Editorials - 28-06-2021

More than a conflict resolution exercise, it is about setting the rules of politics and diplomacy

The meeting between the representatives of mainstream political parties in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and the central leadership on June 24 was at best a good beginning, and an indication of the shape of unilateral politics in J&K in the months ahead, at worst. More than a conflict resolution exercise, the agenda-less meeting was more about the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government setting the rules of politics in Kashmir and getting them accepted by the mainstream stakeholders in J&K. To that extent, the all-party meeting, a politically clever and a tactically sound half-measure by the BJP-led central government, was definitely not a climbdown by the BJP.

Clever political move

Organising the all-party meeting was a clever political move by the BJP government for a variety of reasons. For one, the narrative will now shift to how and when the Centre will (or not) concede to at least some of the demands made by the Kashmiri politicians from the more critical questions of whether the decision of 2019 has delivered on any of its declared objectives. Consider this. The two justifications made by the BJP government for the decisions of 2019 — ushering in a new era of development and prosperity in J&K, and rooting out terrorism from Kashmir — seem to have disappeared from public memory today. There has been little development in the now Union Territory since 2019; if anything, the security lockdown post-2019 and the subsequent COVID-19 lockdown have only worsened economic conditions in the Union Territory. What about terrorism and extremism? Until the India-Pakistan ceasefire of February this year, the security situation in the Kashmir Valley saw no significant improvement despite the double lockdown nor was there a major let-up in infiltration from across the Line of Control (LoC). As for home-grown insurgency, there is no way to measure anti-India sentiments in the Union Territory given the strict security clampdown and the subsequent double lockdown. In any case, brandishing the absence of violent protests during a double lockdown as a measure of success of the 2019 decisions is methodologically erroneous, at the least. In short, neither has the removal of special status improved the economic conditions of the general population nor has it been helpful in rooting out Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in the Valley or reducing anti-India feelings there.

BJP’s political gains

And yet, the BJP’s Kashmir grand strategy has hardly been a failure especially since the key objectives of its mission Kashmir were different from the stated ones. Look at it this way. By politically reaching out to Kashmir now, New Delhi has lost nothing given that both the Prime Minister and the Home Minister had stated several times in the past that Statehood would be returned to J&K at an ‘appropriate time’. Let me put the ongoing negotiations on the issue of Statehood in perspective: withdrawal of Statehood in 2019 was a clever negotiating ploy to eventually force a trade-off between the return of Statehood and a tacit acceptance of the removal of Article 370. Kashmiri political leaders would have little option but to accept this trade-off eventually even as they wait for the ‘appropriate time’ to arrive.

In other words, Statehood versus Article 370 was a carefully thought-out artificial choice made by the BJP government to gain advantage during future negotiations. The meeting on Thursday was the opening shot to judge the mood.

More crucially, if New Delhi manages to get the mainstream political parties in J&K to accept, out of sheer necessity, the offer of Statehood without the reunification of the State or return of special status, New Delhi would have laid down the rules of the game in Kashmir. Read this with the fact that the Jammu-based political parties, currently dominated by the BJP, will benefit from the ongoing delimitation of the Assembly seats in the Union Territory. So, the numerical advantage that the Valley had traditionally enjoyed over Jammu in the erstwhile State’s Assembly will diminish, thereby helping the BJP, as also other Jammu-based parties, to strengthen their hold in the politics of the Union Territory/State.

Let us view these political realities from the perspective of the political parties in J&K: they have everything to gain by getting J&K’s Statehood back, for politics without Statehood is an unattractive proposition. Politics, the Kashmiri political class knows only too well, is the art of the “possible”. For them, it is a choice between something or nothing, and they do realise that choosing nothing over something (i.e., Statehood) is not a practical solution. In politics, irrelevance comes quickly and sharply and the Kashmiri politicians know that more than anyone. In effect, therefore, the demands for the restoration of Statehood, and the well-timed and purposefully long drawn-out negotiations thereof, will bury the mainstream political demand for Article 370.

But, perhaps most importantly, the real gain for the BJP is ideological. The BJP, and the Jan Sangh before it, consistently argued for the removal of Article 370. They achieved that, albeit by questionable means, in 2019. The ongoing talks indicate that the Sangh Parivar’s ideological agenda is all set to triumph in J&K.

Bilateral implications

As for Pakistan, it had maintained ever since August 2019 that it would not engage in a dialogue process with India until New Delhi retracts the Kashmir decisions of 2019. Pakistan tried to internationalise what it called India’s “annexation” of Kashmir but garnered little support, and increased the heat on the LoC and inside Kashmir, again to no avail. Islamabad’s stated position has evidently changed with the February 2021 ceasefire agreement on the LoC and the backchannel talks preceding it. There is an emergent and strong opinion within Pakistan that if India were to restore Statehood in J&K, it might open doors for a dialogue process. Therefore, if New Delhi offers Statehood to J&K, a process that began on Thursday, Pakistan might be open to talks with India.

Put differently, by offering to return Statehood to Kashmir and politically burying the issue of J&K’s special status, New Delhi has won a tactical victory over Pakistan without making any real concessions. On the other hand, Pakistan would have to walk back from its preconditions for talks with India by agreeing to New Delhi’s half-measure on Kashmir. On the brighter side, however, this undoubtedly has the potential to bring the two sides to the negotiating table on various outstanding bilateral issues. New Delhi’s current advantage in Kashmir over Pakistan could also be read with the lessons from the Balakot stand-off in early 2019. By carrying out a strike against Pakistan in its Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, New Delhi created a new military normal between the two sides, i.e., counterterror strikes inside Pakistan could occur in case of a terror attack against India notwithstanding the Pakistani response, which as the ensuing air skirmish showed is likely to remain at the low conventional level. In other words, New Delhi has clearly signalled to Pakistan how far it will go on the Kashmir question and how far it will tolerate the menace of terrorism.

The challenges

Whether or not the BJP’s political gainvis-à-visthe Kashmiri political parties, and tactical gain over Pakistan will help root out insurgency and terrorism from Kashmir is something we will have to wait and see. That the BJP government has not politically reached out to the Kashmiri dissidents is indicative of the fact that it will want to single-handedly dictate the contours of politics in Jammu and Kashmir — ceding limited space to the mainstream political parties, and little space for either the dissidents or Pakistan. Whether this policy will find success on the ground once Kashmir opens up and normal political activity resumes there is an important question. A cursory glance at Jammu and Kashmir’s history would show that New Delhi’s deals with Kashmir’s mainstream politicians routinely found little favour with either the ordinary Kashmiri or the agitating Kashmiri. In that sense, then, it is too early for New Delhi to claim victory in Kashmir.

Happymon Jacob teaches at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and is the founder of the Council for Strategic and Defense Research

It requires co-ordination across States and districts, based on real-time analysis of data

As the focus shifts to a possible third wave, it is important for India to ask how it can marshal its resources better. Can we leverage the advantages of our size and federal character?

Delhi’s experience is instructive. As the first wave abated, hospitalisation for COVID-19 patients plummeted. By January 2021, Delhi was using less than 20% of its bed capacity for COVID-19 patients. It then made the fateful decision, at the beginning of February, to reduce bed capacity back to its usual level of just above 5,000. The decision paid off till mid-March and then the system collapsed. As the second wave hit, bed occupancy went from 33% to over 90% in the first three weeks of April. The government responded rapidly, ramping up bed capacity (faster than what was seen in China or New York City) to more than the previous peak, but it could not keep up with the surge. Equally, as the surge subsided over an 18-day period, utilisation of government hospital beds went rapidly back to 30%, even as infections spread to many other areas with a shortage of key infrastructure. The fact is that it is extremely hard to ramp up capacity in response to the kind of surge that we saw in April 2021, and next to impossible to staff the additional capacity adequately. It is also true that all governments are under pressure to scale down capacity, if augmented capacity remains unused for a long period of time.

Elastic health infrastructure

Delhi’s experience highlights two important issues. First, COVID-19 waves require the health infrastructure to be elastic (i.e. expand and contract based on need) and often over a very short period. Second, demand for COVID-19-specific health infrastructure is spatially varied. If cities, districts and States see in surge in cases at different points in time, does health capacity at a location need to be fixed or can it vary over time and across geography?

Preparing for the third wave thus requires us to think differently about health infrastructure, and focus on where we need to build capacity locally and where we can move capacity in response to a surge.

The response depends, in part, on the geography of COVID-19. When we look at the data, we uncover one key fact: in the second wave, COVID-19 returned to many of the districts affected in the first wave, a group that we call the ‘permanently at risk’ districts. There were 145 districts that accounted for 75% of the cases during the first wave. Strikingly, the same districts accounted for up to 80% of cases during the second wave. Of these, 45 districts accounted for 50% of the cases during the first surge and even more in the initial days of the second. The characteristics of these districts in terms of population size, density and mobility make them susceptible to rapid spread. An epidemiological question is why this happens if such districts have herd immunity, from prior infection and vaccination. One answer, as shown in models developed by the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (http://bitly.ws/eTR2), is that if vaccination is only partly efficacious, as recent CMC Vellore results indicate, even limited reinfection and a more transmissible variant can lead to a large surge — and a potential third wave in the ‘permanently at risk’ districts. These ‘permanently at risk’ districts thus need reserve capacity and resources to be expanded to track and detect potential surges at an early stage.

A mobility framework

In addition to building capability, we can also ‘move’ health infrastructure from one location to another. This is what China did in Wuhan when the pandemic first made global headlines. There are two key aspects to ‘moving’ infrastructure. First, it is important to identify what resources can be moved, linked to costs and supply elasticity — beds and concentrators have low mobility costs and high elasticity (some resources can be rapidly imported) while entire ICUs have high mobility costs. Health workers, on the other hand, have limited elasticity in the medium run as they cannot be trained within a month, but they are potentially highly mobile.

There are three distinct policy areas that need innovation. First, for healthcare workers, it may be possible (as some States have done) to induct almost trained final year medicine and nursing students and rehire retired medical personnel. Another strategy is to use paramedical workers to monitor patients, provide oxygen and assist in telemedicine. As the Liver Foundation in West Bengal has demonstrated, even informal health providers can be trained to deal with first-line treatments in a rural setting, perform basic administrative tasks, and seek formal medical assistance.

Second, resources with high mobility costs need to be more evenly distributed, beyond the spatially concentrated ‘permanently at risk’ districts, to ensure equity in access in poorly served areas.

Third, spatial equity also means that if we can’t bring resources to patients, we can bring patients to resources. Within reasonable distances, it may be more effective to increase the capability to transport patients to care they need. An emerging factor is that patients may be unwilling to travel if there are no arrangements for families to stay nearby. But the many patients who cross State boundaries to seek treatment in Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Vellore and many more places are testimony to the fact that with the right support, it is possible.

Building on federal institutions

It is obvious that the efficiency of resource-sharing increases with the area of coverage, as surge risk is more widely distributed. Therefore, the benefits of resource sharing are higher if it is possible beyond districts, across State boundaries.

For inelastic resources, augmentation of capacities needs to be assured and contingent allocation must be arranged well before any eventuality arises. Moving resources requires coordination but even more importantly, trust. After all, no State or district would want to share resources if it doesn’t trust that it will have access to them in its time of need. This is particularly the case if district ‘A’ in State ‘X’ helps district ‘B’ in State ‘Y’ but then requires help from district ‘C’ in State Z. These arrangements are karmic in the long run, but lack immediate reciprocity and thus need greater institutional coordination.

Such sharing, though not particularly structured, was visible in the second wave, with Andhra Pradesh providing ventilators to Maharashtra at the request of a Union Minister and the Odisha Chief Minister responding positively to the request of the Maharashtra Chief Minister for oxygen supply. These success stories now need to be institutionalised through an inter-State platform, mediated through bodies such as the National Disaster Management Authority and the NITI Aayog.

COVID-19 has presented India with unprecedented challenges to build health capacities. Beating the successive waves requires enabling governance structures that treat COVID-19 as a national calamity, and co-ordination across the States and districts, based on real-time analysis of data and innovative institutional solutions. As our study shows (http://bitly.ws/eTQC), our size can be a disadvantage, for the virus can lurk in many corners, but it is an advantage if we treat this as a shared challenge and build on our federal institutions.

Jishnu Das & Partha Mukhopadhyay are with the Centre for Policy Research (CPR), New Delhi. Yamini Aiyar & Shamindra Nath Roy, also from CPR, contributed to the piece

Despite judicial verdicts, India’s sexual minorities face discrimination in employment, health issues and personal rights

This year, the world woke up to June, pride month, gazing at the Google Doodle of Dr. Frank Kameny (1925-2011), an American astronomer, veteran, and gay rights activist. Kameny, in the early 1970s, ‘successfully challenged the American Psychiatric Association’s classification of homosexuality as a mental disorder’. The global LGBTQ+ community marched ahead after the 1970s. But in India, the queer community is still a stigmatised and invisible minority, a fact that is alarmingly incompatible with the country’s living, liberal and inclusive Constitution.

The Constitution was conceived by India’s founding fathers as a beacon of fundamental rights, leading once enslaved Indians to the promised land of life and freedom. Despite such a liberating Constitution, the Indian state and the law have been abusing and given many marginalised segments of the citizenry such as the queer community of India the cold shoulder.

Launch pad for jurisprudence

The Constitutional courtroom in post-colonial India became a space where the individual and the state could converse with each other. The meagre gains that the queer community won have been granted by the judiciary; not by legislatures. In the book,Sex and the Supreme Court: How the Law is Upholding the Dignity of the Indian Citizen(2020), Saurabh Kripal observes: “In the tug of war between the demands of the traditional conception of society and the rights of individuals to their identity and dignity, the Supreme Court has come down firmly in favour of individual.” The Supreme Court of India’s ruling inNavtej Singh Johar & Ors. vs Union of India(2018), that the application of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) to consensual homosexual behaviour between adults was “unconstitutional, irrational, indefensible and manifestly arbitrary”, has been a great victory to the Indian individual in his quest for identity and dignity. This judgment has provided a launch pad for the LGBTQ+ jurisprudence and queer liberation movement in India.

The Delhi High Court’s verdict inNaz Foundation vs Government of NCT of Delhi(2009) was a 38th parallel in the law of sexuality and equality jurisprudence in India. The court held that Section 377 offended the guarantee of equality enshrined in Article 14 of the Constitution, because it creates an unreasonable classification and targets homosexuals as a class (https://bit.ly/3A1kHBZ). Earlier, in a retrograde step, the Supreme Court, inSuresh Kumar Koushal vs Naz Foundation(2013), reinstated Section 377 to the IPC. But India witnessed the anastasis of Naz Foundation through the top court’s judgment inNavtej Singh Johar & Ors.with an embedded firewall of the doctrine of progressive realisation of rights.

Despite the judgments of the Supreme Court, full equality is still a pie in the sky for the queer community in India. In matters of employment, health and personal relationship, there is still a lot of discrimination against sexual minorities. It is only when these problems are adequately addressed that the LGBTQ+ community will be able to enjoy full autonomy and agency.

Legal sanction opposed

The Union of India has recently opposed any move to accord legal sanction to same-sex marriages in India stating that the decriminalisation of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code does not automatically translate into a fundamental right for same sex couples to marry. This was stated in response to the Delhi High Court notice to a plea by LGBTQ+ activists and couples who sought recognition of same-sex marriages. Justice Anthony Kennedy of the U.S. Supreme Court, inObergefell vs Hodges(2015) underscored the emotional and social value of the institution of marriage and asserted that the universal human right of marriage should not be denied to a same-sex couple. As of 2021, same-sex marriage is legally performed and recognised in 29 countries. Indian society and the state should synchronise themselves with changing trends.

Amend Article 15

Article 15 secures the citizens from every sort of discrimination by the state, on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth or any of them. This Article is the cornerstone of the concept that equality is the antithesis of discrimination. Imbibing the zeitgeist, the grounds of non-discrimination should be expanded by including gender and sexual orientation. In May 1996, South Africa became the first country to constitutionally prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. Section 9(3) of its Constitution dictates that state may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth. Let Gandhiji’s nation learn from Mandela’s nation!

The United Kingdom passed the “Alan Turing law” in 2017 which ‘granted amnesty and pardon to the men who were cautioned or convicted under historical legislation that outlawed homosexual acts’. The law, named after Alan Turing, a World War II code-breaker and computing genius, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, provided a ‘posthumous pardon, also an automatic formal pardon for living people who had had such offences removed from their record’. To expiate the excesses committed against the LGBTQ+ community in the past and present, the Indian state should also enact a law on these lines to do justice to the ‘prisoners of sexual conscience’.

Justice Rohinton F. Nariman had directed inNavtej Singh Johar & Ors., the Government to sensitise the general public and officials, including police officials, to reduce and finally eliminate the stigma associated with LGBTQ+ community through the mass media and the official channels. But the Government has simply disregarded this obligation. School and university students too should be sensitised about the diversity of sexuality to deconstruct the myth of heteronormativity. Heteronormativity is the root cause of hetero-sexism and homophobia.

Rohit De illustrated, in hisA People’s Constitution: The Everyday Life of Law in the Indian Republic(2018), how laws and policies were frequently undone or renegotiated from below by the ordinary citizenry using constitutional remedies. He unfolded the stories of individuals from socially and economically marginalised sections such as prostitutes, butchers, refugees, and vegetable vendors who turned to the court for ‘rewriting’ the Constitution. However, for Queeristan, the Constitution has been ‘a beautiful and ineffectual angel’ so far. Hence, it is time for change; but the burden should not be left to the powers that be. The onus remains with the civil society, the citizenry concerned and the LGBTQ+ community itself.

Faisal C.K. is Under Secretary (Law) to the Government of Kerala

Journalistic exposés have led to timely course corrections

The most compelling reason for devoting substantial space for media literacy in this column is not to defend journalism but to defend the wellspring of journalism.

The atmosphere in which journalists can do their work is getting vitiated by the minute. Governmental decrees, overt and covert gag orders, efforts to undermine sustainable revenue models, rumour mills, and the pitting of social media rants against news are some of the methods that have been unleashed to bring down trust in mainstream media. It would be suicidal if we did not address these issues as many citizens absorb elements of these sly criticisms and internalise them.

A vague binary

I get at least one letter a week questioning journalistic work ethics. These letters come in different forms. Sometimes readers tend to use an ideological lens. In other instances, they tend to invoke the vaguest binary of optimism and pessimism. This week, Gopal Bipin, a reader who did not mention his place of residence, asked the paper to refrain from carrying excessive negative news on COVID-19, which has been acknowledged as one of the biggest health and economic challenges that humanity is facing in a century.

He wrote: “The Hinduhas become intolerably negative in its reporting these days with an overdose of criticism and pessimism at a time when the world needs positivity and hope. Its coverage of COVID-19 simply borders on relentless hype and hyperbole, unwittingly creating panic and fear psychosis in the minds of its readers. Do not think that this kind of fear mongering has no impact, even on patients recovering from COVID-19. Wise counsel needs to prevail among the reporters ofThe Hindu. I know of so many people who have discontinued subscription ofThe Hindupurely on this account... Lives have been ruined from job losses, businesses have gone bankrupt... It is time to think beyond COVID-19.The Hindushould stop its intellectual one-upmanship and return to balanced news reporting. It should not forget that it is not a scientific journal...”

While one can understand the angst of a citizen living under the shadow of a pandemic that has not just threatened lives but also the livelihood of millions, it is important to remember the fundamental role of a newspaper. It has to constantly fulfil three ‘i’s: inform, interpret and illuminate. One of the tasks that journalists do is to confront the distortions from the top to restore the space for a dispassionate look at events, policies and the people shaping our livelihoods.

The need for muckrakers

Former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, in his speech on April 14, 1906, pejoratively called journalists and critics “muckrakers”. According to historians, this particular reference was taken from John Bunyan’sThe Pilgrim’s Progress. Bunyan wrote: “the Man with the Muck Rake... who could look no way but downward.” Journalists were quick to convert the pejorative term to a respectable one that denotes social concern and courageous exposition.

Journalists for over a century have known that reporting on negative developments, scrutinising ineffective governmental measures, and holding those in power to account are signs of optimism, not pessimism.

John Keane, co-founder of the Sydney Democracy Network and Professor of Politics at the University of Sydney, said that every generation needs its share of muckrakers. His argument is that muckrakers put their finger on a perennial problem for which democracy is a solution: the power of elites always thrives on secrecy, silence and invisibility. He wrote: “Gathering behind closed doors and deciding things in peace and private quiet is their speciality. Little wonder then that in media-saturated societies, to put things paradoxically, muckrakers ensure that unexpected ‘leaks’ and revelations become predictably commonplace.”

As a journalist for nearly four decades, I have been witness to countless instances where journalistic exposés have led to timely course corrections. I am convinced that if journalists were pessimists, that would show in their journalism. It is often called ‘fluff’ or ‘public relations journalism’ and tends to become an apology for the ruling elites. On the other hand, if journalists are optimists, they will aggressively point out failures and hope for course corrections.


Apologies by countries for past mistakes can improve bilateral ties and help people reconcile with the past

In May, Germany officially apologised to Namibia for the massacre of the Herero and Nama people in 1904-1908 and called it a genocide for the first time. Around the same time, French President Emmanuel Macron said in Rwanda that he recognised his country’s role in the Rwandan genocide and hoped for forgiveness.

Positive effects

The importance of these gestures cannot be overestimated. They can generate multiple positive effects. Apart from strengthening the relations between the countries involved, apologies by leaders help people reconcile with the past and countries and communities take lessons from history and avoid similar tragedies. Most importantly, they provide some solace to the victims’ descendants; they give them a sense of justice and rectitude.

There were many public debates following the apology from Germany regarding reparations. Herero activists insist that the development aid offered by the German authorities is not enough and is generic in nature. According to them, the descendants of the genocide’s victims should receive a tangible compensation, primarily in the form of land property that had been taken away by the German colonisers. This is a complex issue, whereby it is difficult to find a mutually acceptable compromise. ‘What is the right price to pay for genocide?’ is a rhetorical question.

Unlike Germany and France, Turkey has been in constant denial of the Armenian genocide during World War I. In April 2021, the Turkish President went as far as condemning the recognition of the genocide by the newly elected American President, Joe Biden. This strained bilateral relations between Turkey and the U.S. even further. Apparently, the overarching image of Mr. Erdogan as a ‘strongman’ does not go well with any kind of apology on the international stage. There is enough evidence that the killing of 1.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during World War 1 was indeed genocide. Leaders like Mr. Erdogan seem to believe that asking for forgiveness can be interpreted as a sign of weakness. In fact, it is quite the opposite.

The Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, has a propensity for apologies. According to him, “apologies for things in the past are important to make sure that we actually understand and know and share and do not repeat those mistakes”. In 2016, Mr. Trudeau apologised before the descendants of passengers of the Komagata Maru ship. In 1914, the Canadian government of the day had decided to turn away the ship carrying South Asian migrants, mostly Sikhs. The ship was forced to return to India. Back home, the British suspected the passengers to be revolutionaries and an altercation began. Many passengers were shot dead.

In 2018, Mr. Trudeau apologised for his country’s role in turning away a ship carrying over 900 Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution.

Such apologies require courage, good will, compassion, and humility. It is not an easy task to apologise, given that one has to do so for events that took place decades or even a century ago.

In search of a moral compass

Arguably, a sense of humility is a rare phenomenon in contemporary geopolitics. We are witnessing a re-emergence of political leaders, from Nicaragua to Myanmar, who are ready to resort to any means in order to remain in power. In this environment, apologetic voices become even more precious as they help us reconcile with tragic events of the past and remove the stains of history. Besides, they add a moral dimension to international relations.

In this sense, to be a pillar of the multipolar world is not to be a military power, manufacturing and/or financial hub, and/or a global investor alone. Countries that strive for global leadership should be able to provide moral leadership as well. This includes critical self-reflection, humility, compassion, and care not only towards their own people, but also towards the most vulnerable communities around the world.

Tatiana Belousova is Assistant Professor at the Jindal School of International Affairs, O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat, Haryana

Third wave may be weaker than second, but vaccination, preventive steps must stay high

India, with the second highest number of cases globally and third highest deaths, is seeing about 50,000 cases being added every day. Though on a decline, the second wave is far from over and several States are relaxing lockdown restrictions, which, experts say, may be seeding the ground for a potential third wave. In this context, a mathematical modelling study led by the scientists at the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the Imperial College London, shows a wary optimism. Will a potential third wave be as devastating as the second, the scientists attempt to find out, and their answer is ‘no’. For that to happen, a trifecta of “extreme scenarios” has to converge. One, over a third of those who have been infected in the past year must entirely lose their immunity. Second, an emerging variant of the virus must have a reproductive rate (R) over 4.5, or every infected person should be passing on the virus to at least four to five others. And finally, both of these must occur almost close to when the second wave has almost extinguished itself. This is beyond the transmissibility seen so far.

A third wave could be significantly buffered by expanding vaccination. Were vaccines to be rolled out in a way to cover 40% of the population, with two doses until August, it could reduce symptomatic incidence by around 55%. Less than 20% of Indians have got at least one dose of the vaccine and only 4% fully vaccinated. The Centre proposes to vaccinate all adults — about 94.4 crore — by the year end. India’s States, which have at various times dealt with unprecedented crises during the tragedy, now have an estimate of what is needed to tide out their peak phases. In that light, the ICMR’s projections can help with ensuring the minimum number of supplies and other infrastructure in the event of an uptick. However, it should not be forgotten that this is after all a modelling study. None of India’s eminent institutions, in the early part of the year, forecast the scale and intensity of the second wave. There is also the vexing matter of breakthrough infections, that is those contracting the infection in spite of being vaccinated. Sporadic studies in India suggest that this percentage of infection is small, though there is still no clarity on the real-world effectiveness of vaccines in the light of variants such as Delta and Delta Plus. There is also, so far, no theoretical limit on how infectious the coronavirus can become. The ICMR’s analysis thus should not be taken as a forecast but rather a guidance and a reminder that along with vaccination, masks, avoiding crowds and physical distancing will remain the main defence against the virus for the foreseeable future.

While Pakistan stays on FATF list, India must push for justice in cross-border terror attacks

Pakistan’s hopes of being let off the Financial Action Task Force’s grey list were dashed once again, as the 39-member grouping decided to keep it on the list, and even add more tasks. Eventually, Pakistan missed the mark by one crucial action point out of 27 — being judged deficient in prosecuting the senior leadership of UN-proscribed terror groups. The FATF works closely with the UN Security Council’s listings of terror groups as it evaluates countries on their efforts in anti-money laundering/countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT); Pakistan’s failure to convict JeM chief Masood Azhar and others appeared to tip the balance against it. The Pakistani government publicly protested the decision, pointing out that many countries that had largely completed the action plans handed to them have been delisted in the past. Pakistan, which was on the FATF’s “increased monitoring lists” from 2009-2015, was taken off the grey list in 2015 in a similar manner (before it was relisted in 2018). Pakistani leaders have predictably lashed out at India for “lobbying” for its continued listing, while others have hinted that the decision stems from a refusal to allow the U.S. the use of its bases after America’s pull-out from Afghanistan. At FATF hearings, the Imran Khan government said it had introduced and amended terror financing laws, which have enabled the prosecution of more than 30 UN-proscribed leaders and their associates, for terror financing. While it is unclear how many of those are actually serving jail time, the convictions and prison terms, between 15-30 years are a break from the past, when Pakistani authorities would hold these leaders on charges under international pressure, and subsequently release them. By making this the sticking point, the FATF, which works on the principle of mutual compliance, has made it clear that Pakistan must complete the prosecution of all proscribed leaders of groups including the LeT, JeM, al-Qaeda, and the Taliban. By adding six more items to the list on amending its Money Laundering Act and cracking down on other businesses involved in money laundering and terror financing, the FATF has indicated that Pakistan could remain on the grey list for at least another one to two years.

For India, Pakistan’s continuance on the list is some comfort, even as it awaits true justice delivered to leaders of groups such as the LeT and JeM for attacks, including Mumbai 26/11, Parliament (2001) Pathankot and Pulwama, and not just terror financing. However, the processes of FATF, that has taken a justifiably hard line in Pakistan’s case, must be checked for overreach, as India faces its Mutual Evaluation Report, that has been delayed due to the pandemic. New Delhi should expect that Pakistan will push for a critical investigation of India’s AML/CFT regime, and with the FATF announcing a new focus on “extreme right-wing terrorism (ERW)”, it is clear that there will be more political aspects to its technical scrutiny of countries in the future.

Karachi, June 27: The threatened cut-off of Western aid to Pakistan, because of the situation in East Bengal, has caused a loss of Pakistan’s financial credibility among foreign businessmen. They are asking for “super guarantees” on letters of credit which is bringing commercial transactions to a halt. Importers of lorries and automative spare parts, for example, are being forced to look for International Bank guarantees on top of the Pakistan Bank guarantees. An order abroad to build two ships for Pakistan costing $13 millions is not being executed because the ship-builders are asking for special guarantees. Importers from Japan have reduced to a trickle after Japanese credit guarantee institutions refused to back Pakistani orders.