Asia Trains Eyes on Imran Khan’s Visit to Sri Lanka
By Ashok Dixit
This is an interesting time in South Asia and the region beyond. Attention in particular was on Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Sri Lanka from Tuesday and Wednesday (23 and 24).
The visit did not get off to the best of starts from Islamabad’s perspective, with the Government of Sri Lanka cancelling Khan’s address to the Sri Lankan Parliament, citing Covid-19-linked precautions. In relevant circles here in India there appears to be sense of déjà vu, or of ‘killing two birds with one stone’. Policymakers here are seemingly relieved as they were not enthusiastic or comfortable with the idea of Khan addressing Parliament in Colombo, believing on the one hand that there was a succinct China hand behind that development. Their other concern was that the Pakistan Prime Minister could potentially use the platform to internationalise the Kashmir issue again to improve his domestic ratings back home.
Islamabad, of course, was quick to deny and reject such posturing by New Delhi.
At the time of the writing of this column, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, according to reports, were to sign agreements on economic cooperation, culture and other mutually beneficial areas, but not necessarily on a key area like defence.
As per established protocol, Khan did have meetings with Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and called on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, besides engaging in a tête-à-tête with the Sri Lankan Muslim leadership and other Opposition leaders.
PM Khan’s visit has to be also seen as an attempt by Pakistan to ask Colombo apart from others to support it in its endeavour to convince the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to take it off the ‘Grey List’ of terror financing nations. Islamabad has been ramping up its efforts to win support from countries ahead of the next FATF plenary meet to be held in Paris from 21 to 26 February.
Russia Assures India
India has received assurances from Russia that its ongoing engagements with Pakistan will not impact Indian interests. For those unaware, Russia’s Special Envoy for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, has just concluded a visit to Islamabad. Moscow also played host to Pakistan’s Navy Chief Admiral Amjad Niazi last week, soon after the conclusion of the 45-nation naval exercise ‘Aman-2021’ of which the Russian Navy was a part.
India and Russia are in talks for the latter to have greater participation in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) and other Indo-Pacific-related initiatives. Moscow is yet to bite the bullet in a manner of speaking, given its suspicions that these initiatives are somewhat targeted at China. India, through its Foreign Secretary Harshvardhan Shringla, has taken pains to assuage Moscow’s concerns. It has suggested that initiatives in the so-called Indo-Pacific are all inclusive and not aimed at exclusion of any nation.
Maldives receives second consignment of COVID vaccines
The Foreign Minister of the Maldives, Abdulla Shahid, has thanked India for generously gifting a second consignment of anti-Covid-19 vaccines. New Delhi delivered an additional 100,000 doses of vaccine on Saturday (20). The vaccine consignment was handed over by Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar. He also offered a 40 million dollar Line of Credit to boost sports infrastructure in the Maldives. Maldives was the first country to receive Covid-19 vaccines from India in January this year.
The visiting Indian Minister also had meetings with Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and discussions with key Ministers of the Government before leaving on Monday for a two-day visit to Mauritius (22 and 23).
India and China take steps to reduce tensions
Senior military commanders of India and China have just concluded a tenth round of talks aimed at taking the disengagement of troops on both sides of the imaginary 3,488-km-long Line of Actual Control (LAC) forward. Last weekend’s meeting at the Moldo military check post on the Chinese side of the LAC has revealed that troops of both sides have withdrawn more or less from the Pangong Tso (lake) sector, a crucial point of friction between New Delhi and Beijing until recently.
The border stand-off between India and China began in May 2020 and had seen both sides deploying 50,000 troops each in the North-eastern Ladakh sector. So far, frontline soldiers, tanks, infantry combat vehicles and guns have been withdrawn, with more to follow in a phased manner as per reports.
With the disengagement process progressing along expected lines, both Beijing and New Delhi have agreed that their Special Representatives – Wang Yi and Ajit Doval – may meet soon to ‘sort out differences in perception over the undefined border’. Doval and Yi had their last virtual interaction on 7 June 2020.
Covid scare looms again
The Indian Government has advised States, including the most potent hotspots of Maharashtra and Kerala, to ramp up the proportion of RT-PCR tests as Coronavirus cases are said to be exponentially rising. In a letter to the States, the Central Government has stressed that all negative rapid antigen test results should be mandatorily followed by RT-PCR tests.
India is witnessing a rise in the COVID-19 active case load over the past few days. On Sunday (21), it was pegged at 145,634, or 1.32 per cent of India’s total infections.
“More than 74 per cent of the active cases of the country are in Kerala and Maharashtra. Of late it is seen that there has been a spike in the daily cases in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh also. Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir too are witnessing a surge in daily new cases,” the Central Health Ministry warned.
In the last four weeks in Kerala, the average weekly cases have fluctuated between a high of 42,000 and a low of 34,800, while in Maharashtra, the weekly cases have increased from 18,200 to 21,300.
Advisories have been issued to re-focus on strict and comprehensive surveillance as well as stringent containment in selected districts and conduct regular monitoring of the mutant strains through testing followed by genome sequencing, as well as monitoring of the emerging cluster of cases, the Health Ministry said.
Emphasis is also being placed on clinical management in districts reporting higher deaths. Lockdowns are being reintroduced in a phased manner to prevent exposure to the pandemic.
(Ashok Dixit is a New Delhi-based former senior editor/journalist with leading multi-media news agencies Sputnik, ANI & IANS. He is also the son of India’s former National Security Adviser and Foreign Secretary J.N. Dixit)