Afghanistan: A ‘black hole’ the world dreads!

Initially, they all had grandiose plans to either exploit or squeeze into an unstable Afghanistan when the Taliban returned to power in Kabul on August 15, 2021. In less than two months, however, they have pulled back from this Asiatic cauldron, reminding themselves how it has sunk empires and superpowers.

History has taught them that the Afghans are at peace only when they are at war! It’s best to keep off.

Slowly, Afghanistan is fading out from the front pages. The reason, perhaps, is no one seems ready to burn fingers, once again, in this war-torn country. All nations are in the wait-and-watch mode, which, in geopolitics, means masterly inactivity, or keeping aloof the way Great Britain kept away from European power politics in the 18th and 19th centuries, and now doing the same, post-Brexit.

They have left Afghanistan to fend for themselves.

At least the suffering Syrians could migrate to Turkey, the Middle East, and the West. The Afghans cannot even do it. Their self-proclaimed local ‘messiah’, Pakistan, has tightly closed its borders; Pakistan’s own ‘messiah’, China, after initial fire and brimstone, has fallen silent due mainly to its own subtle power struggle within the Xi Jinping regime; the US-led West has already left the ‘graveyard of empires’ to its own fate; Iran is busy sorting out its mess with Washington, and India finds that no role in Afghanistan is better than any role—New Delhi, having already sunk over $3 billion between 2001 and 2020, will have to pay to play a role, with no guarantee that the footage will not be edited out!

So, after Syrians, the Afghans are the new global orphans. In the biting winter ahead, the hungry Afghans could die in large numbers as Islamist terror outfits engage in a do-or-die battle to outsmart one another. Afghanistan is facing a famine of both food and money, and the victorious Taliban find it difficult to make them eat guns and bombs.

Other countries are also keeping away. Any help offered to the country would go to the coffers of terrorists who will corner it. Kabul is already sitting on a volcano and a ‘civil war’—if that is the right word—is staring it in the face. Its mountains are killing fields, passes are mined, and plains grow largely opium and gunpowder.

In this ruthless power game, only the battle-hardened Islamists will survive in this terror-enrichment alchemy; all others will perish. Since they are ruling Kabul at present, the Taliban, and Afghan Pashtuns within its ranks, are likely to be ‘beneficiaries’ of this misfortune. By next spring and summer, the fiercest Taliban insurgents may target Tajikistan and Balochistan as a prelude to their next target: Xinjiang.

Luckily, if that happens, Pakistan will shield India as a buffer! For once, Islamabad’s claims that it is a ‘victim’ of terrorism will evoke sympathy!!

Some humanitarian organizations are concerned with this black hole-type implosion and the possibility of large-scale famine-deaths in Afghanistan in the coming winter. They do not want to send official aid to Afghanistan, as the Taliban regime remains globally unrecognized. The West, and others, want the Taliban to give ‘concession’ in return for opening the financial taps. For this, the Taliban will have to eliminate anti-West elements, like the Haqqani Network and the Islamic State-Khorasan, from within the Islamist regime.

Hunger is forcing desperate Afghans to sell their meagre belongings to buy food. Some global NGOs are preparing to fly in direct cash for the needy while avoiding officially financing the Taliban government, according to media reports.

Planning for the cash airlifts—and creating a cash lifeline—may materialize for a country facing a rapidly collapsing economy where money is short. This emergency funding, aimed at averting a cataclysmic humanitarian crisis in the face of drought and political upheaval, could mean American dollar bills flown into Kabul for distribution via banks in payments of less than USD 200 directly to the poor – with the expected Taliban’s blessings but without their involvement.

The food situation is so grim in this poor country that many Afghans are skipping meals to keep their children fed. The Taliban treasury has had no money since the departure of the U.S.-led forces, as many global donors robbed it of grants that financed 75 percent of public spending, according to the World Bank.

United Nations World Food Programme Director Mary-Ellen McGroarty has warned more than a third of Afghans–14 million out of a 40 million population–are facing hunger. The nation’s economy could collapse anytime in the face of a cash crisis.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has distributed about 10 million Afghanis ($110,000) in cash via a local bank and intends to disburse more soon, media reported.

The WFP is considering flying in cash and distribute it directly to people to buy food. Else, the donors would fly cash to the Afghan banks on behalf of the UN to pay salaries to the UN and NOG staff.

Kabul’s financial crisis arose as its central bank, with assets of $9 billion frozen offshore, has burnt through much of its reserves at home.

But the intrepid Taliban have survived such crises for another day.

Now they are looking at 2022.

A new Taliban: US-OZ forge n-sub deal to tame Dragon

For centuries, France has been the fulcrum of European civilization, the  Holy Roman Empire, Catholicism, the Crusades, Revolution, culture, fashion, and innovations…until it became one of the 30 member-states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organizations (NATO) after the World War II and lost its pre-eminence in world affairs first to Great Britain and then to the USA.

Even now, France is where Europe is still fighting its fiercest civilizational battle against a resurgent political Islam.

Those old wounds still ache across a narcissist France.

That is why Paris was so livid with the USA and a new challenger, Australia, this week that it recalled its ambassadors from Washington and Canberra in a huff. But France is also known to act in a haste and repent in leisure. It has done so multiple times in the past and returned to the table without taking back much.

On Friday, an angry Paris took the unusual diplomatic step against what it felt was the American-Australian ‘betrayal’. Its Foreign Minister even called it a “knife in the back’. The way it had failed to see in 1921 Germany’s anger at the Versaille Treaty, that sparked the World War II, it has failed in 2021 to visualize why America and Australia did something ‘behind its back’.

The issue at hand was France’s largest-ever defense deal, worth $60 billion, for the supply of a dozen traditionally-powered attack submarines, to strengthen Australia’s defence against China in the South China Sea and Beijing’s rising tension with Canberra, particularly after the pandemic.

China’s arrogance, expansionist designs and hegemony have, in the last couple of year, created an urgency for many nations, including the West, and they are drawing up emergency plans to meet the Dragon’s challenge in multiple war theatres. The sudden activation of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), and this week’s fresh alliance between the USA, Britain and Australia, are part of this geo-strategy, as was the last month’s ‘freedom’ accorded to the Taliban to keep a big chunk of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) pinned down in the Uyghur Muslim-dominated Xinjiang in the decades to come.

In other words, the way the US is pitting Afghanistan against China in the West, it is arming Australia in the East. Why? To keep Beijing away from foraying into global naval power politics on both the sides.

Apparently it was with this objective that, fearing the French reluctance to forgo its big business deal and thus delay decision-making in the face of mounting Chinese threat, that the US and Australia entered secret talks, keeping Paris out of the loop. The US promised Australia nuclear-powered submarines, media reports said.

That is why, as soon as US President Joe Biden announced the submarine deal on Wednesday during a news conference, all hell broke loose in France, which felt betrayed in 2021 the way Germany did in 1921.

Knowing this ‘French disconnection’ and idiosyncracy very well, and the possibility of the deal being sabotaged by a democracy-blinded and short-sighted Paris, the US and Australia went to extraordinary lengths to keep France in the dark while they secretly negotiated. The nuclear submarine deal, as expensive as the $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), will be a key component of the West’s policy to keep Beijing pinned down in South China Sea, although it scuttled France’s mammoth contract.

The French-Australian deal was signed in 2018. Since then, geopolitical realities have undergone a sea change, literally and metaphorically. China has suddenly emerged as the single largest threat to the world. The Dragon is now the Devil.

Had the US and Australia waited for an easy-going and argumentative France to come around to this urgency, it would have been too late. The new deal so enraged, predictably, that French President Emmanuel Macron, on Friday, ordered the withdrawal of his country’s ambassadors from both the nations.

Macron’s decision was not unexpected, on a day that France and the USA had planned to celebrate an alliance that goes back to the defeat of Britain in the Revolutionary War of 1776.

A furious France realized that two of its closest allies, the US and Australia, negotiated secretly for months and betrayed it.

Even in the last months of the Donald Trump presidency, Australia had already told the US that it wanted to wriggle out of the agreement with a snail-paced France.

Australia feared, correctly, that the conventionally-powered French submarines would be obsolete by the time of their delivery, at a time China was becoming uncontrollable. Canberra should, instead, buy a fleet of quieter nuclear-powered submarines based on American and British designs that could patrol areas of the South China Sea with less risk of detection.

Canberra did find it difficult to terminate the French deal, which was already over budget and running behind schedule. But it had to take a decision in the face of a recalcitrant China. According to the US officials, Canberra had assured them to take care of the French concerns. Biden was reported to have concurred with Australia’s fears of China, and uncertainty about France.

 “Biden’s top aides finally discussed the issue with the French hours before it was publicly announced at the White House in a virtual meeting with Mr. Biden, Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain and Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia. The result was a blow-up that has now led to a vivid breach of trust with one of America’s oldest allies”, media reported.

Apparently, Washington realized that the new threat, present and now, to the West and Europe, may not come from a hibernating Russia but from a resurgent China. It is, therefore, scouting for new defense allies in Asia—Australia, Japan, India—in a bid to create an ‘Asian NATO’ on the European model via Quad.

Not only France, even China did not get a clue on the new deal, and the three-nation alliance that quickly followed.  Beijing’s first response to the new alliance, named AUKUS (Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States), was that it was “extremely irresponsible” and would start an arms race. The Chinese Navy has built a dozen nuclear subs, some of which can carry nuclear weapons. Australia had earlier vowed never to deploy nuclear weapons. No longer.

When Presiden Macron recalled the ambassadors, the US seemed taken aback by the ferocity of the French response, especially its Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian’s comment that it was a “knife in the back.”

But the US knows the French bark is fiercer than a feeble bite. Its anger would gradually subside, as in the past, Paris would acquiesce and come around after assessing the real threats being posed by China to the world.

How can France forget that America had opened the second front at Normandy in 1944 to liberate Paris from Berlin…

And that Paris had gifted the Statue of Liberty to America in 1886 to commemorate its contribution to the American Revolution in 1776 against Britain?

Taliban 2.0: Kabul may now become China’s nemesis!

On July 28, 1914, a Bosnian youth assassinated Austro-Hungarian Empire’s heir Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, leading to the chain reaction we know as World War-1 (WW-1). By the time it ended on November 10, 1918, it had claimed 20 million lives, maimed as many, crippled the British, Ottoman, and Russian empires toppled ‘eternal’ monarchy in China, sparked anti-colonial movements across the world, including India…Several new nations mushroomed on the unburied corpses along redrawn bloodied borders.

The WW-1 burnt the stubble left by the imperial crops and prepared the soil for the Second. It was followed by a pandemic, influenza, which claimed some 50 million lives, including 18 million in India alone—irreversibly weakening the British Indian Army and making it impossible for London to retain the Jewel in the Crown which became too heavy for its Head of State to wear. With a lame Britain bandaged, Germany discovered Adolf Hitler to run amuck…

A century on, we are in the midst of another pandemic (Covid-19), and drumbeats of another potentially great war with its theatre shifting from Europe to Central Asia. The two World Wars predominantly affected the Christians and ended their hegemony; the gathering war in Central Asia could mainly be focused on the Muslims.

This has rattled Russia and China the most. Russia has the largest Muslim population in Europe (one-fifth of the total 140 million, or 25 million). The Muslim population in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is estimated up to 80 million. Most of these Muslims habit areas next to the Muslim dominated Central Asian Republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, the last three bordering Afghanistan, which, together have some 100 million Muslims. Add to this Pakistan’s 220 million, and Iran’s 84 million. These nearly 520 million Muslims could be the Taliban’s potential ‘catchment area’. Reports said the Taliban have trained some 40,000 Uyghur Muslims in Badakshan province of Afghanistan as Mujahideens to be sent to liberate China-controlled East Turkestan (Xinjiang).

These Muslim nations are, therefore, frightened of possible Islamist pollination due to the second flowering of the Taliban in an unstable Afghanistan. The Soviet invasion of Kabul in 1979 had, in a blowback, dismantled the USSR itself by 1991; now Moscow is afraid of a repeat of 1991 in 2021 with the Taliban more-than-ever resourceful and ready to go for the Russian jugular. This has forced Moscow to reassure its former satellite Muslim Soviet Republics with protection, continue to conduct the military exercises with Tajikistan, and even claimed the former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled with a wealth of $50 million, which remains unconfirmed.

More than Russia, however, China is mortally scared of the Taliban’s next moves—in Pakistan. Any possible creation of a “Greater Pakhtunistan” would quickly bomb out the $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), and with it, the $280 billion Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)’s 1,500 projects across Asia, Africa, and Europe. The cascading effect, like a collapsing house of cards, could encourage Xinjiang and Tibet to break away, disintegrate the Communist Party and China it leads, and topple the Xi Jinping regime itself…

Simply put, the Taliban 2.0 recapture of Afghanistan is not a one-off phenomenon confined to a landlocked, medieval country riven with tribal identities. It is a veritable flood that not just threatens to spill over across the Central Asian borders, it may also disintegrate the existing Russia and China.

Predictably, vested interests are trying to overplay or underplay the entirely new date, August 15, 2021, marking their geopolitical calendar. Or September 1, 2021, when the Taliban crowns itself in Kabul, as a reversal of September 11, 2001.

Working to a hard-bound script?

Remember: Coincidences? After fleeing Kabul, Ashraf Ghani surfaced in the US-friendly UAE. The Taliban permitted his aircraft to ‘flee’ from the Kabul airport they controlled! And Ghani, whom the US made the President in 2014, was “unaware” of the American troops secretly moving out of Kabul at night! His Vice-President Amrullah Saleh, who now claims to be the “caretaker” President, did not even know about his chief’s sudden flight—because Saleh is a Tajik, not Pashtun!!

In another America-friendly Doha, Qatar, Afghan-American diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad had stitched up the deal with the Taliban Co-Founder Mullah Abdul Ghani “Baradar” (Brother) in February 2020; Baradar, the Taliban’s political chief, remained a guest in Doha for some three years, from where he flew back into Kabul only last week.

Khalilzad is an ethnic Pashtun from the Noorzai tribe, as is the Taliban chief Hibatullah Akhundzada; Baradar is a Durrani Pashtun from Sadozai tribe, and the ex-President is a Pashtun from the Ahmedzai tribe. Tribal affiliations of Afghans are far stronger driving forces than Islam. The three Pashtuns know this tribal code and worked in unison. That was why the Taliban extended amnesty to the ex-President.

Remember also: In July, the U.S. shut its military bases in Qatar that had warehouses full of weaponry and transferred the remaining supplies to Jordan, enabling Washington to deal better with Iran. It reflected the military’s “changing priorities in the region”. 

There are also extra players in the unfolding opera. After initial claims, Turkey backed out of its desire to control Kabul airport–the Taliban suspected it of being too close to Iran. And British PM Boris Johnson, after initial anti-Taliban bravado, came around within a week. Apparently onboarded late, he meekly declared that London would do business with the Taliban “if necessary.” Notably, the British Parliament had already condemned China for the “genocide” of Uyghur Muslims.

About two dozen US diplomats in Kabul, unaware of what their own Deep State was doing, warned in a confidential internal cable sent on July 13 to Secretary of State Antony Blinken of the potential fall of Kabul to the Taliban if the US troops withdrew from Afghanistan, The Wall Street Journal said. But the US went ahead: clearly, Washington had not kept its own diplomats in the loop.

The Deep State may have kept the entire geopolitical operation so secret that even the White House, Defense Department, and State Department were furious as they were, apparently, kept out of the loop. Two US Congress members—Representatives Seth Moulton (Democrat) and Peter Meijer (Republican)– flew in on August 24 on a charter aircraft unannounced into Kabul airport in the middle of the ongoing chaotic evacuation, stunning the State Department and US military personnel. They were on the ground at the airport for several hours, media reported, without probing why they came and whom they met.

Joining the dots, away from the usually ill-informed media frenzy and comments/analyses by Jurassic era experts and diplomats, we can sketch the emerging larger picture.

Not that some of the game players were unaware of these developments. To start with, the ISIS-Khorasan, an Islamabad-backed outfit, condemned the Taliban as an American stooge, and suicide-bombed Kabul airport this week, killing over 200, to send message that the Taliban did not have support of all Afghans.

That was why neither Khalilzad nor Akhundzada, Commander of the Faithful (Amir-ul-Momineen) of the Taliban, have been seen in public.  Apparently, Khalilzad returned to the US after seeding the geopolitical field.  Akhundzada is said to be in Pakistan’s custody, the way Baradar was until 2018 when the US got him released for talks leading to the deal. Islamabad may pit Akhundzada as a bargaining chip, should Baradar, the next potential President, go ‘astray’. In that event, Pakistan may support Akhundzada as the Emir of the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan! And try to throw a spanner in the Taliban works for the creation of the “Greater Pashtunistan”.

If Islamabad has such fantastical dreams, it does not know the Pashtuns!

The Taliban may have anticipated it. Soon after they recaptured Kabul on August 15, they released their own bargaining chips, around 2,500 members of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) from Afghan jails, forcing Islamabad to rush Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) chief Masood Azhar to beseech the Taliban to make sure they did not attack Pakistan, in general, and the CPEC, in particular.

So, as the Taliban prepare to take on Xinjiang, they will use the TTP to keep Pakistan in check.

They were preparing for a long haul. First, the Ghani government was reported to have sacked at least six anti-Taliban army commanders some weeks ago; secondly, the government itself had systematically disarmed its own soldiers at many places which eased the militia’s victories, without delay and much bloodshed; thirdly, the American-led western armed forces left behind arms and ammunitions worth around $250 million which fell into the Taliban hands. The US had ‘invested’ nearly $ 1 trillion in Afghanistan in 20 years. This included $85 billion on the defense of which $ 25 billion were on arms and ammunition.

No investor can be so foolish as to let go of such a humongous investment down the drain, without returns. There must be a method in this madness.

And Washington has also kept the Taliban in check, just in case…!

So, Afghanistan may have nearly 200 fighter aircraft but most of them are grounded for being junk or want of spare parts not provided for years; also, their fighter pilots have mostly fled or grounded. Moreover, the US has frozen nearly $9.5 billion worth of Afghan Central Bank’s assets and the World Bank and the IMF halted aid.

These taps will be reopened when the Taliban work according to the plan!

And their time starts on September 1, 2021!


US ‘debacle’ in Afghanistan? As clear as mud!

Those stuck in the mud of history believe in the Spanish proverb: “The more the world changes, the more it remains the same.” But geopolitics is run by Murphy’s Law: “If anything can go wrong will go wrong.”

So, for those still stuck in classical hypotheses, Afghanistan is a Vietnam-type ‘debacle’ for America and a victory for China and Pakistan!

Now let us consider the following:

On December 25, 2008, Mark Landler’s piece The New York Times, titled “Chinese Savings Helped Inflate American Bubble”, unfolded the roots of the global economic crisis.

China had parked $ 1 trillion in US Treasury bonds, exports, investments, etc, which it nearly threatened to withdraw to bring America to its knees….In other words, China was trying to ‘financially colonize’ America, something no other country, not even USSR, had done!

Suddenly woken up from dogmatic slumber, Washington was alarmed with the Dragon’s torpedo. Its “Deep State”, apparently, worked on how to counter China during the Obama years (2009-16), and through the Donald Trump presidency (2017-2020).

By that time, China had hurriedly debt-trapped some of those 60-plus countries that had signed up for its ultra-ambitious, $ 200 billion Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) across Asia, Africa, and Europe. This included the $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that would have given direct access to Beijing into the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf. A broke Islamabad was almost a satellite client of Beijing that had, ironically, sabotaged Islam systematically across the People’s Republic of China, particularly in the Uyghur Muslim-dominated Xinjiang province bordering Afghanistan.

As the American strategy unfolded, it became clearer that it aimed to checkmate China in Afghanistan itself, where it had earlier halted the Soviet Union on a similar quest for warm water ports in the Arabian Sea. An atheist China, like Communist Russia, could be vanquished in the monotheist Islamic world, as it were.

There were two obstacles, however: the Israel-Arab quagmire and the Taliban conundrum.

The Trump administration succeeded in bringing on board Israel, the UAE (presumably, therefore, the Saudis as well), and Bahrain to sign the “Abraham Accords” in Washington in September 2019. Also, the Saudi-Israel relationship improved with then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s not-too-secret and well-publicized air dash to a Saudi town.

The Trump Administration’s next step was Afghanistan where it sought to replant the Taliban as a borderless militia to destabilize not only Pakistan’s Baluchistan and the proposed “Greater Pashtunistan”, but also Tajikistan and Uzbekistan whose Islamic spill-over to Xinjiang was expected. In other words, an Islamic insurgency across Central Asia aiming to liberate Xinjiang from China.

US representative Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan-American diplomat, led the US delegation to several rounds of talks with the Taliban leaders in Doha, Qatar. They finally signed an agreement on February 29, 2020, securing the Islamic militia’s guarantee to protect America and its allies’ interests in Afghanistan. In return, the US promised to withdraw its forces and non-diplomatic staff from Afghanistan completely in 14 months—that is by the end of May 2021.

Here is a link to this agreement:

The US-Taliban agreement repeatedly clarified that “the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban group”. While it sought to assure the Afghanistan government it supported that it still remained the legitimate one, it also assured the Taliban that “the US will request the recognition and endorsement of the United Nations Security Council for this agreement”–with a non-state actor designated as a terrorist outfit by the Council itself!

Clearly, if the agreement collapsed, the US had an escape route: it could always claim it had not recognized the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan!

It was now China’s turn to help America!

Twelve days after this agreement, the WHO declared Covid-19 as a pandemic (March 11, 2020). Between March 16 and 30, 2020, Trump used the words “Chinese virus” more than 20 times, nailing the phrase in the global media that Beijing was ‘responsible for the outbreak of the pandemic. By resisting the WHO’s attempts to go to the bottom of the truth, China only heightened suspicion, at the risk of becoming the global pariah.

That was when everything that could go wrong, did go wrong with China.

And the real geopolitical game began…

(To be continued)

Karma: Zia’s ‘thousand cuts’ return to haunt Pak, China!

Indians believe in cyclical history; they know that karma is a postman who never forgets addresses, and delivers all mail diligently. Others who believe in a linear history pretend to forget and are condemned to relive it.

China and Pakistan, ‘all-weather friends’, are also reliving their history.

Remember Pakistan’s sixth President General Muhammed Zia ul-Haq? In 1977, he usurped power, and guillotined his mentor Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who had vowed to fight India for a thousand years! Zia launched Islamabad’s re-Islamization drive and unveiled a ‘policy of thousand cuts’ against India to avenge Pakistan’s dismemberment and the birth of Bangladesh. Even Pakistanis mocked him: Zia, the migrant son of a vegetable vendor from Delhi could only practice fast-cutting sabzi in Rawalpindi!

These cuts, he dreamt, would bleed India interminably. He blended his army with the obliging mullahs, founded, funded, sponsored, armed, trained, and launched several Islamic terrorist outfits against India, and seduced Sikh separatists with a “Khalistan” dream.

But he forgot something. India had started the PIN Code-based mail delivery system on August 15, 1972, to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of Independence while Pakistan was mourning the loss of Bangladesh. By 1988, karma traced out Zia’s PIN Code as well: he was killed in an air crash, leaving behind a lot of undelivered mail.

Come rain or shine, karma had to fish out Zia’s successors. It did find two of them: one whom he had thrust on the Pakistani cricket team through the backdoor is now Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Imran Ahmed Khan Niazi. He is from the same tribe as Lt. General AAK Niazi who had abjectly surrendered 94,000 Pakistani soldiers before Lt. General Jagjit Singh Aurora in Dhaka in 1971; Niazi had the dubious distinction of being the only Ghazi (Holy Warrior) in the Islamic history of 1,400 years to have surrendered lock-stock-and-barrel to an infidel army commander!

The other addressee is China’s President-for-Life Xi Jinping who had warehoused his own inventory of karma after Chairman Mao Zedong purged his father Xi Zhongxun and exiled the family during the Cultural Revolution. Jinping followed his mentor Deng Xiaoping’s advice: hide your strength and bide your time. He became China’s President in 2013 and President-for-Life in 2018, forgot Deng, unveiled Dragon’s fangs, and rushed into expansionist mode; after marrying thrice, the last wife being a genie-owner, Imran Khan became Pakistan’s Prime Minister in 2018 and put his country on the irreversible path of destruction.

Now return of the thousand cuts…

That Pakistan is a bankrupt, failed state and rogue nation is an understatement. Islamabad follows Murphy’s Law: if anything can go wrong, it will! So, this South Asian is plagued with multiple organ failure syndromes. It is becoming a terror-infested basket case. And to cap it all, its former ‘slave’ Taliban became master of Kabul on August 15!

Cut to another. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is as far away from the Chinese people and republicanism. It is a revanchist, crushing democracy in Hong Kong and Tibet, charged with the genocide of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. It is punishing the makers of Modern China, like Jack Ma; it is charged with starting a biological war against others by releasing the coronavirus in 2020; it has lost the trust of all nations—except two: its client states Pakistan and North Korea, who, in their own right are viewed as Gangrenes of Asia.

More cuts are on the way: the Taliban’s threat in Xinjiang which may potentially trigger disintegration of China itself; the Taliban’s attempts to create a Greater Pashtunistan by splitting both Afghanistan and Pakistan…

To pin down the Dragon, the four-democracy-caucus—US, UK, Australia, and India—is working on the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) to set up an Asian version of NATO against China; the South China Sea is heating up; India has refused to let 1962 be repeated in 2022…and that festering wound: Taiwan. Every country is trying to undermine China: its $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is bleeding both Islamabad and Beijing; many of the client countries it had debt-trapped through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), like Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Malaysia are trying to wriggle out of the Dragon’s talons…

But the cherry on the Chinese cake dropped from the unlikeliest place: even a minnow has ignored the fire-spitting Dragon!

A small northeastern European nation Lithuania, with a population of less than three million, took the giant step this week of allowing Taiwan to open its embassy in the Baltic country. An infuriated China recalled its ambassador.

“The decision brazenly violates the spirit of the communique on the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Lithuania and severely undermines China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” China’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

It showed the desperation of a country that has mastered and pioneered the art of brazenly violating all international decencies and the spirit of dialogue with every single nation.

Lithuania knew the Dragon could only bark, not bite; it did not budge an inch.

The Baltic nation has already scored gains and Washington loves it. In June, it was announced that the 2023 NATO Summit would be held in Lithuania, and former President Dalia Grybauskaite may emerge as a serious contender for the role of its Secretary-General.

Remember, also, that Lithuania was the first country to declare its independence from the USSR on March 11, 1990; it started a chain reaction, and the Soviet Union officially ceased to exist on December 26, 1991.

The Polar Bear sank in the Baltic Sea; now the Dragon may as well!

The Taliban’s return: New battlefronts for China, Pakistan!

In one fell swoop—suddenly withdrawing its army overnight from Afghanistan—America has completely changed geopolitical equations against China. The resurgent Taliban may become Beijing’s nemesis and Islamabad’s graveyard, the way mountainous Afghanistan had become the graveyard for the British, Soviet and American forces.

Utter confusion in the two ‘all-weather allies is showing up in both China and Pakistan; they do not know how to recalibrate their policies about Afghanistan…and India.

Pakistan, in particular, has a sense of betrayal not only from Beijing but also from fellow Islamists of the Taliban it created, funded, sponsored, armed, and launched against enemies. On its border with India, it is petrified of the substandard Chinese military supplies; on its border with Afghanistan, it is paranoid with the unpredictable Taliban.

Recent media reports indicate the level of distrust between China and Pakistan as well, despite their protestations to the contrary.

One report said that Beijing has sold substandard equipment to the Pakistan Army, making it vulnerable to any Indian attacks. Another report said that China, distrustful of Pakistan, has sent it’s own ‘armed workers’—soldiers carrying AK-47 rifles—to finish incomplete infrastructural projects, in the midst of terrorist attacks against them.

The first report indicated that China is not properly responding to the Pakistani Army’ concerns that their air defence systems deployed on the eastern borders with India was endangered due to technical failures.

The Chinese-built portable air defence systems, artillery rocket systems and surface-to-air missile systems, worth millions of dollars, are riddled with technical and operational deficiencies. Because of this, as many as 850 man-portable Air Defence Systems (MANPADs), both launchers and missiles, have become dysfunctional, leaving a serious gap in air defence on its borders.

The Chinese-made FN-16 MANPADS were designed to intercept low altitude and ultralow altitude air targets like enemy helicopters and low-flying aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles under visual conditions. But most of these systems are handicapped by defective surface-to-air night aiming and battleground signalling systems. Without these systems, the MANPADs are literally blind.

The Chinese manufacturer, Wuhan Infrared Co. Ltd, instead of quickly replacing or repairing the systems, has appointed an allied firm, Valiant Technologies, to sort out the mess. Equally serious problems afflict over 500 QW 18 MANPAD launchers imported from China.

These systems were supposed to counter aerial threats and have a range of 6 km with a speed of 600 metres per second. It boasts of high anti-jamming and multi-tracking capability.

The MANPADs form part of a larger contract of supply of 1,300 systems with China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corporation (CPMIEC). About 500 of these systems were inducted into the Pakistan Army in 2016. Numerous deficiencies were found in these systems during biennial functional testing of these systems at the army base workshops since July 2019. The army has asked CPMIEC to replace at least 47 of these systems along with one base control unit and one training simulator.

The story of multiple launch artillery systems, A-100, also bought from China, is similar. It was manufactured by the China state-run Aerospace Long-March International Trade Co (ALIT).

The A-100, incidentally rejected even by the Chinese Army, was inducted into Pakistan Army. During field trials, the Pakistan Army found it wanting in many respects. Even the Chinese manufacturer concluded that the systems had to be replaced as they were beyond repairs.

These problems are causing a serious headache in the forward air defence positions of the Pakistan Army which comes on top of the persisting issue of the defective Chinese-made LY80 surface-to-air missile systems.

These reports of substandard Chinese supplies to Pakistan have come at a time when the Taliban are about to take back control of Afghanistan after the sudden withdrawal of American troops, something neither Islamabad nor Beijing were ready for. The American move has made both Xinjiang vulnerable to China and Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) to Pakistan.

For, they fear, under the new global realignment of forces, the Taliban may become Washington’s militant arm against Beijing the way it was against Moscow two decades ago. That is why China is trying to coax the Taliban to shun terrorism and recalibrate adjustment.

The Taliban now control nearly 250 districts, out of 400, in Afghanistan, and Beijing is apprehensive of their designs in Xinjiang, imperilling the entire Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), whose flagship project, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), passes through the restive regions like POK and Baluchistan.

Afghanistan is a key link between China and Central Asian republics, and Beijing envisions a “Pamir Group” of Afghanistan, China and Pakistan, with a new Silk Road linking the Caucasus to western China.

However, America’s masterstroke in arranging the Taliban’s return to Afghanistan has drastically changed geopolitics and put paid to China’s global ambitions. Apparently, the US has successfully persuaded the Taliban to join hands against China, the bigger foe, which has not only tried ‘genocide’ of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang but also attempted to wipe out the identities of even mosques and churches across the country.

Now, China is paranoid about insecurity overspill from Afghanistan and fears that it could become a safe haven for Xinjiang terrorists, whose trouble could further spill over to Central Asia and the Chinese mainland.

With China’s relentless efforts to blot out Islam from across the land, Beijing genuinely fears that Afghanistan could become a launchpad for the revengeful Taliban and for separatist activities targeting the iron rule of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in Xinjiang.

For long, Beijing has been blaming the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a shadowy group it accuses of seeking Islamic rule in Xinjiang, of fomenting trouble in the restive, Muslim-majority province. Recent reports suggested that hundreds of ETIM terrorists were being trained by the intrepid Taliban in the Badakhshan area bordering Afghanistan, Tajikistan and China. China and Afghanistan share a 76-km-long border which Beijing knows is porous for Uyghur fighters.

The CPEC was supposed to be extended to Afghanistan as well. This extension included projects like a motorway linking Peshawar and Kabul, and a trans-Afghan highway joining Pakistan to Central Asia. Afghanistan could have become a promising notch in the BRI.

As in Pakistan, where China is alarmed by attacks from militant groups like the Baluchistan Liberation Army, it fears uncontrolled attacks against Chinese interests in Afghanistan as well. The July 14 terror attack, in which nine Chinese workers and six Pakistanis died in a dam project, have heightened China’s fears, despite the Taliban’s ‘assurances’ as Beijing knows they are as unreliable as itself!

This particular incident has prompted China to deploy its armed men as ‘construction workers’ in the CPEC projects.

And Pakistan is in no position to say no to Beijing!

The Taliban: Pakistan scared of the returning Frankenstein it created!

Twenty years after the unsuccessful American troops withdraw from a minefield called Afghanistan by September 11, 2021, Pakistan is extremely worried of the Frankenstein it had conceived: The Taliban, perhaps the only terrorist group created by Pakistan that has gone beyond its control.

After the 9/11 attacks, America had launched its War on Terror to hunt down al-Qaeda militants and their leader Osama bin-Laden and bombed their hideouts across Afghanistan.

Since 2002, the US has provided nearly USD 88 billion in security assistance, USD 36 billion in civilian assistance, including USD 787 million specifically intended to support Afghan women and girls, and nearly USD 3.9 billion in humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, the US said.

At present, the Afghan government forces and the Taliban, seen as successors of al-Qaeda, are engaged in a war of attrition to control the terrorism-infested mountainous country, snatching one district here or there from one another on a weekly basis.

On Friday, US President Joe Biden told his visiting Afghan counterpart Ashraf Ghani in the White House that America will continue to “stick” with his country even after withdrawing the troops.

Islamabad is also apprehensive about a possible ‘secret’ deal between the US and the Taliban, as part of a ‘peace agreement’ between them. Washington could encourage the Islamists to attack Baluchistan to sabotage the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), create a Greater Pakhtoonistan by splitting Pakistan’s northwestern areas and even launch attacks on China’s Xinjiang province.

That is why, for the first time, Islamabad dreads the prospects of the Taliban returning to power in Afghanistan. For, these uncouth Islamic terrorists are ready to launch attacks even on Pakistan! No longer does Afghanistan provides a ‘strategic depth’ to Pakistan against India. On the contrary, Kabul is like the proverbial monkey Islamabad finds it impossible to shoo away from its shoulder.

It was this reason that Prime Minister Imran Ahmed Khan Niazi has ruled out hosting American bases in Pakistan for military action inside war-torn Afghanistan, fearing it might lead to his own country being ‘targeted in revenge attacks by terrorists.

He said as much in a recent opinion piece in The Washington Post newspaper ahead of US President Joe Biden’s meeting with top Afghan leaders at the White House last week. He even questioned the efficacy of such US bases in Pakistan.

Apparently, the article was ghost-written for Khan by the mandarins of the Pakistan Army and the Foreign Office—trying to balance between the two stools, America and Afghanistan.

‘We simply cannot afford this. We have already paid too heavy a price,” Khan said, amid reports that the US is focusing on Pakistan for a military base in the region to keep an eye on Afghanistan and adjoining areas.

Arguing for not allowing the US bases in Pakistan, which were earlier permitted after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in America in 2001, to coordinate operations in Afghanistan, Khan said, “If Pakistan were to agree to host US bases, from which to bomb Afghanistan, and an Afghan civil war ensued, Pakistan would be targeted for revenge by terrorists again.’

The US had used the Shamsi air base in Balochistan province of Pakistan to carry out relentless drone strikes since 2008, focusing mainly on suspected Al Qaeda operatives in mountainous tribal areas. The US troops had also crossed this border to enter Afghanistan.

 “If the United States, with the most powerful military machine in history, couldn’t win the war from inside Afghanistan after 20 years, how would America do it from bases in our country?” Khan argued.

Not to rub America the wrong way, however, he claimed that Pakistan and the US have the same interests in Afghanistan: a political settlement, stability, economic development and the denial of any haven for terrorists. ‘We want a negotiated peace, not civil war,’ he claimed.

Pakistan is willing to partner with the US for peace in Afghanistan but “we will avoid risking further conflict” after withdrawal of American troops.

Even as the US withdraws foreign troops from Afghanistan this year, it is looking for options to keep a close eye on the region, trying to enlist support from other countries about it.

President Biden’s talks with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the Chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah on Friday discussed US troop withdrawal amid a surge in fighting between Afghan forces and the Taliban across the country, according to media reports.

Khan claimed that “We have no favourites and will work with any government that enjoys the confidence of the Afghan people. History proves that Afghanistan can never be controlled from outside,” he warned America in an oblique reference to its ‘failures’ without Pakistan’s help.

Recalling the heavy ‘price’ Pakistan paid for its role in Afghanistan, he said, “More than 70,000 Pakistanis have been killed. While the United States provided USD 20 billion in aid, losses to the Pakistani economy have exceeded USD 150 billion.”

He said tourism and investment dried up and after joining the US effort, “Pakistan was targeted as a collaborator, leading to terrorism against our country from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and other groups”.

Questioning the use of US drone attacks, which “I warned against, didn’t win the war, but they did create hatred for Americans, swelling the ranks of terrorist groups against both our countries”.

Khan said there are more than three million Afghan refugees in Pakistan and their number may increase in case of further civil war in Afghanistan.

Most of the Taliban are from the Pashtun ethnic group and more than half the Pashtuns live on the Pakistan side of the border.

“This is why we have done a lot of real diplomatic heavy lifting to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table, first with the Americans, and then with the Afghan government.

 “Further military action is futile. If we share this responsibility, Afghanistan, once synonymous with the ‘Great Game’ and regional rivalries, could instead emerge as a model of regional cooperation,” he said.

The Great Game of the 21st century begins: China’s BRI versus G-7’s B3W

So the Great Game of the 21st century has begun: Eight years after China began its One Belt One Road (OBOR) programme—later rechristened as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)–the Group of Seven Nations (G-7) has announced its own “Build Back Better World (B3W)—a mammoth plan with potential investments worth USD 40 trillion by 2035 across the globe, vis-à-vis BRI’s USD 3.7 trillion worth of projects.

In May, US President Joe Biden had hinted at it in his telephonic conversation with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, ahead of the 47th Summit of G-7 leaders, which is underway at Cornwall, UK, from June 11 to 13.

On the opening day itself, G-7 unveiled a global infrastructure plan called B3W to counter Beijing’s multi-trillion-dollar BRI. This amply demonstrated the G-7 members’ concerns about Beijing’s growth geopolitical footprint and the urgent need to counter it.

The first major step to counter China in geopolitics was the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), in which America has lined up three more democracies—Australia, Japan, and India. With the B3W initiative, Washington is drafting contours of the second front against Beijing in the 21st century, the way it had set up like NATO, CENTO, SEATO, etc. against the then rival Soviet Union after the Second World War.

“Build Back Better World” (B3W), will be a values-driven, high-standard, and transparent infrastructure partnership led by major democracies and intended to facilitate the building of infrastructure in poorer nations, a US  statement said.

“The adoption of the US-inspired “Build Back Better World” (B3W) project came after President Joe Biden and leaders met to address “strategic competition with China and commit to concrete actions to help meet the tremendous infrastructure need in low- and middle-income countries”, the White House said.

The B3W initiative will provide a transparent infrastructure partnership to help narrow the $40 trillion needed by developing nations by 2035, it said.

“B3W will collectively catalyse hundreds of billions of dollars of infrastructure investment for low- and middle-income countries in the coming years,” said the White House.

The G-7 is more transparent with respect to its funding as opposed to China. The B3W project plans to put more emphasis on the environment and climate, labor safeguards, transparency, and anti-corruption.

In a veiled criticism of China’s approach to financing BRI projects, the White House said B3W investments would be led by “a responsible and market-driven private sector, paired with high standards and transparency in public funding”.

“This is not just about confronting or taking on China,” a senior official in the Biden’s administration said. “But until now we haven’t offered a positive alternative that reflects our values, our standards and our way of doing business.” the statement added.

The 47th G7 summit is currently being held in Cornwall in the UK. Participants include the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, and the US and representatives from the European Union.

The new infrastructure plan is recognition of the growing challenge mounted by Beijing’s BRI, a mammoth infrastructure project, with the most ambitious being the USD 60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), linking China’s Xinjiang province with the Arabian Sea.

More than 100 countries have signed agreements with China to cooperate in BRI projects like railways, ports, highways, and other infrastructure. With many BRI projects leading to debt restructuring, it has faced strong domestic opposition in various countries. Countries like Indonesia and Malaysia have canceled some projects, while China’s aggressive stance has forced others to do a rethink. Even the Opposition parties have expressed apprehension about CPEC in Pakistan. Beijing has faced accusations of operating as a predatory lender setting up debt traps for its ‘client’ countries like Pakistan.

Abraham Accords-II: Jews may help usher in a ‘Muslim Renaissance’!

Few had expected quick results, or any at all, to follow the “Abraham Accords” that the UAE and Bahrain signed with Israel in Washington in September 2020 a couple of months before US President Donald Trump ran for a second term in the White House.

Within nine months, however, two remarkable things have followed: One, the 11-day Jerusalem-Hamas conflict did not escalate into a full-scale Arab-Israel war—except beyond a minor war of word. This when more than 200 Palestinian died in Gaza, which Israel target-bombed to destroy what it called ‘terror infrastructure’ after Hamas missile-attacked Jerusalem and other areas.

Two, within a couple of weeks after this war, and for the first time in history, an Arab Muslim political party has become a kingmaker in Israel, signalling the arrival of “Abraham Accords-II”. The Saudis, and other Arabs, could sign peace deals with Israel to counter the threats from non-Arab Muslim countries like Iran, Turkey, and Pakistan, within the larger Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), headquartered in Jeddah.

In the 21st century, a grand Jewish-Christian-Muslim reconciliation may be slowly emerging. It has the potential to bring about a “Muslim Renaissance” the second largest community in the world is expecting for a long time so as to shake off the burden of obscurantism, terrorism, and backwardness to join the global mainstream of development.

After several trials and errors, this megatrend actually began a decade ago with the “Arab Spring” heralding the retreat of feudalism and dynastic power transfer in the Muslim world. For that matter, even Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is targeting to resurrect the Ottoman Empire and Caliphate, is a democratically-elected leader.

Democracy, therefore, is in the air in the world’s most volatile region.

Israel is no exception.

After helming Israel for 12 crucial years, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now facing ouster after his opponents announced a deal last week to replace him. Curiously, for the first time, a minor Muslim party, United Arab List (UAL), has emerged as the kingmaker in Israel’s democracy as part of the anti-Netanyahu coalition.

The dramatic announcement made by Opposition leader Yair Lapid and his main coalition partner Naftali Bennett came soon after a deadline at last Wednesday midnight and prevented the Jewish country from plunging into its fifth consecutive election in just over two years.

“This government will work for all the citizens of Israel, those that voted for it, and those that didn’t. It will do everything to unite Israeli society’, Lapid tweeted.

However, no one is sure of this new government’s longevity. For, the coalition partners are still not clear on many issues except their opposition to Netanyahu. Its leaders, centrist Yair Lapid and ultranationalist and hardliner Naftali Bennett will lead the country as PM by rotation, with Bennett taking oath first.

Curiously, his right-wing party failed to cross the electoral threshold in 2019 and had no seats in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset. Two years later, he is ready to replace his former boss as the next PM.

A former chief of staff to then-opposition leader, Netanyahu, Bennett could now unseat the PM, bringing an end to his run as the country’s longest serving PM, for 12 years.

Despite his far-right beliefs, a former Defence Minister and millionaire Bennett, 49, has signed onto a historic coalition agreement with centrist leader Yair Lapid who cobbled together a wide swath of political parties together accounting for 61 seats out of 120 in parliament to oust Netanyahu.

And, for the first time in Israeli history, a Muslim party, United Arab List (UAL), led by a dentist Dr. Mansour Abbas, has emerged as the second kingmaker, in an awkwardly assembled coalition of unlikeliest parties, like that of the then Indian PM V P Singh’s in the 1989-91 period.

If Israel’s parliament green-signals, Bennett will take the top job for the first two years of a four-year term, followed by Lapid.

Interestingly, Bennett is even more ultranationalist than Netanyahu and will carry into office a history of incendiary remarks about Palestinians and his well-known criticism of the two-state solution and the ambition to annex part of the occupied West Bank.

Because of his far-right beliefs, Israelis gave only seven seats to Bennett’s Yamina party in the March 2021 elections, compared to Netanyahu’s 30 in the 120-member Knesset. But Bennett found himself the first kingmaker, wooed by both Netanyahu and Lapid who needed his party’s support in order to form a majority.

After his fallout, Bennett became a fierce Netanyahu critic, condemning his pandemic Covid-19 handling and country’s interminable political deadlock. Four elections in two years left the country in flux, with Netanyahu simultaneously appearing to be both stubbornly unmovable yet perpetually on the cusp of losing power.

It is in this backdrop that Bennett will become the PM.

Not only Abbas is the odd partner, even the two main coalition partners are also unlikely bedfellows. A charismatic former TV anchor, Lapid supports a two-state solution with the Palestinians and opposes the influence of religion in Israel, which he wants to address through steps like mixed civil marriages.

Bennett’s coalition agreement must first get a vote of confidence in the Knesset within a week of being formally notified as the PM of a new government. This step might not happen until Monday, which means the vote could be held as late as June 14.

That means there’s still time for Netanyahu and his allies to convince members of parliament to defect from the coalition, or somehow tie things up procedurally in parliament. A collapse of the ceasefire with the Hamas-led militants in Gaza or another outside event could also topple the burgeoning new government.

Apart from this internal Israeli politics, the Abbas factor is of crucial importance. If he remains survives as part of the government, he could become a source of inspiration to other Muslim leaders to reconcile with the Jews, bring peace to the region, and herald an era of Muslim Renaissance.

Covid-19: Vaccines as a new global geopolitical weapon

Some nations have suddenly acquired a new weapon to further their geopolitical aims: Vaccines for Covid-19. Some multinational corporations, likewise, are using the once-in-a-century opportunity to make profit out of coronavirus victims.

They all conveniently camouflage their real objectives with high-sounding morals. Profit-making, not life-saving, has always been their mission statement. If anything, the pandemic has exposed all such hypocrites.

Start with Bill Gates, the global ‘idol of philanthropy’. In 2015, he was said to have predicted a pandemic soon. In the recent years, the Microsoft co-founder invested heavily in pharmaceutical sector to emerge as a vaccine czar as well. Despite his philanthropic claims, he would not like to transfer vaccine technology to others, including India, as he believed that it cannot be done without American “grants” and “expertise”. In other words, the developing countries cannot manufacture vaccines without American technology.

Gates, and the US, appeared peeved at India not only indigenously developing Covid-19 vaccines but also exporting these to nearly 70 countries in what became known as ‘vaccine diplomacy’. It was in this backdrop that US President Joe Biden, ostensibly at the behest of American vaccine-makers, invoked the Defense Production Act of 1950 to starve India of critical American raw material required to manufacture and deliver the vaccines.

India responded with some deft diplomacy of checks-and-balances. It showed a keen interest in Russian and Chinese vaccines instead! This alarmed Washington last week as its plans to contain China with the help of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad)—the anti-Beijing group of four democracies viz, the US, India, Australia, and New Zealand—could go haywire. The Biden administration did a quick course correction to control the damage and, with amazing speed, sent assistance to India.

Not to lag behind, Russia also rushed planeloads of assistance including vaccines to beat the US at its own game. China, which initially tried to wean India away from America, later backtracked. Some 40 countries extended help to India, which is combating a killer second wave of the pandemic, as a pay-back: in the last few months, New Delhi had helped these nations with vaccines via the WHO and business channels.

Why is the US—or for that matter Russia or China—trying to leverage vaccine-making as a geopolitical weapon? This coronavirus is not a one-off epidemic nor is it going to disappear in a hurry. German vaccine-maker BioNTech’s CEO Ugur Sahin had said in December 2020 that the virus will stay with us for the next 10 years. “We need a new definition of normal,” he said. No wonder, influenza is around even after a century, killing some five million people every year.

Clearly, all the Covid-19 afflicted will need effective vaccines, and then booster shots, to combat new variants of Covid-19. In addition, the co-morbidities and side-effects they develop will mean new business opportunities! Covid-19 provides a ‘sustainable’ business model for global pharmaceutical giants!

According to a report by the US health data company, IQVIA Holdings Inc., released last week, the world is going to spend at least USD 15 billion on Covid-19 vaccines until 2025, as the affected countries will have to go for mass vaccination programmes, followed by “booster shots.”

IQVIA, which provides data and analytics for the healthcare industry, said it expected the first wave of Covid-19 vaccinations to reach about 70 percent of the global population by the end of 2022. Booster shots are likely to follow initial vaccinations every two years as per the current data on the duration of effect of the vaccines, media reports said.

America itself is preparing for the possibility that a booster shot will be required between nine and 12 months after the people receive their first full inoculations against the pandemic. Top pharma player Pfizer has also confirmed that these shots may be needed within 12 months.