SPR 2021 | International Relations Current Affairs Compilation for Prelims 2021

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Table of Contents

 

Specific Countries Update

China:

Reviving SAARC to deal with China

  • Context:
    • Amid India- China border tensions, as part of its global expansionism, China is chipping away at India’s interests in South Asia.
      1. China’s proximity to Pakistan is well known.
      2. Nepal is moving closer to China for ideational and material reasons.
      3. China is wooing Bangladesh by offering tariff exemption to 97% of Bangladeshi products.
      4. It has also intensified its ties with Sri Lanka through massive investments.
    • So, most South Asian nations are now largely dependent on China for imports despite geographical proximity to India.
    • This should be a major cause for concern for New Delhi.
  • Why SAARC is relevant now?
    • Several foreign policy experts argue that India’s strategic dealing with China has to begin with South Asia.
    • In this regard, it is important to reinvigorate SAARC, which has been in the doldrums since 2014.
    • In the last few years, due to increasing animosity with Pakistan, India’s political interest in SAARC dipped significantly.
    • India started investing in other regional instruments, such as BIMSTEC, as an alternative to SAARC.
    • However, BIMSTEC cannot replace SAARC for reasons such as lack of a common identity and history among all BIMSTEC members. Moreover, BIMSTEC’s focus is on the Bay of Bengal region, thus making it an inappropriate forum to engage all South Asian nations.
  • What needs to be done now?
    • To revive the process of South Asian economic integration.
    • South Asia is one of the least integrated regions in the world with intra-regional trade teetering at barely 5% of total South Asian trade, compared to 25% of intra-regional trade in the ASEAN region.
    • While South Asian countries have signed trade treaties, the lack of political will and trust deficit has prevented any meaningful movement.
    • According to the World Bank, trade-in South Asia stands at $23 billion of an estimated value of $67 billion.
    • India should take the lead and work with its neighbours to slash the tariff and non-tariff barriers.
    • There’s a need to resuscitate the negotiations on a SAARC investment treaty, pending since 2007.
  • Challenges ahead:
    • There has been anti-Pakistan rhetoric and Islamophobia on Indian soil. There’s also a recurrent use of the ‘Bangladeshi migrant’ rhetoric.
    • Such majoritarian politics influence foreign policy in undesirable ways. It dents India’s soft power of being a liberal and secular democracy, which gives moral legitimacy to India’s leadership in the region.
    • Next, the economic vision of the government remains convoluted. It’s unclear what the slogans of atma nirbharta (self-reliance) and ‘vocal for local’ mean.
    • Many are stating that India needs to cut down its dependence on imports, thus signalling a return to the obsolete economic philosophy of import substitution.
    • If this marks sliding back to protectionism, one is unsure if India will be interested in deepening South Asian economic integration.
  • Conclusion:
    • Deeper regional economic integration will create greater interdependence with India acquiring the central role, which, in turn, would serve India’s strategic interests too.

What is China's “wolf warrior” diplomacy?

  • Context:
    • The “wolf warriors” represent a completely different type of diplomat to the famously bland Chinese foreign representatives of the past few decades.
  • What is Wolf warrior diplomacy?
    • Wolf warrior diplomacy describes an aggressive style of diplomacy purported to be adopted by Chinese diplomats in the 21st century, under Chinese leader Xi Jinping's administration.
    • The term was coined from a Rambo-style Chinese action film, Wolf Warrior 2.
    • In contrast to prior Chinese diplomatic practice, which had emphasized the avoidance of controversy and the use of cooperative rhetoric, wolf warrior diplomacy is more combative, with its proponents loudly denouncing criticisms of China on social media and in interviews.
  • Background:
    • Although the phrase “wolf warrior diplomacy” was only popularized as a description for this diplomatic philosophy during the COVID-19 pandemic, the appearance of wolf warrior-style diplomats began a few years prior.
    • Chinese leader and Chinese Communist Party general secretary Xi Jinping's foreign policy writ large perceived anti-China hostility from the West amongst Chinese government officials, and shifts within the Chinese diplomatic bureaucracy have been cited as factors leading to its emergence.
  • What is the Chinese brand of nationalism?
    • An abrasive brand of nationalism is associated with China.
    • Beijing’s recourse to nationalistic aggression as a foreign policy strategy has gained the euphemism of ‘wolf warrior diplomacy’.
    • It involves a state-sponsored and systemic indoctrination campaign.
    • It has acquired the dynamics of Chinese nationalism with Xi Jinping at the Core.
  • What is its basis?
    • The Chinese Communist Party initially embraced nationalism as a co-option strategy in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
    • Nationalism has turned into a state dogma to embed the Chinese Communist Party in the political subconsciousness of the country, and secure the filial piety of its populace.
    • It derives its inspiration from the idiom of ‘Great Rejuvenation’ and its obsession with re-achieving the glories of an imaginary past.
  • How this is linked with threat perception?
    • The first concerted attempt by the Chinese Communist Party to shape Chinese nationalism came with the launch of the ‘Patriotic Education Campaign’ in the 1990s.
    • At the core of this campaign was the grand design to project the Chinese Communist Party as the harbinger and sole guarantor of the peace, prosperity, and sovereignty of the eternally ‘victimized’ Chinese nation.
    • It is based on aggressive posturing and display of strength in international affairs.
    • It is secured through patriotic indoctrination campaigns, promotion of a leadership personality cult, and the now legendary anti-corruption drive.
  • What is the Agenda of indoctrination?
    • After Mao, Xi has become the only Chinese leader to appoint a Party theoretician on the Politburo Standing Committee.
    • The new ‘Patriotic Education’ guidelines were introduced in 2019, along with the ‘2019-2023 National Work Program for the Education and Cultivation of Party Members’.
    • It includes extra-curricular activities such as ‘Red Education’ and the aim of such programs is to cultivate future generations of Chinese youth with ‘Red DNA’.
    • In 2018, the Party launched a “patriotic striving spirit” campaign to ‘enhance patriotism’ among Chinese intellectuals.
    • Chinese media outlets have been asked to follow the dictum of “telling China’s stories well” to shape domestic and international opinion as per the Party’s diktats.
    • The promotion of the Xi Jinping personality cult has become an intrinsic component of Chinese nationalism.
    • Elite institutions in China have either established research centers or introduced mandatory courses in ‘Xi Jinping Thought’.
    • The Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently inaugurated a ‘Xi Jinping Thought’ study center to guide the “theoretical construction” of China’s foreign policy.
  • What are the plans ahead?
    • Cult of personality will gain further momentum after the recently concluded fifth plenum of the Party which approved a plan for China to become a global leader in technology by 2035.
    • Xi has further declared his intentions to remain at the helm of China’s affairs long after his due retirement date as General Secretary of the Party in 2022.
    • The international community is poised to face an increasingly aggressive Chinese nationalism.

Bhutan demarches China on its claim to Sakteng Sanctuary

  • Context:
    • Bhutan’s foreign ministry has issued a demarche to the Chinese embassy in New Delhi for the claims made by Beijing over Sakteng Wildlife sanctuary, situated in eastern Bhutan.
  • What’s the issue?
    • Bhutan's western and middle sectors have been in dispute with China (Jakarlung, Pasamlung, and Chumbi Valley). However, the eastern sector has not been part of the boundary talks and China had not claimed rights over Sakteng wildlife sanctuary earlier.
    • The recent claim was made at the 58th meeting of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Council where China tried to “oppose” funding to a project for the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary situated in Bhutan saying that it was “disputed” territory.
    • While Thimphu and Beijing do not have formal diplomatic relations, the two sides have been in talks to resolve the border issues between the two countries and demarcate the boundary.
  • Where is Sakteng wildlife sanctuary?
    • Sakteng is based in Eastern Bhutan or Trashigang Dzongkhag (district) that borders Arunachal Pradesh.
    • It protects several endemic species including the eastern blue pine and the black-rumped magpie.
    • It was created in part to protect the migoi, a yetilike cryptid whose existence has not been scientifically confirmed, but in which the local population strongly believes.
  • About GEF:
    • Established on the eve of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit to help tackle our planet’s most pressing environmental problems.
    • It is an international partnership of countries, international institutions, civil society organizations and the private sector that addresses global environmental issues.
    • GEF funds are available to develop countries and countries with economies in transition to meet the objectives of the international environmental conventions and agreements.
    • The World Bank serves as the GEF Trustee, administering the GEF Trust Fund.

China Not Leaving Hot Springs & Gogra Post

Context:

  • Recently, during the 11th round of discussions between the senior military commanders of India and China to resolve the standoff in eastern Ladakh, China refused to vacate two of the four original friction points.

Patrolling Point 15 and 17A:

  • Along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China, the Indian Army has been given certain locations that its troops have access to patrol the area under its control.
  • These points are known as patrolling points, or PPs, and are decided by the China Study Group (CSG). CSG was set up in 1976.
  • Barring certain areas, like Depsang Plains, these patrolling points are on the LAC, and troops access these points to assert their control over the territory.
  • It is an important exercise since the boundary between India and China is not yet officially demarcated.
  • LAC is the demarcation that separates Indian-controlled territory from Chinese-controlled territory.
  • PP15 and PP17A are two of the 65 patrolling points in Ladakh along the LAC.
  • Both these points are in an area where India and China largely agree on the alignment of the LAC.
  • PP15 is located in an area known as the Hot Springs, while PP17A is near an area called the Gogra post.

Location of Hot Springs and Gogra Post:

  • Hot Springs is just north of the Chang Chenmo river and Gogra Post is east of the point where the river takes a hairpin bend coming southeast from Galwan Valley and turning southwest.
  • The area is north of the Karakoram Range of mountains, which lies north of the Pangong Tso Lake, and south-east of Galwan Valley.

Kongka Pass

  • The Kongka Pass or Kongka La is a low mountain pass over a hill that intrudes into the Chang Chenmo Valley. It is in the disputed India-China border area in Ladakh.

Karakoram Range

  • It is also known as Krishnagiri which is situated in the northernmost range of the Trans-Himalayan ranges. It forms India's frontiers with Afghanistan and China.
  • It extends eastwards from the Pamir for about 800 km. It is a range with lofty peaks [elevation 5,500 m and above].
  • Some of the peaks are more than 8,000 metres above sea level. K2 (8,611 m)[Godwin Austen or Qogir] is the second highest peak in the world and the highest peak in the Indian Union.
  • The Ladakh Plateau lies northeast of the Karakoram Range.

India:

India, China agree on a 5-point action plan

  • Context:
    • Recently, China and India agreed on a five-point course of action to disengage and reduce tensions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
    • On LAC, Indian and Chinese troops have been engaged in a four and a half month-long stand-off.
  • About:
    • The two nations have agreed that the current situation in the border areas is not in the interests of either side.
    • They agreed, therefore, that the border troops of both sides should continue their dialogue, quickly disengage, maintain proper distance and ease tensions. 
    • The five-point plan is: following the consensus between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping to “not allow differences to become disputes”, disengaging quickly to ease tensions, abiding by the existing India-China border protocols and avoiding escalatory action, continuing the dialogue between Special Representatives National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Mr Wang as well as the other mechanisms and working towards new confidence-building measures (CBMs).
    • The five points agreed by India and China to reduce tensions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) are a template of the principles of disengagement. 
    • However, deep divergences still remain in the positions taken by both sides after the meeting, as is clear from the subsequent notes released by the Chinese side, and subsequently the Indian side, detailing their position.
  • The future course of Action:
    • The purpose of the foreign ministers’ meeting was to agree on the “objectives and principles of disengagement” and that had been achieved. 
    • However, much would depend on the militaries following through on the ground, and completing the process “quickly”, returning from the near eyeball to eyeball confrontation at the LAC, to their normal posts, which are 25-30 km apart in many places. 
    • The immediate task is to ensure a comprehensive disengagement of troops in all the friction areas. That is necessary to prevent any untoward incident in the future.
    • The final disposition of the troop deployment to their permanent posts and the phasing of the process is to be worked out by the military commanders.

Border disputes between India and China:

The India-China borders can be sub-divided into three sectors:

  • Western Sector or Aksai Chin Sector: The region is claimed by the Chinese government post-1962 war as an autonomous part of the Xinjiang region which is originally supposed to be the part of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.
  • Central Sector: It is the less disputed section of the Indo-China border but the recent Doklam standoff and Nathu La Pass trading issues have brought distress at all levels.
  • Eastern Sector or Arunachal Pradesh: McMahon Line had differentiated India and China in this sector but in the 1962 war the People’s Liberation Army covered 9000 sq. km. area. The announcement of a unilateral ceasefire made them step back on the international borderline. However, China has been claiming that area as their own and recently they have started to claim the whole of Arunachal Pradesh as their own.

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Lesson from Doklam: No de-escalation until the full return of status quo

  • Context:
    • First signs have emerged that India and China are disengaging — even if partially — on the ground in Ladakh.
    • Both sides have pulled back their troops from the site of the June 15 clash in Galwan Valley.
    • However, Pointing out the outcome of the Doklam stand-off in 2017 as a marker, Experts have said;
    • The government must not agree to de-escalate the situation at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh without an agreement on returning to the “status quo ante” or the situation before the stand-off began.
  • Why so?
    • It is because the lesson for us in Doklam is that disengagement is not enough in order to declare an end to tensions at the LAC. It is necessary that we define endpoints up to where the troops must withdraw to and no understanding should be reached without the restoration of status quo ante.
  • How the Doklam issue ended?
    • It has been more than two years since the Doklam standoff took place.
    • According to experts, however, while the disengagement brought an end to hostilities between India and China over China’s attempt to build a road near the India-China-Bhutan tri-junction area, transgressing into Bhutanese territory, it did not stop the PLA’s construction work right across the Doklam plateau.
    • Thus, the conclusion is that if the military only agrees on disengagement and de-escalation, it may end up at a disadvantage.
  • What happened at Doklam?
    • In Doklam, the faceoff had taken place over territory belonging to Bhutan, which has a border security agreement with India.
    • The Chinese wanted to take control of the territory, called Doklam, to come closer to what is known as the chicken's neck or the Silliguri Corridor of India that connects the Northeast with the rest of the country.
    • It was practically an eyeball-to-eyeball standoff that ended in the view of China hosting BRICS and India refusing to back down, and a possible boycott of the summit. The standoff ended with diplomatic interference.

Disengagement agreement in eastern Ladakh

  • Context:
    • In the first breakthrough in talks to resolve the nine-month military standoff along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh, China’s Defence Ministry announced Wednesday that Chinese and Indian troops on the southern and northern shores of Pangong Tso began “synchronized and organized disengagement”.
  • About:
    • Troops from both sides have started disengaging from the Pangong Tso area in eastern Ladakh.
    • Both sides will remove the forward deployment in a phased, coordinated, and verified manner.
    • China will pull its troops on the north bank towards the east of Finger 8.
    • Similarly, India will also position its forces at its permanent base at the Dhan Singh Thapa post near Finger 3.
    • Both sides have also agreed that the area between Finger 3 and Finger 8 will become a no-patrolling zone temporarily, till both sides reach an agreement through military and diplomatic discussions to restore patrolling.
    • Further, all the construction done by both sides on the north and south banks of the lake since April 2020 will be removed.
  • Why is this area important?
    • The north and south banks of Pangong Tso are two of the most significant and sensitive regions when it comes to the current standoff that began in May 2020.
    • What makes the areas around the shores of the lake so sensitive and important is that clashes here marked the beginning of the standoff; it is one of the areas where the Chinese troops had come around 8 km deep west of India’s perception of the Line of Actual Control.

India-China water sharing dispute

  • Context:
    • Chinese is planning to construct the first downstream dam on the lower reaches of the Brahmaputra river or Yarlung Zangbo as it is known in Tibet, marking a new phase in China’s hydropower exploitation of the river with potential ramifications for India.
  • About:
    • China operationalized four dams on the upper and middle reaches of the river.
    • This will be the first time the downstream sections of the river will be tapped.
    • The potential site is at the “Great Bend” of the Brahmaputra and at the Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon in Medog county, where the river falls spectacularly over a 2,000 meter-drop and turns sharply to flow across the border into Arunachal Pradesh.
    • Chinese hydropower groups have long campaigned to tap the “Great Bend”, but projects have so far not taken off over concerns over the technical feasibility in the steep Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon.
  • Concern for India:
    • India has expressed concerns to China over the four dams on the upper and middle reaches.
    • A dam at the Great Bend, if approved, would raise fresh concerns considering its location downstream and just across the border from Arunachal Pradesh.
    • The construction of dams poses the following challenges for India:
      1. They will eventually lead to degradation of the entire basin: Massive amounts of silt carried by the river would get blocked by dams leading to a fall in the quality of soil and eventual reduction in agricultural productivity.
      2. The threat to the ecosystem, as the Brahmaputra basin is one of the world’s most ecologically sensitive zones.
      3. As the region is seismologically active, there is a danger of earthquakes and landslides. For example, the 2015 Nepal earthquake and the resultant landslides wiped out several dams and other facilities.
      4. China may change the flow rate during times of standoffs and high tensions. In fact, during the 2018 Doklam border standoff between India and China, China stopped communication of water flow levels from its dams, effectively rendering India blind to floods during the standoff.
      5. There are no bilateral or multilateral treaties on the water.
      6. China believes dam building on the Brahmaputra helps it assert a claim over Arunachal Pradesh.

India and Uzbekistan sign nine pacts

  • Context: 
    • India, Uzbekistan sign nine pacts at the virtual summit, set to widen counterterror partnership.

  • Key Highlights:
    • The agreements were signed at a virtual summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev.
    • The agreements signed are aimed at expanding cooperation in a range of areas including:
      • New and renewable energy,
      • Digital technologies,
      • Cybersecurity,
      • Community development projects, and
      • Sharing of information on the movement of goods.
    • Both countries agree that the restoration of peace in Afghanistan requires a process that itself is led, owned, and controlled by Afghanistan.
    • Both countries strongly condemned terrorism and reaffirmed the determination of their countries to combat it by “destroying” safe-havens, networks, infrastructure, and funding channels.
  • Areas of cooperation
    • Fighting Covid-19:
      • India and Uzbekistan emphasized the need for bilateral and global cooperation for the fight against the COVID-19, including the development and distribution of effective vaccines and other medicines.
    • Trade:
      • Both mutually identified a target of USD 1 billion for bilateral trade.
      • Both sides agreed to work towards an early conclusion of the Bilateral Investment Treaty which would facilitate the investment promotion and protection for further improvement of trade and economic cooperation.
    • Development:
      • India approved USD 448 million of Line of Credit to be extended for four developmental projects in Uzbekistan in the fields of road construction, sewerage treatment, and information technology. 
      • Both countries acknowledged increasing G2G and B2B ties in the areas of Information Technology and the Education sector
    • Defense:
      • Both countries agreed to strengthen the cooperation between the law enforcement agencies and special services between them, including under the framework of the Uzbekistan-India Joint Working Group on Counter-Terrorism.
      • India agreed to the Uzbek proposal of holding a trilateral dialogue among India, Iran, and Uzbekistan which would promote connectivity through the Chabahar port.
      • India suggested Uzbekistan join the International North-South Transport Corridor to add the overall improvement of connectivity in the larger Eurasian space.
    • Culture:
      • India invited Uzbek students for scholarships from Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) and training and capacity building under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) program. 
India- Uzbekistan defense cooperation

  • India and Uzbekistan launched the first-ever Joint Exercise ‘Dustlik 2019’.
  • It will primarily focus on counter-terrorism, an area in which the two countries share a common concern.
  • The exercise aims to enable the exchange of best practices and experiences between the armed forces of the two countries.

Indian trawlers in Sri Lanka and issues associated

  • Context:
    • Sri Lanka’s Fishermen along the northern coast of Jaffna Peninsula, especially Point Pedro, have complained to northern Fisheries authorities about their nets being found damaged in the sea, after being caught under the large Indian trawlers that were reportedly in Sri Lanka's territorial waters.
  • What’s the issue?
    • The Indo-Lanka fisheries conflict became a strain on the countries’ bilateral ties, with talks at the highest levels and among fisher leaders on both sides proving futile for years.
    • The main Arguments put forth by Sri Lankan fishermen are that Indian trawlers hamper their fish production and the marine habitat – scooping out marine organisms, including fishes and prawns.
    • Furthermore, their livelihoods, now under strain due to the coronavirus pandemic that has impaired exports, would be further hit by the Indian trawlers.
  • How the Sri Lankan government is handling the situation?
    • In the last couple of years, Sri Lanka introduced tougher laws banning bottom-trawling, and heavy fines for trespassing foreign vessels.
    • The Sri Lankan Navy arrested over 450 Indian fishermen in 2017 and 156 in 2018 on charges of poaching.
    • A total of 210 arrests were made in 2019, while 34 have been made so far in 2020.
  • What is bottom trawling?
    • Bottom trawling is a destructive fishing practice that affects the marine ecosystem. The practice, which involves trawlers dragging weighted nets along the seafloor, is known to cause great depletion of fishery resources, and curbing it is in the interest of sustainable fishing.
  • India-Sri Lanka maritime boundary agreements:
    • Both countries signed four maritime boundary agreements between 1974 and 1976 to define the international maritime boundary between them.
    • This was done to facilitate law enforcement and resource management in the waters since both countries are located closely in the Indian Ocean, particularly in Palk Strait.
      1. The first agreement was regarding the maritime boundary between Adam's Bridge and the Palk Strait. It came into force on July 8, 1974.
      2. The second agreement came into force on May 10, 1976, and it defined the maritime boundaries in the Gulf of Mannar and the Bay of Bengal.
      3. India, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives signed an agreement for the determination of the tri-junction point in the Gulf of Mannar in July 1976.
      4. In November 1976, India and Sri Lanka signed another agreement to extend the maritime boundary in the Gulf of Mannar.

Teesta river dispute

  • Context:
    • India and Bangladesh have been engaged in a long-standing dispute over water-sharing in the Teesta.
    • Adding to the existing tensions, Bangladesh is now discussing an almost $1 billion loan from China for a comprehensive management and restoration project on the Teesta river.
  • Why India is concerned and worried?
    • Bangladesh’s discussions with China come at a time when India is particularly wary about China following the standoff in Ladakh.
  • How have relations between Bangladesh and China been developing?
    • China is the biggest trading partner of Bangladesh and is the foremost source of imports.
    • Recently, China declared zero duty on 97% of imports from Bangladesh. The concession flowed from China’s duty-free, quota-free programme for the Least Developed Countries.
    • China is the biggest arms supplier in Bangladesh.
  • About the Teesta river:
    • Teesta river is a tributary of the Brahmaputra (known as Jamuna in Bangladesh), flowing through India and Bangladesh.
    • It originates in the Himalayas near Chunthang, Sikkim, and flows to the south through West Bengal before entering Bangladesh.
    • The Teesta Barrage dam helps to provide irrigation for the plains between the upper Padma and the Jamuna.
  • Efforts to resolve the dispute:
    • Negotiations on how to share the water have been going on since 1983.
    • A 2011 interim deal – that was supposed to last 15 years – gave India 42.5 percent of the Teesta's waters and gave Bangladesh 37.5 percent. Bengal opposed this deal so it was shelved and remains unsigned.
    • Bangladesh sought a fair and equitable distribution of Teesta waters from India, on the lines of the Ganga Water Treaty 1996.
    • The treaty is an agreement to share surface waters at the Farakka Barrage near their mutual border.
    • In 2015, the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Dhaka generated expectations to take forward the issue but it still remains unresolved.
    • However, In India, individual states have significant influence over transboundary agreements, impeding the policymaking process.
    • West Bengal is one of the key stakeholders of the Teesta agreement and is yet to endorse the deal.
  • Importance of Teesta River:
    • For Bangladesh:
      • Its flood plain covers about 14% of the total cropped area of Bangladesh and provides direct livelihood opportunities to approximately 73% of its population.
    • For West Bengal:
      • Teesta is the lifeline of North Bengal and almost half a dozen districts of West Bengal are dependent on the waters of Teesta.

 

India And Bangladesh

  • Context: 
    • Prime Minister Narendra Modi joined the birth centenary celebration of Bangladesh’s founding father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman through a video conference. A two-day-long special session of the Parliament of Bangladesh to mark Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s birth centenary was held from March 22.

  • A Brief History
    • India played an important role in Bangladesh’s independence. India provided political, diplomatic, military and humanitarian support during Bangladesh’s Liberation War.
    • For example, India lost 3,900 Indian soldiers and provided accommodation to an estimated 10 million Bangladeshi refugees.
    • Following Bangladesh’s Independence, India- Bangladesh bilateral relations have had many high and lows.
    • For example, during President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (1st Bangladesh President) India- Bangladesh relations were in full swing.
    • However, after his assassination on August 15, 1975, the relation between India-Bangladesh hit a bottom. Between 1982-1991 a military-led government by General H.M. Ershad ruled the country.
    • But since the last decade India- Bangladesh relation has boosted up. Both countries have moved beyond historical and cultural ties. Cooperation is increasing in areas of trade, connectivity, energy, and defence.
  • What are the positive developments in India- Bangladesh relations?
    • First, finding peaceful solutions to settle Land boundary issues. For example, Both countries ratified the historic Land Boundary Agreement in 2015.
    • Second, the government of Bangladesh was cooperative in eradicating anti-India insurgency elements from its borders. This has allowed India to make a massive redeployment of resources in other contentious borders. (LAC, LoC)
    • Third, increasing trade relations. For example, Bangladesh is India’s biggest trading partner in South Asia. (FY 2018-19- Export- $9.21 billion, Import- $1.04 billion). Bangladesh enjoys duty-free access to multiple Bangladeshi products.
    • Fourth, deepening cooperation in developmental activities. For example, India has extended three lines of credit to Bangladesh in recent years ($8 billion) for the construction of roads, railways, bridges, and ports.
    • Fifth, increasing cooperation in Medical tourism. For example, Bangladesh accounts for more than 35% of India’s international medical patients and contributes more than 50% of India’s revenue from medical tourism.
    • Sixth, cooperation in connectivity has increased many folds. For example,
    • A direct bus service between Kolkata and Agartala running through Bangladesh.
    • Three passenger and freight railway services running between the two countries.
    • Recently, the Maitri Setu bridge was constructed. It connects Sabroom in India with Ramgarh in Bangladesh.
    • Improved Connectivity to landlocked Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura states. Bangladesh allows the shipment of goods from its Mongla and Chittagong seaports carried by road, rail, and waterways to Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura.
  • What are the issues in India- Bangla relations?
    • First, water security is one of the major issues hampering India- Bangladesh relations. For example, the unresolved Teesta water sharing issue.
    • Second, increasing border killings against illegal Bangladeshi cattle traders. For example, the year 2020 saw the highest number of border shootings by the Border Security Force.
    • Third, the implementation of the National Register of Citizens has offended the religious sentiments of Bangladeshis. Also, many of the illegal Muslim immigrants belong to Bangladesh.
    • Fourth, India’s neighbours are increasingly tilting towards China due to its attractiveness of massive trade, infrastructural and defence investments. Despite, India’s ‘Neighbourhood First Policy’ approach, India is losing its influence in the south Asian region. For example, Bhutan’s withdrawal from the BBIN (Bhutan-Bangladesh-India-Nepal) motor vehicles’ agreement.
    • Fifth, poor project implementation due to Red tapism in India is hampering developmental activities in Bangladesh. For example, only 51% of the first $800 million lines of credit has been utilised. While the amount from the next two lines of credit worth $6.5 billion has not been mobilised yet.
    • India and Bangladesh need to continue working on the three Cs (cooperation, collaboration, and consolidation) to materilaise the recent gains.
  • Seven Agreements include:
    • The use of the Chattogram and Mongla ports in Bangladesh for the movement of goods to and from India, particularly from Northeastern India.
    • Use of Bangladesh’s Feni river for drinking water supply in Tripura.
    • However, no progress was reported on the long-pending Teesta water-sharing agreement.
    • Exchange of data and information to prepare a framework of interim sharing agreements for six rivers — Manu, Muhuri, Khowai and Gomati rivers of Tripura and Dharla river of Bangladesh and Dudhkumar river of West Bengal.
    • Daudkanti (Bangladesh)-Sonamura (Tripura) inland water trade route to be included under Protocol of the Inland Water Transit and Trade.
    • Consensus on lifting restrictions on entry and exit from land ports in India for Bangladeshi citizens travelling on valid documents.
    • Implementation of the Lines of Credit (LoCs) committed by India to Bangladesh.
  • Three bilateral development partnership projects include:
    • Import of bulk Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) from Bangladesh
    • Inauguration of Vivekananda Bhaban (students hostel) at Ramakrishna Mission, Dhaka.
    • Inauguration of Bangladesh-India Professional Skill Development Institute (BIPSDI) at the Institution of Diploma Engineers Bangladesh (IDEB), Khulna, Bangladesh.
    • Both sides noted the progress made in the finalization of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the Establishment of Coastal Surveillance Radar System in Bangladesh.
    • India has provided such systems to Mauritius, Seychelles, Maldives and planning one in Myanmar.
    • The coastal surveillance system will pave way for Indo-Bangladesh White Shipping Agreement in future. This will be useful amid growing terror threats via seas and the growing presence of China in the Bay of Bengal region.
    • Both Leaders agreed to early operationalization of the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) Motor Vehicles Agreement for movement of goods and passengers between the member countries who are willing and ready; or to work towards a bilateral India-Bangladesh Motor Vehicles Agreement, as appropriate.
    • The leaders directed their officials to expedite the establishment of twelve Border Haats which have been agreed to by both countries.
    • A feasibility study for the Ganga-Padma barrage project to be conducted as part of an upgraded version of the 1996 Ganga Water Sharing treaty.
    • The Bangladesh Prime Minister raised concerns over the rollout of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, an exercise carried to identify genuine Indian citizens living in Assam and weed out illegal Bangladeshis.
    • The Bangladesh Prime Minister requested the Indian counterpart to use his “good relations” with the Myanmar government to facilitate the return of all the refugees (Rohingyas) while appreciating the aid India has given to refugees in Bangladesh as well as 250 homes built for them in Myanmar.

India, Bangladesh agree to speed up border fencing

  • Context:
    • The Home Secretaries of India and Bangladesh met virtually and discussed early completion of pending fencing along the Indo-Bangladesh border as agreed to by the Prime Ministers of the two countries
    • The 19th Home Secretary-level talks between India and Bangladesh were held in the backdrop of ‘Mujib Barsho’and 50 years since the Bangladesh Liberation War.
  • India-Bangladesh border:
    • Bangladesh and India share a 4,096-kilometre-long international border, the fifth-longest land border in the world.
    • India shares the longest land border with Bangladesh.
    • This boundary falls in five Indian states—West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Tripura—and runs through a diverse topography, including dense forests, hills, rivers, populous towns, and paddy fields.
    • Border Security Force guards the Indian border with Bangladesh.
  • Border issues:
    • The border is used as a route for smuggling livestock, food items, medicines, and drugs from India to Bangladesh.
    • Moreover, illegal immigrants from Bangladesh cross the border to India.
    • The border has also witnessed occasional skirmishes between the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) and the Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB).
  • Land Boundary Agreement
    • Under the Land Boundary Agreement, the Bangladeshi enclaves in India and Indian enclaves in Bangladesh were transferred on July 31, 2015.
    • The agreement involved handing over 17,000 acres of land to Bangladesh in return for 7,000 acres in 162 enclaves in West Bengal, Assam, Tripura, and Meghalaya.
    • It also required an amendment to the Constitution (the 119th amendment).
  • Fencing of the border:
    • Fencing at various places along the India-Bangladesh border could not be completed due to numerous problems including objections by Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB)
    • Besides difficult terrain, short working season (longer monsoon period), land acquisition problem, opposition by a section of people are the other hurdles
  • Smart fencing:
    • Union Home Ministry had launched the third smart fencing project between India and Bangladesh in western Assam's Dhubri district.
    • Called BOLD-QIT (Border Electronically Dominated QRT Interception Technique), this is the third smart fence project launched under the Comprehensive Integrated Border Management System (CIBMS) after two similar projects covering a 10-km stretch on the India-Pakistan border were launched last year.
    • CIBMS involves deployment of a range of state-of-the-art surveillance technologies — thermal imagers, infra-red and laser-based intruder alarms, aerostats for aerial surveillance, unattended ground sensors that can help detect intrusion bids, radars, sonar systems to secure riverine borders, fiber-optic sensors, and a command and control system that receives data from all surveillance devices in real-time.
    • The signals from the various devices of the CIBMS would reach at Unified Command and Control Centre to enable the BSF to monitor the border on a real-time basis.
    • The CIBMS enables round-the-clock surveillance in different weather conditions or even in dust storms, fog, or rain
    • The CIBMS is designed to guard stretches where physical surveillance is extremely hard either due to inhospitable terrain or riverine stretches.

India-Bangladesh virtual summit

  • Context:
    • Recently, the Indian Prime Minister and Prime Minister of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh held a Summit in a virtual format.

  • Key areas of cooperation:
    • Cooperation in the Health Sector- addressing the global public health challenge:
      • Reiterating the highest priority India attaches to Bangladesh under India’s Neighbourhood First Policy, India assured that vaccines would be made available to Bangladesh as and when produced in India. 
      • India also offered collaboration in therapeutics and partnership in vaccine production. 
    • The signing of Bilateral Documents and Inauguration of Projects:
      • Sealed seven agreements to expand cooperation in diverse areas viz. hydrocarbons, elephant conservation, sanitation, and agriculture, and restored a cross-border rail link which was in operation till 1965.
      • Inaugurated a digital exhibition on Mahatma Gandhi and Bangladesh’s founder, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman.
    • Cultural Cooperation – Joint Celebration of Historical Links
      • The two Prime Ministers jointly unveiled a commemorative postal stamp issued by the Government of India on the occasion of the birth centenary of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
      • Both sides noted that the filming of the biopic on Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, under the direction of Indian film director Shyam Benegal will commence in January 2021.
      • Noting that the year 2021 will be historic in India Bangladesh bilateral relations as they would be commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the Liberation War and the establishment of diplomatic relations between India and Bangladesh.
    • Border Management and Security Cooperation
      • Agreed to hold an early meeting of the Joint Boundary Conference to prepare a new set of strip maps with a view to finalizing the delineation of the boundaries.
      • It was agreed to carry out necessary work to convert the International Boundary along the Kuhsiyara river into a fixed boundary.
      • Kuhsiyara river (known as the Barak river in India) is one of the transboundary rivers between India-Bangladesh.
      • Bangladesh reiterated the request for a 1.3 km Innocent Passage through the river route along with the River Padma (the main channel of Ganga in Bangladesh) near Rajshahi district (Bangladesh). India assured to consider the request.
      • Stressed on the full implementation of the ongoing Coordinated Border Management Plan.
      • Expressed satisfaction on efforts against smuggling of arms, narcotics, and fake currency and to prevent trafficking, particularly of women and children.
      • Directed officials to expeditiously conclude the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in the area of disaster management cooperation as both countries are prone to frequent natural disasters.
      • Bangladesh requested for early implementation of India’s commitment to remove remaining restrictions on entry/exit from land ports in India for Bangladeshis traveling on valid documents in a phased manner.
    • Trade Partnership for Growth:
      • Bangladesh has appreciated the Duty-Free and Quota Free access given to Bangladeshi exports to India under South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) since 2011.
      • Emphasized addressing issues of non-tariff barriers and trade facilitation including port restrictions, procedural bottlenecks, and quarantine restrictions so that both countries can take full advantage of SAFTA flexibility.
      • Directed the officials to expeditiously conclude the ongoing joint study on the prospects of entering into a bilateral Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA).
      • Welcomed the first meeting of the India-Bangladesh Textile Industry Forum and directed the officials to conclude the ongoing negotiations on various MoUs on increased linkages and collaboration in the textile sector.
    • Connectivity for Prosperity:
      • Jointly inaugurated the newly restored railway link between Haldibari (India) and Chilahati (Bangladesh) and noted that this rail link will further strengthen trade and people to people ties between the two sides.
      • Welcomed the signing of the second addendum to the Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade (PIWTT).
      • Agreed to an early operationalization of the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) initiative Motor Vehicles Agreement through the expeditious signing of the Enabling MoU for Bangladesh, India, and Nepal to commence the movement of goods and passengers, with provision for Bhutan to join at a later date.
      • Bangladesh expressed keen interest in the ongoing India Myanmar Thailand trilateral highway project and sought the support of India for enabling Bangladesh to connect with this project.
      • Satisfaction on commencement of a temporary Air Travel Bubble to facilitate the urgent requirements of travelers on both sides.
    • Cooperation in Water Resources, Power and Energy:
      • Bangladesh highlighted the need for the early signing of an interim agreement for sharing of the Teesta waters, as agreed upon by both governments in 2011.
      • Underscored the need for early conclusion of Framework of Interim Agreement on sharing of waters of six joint rivers, namely, Manu, Muhuri, Khowai, Gumti, Dharla, and Dudhkumar.
      • Recalled the positive contribution of the Joint Rivers Commission (JRC) and looked forward to the next round of Secretarial level JRC meeting at the earliest.
      • Agreed to expedite implementation of projects including India-Bangladesh Friendship Pipeline, Maitree Super Thermal Power Project as well as other projects.
      • Welcomed the signing of the Framework of Understanding on Cooperation in the Hydrocarbon Sector which would further augment energy linkages by streamlining investments, technology transfer, joint studies, training and promoting hydrocarbon connectivity.
      • Agreed to enhance cooperation in energy efficiency and clean energy, including in biofuels.
    • Forcibly Displaced Persons from the Rakhine State of Myanmar (Rohingya):
      • India appreciated the generosity of Bangladesh in sheltering and providing humanitarian assistance to the 1.1 million forcibly displaced persons from the Rakhine State of Myanmar, in the Rohingya Crisis.
    • Partners in the Region and the World:
      • India thanked Bangladesh for supporting India in its election to the United Nations Security Council.
      • Both countries agreed to continue working together towards achieving early reforms of the UN Security Council, combating climate change, attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and protection of the rights of migrants.
      • Highlighted that regional organizations such as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) have an important role to play.
      • Bangladesh thanked India for convening the SAARC leaders Video Conference in March 2020 and for the creation of the SAARC Emergency Response Fund to counter the effects of the global pandemic in the South Asian region.
      • Bangladesh will assume chairmanship of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) in 2021 and requested the support of India for working towards greater maritime safety and security.
      • Bangladesh appreciated the work of the New Development Bank and thanked India for inviting Bangladesh to join the institution.

Neighborhood-first Policy and its implications

  • The neighborhood-first policy focuses on a diplomatic approach.
  • Top priority should be given to the relations of India with its neighboring countries.
  • India must resolve all the existing differences with its neighbors to develop strong relations with these countries.
  • Since the inauguration of his post as the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, within 2 years had traveled to a lot of neighboring countries as it was necessary to improve the ties with these countries.
  • This policy also includes a reduction in the influence of China in the South-Asian countries.

India-Vietnam virtual summit

  • Context: 
    • Recently, the Prime Minister of India and Prime Minister of Vietnam co-chaired a Virtual Summit.

  • Key areas of cooperation:
    • Peace:
      • To further strengthen their Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, building upon the foundations of deep-rooted historical and cultural bonds, to work towards achieving a peaceful, stable, secure, free, open, inclusive, and rules-based region.
      • Recognizing the emerging geopolitical and geoeconomic landscape in the region and beyond, the leaders agreed that an enhanced defense and security partnership will bring stability in the Indo-Pacific region. 
      • Both sides will engage more closely through dealing with traditional and non-traditional security threats in cyber and maritime domains, terrorism, natural disasters, health security, etc.
      • The leaders welcome the opportunities to foster practical cooperation between ASEAN and India in the key areas with the objectives as stated in the ASEAN Outlook on Indo-Pacific (AOIP) and India’s Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI).
      • The two sides will step up joint efforts in building a strong consensus for the early adoption of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT).
    • Prosperity:
      • Acknowledging the new challenges as well as opportunities brought by COVID-19 pandemic, the two sides will work towards reliable, efficient, and resilient supply chains, and will promote human-centric globalization. 
      • They will strive to achieve the target of US $15 billion of trade turnover at the earliest and will set higher levels of ambition for bilateral trade based.
      • Complementarities: 
      • India’s large domestic market and the vision of self-reliance on the one hand and Vietnam’s growing economic vitality and capabilities on the other. 
      • India’s goal is to become a US$5 trillion economy by 2024 and Vietnam’s ambition to become a high-income economy by 2045.
      • Two emerging economies with young populations will harness synergies between India’s “Digital India” mission and Vietnam’s “Digital Society” vision.
      • Their shared commitment to sustainable development and climate action, while addressing their energy security as developing countries.
      • Reinforcing India’s development assistance and capacity building outreach in Vietnam by expanding the Mekong – Ganga Quick Impact Projects and ITEC and e-ITEC programs in diverse sectors.
    • People:
      • The two sides will intensify efforts to promote closer people-to-people exchanges by increasing direct flights, providing ease of traveling through simplified visa procedures, and facilitating tourism. 
      • The two sides will commemorate and promote understanding and research of their shared cultural and civilizational heritage, including Buddhist and Cham cultures, traditions, and ancient scriptures. 
      • Traditional systems of medicine are of great significance for both countries in achieving Sustainable Development Goals 2 and 3. 

India’s Assistance to Vietnam:

  • The Archaeological Survey of India is helping Vietnam in the preservation and conservation of some of the temples.
  • Since 1976, India has offered several Lines of Credit (LoCs) to Vietnam over the years on concessional terms and conditions.
  • Vietnam has been a large recipient of training programs under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) program.

Afghan exports to India through Wagah border

  • Context:
    • Pakistan will allow Afghanistan to send goods to India using the Wagah border from July 15. The decision is part of Islamabad’s commitment under the Pakistan-Afghanistan Transit Trade Agreement.
    • However, Islamabad is silent about allowing the same facility to India for exports to Afghanistan.
  • About APTTA:
    • Afghanistan–Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (also known as APTTA) is a bilateral trade agreement signed in 2010 by Pakistan and Afghanistan that calls for greater facilitation in the movement of goods amongst the two countries.
  • What are the problems with APTTA?
    1. Pakistan has lately closed its borders with Afghanistan multiple times, where it has used blockades for arm-twisting political circles in Afghanistan.
    2. This usually causes priced to spiral in Afghan markets as costlier or smuggled imports are what satiates demand.

Iran drops India from Chabahar rail project

  • Context:
    • Iran has decided to move ahead with the construction of a railway line from Chabahar port to Zahedan without any assistance from India due to a delay in funding.
  • What’s the issue?
    • The railway line project was part of India’s commitment to the trilateral agreement with Afghanistan and Iran to build an alternate trade route to Afghanistan and Central Asia.
    • The deal was finalised during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Tehran in 2016.
    • Indian Railways Construction Ltd (IRCON) had promised assistance to the railway line project besides financing worth $1.6 billion. However, the work was never started as the United States imposed sanctions on Iran.
    • While there was a waiver on US sanctions for the specific railway line project, India found it hard to pick equipment suppliers who were worried about possible action from the US.
  • Concerns for India:
    • The development comes at a time when Iran is seeking to finalise a 25-year economic and security partnership with China. The deal is worth $400 billion.
    • The deal between Iran and China — if finalised — could result in a vast expansion of Chinese presence in various sectors of Iran including banking, telecommunications, ports, railways, and numerous other projects.
    • Considering that Iran has been an important strategic ally for New Delhi, the deal could hurt India’s prospects in the region, especially at a time when its relations with China have soured further in the aftermath of the recent border standoff.
  • Where is Chabahar Port?
    • Located on the Gulf of Oman and is the only oceanic port in the country.
  • Why Chabahar port is important for India?
    1. With this, India can bypass Pakistan in transporting goods to Afghanistan.
    2. It will also boost India’s access to Iran, the key gateway to the International North-South Transport Corridor that has sea, rail, and road routes between India, Russia, Iran, Europe, and Central Asia.
    3. It also helps India counter the Chinese presence in the Arabian Sea which China is trying to ensure by helping Pakistan develop the Gwadar port. Gwadar port is less than 400 km from Chabahar by road and 100 km by sea.
    4. From a diplomatic perspective, Chabahar port could be used as a point from where humanitarian operations could be coordinated.

UAE keen on open-sky policy with India

  • Context:
    • The United Arab Emirates has said that it is keen to have an open-sky agreement with India.
    • It asked India to look at the Open-sky policy separately from the fifth and sixth freedoms (of air).
    • The issue of the fifth and sixth freedoms of air has been a sore point between airlines in India and the UAE.
  • What is the Open Sky policy?
    • The agreement will not only encourage connectivity and passenger travel between the two countries but will also result in a reduction in airfares on these routes.
    • The National Civil Aviation Policy, 2016, allows the government to enter into an 'open sky' air services agreement on a reciprocal basis with SAARC nations as well as countries beyond a 5,000-kilometer radius from New Delhi.
    • It implies that nations within this distance need to enter into a bilateral agreement and mutually determine the number of flights that their airlines can operate between the two countries.
    • India has already signed open sky agreements with Greece, Jamaica, Guyana, Czech Republic, Finland, Spain, and Sri Lanka.
  • Freedoms of air:
    • International air travel is governed by various freedoms of air.
    • The degree of “sky openness” depends on the freedoms of the air in the country granted to foreign airlines.
    • There are 9 such freedoms according to the 1944 Convention on International Civil Aviation.
    • Importantly,
      1. First freedom of air allows a carrier to take off from its home state.
      2. Second freedom of air allows it to land in a second country.
      3. Third and fourth freedoms of air allow the airline to take off from the country it has landed in and come back to land at its home base.
      4. The fifth and sixth freedoms allow airlines to carry passengers picked from one country and fly them to a third country rather than the country from which the airline originated.

Indus Water Treaty (IWT)

  • Context:
    • India has refused a request by Pakistan to hold a meeting on issues around the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) at the Attari check-post near the India-Pakistan border.
  • Background:
    • In March India had suggested a virtual conference but Pakistan had insisted on a physical meeting.
    • But, India said because of restrictions on movement in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, traveling to the border for a meeting isn’t advisable.
  • What are the IWT meetings? When they are held?
    • The practice at the IWT meetings is that they are led by Indus Water Commissioners from both countries and a range of issues on the construction of dams and hydropower projects concerning the Indus river system are discussed.
    • The last such meeting between the two countries was in October in Islamabad, and, as per the agreement in the Indus Water Treaty (IWT), a meeting was to be scheduled in India before March 31.
  • What’s the latest dispute?
    • Evolving a procedure to solve differences in technical aspects governing the construction of the Ratle run-of-the-river (RoR) project on the Chenab in the Kishtwar district of Jammu and Kashmir.
    • India has called for the appointment of a ‘neutral’ party while Pakistan favours a Court of Arbitration to agree upon a final resolution on the design parameters of this hydropower project.
  • About the Indus Water Treaty:
    • It is a Water-Distribution Treaty, signed in Karachi in 1960, between India (Pm Jawaharlal Nehru) and Pakistan (President Ayub Khan), brokered by the World Bank.
    • Under the treaty, India has control over the water flowing in the eastern rivers– Beas, Ravi, and Sutlej.
    • Pakistan has control over the western rivers– Indus, Chenab, and Jhelum.
    • As per the treaty, the water commissioners of Pakistan and India are required to meet twice a year and arrange technical visits to projects’ sites and critical river head works.
    • Both sides share details of the water flow and the quantum of water being used under the treaty.
    • The treaty sets out a mechanism for cooperation and information exchange between the two countries regarding their use of the rivers.

UNSC 1267 committee

  • Context:
    • Recently, the UNSC rejected a Pakistani attempt to get two Indians designated as terrorists under Resolution 1267.
  • What is the UNSC 1267 committee?
    • It was first set up in 1999 and strengthened after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
    • It is now known as the Da’esh and Al Qaeda Sanctions Committee.
    • It comprises all permanent and non-permanent members of the UNSC.
    • The 1267 list of terrorists is a global list, with a UNSC stamp. It is full of Pakistani nationals and residents.
    • It discusses UN efforts to limit the movement of terrorists, especially those related to travel bans, the freezing of assets, and arms embargoes for terrorism.

India provides USD 1 million for Palestinian refugees

  • Context:
    • India has contributed one million dollars to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestine Refugees in the Near East region. This will support the UNRWA’s programmes and services including education, health care, relief, and social services.
    • India’s support of Palestine is an integral part of India’s foreign policy.
  • United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA):
    • It is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949.
    • It supports the relief and human development of Palestinian refugees across its five fields of operation.
    • Its services encompass education, health care, relief, and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, protection, and microfinance.
    • Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.
    • It is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions and financial support.
    • Palestine refugees are defined as persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.

India-UN Development Partnership Fund

  • Context:
    • Recently India has contributed $15.46 million to the India-UN Development Partnership Fund, to support developing nations in their developmental priorities across all the Sustainable Development Goals.
  • About:
    • It is a dedicated facility within the United Nations Fund for South-South Cooperation established in 2017.
    • It is supported and led by the Government of India.
    • Managed by the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation.
    • It is implemented in collaboration with the United Nations system.
    • The Fund project portfolio aims to contribute to the efforts of developing countries towards the realization of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
    • The Fund now encompasses 36 projects, approved in partnership with 9 United Nations agencies in 37 countries.
  • Significance:
    • It has made significant strides in advancing the national development goals and commitments of the 2030 Agenda by enlisting the global presence and operational capabilities of the United Nations system in the following areas:
      1. Least developed countries (LDCs),
      2. landlocked developing countries (LLDCs)
      3. Small Island Developing States (SIDS)

India-central Asia Dialogue

  • Context: 
    • The 2nd meeting of the India-Central Asia Dialogue was recently held in the digital video-conference format with the participation of Foreign Ministers of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and the Kyrgyz Republic.
  • Highlights of the meeting:
    • The Joint Statement released collectively by the Foreign Ministers highlighted the following key points:
      • Emphasis on the need to continue close cooperation against the COVID-19 pandemic.
      • Condemnation of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations: All states reaffirmed the determination of their countries to combat the menace by destroying terrorist safe-havens, networks, infrastructure, and funding channels and also underlined the need for every country to ensure that its territory is not used to launch terrorist attacks against other countries.
      • Extension of support for a united, sovereign, and democratic Republic of Afghanistan.
  • About India-Central Asia Dialogue:
    • India holds this dialogue with five Central Asian countries- Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and the Kyrgyz Republic.
    • All the countries participating in the dialogue, except for Turkmenistan, are also members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.
    • The 1st meeting of the India-Central Asia Dialogue held in January 2019 in Samarkand (Uzbekistan).
    • Also, Afghanistan attended the 1st and 2nd meetings as a special invitee.
    • The dialogue provides a platform for strengthening cooperation between India and the Central Asian countries in political, security, economic and commercial, development partnership, humanitarian and cultural spheres as well as exchanging views on regional and international issues of mutual interest and enhancing cooperation under the framework of UN and other multilateral fora.

ASEAN-India summit

  • Context:
    • Recently, India has participated in the 17th ASEAN-India Virtual Summit.
  • India-ASEAN relations:
    • ASEAN is India’s fourth-largest trading partner with about $86.9 Bn in trade between India and the ten ASEAN nations.
    • While addressing the summit, PM Modi also highlighted India’s “Indo-Pacific policy” as an area of convergence for ASEAN and India.
    • He also said that there is ample closeness between India's “Indo Pacific Oceans Initiative” and ASEAN's “Outlook on Indo Pacific”.
    • Prime Minister underlined the centrality of ASEAN in India's Act East Policy.
    • He noted that a cohesive, responsive, and prosperous ASEAN is central to India's Indo-Pacific Vision and contributes to Security And Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR)
    • He also invited the ASEAN countries to cooperate on various pillars of India’s Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI).
    • The Leaders also welcomed the adoption of the new ASEAN-India Plan of Action for 2021-2025.
  • About ASEAN:
    • The Association of Southeast Asian Nations is a regional intergovernmental organization comprising ten countries in Southeast Asia, which promotes intergovernmental cooperation and facilitates economic, political, security, military, educational, and sociocultural integration among its members and other countries in Asia.
    • ASEAN's primary objective is to accelerate economic growth and through that social progress and cultural development
    • It also aims to promote regional peace and stability based on the rule of law and the principle of the United Nations charter.

ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus)

  • Context:
    • Defence Minister Rajnath Singh attended the ADMM-Plus meeting.
  • About:
    • It is a meeting where Defence Ministers of ASEAN countries and eight other nations such as Japan, the U.S., and China would gather and discuss the way forward for security cooperation.
    • Eight Dialogue Partners are Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, Russia, and the USA (collectively referred to as the “Plus Countries”).

India Pakistan Ceasefire

  • Context:
    • In the wake of registering 5,130 ceasefire violations in 2020, guns on either side of the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) fell silent on the intervening night of February 24-25, 2021.
    • The announcement by the two Director Generals of Military Operations (DGsMO) came as a surprise to many, and yet, it underlined the simple fact that all statesmen/women recognise while in office: countries cannot be run by rhetoric alone.

  • Significance of the ceasefire:
    • What makes the February ceasefire significant is the fact that this agreement is different from the routine ceasefire assurances that the two sides made till January 2021.
    • Twice in 2018, for instance, the two sides had agreed to uphold the ceasefire agreement when ceasefire violations were on the rise. But what makes the February 2021 ceasefire different is its two distinct features: one, this was a joint statement by the two DGMOs, and that, unlike the previous declarations, the recent agreement mentions a specific date, i.e., the night of February 24-25, to begin the ceasefire.
    • In that sense then, the February ceasefire is arguably one of the most significant military measures by India and Pakistan in over 18 years to reduce violence along the LoC in Kashmir.
    • The ceasefire is also significant because this helps New Delhi to defuse what was becoming a growing concern for the decision-makers in New Delhi: an ugly two-front situation and a feeling of being boxed in by an inimical Pakistan and an aggressive China.
    • It is easy to talk about a two or ‘two-and-a-half front situation for domestic grandstanding, but dealing with it is neither easy nor practical.
    • That the Indian Army had to redeploy forces from the western border with Pakistan to the northern border with China is indicative of the serious material challenges it could throw up.
  • A brief history:
    • The history of India Pakistan's ceasefire pacts and war termination agreements is both complex and instructive.
    • The Karachi agreement of 1949, which ended the first war between newly formed India and Pakistan, was the first ceasefire agreement between the two countries which, signed under the good offices of the United Nations, created the India Pakistan boundary in Kashmir called the Ceasefire Line or CFL.
    • The United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) was mandated to monitor the ceasefire along with the CFL.
    • The 1965 India-Pakistan war also ended in a ceasefire, but since the status quo antebellum was restored after the Tashkent Agreement, the CFL in Kashmir remained unaltered.
    • However, the India-Pakistan war of 1971 would change that. The December ceasefire which ended the 1971 war was enshrined into the Simla Agreement the following year.
    • But unlike 1965, status quo ante bellum was not restored by the Simla Agreement, a decision that would have important implications for bilateral relations.
    • The Suchetgarh Agreement of 1972 delineated the ‘line of control’ in Jammu and Kashmir which resulted from the ceasefire of December 1971 thereby renaming the CFL as the LoC.
    • By this smart move, Indian negotiators not only changed the nomenclature of the India-Pakistan dividing line in Kashmir and the physical alignment of the border in Jammu and Kashmir but also made the UNMOGIP presence in Kashmir irrelevant.
    • Recall that the UN force was mandated to ensure a ceasefire on the CFL, but there was no CFL after 1972, and, more so, the UN was not even a party to the Simla Agreement, unlike the Karachi Agreement.
    • The 2003 agreement between the DGsMO, communicated through a telephone call between them, was a reiteration of the December 1971 war termination ceasefire; Technically, therefore, even the February 2021 ceasefire too is a reiteration of the 1971 ceasefire agreement.
  • A form of intent:
    • And yet, a ceasefire does not observe itself — it requires a clearly articulated and mutually agreed-upon set of rules and norms for effective observance along with an intent to observe them.
    • The February ceasefire is an expression of such an intent, but without the rules and norms to enforce it.
    • The Simla Agreement or the Suchetgarh Agreement do not have those rules either.
    • The Karachi Agreement, on the other hand, has clearly laid down provisions on how to manage the CFL which, of course, was overtaken by the LoC.
    • Ironically, therefore, armed forces deployed on either side of the LoC in Kashmir often have to resort to the strictures enshrined in the long-defunct Karachi Agreement to observe the ceasefire mandated by the Simla Agreement.
    • Now that the two DGsMO has declared a joint ceasefire, the next logical step is to arrive at a set of rules to govern that ceasefire.
  • Return to the backchannel:
    • What is also significant to note about the ceasefire agreement between the two DGsMO is that this was preceded by weeks, if not months of, high-level contacts through the backchannel
    • For sure, major agreements of this kind cannot be finalised by army officers especially given the vitiated atmosphere surrounding India-Pakistan relations. More crucially, the fact that this ceasefire has political blessings makes it more durable.

India-Pakistan trade relations

  • Context:
    • Trade between the subcontinental neighbours has always been linked to their political interactions, given their tumultuous relationship.
    • For instance, India’s exports to Pakistan dropped by around 16 percent to $1.82 billion in the 2016-17 financial years from $2.17 billion in 2015-16.
    • This coincided with the rise in tensions between the two countries following the terrorist attacks in Uri in 2016 and the surgical strikes by India against Pakistan-based militants.

 

  • How much is the volume of trade?
    • Trade between the two countries grew marginally in subsequent years despite continuing tensions.
    • India’s exports to Pakistan increased to nearly 6 percent to $1.92 billion in 2017-18, and by around 7 percent to $2.07 billion in 2018-19.
    • Imports from Pakistan, though much lower than India’s exports to the country, also increased by 7.5 percent to $488.56 million in 2017-18 from $454.49 million in 2016-17.
    • Growth of imports from Pakistan slowed to around $494.87 million in 2018-19 — an increase of around 1 percent — before political relations between the two countries took a turn for the worse in 2019.
  • Why did Pakistan ban trade with India?
    • Pakistan’s decision to suspend bilateral trade with India in August 2019 was primarily a fallout of India’s decision to scrap Article 370.
    • Pakistan called the move “illegal”, and took this trade measure as a way of showing its dissatisfaction.
    • However, an underlying reason for suspending trade between the two countries was also the 200% tariff imposed by New Delhi on Pakistani imports.
    • This was a move that India implemented earlier that year after revoking its status as a Most Favoured Nation following the suicide bomb attack on the CRPF in Pulwama.
    • Pakistan’s announcement, coupled with India’s decision to revoke its MFN status and hike duties on its goods, was considered by some experts to be one of the most drastic measures ever taken in diplomatic tensions.
  • Why is Pakistan allowing cotton and sugar imports now?
    • Textiles from Pakistan are its value-added export.
    • The proposal to lift the ban on cotton imports came in the backdrop of a shortfall in raw material for Pakistan’s textile sector, which has reportedly been facing issues due to a low domestic yield of cotton in the country.
    • On top of this, imports from other countries like the US and Brazil have reportedly been more expensive and takes longer to arrive in the country.
  • Why only these two commodities?
    • Even when we had a very small positive list (of goods for trade with Pakistan), agricultural commodities were always there in the list.
    • Cotton has been one of Pakistan’s major imports from India. In 2018-19, Pakistan imported $550.33 million worth of cotton from India.
    • When coupled with $457.75 million worth of organic chemicals, these products made up around half of its total imports from India.
    • Where sugar is concerned, trade experts feel it is a result of a long-standing interdependence between India and Pakistan over such agricultural commodities and a potential shortage in domestic supply.
    • If finally approved, cotton and sugar would be the second and third commodities allowed for export from India after Islamabad lifted the ban on medicine and related raw material imports during the Covid-19 pandemic.

India, Pakistan agree to observe the 2003 ceasefire

 

  • Context:
    • In a first joint statement issued by the two sides in years, India and Pakistan said they have agreed to a “strict observance of all agreements, understandings and cease firing along the Line of Control (LoC) and all other sectors” with effect from the midnight of February 24/25.
  • 2003 ceasefire agreement and its violation:
    • India and Pakistan signed a ceasefire agreement in 2003, but it has hardly been followed in letter and spirit over the past several years.
    • According to data provided by the Ministry of Defence in Parliament earlier this month, there were 5133 instances of CFVs along the LoC and other areas in Jammu and Kashmir, resulting in 46 fatal casualties in 2020, and 3,479 CFVs in 2019.
    • In May 2018, the DGsMO agreed during a similar hotline conversation to observe the ceasefire strictly, but subsequent tensions over the Pulwama attack, Balakot airstrikes, and the Article 370 move led to a sharp spike in CFVs.
  • About the agreement:
    • This is the biggest military measure between the two sides in 18 years to normalize the situation along the LoC. 
    • The agreement comes in the wake of over 5000 CFVs [cease-fire violations] last year, the highest in 19 years, and this shows the realization in New Delhi and Islamabad that they cannot afford to let violence spiral out of control given its inherently escalatory nature
  • India's stand:
    • India desires normal neighborly relations with Pakistan and has always maintained that we are committed to addressing issues, if any, in a peaceful bilateral manner
    • Army sources reiterated that there would be “no let-up” in counter-terror operations as a result of the agreement, adding that the agreement with Pakistan was “an attempt to bring violence levels down”, but the Army retained the “right to respond” in case there is a terror attack in the future.

India And Netherlands

  • Context:
    • The first high-level Summit was attended by Netherlands’ PM Mark Rutte after the general elections held in March 2021. 
  • Details:
    • During the Summit, the two leaders exchanged views on further expanding the relationship in trade and economy, water management, agriculture sector, smart cities, science & technology, healthcare, and space.
    • The two Prime Ministers also agreed on instituting a ‘Strategic Partnership on Water’ to further deepen the Indo-Dutch cooperation in the water-related sector and upgrading the Joint Working Group on the water to Ministerial level.
    • Netherlands’ Indo-Pacific Policy was also welcomed.
  • Strategic Partnership on Water:
    • Agreed on instituting a ‘Strategic Partnership on Water’ to further deepen the Indo-Dutch cooperation in the water-related sector, and upgrading the Joint Working Group on Water to Ministerial-level.
    • In 2019, India and Netherlands had launched the second phase of the Local Treatment of Urban Sewage Streams for Healthy Reuse (LOTUS-HR) plant as a part of joint collaboration in New Delhi.

India-Australia Cooperation in Agriculture

Context: Union Agriculture Minister reviewed collaboration in the field of Agriculture with his Australian counterpart.

About India-Australia Cooperation in Agriculture:

  • It's part of India and Australia's Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, which was launched in 2020.
  • The India-Australia Grains Partnership is a significant addition, with the goal of leveraging Australia's expertise in post-harvest management to improve rural grain storage and supply chains and reduce losses and wastage.
  • It also envisions market access for the relevant agricultural products as well as the sharing of technical information.
  • The National Innovation for Climate Resilient Agriculture (NICRA) will be strengthened in collaboration with Australian research institutions.

About NICRA:

  • The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) began the NICRA network initiative in 2011.
  • The project aims to improve Indian agriculture's resilience to climate change and climate vulnerability.
  • Crops, cattle, fisheries, and natural resource management are all part of the adaptation and mitigation study.
  • Strategic Research, Technology Demonstration, Capacity Building, and Sponsored/Competitive Grants are the four components of the initiative.

 

India And Nato

  • Context:
    • Recently an article was published in a newspaper about why India must not say ‘no’ to NATO”.

 

  • Why India should be a part of NATO?
    • Post-cold war era growth of NATO: NATO has built partnerships with many neutral and non-aligned states since the end of the cold war in 1991.
    • India’s refusal to join NATO was premised on its non-alignment but this argument had little justification once the Cold War ended during 1989-91.
    • Regular contact with military alliance: As most of the members of NATO are well-established partners of India, an India-NATO dialogue would simply mean having strategic military benefits for India.
    • India has military exchanges with many members of NATO including the US, Britain, and France in bilateral and multilateral formats.
    • India’s growing engagement in Europe: The deepening of India’s maritime partnership with France since 2018 is an example of ending the prolonged political neglect of Delhi towards Europe.
    • India also joined the Franco-German Alliance for Multilateralism in 2019 and the Prime Minister’s first summit with Nordic nations in 2018 was a recognition that Europe is not a monolith but a continent of sub-regions.
    • China’s growing influence across the globe: China’s meteoric rise has dramatically heightened India’s need for closer security relationships with politically reliable, like-minded states.
    • Establishment of India’s deterrence against its rivals: India would benefit from having prior planning and arrangements in place for cooperating with NATO and its Mediterranean partners to secure its western flank and the approaches to the Red Sea.
    • Partnering with NATO carries technological benefits: Under a provision in the US 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, India now enjoys the same technology-sharing and cost-sharing perks as other non-NATO US allies for purposes of the Arms Export Control Act.
    • Adding NATO partner status could also position India to benefit from possible future programmes aimed at lowering the barriers for cooperation in emerging technologies between NATO and its Asia-Pacific partners.
    • It could also help to offset the growing concerns and negative scrutiny that India is increasingly attracting in Congress for its disproportionate reliance on Russian military equipment.
  • Challenges for India-NATO link
    • Delhi’s difficulty in thinking strategically about Europe: Through the colonial era, Calcutta and Delhi viewed Europe through British eyes, and after Independence, Delhi tended to see Europe through the Russian lens.
    • Lack of Delhi’s attention towards Europe’s demand: The fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union demanded a fresh approach to Europe but Delhi could not devote the kind of strategic attention that Europe demanded.
    • The bureaucratisation of the engagement between Delhi and Brussels and the lack of high-level political interest prevented India from taking full advantage of a re-emerging Europe.
    • Ongoing conflict with NATO: It is riven with divisions on how to share the military burden and strike the right balance between NATO and the EU’s quest for an independent military role.
    • NATO members disagree on Russia, the Middle East, and China, and conflicts among NATO members such as Greece and Turkey have sharpened.
    • The relationship between India and Russia will be at stake: Russia has not made a secret of its allergy to the Quad and Delhi’s dalliance with Washington and engagement of India with NATO is unlikely to make much difference.
    • Delhi cannot be happy with the deepening ties between Moscow and Beijing.
    • As mature states, India and Russia know they have to insulate their bilateral relationship from the larger structural trends buffeting the world today.
  • Way Forward
    • A pragmatic engagement with NATO must be an important part of India’s new European orientation especially amidst the continent’s search for a new role in the Indo-Pacific.
    • In order to play any role in the Indo-Pacific, Europe and NATO need partners like India, Australia, and Japan, and Delhi, in turn, knows that no single power can produce stability and security in the Indo-Pacific.
    • A sustained dialogue between India and NATO could facilitate productive exchanges in a range of areas, including terrorism, changing geopolitics, and ensuring peace and security.
    • An institutionalised engagement with NATO should make it easier for Delhi to deal with the military establishments of its 30 member states.

Europe And Indo Pacific

  • Context:
    • Europe is ready for a new Indo-Pacific relationship. The new EU and Indo-Pacific relationship are mutually beneficial.
  • Introduction:
    • When the global economy crashed in 2020, economies such as Vietnam and China grew. A number of Asia’s open societies showed how to successfully contain the virus. Further, the world depends on India to end the pandemic for its capacity as a vaccine exporter.
  • At present, one can observe three types of Asian countries.
    • Firstly, Asia of business – This includes Asian countries with open, dynamic, interconnectedness.
    • Secondly, Asia of geopolitics – This includes Asian countries with nationalistic policies, territorial conflicts, arms races, etc. Geopolitical rivalries threaten free trade.
    • Lastly, Asia of global challenges – This includes countries that lack cooperation in fair globalization and getting climate crisis.
  • The European involvement in the Indo-Pacific:
    • Recently, the German government has for the first time adopted certain guidelines for the Indo-Pacific.
    • European countries are the key trading, technology, and investment partner for many countries of the region. Germany alone now conducts one-fifth of its foreign trade with the Indo-Pacific countries.
    • Recently the EU has concluded free trade agreements with Japan, Singapore, and Vietnam.
    • China remains a key economic partner for the EU.
    • The EU and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations(ASEAN) concluded a strategic partnership. This connects the EU with the South-East Asian Countries.
    • The EU is the biggest supporter of the international vaccine platform(COVAX). Further, India as a leading producer of vaccines is the most important COVAX supplier. The benefits of this platform are beyond the Indo-Pacific region.
    • Europe also supports human rights and the promotion of democracy in the region. For example,
    • Sanctions against those responsible for human rights violations in Xinjiang
    • Sanctions against Myanmar’s generals following the Myanmar coup.
  • Suggestions to improve the European presence in the Indo-Pacific:
    • The European strategy for the Indo-Pacific must include all three Asia’s into account.
    • The time for the EU is running short. Because in 2020 the countries of East and Southeast Asia created the world’s largest free trade area(RCEP). The RCEP(Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) includes one-third of the global economy. So Europe has to act swiftly and starts negotiations for FTA’s with Indonesia and India.
    • The EU should not neglect the developed economies of Asia like Japan, South Korea, etc.
    • Europe must take a stand against polarisation and geopolitical rivalry. Further, the EU can also advise on inclusive, rules-based Indo-Pacific.
  • Advantages for EU engaging with Indo-Pacific:
    • Europe can set standards for new technologies, human-centred digitization, and sustainable connectivity.
    • Europe can improve its innovation and economic strength as well as its regulatory power at a global level.
    • Indo-Pacific is the biggest emitters of CO2 in the world(China and India contribute to that). The EU can invest in renewable energies, climate protection, and biodiversity in the region.
  • Upcoming engagement of EU in Indo-Pacific:
    • The EU aims to launch a connectivity partnership with India in the upcoming EU-India Summit.
    • To ensuring fair market access and investment conditions in Asia, the EU will hold meetings with the US.
    • This week, Germany and Japan are going to undertake Ministerial discussions on challenges in free trade and security in the region.
    • Further, France and the Netherlands also started their work on a European strategy for the Indo-Pacific. The strategy is expected to be in place by the end of the year.
    • In conclusion, Europe is ready for a new partnership that focuses on all three types of Asian economies. Further, it will focus on dialogue with open Asia, taming geopolitical rivalry in Asia, and providing solutions to the Asian Challenges.

India- EU FTA

  • Context:
    • India and the European Union agreed to relaunch free trade negotiations by resuming talks that were suspended in 2013 for the Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA).
  • Resumption of FTA:
    • Prime Minister of India interacted virtually from Delhi with EU chiefs.
    • India and the European Union agreed to relaunch free trade negotiations by resuming talks that were suspended in 2013 for the Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA).
    • The talks had run into trouble over market access issues, and tariffs by India on products like wine, dairy and automotive parts, as well as EU resistance over visas for Indian professionals.
    • In addition, the Indian government’s decision to scrap all Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs) in 2015 posed hurdles for new EU investments in India.
  • Connectivity Partnership document:
    • The EU-India leaders adopted a Connectivity Partnership document.
    • The India-EU connectivity partnership committed the two sides to work together on digital, energy, transport, people to people connectivity.
    • The partnership is seen as a response to China’s Belt and Road Initiative and comes as the EU’s negotiations with China on their Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) have run into trouble.
    • The contract for the second tranche of $150 million from the EU for the Pune Metro rail project was also signed.
    • No EU support for Covid-19 vaccine waiver
    • India failed to secure the support of the European leaders for patent waivers for the Covid vaccine.
    • The support of a major bloc like the EU is crucial to passing the resolution at the WTO by consensus.

 

India in UN on Sri Lanka

  • Context:
    • India has abstained from a crucial vote on Sri Lanka’s human rights record at the United Nations Human Rights Council(UNHRC).
  • About UNHRC Resolution on Sri Lanka:
    • Firstly, the 46th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council(UNHRC) adopted a resolution titled “Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka”.
    • Secondly, the resolution said that the human rights situation in Sri Lanka has deteriorated under the current administration. Further, the resolution also mentions that the rights defenders and ethnic and religious minorities are facing problems.
    • Further, the UNHRC resolution provides the UNHRC chief mandate to collect and preserve evidence of crimes related to Sri Lanka’s civil war. The Civil War ended in 2009 with the defeat of Tamil Tiger rebels.
  • Was the Resolution adopted or rejected?
    • The UNHRC resolution was adopted after 22 states of the 47-member Council voted in its favour.
    • However, 11 countries including Bangladesh, China, and Pakistan voted against the resolution. On the other hand, 14 countries, including India, Indonesia, Japan, and Nepal abstained.
  • Sri Lanka’s Reaction:
    • Sri Lanka rejected the UNHRC resolution. It said that the resolution cannot be implemented without the consent and acceptance of the country concerned.
  • About UNHRC
    • The UNHRC is a United Nations body established in 2006. It replaced the former United Nations Commission on Human Rights.

India-Nepal border dispute

  • Context:
    • Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla visited Kathmandu, a move being seen as a significant outreach effort following a boundary dispute.
  • About:
    • The ties between the two countries came under strain after Defence Minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated an 80-km-long road connecting the Lipulekh pass with Dharchula in Uttarakhand in May.
    • Days later, Nepal came out with a new map showing Lipulekh, Kalapani, and Limpiyadhura as its territories.
    • India reacted sharply, calling it a “unilateral act” and cautioning Nepal that such “artificial enlargement” of territorial claims will not be acceptable to it.

India's Investment in Afghanistan

Context:

  • As the Taliban push ahead with military offensives across Afghanistan, preparing to take over after the exit of US and NATO forces, India faces a situation in which it may lose all its stakes.

India-Afghan ties

  • After a break between 1996 and 2001, when India joined the world in shunning the previous Taliban regime (only Pakistan, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia kept ties).
  • One way New Delhi re-established ties with the country in the two decades after the 9/11 attacks were to pour in development assistance, under the protective umbrella of the US presence.
  • India built vital roads, dams, electricity transmission lines and substations, schools and hospitals, etc. India’s development assistance is now estimated to be worth well over $3 billion.
  • And unlike in other countries where India’s infrastructure projects have barely got off the ground or are mired in the host nation’s politics, it has delivered in Afghanistan.

A soft corner

  • Afghanistan is vital to India’s strategic interests in the region.
  • It is also perhaps the only SAARC nation whose people have much affection for India.
  • Taliban takeover would mean a reversal of nearly 20 years of rebuilding a relationship that goes back centuries.

Salma Dam

  • Already, there has been fighting in the area where one of India’s high-visibility projects is located — the 42MW Salma Dam in Herat province.
  • The hydropower and irrigation project, completed against many odds and inaugurated in 2016, is known as the Afghan-India Friendship Dam.
  • In the past few weeks, the Taliban have mounted attacks in nearby places, killing several security personnel.
  • The Taliban claim the area around the dam is now under their control.

Zaranj-Delararam Highway

  • The other high-profile project was the 218-km Zaranj-Delaram highway built by the Border Roads Organisation. Zaranj is located close to Afghanistan’s border with Iran.
  • With Pakistan denying India overland access for trade with Afghanistan, the highway is of strategic importance to New Delhi, as it provides an alternative route into landlocked Afghanistan through Iran’s Chabahar port.

Afghan Parliament

  • The Afghan Parliament in Kabul was built by India at $90 million.
  • It was opened in 2015; PM Modi inaugurated the building.
  • A block in the building is named after former PM AB Vajpayee.

Stor Palace

  • In 2016, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and PM Modi inaugurated the restored Stor Palace in Kabul, originally built in the late 19th century.
  • It is famous for the 1919 Rawalpindi Agreement by which Afghanistan became an independent country.

Power Infra

  • Other Indian projects in Afghanistan include the rebuilding of power infrastructure such as the 220kV DC transmission line from Pul-e-Khumri, the capital of Baghlan province to the north of Kabul.
  • Indian contractors and workers also restored telecommunications infrastructure in many provinces.

Health Infra

  • India has reconstructed a children’s hospital it had helped build in Kabul in 1972 —named Indira Gandhi Institute for Child Health in 1985 — that was in shambles after the war.
  • ‘Indian Medical Missions’ have held free consultation camps in several areas.
  • Thousands who lost their limbs after stepping on mines left over from the war have been fitted with the Jaipur Foot.
  • India has also built clinics in the border provinces of Badakhshan, Balkh, Kandahar, Khost, Kunar, Nangarhar, Nimruz, Nooristan, Paktia and Paktika.

Transportation

  • According to the MEA, India gifted 400 buses and 200 mini-buses for urban transportation, 105 utility vehicles for municipalities, 285 military vehicles for the Afghan Army.
  • It also gave three Air India aircraft to Ariana, the Afghan national carrier, when it was restarting operations.

Other Projects

  • India has contributed desks and benches for schools and built solar panels in remote villages, and Sulabh toilet blocks in Kabul.
  • New Delhi has also played a role in building capacity, with vocational training institutes, scholarships to Afghan students, mentoring programmes in the civil service, and training for doctors and others.

Various ongoing project

  • India had concluded with Afghanistan an agreement for the construction of the Shatoot Dam in Kabul district, which would provide safe drinking water to 2 million residents.
  • Last year, India pledged $1 million for another Aga Khan heritage project, the restoration of the Bala Hissar Fort south of Kabul, whose origins go back to the 6th century.
  • Bala Hissar went on to become a significant Mughal fort, parts of it were rebuilt by Jahangir, and it was used as a residence by Shah Jahan.

Gilgit Baltistan

  • Context:
    • Recently, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan announced that his government would give the region “provisional provincial status”.
  • About:
    • The region is claimed by India as part of the erstwhile princely state of Jammu & Kashmir as it existed in 1947 at its accession to India.
    • Gilgit-Baltistan is the northernmost territory administered by Pakistan, providing the country’s only territorial frontier, and thus a land route, with China, where it meets the Xinjiang Autonomous Region.
    • The China Pakistan Economic Corridor has made the region vital for both countries.
    • To G-B’s west is Afghanistan, to its south is Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and to the east J&K.

Durand line

  • Context:
    • Recently at UNSC, India called for an immediate ceasefire in Afghanistan.
    • It is to end terrorist safe havens ‘operating across the Durand Line’.
  • About:
    • Durand Line, boundary established in the Hindu Kush in 1893 running through the tribal lands between Afghanistan and British India, marking their respective spheres of influence.
    • In modern times it has marked the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

 

Cabinet approval for Indian Mission in Estonia, Paraguay, and the Dominican Republic

  • Context:
    • Recently, the Union Cabinet approved the opening of 3 Indian Missions in Estonia, Paraguay, and the Dominican Republic in 2021.
  • Significance:
    • The opening of Indian Missions in these countries will help expand India’s diplomatic footprint.
    • Deepen political relations, enable the growth of bilateral trade, investment, and economic engagements, facilitate stronger people-to-people contacts.
    • Bolster political outreach in multilateral fora and help garner support for India’s foreign policy objectives.
    • Indian missions in these countries will also better assist the Indian community and protect their interests.
  • Geographical Location:
    • Estonia

    • Paraguay


    • Dominican Republic

India-Russia S-400 deal

  • Context:
    • As India prepares to receive the first batch of S-400 long-range air defence systems by year-end, the first group of Indian military specialists is scheduled to depart for Moscow soon to undergo training courses on the S-400.
  • About the deal:
    • The S-400 Triumf is a mobile, surface-to-air missile system (SAM) designed by Russia.
    • It is the most dangerous operationally deployed modern long-range SAM (MLR SAM) in the world.
    • It is considered to be much ahead of the US-developed Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD).
    • India’s acquisition is crucial to counter attacks in a two-front war, including even high-end F-35 US fighter aircraft.
  • About CAATSA:
    • Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) is a US act, whose core objective is to counter Iran, Russia, and North Korea through punitive measures.
    • Title II of the Act primarily deals with sanctions on Russian interests such as its oil and gas industry, defence and security sector, and financial institutions, in the backdrop of its military intervention in Ukraine and its alleged meddling in the 2016 US Presidential elections.
    • CAATSA, if implemented in its stringent form, would have affected India’s defence procurement from Russia. 
    • As per the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) Arms Transfer Database, during the period 2010-17, Russia was the top arms supplier to India.
    • Apart from the S-400 air defence system, Project 1135.6 frigates and Ka226T helicopters will also be affected.
    • Also, it will impact:
      • joint ventures, like Indo Russian Aviation Ltd,
      • Multi-Role Transport Aircraft Ltd and Brahmos Aerospace.
      • India’s purchase of spare parts, components, raw materials and other assistance.

India's Vaccine Diplomacy

  • Context:
    • Large consignments of Covishield vaccine doses were flown in special Indian aircraft to Seychelles, Mauritius, and Myanmar.
  • Vaccine Diplomacy:
    • Vaccine diplomacy is the branch of global health diplomacy in which a nation uses the development or delivery of vaccines to strengthen ties with other nations.
    • India gifted 49 lakh doses of Covid-19 vaccines to Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives and other friendly nations as part of its ‘Vaccine Maitri’ drive.
    • 1 million and 2 million doses were sent to Nepal and Bangladesh respectively. This act has earned high praise from neighbours and other nations.
    • The Wallstreet Journal said, “In Covid-19 Diplomacy, India Emerges as a Vaccine Superpower”
    • As a member of the COVAX facility — the initiative for equitable vaccine distribution created by the Global Alliance for Vaccines & Immunization (Gavi), Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), and WHO — India is both a recipient of vaccines from the facility as well as a supplier of vaccines.
  • About Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI):
    • It was launched at Davos 2017 
    • A result of a consensus that a coordinated, international, and intergovernmental plan was needed to develop and deploy new vaccines to prevent future epidemics. 
    •  It is a global partnership between public, private, philanthropic, and civil society organizations
    • It is working to:
      • accelerate the development of vaccines against emerging infectious diseases and 
      • enable equitable access to these vaccines for affected populations during outbreaks. 
      • establish investigational vaccine stockpiles before epidemics begin 
      • will fund new and innovative platform technologies with the potential to accelerate the development and manufacture of vaccines against previously unknown pathogens  
    • The current members of the Joint Coordination Group include WHO, GAVI, EMA, FDA, MSF, UNICEF, IFRC, AVAREF, NIBSC, and Wellcome.

Maldives Parliament debates defense deal with India

  • Context:
    • A day after Male and New Delhi signed an agreement to jointly develop the Maldives National Defence Force Coast Guard Harbour, Maldives’s Parliament, ‘the People’s Majlis’, took up an emergency motion, demanding greater transparency on the bilateral pact
  • About the deal:
    • The harbor development agreement, effectively a defense pact, was signed following a request from the government of Maldives — since former President Abdulla Yameen’s term in 2013 — for Indian assistance to enhance the capability of the Defence Forces.
    • Subsequently, Male made requests in 2015 and 2016
    • Finally, the agreement is signed in 2021.
  • Opposition and support to India's role:
    • Opposition Progressive Party of Maldives objected to the signing of the pact, linked to the “independence and sovereignty” of the Maldives, without the approval of Parliament.
    • Maldivian Defence Minister Mariya Didi said the project was “vital” to the effective functioning of the Maldivian Coast Guard.
    • Concerns over “Indian military presence” were flagged in 2018 too, when the Yameen government asked India to take back two helicopters it had gifted, with a crew and support staff, causing a major strain in bilateral ties.
    • Following the September 2018 defeat of the Yameen administration, which was known for its China tilt, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s government has been pursuing an “India first” policy.

Iran’s Chabahar port project

  • Context:
    • In its latest push to develop Iran’s Chabahar port project, India handed over two 140-tonne cranes for loading and unloading equipment to the Iranian government
  • Chabahar port:
    • It is located on the Gulf of Oman and is only 72 km away from the Gwadar port in Pakistan which has been developed by China.
    • The port serves as the only oceanic port of Iran and consists of two separate ports named Shahid Beheshti and Shahid Kalantari.
  • Significance of chabahar port for India:
    • India and Iran signed a bilateral pact for $85 million in May 2016, to equip Chabahar port.
    • It boosts trade ties, diplomatic ties, and military ties with Iran.
    • Provides India with better connectivity to Afghanistan bypassing Pakistan.
    • India can carry out humanitarian operations from this port if the need arises.
    • This port is just 72 km away from Gwadar port operated by China in Pakistan, hence this port would be of strategic importance to the Indian Navy and defense establishment.

Transfer of technology (ToT) from Russia

  • Context:
    • The Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has manufactured the last two Su-30MKIs of the 272 aircraft contracted from Russia and is all set to deliver them to the IAF
  • About:
    • India had contracted the Su-30s from Russia in batches of which 222 were assembled by HAL at its Nasik plant under Transfer of technology (ToT) since 2004. 
    • Of the 272 fighters, 40 are being modified to carry the air-launched version of the supersonic cruise missile BrahMos
    • Russia's technology transfers to India in the defense sector have been without any strings attached.
  • Export of Sukhoi:
    • India, which is looking to upgrade its mainstay Su 30MKI fighter fleet to modern standards, hopes to get a toehold into the export market as well by offering the package to friendly foreign nations that operate the Russian origin aircraft
    • Upgrade has the potential to unlock exports given the large fleet of Su 30s in service around the world that would also require upgrades in the future
    • Among the nations that India could approach with the upgrade, the solution is Malaysia that is already interested in collaboration for maintenance and upkeep of its fleet of 18 Su 30 fighters. India plans to help Malaysia set up a Maintenance Repair and Overhaul (MRO) unit there and train its technicians as part of bilateral cooperation pacts.
    • Other potential partners for the program could be Vietnam which operates 46 fighters of the type

U.S.A:

The U.S. Relaxes Rules on Sales of Armed Drones

  • Context:
    • The US administration has relaxed export restrictions on specific types of unmanned aerial systems, commonly known as drones, enabling U.S. defense contractors to sell more of their wares abroad.
  • Changes introduced:
    • Under a new policy, unmanned aerial systems that fly at speeds below 800 kph will no longer be subject to the “presumption of denial” that, in effect, blocked most international sales of drones such as the MQ-9
    • Reaper and the RQ-4 Global Hawk.
  • Implications:
    • So far, the U.S. government’s interpretation of the export controls under the Missile Technology Control Regime, or MTCR had led to a blanket denial of most countries’ requests to buy “category-1” systems capable of carrying 500-kilogram payloads for more than 300 kilometers.
    • Instead of having a “presumption of denial” for those drones, where export officials needed special circumstances to allow the sale of the drones, the new guidance would mean those officials would now consider proposed sales using the same criteria as they do for other military exports.
  • About MTCR:
    • It is an informal and voluntary partnership among 35 countries.
  • Objective:
    • To prevent the proliferation of missile and unmanned aerial vehicle technology capable of carrying greater than 500 kg payload for more than 300 km.
    • The regime was formed in 1987 by the G-7 industrialized countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, and the United States).
    • It is not a legally binding treaty on the members.
  • What is the purpose of the MTCR?
    • The MTCR was initiated by like-minded countries to address the increasing proliferation of nuclear weapons by addressing the most destabilizing delivery system for such weapons.
    • In 1992, the MTCR’s original focus on missiles for nuclear weapons delivery was extended to a focus on the proliferation of missiles for the delivery of all types of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), i.e., nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Such proliferation has been identified as a threat to international peace and security.
  • India and the MTCR:
    • India was inducted into the Missile Technology Control Regime in 2016 as the 35thmember. China is not a member of this regime but it had verbally pledged to adhere to its original guidelines but not to the subsequent additions.

The new US visa rule puts students in a corner

  • Context:
    • The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has issued a new directive barring international students from continuing their higher education in the country unless they meet specific quotas of in-person classes.
  • Who will be affected?
    • Students participating in university programmes that rely entirely on online courses now risk deportation if they do not leave the country, or transfer to schools with “in-person instruction.”
    • The order directly relates to those students on F-1 and M-1 visas.
      1. F-1 visa holders are those pursuing undergraduate, post-graduate or doctoral studies at tertiary education institutions.
      2. M-1 holders are those engaged in vocational courses.
  • Overall impact:
    • Nonimmigrant F-1 and M-1 students attending schools operating entirely online may not take a fully online course load and remain in the United States.
    • Those whose colleges and universities were moving to an online-only model would, therefore, have to leave the country or find another way to stay in status.
    • Other measures include such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status.
  • How will this order affect Indian students?
    • International students, reportedly, make up 5.5 percent of the US' higher education population, numbering just short of 1.1 million.
    • The Indian student cohort is second only to the Chinese, representing 18 percent of all foreign students in the US, according to 2017-2018 ICE data.
    • The announcement comes weeks after U.S. President Donald Trump suspended H1-B highly skilled worker visas through the end of the year. Most of these visas go to Indian citizens each year.

U.S. withdrawal from WHO

  • Context:
    • On July 6, when the number of novel coronavirus cases and deaths in the U.S. reached over 2.8 million and nearly 0.13 million, respectively, the U.S. officially notified the United Nations of its intention to withdraw membership from the World Health Organization.
    • This comes after President Donald Trump announced on May 29 his decision to halt funding and pull out of the global health body.
  • Why this decision?
    • Trump said the body had “called it wrong” on COVID-19 and that it was very “China-centric” in its approach, suggesting that the WHO had gone along with Beijing’s efforts months ago to under-represent the severity of the outbreak.
  • Implications:
    • The capricious decision to withdraw from WHO will have dire consequences for global public health.
    • The departure of the U.S. will be a significant blow to the WHO in terms of loss of technical expertise and annual funding of about $450 million.
    • The WHO now will have to suspend the country’s voting rights and deny access to its services, as per Article 7 of its Constitution.
  • About WHO:
    • WHO came into existence on 7 April 1948 – a date which is now celebrated every year as World Health Day.
    • The organisation has more than 7,000 people working in 150 country offices, six regional offices, and at its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.
  • How WHO is governed?
    1. The World Health Assembly (delegations from all member countries) determines the policies of the organisation.
    2. The executive board is composed of members technically qualified in health and gives effect to the decisions and policies of the health assembly.
    3. Its core function is to direct and coordinate international health work through collaboration.
  • How is the WHO funded?
    • There are four kinds of contributions that make up funding for the WHO. These are:
      • Assessed contributions are the dues countries pay in order to be a member of the Organization.
      • The amount each Member State must pay is calculated relative to the country’s wealth and population.
      • Voluntary contributions come from Member States (in addition to their assessed contribution) or from other partners. They can range from flexible to highly earmarked.
      • Core voluntary contributions allow less well-funded activities to benefit from a better flow of resources and ease implementation bottlenecks that arise when immediate financing is lacking.
      • Pandemic Influenza Preparedness (PIP) Contributions were started in 2011 to improve and strengthen the sharing of influenza viruses with human pandemic potential, and to increase the access of developing countries to vaccines and other pandemic related supplies.
  • Largest contributions:
    1. The United States is currently the WHO’s biggest contributor, making up 14.67 percent of total funding by providing $553.1 million.
    2. The US is followed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation forming 9.76 percent or $367.7 million.
    3. The third biggest contributor is the GAVI Vaccine Alliance at 8.39 percent, with the UK (7.79 percent) and Germany (5.68 percent) coming fourth and fifth respectively.
    4. The four next biggest donors are international bodies: the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (5.09 percent), World Bank (3.42 percent), Rotary International (3.3 percent), and the European Commission (3.3 percent). India makes up 0.48 percent of total contributions, and China at 0.21 percent.

China, the US in new spat over Uighur crackdown

  • Context:
    • China has said it will impose tit-for-tat measures after the United States slapped sanctions on Chinese officials for their involvement in a crackdown on Muslim minorities, raising tensions between the superpowers.
  • What’s the issue?
    • The latest Chinese response followed a US announcement of visa bans and an assets freeze on three officials, including Chen Quanquo, the Communist Party chief in Xinjiang, and the architect of Beijing's hardline policies against restive minorities.
    • Witnesses and human rights groups say that China has rounded up more than one million Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang in a vast brainwashing campaign aimed at forcibly homogenising minorities into the country's Han majority.
    • But, China counters that it is providing education and vocational training in a bid to reduce the allure of Islamic radicalism following a spate of deadly violence.
  • Background:
    • The United Nations estimates that more than a million Muslims have been detained in camps in the Xinjiang region. The U.S. State Department has accused Chinese officials of subjecting Muslims to torture, abuse “and trying to basically erase their culture and their religion.”
  • Who are Uighurs?
    • Uighurs are a Muslim minority community concentrated in the country’s northwestern Xinjiang province.
    • They claim closer ethnic ties to Turkey and other central Asian countries than to China, by brute — and brutal — force.
  • Why is China targeting the Uighurs?
    • Xinjiang is technically an autonomous region within China — its largest region, rich in minerals, and sharing borders with eight countries, including India, Pakistan, Russia, and Afghanistan.
    • Over the past few decades, as economic prosperity has come to Xinjiang, it has brought with it in large numbers the majority Han Chinese, who have cornered the better jobs, and left the Uighurs feeling their livelihoods and identity were under threat.
    • This led to sporadic violence, in 2009 culminating in a riot that killed 200 people, mostly Han Chinese, in the region’s capital Urumqi. And many other violent incidents have taken place since then.
    • Beijing also says Uighur groups want to establish an independent state and, because of the Uighurs’ cultural ties to their neighbours, leaders fear that elements in places like Pakistan may back a separatist movement in Xinjiang.
    • Therefore, the Chinese policy seems to have been one of treating the entire community as the suspect and launching a systematic project to chip away at every marker of a distinct Uighur identity.

Trump signs executive order against hiring H1B visa

  • Context:
    • President Donald Trump has signed an executive order preventing federal agencies from contracting or subcontracting foreign workers — mainly those on H-1B visas — from hiring.
  • What will change now?
    • The order bars federal agencies from hiring H-1B visa holders and other foreign workers in place of US citizens or green cardholders.
  • What is the H1B visa?
    • The H1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in speciality occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise.
  • Why is it popular?
    • • To keep costs in check, federal agencies in the US — and various other countries — either hire a large number of foreign workers or outsource their back-end database updation and other jobs to business process outsourcing firms from around the world. Such jobs in developed countries pay minimum wages, which are not lucrative enough for employable individuals in these countries.
  • Implications of this move:
    • The executive order requires all federal agencies to complete an internal audit and assess whether they are in compliance with the requirement that only US citizens and nationals are appointed to the competitive service.
    • As a result, the Department of Labour will also finalise guidelines to prevent H-1B employers from moving H-1B workers to other employers’ job sites to displace American workers.
  • The immediate reason for this change:
    • The latest order follows the federally-owned Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) announcement that it will outsource 20% of its technology jobs to companies based in foreign countries.
    • TVA’s action could cause more than 200 highly-skilled American tech workers in Tennessee to lose their jobs to low-wage, foreign workers hired on temporary work visas.
  • Trump’s arguments:
    • Outsourcing hundreds of workers are especially detrimental in the middle of a pandemic, which has already cost millions of Americans their jobs.
    • National security risk: Given the current climate of rampant intellectual property theft, outsourcing IT jobs that involve sensitive information could pose a national security risk.
    • This will help combat employers’ misuse of H-1B visas, which were never intended to replace qualified American workers with low-cost foreign labour.
  • What’s the concern? Why India and Indians are worried?
    • The latest move comes over a month after the Trump administration on June 23 suspended the H-1B visas along with other types of foreign work visas until the end of 2020 to protect American workers in a crucial election year.
    • The latest executive order will also impact workers of Indian companies that are on contract with federal agencies.
    • Bigger federal agencies such as state-run banks give the contract for supply and maintenance of their databases and other services to bigger Indian companies such as Infosys, TCS, or Wipro.
  • How it would affect the US?
    • The new executive order is based on misperceptions and misinformation. Such a measure could slow down the recovery phase of the US as countries start unlocking.
    • The order is particularly coming at a time when there is a huge shortage of STEM skills in the US that workers on short-term non-immigrant visas like H-1B and L-1 help bridge.
  • Prelims Facts:
    • Of 65,000 new visa applications approved every year, an average of 1,800 to 2,000, or roughly 3%, are H-1B visas granted to workers employed by federal agencies.
    • As many as 70% of the H-1B visa goes to people from India.
  • What next?
    • Mr Trump said he favours a merit-based immigration system that brings in high-skilled people that creates jobs inside the US and does not take jobs of Americans. An immigration bill in this regard will be introduced shortly.

Why has the US put India on its currency watchlist?

  • Context: 
    • The United States of America has again included India in its monitoring list of countries with “questionable foreign exchange policies” and “currency manipulation”. 
  • What is currency manipulation?


    • US government labels those countries with this term who it feels are engaging in unfair currency practices by devaluing their currency against the dollar purposely. 
    • It means that the country in question is trying to artificially lower the value of its currency to gain an advantage over others.
    • The devaluation in turn lowers the cost of exports from that country. It then artificially shows reduced trade deficits.
  • Countries on the Monitoring List
    • The US Department of the Treasury Office of International Affairs has included India, Taiwan, and Thailand to its Monitoring List and has put them under the category of countries that “merit close attention” to their currency practices and macroeconomic rules.
    • The list also includes China, Japan, Korea, Germany, Italy, Singapore, Malaysia. Before this India was on the list from October 2018 to May 2019. 
  • Why is India included again?
    • India’s bilateral goods trade surplus with the US has recently crossed the $20 billion mark.
    • The trade surplus was totaled 22 billion dollars in the first four quarters itself through June 2020.
    • The central bank released intervention data which stated that India’s net purchases of foreign exchange rose a considerable amount in the latter half of 2019.
    • After the sales during the initial outbreak of the COVID 19 pandemic, India sustained net purchases for much of the first half of 2020.
    • This pushed net purchases of foreign exchange to 64 billion dollars or 2.4% of GDP through June 2020.
    • India can now restrict the RBI in the foreign exchange operations it needs to pursue to protect financial stability.
    • Currently, global capital flows are threatening to overwhelm domestic monetary policy.
    • The results could involve appreciating rupee as well as excess liquidity that plays with the interest rate policy of the RBI.

US-designated China and Pakistan among countries of particular concern

  • Context: 
    • Recently, the US State Department has designated Pakistan and China among eight other countries that are of particular concern for violation of religious freedom.
  • Key Points:
    • Designation of the CPC is the top tier recommendation by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) when it comes to the violation of international religious freedom. 
    • It is followed by Special Watch List Countries for severe violations.
    • Other countries in the List:
      • Myanmar, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.
    • Special Watch List (SWL)
      • Comoros, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Russia on for governments that have engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom.
    • ‘Entities of Particular Concern
      • Al-Shabaab, al-Qaida, Boko Haram, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Houthis, ISIS, ISIS-Greater Sahara, ISISWest Africa, Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin and the Taliban
  • The U. S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF)?
    • USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan, U.S. federal government commission created in 1998.
    • International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) monitors the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad.
    • USCIRF uses international standards to monitor religious freedom violations globally and makes policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress.

Uighur Crisis of China

  • About:
    • Xinjiang is the far west of China and is the country's biggest region and is rich in minerals.
    • It is bordered by several countries, including India, Afghanistan, and Mongolia.
    • For centuries, the economy of Xinjiang has centered on agriculture and trade, and towns thrived because they were on the Silk Road.
    • Like Tibet, it is an autonomous region, and it has a degree of self-governance away from Beijing.
    • The Uighurs are mostly Muslims, and number about 11 million in the northwestern part of China’s Xinjiang region.
    • They see themselves as culturally and ethnically close to Central Asian nations, and their language is similar to Turkish.
  • Issue:
    • In recent decades, there is a mass migration of Han Chinese (China's ethnic majority) to Xinjiang, and the Uighurs feel their culture and livelihoods are under threat.
    • Around a million Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslims have been bundled into internment camps, where they are allegedly being schooled into giving up their identity and assimilate better in the communist country dominated by the Han Chinese.
    • Children have been separated from their parents, families are torn apart, an entire population kept under surveillance and cut off from the rest of the world.
    • The few survivors who have managed to escape the country have been reported to speak of physical, mental, and sexual torture at these camps.

US and Section 230

  • Context:
    • Soon after a mob of President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the US Capitol, his social media accounts were suspended by Big Tech companies like Twitter and Facebook for his alleged role in inciting violence and spreading misinformation.
  • What is Section 230?
    • Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act was passed in 1996 and provides legal immunity to internet companies for content that is shared on their websites.
    • The act was first introduced to regulate pornography online.
    • Section 230 is an amendment to the act, which holds users responsible for their comments and posts online.
    • According to the regulation, “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”
    • This means that online companies, including social media platforms, are not liable for the content shared on their website by their users.
    • So if a user posts something illegal on the website, the company is protected from lawsuits.
    • In addition, the regulation also states that private companies have the right to remove content that violates their guidelines and values. 
  • Sec 69A of India's Information Technology Act, 2000:
    • In India, law enforcement agencies monitor the web and social media and take appropriate action for blocking such unlawful content under section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000. 
    • Section 69A empowers the authorities to intercept, monitor, or decrypt any information generated, transmitted, received, or stored in any computer resource if it is necessary or expedient to do so in the interest of the sovereignty or integrity of India, defense of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offense or for investigation of any offence.
    • It also empowers the government to block internet sites in the interests of the nation. The law also contained procedural safeguards for blocking any site.
    • The recent banning of certain Chinese Apps was done citing provisions under Section 69A of the IT Act.

H1B Visas

  • Context:
    • The new wage-based work visa regime will now give priority in the selection of visas to applications of those employers where the “proffered wage equals or exceeds” the prevailing level in that area of employment.
  • What are H-1B work visas?
    • In 1952, after the US started expanding its presence in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines, it felt the need to hire quality workers who could help the country achieve innovation in these areas at reasonable costs. This need to hire workers paved the way for the introduction of the H-1 work visa system.
    • This work visa system was further subdivided into H-1B, H-2B, L1, O1, and E1 visas, depending on the qualification required and the area for which workers were sought. Of these, the H-1B visa remains the most popular due to the relatively better wage chance it offers.
    • Lack of jobs in their home countries meant that the STEM(computer science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) graduates were willing to work in the US at relatively low costs, which proved to be a win-win situation for both the employer and the employee, thereby making the H-1B work visas the most popular.
    • The new wage-based work visa regime will now give priority in the selection of visas to applications of those employers where the “proffered wage equals or exceeds” the prevailing level in that area of employment.
    • The proffered wage is the wage that the employer intends to pay the beneficiary.
    • This regime will also take into account the skill set that the respective worker brings to the country and cross-check whether such skill set is available at the same cost among the US workers.

U.S. airstrike in eastern Syria

  • Context:
    • The United States carried out airstrikes in eastern Syria against buildings belonging to what the Pentagon said were Iran-backed militias responsible for recent attacks against American and allied personnel in Iraq.
  • Erbil attacks:
    • The 2021 Erbil missile attacks occurred when multiple missiles were launched against Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Region, Iraq
    • Three of the rockets directly hit the U.S.-led coalition base near the Erbil International Airport, while the other rockets hit residential areas and civilian facilities near the airport
    • The attack was the worst and deadliest in a year on the U.S.-led military coalition in Iraq, and was the first time since late 2020 that Western military or diplomatic installations were targeted in the country
  • Retaliation by USA:
    • President Biden authorized the strikes in response to the rocketing in Iraq and continuing threats to American and coalition personnel there
    • The strikes were just over the border in Syria to avoid diplomatic blowback to the Iraqi government.

 

 

The Biden Administration increases corporate tax.

  • Context:
    • In a declaration of war on low-tax jurisdictions around the globe, US Treasury Secretary has urged the world’s 20 advanced nations to move in the direction of adopting a minimum global corporate income tax. 
    • According to the US, the move attempted to reverse a “30-year race to the bottom” in which countries have resorted to slashing corporate tax rates to attract multinational corporations.
  • The US plan:
    • The US proposal envisages a 21% minimum corporate tax rate, coupled with cancelling exemptions on income from countries that do not legislate a minimum tax to discourage the shifting of multinational operations and profits overseas.
    • One of the reasons the US is pushing for this is purely domestic. 
    • It aims to somewhat offset any disadvantages that might arise from the Biden administration’s proposed increase in the US corporate tax rate.
    • The proposed increase to 28% from 21% would partially reverse the previous Trump administration’s cut in tax rates on companies from 35% to 21% by way of a 2017 tax legislation.
    • More importantly, the US proposal includes an increase to the minimum tax that was included in the Trump administration’s tax legislation, from 10.5% to 21% — the benchmark minimum corporate tax rate that the US has propounded for other G20 countries.
    • This increase comes at a time when the pandemic is costing governments across the world and is also timed with the US’s push for a $2.3 trillion infrastructure upgrade proposal.
    • The plan to peg a minimum tax on overseas corporate income seeks to potentially make it difficult for corporations to shift earnings offshore.
    • A global compact on this issue works well for the US government at this time. 
    • The same holds true for most other countries in western Europe, even as some low-tax European jurisdictions such as the Netherlands, Ireland and Luxembourg and some in the Caribbean rely largely on tax rate arbitrage to attract MNCs.
  • The targets:
    • Apart from low-tax jurisdictions, the proposal for a minimum corporate tax are tailored to address the low effective rates of tax shelled out by some of the world’s biggest corporations, including digital giants such as Apple, Alphabet, and Facebook, as well as major corporations such as Nike and Starbucks. 
    • These companies typically rely on complex webs of subsidiaries to hoover profits out of major markets into low-tax countries such as Ireland or Caribbean nations such as the British Virgin Islands or the Bahamas, or to central American nations such as Panama.
    • The US Treasury loses nearly $50 billion a year to tax cheats, according to the Tax Justice Network report, with Germany and France also among the top losers. India’s annual tax loss due to corporate tax abuse is estimated at over $10 billion.
  • The problems:
    • Apart from the challenges of getting all major nations on the same page, especially since this impinges on the right of the sovereign to decide a nation’s tax policy, the proposal has other pitfalls. 
    • A global minimum rate would essentially take away a tool that countries use to push policies that suit them.
    • For instance, in the backdrop of the pandemic, IMF and World Bank data suggest that developing countries with less ability to offer mega stimulus packages may experience a longer economic hangover than developed nations.
    • A lower tax rate is a tool they can use to alternatively push economic activity.
    • Also, a global minimum tax rate will do little to tackle tax evasion.

Miscellaneous:

Loya Jirga

  • Context:
    • A three-day Loya Jirga-grand assembly has been called in Afghanistan to decide on freeing about 400 Taliban fighters convicted for serious crimes including murder and abductions.
  • About:
    • It is a mass national gathering that brings together representatives from the various ethnic, religious, and tribal communities in Afghanistan.
    • It is a highly respected centuries-old consultative body that has been convened at times of national crisis or to settle national issues.
    • According to the Afghan Constitution, a Loya Jirga is considered the highest expression of the Afghan people. It is not an official decision-making body and its decisions are not legally binding.

Israel-Bhutan formal ties

  • Context: 
    • Recently, Bhutan establishes diplomatic ties with Israel.
  • Significance:
    • The establishment of diplomatic relations would create new avenues for cooperation between the two countries in water management, technology, human resource development, agricultural sciences, and other areas of mutual benefit.
  • Background:
    • Israel is the 54th country with which Bhutan has established ties.
    • According to reports, the two countries have had a strong unofficial relationship since 1982, and have been in secret negotiations for several years before the formal announcement.
    • While Israel and Bhutan have not had formal ties, the two sides cooperate on development activities and agricultural training, and Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation MASHAV has trained hundred of Bhutanese youth since 2013.
    • Bhutan established ties with Germany, its first new formal relationship since 2013.
    • With the announcement, Bhutan, which does not have ties with any permanent United Nations Security Council (UNSC) member, has taken the restricted number of diplomatic relations to 54 countries and the European Union.

Israel- UAE agreement

  • Context:
    • Israel and the United Arab Emirates have announced an agreement that will lead to full normalisation of diplomatic relations between the two states, a move that reshapes the order of West Asia politics from the Palestinian issue to Iran.
    • The agreement will be known as Abraham Accords.
  • Overview of the agreement:
    • Trilateral agreement: The agreement was the product of lengthy discussions between Israel, the UAE, and the US that accelerated recently.
    • Under the accord, Israel has agreed to suspend annexing areas of the occupied West Bank as it had been planning to do.
    • It also firms up opposition to regional power Iran, which the UAE, Israel, and the US view as the main threat in the region.
  • Background:
    • Israel had signed peace agreements with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994. But the UAE, along with most other Arab nations, did not recognise Israel and had no formal diplomatic or economic relations with it until now.
  • Where is West Bank?
    • It is a landlocked territory near the Mediterranean coast of Western Asia, bordered by Jordan to the east and by the Green Line separating it and Israel on the south, west, and north.
    • The West Bank also contains a significant section of the western Dead Sea shore.
  • What is the dispute settlements here? Who lives there?
    1. The West Bank was captured by Jordan after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.
    2. Israel snatched it back during the Six-Day War of 1967 and has occupied it ever since. During this war, the country defeated the combined forces of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan.
    3. It has built some 130 formal settlements in the West Bank, and a similar number of smaller, informal settlements have mushroomed over the last 20-25 years.
    4. Over 4 lakh Israeli settlers — many of them religious Zionists who claim a Biblical birthright over this land — now live here, along with some 26 lakh Palestinians.
    5. The territory is still a point of contention due to a large number of Palestinians who live there and hope to see the land become a part of their future state.
    6. When Israel took control of the land in 1967 it allowed Jewish people to move in, but Palestinians consider the West Bank illegally occupied Palestinian land.

Morroco-Israel deal 

  • Context: 
    • Morocco has become the fourth Arab country to normalize ties with Israel in five months.
  • What Morroco got in return?
    • In return for Morocco’s decision to establish formal ties with Israel, the U.S. has recognized Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, a disputed territory in northwestern Africa, which has been under Moroccan control for decades.
    • Morocco has long been campaigning internationally, using economic pressure and diplomacy, for recognition of its claims to Western Sahara. 

  • What is the dispute?
    • Western Sahara is a large, arid and sparsely populated region that shares a border with Morocco, Algeria, and Mauritania and has a long Atlantic coast was a Spanish colony.
    • The region is home to the Sahrawi tribe.
    • In the 1970s, when international and local pressure mounted on Spain to vacate its colonies in Africa, Libya and Algeria helped found a Sahrawi insurgency group against the Spanish rule in Western Sahara.
    • The Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro, known as the (Polisario Front), started guerilla warfare against Spanish colonialists.
    • In 1975, as part of the Madrid Accords with Morocco and Mauritania, Spain decided to leave the region, which was then called Spanish Sahara.
    • According to the accords, Spain would exit the territory before February 28, 1976, and until then, the Spanish Governor-General would administer the territory, with help from two Moroccan and Mauritanian Deputy Governors.
    • The Polisario Front and Algeria opposed the agreements.
    • Both Morocco and Mauritania moved troops to Western Sahara to assert their claims.
    • Polisario, backed by Algeria, continued the guerilla resistance, demanding their withdrawal.
    • On February 27, 1976, a day before Spain ended its presence, the Polisario Front declared the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) in Western Sahara.
    • The SADR has been recognized by several African countries and is a member of the African Union.
  • What is Morocco’s claim?
    • Morocco and Mauritania had laid claims to Western Sahara even when it was a Spanish colony.
    • In 1974, the International Court of Justice was asked by the U.N. General Assembly to look into the legal ties, if any, that existed between Western Sahara and Morocco and Mauritania at the time of its colonization by Spain in the 19th century.
    • The court found no evidence “of any ties of territorial sovereignty” between Western Sahara and either Morocco or Mauritania but stated that there were “indications” that some tribes in the territory were loyal to the Moroccan Sultan.
    • In its conclusion, the court endorsed the General Assembly Resolution 1541 that affirmed that to ensure decolonization, complete compliance with the principle of self-determination is required.
    • But King Hassan II of Morocco hailed the court’s opinion as a vindication of Rabat’s claims and moved troops across the northern border to Western Sahara. Mauritania joined in later.
    • It set the stage for a three-way fight with the Polisario Front resisting both countries.
  • What’s the current status of the conflict?
    • The three-way conflict lasted for almost four years.
    • In August 1979, Mauritania signed a peace treaty with Polisario, bringing the country’s military involvement in Western Sahara to an end.
    • When Mauritanian forces withdrew from the southern part of the desert that they had occupied, Morocco swiftly advanced troops.
    • The war continued between Moroccan troops and the Polisario Front.
    • In 1991, when a ceasefire was finally achieved, upon the promise of holding an independence referendum in Western Sahara, Morocco had taken control of about 80% of the territory.
    • The war had forced almost 200,000 Sahrawis to flee the territory to neighboring Algeria, where Polisario is running squalid refugee camps.
    • The SADR is operating largely from the eastern flank of Western Sahara and the refugee camps.
    • Moroccan troops have built a huge sand wall called Berm, from the Atlantic coast of Western Sahara to the mountains of Morocco, dividing the territories they control from that of Polisario.
    • “It’s Africa’s last colony”, according to Polisario fighters.
  • What impact will the Israel deal have on the conflict?
    • The normalization deal between Morocco and Israel itself will not have any direct bearing on Western Sahara.
    • But the concession the U.S. has given to Morocco, Washington’s recognition of Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara in return for Morocco’s agreement with Israel could flare up the conflict.
    • The uptick in hostilities in the region would further destabilize Western Africa and undermine decades worth of efforts by both the US and France to rid the region of Islamist insurgencies.
    • Recently, Morocco launched an offensive into the U.N.-controlled buffer zone between the two sides, and in return, Polisario said it would resume the armed conflict.
    • After the Trump administration’s recognition of Morocco’s claim, Polisario said it would continue fighting until Moroccan troops are forced to withdraw.
    • The U.S. move would upset Algeria, the biggest backer of Polisario.
    • Among the countries that condemned the U.S. decision is Russia, which said the recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara “is a violation of international law”.

Pakistan and Sri Lanka relations

  • Context:
    • Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Sri Lanka on February 23 and 24 triggered a fair amount of controversy because of a canceled invitation to address the Sri Lankan parliament.
  • About:
    • The relationship between Islamabad and Colombo is deeper than is sometimes apparent, with defense cooperation a key component. 
    • Pakistan is Sri Lanka’s second-largest trading partner in South Asia after India.
    • Sri Lanka and Pakistan have a free trade agreement dating back to 2005.
    • Over the last decade, Pakistan has also tried to work on a cultural connection with Sri Lanka by highlighting its ancient Buddhist connections and sites.
    • After pulling back the IPKF in 1990, India provided no active defense support to the Sri Lankan military, although there was intelligence sharing during the war against the LTTE.
    • Sri Lanka turned to Pakistan for arms and ammunition, as well as training for its fighter pilots, in the last stages of the war.
    • During the 1971 war, Pakistani jets refueled in Sri Lanka.
  • India's concern:
    • Over the years, Sri Lanka has learned to balance its ties with India and Pakistan.
    • The Indian security establishment has voiced concerns about Pakistan’s role in the radicalization of Muslims — especially in Eastern Sri Lanka. where funds have poured in for new mosques from some West Asian countries — and the effect this could have in India.
    • There is some wariness about a convergence of interests between Sri Lanka, China, and Pakistan in the Indian Ocean region and defense co-operation, although this has not been publicly expressed
    • India does not yet perceive Pakistan as its rival in Colombo but remains wary

Sri Lanka at the UN rights council

  • Context:
    • After Sri Lanka’s abrupt 2020 withdrawal from a United Nations Human Rights Council resolution under which it had committed, five years previously, to a time-bound investigation of war crimes that took place during the military campaign against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the country faces another resolution at the current session.
  • UN human rights report
    • The report warned that Sri Lanka’s failure to address human rights violations and war crimes committed in the past had put the country on a “dangerous path” that could lead to a “recurrence” of policies and practices that gave rise to the earlier situation.
    • It flagged the “warning signs”: accelerating militarisation of civilian governmental functions, a reversal of important constitutional safeguards, political obstruction of accountability, exclusionary rhetoric, intimidation of civil society, and the use of anti-terrorism laws.
  • India’s position on the issue:
    • Sri Lanka has officially sought India’s help to muster support against the resolution, which it has described as “unwanted interference by powerful countries”.
    • Country-specific resolutions against Sri Lanka have regularly come up at the UNHRC in the last decade.
    • New Delhi voted against Sri Lanka in 2012 and abstained in 2014.
    • It was spared the dilemma in 2015 when Sri Lanka joined resolution 30/1.
    • It remains to be seen how India might vote on the Sri Lanka resolution.

East Container Terminal (ECT) at the Colombo Port

  • Context:
    • Sri Lanka has unilaterally pulled out of a 2019 agreement with India and Japan for developing the strategic East Container Terminal (ECT) at the Colombo Port
  • About:
    • As many as 223 Sri Lankan trade unions and civil societies groups were backing the Sri Lanka port trade unions' demand to cancel the ECT agreement.
    • After Prime Minister Rajapaksa announced the Sri Lankan government decision that the ECT would be developed and operated as a “wholly-owned container terminal of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA)”, a cabinet meeting approved a proposal to develop the West Terminal at the Colombo Port as a Public-Private Partnership with India and Japan, seen as a bid to compensate for taking away the ECT.
  • Why the deal is important to India
    • ECT deal was important as between 60 and 70% of transshipment that takes place through it is India-linked.
    • The ECT is also considered more strategic than any other in Colombo Port.
    • It is located next to the Colombo International Container Terminal (CICT) project, a joint venture between China Merchants Port Holdings Company Ltd. and SLPA.
    • India had been offered the Western Container Terminal earlier but had refused.
    • The ECT is already operational, while the WCT has to be built from scratch.
  • India and Japan reactions 
    • India responded that Colombo should not be taking a unilateral decision on an existing tripartite agreement.
    • Japan has called the decision “regrettable”.

EU urges Turkey to stop Mediterranean drilling

  • Context:
    • The European Union has urged Turkey to halt its drilling activities in contested waters in the Mediterranean and ordered EU officials to speed up work aimed at blacklisting some Turkish officials linked to energy exploration.
  • What’s the issue?
    • Over recent weeks, tensions have been rising in the waters of the Eastern Mediterranean, prompted by what seems like a simple rivalry over energy resources.
    • Turkey has pursued an aggressive gas exploration effort, its research vessel heavily protected by warships of the Turkish Navy.
    • There have been encounters with rival Greek vessels and a third Nato country, France, has become involved, siding with the Greeks.
    • These tensions also highlight another shift in the region – the decline of US power.
  • Cause for latest tensions:
    • Tensions are mounting to the breaking point between Turkey and Greece over Turkey’s drilling work near the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, which like Greece is an EU member country.
    • Turkey doesn’t recognize the divided island of Cyprus as a state and claims 44 percent of Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone as its own.
    • Cyprus was split along ethnic lines in 1974 when Turkey invaded in the wake of a coup by supporters of a union with Greece.
  • About the Mediterranean:
    • It is a vast sea positioned between Europe to the north, Africa to the south, and Asia to the east.
  • The Mediterranean Sea connects:
    1. To the Atlantic Ocean by the Strait of Gibraltar (known in Homer‘s writings as the “Pillars of Hercules“) in the west
    2. To the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea, by the Straits of the Dardanelles and the Bosporus respectively, in the east
    3. The 163 km (101 mi) long artificial Suez Canalin southeast connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea.

Nagorno-Karabakh

  • Context: 
    • Over the last week, military action in Nagorno-Karabakh, a region disputed between Armenia and Azerbaijan, has resulted in the death of at least 100 civilians and Armenian combatants.
  • About:
    • It is a territorial and ethnic conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding districts, which are controlled by Armenia in reality but are internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan.
    • The conflict has its origin in the early 20th century when the Soviet Union's Joseph Stalin decided to make the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Soviet Azerbaijan.

New Caledonia rejects freedom from France

  • Context: 
    • The South Pacific territory of New Caledonia chose to remain, French, narrowly rejecting independence in a referendum.
  • About:
    • New Caledonia is a French territory comprising dozens of islands in the South Pacific.
    • It is a sub-region of Melanesia.
    • It is one of the UN's 17 “non-self-governing territories”.
    • It is located in the East of Australia, North of New Zealand, South of Equator, and west of Fiji and Vanuatu.
    • It enjoys a large degree of autonomy but depends heavily on France for matters like defense and education still receives large subsidies from Paris.
    • A massive barrier reef surrounds the main island.

Military coup in Myanmar

  • Context:
    • Myanmar's military has seized power after detaining Aung San Suu Kyi and other democratically elected leaders.
    • They have carried out a coup d'etat, their first against a civilian government since 1962, and in apparent violation of the constitution which the military promised to honor.
  • Aung San Suu Kyi:
    • Myanmar, also known as Burma, was ruled by the armed forces from 1962 until 2011 when a new government began ushering in a return to civilian rule.
    • In 1990, as the young founder of the National League for Democracy — it was formed in 1988 during the 8888 movement — she claimed the legacy of her father General Aung, known as the founding father of modern Burma, and swept the elections.
    • The junta nullified the election results as it has done now, and jailed Suu Kyi. 
    • She spent nearly 15 years in detention between 1990 and 2010.
    • She was internationally hailed as a beacon of democracy and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.
    • But her international reputation suffered severely following an army crackdown on the mostly Muslim Rohingya minority.
    • Former supporters accused her of refusing to condemn the military or acknowledge accounts of atrocities.
  • India's response to the military coup:
    • India is taking a cautious approach in its response to the military coup in neighboring Myanmar, worried about the future of ambitious projects worth about $650 million
    • India is also reluctant to openly denounce generals who could move closer to its rival China.
    • However, the Indian government's position is in favor of the restoration of democracy in Myanmar and is holding private discussions with the Tatmadaw, or military, which staged the coup on Feb. 1.

Geopolitical Events

Australia and the Malabar Exercise

  • Context:
    • India to shortly take a call on Australia's inclusion in Malabar.
  • Why Australia should be included in the group?
    • Australia’s inclusion would be seen as a possible first step towards the militarisation of the Quad coalition, something Beijing has opposed in the past.
    • Besides, even Japan and the U.S. have been keen on Canberra’s inclusion for some time now and have been pushing India to consider it.
  • Procedure to be followed:
    • Once the government takes a decision to include Australia, as per procedure, the other partner nations — Japan and the U.S. — have to be informed to secure their consent, after which a formal invitation would be extended to Australia.
  • About Malabar exercise:
    • Malabar began as a bilateral naval exercise between India and the U.S. in 1992 and was expanded into a trilateral format with the inclusion of Japan in 2015.
    • It has been delayed this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • What is Quad grouping?
    • The quadrilateral formation includes Japan, India, United States, and Australia.
    • All four nations find a common ground of being democratic nations and common interests of unhindered maritime trade and security.
    • The idea was first mooted by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2007. However, the idea couldn’t move ahead with Australia pulling out of it.
  • Significance of the grouping:
    1. Quad is an opportunity for like-minded countries to share notes and collaborate on projects of mutual interest.
    2. Members share a vision of an open and free Indo-Pacific.
    3. It is one of the many avenues for interaction among India, Australia, Japan, and the US and should not be seen in an exclusive context.

Make the right call on ‘Malabar’ going Quad

  • Context:
    • India’s Ministry of Defence recently discussed the issue of adding Australia to the trilateral Malabar naval exercise with Japan and the United States in the Bay of Bengal later this year.
    • While no decision was reached, it appears a green signal to Australia could soon be given, making it the first time since 2007 that all members of Quad will participate in a joint military drill, aimed ostensibly in China.
  • Why is China concerned about these developments?
    • Beijing has long opposed a coalition of democracies in the Indo-Pacific region.
    • It sees the maritime Quadrilateral as an Asian-NATO that seeks only to contain China’s rise.
    • Also, at a time of strained bilateral ties with China, India’s intention to involve Australia in the Malabar drill could only be construed as a move directed against Beijing.
  • Challenges for India:
    • Following the stand-off in Ladakh, many Indian analysts believe the time is right for India to shed its traditional defensiveness in the maritime domain.
    • The realists advocate an alliance with the U.S., Japan, and Australia to counter Chinese moves in the Indian Ocean.
    • However, by “putting more pressure on China” and moving to expand its “sphere of influence into the entire Indian Ocean and the South Pacific”, India may be risking harsh consequences.
      1. At a time when India and China are negotiating a truce on the border in Eastern Ladakh, New Delhi’s invitation to Australia to participate in the Malabar exercise sends contrary signals to Beijing.
      2. If China responded churlishly through aggressive posturing in the Eastern Indian Ocean, it could needlessly open up a new front in the India-China conflict.
      3. Besides, cooperation with the U.S. and Japan without attendant benefits of strategic technology transfers will not improve the Indian Navy’s deterrence potential in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
      4. In operational terms also, it might be premature for Delhi to initiate multilateral engagement with Quad partners. With the strategic contest between the U.S. and China in East Asia and Southeast Asia hotting up, there is every possibility that the military-Quad will be used to draw India into the security dynamics of the Asia-Pacific.
  • Conclusion:
    • New Delhi should not sign up for quadrilateral engagement without a cost-benefit exercise and commensurate gains in the strategic-operational realm. What might appear politically sensible could be operationally imprudent.
  • Prelims Facts:
    • The quadrilateral formation includes Japan, India, United States, and Australia.
    • The Malabar exercise started as a naval exercise between India and the U.S. in 1992 and was expanded into a trilateral format with the inclusion of Japan in 2015.

QUAD coalition

  • Context:
    • Recently, Russia supported India’s vision for the Indo-Pacific but at the same time criticized the Quadrilateral coalition or Quad, saying it would be detrimental to inclusive dialogue for ensuring peace and stability in the region.

  • What is QUAD grouping?
    • Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) is the informal strategic dialogue between India, the USA, Japan, and Australia with a shared objective to ensure and support a “free, open and prosperous” Indo-Pacific region.
    • The idea of Quad was first mooted by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2007.
    • However, the idea couldn’t move ahead with Australia pulling out of it, apparently due to Chinese pressure.
    • In December 2012, Shinzo Abe again floated the concept of Asia’s “Democratic Security Diamond” involving Australia, India, Japan, and the US to safeguard the maritime commons from the Indian Ocean to the western Pacific.
    • In November 2017, India, the US, Australia, and Japan gave shape to the long-pending “Quad” Coalition to develop a new strategy to keep the critical sea routes in the Indo-Pacific free of any influence (especially China).
  • Significance of Quad
    • The free, open, prosperous, and inclusive Indo-Pacific region serves the long-term interests of all countries in the region and of the world at large.
    • Tackling common challenges of terrorism and proliferation
    • Upholding the rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific and respect for international law, freedom of navigation, and overflight.
  • Significance for India
    • By joining the quad India has taken a significant turn in its policy for the subcontinent.
    • It gives New Delhi a powerful platform to advance its interests in East Asia, coordinate strategies with powerful friends, and add more strength to its Act East initiative.
    • The geostrategic term “Indo-Pacific” as opposed to “Asia-Pacific” has been gaining importance.

QUAD Meeting

  • Context:
    • Recently, India joined Australia, Japan and the United States for a ministerial meeting under the Quadrilateral grouping (Quad) and discussed issues across Indo-Pacific and the military takeover in Myanmar.

  • Key Points
    • Commitment to a free and open Indo-pacific region.
    • Reaffirmation of their commitment to cooperating on Covid-19, security challenges and climate change.
    • Pledge to respond to the economic and health impacts of COVID-19, combat climate change, and address shared challenges, including in cyberspace, critical technologies, counterterrorism, quality infrastructure investment, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief as well as maritime domains commitment to denuclearizing North Korea.
    • Commitment to delivering up to 1 billion doses of the Covid-19 vaccine to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Indo-Pacific countries by the end of 2022 using Indian manufacturing, U.S. and Japanese funding and Australian logistics.
  • Analysis
    • Each of the leaders has tried to make it clear that it is not an anti-China club, even when it aims to counter the rising Chinese influence.
    • Quad is trying to showcase what democracies can deliver together, both for their own populations and for the broader world.
    • Despite such declarations, the alliance is widely viewed as an effort to combat Beijing's growing military and economic power.
    • It's a group of countries all concerned about China, and all trying to hold the line for an open, democratic non-Chinese way forward
    • The “Quad” is not a formal alliance in the same way as NATO and thus carries no strict duty to defend one another
  • Quad members issues with China
    • Relations between the US and China have deteriorated with clashes over trade, Covid-19, Hong Kong's autonomy, Taiwan and alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
    • America has labelled China as America's biggest geopolitical test of the 21st century.
    • Japan has had long-standing grievances over contested islands and maritime claims, while Indian and Chinese troops engaged in deadly border clashes over disputed territory in the Himalayas last year.
    • Australia has faced trade pressures from Beijing and Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Friday the “Quad” meeting was “a historical moment” and an opportunity to “create a new anchor for peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific.”
    • The group's revitalization also gained a boost last year after India invited Australia to join naval exercises with it, the U.S. and Japan.
  • Significance
    • India has been a leading manufacturer of vaccines.
    • This commitment is crucial in the sense that has the support of the governments of these countries.
    • The vaccine collaboration is not just between the leading vaccine manufacturing firms.
    • It will address the demand-supply gap in Indo-Pacific.
    • It’s a success for India's Vaccine diplomacy.
    • The countries are also focussing on the creation of resilient supply chains for materials such as rare earth metals. China produces 60 % of the world's rare earth metals. This collaboration is crucial in countering China's dominance on these metals. They are used in smartphones, automobiles, Electric vehicles and batteries.
    • It reflects continuity in the US Foreign policy.
    • It is the first plurilateral summit attended by Joe Biden after assuming office.

Iran Nuclear Deal

  • Context:
    • Recently, Joe Biden has been sworn as the 46th president of the United States. On the foreign policy front, Biden has promised to move quickly to rejoin the nuclear deal with Iran which is also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

 

  • More About JCPOA
    • JCPOA was signed in 2015, but former US President Trump has withdrawn from it (in 2018) and embarked on a policy of ‘maximum pressure’ to coerce Iran back to the negotiating table.
    • The maximum pressure campaign devastated Iran’s economy but failed to push Iran back to the negotiating table or to curtail its involvement in Iraq, Syria, or Lebanon.
    • Joe Biden has reiterated a return to the JCPOA provided Iran returns to full compliance. The return of the US to JCPOA may be a positive step towards regional peace. However, there are many challenges for the US and Iran to return to the negotiating table.
  • JCPOA: Timeline & Background
    • The JCPOA was the result of prolonged negotiations from 2013 and 2015 between Iran and P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union, or the EU).
    • It happened, thanks to the backchannel talks between the U.S.(U.S. President Barack Obama) and Iran, quietly brokered by Oman, in an attempt to repair the accumulated mistrust since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
    • The JCPOA obliged Iran to accept constraints on its enrichment program verified by an intrusive inspection regime in return for a partial lifting of economic sanctions.
    • However, faced with a hostile Republican Senate, President Obama was unable to get the nuclear deal ratified but implemented it on the basis of periodic Executive Orders to keep sanction waivers going.
    • When Donald Trump became president, he withdrew from the deal.
    • The U.S. decision was criticized by all other parties to the JCPOA (including the European allies) because Iran was in compliance with its obligations, as certified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
    • Tensions rose as the U.S. pushed ahead with its unilateral sanctions, widening its scope to cover nearly all Iranian banks connected to the global financial system, industries related to metallurgy, energy, and shipping, individuals related to the defense, intelligence, and nuclear establishments.
    • For the first year after the U.S. withdrawal, Iran’s response was muted as the E-3 (France, Germany, the U.K.) and the EU promised to find ways to mitigate the U.S. decision.
    • The E-3’s promised relief Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX), created in 2019 to facilitate limited trade with Iran.
    • However, by May 2019, Iran’s strategic patience ran out as the anticipated economic relief from the E-3/EU failed to materialize. As the sanctions began to hurt, Tehran shifted to a strategy of ‘maximum resistance’.
  • Iran’s Policy of ‘Maximum Resistance’.
    • Beginning in May 2019, Iran began to move away from JCPOA’s constraints incrementally: exceeding the ceilings of 300kg on low-enriched uranium and 130 MT on heavy-water; raising enrichment levels from 3.67% to 4.5%; stepping up research and development on advanced centrifuges; resuming enrichment at Fordow, and violating limits on the number of centrifuges in use.
    • In January 2020, following the drone strike on Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Gen. Qasem Soleiman, Iran announced that it would no longer observe the JCPOA’s restraints.
    • The collapse of the JCPOA drags Iran towards nuclear brinkmanship, like North Korea, which has created major geopolitical instability in the region and beyond.
  • Roadblocks in Restoration of Deal
    • Regional Cold War Between Iran & Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia is the cornerstone of US Middle East policy. The US has strengthened its relationship with Saudi Arabia, to act as a counterweight against Iran.
    • However, traditional Shia vs Sunni conflict precipitated into a regional cold war between Iran & Suadi Arabia.
    • Thus, a major challenge for the US to restore the nuclear deal is to maintain peace between the two regional rivals.
    • Iran Gone too Far: The challenge in resuming the agreement in its present form is that Iran is currently in violation of several of its important commitments, such as the limits on stockpiles of enriched uranium.
    • The International Atomic Energy Agency noted that Iran now had more than 2,440 kilograms, which is more than eight times the limit set by the 2015 nuclear deal.
    • Further, Iran says it wants the US to pay for the billions of dollars in economic losses it incurred when it pulled the United States out of the Iran deal in 2018 and reinstituted sanctions that it had lifted.
  • Impacts on India For Restoration of JCPOA
    • Restoration of JCPOA may ease many restrictions over the Iranian regime, which may directly or indirectly help India. This can be reflected in the following examples:
      • Boost to Regional Connectivity: Removing sanctions may revive India’s interest in the Chabahar option, Bandar Abbas port, and other plans for regional connectivity.
      • This would further help India to neutralize the Chinese presence in Gwadar port, Pakistan.
      • Apart from Chabahar, India’s interest in the International North-South Transit Corridor (INSTC), which runs through Iran, which will improve connectivity with five Central Asian republics, may also get a boost.
      • Energy Security: Due to the pressure linked to the US’ Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), India has to bring down oil imports to zero.
      • Restoration of ties between the US and Iran will help India to procure cheap Iranian oil and aid in energy security.
  • Conclusion
    • The Iran nuclear deal is a joint effort by several countries. While Trump’s decision to withdraw did not kill the deal, it seriously wounded it. Like Trump, Biden would like the deal to be a key part of his administration’s vision in the Middle East – but this might be tougher than it is anticipated.

Iran plans to enrich uranium up to 20% at Fordow site

  • Context:
    • Iran has told the United Nations nuclear watchdog, IAEA that it plans to enrich uranium to 20% purity, a level it achieved before its 2015 accord, at its Fordow site buried inside a mountain.
  • About Iran's Plan:
    • Iran announced to the International Atomic Energy Agency that it plans to further breach the deal, which it started violating in 2019 in retaliation for Washington’s withdrawal from the JCPOA agreement and the re-imposition of U.S. sanctions against Tehran.
    • Iran has informed the Agency that in order to comply with a legal act recently passed by the country’s parliament, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran intends to produce low-enriched uranium (LEU) up to 20 percent at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant.
    • Fordow was built inside a mountain, apparently to protect it from aerial bombardment, and the 2015 deal does not allow enrichment there. Iran is already enriching at Fordow with first-generation IR-1 centrifuges.
    • Iran has breached the deal’s 3.67% limit on the purity to which it can enrich uranium, but it has only gone up to 4.5% so far, well short of the 20% it achieved before the deal and the 90% that is weapons-grade.
  • Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)
    • Iran agreed to rein in its nuclear programme in a 2015 deal struck with the US, UK, Russia, China, France, and Germany.
    • Under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) Tehran agreed to significantly cut its stores of centrifuges, enriched uranium, and heavy-water, all key components for nuclear weapons.
    • The JCPOA established the Joint Commission, with the negotiating parties all represented, to monitor the implementation of the agreement. Iran agreed to the deal as, it had been hit with devastating economic sanctions by the United Nations, United States, and the European Union that are estimated to have cost it tens of billions of pounds a year in lost oil export revenues. Billions in overseas assets had also been frozen.
    • But in 2015 the US pulled out of the deal because:
      • Trump and opponents to the deal say it is flawed because it gives Iran access to billions of dollars but does not address Iran’s support for groups the U.S. considers terrorists, like Hamas and Hezbollah. They note it also doesn’t curb Iran’s development of ballistic missiles and that the deal phases out by 2030. They say Iran has lied about its nuclear program in the past.
  • About IAEA:
    • It was set up as the world’s “Atoms for Peace” organization in 1957 within the United Nations family.
    • It reports to both the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council.
    • Headquarters: Vienna, Austria.
    • Functions:
      • Works with its Member States and multiple partners worldwide to promote the safe, secure, and peaceful use of nuclear technologies.
      • Seeks to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and to inhibit its use for any military purpose, including nuclear weapons.
    • Initiatives:
      1. Program of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT).
      2. Human Health Program.
      3. Water Availability Enhancement Project.
      4. International Project on Innovative Nuclear Reactors and Fuel Cycles, 2000.

The killing of Iranian nuclear scientist

  • Context:
    • An Iranian scientist named by the West as the leader of the Islamic Republic’s disbanded military nuclear program was killed in an ambush on the outskirts of Tehran.
  • About:
    • He led Iran’s so-called AMAD program that Israel and the West have alleged was a military operation looking at the feasibility of building a nuclear weapon.
    • Tehran long has maintained its nuclear program is only for civilian purposes.
    • He was also sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council(UNSC) and the U.S. for his work on AMAD. 
    • The killing risks further raising tensions across the Mideast, nearly a year after Iran and the U.S. stood on the brink of war when an American drone strike killed a top Iranian general in Baghdad.
    • He was killed in a village called Absurd, which has a view of Mount Damavand, the country’s highest peak, which is filled with vacation villas.
  • Iran nuclear deal:
    • Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, known commonly as the Iran nuclear deal or Iran deal, is an agreement on the Iranian nuclear program, between Iran and the P5+1 together with the European Union.
    • It is to limit Iran's uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
    • President Donald Trump withdrew from the accord in 2018.

Italian marines case

  • Context:
    • The Supreme Court has refused to pass any order on the Centre’s plea seeking closure of cases against two Italian marines, who are facing charges of killing two Indian fishermen in February 2012.
  • What has the Court said?
    • The court said it would not pass any order without hearing the victims’ families who should be given adequate compensation.
    • The Court insisted that it will close their criminal trial in India only after the victims’ families are heard and paid a “hefty” and “adequate” compensation.
  • Background:
    • On July 3, the Centre moved the top court seeking closure of judicial proceedings in India against the two Italian marines, arguing that it has accepted the recent ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at the Hague, which held that India is entitled to get compensation in the case but can’t prosecute the marines due to official immunity enjoyed by them.
  • What had the tribunal held?
    • In a close 3:2 vote, the tribunal ruled that the Italian marines enjoyed diplomatic immunity as Italian state officials under the United Nations Convention on the Law of Sea.
    • Taking note of the “commitment expressed by Italy” to resume its criminal investigation into the incident, the tribunal said India must cease to exercise its jurisdiction.
  • What’s the issue now?
    • The award passed by the Permanent Court of Arbitration is in conflict with the Supreme Court judgment in 2013. This verdict upheld the authority of the Union of India to prosecute the Marines.
    • So, an international award which is in conflict with domestic law, notwithstanding India's ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas, can be implemented only if it is made into the law under Article 253 of the Constitution”.
  • What next?
    1. The court asked the Centre to negotiate a “hefty” compensation with Italy.
    2. The court ordered the Centre to implead the victims’ families in the case within a week.
  • Overview of the marines’ case:
    • In 2012, two Italian marines fired shots while on-board an Italian vessel, Enrica Lexie killing two Indian fishermen aboard an Indian vessel, St. Anthony.
    • But, the fishing vessel was within the country’s Contiguous Zone and it was quite clear that the offence warranted arrest and prosecution under domestic law.
    • Eventually, the marines were arrested. But, further, the marines were released from India and sent to Italy.
    • At that time, India had set up a specially designated court, as ordered by Indian Supreme Court, to determine the applicability of jurisdiction.
    • Meanwhile, the National Investigation Agency invoked the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against Safety of Maritime Navigation and Fixed Platforms on Continental Shelf Act, 2002.
    • The dispute between the two countries as regards which country will try the two marines went before the PCA.

 

Bagram Air Base

Context:

  • Recently, US troops have departed from the Bagram Air Base, which coordinated the 20-year-long war in Afghanistan, effectively ending their military operations in the country.

Bagram Air Base

  • It lies around 40km north of Kabul and is named after a nearby village.
  • It was built by the US for its Afghan ally during the Cold War in the 1950s as a bulwark against the Soviet Union in the north.
  • Ironically, it became the staging point for the Soviet invasion of the country in 1979, and the Red Army expanded it significantly during its near-decade-long occupation.
  • US-led coalition forces moved in during December 2001 and it was developed into a huge base capable of holding up to 10,000 troops.
  • The territory of the base has a piece of rubble from the World Trade Center, destroyed in the 9/11 attacks, buried under it.
  • It has two runways, 110 parking spots for aircraft, a 50-bed hospital, and a main prison facility for people detained by US forces at the height of the conflict, which became known as Afghanistan's Guantanamo, after the infamous US military prison in Cuba.

Major Timeline of US War in Afghanistan

September 2001:

  • After the 9/11 attacks, then US President George W. Bush declared war on Afghanistan, then ruled by the Taliban.

November 2001:

  • The Taliban fled Kabul as the US-led coalition marched into the Afghan capital with the Northern Alliance.
  • The Northern Alliance, officially known as the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan, was a united military front that came to formation in late 1996 after the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan took over Kabul.

December 2001:

  • The Bonn Agreement was signed in Bonn, Germany, giving the majority of power to the Northern Alliance’s key players and strengthening the warlords. The Taliban regime officially collapses.
  • Karzai was sworn in as chairman of a 29-member governing council established under the Agreement.

2004-2009:

  • General elections were held and Karzai was elected President for two consecutive terms.

April 2014:

  • After flawed elections, the US negotiated a power-sharing deal for a so-called Unity Government, with Ashraf Ghani serving as President and Abdullah Abdullah as Chief Executive.

December 2014:

  • American and NATO troops formally ended their combat mission, transitioning to a support and training role and carrying out operations against Taliban and Al-Qaeda targets.

2015-2018:

  • An Islamic State group affiliate emerged in the east and the Taliban seized control of nearly half the country.

September 2018:

  • The US-appointed veteran Afghan-American diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad was a negotiator with the Taliban.

September 2019:

  • After intense escalation in Taliban attacks, the US scrapped talks with the Taliban.

February 2020:

Qatari labour laws reforms

  • Context:
    • Qatar has brought about a change in its labour laws.
    • The reforms, which were announced by the Emir of Qatar in October 2019, were signed into law recently.
    • These reforms are now applicable to workers of all nationalities and in all sectors, including domestic workers who were previously excluded.
    • Qatar has introduced a series of labour reforms since its selection as the 2022 World Cup host, with the event setting in motion a huge construction programme employing foreign workers.
  • Provision of Qatar’s new labour laws:
    • Abolition of the unjustified ‘kafala system’ or requirement for a “no objection certificate” that migrant workers needed to get from their employers before changing jobs.
    • Now, workers will have to serve a one-month notice period if they have worked for less than two years and a notice period of two months if they have worked longer.
    • Increasing the minimum wage by 25 percent to $274 or 1000 Qatari riyals and an additional 300 QAR for food and 500 QAR for accommodation in case not provided by the company.
  • What is Kafala?
    • The ‘kafala’ system is a system that lays down obligations in the treatment and protection of foreign ‘guests’.
    • Kafala means ‘to guarantee’ or ‘to take care of’ in Arabic.
    • Under the system, a migrant worker’s immigration status is legally bound to an individual employer or sponsor (‘kafeel’) during the contract period.
    • The migrant worker cannot enter the country, transfer employment nor leave the country for any reason without first obtaining explicit written permission from the kafeel.
  • Where is the kafala system practiced?
    • It is being practiced in the Gulf Cooperation Council member countries of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, and also in the Arab states of Jordan and Lebanon.
  • Concerns associated with this practice:
    • Human rights groups say the migration management system enables exploitation and forced labor— labor extracted under the threat of penalty, and not offered voluntarily by the worker.
    • The media have likened employment conditions under kafala to “modern-day slavery.”
    • Some migrant workers end up absconding from their employers to seek refuge elsewhere. In the Gulf states, absconding is considered a crime and that leads to indefinite detention and deportation.
    • Complaining puts them in conflict with their sponsor, who has the power to cancel their residence visa and have them deported.
    • The kafala directly contradicts the labour law.
    • The employer can dictate the recruitment process and working conditions.
    • It restricts labour mobility. It prohibits any mobility on part of the worker unless approved by the kafeel.
    • If the kafeels are unwilling to let them go, workers cannot leave them for better employment.

Chenab hydel project

  • Context:
    • The Centre decided to go ahead with the long-pending 850-megawatt Ratle hydroelectric power project on the river Chenab in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kishtwar district, despite objections raised by the Pakistan government over the same.
  • About the project:
    • To be built near Drabshalla village in Kishtwar, then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had laid the foundation stone for the project on June 25, 2013.
    • However, the Pakistan government had objected to the construction of the dam, claiming that it was not in conformity with the Indus Water Treaty.
    • In August 2017, the World Bank allowed India to construct the dam, and the following year, the erstwhile state government approached the Centre with a proposal to resume construction.
    • It will be the first hydel power project in the country from which we will start getting power from the day it gets commissioned.
    • If calculated in terms of money, Jammu and Kashmir will get electricity worth Rs 5,289 crore free of cost. The Union Territory will also get water usage charges worth Rs 9,581 crore over a period of 40 years.
    • The project will generate direct and indirect jobs for 4,000 people in addition to the 2,000 jobs created directly and indirectly in the commissioning of the 540 MW Kwar hydroelectric power project on the Chenab, the MoU for which was signed recently.
  • Indus Water Treaty:
    • September 19, 2020, marks the 60th anniversary of the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) between India and Pakistan.
    • According to this water-sharing treaty, the three western rivers’ (Indus, Jhelum, and Chenab) went to Pakistan, and the three ‘eastern rivers’ (Sutlej, Ravi, and Beas) were portioned to India.
    • The World Bank, which, as the third party, played a pivotal role in crafting the IWT.
       

Ban on the burqa

  • Context:
    • Srilankan government would soon ban the burqa.
  • Proposals of the government:
    • COVID-19 and Burials: A government rule that Muslims who died of Covid-19 could not be buried saw community leaders go to court. The outrage it caused among Muslim countries and UNHRC led the Sri Lankan government to a rethink
    • Inquiry Committee Report: A Presidential Commission of Inquiry set up to investigate the six suicide attacks at churches and hotels in Colombo and in two other places in the country killing 260 people, has submitted its report to the President but has not been made public.
    • Burqa Ban: In the aftermath of the 2018 Easter bombings, the Sri Lankan government had temporarily banned the niqab, a face covering worn by some Muslim women, although it had worded that in ambiguous terms like a ban on all face coverings. The burqa ban has been officially linked to national security and Islamist extremism
    • Closure of Madrasas: Along with the Burqa ban, the government has also proposed to shut down 1,000 madrasas. 
    • Draconian Terrorism Law: The government has also armed itself with new regulations under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act to detain for up to two years for the purpose of “deradicalisation” of anyone suspected of harbouring extremist ideas, or for spreading religious, communal or ethnic hatred.
  • Critical analysis of the proposals:
    • Large Section of Minority Population Impacted: In Sri Lanka, where Muslims comprise less than 10% of the 21 million population — they are mostly Tamil speaking and are mainly engaged in trade and commerce.
    • Collective Punishment: The ban is likely to increase the feeling among Sri Lankan Muslims that they are being collectively punished for the actions of a few in the community.
    • Invasive restriction of fundamental freedoms: There is no community edict in Sri Lanka demanding that Muslim women must wear a burqa. But for those who do wear it, as in many other places in the world, it is a matter of personal choice based on identity or just modesty. Imposing restriction through laws is considered an assault on fundamental freedoms.
    • The new widening fault line in Sri Lankan Society: The Easter attacks and the “othering” of Muslims that followed have set on edge a minority community that was once seen as better integrated with the national and political mainstream than the Tamils. The new proposals by the government will further increase the acrimony & distrust between the two communities.
    • Switzerland Model: Sri Lanka’s burqa ban announcement came close on the heels of the March 8 Swiss ban on the garment, which came after a national referendum. In a sharply worded statement, UN Human Rights Council criticised the Swiss ban as “discriminatory” and “deeply regrettable”. Other countries that have banned the burqa include the Netherlands, Denmark and France.

Sanctions on China over Uighurs

  • Context:
    • In a coordinated move, many countries imposed sanctions on Chinese officials for human rights abuses against Uighurs and other minorities in Xinjiang province.
  • The Uighurs
    • Xinjiang has a large number of Uighurs, Muslims of Turkic descent.
    • Over the past few decades, more and more Han Chinese has settled in Xinjiang, which saw violent clashes between them and the Uighurs.
    • The sanctions have come after a meeting between the US and Chinese officials in Alaska last week, in what Washington described as “tough and direct talks”.
  • Sanctions on China
    • The European Union, the US, Britain, and Canada imposed sanctions on Chinese Officials.
    • Australia and New Zealand issued a joint statement welcoming the Western action, adding they were concerned about reports of abuses from Xinjiang.
    • China on the other hand has consistently denied all reports of atrocities against Uighurs, maintaining it is only “deradicalising” elements of its population in the interests of security.
  • Retaliation by China
    • Those sanctioned by China include five Members of the European Parliament and the Political and Security Committee, the EU’s main foreign policy decision-making body, among others.
    • China also summoned the EU ambassador and the UK ambassador to lodge “solemn protests”.
    • Why these sanctions are crucial?
      • This is the first time the EU has imposed sanctions on China since an arms embargo after the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. That is still in place.
      • Although the EU sanctions are not very damaging, they show a hardening of stance against its largest trading partner.
      • Also significant is that the Western powers moved together, in what is being seen as a result of the US push to deal with China along with its allies.
      • Nations that claim to be defenders of the faith or self-proclaimed Caliphates are silent on the persecution of Uighurs! They perceived the abrogation of Art. 370 as a doomsday event! This is the height of hypocrisy!
  • Reasons behind: Crackdown on Uighurs
    • China is accused of putting over a million people in internment camps to “de-Muslimise” them and make them integrate better into the Communist country.
    • Allegations are that these people have been forced to leave behind their occupations, properties and families, to stay at the camps.
    • Survivors, human rights organisations, and governments of other countries have alleged physical, psychological and sexual torture.
    • People can be sent to the camps for showing any signs of “extremism” — sporting beards, fasting during Ramzan, dressing differently from the majority, sending Eid greetings, praying “too often” etc.

The UK Declares China is committing Genocide against Uyghurs

  • Context:
    • UK Parliament unanimously declares the Chinese government is committing a Genocide against Uyghurs in historic first.

  • Concept :
    • The House of Commons has unanimously declared that Uyghurs and other minorities in the Xinjiang region are victims of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, the first time a motion declaring genocide has been passed unopposed in the British parliament.
    • The UK joins the US, Canada, and the Netherlands in having made formal declarations of a genocide taking place against Uyghurs.
    • The backbench business debate motion was led by Conservative MP Nusrat Ghani, a member of the cross-party Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC), and received backing from all major opposition parties.
    • The motion calls on the UK government to fulfill its obligations under the Genocide Convention and to use “all relevant instruments of international law” to bring the abuses against Uyghurs to an end.
  • Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China
    • The Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) is an international, cross-party alliance of parliamentarians from democratic countries focused on relations with the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and specifically, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
    • It was established on June 4, 2020, on the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.
    • The alliance comprises over 100 MPs from the world’s democratic legislatures, Ireland became the 20th nation to join the alliance in February 2021.
    • Each legislature represented takes turns to chair the alliance on a rotating basis. Its purpose is to create a coordinated response to China on global trade, security, and human rights.

Nepal Political crisis

  • Context:
    •  The political crisis triggered by Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli’s decision to dissolve Nepal’s Parliament and call fresh elections led to a vertical split in the ruling party, with the rival faction led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ sacking Mr Oli from its general membership.

More Info:

  • The political crisis triggered by Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli’s decision to dissolve Nepal’s Parliament and call fresh elections led to a vertical split in the ruling party, with the rival faction led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ sacking Mr Oli from its general membership.
  • The Prachanda faction of the Nepal Communist Party had removed Mr Oli as the party’s chairman earlier.
  • It had issued a notice to him seeking an explanation for his decision to recommend Parliament’s dissolution, to which he did not respond. Following this, the central committee of the Prachanda bloc met on Sunday and decided to expel Mr Oli.
  • His aides have rejected this, saying their leader remains the PM. This puts Nepal and its fractious communist movement in limbo.
  • Mr Oli has claimed that he represents the party, while Mr Prachanda and Madhav Kumar Nepal, a former PM and leader of Mr Oli’s erstwhile Communist Party of Nepal (UML), have ruled out any future compromise with the PM.
  • The constitutional validity of the decision to dissolve Parliament is being reviewed by the Supreme Court.
  • Also, the Election Commission will decide which faction could retain the party’s name and symbol, the Sun.
  • These decisions will have a lasting impact on which side would emerge stronger.
  • Mr Oli was elected PM in February 2018 after his CPN-UML fought the 2017 general election in an alliance with the Maoists.
  • Within months of coming to power, the CPN-UML and the Maoist Centre of Prachanda merged to form the Nepal Communist Party (NCP), which gave him nearly two-thirds majority in Parliament.
  • But the pre-election unity did not last long. When the government was formed, the tacit understanding between the CPN-UML and the Maoists was that Mr Oli and Mr Prachanda would share the five-year term.
  • But Mr Oli refused to step down after two and a half years, pushing the NCP into a bitter intra-party feud.
  • The widening rift was not along the former UML-Maoist ideological lines.
  • Rather, Mr Oli’s authoritarian style of governance and refusal to share power led to an erosion of support for the PM in the top echelons of the ruling party.
  • To overcome his own weakness within the party and deny the power of his rival, he dissolved Parliament.
  • It is a typical case of greed for power and personality clashes trumping over the greater interests of a party, a government or a nation.
  • When they formed a united front, it was a historic opportunity for Nepal’s otherwise divided communists to script a brighter future for the fledgling republican democracy.
  • But in three years, Nepal is in chaos — Parliament has been dissolved, the PM has been sacked from the ruling party, and the party is split down the middle. Mr Oli cannot escape responsibility for the crisis Nepal is in today.

Pakistan Occupied Kashmir

  • Context:
    • The Ministry of External Affairs issued a “strong protest” over an order by the Pakistan Supreme Court that permits to hold elections in the region of Gilgit-Baltistan of Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK).

  • Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) is that part of UT Jammu and Kashmir which was invaded by Pakistan in 1947.
  • PoK has a population of over 40 lakhs and is divided into 10 districts.
  • The capital of PoK is Muzaffarabad, a town located in the valley of the Jhelum river and its tributary Neelum (which Indians call Kishanganga) to the west and slightly north of Srinagar.
  • In 1963, through an agreement, Pakistan gave over 5,000 sq km of J&K land to China in the Shaksgam area, in northern Kashmir, beyond the Karakoram.
  • Pakistan occupied Kashmir is divided into two parts:
  • Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK): attached to the western part of Indian Kashmir.
  • Gilgit-Baltistan (referred to as the ‘Northern Areas’ till 2009)

Gilgit-Baltistan (GB):

  • Gilgit-Baltistan is a hilly region to the north of PoK and east of the Pakistani province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
  • It is over five times the size of PoK. However, it is sparsely populated, with just under 20 lakh people.
  • GB is divided into three administrative divisions and 10 districts.

Significance of GB:

  • The GB region is strategically important for many reasons as it is a source of vast glaciers feeding the Indus River system that meets Pakistan’s water needs.
  • It is a gateway for China to the Indian Ocean through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
  • It also shares borders with several countries – the Punjab and North-West Frontier Province provinces (Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa) in Pakistan to the west, the Wakhan Corridor of Afghanistan in the north-west and Xinjiang province of China to the North.

Background:

  • The British sold Gilgit-Baltistan, along with the rest of Jammu and Kashmir, to the Dogra ruler of Jammu, Gulab Singh, after defeating the Sikh army in 1846.
  • However, Britishers retained control over the area through a lease of 20 years from the Maharaja to snoop on Russia.
  • Raja Hari Singh acceded the entire state of Kashmir including GB to independent India in 1947.
  • However, Pakistan, along with the Britishers, illegally acceded the GB to Pakistan.
  • Pakistan got the possession but had no legality.

Representation of People:

  • The GB people want the Constitutional Status of a province but accession to Pakistan of this disputed territory is not legally tenable hence people of GB have historically been deprived of participation in representative institutions.
  • The ‘Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order of 2009’ for the first time established a Representative Government and Legislature but neither allowed constitutionally guaranteed autonomy like other provinces.
  • The GB Legislative Assembly adopted resolutions demanding status of a province till the settlement of the Kashmir Dispute.
  • The ‘Gilgit-Baltistan Order of 2018’ vested powers with the Prime Minister to legislate on 68 subjects that reduced the local council to an advisory body.
  • The order was challenged in the Supreme Court of Pakistan, which in January 2019 provided them with provisional representation in the Parliament, till the settlement of the Kashmir dispute.

Administrative status in Gilgit-Baltistan:

  • Though both PoK and GB are ruled directly from Islamabad, neither is officially listed as the territory of Pakistan, which has just four provinces: Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, and Sindh.
  • PoK and GB are both autonomous territories because incorporating these areas into its Pakistani map would damage Pakistan’s international position in the United Nations.
  • For India as per the resolution passed by Parliament in 1994, PoK and GB are both parts of Jammu and Kashmir, which is an integral part of India by virtue of its accession to India in 1947.

Myanmar Refugees

  • Context:
    • Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga held a virtual meeting with the Myanmar Foreign Minister-in-exile Zin Mar Aung of the National League for Democracy. 

  • Background:
    • Mizoram has been reluctant to send back Myanmarese and sought that they are provided political asylum by the Centre.
    • Zoramthanga wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 18, saying India could not turn a blind eye to the humanitarian crisis unfolding in front of us in our own backyard.
    • The Myanmar areas bordering Mizoram are inhabited by Chin communities who are ethnically Mizo brethren with close contact throughout all these years even before India became independent.
  • Chin communities:
    • The Chin Hills, or the Indo-Chin hill ranges as they are often called, are a mountainous region in north-western Myanmar.
    • At an elevation of 2100-3000 metres, this heavily forested mountain region was the home of numerous tribes that fall under the Zo umbrella.
    • The Zo people include all the tribes that come under the Chin-Kuki-Mizo ethnic group spread across Myanmar, India and Bangladesh including a host of tribes, sub-tribes and clans such as Chin, Kuki, Mizo, Zomi, Paitei, Hmar, Lushei, Ralte, Pawi, Lai, Mara, Gangte, Thadou
    • Believed to have originated in China, the tribes migrated through Tibet to settle in Myanmar, and speak a group of the Tibeto-Burman languages.
  • The bond between the Chin people in India and Myanmar:
    • While they are separated by a 510-km India-Myanmar border, they consider themselves “one people’’ despite past conflicts: the Indo-Chin people.
    • Besides the shared ethnicity, what binds these two peoples together is a shared religion. Mizoram is predominantly Christian, as are the Chin people of Buddhist-majority Myanmar.
    • Mizoram officials refer to the refugees’ status as a Christian minority seeking asylum for them, and also the fear of persecution by the junta.
    • Rih Dil in Chin state, Myanmar, is a cultural and spiritual lake for the Mizos, deeply revered in folklore, shaping pre-Christian belief of traditional Mizo views of life after death.
  • India’s policy on asylum seekers:
    • India is not a signatory to the 1951 United Nations Convention and 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, and it does not currently have a national law on refugees.
    • In 2011, the Centre circulated to all states and Union Territories a Standard Operating Procedure to deal with foreign nationals who claimed to be refugees.
    • An illegal immigrant can be a foreign national who enters India on valid travel documents and stays beyond their validity or a foreign national who enters without valid travel documents.
    • Cases that can be prima facie justified on grounds of well-founded fears of persecution can be recommended by states or Union Territories to the Home Ministry for a long-term visa (LTV) after due security verification.
    • LTV-holders are allowed to take up private-sector employment and enrol in any academic institution.

Safe Passage to Myanmar Refugee

  • Context:
    • The High Court of Manipur has ordered safe passage to seven Myanmar nationals, stranded at a border town in Manipur, to travel to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in New Delhi. 
  • Key Points:
    • Observation made by Manipur HC:
      • Although India has no clear refugee protection policy or framework, it does grant asylum to a large number of refugees from neighbouring country.
      • India usually respects UNHCR’s recognition of the status of such asylum seekers, mainly from Afghanistan and Myanmar.
      • Though India is not a party to the UN Refugee Conventions, it is a party to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966.
      • Article 21 of the Constitution encompasses the right of non-refoulment.
      • Non-refoulement is the principle under international law that states that a person fleeing persecution from his own country should not be forced to return to his own country.
      • A ceasefire on the border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan was held following a day of intense fighting between the two ex-Soviet Central Asian neighbours that killed 39 people and wounded more than 175.

Suez Canal

  • Context:
    • Global trade has been impacted after a container ship got stuck in the Suez Canal.

 

  • About
    • Located in Egypt, the artificial sea-level waterway was built between 1859 and 1869 linking the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. 
    • It offers the shortest route between the Atlantic Ocean and lands around the Indian and western Pacific Oceans.
    • The canal is one of the busiest waterways in the world, negating the need to navigate around the Cape of Good Hope in Africa and thus cutting distances by up to 7,000 km.
    • Economic Lifeline: The canal continues to be the lifeline for all trade between the West and East as 10 percent of the global trade passes through it every year. The average 50 ships that pass through it daily carry about $9.5 billion worth of goods, every day.
  • Impact of longest-ever accidental closure of Suez Canal
    • On March 23rd, due to weather obstructions a giant container ship, MV Ever Given, en route from China to the Netherlands ended up getting stuck in one of the canal’s narrow stretches, thus blocking all traffic. 
    • Stress on Global Supply Chain: Over 200 ships were stuck on both sides of the canal putting stress on global supply chains.
    • India- the biggest importer via Suez Canal: India is the top importer of crude oil and products via the Suez Canal, higher than China, South Korea, or Singapore. If the issue is not solved early then it will start to have implications on the bigger trade flow and shipping sectors and will begin to affect refining operations on a broader scale
    • India-US relations: For India, though, the main hit could be seen on the import and export of ethane with the US, and the imports of crude from Latin America, the uptake of which was recently increased. The longer the closure, the more disruptive the impact is likely to be.
    • Global Dependence on this narrow waterway: The incident also raises questions about finding solutions to prevent future accidents and reducing the global dependence on this narrow waterway.

Constitutional amendments in Russia

  • Context:
    • As per preliminary reports, Russia’s new constitutional amendments have been passed with 77.92 percent of votes in favour and 22.27 percent against.
    • The national referendum Had asked voters to decide whether to approve 206 constitutional amendments.
    • Both turnout and popular support for the amendments was higher than when Russians voted to adopt the current Constitution itself in 1993 (when support was 58.4 percent with 54.8 percent turnout).
  • What will change with the constitutional reforms?
    1. The amendments would allow Putin to run for two more six-year terms, in 2024 and 2030. The Russian Constitution bars more than two consecutive presidential terms. The new Constitution doesn’t change the two-term limit in theory, but in practice, it resets Mr. Putin's terms so that it will be the first election under the new Constitution for him, to be held in 2024.
    2. Other amendments strengthen presidential and parliamentary powers, enshrine traditional values including an effective ban on gay marriage and guarantee better minimum wages and pensions.
    3. The other changes to the constitution include measures to respect the country's heritage and the orthodox church as well as strengthen the Kremlin over local and municipal authorities.
    4. The amendments also place strict limitations on Russians who hold foreign citizenship or residency from serving public office. Most notably, these constitutional restrictions block any individual who has ever held foreign residency or citizenship from ever running for President.
    5. Finally, the amendments also declare the importance of a belief in God, that Russia will defend the historical “truth” about WWII, and that Russia is the successor state to the Soviet Union.
  • Challenges ahead for Russia:
    • According to the IMF, the economy hasn’t expanded in dollar terms for a decade.
    • The Fund estimates the GDP to shrink by 6.6% this year. With the pandemic affecting local businesses and the oil price fall eating into export revenue, the Kremlin finds it difficult to fix the economy in the near term.
    • In foreign policy, Russia’s relationship with the West remains troublesome.
    • The sanctions imposed on Russia after the annexation of Crimea in 2014 are still in place.
    • Russia also faces allegations of interference in the elections of other countries.
    • Domestically, opposition politician Alexei Navalny and his supporters continue to protest against the Kremlin despite state crackdowns.

What is China's “wolf warrior” diplomacy?

  • Context:
    • The “wolf warriors” represent a completely different type of diplomat to the famously bland Chinese foreign representatives of the past few decades.
  • What is Wolf warrior diplomacy?
    • Wolf warrior diplomacy describes an aggressive style of diplomacy purported to be adopted by Chinese diplomats in the 21st century, under Chinese leader Xi Jinping's administration.
    • The term was coined from a Rambo-style Chinese action film, Wolf Warrior 2.
    • In contrast to prior Chinese diplomatic practice, which had emphasized the avoidance of controversy and the use of cooperative rhetoric, wolf warrior diplomacy is more combative, with its proponents loudly denouncing criticisms of China on social media and in interviews.
  • Background:
    • Although the phrase “wolf warrior diplomacy” was only popularized as a description for this diplomatic philosophy during the COVID-19 pandemic, the appearance of wolf warrior-style diplomats began a few years prior.
    • Chinese leader and Chinese Communist Party general secretary Xi Jinping's foreign policy writ large perceived anti-China hostility from the West amongst Chinese government officials, and shifts within the Chinese diplomatic bureaucracy have been cited as factors leading to its emergence.
  • What is the Chinese brand of nationalism?
    • An abrasive brand of nationalism is associated with China.
    • Beijing’s recourse to nationalistic aggression as a foreign policy strategy has gained the euphemism of ‘wolf warrior diplomacy’.
    • It involves a state-sponsored and systemic indoctrination campaign.
    • It has acquired the dynamics of Chinese nationalism with Xi Jinping at the Core.
  • What is its basis?
    • The Chinese Communist Party initially embraced nationalism as a co-option strategy in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
    • Nationalism has turned into a state dogma to embed the Chinese Communist Party in the political subconsciousness of the country, and secure the filial piety of its populace.
    • It derives its inspiration from the idiom of ‘Great Rejuvenation’ and its obsession with re-achieving the glories of an imaginary past.
  • How this is linked with threat perception?
    • The first concerted attempt by the Chinese Communist Party to shape Chinese nationalism came with the launch of the ‘Patriotic Education Campaign’ in the 1990s.
    • At the core of this campaign was the grand design to project the Chinese Communist Party as the harbinger and sole guarantor of the peace, prosperity, and sovereignty of the eternally ‘victimized’ Chinese nation.
    • It is based on aggressive posturing and display of strength in international affairs.
    • It is secured through patriotic indoctrination campaigns, promotion of a leadership personality cult, and the now legendary anti-corruption drive.
  • What is the Agenda of indoctrination?
    • After Mao, Xi has become the only Chinese leader to appoint a Party theoretician on the Politburo Standing Committee.
    • The new ‘Patriotic Education’ guidelines were introduced in 2019, along with the ‘2019-2023 National Work Program for the Education and Cultivation of Party Members’.
    • It includes extra-curricular activities such as ‘Red Education’ and the aim of such programs is to cultivate future generations of Chinese youth with ‘Red DNA’.
    • In 2018, the Party launched a “patriotic striving spirit” campaign to ‘enhance patriotism’ among Chinese intellectuals.
    • Chinese media outlets have been asked to follow the dictum of “telling China’s stories well” to shape domestic and international opinion as per the Party’s diktats.
    • The promotion of the Xi Jinping personality cult has become an intrinsic component of Chinese nationalism.
    • Elite institutions in China have either established research centers or introduced mandatory courses in ‘Xi Jinping Thought’.
    • The Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently inaugurated a ‘Xi Jinping Thought’ study center to guide the “theoretical construction” of China’s foreign policy.
  • What are the plans ahead?
    • Cult of personality will gain further momentum after the recently concluded fifth plenum of the Party which approved a plan for China to become a global leader in technology by 2035.
    • Xi has further declared his intentions to remain at the helm of China’s affairs long after his due retirement date as General Secretary of the Party in 2022.
    • The international community is poised to face an increasingly aggressive Chinese nationalism.

Travel Bubble

  • Context:
    • Sri Lanka has decided to postpone launching the proposed “travel bubble” with India, in the wake of the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in India.

  • What is a travel bubble?
    • Creating a travel bubble involves reconnecting countries or states that have shown a good level of success in containing the novel coronavirus pandemic domestically.
    • Such a bubble would allow the members of the group to rekindle trade ties with each other, and kickstart sectors such as travel and tourism.
  • Significance and potential:
    • Potential travel bubbles among better-performing countries around the world would account for around 35 percent of the global GDP.
    • Such arrangements are especially being favoured by smaller countries, which are likely to benefit after being able to trade again with larger partners.

Freedom of Navigation operation

  • Context:
    • The US Seventh Fleet announced that one of its warships had carried out a Freedom of Navigation operation “inside India’s exclusive economic zone, without requesting India’s prior consent.
  • Background:
    • 7TH FLEET is the largest of the US Navy’s forward-deployed fleets. USS John Paul Jones asserted navigational rights and freedoms approximately 130 nautical miles west of the Lakshadweep Islands.
    • India requires prior consent for military exercises or manoeuvres in its exclusive economic zone or continental shelf, a claim inconsistent with international law. 
  • India’s response:
    • India has conveyed concerns regarding this passage through our EEZ to the Government of the USA through diplomatic channels.
    • The USS John Paul Jones was continuously monitored transiting from the Persian Gulf towards the Malacca Straits.
    • India said that the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea does not authorise other States to carry out in the Exclusive Economic Zone and on the continental shelf, military exercises or manoeuvres, without the consent of the coastal state.
  • The Freedom of Navigation Operations 
    • It involves passages conducted by the US Navy through waters claimed by coastal nations as their exclusive territory. 
    • According to the US Department of Defense (DoD), the FON Program has existed for 40 years, and “continuously reaffirmed the United States’ policy of exercising and asserting its navigation and overflight rights and freedoms around the world”. 
    • The Territorial Waters, Continental Shelf, Exclusive Economic Zone, and Other Maritime Zones Act, 1976
    • As per India’s Territorial Waters, Continental Shelf, Exclusive Economic Zone, and Other Maritime Zones Act, 1976, the EEZ of India “is an area beyond and adjacent to the territorial waters, and the limit of such zone is two hundred nautical miles from the baseline”. 
    • India’s “limit of the territorial waters is the line every point of which is at a distance of twelve nautical miles from the nearest point of the appropriate baseline”
    • As per the Indian law “all foreign ships (other than warships including submarines and other underwater vehicles) shall enjoy the right of innocent passage through the territorial waters” and a passage is innocent “so long as it is not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of India”.
    • Foreign warships including submarines and other underwater vehicles may enter or pass through the territorial waters after giving prior notice to the Central Government
  • Significance:
    • It comes at a time when military cooperation between India and the US is on the rise. India and the US, along with Australia and Japan, make the Quadrilateral grouping. 
    • The Quad members, for the first time since 2007, had together participated in the Malabar multilateral wargaming exercise last November.
    • While India ratified the UN Law of the Seas in 1995, the US has failed to do it so far. 
    • FoN ops by USN ships in the South China Sea are meant to convey a message to China that the putative EEZ around the artificial SCS islands is an “excessive maritime claim.

Rohingya's relocation

  • Context: 
    • Bangladesh transported more than 1,600 Rohingya refugees to a low-lying island Bhashan Char. 
  • What is the concern?
      • The environmentalists say that the Bhashan Char falls in an ecologically fragile area prone to floods, erosion, and cyclones and the relocation will affect the ecology of the island as well as the relocated refugees.
      • Organizations working among the Rohingyas also have raised the issue of forced relocation and lack of mobility on the island.

  • What is the Rohingya crisis?
    • Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, neighboring Bangladesh, are not recognized by the Myanmar government as an official ethnic group and are therefore denied citizenship.
    • Most Rohingyas are not qualified to be citizens of Myanmar as per the 1982 Citizenship Law, which was promulgated by the erstwhile military junta.
    • While it is claimed that there were no Rohingyas in Myanmar before the British brought ‘Bengalis’ to Burma, there is sufficient evidence to show that the Rohingyas pre-existed the British-engineered migration (during the British occupation of the Arakan State in 1823) from present-day Bangladesh to Burma.
    • Even those who arrived in Burma post-1823 could not go back to Bangladesh now given that they have no citizenship claims there. This effectively makes them stateless people.
    • A large number of those escaping the brutal violence end up in the well-oiled trafficking networks of the region who smuggle them out for huge amounts of money.
    • Some die en route, some make it to the borders of neighboring countries only to be turned away: hordes, including little children, often get stranded at sea.

  • Rohingyas refugees in India
    • India does not have a specific law regarding refugees Besides, India has the biggest number of refugees in the country in entire South Asia and dealt with one of the biggest refugee crises in the world during the partition of the country.
    • Indian Constitution defines the citizen of the country and the subsequent laws also do not deal with refugees.
    • In legal terms, a person living in India can be either a citizen or a foreigner defined under the Foreigners Act, 1946.
    • India has also not been a signatory of the 1951 UN Convention or the 1967 Protocol – both relating to the Status of Refugees and included in the UNHCR statute.
    • According to the UNHCR, a refugee is a person living in another country following persecution in his own on the grounds of “race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.”
    • According to unofficial estimates, even before the present Rohingya crisis broke out, there were around 2 lakh persons in India, of whom 2,01,281 were refugees and 6,480 asylum seekers” by the end of 2015.
    • There are about 16,000 UNHCR- verified Rohingya refugees in India. The government estimate puts the figure of Rohingya refugees living in India beyond 40,000 with maximum concentration in and around Jammu.

Controversy on France's new security law

  • Context: 
    • France's government introduced a controversial security bill in parliament that seeks to provide greater powers and protections for police officers.

  • What does the proposed law seek to do?
    • Three articles of the bill, which have caused controversy, concern enabling the police to organize ground and air mass surveillance, while at the same time restricting the filming of police officers.
    • Articles 21 and 22 of the proposed “global security” law allow the police and the gendarmes (paramilitary forces) to use body cameras and drones to film citizens and allow the recorded footage to be live-streamed to the command post.
    • Article 24 penalizes publishing “the image of the face or any other element of identification” of police or paramilitary official who is acting in “a police operation” if the dissemination is done with “the intent of harming their physical or mental integrity”. Punishment for the crime will be imprisonment for up to 1 year, with a maximum fine of 45,000 euros.
  • What are the opponents of the new law saying?
    • Accountability of Police action weakened: Journalists and human rights groups have expressed concern that the new law would make it harder to cover public events and record instances of police violence, thus making it more difficult to hold officers accountable.
    • Police Excesses will go undetected: Critics have highlighted two instances of police excesses within one week at the end of November that grabbed national attention, which they argue would have been left unreported had the proposed law been in place
    • Authoritarian Law: Civil liberties groups and left-wing parties have called the bill authoritarian and unnecessary, insisting that existing laws are sufficient to protect police officers.
    • Draconian character: Its wording has also been criticized as being open-ended, and reporters have worried how the courts would interpret the term “intent of harming”.
    • Freedom of Press: The provisions in the bill intend to target press freedoms by restricting the coverage of police officers during protests/ clashes.
  • What have the bill’s supporters said?
    • Protecting Police Officers: The new law is aimed at protecting police officers and their families from online trolling and harassment when off duty.
    • Support by Citizens: As per a Bloomberg report, a government-commissioned survey found that 58% of respondents backed the new security law.
    • Rise of Conservatives as a reaction to rising terrorism: Notably, analysts have pointed to a rightward shift of the French electorate supporting such laws that empower police. This shift from liberalism is more pronounced in the aftermath of a spate of recent terror attacks including the October beheading of schoolteacher Samuel Paty, and the Nice stabbing attack.
    • Domestic Politics:  President Macron has been increasingly trying to appeal to right-wing voters, especially before the Presidential election of early 2022. Laws like these which have a tinge of majoritarianism is useful in attracting such voters.
  • Covered in detail in Samjaho's Corner: https://samajho.com/upsc/the-confrontation-between-french-laicite-and-religious-freedom/

UK-EU Brexit Spat Over North Ireland in G7 summit

Context: Britain and the EU are locked in an escalating diplomatic feud over Northern Ireland, the only part of the U.K. that borders the 27-nation bloc.

Background:

  • Northern Ireland is a part of Ireland from a geographical standpoint. Politically, it is a part of the United Kingdom.
  • After centuries of occupation and an uneasy union, Ireland, long ruled by the United Kingdom, gained independence over 100 years ago. 26 of the country's 32 counties became separate countries with a Roman Catholic majority. Six Protestant-majority counties in the north remained British.
  • The Protestant-run state of Northern Ireland discriminated against the Catholic minority.
  • In the 1960s, a Catholic civil rights movement demanded change, but the government and police retaliated harshly.
  • In 1969, the British Army was deployed for the first time, ostensibly to protect the peace.
  • The situation degenerated into a fight between Irish republican militants who wanted to join the south, loyalist paramilitaries who wanted Northern Ireland to remain British, and British forces.
  • During 3,600 individuals were killed in bombings and shootings over the course of three decades of violence, the majority of them were civilians. The majority of the bombings took place in Northern Ireland, but the Irish Republican Army also detonated bombs in London and other British cities.

Ending the Conflict:

  • The combatants negotiated a peace agreement in the 1990s after secret talks and with the assistance of diplomatic efforts by Ireland, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
  • The paramilitaries laid down their arms as part of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which established a Catholic-Protestant power-sharing administration in Northern Ireland.
  • The ultimate status of Northern Ireland was postponed: it would stay British as long as the majority wanted it to, but a future referendum on reunification was not ruled out.
  • While the calm has mainly held, there have been sporadic attacks on security forces by minor Irish Republican Army splinter groups, as well as outbreaks of sectarian street violence.
  • The power-sharing system has had its ups and downs, and both parties continue to distrust the administration.

 

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Post-Brexit Deal

  • Context: 
    • The UK and the EU concluded a free trade agreement worth £660 billion on Christmas Eve. This comes after four and a half years of acrimonious negotiations.
  • A brief timeline of Brexit:

    • In 2016- the UK voted to leave the EU, through a referendum. PM David Cameron resigned after this result and succeeded by Theresa May.
    • Theresa May activated Article 50, to leave the EU.
    • Brexit was meant to happen on March 29, 2019.
    • This deadline was delayed twice after MPs rejected the withdrawal deal negotiated by May with the EU.
    • July 2019- After the MPs rejected the deal for the third time, May resigned and was succeeded by Boris Johnson.
    • December 2020- Boris Johnson’s government agrees on a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU.
  • What's the deal?
    • Economy:
      • The EU and the UK will become two separate market spaces, with distinct regulations.
      • This means that the free movement of goods, people, services, and capital will stop from 1st January 2021 onwards.
      • When the UK was a member of the EU, it could not hold trade negotiations with other countries such as the US and Australia. Now the UK will be able to set its own trade policy with other countries.
      • Under the new free trade agreement, the UK and EU have agreed to a 100% tariff liberalization.
    • People's movement:
      • For people traveling between the UK and EU, the entry will still be visa-free.
      • But they may be subject to screening and will no longer be able to use biometric passports.
      • From January 1 onwards, tax-free airport sales of electronics and clothing will stop.
      • Pet passports issued in Great Britain will not be valid in the EU.
      • Travelers from the UK will be subject to travel restrictions imposed on passengers coming from non-EU countries.
    • Local Industry:
      • An agreement has also been reached on “a level playing field” — the extent to which the British government could give subsidies to local industries.
      • There will be independent arbitration if the EU feels such help is putting European rivals at a disadvantage.
    • Educational collaboration:
      • The UK is also leaving the Erasmus scheme, which allows for collaboration between scientists, and also the program under which European students can study in British universities at local rates.
    • Rights overfishing water
      • Fishing was a contentious issue during the negotiations.
      • The UK will have sovereignty over its fishing waters.
      • The UK will leave the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy on December 31, but the current rules will remain largely in place during the transition period.
    • The Irish question
      • The Brexit agreement means that there will be a controversial trade border between Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K., and the rest of the country.
      • Known as the Irish sea border (instead of a land border with the Republic of Ireland).
      • This means it will be easier for Northern Ireland to do trade with the Irish Republic, which is a separate country and a member of the E.U., at a time when some polls suggest growing support for Irish reunification.

    • Scotland future
      • Brexit has coincided with growing support for an independent Scotland.
      • During the referendum, most people in Scotland had voted to stay in the EU, but were outnumbered by the sheer weight of English voters.
      • Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said that no deal can compensate for what Scotland loses, as a result of Brexit.
  • Brexit and India's gain
    • An India-UK free trade agreement is on the cards for India and UK.
    • In terms of trade — there is a great opportunity to strengthen bilateral trade ties with a bilateral trade agreement.
    • The recent Grant Thornton ‘India meets Britain reports’ produced in collaboration with CII has indicated, Brexit has had a limited impact on the Indian appetite for investment in the UK.
    • However, it does affect existing Indian companies who trade or rely on a European supply chain.

In  Ireland's Complex Troubles, Lessons For India

  • Context:
    • A functioning democracy must commit to addressing communal issues with vigilance, tolerance and compromise
  • Background:
    • The communal clashes that took place in April in Northern Ireland contain many relevant lessons and warnings for India.
    • Those riots, that left 74 policemen injured, threaten to undermine the fragile peace between Protestant pro-British loyalist unionists who want to remain part of the United Kingdom forever, and Catholic pro-Irish nationalists who wish Northern Ireland to become part of the Republic of Ireland.
    • The riots are the culmination of a complex mix of change, resistance to change, and ingrained political and social inertia.
    • Northern Ireland altered enormously for the better after the signing of the Anglo-Irish Good Friday Agreement in 1998, and for the accord to have received strong support across the divided island was a remarkable achievement.  
    • This Agreement began the process of dismantling border controls between the North and the Republic of Ireland. Many social issues remained unaddressed: both religious communities ‘experienced little or no peace dividend after the Agreement, and poverty and deprivation linked to educational under-achievement and high unemployment affects both nationalist and loyalist areas alike’ in Northern Ireland.
    • There is an acute lack of social and economic opportunities; 120,000 children are living in poverty, and more than 40,000 people remain on the social housing waiting list. Between 1998 and 2014 suicides were on rising.
    • The localities most deprived during the pre-agreement communal riots remain the most affected areas within Northern Ireland today.
  • Brexit, a stress test:
    • Britain’s break from the European Union (Brexit) was always going to prove a major stress test for Northern Ireland because 56% of its electorate voted to remain in the European Union.
    • The specific protocol concerning Northern Ireland, which ‘provided for the territory to remain in the customs union and single market of the European Union while protecting its status as part of the United Kingdom’ is causing the present trouble.
    • Irish Protestant loyalists argue that the deal puts the union at risk. The unionist party ‘campaigned for Brexit on the basis that the United Kingdom outside the European Union would make a future united Ireland much more difficult to achieve.
    • the Irish Catholic nationalists are talking up the prospects of achieving an early united Ireland and demanding a vote on it, which instils acute anxiety among the union loyalists.
    • In short, ‘Brexit has encouraged a strong revival of identity polarisation, and a possible Irish Language Act, that would give the Irish tongue equal status to English in Northern Ireland’, is feared by unionists as yet another nail in the United Kingdom’s coffin.
    • Demography has changed since the Good Friday Agreement; though unionist parties do not have the majority, political inertia prefers a vacuum, so progress toward an equable and liveable peace has stalled.
    • The  ‘past traumas continue to weigh heavily on current politics in Northern Ireland and that is unlikely to change as the twin challenges of managing the Protocol and preventing communal violence occupy the attention in that territory.
  • Scheduled events:
    • Elections scheduled next year to the ‘Northern Ireland Assembly will be followed in 2024 by an important vote on the Northern Ireland Protocol because, under the terms of the Brexit agreement, the Assembly will have to vote on whether or not to accept the continuing operation of the Protocol.
    • If unionists decide to boycott this vote, the legitimacy of the Protocol will be thrown open to question.
    • Scottish referendum on independence likely to be held around 2024 may well further destabilise Northern Ireland’s fragile politics.
  • Lessons for India:
    • Peace is an extraordinarily brittle entity, and any functioning democracy must ensure a daily commitment to addressing communal issues with vigilance, tolerance and compromise. These are lessons to be drawn in India.
    • The recent violence in Northern Ireland shows that every country needs leadership that takes responsibility for peoples’ social and economic problems and steers prejudices away from entrenched phobias.
    • The ruling party in India needs to be aware that creating religious tensions between communities has incalculable deep-seated negative consequences that will severely damage every section of society and all our established political and national institutions.
  • Conclusion:
    • Mutual fear, esteem and consent, of  Irish people is never addressed and artificial differences are played up by political elements wishing to stoke communal sentiments and keep both communities at the mercy of irresponsible and divisive forces.
    • While the British, Irish and American governments have condemned the violence, there is a lack of local political leadership to stabilise this volatile situation.

China-Bhutan border dispute

  • Context:
    • Satellite images and media reports show that China is developing the village of Pangda, on the west bank of the Torsa River, which is 2.5km (1.5 miles) inside the Bhutanese border.
  • About:
    • Chinese media released an image, which placed the Pangda village in disputed territory, a couple of kilometers inside what Bhutan sees as its territory.
    • Bhutan’s officials say there is no Chinese village inside Bhutan.
    • The area is east of the India-Bhutan-China trijunction on the Doklam plateau, which was the site of a 72-day stand-off in 2017 triggered by China’s road-building up to where it sees its border.
    • China also earlier claimed the Sakteng wildlife sanctuary in Eastern Bhutan as its own territory.

Bhutan Vaccinated its Population

  • Context:
    • Around 1,200 vaccination centres inoculating over 64% of the country’s adult population with the first shot of a Covid-19 vaccine: This is the secret behind Bhutan’s success of controlling the spread of the virus while major countries are seen scrambling to get more shots into arms.
  • So, what has the Himalayan Kingdom done to achieve such numbers?
    • The vast majority of Bhutan’s first doses were administered at about 1,200 vaccination centres over a weeklong period in late March and early April.
    • That rate was ahead of those of the United Kingdom and the United States, more than seven times that of neighbouring India and nearly six times the global average.
    • Bhutan is also ahead of several other geographically isolated countries with small populations, including Iceland and the Maldives.
    • Although Bhutan’s small population size is a major advantage over many other countries, credit to the extremely successful vaccination campaign must largely be given to the political leaders who understood the importance before things ran out of hand.
    • Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, the “Dragon King”, formed the Guardians of Peace, an orange-jumpsuited national-service corps that has helped to set up and staff more than 1,200 vaccination stations across the country.
    • The volunteers delivered vaccines to healthcare centres, ensured citizens reported for appointments, and educated the Bhutanese on Covid-19 protocols, including social distancing and mask-wearing.
    • In areas that were inaccessible by road, authorities even arranged for helicopters to transport the shots.
    • As such, quarantine measures in the country have also been strict: in March, the King himself spent a mandatory week in isolation after returning to Thimphu from a tour of southern provinces, and the Prime Minister locked himself away for 21 days following an official trip to Bangladesh.
    • A low Covid-19 caseload has also helped the country fast-track its inoculation process. Bhutan has recorded only 934 cases and reported just one death, aided by two carefully managed lockdowns. It has kept its borders closed for over a year now, with a few exceptions, and anyone who wishes to enter the country has to first go into mandatory quarantine for 21 days.
  • India’s contribution to Bhutan’s vaccination drive
    • India has also played a crucial role in the rapid roll-out of the vaccine in Bhutan. In an effort to counter growing Chinese influence in the region, the country had received 600,000 free doses of the Covishield vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India.
    • Bhutan had also received testing kits, personal protective equipment, N95 masks, and essential medicines like paracetamol from New Delhi.
  • History of immunisation programmes in Bhutan
    • The country had earlier achieved universal immunisation in the 1990s the current immunisation is riding on the existing programmes.
    • An already established system meant people had very little hesitancy in taking the shots.
    • The vaccine outreach also included health workers who had completed the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI), which set the tone for a holistic public healthcare system in Bhutan and readied a cold-chain infrastructure for Covid-19 vaccines. Primary healthcare in Bhutan is free of cost. These healthcare workers were the ones who went around the country to administer the vaccines.

China to allow couples for a third child

Context: After census data revealed a sharp drop in birth rates, China has announced that couples will be allowed to have up to three children.

About China’s One-Child Policy:

  • Deng Xiaoping, China's then-leader, instituted the One-Child Policy in 1980.
  • The programme was implemented in response to concerns that unfettered population expansion would result in economic and environmental disaster. It was also in reaction to fears of food scarcity.
  • The policy was applied in a variety of ways. For example, financially incentivizing families to have only one child, making contraception readily available, and enforcing punishments against those who break the policy.
  • The strategy, however, was a source of concern because the government used harsh techniques such as forced abortions and sterilisations.

Was the One Child Policy successful?

  • The programme has been accused of causing China's population to age quicker than those of other countries, limiting the country's potential for growth.
  • It is also stated that, as a result of the one-child policy, China will be unable to fully profit from its economic expansion and will require alternative sources of assistance.

China’s Two-Child Policy:

  • China's One-Child Policy was loosened in 2016. It permitted each couple to have two children. The policy reform, however, had no effect on the sharp decline in population increase.
  • In 2020, approximately 12 million infants were born, according to Census 2020. This is a considerable drop from the previous year's figure of 18 million, and it's also the lowest number of births since the 1960s.
  • As a result, China's strict two-child policy has been loosened, allowing couples to have up to three children.

Will the three-child policy increase the number of children born?

  • According to experts, loosening restrictions on reproductive rights will not be enough to prevent an undesirable demographic change.
  • The following are some of the causes behind fewer children being born in China, according to them:
    • Living expenditures are rising, as is the price of education and caring for ageing parents.
    • Long working hours are ingrained in the culture of the country.
    • A cultural shift has occurred, with many couples believing that one kid is sufficient and others expressing no desire to have children.

What is Tibetan Policy and Support Act (TPSA)?

  • Context:
    • Recently, the US Senate passes the Tibet Policy and Support Act(TPSA), bookends a turbulent year in US-China relations. The House of Representatives had passed the legislation in January 2020.
  • About Tibet Policy and Support Act(TPSA):
    • The Tibet Policy and Support Act(TPSA) resolution recognized the significance of the genuine autonomy of Tibet and the Tibetan people, and the work done by the 14th Dalai Lama to promote global peace, harmony, and understanding.
    • Among the most significant amendments is that the TSPA makes it US policy to oppose attempts by Beijing to install its own Dalai Lama in a manner inconsistent with Tibetan Buddhism.
    • The legislation makes reference to the Chinese government’s ‘Measures on the Management of the Reincarnation of Living Buddhas’ in 2007.
    • China had earlier insisted that the reincarnation of living Buddhas including the Dalai Lama must comply with Chinese laws and regulations.
    • Previous Legislation on Tibet by the US. The US has made various legislations in the past on Tibet. These are: 
      • The Tibet Policy Act, 2002
      • 2018 Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act
    • If the US recognizes Tibet as an independent nation, then the Sino-India border dispute between India and Tibet may come to an end. 
  • Background:
    • China invaded a neighboring country, Tibet, in 1950, India was in the thrall of the newly-communist country established by Mao Zedong after a bloody revolution in 1962.
    • Ignoring its civilizational relationship with Tibet, India hoped to gain from the emerging People’s Republic of China and thus celebrated “Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai”.
    • Over 60 years ago, his holiness, 14th Dalai Lama was forced into exile by the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) full-scale military takeover of Tibet.
    • To this very day, the Chinese Communist Party uses propaganda, violence, and oppression to assert totalitarian control over Tibet and the Tibetan people. The CCP sees Tibet culture and their religious heritage as a threat to its control.
    • The ties between New Delhi and Beijing have deteriorated over the past few years for a number of reasons unconnected to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan population in India:
      • Border incursions, including the standoff at Ladakh since May 2020;
      • India’s strategic shift in line with the U.S.’s Indo-Pacific pivot that targets China;
      • China’s ‘deep-pocket’ inroads into South Asia; and
      • Differences on the international stage, including over the Nuclear Suppliers Group membership and terror designations to Masood Azhar.
    • However, Tibet has always been a place of geostrategic prominence in the eyes of regional as well as superpowers. 
  • Geographical Location and importance of Tibet:

    • Tibet is located in the south-west of China and shares borders with India, Nepal, Myanmar, and Bhutan.
    • The Tibetan Plateau hosts 46,000 glaciers, one-fourth of the world’s total.
    • It is a major source of many rivers and is dotted by thousands of lakes, which serve as the origins of some of the biggest and longest rivers in Asia.
    • Rivers like the Indus, Satluj, Brahmaputra, Salween, Mekong, Yangtze, and Yellow River flow in Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and China, catering to a population larger than that of China.

Taiwan reports ‘largest’ incursion by Chinese forces

Context: A total of 28 Chinese air force aircraft entered Taiwan's air defence identification zone, including fighters and nuclear-capable bombers (ADIZ).

Air Defence Identification Zone:

  • It is an early warning zone that assists a country in detecting possible incursions into its sovereign airspace.
  • When an aircraft enters an ADIZ without warning, a country's fighter jets may be dispatched to visually identify the aircraft and decide whether it poses a threat.
  • In other terms, an ADIZ is airspace over land or water where civil aircraft are identified, tracked, and controlled for the sake of national security.
  • The United States created the first ADIZ in 1950 when it created a joint North American ADIZ with Canada, citing a nation's legal right to establish reasonable entrance conditions into its territory.
  • An ADIZ is not specified in any international treaty or governed by any international organization.

Air Defence Identification Zone in India:

  • In the mid-twentieth century, India established ADIZs. Notifications are necessary 10 minutes before to entry, among other things.
  • Six ADIZs have been established near India's borders. They are Pakistan's international boundary, Nepal's, Bangladesh's, Bhutan's, and Myanmar's, China's Over the Line of Actual Control, and two in India's southern region.

Taiwan Strait

  • The Taiwan Strait, also called the Formosa Strait, is a 180-kilometre-long strait that separates Taiwan from mainland China.
  • Currently, the strait is part of the South China Sea and links to the East China Sea to the north. The narrowest section is 130 kilometres long.
  • The strait is entirely on Asia's continental shelf.
  • Both the People's Republic of China (PRC) and Taiwan have historically advocated for a One-China Policy, which views the Taiwan Strait as part of a single “China's” exclusive economic zone.

 

Putin to stay in Power For Long

  • Context:
    • In March 2020, the Russian Parliament passed an amendment to the Constitution that made some major changes to the Russian Constitution that seems to tighten Putin’s hold over the government in Russia. In April 2021, Putin signed this into law.
  • What are the amendments?
    • The amendments increase presidential and parliamentary powers.
    • Importantly, it allowed Putin to run for election for two more terms, that is, if elected, he can be the President of Russia until 1936.
    • Putin became the country’s President for the first time in 1999 (till 2008).
    • Since then, he has been at the helm of affairs in the government either as President or Prime Minister, mostly as President.
    • In theory, a person cannot run for President more than twice according to the Russian Constitution, but the amendments, although do not change this condition, reset Putin’s terms in such a manner that he is now allowed to run, enabling him to stay in power till 2036 if elected.
    • If not for the amendments, he would have had to step down in 2024.
    • The tenure for president in Russia is six years.
    • The amendments also bar any person who has ever held foreign citizenship or residency from running for the office of the President.
    • The changes emphasise the primacy of the Russian Constitution over international laws and treaties.
    • The amendments also outlaw same-sex marriage and espouse “belief in God” as a core value.
  • Constitution of Russia
    • The Constitution of the Russian Federation is the highest regulatory legal act of the Russian Federation.
    • It establishes the fundamental elements of the constitutional system of the Russian Federation, the state system, the formation of representatives, executive, judicial bodies, and the system of local self-government, human and civil rights, and freedoms in the federation.
    • The current Constitution of Russia was adopted by country-wide voting in December 1993 after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
    • According to the Constitution, Russia is a democratic, federal, rule of law state, with the republican form of government.
  • Political System in Russia
    • Russia is a multiparty democracy with executive power wielded by the government headed by the Prime Minister.
    • But the President is the head of the state and also the most powerful position.
    • The President is elected by the people directly. However, the Prime Minister is not elected directly by the people, he is appointed by the President.
    • There is also a parliament that passes laws. It is composed of a lower house (State Duma) and an upper house (Federation Council).

Armenians Genocide

  • Context:
    • USA President Joe Biden’s officially recognised the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as an ‘act of genocide’. This could infuriate Turkey.

  • Background:
    • Up to 1.5 million Armenians are estimated to have been killed in the early stage of the First world war within the territories of the Ottoman Empire. In 2019, the US congress (Parliament of US) passed resolutions calling the slaughter a genocide, but the Donald Trump administration stopped short of officially calling it so.
  • Why were Armenians killed?
    • The sequence of events:
      • The decline of the ottoman empire in the late 19th century.
      • Russia-Turkish war of 1877-78 raises the enmity between Turkish and Armenians, who were supported by Russia.
      • The Treaty of Berlin dictated terms to Ottomans to provide reforms for the Armenian people.
      • Treaty led to the attacks on Armenian people from Turks and Kurds.
      • Post-1908, attacks on Ethnic minorities began at a greater pace.
      • The defeat of Turks in the Battle of Sarikamish (during World War 1) was blamed on Armenian. This led to further intensification of genocide over Armenians.
      • On fear of security from Russian support to Armenian, Ottoman Government passed legislation to deport Armenian via the Syrian desert. This killed many Armenians.
      • After the defeat of the Ottoman in World War 1, Armenian authorities took revenge measures and executed many officials. But Armenian resistance fighters under the banner of Operation Nemesis continued to hunt down Ottoman officials.
      • As of now, Turkey (centre of erstwhile Ottoman Empire) has acknowledged that atrocities were committed against Armenians but denies it was a genocide (which comes with legal implications) and challenges the estimates that 1.5 million were killed.
  • Was it Genocide?
    • This term was coined by Raphael Lemkin. According to Article II of the UN Convention on Genocide of December 1948, genocide has been described as carrying out acts intended “to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group”.
    • Between 1914 to 1922, the Armenian population fell from 2 million to 3,87,000 only. There is apprehension that this was due to 1.5 million Armenians who were genocide.
    • Therefore, as of now, there are only historian's claims and no actual proof about such genocide.
    • However, it is true that many Armenians were killed as part of ethnic conflicts.

Bangladesh currency swap 

  • Context:
    • Recently, Bangladesh cleared a USD 200 million currency swap facility for Sri Lanka, to help boost its economy.
  • More Info:
    • The word swap means exchange. A currency swap between the two countries is an agreement or contract to exchange currencies with predetermined terms and conditions.
    • In the present context, a currency swap is effectively a loan that Bangladesh will give to Sri Lanka in dollars, with an agreement that the debt will be repaid with interest in Sri Lankan rupees.
    • Central banks and Governments engage in currency swaps with foreign counterparts to meet short term foreign exchange liquidity requirements or to ensure adequate foreign currency to avoid the Balance of Payments (BOP) crisis till longer arrangements can be made.
    • For Sri Lanka, this is cheaper than borrowing from the market, and a lifeline as it struggles to maintain adequate forex reserves even as repayment of its external debts looms. These swap operations carry no exchange rate or other market risks as transaction terms are set in advance.
    • Exchange rate risk, also known as currency risk, is the financial risk arising from fluctuations in the value of a base currency against a foreign currency in which a company or individual has assets or obligations
  • Unusual for Bangladesh:
    • Bangladesh has not been viewed so far as a provider of financial assistance to other countries. It has been among the most impoverished countries of the world, and still receives billions of dollars in financial aid.
    • But over the last two decades, it has managed to elevate its economy itself majorly, and in 2020, was the fastest growing in South Asia.
    • The country has managed to pull millions out of poverty. Its per capita income just overtook India’s.
    • This may be the first time that Bangladesh is extending a helping hand to another country, so this is a landmark of sorts.
  • Sri Lanka’s Approach to India:
    • In 2020, the President of Sri Lanka requested India for a USD 1 billion credit swap, and separately, a moratorium on debts that the country has to repay to India.
    • But India-Sri Lanka relations have been tense over Colombo’s decision to cancel a valued container terminal project at Colombo Port, which made India put off the decision.
    • Earlier, in July 2020, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) extended a USD 400 million credit swap facility to Sri Lanka, which the Central Bank of Sri Lanka settled in February. The arrangement was not extended.
  • RBI’s Framework for Swap Facilities for SAARC:
    • The SAARC currency swap facility came into operation on 15th November 2012.
    • The revised framework is valid from 14th November 2019 to 13th November 2022.
    • The RBI can offer a swap arrangement within the overall corpus of USD 2 billion.
    • The swap drawals can be made in US dollar, euro or Indian rupee. The framework provides certain concessions for swap drawals in the Indian rupee.
    • The facility will be available to all SAARC member countries, subject to their signing the bilateral swap agreements.
    • The presumption was that only India, as the regional group’s largest economy, could do this. The Bangladesh-Sri Lanka arrangement shows that is no longer valid.

Golden visa

  • Context:
    • Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt recently received his Golden visa from the UAE government.
  • What is it?
    • In 2019, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) implemented a new system for long-term residence visas, thereby enabling foreigners to live, work and study in the UAE without the need of a national sponsor and with 100 per cent ownership of their business.
  • So, what does the Golden Visa offer?
    • The Golden Visa system essentially offers long-term residency (5 and 10 years) to people belonging to the following groups:
      • investors, entrepreneurs, individuals with outstanding talents the likes of researchers, medical professionals and those within the scientific and knowledge fields, and remarkable students.

Eligibility requirements (Have a brief overview; need not mug up):

  • For investors:
    • A deposit of at least AED (United Arab Emirates Dirham) 10 million worth of public investment, either in the form of an investment fund or a company.
    • 60% of the total investment must not be in the form of real estate.
    • The invested amount must not be loaned, or in the case of assets, investors must assume full ownership.
    • The investor must be able to retain the investment for a minimum of three years.
    • May be extended to include business partners, providing that each partner contributes AED 10 million.
    • Can also include the holder’s spouse and children, as well as one executive director and one advisor.
  • For individuals with specialized talents:
    • The category includes doctors, researchers, scientists, investors and artists. These individuals may be granted a 10-year visa following accreditations granted by their respective departments and fields. The visa also extends to their spouses and children.
  • Eligibility for a 5-year visa:
    • The investor must invest in a property of a gross value of not less than AED 5 million.
    • The amount invested in real estate must not be on a loan basis.
    • The property must be retained for at least three years.
  • Outstanding students:
    • Outstanding students with a minimum grade of 95% in public and private secondary schools.
    • University students within and outside the country having a distinction GPA of at least 3.75 upon graduation.
  • Reasons Behind the Move:
    • The UAE’s economy has been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic and low oil prices, prompting many expatriates to leave.
    • The move intends to bring them back now and keep the “talented people and great minds” in the Gulf country and help in nation-building.
    • It will attract talented professionals from various fields of expertise and further encourage innovation, creativity and applied research, adding to the appeal of a career in the UAE for the world’s brightest minds.
  • Significance for India:
    • It would attract more Indian professionals and businessmen to the Gulf nation and strengthen the India-UAE Relations.
    • It will also facilitate the return of Indians who want to resume work after the relaxation of Covid-19-related restrictions, for which India had requested the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in early November 2020.

Diplomatic Immunity

  • Context:
    • The wife of Belgium's ambassador to South Korea is exercising her diplomatic immunity to avoid charges for allegedly slapping a store assistant in April 2021.
  • About  Diplomatic Immunity
    • It is a privilege of exemption from certain laws and taxes granted to diplomats by the country in which they are posted. 
    • Diplomatic immunity is granted on the basis of two conventions, popularly called the Vienna Conventions that includes: 
      • the Convention on Diplomatic Relations, 1961, and 
      • the Convention on Consular Relations, 1963. 
    • They have been ratified by 187 countries, including South Korea. 
    • The custom was formed so that diplomats can function without fear, threat or intimidation from the host country.
  • Extent of Immunity
    • According to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, 1961, the immunity enjoyed by a diplomat posted in the embassy is “inviolable”. 
    • The diplomat cannot be arrested or detained and his house will have the same inviolability and protection as the embassy.
  • Types 
    • Immunity is not the same for all diplomats and their families.
    • The Vienna Convention classifies diplomats according to their posting in the embassy, consular or international organisations such as the UN.
    • A nation has only one embassy per foreign country, usually in the capital, but may have multiple consulate offices, generally in locations where many of its citizens live or visit.
    • Diplomats posted in an embassy get immunity, along with his or her family members.
    • While diplomats posted in consulates also get immunity, they can be prosecuted in case of serious crimes, that is when a warrant is issued. 
    • Besides, their families don’t share that immunity.
  • Exceptions
    • It is possible for the diplomat’s home country to waive immunity but this can happen only when the individual has committed a ‘serious crime’, unconnected with their diplomatic role or has witnessed such a crime. 
    • Alternatively, the home country may prosecute the individual.
  • Concerns
    • While diplomatic immunity is intended to “insulate” diplomats from harm, it does not insulate their countries from a bad reputation and a blow to bilateral ties. 
    • The privilege of diplomatic immunity is not for an individual’s benefit. If a diplomat acts outside his business of conducting international relations, a question arises over whether his immunity still applies
  • Instances of Immunity Abuse  In The Past
    • In 1967, the Burmese ambassador to Sri Lanka shot his wife whom he suspected of having an affair. 
    • In 1983, a Saudi Arabian diplomat’s son raped a 16-year-old in the US. 
    • In April 2012, in Manila, Panamanian diplomat Erick Bairnals Shcks was accused of raping a 19-year-old Filipino woman but was released from detention because he enjoyed diplomatic immunity.

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan Conflict

  • Context:
    • Recently, a ceasefire on the border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan appeared to be held after a day of intense fighting between the two countries that have killed about 40 people and wounded about 175.
  • Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan:
    • About the recent tensions between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan
    • Both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have claimed the area around the water supply facility in Kok-Tash, a dispute dating back decades to when they were both parts of the Soviet Union.
    • After the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) collapsed in late 1991 – Soviet mapmakers drew the dividing lines for Soviet republics which is now the current configuration of the Kyrgyz-Tajik border.
    • The meandering boundary between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan is particularly tense as over a third of its 1,000-km length is disputed. Restrictions on access to land and water that communities regard as theirs have often led to deadly clashes in the past.
    • Russia and European Union (EU) welcomed the ceasefire deal and emphasised the need for a lasting and peaceful solution.
  • Significance of this region for India:
    • Central Asia serves as a land bridge between Asia and Europe, making it geopolitically axial for India.
    • The region is rich in natural resources such as petroleum, natural gas, antimony, aluminium, gold, silver, coal and uranium which can be best utilized by Indian energy requirements.
    • Central Asia has huge cultivable areas lying barren and without being put to any productive use, offering enormous opportunity for the cultivation of pulses.
    • India intends expansion of the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) to Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. This will act as a vital gateway to access Eurasian markets and optimally operationalize its use, requiring a Central Asian state to join the project as a direct stakeholder.
    • India has proposed setting up of ‘India-Central Asia Development Group’ to take forward development partnership between India & Central Asian countries. This group will help India to expand its footprints in the resource-rich region amid China’s massive inroads and to fight terror effectively, including in Afghanistan.
    • India has a very wide array of interests in Central Asia covering security, energy, economic opportunities etc., therefore the Security, stability and prosperity of Central Asia is imperative for the peace and economic development of India.
    • Both India and Central Asian Republics (CARs) share many commonalities and perceptions on various regional and world issues and can play a crucial role in providing regional stability.

 

San Isidro movement

  • Context: 
    • The Movimiento San Isidro started two years ago to protest state censorship of artistic works, and has now become a platform for Cuban dissidents both within and outside the Caribbean nation.

  • What is Movimiento San Isidro (MSI)?
    • The movement started in September 2018, when the Cuban government sought to enforce Decree 349.
    • A law that would have given powers to the nation’s Culture Ministry to restrict cultural activity it did not approve of.
    • To protest against the decree, artists, poets, journalists, and activists gathered in San Isidro, a Black-majority locality that is among Havana’s poorest yet most culturally active wards, and which also forms part of the Old Havana UNESCO World Heritage Site.

West bank

  • Context:
    • Mike Pompeo recently paid the first visit by a U.S. Secretary of State to an Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank.
    • Palestinians accused Mr. Pompeo of helping Israel to cement its control over West Bank.
  • About:
    • The West Bank is a landlocked territory near the Mediterranean coast of Western Asia, bordered by Jordan and the Dead Sea to the east and by Israel on the remaining three sides.
    • Israel occupied it ever since the Six-Day War of 1967.
    • It has built many formal and informal settlements over the last 20-25 years.
    • The territory is still a point of contention due to a large number of Palestinians who live there and hope to see the land become a part of their future state.
    • The United Nations General Assembly, the UN Security Council, and the International Court of Justice have said that the West Bank settlements are violative of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
    • Under the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949), an occupying power “shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies”.
    • India traditionally believes in the 2-state solution and supports the establishment of a sovereign independent and the viable state of Palestine.

A civil war in Ethiopia

  • Context: 
    • A civil war erupted in Ethiopia as conflict deepens in Tigray province.
  • About:
    • Tigray Region is the northernmost region of Ethiopia.
    • Trouble between Tigray and the central government has been brewing since Abiy Ahmad became the Prime Minister in 2018.
    • Recently, militia forces under the control of the provincial government of Tigray attacked an Ethiopian military camp.
    • Later, the central government in Addis Ababa ordered military action against the rebellious province of Tigray in the north of the country. 
    • There are reports of inter-ethnic bloodletting emerging from Tigray, with both sides hurling accusations at each other.
    • The United Nations has warned of a looming humanitarian disaster.

Tigray Crisis

Context: Rebels in Tigray approved a ceasefire in principle with tight conditions before it could be finalized.

Humanitarian Concerns:

  • According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (HCR), tens of thousands of refugees have crossed the border into Sudan.
  • Thousands of people had died, and 400,000 more were famine-stricken.
  • UNICEF, in collaboration with the World Food Program and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, has called for immediate action to address the Tigray region's severe food insecurity.

About Tigray Crisis:

  • It is a conflict between Ethiopia's government and forces in the country's northern Tigray province.
  • Eritrean troops are also fighting for the Ethiopian government in Tigray.
  • The war or crisis arose as a result of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's decision to dispatch the army to depose the Tigray People's Liberation Front's dissident regional government (TPLF).

About Tigray Region:

  • It is the northernmost region of Ethiopia, bordering Eritrea, and is home to the majority of Ethiopia's estimated 7 million ethnic Tigrayans.
  • Djibouti, Eritrea, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Somaliland border Ethiopia, which is a landlocked country in Eastern Africa (Somalia).

 

Steadfast Defender 21

Context:  Due to escalating tensions with Russia, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) conducts extensive war drills.

More on news:

  • The war exercises, dubbed Steadfast Defender 21, are intended to train member countries' militaries in the event of an assault on one of them. It will put NATO's capacity to deploy soldiers from America while maintaining supply links to the front lines to the test.
  • It comes after the Russian Defense Ministry revealed footage of its nuclear-capable bombers Tu-22M3 flying over the Mediterranean Sea, as well as Russia's decision to move tens of thousands of troops to Ukraine's border.
  • It has alarmed NATO, which in 2014 undertook one of its largest-ever defense investment efforts in response to Russian soldiers annexing Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula.

About the NATO:

  • NATO is a group of 30 European and North American countries that was created in 1949 to protect the people and territory of its members.
  • The Alliance is built on the premise of collective defence, which means that if one NATO member is attacked, all NATO Allies are attacked as well.
  • NATO has increased its collective defence spending by the most since the Cold War ended in 2014. Their goal isn't to start a fight, but to prevent one.
  • The NATO Headquarters are in Brussels, Belgium.

Digital Service Tax 

Context: The United States has conducted a year-long inquiry of India's digital services taxes (DST), claiming that they are discriminatory against tech giants such as Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook.

What is DST in India?

  • The amendment to the Finance Act 2020 imposes a 2% DST on non-resident e-commerce operators with a turnover of more than Rs 2 crore in trade and services.
  • It effectively broadens the scope of the equalization levy, which previously exclusively applied to digital advertising services.
  • It went into effect in April 2020 and broadened the scope of the equalization levy to include non-resident e-commerce firms engaged in the supply of services, such as online sales of goods and services.
  • The tax must be paid at the end of each quarter by e-commerce firms.

The tussle with the US:

  • The US Trade Representative's office produced a report in January 2021 saying that the Indian government's DST discriminates against US enterprises, violates established principles of international tax law, and hinders US commerce.
  • The DST is discriminatory on two points, according to the USTR investigation.
  • It claims that the DST discriminates against US digital enterprises by deliberately excluding domestic (Indian) digital businesses from its coverage.
  • The DST does not apply to services offered by non-digital service providers that are equivalent to those provided by digital service providers.

The tax’s Rationale:

  • Reform International Tax Laws: The OECD's base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS) program formally framed the digital enterprises to be taxed where economic activities are carried out.
  • It is still a work in progress seven years after its start, and several countries propose or implement DST.
  • The Changing Economic Order of the World: The spread of DST is a sign of a shifting worldwide economic system.
  • Countries that supply big markets for digital firms, such as India, are seeking a broader power to tax incomes.
  • For governments like India and the United States, a redistribution of taxing powers might have enormous financial ramifications.

 

Global Minimum Tax

Context:

  • Major economies are aiming to discourage multinational companies from shifting profits – and tax revenues – to low-tax countries regardless of where their sales are made.

More Info:

  • Increasingly, income from intangible sources such as drug patents, software, and royalties on intellectual property has migrated to these jurisdictions.
  • This has allowed companies to avoid paying higher taxes in their traditional home countries.
  • With a broadly agreed global minimum tax, the Biden administration hopes to reduce such tax base erosion without putting American firms at a financial disadvantage.

How would such tax work?

  • The global minimum tax rate would apply to companies’ overseas profits.
  • Therefore, if countries agree on a global minimum, governments could still set whatever local corporate tax rate they want.
  • But if companies pay lower rates in a particular country, their home governments could “top-up” their taxes to the agreed minimum rate, eliminating the advantage of shifting profits to a tax haven.
  • The Biden administration has said it wants to deny exemptions for taxes paid to countries that don’t agree to a minimum rate.

Reasons why the USA is proposing it

Hike in tax rates:

  • The plan seeks to increase the US corporate tax rate to 28% from 21%. The ex-US President had reduced the corporate tax rates from 35% to 21%.

Revitalization:

  • It aims to revitalize the transportation infrastructure, water systems with other goals.
  • An increase in the tax rate and other measures to prevent the offshoring of profits will fund it.

More cooperation:

  • It will support integration instead of isolationism.

Tax evasion:

  • The plan will stop firms from shifting profits to tax haven countries.

Stability:

  • The bill aims to stabilize tax systems to raise enough revenue to invest in public welfare.

Significance:

  • This measure will help close cross-border tax loopholes used by some of the world’s biggest companies, thus will help limit base erosion and profit sharing (BEPS).
  • Increasingly, income from intangible sources such as drug patents, software and royalties on intellectual property has migrated to the low tax jurisdictions, allowing companies to avoid paying higher taxes in their traditional home countries.
  • As per some estimates, countries are losing $427 billion every year to tax havens. India suffers an annual loss of $10.3 billion from global tax abuse.
  • This agreement marks a much necessary reform of the global tax system to make it fit for the current global digital age where cross-border digital services are gaining prominence.
  • The introduction of a global minimum corporate tax will contribute to ending the decades-long “race to the bottom on corporate tax rates”, in which countries have resorted to ultra-low tax rates and tax exemptions to lure multinationals companies to invest.
  • Such measures have cost such countries hundreds of billions of dollars whereas the corporate entities have only grown richer.
  • This landmark agreement could form the basis of a worldwide deal.
  • The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has been coordinating tax negotiations among 140 countries on rules for taxing cross-border digital services and curbing tax base erosion, including a global corporate minimum tax. The OECD and G20 countries aim to reach a consensus on both by mid-year.
  • The agreement has committed to reaching an equitable solution on the allocation of taxing rights. It will focus on protecting the interest of the market countries by awarding such countries a certain degree of taxing rights on the profits of the multinational enterprises.
  • This will help ensure that MNCs would pay taxes where they operate and record their profits based on the concept of ‘Significant Economic Presence.

Meeting of Health Ministers: Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)

Context: Recently, the Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare took part in a virtual conference with the health ministers of the NAM nations.

More about the Meet:

  • Vaccine Maitri Initiative: Despite internal pressures, India ensured that 123 partner countries, including 59 NAM members, received drugs during the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Efforts to Achieve “Universal Health Coverage: Universal health coverage is defined as ensuring that everyone has access to needed health services of sufficient quality to be effective (including prevention, promotion, treatment, rehabilitation, and palliation), as well as ensuring that using those services does not put them in financial hardship.
  • Ayushman Bharat, the world's largest health insurance scheme, intends to give free health insurance to more than 500 million underprivileged people.
  • It employs the following strategy:
    • To begin, health and wellness centers will be created near people's homes to provide health care.
    • Second, a Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY) is being developed to shield poor and vulnerable families from a financial difficulty caused by catastrophic health crises.
    • Immunization coverage is quickly increasing, with a greater emphasis on village-based micro-plans aimed at obtaining 90 percent coverage in a year.

More About NAM:

  • Background: It was created during the Cold War (1945-1991) as an organization of states that preferred to remain independent or neutral rather than officially associate with either the United States (Capitalism) or the Soviet Union (Socialism).
  • The Movement of Non-Aligned Countries was founded on a broader geographical foundation at the major Summit Conference of Belgrade in September 1961, six years after the Bandung Conference in 1955.
  • The summit was led by Tito of Yugoslavia, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Nehru of India, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, and Sukarno of Indonesia.
  • Headquarters: NAM's administration is non-hierarchical and rotational, with no permanent secretariat or constitution.
  • To make decisions, consensus is employed, which demands substantial agreement but not unanimity.

International Agreements & Conventions in News

New and Unheard Conventions/Dialogues And Talks:

Quadrilateral Dialogue

  • Context:
    • Directly criticizing China for the coronavirus crisis as well as its actions in the Indo-Pacific region, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for Quadrilateral Dialogue, or “Quad”, to “collaborate” in countering China.
  • About:
    • It is the informal strategic dialogue between India, the USA, Japan, and Australia with a shared objective to ensure and support a “free, open, and prosperous” Indo-Pacific region.
    • The idea of Quad was first mooted by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2007. However, this idea couldn't move ahead with Australia pulling out of it, apparently due to Chinese pressure.
    • In November 2017, India, the US, Australia, and Japan gave shape to the long-pending “Quad” Coalition to develop a new strategy to keep the critical sea routes in the Indo-Pacific free of any influence (especially China).

Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)

  • Context:
    • Armenia and Azerbaijan vowed to keep fighting and rejected international calls for negotiation on September 30 as clashes over the disputed Nagorny Karabakh region raged on the fourth day.
  • About:
    • It is an interim agreement on Iran Nuclear Programme.
    • It is also known as the Iran nuclear deal or Iran deal.
    • The agreement between Iran, the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council -China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States- plus Germany), and the European Union.
    • The nuclear deal was endorsed by UN Security Council Resolution 2231, adopted in July 2015.
    • JCPOA limits Iran's uranium enrichment program until 2030 and contains monitoring and transparency measures that will remain in place after long that date.
    • Iran's compliance with the nuclear-related provisions of the JCPOA will be verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
    • However, in May 2018, the United States announced its withdrawal from JCPOA and reinstate U.S. nuclear sanctions on the Iranian regime.

Special Asia Economic Focus Report

  • Context: 
    • The World Bank released the South Asia Economic Focus Report.
  • About:
    • It is a bi-annual economic update presenting recent economic developments and a near-term economic outlook for South Asia.
    • It providing important background information and timely analysis of key indicators and economic and financial developments of relevance to World Bank Group operations and interaction with counterparts in the region, particularly during annual and sports meetings.
    • It included a Focus section presenting a more in-depth analysis of an economic topic of relevance for stability, growth, and prosperity in the region as well as country briefs covering Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. 

Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA)

  • Context:
    • India underlined its commitment to a pluralistic cooperative security order in Asia through CICA. It also reaffirmed its support for the Afghan peace process.
  • About CICA:
    • Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) is a multi-national forum for enhancing cooperation towards promoting peace, security, and stability in Asia.
    • The idea of convening the CICA was first proposed by the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan on 5th October 1992, at the 47th Session of the United Nations General Assembly.
    • The First Ministerial Meeting of CICA took place in September 1999.
  • Secretariat:
    • Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.
  • Members:
    • It consists of 27 member nations from Asia including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Egypt, India, etc. Japan, Indonesia, the USA, etc. are some of its Observer Nations.
    • It has 8 observer states; 5 observer organizations.
    • For becoming a member of CICA, a state must have at least a part of its territory in Asia.
    • The Republic of Tajikistan is the CICA Chairman for the period 2018-2020.

First World Solar Technology Summit

  • Context:
    • Recently, Israel-UAE has arrived at an important peace agreement that has the potential to change the geopolitics of West Asia and beyond.
  • About:
    • The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), as the convener of ISA Global Leadership Task Force on Innovation, is working with ISA in organizing the summit.
    • The summit will witness the announcement of agreements between ISA and the following institutions:
      • International Institute of Refrigeration,
      • Global Green Growth Institute
      • National Thermal Power Corporation.
    • A tripartite agreement between India’s Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, the World Bank, and the International Solar Alliance are also set to be inked.
    • ISA’s technology journal, Solar Compass 360 will also be launched during the summit.

Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA)

  • Context:
    • Recently, India and Japan signed an Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) agreement.
  • About ACSA:
    • It is a logistics agreement that will allow armed forces of both sides to coordinate closely in services and supplies.
    • India has similar agreements with the USA, Australia, France, Oman, and Singapore.
    • It is aimed at greater maritime cooperation and can upgrade India-Japan naval exercises as both countries are expected to share maritime facilities for mutual benefit.
    • It establishes the enabling framework for closer cooperation between the armed forces of both countries in the reciprocal provision of supplies and services while engaged in the following such as:
      1. Bilateral training activities,
      2. United Nations Peacekeeping Operations,
      3. Humanitarian International Relief and other mutually agreed activities.
    • The supplies and services include food, water, transportation, airlift, petroleum, clothing, communications, and medical services, etc.
  • Duration: It will remain in force for 10 years and will be automatically extended for periods of 10 years unless one of the parties decides to end it.
  • List of India-Japan Defence Exercises:
    • JIMEX – Naval Exercise
    • SHINYUU Maitri – Air Force Exercise,
    • Dharma Guardian – Military Exercise,
    • Malabar Exercise – USA + Japan + India Trilateral exercise.

ITEC programme

  • Context:
    • Recently, the 56th ITEC day was observed online by the High Commission of India in Dhaka.
  • About ITEC programme:
    • Launched in 1964.
    • It is a flagship programme of the Government of India to provide development assistance to developing countries across the globe.
    • Administered by the Ministry of External Affairs, India.
    • It is fully funded by the Government of India.
    • The Programme is essentially bilateral in nature. However, in recent years, ITEC resources have also been used for cooperation programmes conceived in regional and inter-regional contexts such as the Economic Commission for Africa, Commonwealth Secretariat, UNIDO, and Group of 77.
    • More than 10 thousand training slots are offered every year to more than 160 partner countries for training courses in various areas like Accounts, Audit, Management, SME, Rural Development, Parliamentary Affairs, etc.
    • Its Nodal division of Development Partnership Administration (DPA) in the Ministry of External Affairs is the nodal division for handling all capacity building programmes.
  • It has the following components:
    • Training (civilian and defence) in India of nominees from ITEC partner countries
    • Projects and project-related activities such as feasibility studies and consultancy services.
    • Deputation of Indian experts abroad;
    • Study Tours.
    • Gifts/Donations of equipment at the request of ITEC partner countries.
    • Aid for Disaster Relief.

Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI)

  • Context:
    • India and the United States have signed a statement of intent to strengthen the bilateral dialogue on defence technology co-operation during the 10th Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI).
  • About DTTI:
    • Launched in 2012.
    • It is not a treaty or a law. It is a flexible mechanism to ensure that senior leaders from the US and India are persistently focused on the opportunities and challenges associated with the growing defense partnership.
    • To strengthen India’s defence industrial base, explore new areas of technological development, and expand U.S.-India business ties.
    • The initiative is led by the Undersecretary of Defence for Acquisition and Sustainment from the United States and Secretary for Defence Protection from India.

Djibouti Code of Conduct

  • Context:
    • India has joined the Djibouti Code of Conduct/ Jeddah Amendment (DCOC/JA) as Observer.
  • About:
    • It is a grouping on maritime matters aimed at the repression of piracy and armed robbery against ships in the Western Indian Ocean Region, the Gulf of Aden, and the Red Sea.
    • Established in 2009.
    • It is also known as the Code of Conduct or the Jeddah Amendment.
    • It was established under the International Maritime Organization (IMO).
    • It comprises 18 member states adjoining the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, the East Coast of Africa, and Island countries in the Indian Ocean Region.
    • India has joined Japan, Norway, the UK, and the US as Observers to the DCOC/JA.

Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation

  • Context:
    • Recently, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum was held online this year because of the pandemic.
    • In the first joint statement since 2017, APEC leaders, including Trump, agreed on free trade.
  • About:
    • It is an inter-governmental forum for 21 member economies in the Pacific Rim that promotes free trade throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
    • It is established in 1989 to leverage the growing interdependence of the Asia-Pacific.
    • APEC members account for 60% of global GDP.
    • India is not a member of APEC.

One Health Global Leaders Group on Antimicrobial Resistance

  • Context:
    • Three UN organizations launch a new global coalition of global leaders to tackle Antimicrobial Resistance.
  • About:
    • In the wake of rising antimicrobial resistance (AMR), a global group called ‘One Health Global Leaders Group on Antimicrobial Resistance’ was launched by
      • the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO),
      • the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and
      • the World Health Organization (WHO).
    • This 20-member group comprises heads of states, current and former ministers of different countries, leaders from the private sector, and civil society. 
    • The heads of FAO, OIE, and WHO are ex-officio members of the group.
    • It seeks to catalyze global attention and action to preserve antimicrobial medicines and avert the disastrous consequences of antimicrobial resistance.

South Asian University

  • Context:
    • It is in news, as the institution is facing a crisis of leadership.
  • About:
    • Established in 2010, it is an international university, located in New-Delhi, India.
    • It is sponsored by the eight Member States of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).
    • Degrees and Certificates awarded by the SAU are at par with the respective Degrees and Certificates awarded by the National Universities/ Institutions.
    • India, as the host and the largest country in the SAARC group, bore the entire capital cost for setting up the university, and also pays 50% of the operational costs.

Inter-Parliamentary Union

  • Context:
    • India's CAG Murmu was elected as External Auditor of the Inter-Parliamentary Union.
  • About:
    • IPU is a global inter-parliamentary institution established in 1889 by France and the UK.
    • It was the first permanent forum for political multilateral negotiations.
    • Initially, the organization was for individual parliamentarians but has since transformed into an international organization of the parliaments of sovereign states.
    • The IPU facilitates parliamentary diplomacy and empowers parliaments and parliamentarians to promote peace, democracy, and sustainable development around the world.
    • Composition: It has 179 Member Parliaments,13 Associate Members, and increasing numbers of parliamentarians from all over the world involved in our work.
    • Headquarters are in Geneva, Switzerland.

Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI)

  • Context:
    • India invited Luxembourg to join the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI).
  • About:
    • It is an international coalition of countries, United Nations agencies, multilateral development banks, the private sector, and academic institutions, that aims to promote disaster-resilient infrastructure.
    • It was launched by PM Modi in September 2019 at the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit in New York, US.
    • It is a platform where knowledge is generated and exchanged on different aspects of disaster and climate resilience of infrastructure.

Five eyes

  • Context:
    • China rejected the latest attack on its Hong Kong policy by the U.S. and several of its allies, saying they “should face up to the reality” that the former British colony has been returned to China.
    • The U.S., U.K., Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, in a joint statement, said the new Hong Kong policy was a concerted campaign to silence all critical voices.
  • About:
    • It is an intelligence alliance comprising Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
    • These countries are parties to the multilateral UKUSA Agreement, a treaty for cooperation in signals intelligence.

Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA)

  • Context:
    • At the upcoming Virtual “EU- India Summit”, Leaders expected to give a kickstart to negotiations on the Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA) as the EU-India FTA is known, which have failed to be resumed despite several commitments by the leaders, including at the last E.U.-India summit in 2017.
  • Challenges ahead:
    • Negotiators are still “quite far apart” due to what Europe perceives as India’s “protectionist stance”.
    • Besides, the Make in India programme has been accelerated by the COVID-19 crisis and recent pronouncements that India wants to go ‘Self-reliant’ have added to the situation.
  • India- EU trade:
    • Trade with India formed under 3% of the E.U.’s global trade, which is “far below” what was expected of the relationship.
    • Conversely, the E.U. is India’s largest trading partner and investor and accounts for 11% of India’s global trade.
  • About BTIA:
    • In June 2007, India and the EU began negotiations on a broad-based Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA) in Brussels, Belgium.
    • These negotiations are pursuant to the commitment made by political leaders at the 7th India-EU Summit held in Helsinki on 13th October 2006 to move towards negotiations for a broad-based trade and investment agreement on the basis of the report of India-EU High-Level Technical Group.
  • Significance:
    • India and the EU expect to promote bilateral trade by removing barriers to trade in goods and services and investment across all sectors of the economy.
    • Both parties believe that a comprehensive and ambitious agreement that is consistent with WTO rules and principles would open new markets and would expand opportunities for Indian and EU businesses.
  • The negotiations cover:
    • Trade-in Goods, Trade in Services, Investment, Sanitary, and Phytosanitary Measures, Technical Barriers to Trade, Trade Remedies, Rules of Origin, Customs and Trade Facilitation, Competition, Trade Defence, Government Procurement, Dispute Settlement, Intellectual Property Rights & Geographical  Indications, Sustainable Development.
  • What’s the issue now?
    • Negotiations have been languishing since 2013 when the talks collapsed over certain demands from the EU such as greater market access for automobiles, wine and spirits, and further opening up of the financial services sector such as banking, insurance, and e-commerce.
    • The EU also wanted labour, environment, and government procurement to be included in the talks.
    • India’s demand for an easier work visa and study visa norms as well as data secure status, which would make it easier for European companies to outsource business to India, was also not received enthusiastically by the EU countries.

New START Treaty

  • Context: 
    • President Vladimir Putin proposed a one-year extension without conditions of the last major nuclear arms reduction accord between Russia and the U.S.
  • About:
    • It is a treaty between the United States of America and the Russian Federation on Measures for the further reduction and limitation of strategic offensive arms.
    • It is entered into force on 5th February 2011.
    • It is a successor to the START framework of 1991 (at the end of the Cold War) that limited both sides to 1600 strategic delivery vehicles and 6000 warheads.
  • Features:
    • The number of strategic nuclear missile launchers will be reduced by half.
    • A new inspection and verification regime will be established, replacing the SORT mechanism.
    • The number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads is limited to 1550which is down nearly two-thirds from the original START treaty, as well as 10% lower than the deployed strategic warhead limit of the 2002 Moscow Treaty.
    • It will also limit the number of deployed and non-deployed intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launchers, submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) launchers, and heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments to 800.
    • The number of deployed ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments is limited to 700.

Commission on Status of Women (CSW)

  • Context:
    • Recently India has been elected as a member of the Commission on Status of Women (CSW), a body of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).
  • About:
    • The CSW is the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women.
    • Established in 1946.
    • It is a functional commission of the United Nations Economic and Social Council(ECOSOC), one of the main UN organs within the United Nations.
    • Headquarters in New York, USA.
    • It promotes women’s rights, highlights the reality of women’s lives throughout the world, and helps in shaping global standards on gender equality and the empowerment of women.
    • 45 member states of the United Nations serve as members of the Commission at any one time.
  • UN Women:
    • It was established in 2010.
    • It is the United Nations entity dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women.

WHO Southeast Asia Region (SEAR)

  • Context:
    • The 73rd session of the WHO Southeast Asia Region was held under the Chairmanship of the Minister of Health, Thailand.
  • About SEAR:
    • Formation: It was established at the First World Health Assembly in 1948.
    • Objective: To address persisting and emerging epidemiological and demographic challenges in the Southeast Asia Region.
    • Member States: It has 11 Member States – Bangladesh, Bhutan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Timor-Leste.
    • Regional Office: New Delhi.
  • Programmes The Region has eight flagship priorities:
    • Measles and rubella elimination
    • preventing non-communicable diseases
    • reducing maternal, under-five, and neonatal mortality
    • universal health coverage with a focus on human resources for health and essential medicines
    • combating antimicrobial resistance
    • scaling up capacities for emergency risk management
    • eliminating neglected tropical diseases and accelerating efforts to end TB.

BRICS innovation base

  • Context:
    • China is “actively considering the establishment of a BRICS innovation base in China, in order to strengthen practical cooperation with the BRICS”.
  • Aim:
    • To take forward 5G and Artificial Intelligence (AI) cooperation among the five countries.
  • Rationale behind the proposal:
    • China’s interest in promoting 5G within the BRICS bloc could be part of its interest in pushing tech giant Huawei internationally – Huawei’s name has come up as a contender to build the network in Brazil and South Africa even as it is embroiled in controversies in other countries.
  • How BRICS countries have responded?
    • Russia said it would work with China on 5G.
    • In South Africa, Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei is providing services to three of its telecom operators in the roll-out of their 5G networks.
    • Brazil has allowed participation in trials but is yet to take a final call.
    • However, India is the only country in the grouping that is leaning towards excluding Chinese participation in the roll-out of its national 5G network.
  • Way ahead for India:
    • India is unlikely to allow Chinese participation in 5G, particularly in the wake of recent moves to tighten investment from China and to ban 59 Chinese apps, citing national security concerns.
    • The ban, which followed the June clash in Galwan Valley, cited a “threat to the sovereignty and integrity of India” posed by the apps.
    • Indian intelligence assessments have also expressed concerns about the possible direct or indirect links of several Chinese companies, including Huawei, with the Chinese military.
    • India has made clear a return to normalcy cannot be possible while tensions along the Line of Actual Control remain unresolved.
  • Similar efforts by the UK- 5G club:
    • In May, the British government approached the US with the prospect of creating a 5G club of 10 democracies.
    • It includes G7 countries – UK, US, Italy, Germany, France, Japan, and Canada – plus Australia, South Korea, and India.
    • It will aim to create alternative suppliers of 5G equipment and other technologies to avoid relying on China.
  • What underlying technologies make up 5G?
    • 5G is based on OFDM (Orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing), a method of modulating a digital signal across several different channels to reduce interference.
    • 5G uses a 5G NR air interface alongside OFDM principles.
    • 5G also uses wider bandwidth technologies such as sub-6 GHz and mmWave.
    • The previous generations of mobile networks are 1G, 2G, 3G, and 4G.
      • 1. First-generation – 1G
        • The 1980s: 1G delivered analogue voice.
      • 2. Second-generation – 2G
        • In the early 1990s: 2G introduced digital voice (e.g. CDMA- Code Division Multiple Access).
      • 3. Third generation – 3G
        • In the early 2000s: 3G brought mobile data (e.g. CDMA2000).
      • 4. Fourth-generation – 4G LTE
        • The 2010s: 4G LTE ushered in the era of mobile broadband.
        • 1G, 2G, 3G, and 4G all led to 5G, which is designed to provide more connectivity than was ever available before.

Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement(BECA)

  • Context:
    • Recently, India and the US inked the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement.
  • About:
    • BECA provides for the sharing of high-end military technology, classified satellite data, and critical information, during the third edition of their 2+2 ministerial dialogue.
    • Along with the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), and the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), BECA will be one of the foundational military communication agreements between the two countries.
  • Advantages:
    • BECA combined with other pacts will enable deeper defense ties between India and the US and contributes to a free and open Indo-Pacific region.
    • The agreement will give India access to classified spatial data as well as critical information having significant military applications from the US.
      • These include access to a range of topographical, nautical, and aeronautical data considered key to map hostile movements and precise and real-time information on enemy positions accessed from US military satellites during any potential border conflict.
    • Will provide greater impetus for acquisitions of American military platforms by India.
    • Enhances interoperability between the US and Indian military forces and enables greater sharing of intelligence and analysis.
    • US geospatial information will help to achieve very high military accuracy for weapon systems such as cruise and ballistic missiles and advanced UAVs.
    • The US would exchange technical and procedural information about methods, specifications, and formats for the collection, processing, and production of Geo intelligence information with India.

Essential Digital Infrastructure and Services Network(EDISON) Alliance

  • Context:
    • The World Economic Forum has announced the launch of an Essential Digital Infrastructure and Services Network(EDISON) Alliance.
  • About:
    • The alliance will work towards ensuring global and equitable access to the digital economy.
    • The Geneva-based World Economic Forum (WEF) will serve as the secretariat and platform for the Alliance.
  • How will it ensure equitable access to the digital economy? 
    • The alliance will work with governments and industries. It will accelerate digital inclusion and will ensure cross-sectoral collaboration between the technology industry and other critical sectors of the economy.
  • Advisory Board:
    • An expert group of Champions Leaders board will advise and support the Alliance. The board will be chaired by Verizon’s Chairman and CEO Hans Vestberg.
  • Significance:
    • Access to digital technologies has enabled many to work, learn and live during the COVID-19 pandemic.
    • However, the pandemic has exposed and exacerbated existing digital gaps and inequalities in the global population.

National Atlas & Thematic Mapping Organisation

  • Context:
    • Recently NATMO has organised the 40th Indian National Cartographic Association (INCA) International Congress.
  • About:
    • NATMO is a subordinate department under the Department of Science & Technology.
    • Headquarters is in Kolkata.
    • It is a sole national agency with the responsibility to depict national framework data in the form of thematic maps and atlases to cater to the various needs of different sectors.
    • It has the largest repository of spatial and non-spatial data processed with greater accuracy for delivering good quality products.
    • To ensure precision and value addition, NATMO keeps pace with the most modern technologies.
  • The main functions of this organization are:
    • Compilation of the National Atlas of India in Hindi, English, and other regional languages.
    • Preparation of thematic maps based on socio-economic, physical, cultural, environmental, demographic, and other issues.
    • Preparation of maps/atlases for the visually impaired.
    • Digital mapping and training using remote sensing, GPS, and GIS technology.
    • Cartographic and geographical researches at a national level.

Committee on World Food Security

  • Context:
    • The UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS) has endorsed the first-ever Voluntary Guidelines on Food Systems and Nutrition(VGFSyN).
  • About Committee on World Food Security:
    • It was established in 1974 as an intergovernmental body.
    • It serves as a forum in the United Nations System for review and follow-up of policies concerning world food security including production and physical and economic access to food.
    • It has a permanent Secretariat. It is located in the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) headquarters in Rome, Italy,
    • The Committee reports to the UN General Assembly through the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and to FAO Conference.
    • It receives its core funding equally from The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and The World Food Programme (WFP).
  • About the guidelines:
    • These guidelines will support countries in their efforts to eradicate all forms of hunger and malnutrition.
    • It will utilize a comprehensive food systems approach for this aim. It will be built upon the existing work and mandate of other international bodies. For example, the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition(2016-2025) and Sustainable Development Goal (2) of ‘Zero Hunger’.
    • Guidelines call for the realization of the right to adequate food in the context of national food security for all. Its particular focus is on the most vulnerable and affected groups.

ADMM plus

  • Context:
    • India's Defense Minister attended the 14th ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus organized online at Hanoi, Vietnam on 10 December 2020 that marked the 10th anniversary of ADMM Plus.

  • About the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus (ADMM-Plus):
    • The ADMM-Plus is a platform for ASEAN and its eight Dialogue Partners to strengthen security and defense cooperation for peace, stability, and development in the region.
    • Consistent with the ADMM guiding principles of open and outward-looking, the 2nd ADMM in Singapore in 2007 adopted the Concept Paper to establish the ADMM-Plus.
    • Agreed on five areas of practical cooperation under this new mechanism, namely
      1. Maritime security,
      2. Counter-terrorism,
      3. Humanitarian assistance,
      4. Disaster relief, and
      5. Peacekeeping operations and military medicine.

Covered in detail in Samjaho's Corner: https://samajho.com/upsc/india-asean-relations/

60th anniversary of the Antarctic treaty

Context: The Antarctic Treaty was signed 60 years ago, and it is a unique example of a single treaty that regulates an entire continent.

About the Treaty:

  • It was signed in December 1959 with the goal of making the Antarctic Continent a demilitarised zone that would only be used for scientific research.
  • The pact was signed in 1961 and now has 54 signatories.
  • In 1983, India became a signatory to the pact.
  • All land and ice sheets south of 60°S latitude are considered Antarctica.
  • Buenos Aires, Argentina is the headquarters of the Antarctic Treaty Secretariat.

Major Provisions:

  • Freedom of scientific research.
  • Use the continent for peaceful purposes only.
  • Prohibition of military activities, nuclear tests, and disposal of radioactive waste.
  • Limit for making a new claim or enhancement of an existing claim.

Boao Forum

  • Context:
    • The opening ceremony of the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference 2021 was held in Boao, south China's Hainan Province.
    • This year's conference was attended by more than 2,600 guests from over 60 countries and regions.
  • Theme:
    • “A World in Change: Join Hands to Strengthen Global Governance and Advance Belt and Road Cooperation.”
    • At the event, BFA released an annual report on the Asian economy.
  • Key findings:
    • In terms of purchasing power parity, Asia's share in the global economic aggregate in 2020 reached 47.3 percent, up 0.9 percentage points from 2019, indicating the increasing role of Asia in the global economy.
    • The economic integration of all Asian economies is accelerating. By February 2021, there had been 186 regional trade agreements in force inside and outside Asia, accounting for 54.9 percent of the total regional agreements around the world.
    • In particular, the signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (RCEP) in November 2020 has been injecting strong momentum into regional and global economic growth, which is expected to give renewed impetus to further accelerate the negotiation of free trade agreements in Asia.
  • About the Bao Forum:
    • The Boao Forum for Asia was initiated in 2001 by 25 Asian countries and Australia (increased to 28 in 2006).
    • It is a non-profit organisation.
    • It has provided a high-end platform for political, business, and academic leaders in Asia and the world.
    • It is modelled on the World Economic Forum held annually in Davos, Switzerland.
    • The Forum is committed to promoting regional economic integration and bringing Asian countries even closer to their development goals.
    • It has made positive contributions to the promotion of regional economic integration, common development, and the building of a more prosperous and harmonious Asia.

SASCOF-19

  • Context:
    • Recently, the consensus report SASCOF-19 was prepared and released by the South Asian Climate Outlook Forum (SASCOF). The report has made a forecast of normal to above normal rainfall over most South Asian countries during the upcoming monsoon season.
  • About
    • It is a forum of climate experts representing Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan
    • It consists of expertise from members of the World Meteorological Organisation, Regional Integrated MultiHazard Early warning System, Japan Meteorological Agency and Korea Meteorological Administration.
    • It is conducted by South Asian nations and the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) since 2010.
    • It prepares consensus seasonal climate information on a regional scale that provides a consistent basis for preparing national level outlooks.
    • It serves to interface with user sectors to understand and enhance the use of climate information as orchestrated and supported by the Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS).

World Anti Doping Agency(WADA)

  • Context: 
    • India has pledged a sum of USD 1 million to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) towards the agency’s scientific research budget.
  • About WADA:
    • Established: It was established in 1999 as an international independent agency composed and funded equally by the sport movement and governments of the world.
    • Its foundation was initiated by the International Olympic Committee to promote, coordinate, and monitor the fight against drugs in sports.
    • Headquartered: Montreal, Canada.
    • Function: Its key activities include scientific research, education, development of anti-doping capacities, and monitoring of the World Anti-Doping Code – the document harmonizing anti-doping policies in all sports and all countries.
    • Values: Integrity, Accountability, and Excellence are the core values of the agency.

EURASIAN ECONOMIC UNION (EAEU)

  • Context:
    • Uzbekistan Takes Further Steps Toward Eurasian Economic Union.
  • About:
    • The Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) is an economic union of states located in Eastern Europe, Western Asia, and Central Asia.
    • Founded in 2015, the EAEU is a free trade bloc consisting of Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. The union has a market of 183 million people and a combined gross domestic product of over $1.9 trillion.
    • The EAEU has focused much of its efforts on building economic ties with Asia, signing free trade deals with Vietnam in 2015 and Singapore in 2019. It is currently negotiating with Indonesia, Thailand, Brunei, the Philippines, and Cambodia.
    • Russia is also pushing for India’s entry into EAEU.
    • India and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) are discussing the possibility of signing a Free Trade Agreement (FTA).

Russia, India, and China (RIC) grouping

  • Context:
    • Amid the tensions on the Line of Actual Control, the dominant calls were for a more decisive westward shift in India’s foreign policy.
    • However, last month, India decided to attend a (virtual) meeting of the Foreign Ministers of Russia, India, and China (RIC). This meeting seemed incongruous in this setting.
  • What is RIC?
    • Conceived by the then Russian foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov in 1998.
    • The group was founded on the basis of “ending its subservient foreign policy guided by the U.S.,” and “renewing old ties with India and fostering the newly discovered friendship with China.”
  • Why was it formed?
    1. In the early 2000s, the three countries were positioning themselves for a transition from a unipolar to multipolar world order.
    2. The RIC shared some non-West (as distinct from anti-West) perspectives on the global order, such as an emphasis on sovereignty and territorial integrity, impatience with homilies on social policies, and opposition to regime change from abroad.
    3. Their support for democratisation of the global economic and financial architecture moved to the agenda of BRIC (with the addition of Brazil).
  • Significance and potential of the grouping:
    1. Together, the RIC countries occupy over 19 percent of the global landmass and contribute to over 33 percent of global GDP.
    2. All three are nuclear powers and two, Russia and China, are permanent members of the UN Security Council, while India aspires to be one.
    3. The trio could also contribute to creating a new economic structure for the world.
    4. They could work together on disaster relief and humanitarian assistance.
  • Present situation:
    • A lot has changed in recent times;
    • India’s relations with the U.S. surged, encompassing trade and investment, a landmark civil nuclear deal, and a burgeoning defence relationship that met India’s objective of diversifying military acquisitions away from a near-total dependence on Russia.
    • China went back on the 2005 agreement, launched the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, worked to undermine India’s influence in its neighbourhood, and expanded its military and economic presence in the Indian Ocean.
    • As U.S.-Russia relations imploded in 2014 (after the annexation/accession of Crimea), Russia’s pushback against the U.S. included cultivating the Taliban in Afghanistan and enlisting Pakistan’s support for it.
  • Importance of RIC for India:
    • RIC still has significance.
      1. India is in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which is driven by Russia and China and includes four Central Asian countries.
      2. Central Asia is strategically located, bordering our turbulent neighbourhood.
      3. A sliver of land separates Tajikistan from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Pakistan’s membership of SCO and the potential admission of Iran and Afghanistan (as member states) heighten the significance of the SCO for India.
  • What needs to be done?
    1. It is important for India to shape the Russia-China dynamics in this region, to the extent possible. The Central Asian countries have signalled they would welcome such a dilution of the Russia-China duopoly.
    2. The ongoing India-Iran-Russia project for a sea/road/rail link from western India through Iran to Afghanistan and Central Asia is an important initiative for achieving an effective Indian presence in Central Asia, alongside Russia and China.
    3. The defence and energy pillars of India’s partnership with Russia remain strong. Access to Russia’s abundant natural resources can enhance the security of our materials — the importance of which has been highlighted by COVID-19.
    4. With China too, we have to work bilaterally and multilaterally on a range of issues, even while firmly protecting our interests on the border, in technology and the economy.
    5. The Indo-Pacific is a geographic space of economic and security importance, in which a cooperative order should prevent the dominance of any external power.
  • Conclusion:
    • The current India-China stand-off has intensified calls for India to fast-track partnership with the U.S. This is an unexceptionable objective but is not a silver bullet. National security cannot be fully outsourced. India’s quest for the autonomy of action is based on its geographical realities, historical legacies, and global ambitions — not a residual Cold War mindset.

India Energy Modeling Forum

  • Context:
    • In the recent joint working group meeting of the Sustainable Growth Pillar, an India Energy Modeling Forum was launched.
  • Composition:
    • The forum would include knowledge partners, data agencies, and concerned government ministries.
    • NITI Aayog will initially coordinate the activities of the forum and finalizing its governing structure.
  • Background:
    • Sustainable Growth Pillar is an important pillar of the India-US Strategic Energy Partnership co-chaired by NITI Aayog and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
    • The SG pillar entails energy data management, energy modelling, and collaboration on low carbon technologies as three key activities.
  • The Forum aims to:
    1. Provide a platform to examine important energy and environmental-related issues;
    2. Inform decision-making process to the Indian government;
    3. Improve cooperation between modelling teams, government, and knowledge partners, funders;
    4. Facilitate the exchange of ideas, ensure production of high-quality studies;
    5. Identify knowledge gaps at different levels and across different areas;
    6. Build the capacity of Indian institutions.
  • What is Energy Modelling?
    • Energy modeling or energy system modeling is the process of building computer models of energy systems in order to analyze them.
    • Such models often employ scenario analysis to investigate different assumptions about the technical and economic conditions at play.
    • Outputs may include the system feasibility, greenhouse gas emissions, cumulative financial costs, natural resource use, and energy efficiency of the system under investigation.
  • What is Energy Modelling Forums (EMF)?
    • The Energy Modelling Forum (EMF) in the USA was established in 1976 at Stanford University to connect leading modeling experts and decision-makers from government, industry, universities, and other research organizations.
    • The forum provides an unbiased platform to discuss the contemporary issues revolving around energy and the environment.

Common Conventions/Dialogues And Talks:

Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership

  • Context:
    • The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the world’s largest trade bloc of 15 countries including the 10 ASEAN members, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand, was signed on November 15 without India, which was part of the long-running negotiations until it withdrew last year.
  • About:
    • The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is an agreement between the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its 5 free trade agreement (FTA) partners.
    • The pact aims to cover trade in goods and services, intellectual property, etc.
    • RCEP aims to create an integrated market with 15 countries, making it easier for products and services of each of these countries to be available across this region.
    • The members' make up nearly a third of the world's population and account for 29% of global gross domestic product.
  • China's role in RCEP:
    • RCEP was pushed by Beijing in 2012 to counter another FTA that was in the works at the time: The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
    • The US-led TPP excluded China.
    • However, in 2016 US President Donald Trump withdrew his country from the TPP.
    • Since then, the RCEP has become a major tool for China to counter the US efforts to prevent trade with Beijing.
  • Why did India decide against signing the RCEP trade deal?
    • India decided against joining Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade deal, saying it was not shying away from opening up to global competition across sectors, but it had made a strong case for an outcome that would be favorable to all countries and all sectors. 
    • Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his speech at the RCEP Summit, said “the present form of the RCEP agreement does not fully reflect the basic spirit and the agreed guiding principles of RCEP. It also does not address satisfactorily India's outstanding issues and concerns in such a situation.”
  • Why was India cautious in its RCEP negotiations?
    • There was a fear in India that its industries would be unable to compete with China and Chinese goods would flood Indian markets.
    • India’s farmers were also worried given that they would be unable to compete on a global scale.

Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO)

  • Context:
    • Meetings of the SCO defence ministers and foreign ministers were recently held in Russia.
  • About the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO):
    • It is a permanent intergovernmental international organisation.
    • Its creation was announced on 15 June 2001 in Shanghai (China) by the Republic of Kazakhstan, the People’s Republic of China, the Kyrgyz Republic, the Russian Federation, the Republic of Tajikistan, and the Republic of Uzbekistan.
    • It was preceded by the Shanghai Five mechanism.
    • The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Charter was signed during the St.Petersburg SCO Heads of State meeting in June 2002 and entered into force on 19 September 2003.
    • The SCO’s official languages are Russian and Chinese.
  • SCO’s main goals:
    • Strengthening mutual trust and neighborliness among the member states;
    • Promoting their effective cooperation in politics, trade, the economy, research, technology, and culture, as well as in education, energy, transport, tourism, environmental protection, and other areas;
    • Making joint efforts to maintain and ensure peace, security, and stability in the region; and
    • Moving towards the establishment of a democratic, fair, and rational new international political and economic order.
  • Bodies under SCO:
    • Heads of State Council (HSC) is the supreme decision-making body in the SCO. It meets once a year and adopts decisions and guidelines on all important matters of the organisation.
    • SCO Heads of Government Council (HGC) meets once a year to discuss the organisation’s multilateral cooperation strategy and priority areas, to resolve current important economic and other cooperation issues, and also to approve the organisation’s annual budget.
    • Two permanent bodies — the SCO Secretariat based in Beijing and the Executive Committee of the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) based in Tashkent.
    • The SCO Secretary-General and the Director of the Executive Committee of the SCO RATS are appointed by the Council of Heads of State for a term of three years.
  • Members:
    • SCO comprises eight member states, namely-
      • the Republic of India,
      • the Republic of Kazakhstan,
      • the People’s Republic of China,
      • the Kyrgyz Republic,
      • the Islamic Republic of Pakistan,
      • the Russian Federation,
      • the Republic of Tajikistan, and
      • the Republic of Uzbekistan.
    • SCO counts four observer states, namely-
      • the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan,
      • the Republic of Belarus,
      • the Islamic Republic of Iran and
      • the Republic of Mongolia.
    • SCO has six dialogue partners, namely-
      • the Republic of Azerbaijan,
      • the Republic of Armenia,
      • the Kingdom of Cambodia,
      • the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal,
      • the Republic of Turkey, and
      • the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.

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International Finance Corporation (IFC)

  • Context:
    • IFC to invest $10 mn in Endiya Partners Fund II for product start-ups.
  • About the International Finance Corporation (IFC):
    • It is an international financial institution that offers investment, advisory, and asset management services to encourage private sector development in developing countries.
    • It is a member of the World Bank Group and is headquartered in Washington, D.C., United States.
    • It was established in 1956 as the private sector arm of the World Bank Group to advance economic development by investing in strictly for-profit and commercial projects that purport to reduce poverty and promote development.
    • The IFC is owned and governed by its member countries but has its own executive leadership and staff that conduct its normal business operations.
    • It is a corporation whose shareholders are member governments that provide paid-in capital and which have the right to vote on its matters.
    • Since 2009, the IFC has focused on a set of development goals that its projects are expected to target.
    • Its goals are to increase sustainable agriculture opportunities, improve healthcare and education, increase access to financing for microfinance and business clients, advance infrastructure, help small businesses grow revenues, and invest in climate health.
    • It offers an array of debt and equity financing services and helps companies face their risk exposures while refraining from participating in a management capacity.
    • It advises governments on building infrastructure and partnerships to further support private sector development.

Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB)

  • Context:
    • The government of India, the Government of Maharashtra, Mumbai Railway Vikas Corporation, and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) have signed a loan agreement for a $500 million Mumbai Urban Transport Project-III to improve the network capacity, service quality, and safety of the suburban railway system in Mumbai.
  • What is AIIB?
    • Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) is a multilateral development bank with a mission to improve social and economic outcomes in Asia and beyond.
      • It is headquartered in Beijing.
      • It commenced operations in January 2016.
      • It is a development bank with a mission to improve the economic and social outcomes in Asia.
  • Is AIIB actively recruiting new members?
    • AIIB is an open and inclusive multilateral financial institution.
    • Membership in AIIB shall be open to members of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development or the Asian Development Bank.
    • Unlike other MDBs (multilateral development banks), the AIIB allows for non-sovereign entities to apply for AIIB membership, assuming their home country is a member.
  • AIIB Project Preparation Special Fund:
    • Established in June 2016, the Project Preparation Special Fund (Special Fund) is a multi-donor facility with the primary purpose of supporting eligible AIIB members—especially low-income members— prepare bankable infrastructure projects AIIB may finance.
    • The Special Fund provides technical assistance grants for preparing bankable infrastructure projects.
    • Through these grants, clients can hire experts and consultants to carry out the required preparation work.
  • Various organs of AIIB:
    • Board of Governors:
      • The Board of Governors consists of one Governor and one Alternate Governor appointed by each member country. Governors and Alternate Governors serve at the pleasure of the appointing member.
    • Board of Directors:
      • Non-resident Board of Directors is responsible for the direction of the Bank’s general operations, exercising all powers delegated to it by the Board of Governors. This includes approving the Bank’s strategy, annual plan, and budget; establishing policies; taking decisions concerning Bank operations; and supervising management and operation of the Bank, and establishing an oversight mechanism.
    • International Advisory Panel:
      • The Bank has established an International Advisory Panel (IAP) to support the President and Senior Management on the Bank’s strategies and policies as well as on general operational issues.
      • The Panel meets in tandem with the Bank’s Annual Meeting, or as requested by the President. The
      • President selects and appoints members of the IAP to two-year terms. Panelists receive a small honorarium and do not receive a salary. The Bank pays the costs associated with Panel meetings.
  • Significance of AIIB:
    • The United Nations has addressed the launch of AIIB as having the potential for “scaling up financing for sustainable development” for the concern of global economic governance. The capital of the bank is $100 billion.

New Development Bank (NDB)

  • Context:
    • Finance and Corporate Affairs Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has urged the New Development Bank (NDB) to consider working closely with India’s new development financing institution for funding infrastructure.
  • Background:
    • NDB has so far approved 18 projects in India, including emergency loans of $2 billion to support health spending and economic recovery in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • About NDB:
    • It is a multilateral development bank operated by the BRICS states (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa).
    • It was agreed to by BRICS leaders at the 5th BRICS summit held in Durban, South Africa in 2013.
    • It was established in 2014, at the 6th BRICS Summit at Fortaleza, Brazil.
    • The bank is set up to foster greater financial and development cooperation among the five emerging markets.
    • Headquartered in Shanghai, China.
    • In 2018, the NDB received observer status in the United Nations General Assembly, establishing a firm basis for active and fruitful cooperation with the UN.
  • Voting:
    • Unlike the World Bank, which assigns votes based on capital share, in the New Development Bank, each participant country will be assigned one vote, and none of the countries will have veto power.
  • Roles and functions:
    • The Bank will mobilise resources for infrastructure and sustainable development projects in BRICS and other emerging economies and developing countries, to supplement existing efforts of multilateral and regional financial institutions for global growth and development.

G4

  • Context:
    • India and 3 other G4 nations seek single text for UNSC reforms
  • About:
    • The G4 nations comprise Brazil, Germany, India, and Japan.
    • The primary aim of G4 is the reform of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and the attainment of a permanent seat for its member(s).
    • The group has insisted on an expansion of both permanent and non-permanent members and an improvement in the working method of the UNSC.
    • The four nations have declared their candidature for a permanent seat within an expanded UNSC and, have supported the candidature of each other for the same position.
    • The formation of the G4 led to the formation of the informal group of ‘Coffee Club’ or ‘Uniting for Consensus’.
    • It is a group of nations that are selectively opposed to the four members due to regional rivalry and includes countries that consider the expansion of UNSC as unnecessary for global governance.
    • Italy has united with members of the Coffee Club and is calling for a consensus before any decision is reached on the form and size of the Security Council.
    • Italy has opposed Germany’s bid and prefers a seat for the European Union.
    • Similarly, Italy has not supported India’s bid for a permanent seat in UNSC.

G7 Summit

  • Context:
    • External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar will embark on a four-day visit to London to participate in a meeting of foreign ministers of G7 countries. India has been invited to the meeting as a guest country.
  • About the G7 Summit:
    • Location:
      • The G7 Summit takes place at Carbis Bay in Cornwall in the UK.
    • Aim:
      • The aim of this year’s G7 summit is to help the world fight and then build back better from coronavirus and create a greener, more prosperous future.
    • Guest Countries:
      • India, Australia, and South Korea have been invited to participate in the proceedings of the summit as “guest countries”.
    • Group of Seven(G7)
      • G7 is an intergovernmental organization formed in 1975.
    • Purpose:
      • The bloc meets annually to discuss issues of common interest like global economic governance, international security, and energy policy.
    • Countries:
      • G-7 consists of the US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, and Japan.
    • Origin:
      • The G-7 was formerly referred to as the G-8 until Russia was suspended from the group in 2014 after illegally annexing Crimea.
      • The G-7 is not an official, formal entity and therefore has no legislative or authoritative power to enforce the recommended policies and plans it compiles.
    • D10 Group of Countries
      • D10 is a proposal by the UK Prime Minister to turn the G7 into a forum for the world’s ten leading democracies.
      • The D10 would include G7 countries – UK, US, Italy, Germany, France, Japan, and Canada – plus Australia, South Korea, and India.

G7 tax deal

Context: The G7 grouping of advanced economies has struck a “historic” agreement on multinational corporation taxation.

More on news:

  • The first decision has been made to require multinational corporations to pay taxes in the countries where they operate.
  • The agreement's second conclusion commits governments to a worldwide minimum corporate tax rate of 15% in order to prevent countries from undercutting each other.
  • The deal will now be addressed in further depth during a G20 summit.

Is this the end of tax havens?

  • If the agreement does not completely eliminate tax havens, it will make them significantly less appealing to many businesses wanting to reduce their tax burden while simultaneously improving their reputation with investors concerned with environmental, social, and corporate governance issues.
  • The global minimum tax is designed to allow governments to levy a top-up tax on corporate profits in countries with lower tax rates than the global minimum.

About the G7:

  • It is an international organization founded in 1975 by the world's leading economies as an informal platform for discussion of critical global issues.
  • Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States make up the Group of Seven or G-7. In 1976, Canada joined the organization, and the European Union joined in 1977.
  • The G-7 nations gather annually at summits presided over by rotating presidents of member countries.
  • Initially founded as a forum for the United States and its allies to address economic difficulties, it debated a variety of subjects, including the oil crises of the 1970s, the economic transition of ex-Soviet bloc countries, and terrorism, arms control, and drug trafficking.
  • After Russia joined the original seven in 1997, the G-7 was dubbed the “G-8” for several years. After Russia was ousted as a member in 2014 as a result of the latter's invasion of Ukraine's Crimea area, the Group was renamed G-7.

G20

  • Context:
    • A virtual meeting of G20 Education Ministers was held recently to discuss and share experiences of member countries in the three identified areas of Education – Continuity in Times of Crises, Early Childhood Education, and Internationalization in Education.
  • What is G20?
    • The G20 is an informal group of 19 countries and the European Union, with representatives of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
    • The G20 membership comprises a mix of the world’s largest advanced and emerging economies, representing about two-thirds of the world’s population, 85% of global gross domestic product, 80% of global investment, and over 75% of global trade.
  • Origin:
    • 1997-1999 ASIAN Financial Crisis: This was a ministerial-level forum that emerged after G7 invited both developed and developing economies. The finance ministers and central bank governors began meeting in 1999.
    • Amid the 2008 Financial Crisis, the world saw the need for a new consensus-building at the highest political level. It was decided that the G20 leaders would begin meeting once annually.
    • To help prepare these summits, the G20 finance ministers and central bank governors continue to meet on their own twice a year. They meet at the same time as the International Monetary Fund and The World Bank.
  • How G20 Works?
    • The work of G20 is divided into two tracks:
    • The finance track comprises all meetings with G20 finance ministers and central bank governors and their deputies. Meeting several times throughout the year they focus on monetary and fiscal issues, financial regulations, etc.
    • The Sherpa track focuses on broader issues such as political engagement, anti-corruption, development, energy, etc.
    • Each G20 country is represented by its Sherpa; who plans, guides, implements, etc. on behalf of the leader of their respective country. 
  • G20 Members:
    • The members of the G20 are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union.
    • Spain as a permanent, non-member invitee, also attends leader summits.
  • Structure and Functioning of G20:
    • The G20 Presidency rotates annually according to a system that ensures a regional balance over time.
    • For the selection of the presidency, the 19 countries are divided into 5 groups, each having no more than 4 countries. The presidency rotates between each group. Every year the G20 selects a country from another group to be president.
    • India is in Group 2 which also has Russia, South Africa, and Turkey.
    • The G20 does not have a permanent secretariat or Headquarters. Instead, the G20 president is responsible for bringing together the G20 agenda in consultation with other members and in response to developments in the global economy.
    • TROIKA: Every year when a new country takes on the presidency (in this case Argentina 2018), it works hand in hand with the previous presidency (Germany, 2017) and the next presidency (Japan, 2019) and this is collectively known as TROIKA. This ensures continuity and consistency of the group’s agenda.

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European Union

  • Context: 
    • The EU has launched legal action against the UK over its plans to override sections of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.
  • About:
    • It is a political and economic union of 27 member states that are located primarily in Europe. It came into force after the signing of the Maastricht Treaty.
    • 19 of these countries use the EURO as their official currency. 9 EU members (Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Sweden, and the United Kingdom) do not use the Euro.
    • The EU has developed an internal single market through a standardized system of laws that apply in all member states in the matter, where members have to agree to act as one. The EU also allows free movement of people, to live and work in whichever country they choose.
    • On January 31, 2020, the United Kingdom formally left the European Union, UK is the first country to leave the EU.
  • Objective:
    • To increase political cooperation
    • To enhance economic integration by creating a single currency the EURO
    • Unified security and foreign policy
    • Common citizenship rights
    • Enhanced cooperation in the areas of judiciary, immigration, and asylum

United Nations peacekeeping

  • Context:
    • India, U.S. looking at training South East Asian nations in U.N. peacekeeping.
  • India-US joint training:
    • With China significantly scaling up its troop contribution for United Nations Peace Keeping (UNPK) missions, India and the U.S. are looking to undertake the training of military personnel for the missions from South East Asian countries on the lines of the ongoing initiative for African countries.
    • India has consistently been among the top troop-contributing nations to the U.N. 
    • The U.S., on the other hand, has never contributed ground troops but contributes 27% of the U.N. peacekeeping budget.
    • In 2016, India and the U.S. began a joint annual initiative “UN Peacekeeping Course for African Partners” to build and enhance the capacity of African troop and police-contributing countries to participate in the U.N. and regional peacekeeping operations. 
  • Contribution of China and India:
    • China presently contributes 12% of the U.N. regular general budget and 15% of the peacekeeping budget.
    • India’s contribution to the regular budget is 0.83% and 0.16% of the peacekeeping budget.
    • India has so far participated in 51 of the 71 missions and contributed over 2 lakh personnel.
    • It has troop deployment in Lebanon, Golan Heights, Congo, and South Sudan in addition to staff officers in other missions. 

United Nations Security Council

  • Context:
    • India was approaching its two-year term on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) with “a strong commitment to reformed multilateralism”, India’s Permanent Representative to the UN, T.S. Tirumurti said in news.
  • About UNSC:
    • The Security Council was established by the UN Charter in 1945. It is one of the six principal organs of the United Nations.
    • Its primary responsibility is to work to maintain international peace and security.
    • The council has 15 members5 permanent members and 10 non-permanent members elected for two-year terms.
    • The five permanent members are the United States, the Russian Federation, France, China, and the United Kingdom.
    • The non-permanent members are elected for two-year terms by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).
    • Five members of the UNSC are replaced every year.
    • The members are selected from all the regions of the world. Three members are from Africa, while Asia, Western Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean have two members each.
    • The new incoming members whose flags were installed this year are India, Ireland, Mexico, Kenya, and Norway. Estonia, Niger, Saint Vincent, and the Grenadines, Tunisia, and Vietnam are its other current non-permanent members.
    • Each member of the Security Council has one vote. Decisions of the Security Council on matters are made by an affirmative vote of nine members including the concurring votes of the permanent members.
    • A “No” vote from one of the five permanent members blocks the passage of the resolution.
    • Any member of the United Nations who is not a member of the Security Council may participate, without a vote, in the discussion of any question brought before the Security Council whenever the latter considers that the interests of that Member are especially affected.
    • The council's presidency is a capacity that rotates every month among its 15 members.
    • Its headquarter is in New York.
  • India at UNSC:
    • India has served in the UN Security Council seven times previously.
    • In 1950-51, India, as President of UNSC, presided over the adoption of resolutions calling for the cessation of hostilities during the Korean War and for assistance to the Republic of Korea.
    • In 1977-78, India was a strong voice for Africa in the UNSC and spoke against apartheid. Then External Affairs Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee spoke in UNSC for Namibia’s independence in 1978.
    • India played an active role in discussions on all issues related to international peace and security, including several new challenges which the UNSC was called upon to deal with in Afghanistan, Cote d’Ivoire, Iraq, Libya, South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

United Nations Human Rights Council

  • Context:
    • Pakistan has been re-elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council despite opposition from activist groups over its abysmal human rights records.
  • United Nations Human Rights Council:
    • UN Human Rights Council (Council or HRC) was established in 2006 by the UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolution 60/251.
    • It is the principle intergovernmental body within the United Nations (UN) system responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe, and for addressing and taking action on human rights violations around the globe.
    • Human Rights Council replaced the former United Nations Commission on Human Rights.
    • Council is made up of 47 member States who are elected by the UN General Assembly by a simple majority vote, through a secret ballot. Members of the Council are elected for three-year terms with one-third of the members being renewed each year.
    • Council membership is based on the equitable geographical distribution of seats according to the following regional breakdown: 13 African States; 13 Asia-Pacific States; 8 Latin American and Caribbean States; 7 Western European and other States; 6 Eastern European States.
    • All U.N. members are eligible to run for a seat on the Council.
    • 117 countries have served as Council members so far, reflecting the UN’s diversity giving it legitimacy when speaking out on human rights violations in all countries.
    • It holds three regular sessions per year of a total of at least ten weeks and can call special sessions to react quickly to urgent country and thematic situations.
    • Its decisions, resolutions, and recommendations are not legally binding.
    • As a subsidiary of the General Assembly, it reports directly to the Assembly’s 193 members. It receives substantive and technical support from the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), an office within the U.N. Secretariat.
  • UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR):
    • OHCHR, a department of the United Nations Secretariat, is mandated to promote and protect the enjoyment and full realization, by all people, of all rights established in the Charter of the United Nations and in international human rights laws and treaties.
    • The mandate includes preventing human rights violations, securing respect for all human rights, promoting international cooperation to protect human rights, coordinating related activities throughout the United Nations, and strengthening and streamlining the United Nations system in the field of human rights.
    • In addition to its mandated responsibilities, the Office leads efforts to integrate a human rights approach within all work carried out by United Nations agencies.

Indian Ocean Rim Association

  • Context:
    • An inquiry by the Prime Minister's office has found no substance in a private complaint that Union Minister of State for External Affairs V. Muraleedharan had violated protocol by including a public relations professional as an official delegate in the meeting of Ministers representing the Indian Ocean Rim Association Council in Abu Dhabi last year.
  • About:
    • It was established in 1997 and is a regional forum that seeks to build and expand understanding and mutually beneficial cooperation through a consensus-based, evolutionary, and non-intrusive approach.
  • Objectives:
    • To promote sustainable growth and balanced development of the region and member states.
    • To focus on those areas of economic cooperation which provide maximum opportunities for development, shared interest, and mutual benefits.
    • To promote liberalization, remove impediments, and lower barriers towards a freer and enhanced flow of goods, services, investment, and technology within the Indian Ocean Rim.
  • Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) has identified six priority areas:
    • Maritime security
    • Trade and Investment facilitation
    • Fisheries Management
    • Disaster Risk Reduction
    • Academic and scientific cooperation
    • Tourism promotion and cultural exchanges

Legion of Merit award

  • Context:
    • The US conferred the ‘Legion of Merit’ award on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.one of the highest military honors of the US. 
  • Why?
    • The PM was given this honor for his exceptionally meritorious service as the leader of India.
    • Indian Ambassador, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, accepted the award on behalf of PM Modi.
    • The former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison also awarded the prestigious Legion of Merit too.
  • What is the ‘Legion of Merit’ award?


    • Legion of Merit is the US military decoration having distinct ranks.
    • It is by far the first US medal that is awarded to the citizens of other countries. 
    • The award is being given since 1943
    • The medal is awarded for extraordinary services, fidelity shown by the person in either combat or non-combat situations.
    • It is unique in itself as any US military personnel can qualify only for the lowest rank of a legionnaire but a foreigner is eligible for higher ranks of officer, commander, and chief commander. 
    • The award is usually conferred upon foreign officials of high rank or on foreign military advisers.
    • The badge is a five-rayed white cross, edged with red, placed on a green wreath with a blue center consisting of 13 white stars.

Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI)

  • Context: 
    • The Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan has been nominated by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) as a member of the GAVI Board.
  • What is the GAVI Board?
    • The GAVI Board is responsible for the strategic direction and policymaking, oversees the operations of the Vaccine Alliance, and monitors program implementation.
    • With membership drawn from a range of partner organizations, as well as experts from the private sector, the Board provides a forum for balanced strategic decision making, innovation, and partner collaboration.
  • What is Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI)?
    • Created in 2000, Gavi is an international organization, a global Vaccine Alliance, bringing together public and private sectors with the shared goal of creating equal access to new and underused vaccines for children living in the world’s poorest countries.
  • Members:
    • Gavi brings together developing country and donor governments, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the World Bank, the vaccine industry in both industrialized and developing countries, research and technical agencies, civil society, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and other private philanthropists.

  • Main function:
    • GAVI’s strategy supports its mission to save children’s lives and protect people’s health by increasing access to immunization in poor countries.
    • It contributes to achieving the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals by focusing on performance, outcomes, and results.
    • Its partners provide funding for vaccines and intellectual resources for care advancement.
    • They contribute, also, to strengthening the capacity of the health system to deliver immunization and other health services in a sustainable manner.

OIC 

  • Context: 
    • India hit out at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) for making factually incorrect and unwarranted references to Jammu and Kashmir. The 47th session of the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers on November 27-29 at Niamey, Niger, had made a reference to India over its policies on J&K.
  • What is OIC?
    • The OIC, formerly Organisation of the Islamic Conference is the world’s second-largest inter-governmental organization after the UN, with a membership of 57 states.
    • Objective: “to safeguard and protect the interests of the Muslim world in the spirit of promoting international peace and harmony among various people of the world”.
    • OIC has reserved membership for Muslim-majority countries.
    • Russia, Thailand, and a couple of other small countries have Observer status.

  • India’s relationship with OIC 
    • In 1969, India was dis-invited from the Conference of Islamic Countries in Rabat, Morocco at Pakistan’s behest. 
    • In 2019, India made its maiden appearance at the OIC Foreign Ministers’ meeting, as a “guest of honor”.
    • External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj addressed the Inaugural Plenary in Abu Dhabi on March 1, 2019, after having been invited by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Foreign Minister.
    • The Ministry of External Affairs said then that the invitation was a “welcome recognition of the presence of 185 million Muslims in India and of their contribution to its pluralistic ethos, and of India’s contribution to the Islamic world”.
  • OIC’s stand on Kashmir
    • It has been generally supportive of Pakistan’s stand on Kashmir and has issued statements criticizing the alleged Indian “atrocities” in the state/Union Territory.
    • Over the last year, Islamabad has tried to rouse sentiments among the Islamic countries, but only a handful of them — Turkey and Malaysia — publicly criticized India.
    • In the 2019 Mecca summit as well, the OIC criticized the alleged Indian “atrocities” in the state.

Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC)

  • Context:
    • Oil prices hit their highest in a year on February 6th, closing in on $60 a barrel, supported by economic revival hopes and supply curbs by producer group OPEC and its allies
  • About OPEC:
    • OPEC is a permanent intergovernmental organization of 13 oil-exporting developing nations that coordinates and unifies the petroleum policies of its Member Countries.
    • The OPEC Secretariat is located in Vienna, it also functions as the Headquarters of the Organization, by the provisions of the OPEC Statute.
    • In 2016, OPEC allied with other top non-OPEC oil-exporting nations to form an even more powerful entity named OPEC+ or OPEC Plus.
  • Role of OPEC in oil pricing:
    • OPEC+ aims to regulate the supply of oil to set the price on the world market.
    • OPEC+ controls over 50% of global oil supplies and about 90% of proven oil reserves.
    • This dominant position ensures that the coalition has a significant influence on the price of oil, at least in the short term.
    • Over the long term, its ability to influence the price of oil is diluted, primarily because individual nations have different incentives than OPEC+ as a whole.
    • A pledge by OPEC+ to cut supply causes an immediate spike in the price of oil.
    • Over time, the price reverts to a level, usually lower, when supply is not meaningfully cut or demand adjusts.

OPEC+

  • Context:
    • OPEC+ has agreed not to increase supply in April as they await a more substantial recovery in demand amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
    • Crude prices rose after the announcement and are up 33% this year.
  • Concerns for India:
    • India is the world’s third-biggest oil importer. India imports about 84% of its oil and relies on West Asian supplies to meet over three-fifths of its demand.
    • As one of the largest crude-consuming countries, India is concerned that such actions by producing countries have the potential to undermine consumption-led recovery and more so hurt consumers, especially in our price-sensitive market.
  • What is the Opec+?
    • Opec+ refers to the alliance of crude producers, who have been undertaking corrections in supply in the oil markets since 2017.
    • OPEC plus countries include Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Brunei, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Mexico, Oman, Russia, South Sudan, and Sudan.
  • What is OPEC?
    1. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) was founded in Baghdad, Iraq, with the signing of an agreement in September 1960 by five countries namely the Islamic Republic of Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela. They were to become the Founder Members of the Organization.
    2. OPEC is a permanent, intergovernmental organization.
    3. OPEC’s objective is to coordinate and unify petroleum policies among Member Countries, in order to secure fair and stable prices for petroleum producers; an efficient, economic, and regular supply of petroleum to consuming nations; and a fair return on capital to those investing in the industry.
    4. It is headquartered in Vienna, Austria.
    5. OPEC membership is open to any country that is a substantial exporter of oil and which shares the ideals of the organization.

Gulf Co-operation Council

  • Context:
    • Qatar and its Gulf Arab neighbours have agreed last week to suspend three years of intense hostilities.
    • Nudged by the United States and local mediation from Kuwait, the Arab Quartet — Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates — lifted their unsuccessful blockade against Qatar at the summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council. The agreement to normalise relations was part of the shared commitment to “solidarity and stability”.
  • About GCC:
    • The GCC was formed in 1981 by an agreement among Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which was concluded in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
    • It is an economic and political union comprising of all the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf except Iraq.
    • Although its current official name is the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, it is still popularly and unofficially known as the Gulf Cooperation Council, its former official name.
    • The grouping was formed in view of the similar political establishments in the countries based on Islamic principles, their geographical proximity, joint destiny, and common objectives.
    • Members: The six members of the GCC are Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, UAE, Bahrain, and Kuwait.
    • The Secretariat is located in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia 

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)

  • Context:
    • The move by the Joe Biden administration of the U.S. to revive the Iran nuclear deal has once again turned the spotlight on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which played a key role in enforcing the original nuclear deal from which Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. in 2018.
  • About IAEA:
    • As the preeminent nuclear watchdog under the UN, the IAEA is entrusted with the task of upholding the principles of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1970.
    • Established as an autonomous organization on July 29, 1957, at the height of the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, the IAEA claims that it “works with its member states and multiple partners worldwide to promote the safe, secure and peaceful use of nuclear technologies”.
    • Though established independently of the UN through its international treaty, the agency reports to both the UN General Assembly and the Security Council.
    • Apart from dealing with the sovereign states and their pursuit of civil and military nuclear programs, the IAEA is also active in championing civil nuclear solutions to several areas like health,  climate change, pandemic containment, and the prevention of Zoonotic diseases.
  • Criticism of IAEA:
    • It proved to be ineffective to prevent power politics from influencing nuclear negotiations. This was particularly visible when Pakistan pursued a nuclear weapons program in the 1980s and despite overwhelming evidence in possession of the American authorities, they did not pursue the case effectively through the IAEA because of the cooperation between the U.S. and Pakistan on the Afghan front.
    • It lacks enforcement capability as it does not have any power to override the sovereign rights of any member nation of the UN
    • Another major criticism of the IAEA is that it never challenges the nuclear dominance of the five permanent members of the UNSC, who themselves hold some of the biggest nuclear arsenals of the world. 
    • Iran accused the IAEA of sending intelligence operatives who engaged in espionage against the interest of the Islamic Republic
  • Role of IAEA in Iran deal:
    • The 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or the Iran nuclear deal, proved that the IAEA can emerge beyond its mandate of being a monitoring and inspection agency and play a key role in finding solutions to tense international crises.
    • Recently, the IAEA and Iranian diplomats struck a “temporary” deal to continue the inspection of Iran’s nuclear plants for three more months, which keeps at least the diplomatic path to revive the deal open.
    • The coming weeks will, however, test the 63-year old organization as Iran remains suspicious of the exact intentions of the U.S. under the Biden administration.

International North-South Transport Corridor(INSTC)

  • Context:
    • India’s Foreign Minister addresses the Chabahar Day event organized at the Maritime India Summit 2021. During the address, the minister put forward the following proposal with respect to INSTC (International North-South Transport Corridor):
      • Inclusion of Chabahar Port in the International North-South Transport Corridor(INSTC).
      • Expansion of the INSTC membership by including Afghanistan and Uzbekistan.

 

  • About the International North-South Transport Corridor(INSTC):
    • INSTC was first proposed in 2000 to improve connectivity between Russia, Central Asian states, and India.
    • Route: It is a 7,200-km-long multi-modal connectivity project to establish transport networks (ship, rail, and road route). It will be used for moving freight between India, Russia, Iran, Europe, and Central Asia. It will cut costs and time in moving cargo.
    • Members: It includes 13 countries namely India, Iran, Russia, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Oman, Syria, and Ukraine.
    • Dry Runs: Dry runs of two routes were conducted in 2014 to identify and address key bottlenecks. The two routes were:
      • The first was Mumbai to Baku via Bandar Abbas and The second was Mumbai to Astrakhan via Bandar Abbas, Tehran, and Bandar Anzali.
      • However, the project has been slow to take off. Despite a renewed focus on INSTC by India and Russia, work was again hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Significance of INSTC:
    • Increase in Bilateral Trade: It has been predicted that improved transport connectivity will increase bilateral trade volumes between Russia, Central Asia, Iran, and India.
    • Shorter and Cheaper Route: As per the study by the Federation of Freight Forwarders’ Associations in India, the INSTC route is 30% cheaper and 40% shorter than the current traditional route.
    • Can Counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative: INSTC has economic and strategic relevance to India due to China’s ambitious One Belt, One Road Initiative. Hence, the proposed INSTC trade corridor could help India secure its interests in Central Asia and beyond.
    • Integration with Ashgabat Agreement: The INSTC can integrate with the Ashgabat agreement.
  • Ashgabat Agreement:
    • Ashgabat agreement is a multimodal transport agreement between the governments of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, India, Pakistan, and Oman.
    • Aim: It aims to create an international transport and transit corridor facilitating transportation of goods between Central Asia and the Persian Gulf.

International Criminal Court (ICC)

  • Context:
    • U.S. President Joe Biden has lifted sanctions imposed by previous President Donald Trump on two top officials of the International Criminal Court (ICC).
  • About ICC:
    • The International Criminal Court (ICC), located in The Hague, is the court of last resort for prosecution of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.
    • It is the first permanent, treaty-based, international criminal court established to help end impunity for the perpetrators of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community.
    • Its founding treaty, the Rome Statute, entered into force on July 1, 2002.
  • Funding:
    • Although the Court’s expenses are funded primarily by States Parties, it also receives voluntary contributions from governments, international organisations, individuals, corporations, and other entities.
  • Composition and voting power:
    • The Court’s management oversight and legislative body, the Assembly of States Parties, consists of one representative from each state party.
    • Each state party has one vote and “every effort” has to be made to reach decisions by consensus. If consensus cannot be reached, decisions are made by vote.
    • The Assembly is presided over by a president and two vice-presidents, who are elected by the members to three-year terms.
  • Criticisms:
    • It does not have the capacity to arrest suspects and depends on member states for their cooperation.
    • Critics of the Court argue that there are insufficient checks and balances on the authority of the ICC prosecutor and judges and insufficient protection against politicized prosecutions or other abuses.
    • The ICC has been accused of bias and as being a tool of Western imperialism, only punishing leaders from small, weak states while ignoring crimes committed by richer and more powerful states.
    • ICC cannot mount successful cases without state cooperation is problematic for several reasons. It means that the ICC acts inconsistently in its selection of cases, is prevented from taking on hard cases, and loses legitimacy.

I-Familia

Context: Interpol has launched a new global database named “I-Familia”.

About the I-Familia:

  • It uses cutting-edge scientific research and the DNA of families to identify missing people and unidentified human remains all across the world, as well as assist authorities in member countries in solving cold cases.
  • I-Familia is made up of three parts:
    • Bonaparte is a DNA matching software developed by the Dutch business Smart Research.
    • A global database dedicated to the storage of DNA profiles submitted by relatives that are kept apart from any criminal data.
    • Interpol developed interpretation guidelines.

What is Interpol? 

  • Interpol is the abbreviated name for the International Criminal Police Organization, a network of 192 countries that includes India.
  • The agency was founded in 1923 and is headquartered in Lyon, France.
  • “Our role is to enable police around the world to work together to make the world a safer place,” it adds. Our high-tech technical and operational support infrastructure helps us address the mounting problems of fighting crime in the twenty-first century.”
  • There are different Interpol notices:
    • Red Notice: A Red Notice is a request to locate and provisionally arrest individual pending extradition.
    • Yellow Notice: A Yellow Notice is issued to help locate missing persons, often minors, or to help identify persons who are unable to identify themselves. 
    • Blue Notice: A Blue Notice is issued to collect additional information about a person’s identity, location, or activities in relation to a crime.
    • Black Notice: A Black Notice is a request to seek information on unidentified bodies in member nations.
    • Green Notice: A Green Notice is issued to provide warnings and intelligence about persons who have committed criminal offenses and are likely to repeat these crimes in other countries. 
    • Orange Notice: An Orange Notice is issued to provide warnings about warn of an event, a person, an object, or a process representing a serious and imminent threat to public safety. 
    • Purple Notice: A Purple Notice is a request to seek or provide information on the modus operandi, objects, devices, and concealment methods used by criminals.

Tax Inspectors Without Borders (TIWB)

Context: Bhutan’s Tax Inspectors Without Borders (TIWB) program was launched in partnership with India.

More about the News:

  • This program is expected to be of about 24 months' duration through which India in collaboration with the UNDP and the TIWB Secretariat aims to aid Bhutan in strengthening its tax administration.
  • The focus of the program will be in the area of International Taxation and Transfer Pricing.
  • It is another milestone in the continued cooperation between India and Bhutan and India’s active support for South-South cooperation.
  • India has already been supporting Eswatini under TIWB.

About TIWB:

  • TIWB is a joint initiative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), intended to support developing countries to strengthen national tax administrations through building audit capacity.
  • The program launched in 2015 aims to strengthen tax administrations of developing countries by transferring technical know-how and skills to their tax auditors and through the sharing of general audit practices and dissemination of knowledge products with them. 
  • The TIWB Program complements the efforts of the international community to strengthen cooperation on tax matters and contribute to the domestic tax mobilization efforts of developing countries.
  • TIWB does not cover assistance relating to customs matters nor is concerned with providing policy support or other aspects of international tax treaties etc.



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