Hope and Relief Springs Anew
By Ashok Dixit
Ten months after the country was gripped by the spread of the novel coronavirus disease, kudos must be handed out to the Indian Government for releasing the Covishield vaccine (6.44 million doses) in 14 cities.
Distributed by the Pune City-based Serum Institute of India (SII), the Oxford University-AstraZeneca manufactured vaccine is being applied across the country in a staggered manner. Covishield will be given in the first phase of inoculation, while the Bharat Biotech manufactured Covaxin vaccine will be applied in the second stage of inoculation.
Vaccine recipients, however, won’t have the right to choose the vaccine. They will be given either of the two as both have been approved by the office of the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI). Recipients will get two doses of vaccine four weeks apart. The plan initially is to immunise 30 million healthcare and frontline workers who have been exposed to Covid while treating patients. Thereafter around 270 million people aged 50 and above and those in this age group with co-morbidities will be targeted for inoculation.
The Government has at its disposal 2,360 master trainers, 61,000 programme managers, 200,000 vaccinators and 370,000 other vaccination team members to ensure that inoculation process is smooth. Each vaccination team will have five members, of which, there will be one vaccinator. This exercise may well last beyond a year.
Stalemate on Farm Laws
The discussions between the Modi-led Government and farmers agitating on the borders surrounding the Indian capital continue to remain stalemated in spite of a Supreme Court order to the former to hold off on the implementation of the three contentious farm laws. Fifty-plus days have passed since the farmers, most of them from the northern parts of the country, opted to move out of their villages to convince the Government to repeal the laws that they feel could prevent them from enjoying a minimum support price for their crops and allow the private sector unrestricted exploitation of the richly diverse agriculture sector.
Last Friday (15), another round of talks was held with no visible outcome. Farm unions have refused to meet a Supreme Court appointed committee, claiming the latter is advocating implementation of the laws.
At the time of the writing of this column, former lawmaker and Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) national president Bhupinder Singh Mann has recused himself from the four-member Supreme Court committee, saying that prevailing sentiments and apprehensions amongst the farm unions and the public in general have convinced him to sacrifice the position offered.
Afghanistan troubled by “derailed peace process”
India’s National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval was in Kabul last week to exchange views on the prevailing situation in Afghanistan and its extended neighbourhood.
What may have prompted the visit were concerns in New Delhi about the growing uncertainty over peace talks between the Afghan leadership and the rebel Taliban, which has once again upped its targeted killings even as American troops withdraw from Afghan soil.
Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani is under pressure to step down and give way to an interim Government led possibly by his arch political rival Abdullah Abdullah.
There is a view that a change of leadership might provide the required breathing space for bringing the nearly two-decade-old civil war in Afghanistan to an end. People there are fatigued by the relentless bloodletting of innocents. Another school of thought, however, opines that a change of leadership at this juncture could offer an opening to an assortment of opportunistic politicians eager to grab power at any cost and usher in a period that could be more dangerous and unmanageable.
Be that as it may, the Doval visit focused on Afghanistan flagging its concerns over India’s refusal to clear the appointment of new envoy as well as other key issues of mutual interest to both nations, including a discussion over the prevailing regional security scenario and what can be expected from the new US/Biden Presidency post 20 January. Afghanistan has not had an ambassador in New Delhi since 2018 following the recall of Ambassador Shaida Abdali in September of that year. Abdali has since joined politics.
Kabul is keen to send National Security Council advisor and senior politician Farid Mamundzay as envoy, but Delhi has restricted itself to only assuring the former that the process of approving and presenting diplomatic credentials will be activated in due course.
A second round of peace talks is still some distance away from achieving acceptable fruition for either of the contending parties. Discussions have hardly made any headway since September last year. Last week, the no show of two top Taliban negotiators for the talks in Qatar was a clear signal of the growing global frustration over the snail-paced consultations.
India’s BSF finds tunnel used for 2019 Pulwama terror strike
The discovery of a tunnel that India’s Border Security Force (BSF) claims was used by terrorists from across the country’s borders to launch the devastating terror strike of 14 February 2019 in Kashmir’s Pulwama District has once again brought to the fore the urgency for beefing up the security presence along the border that separates India from Pakistan.
The tunnel was found in the vicinity of Bobbyian Village in the Hiranagar area of the Union Territory in the middle of last week. It is the second time in the last three months that Indian troops have discovered a trans-border tunnel, the first being in November last year.
Terror incidents and deaths resulting thereof since the revocation of Statehood and special status for Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019 have remained on the higher side.
Terrorism monitoring portal, satp.org revealed last month that in 2020 alone there were 382 terror-related incidents and 302 deaths. In 2019, the figure was 369 and 283 respectively.
Heightened security strictures notwithstanding, terrorist infiltrations continue unabated. Simultaneously, India and Pakistan continue to charge each other with ceasefire violations at both the Line of Control (LoC) and the International Border (IB).
The region of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh have recently held District Development Council (DDC) polls which went off rather peacefully, but there remains an undercurrent of persistent disaffection, particularly in the Kashmir Valley that existing political entities would do well to end sooner than later.
(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 Advisor and Foreign Secretary J.N. Dixit.)