to China will lessen over a period of time. India will still be in a position to throttle Chinese supply lines there, but it will not have the same impact that it once had.

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Americas

India Bets Big On Nikki Haley To Emerge As Vice Presidential Candidate Under Trump

Nikki Haley has echoed some of the same arguments Donald Trump has made on national topics such as cancel culture, defunding police forces and statue removal, although the tone and frequency between Trump and Haley differ dramatically.  

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India has pinned hopes on Nikki Haley to become the US Vice President (VP) should Donald Trump get re-elected this November. Haley, a first-generation Indian American, is expected to strengthen Indo-American relation and also attract a lot of voters including women and minorities.

According to the reports, there is speculation that Trump might switch out Vice-President Mike Pence for Nikki Haley as his running mate in the hopes of boosting his lagging approval numbers among the broader electorate.

Despite resigning as US Ambassador to the United Nations, Haley has been active in politics. She has been fundraising for Republican congressional candidates as well as in the Senate and gubernatorial arena.

She has set up a non-profit organization to boost her policy priorities and has continued to pen editorials on foreign policy. And Hailey has retained a small, tightly knit orbit of advisers.

The former governor of South Carolina, Haley is one of the people who left the Trump Administration on good terms. She has even promised to campaign for the President for his re-election bid.

Haley has echoed some of the same arguments Donald Trump has made on national topics such as cancel culture, defunding police forces and statue removal, although the tone and frequency between Trump and Haley differ dramatically.

According to experts at EurAsian Times, Haley’s recent moves can be seen as a carefully executed plan to stay involved in key Republican policy circles and the national discourse. Haley has fundraised for almost a dozen Republican Senate candidates, many of them in tough re-election races, and has been a special guest at Republican Governors Association (RGA) events.

While Haley has dismissed reports about her running for VP, her being an influential person of colour could help Trump win constituencies he is currently losing.

India pinning hopes on Nikki Haley

The US Presidential elections are a spectacle observed globally and India would be hoping Trump wins and Haley gets elected as the VP. Haley enjoys nationwide popularity amongst Indian-Americans and her election as VP could lead to stronger ties between Washington and New Delhi.

She has natural links to India with her parents having emigrated to the US in the 1960s from Punjab. Haley has often pointed out that India is an example of a free government and recently even applauded New Delhi’s decision to ban 59 Chinese applications and for standing up to China.

With an Indian-American at the helm of affairs, New Delhi would see it as an opportunity to get closer to Washington. It could lead to India benefitting in the areas of trade, defence and investment and would be a huge blow to neighbours China and Pakistan.

US Presidential elections are scheduled to take place in November and will be contested between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. While Biden’s re-election does not mean that India and the United States will have weak relations, having Trump in the White House and Haley as VP would definitely lead to stronger Indo-American ties.

Armaan Srivastava. Views Personal

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Americas

Russian T-14 Armata Tanks Now On Sale; Hopes To Challenge US’ M1 Abrams

The T-14 is part of the Armata’s heavily tracked standardized platform, which serves as the basis to develop the main battle tank, an infantry fighting vehicle, an armoured personnel carrier and other armoured vehicles.

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Russia’s T-14 Armata tank will be up for sale from 2021. This was announced by Denis Manturov – Industry and Trade Minister of Russia. He said that they are already receiving requests for the deadly T-14 Armata tanks from several foreign customers.

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The T-14 is part of the Armata’s heavily tracked standardized platform, which serves as the basis to develop the main battle tank, an infantry fighting vehicle, an armoured personnel carrier and other armoured vehicles. It has fully digitized equipment, an unmanned turret and an isolated armoured capsule for the crew.

“Russian producers are ready to offer potential buyers both air defence systems, such as the S-300 and the S-400 and advanced aircraft and helicopters,” explained Dmitry Shugayev, Head of Russia’s Federal Service for Military and Technical Cooperation.

“We are preparing the MiG-35 light fighter for sale and are promoting the latest T-14 ‘Armata’ tank,” he added.

The Armata T-14 was first demonstrated during the Victory Day Parade in May 2015 in Moscow. The actual production of the tanks was delayed. The first nine T-14 Armatas were originally planned to be handed over to the Russian Ground Forces (RGF) in 2018. This date then got pushed to 2019 and then to 2020.

Russia hopes that the T-14 Armata tank will give a tough competition to America’s M1 Abrams that destroyed thirty-seven of the Soviet-designed T-72s during the 1991 Gulf War.

T-72s remain Russia’s primary battle tank, supplemented by turbine-engine T-80s and four hundred more advanced T-90s. According to Sébastien Roblin, an expert on security and militarywhile Russia may finally have a 125-millimetre sabot round that can threaten Western main battle tanks at the range, only its handful of new T-14s tank are capable of actually using it.

Experts claim that the 2A82 gun could be retrofitted to numerous older T-90s and T-72s so far appear not to have materialized.

Despite Russia’s defence spending, the Russian military has continued with the production of the new tank. The production is overseen by Rostec Corporation, the Moscow conglomerate that specializes in consolidating strategically important companies in Russia’s defence sector.

It has undergone field testing in Syria. Although the extent of testing and the results are still unclear, a Russian media outlet suggested that “one Armata was completely destroyed.” There’s no confirmation on that but it might not look good to its buyers.

“It [the T-14 Armata tank] is expensive because it is still undergoing extra trials and modernization after the defence ministry requested additional technical solutions in order to begin serial supplies starting from the next year under the existing contract,” said Manturov in April this year.

He further said that next year, when serial supplies of these tanks to the defence ministry are launched and an export certificate is obtained, they will begin to work with foreign clients. “Preliminarily, bearing in mind that we cannot provide all the documentation to our foreign clients. We do have preliminary orders,” he added.

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