Regional priorities: On the SCO summit

Three years after joining the eight-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), India hosted the SCO heads of governments (HoG) meeting for the first time on Monday. The focus of the 66-point joint communiqué at the end of the virtual conference was in developing a “Plan of Priority Practical Measures for 2021-2022 to overcome the socio-economic, financial and food consequences of COVID-19 in the region”. Members committed to strengthening multilateralism and the UN charter while welcoming the fact that the grouping is now being seen as an “influential and responsible participant in the modern system of international relations”. The meeting also showed up persisting differences. Although the HoG Council consists of the Prime Ministers of all SCO countries, neither Prime Minister Narendra Modi nor Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan attended the meet, ostensibly due to a protocol mismatch between the position of PMs in parliamentary democracies versus those in the former Soviet bloc

Slow progress: On WHO's assurance to uncover origin of COVID-19

In 2003, a WHO team was able to identify the animal source of SARS coronavirus within weeks despite its arrival in China nearly three months after the initial outbreak. In the case of MERS coronavirus, the intermediate host was identified more than a year after the first human case was reported. However, in the case of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), its source is still unknown even 11 months after WHO reported the first case. Knowing the natural reservoirs and intermediate hosts and the events that allowed the virus to jump across the species barrier are important in prevention. Soon after the virus spread around the world, there was heightened demand to identify its origin in China’s Wuhan where the first case cluster was reported. Even as the global focus shifted to therapeutics and vaccine trials, it is reassuring that the global health body is still determined to find the virus’s origin. But the pace of investigation leaves much to be desired. Efforts began in February but it

Closer to punishment: On Tahawwur Rana's role in 26/11 attacks

More than 12 years since the dastardly attacks across prominent locations in Mumbai, its key conspirators have continued to evade justice in India. While nine of the attackers were shot dead by the police between November 26-29, 2008, one of them, Ajmal Kasab, was apprehended and sentenced to death after a trial that revealed the conspiracy and planning by LeT operatives among others responsible for the attacks. One among the foreign collaborators is Tahawwur Rana, who conspired with former FBI agent David Headley to assist the LeT in the planning and execution. Rana, a Pakistani-Canadian citizen, was found guilty by a U.S. court in 2011 of providing material support to the LeT and planning an attack on the offices of the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, and was later sentenced to 14 years in prison. Unlike Headley, who escaped extradition after entering into a plea bargain with the U.S. prosecutors and was sentenced to 35 years in prison, Rana was acquitted in the U.S. of charges of


Winter worries: On Home Ministry guidelines to check spread of COVID-19

New Home Ministry guidelines to check further spread of COVID-19 during the winter months starting with December reflect the government’s concern that the gradually reviving economic activity should remain unaffected by ongoing containment measures. The Centre has mandated that States declare containment zones online, identifying them with micro targeting to minimise the impact. It has also prohibited any lockdowns at State and city levels without prior consultation with the Ministry. Such advice might appear redundant, coming as it does after a long unlock phase that permitted the relaxation of restrictions on almost all public activities, barring regular flights and trains, and the onus having shifted to the citizen to avoid getting infected. Several States with a perceived decline in new infections have opened up even more; in Tamil Nadu, for instance, final year in-person college classes and medical courses except for fresh entrants are set to reopen on December 7. This is a time


Reaping the whirlwind: On farmer protests

Farmers of India have felt exploited for long. The reforms that the Centre brought in, apparently to make the agriculture sector more efficient and lucrative in the form of three ordinances in June, have had the effect of upsetting large sections of them further. Parliament passed them into Acts in September. More than 500 farmers’ unions are now on a path of agitation. Thousands of farmers from the neighbouring States, stopped by the police on their way to Delhi, are camping at several points around the national capital. They have refused to move to a designated site, a condition set by the Centre for talks. The Centre has aggravated its original mistake of rushing through these laws without wide consultation and political consensus by taking a condescending attitude towards critics. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Sunday that farmers stood to benefit from the new measures, and this may well be true. The trouble is that most farmers are not convinced by the assurances and fear

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