Who Failed Afghanistan? Who will help it to succeed?

The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was a multinational military mission in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2014. It was established by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1386 pursuant to the Bonn Agreement, which outlined the establishment of a permanent Afghan government following the U.S. invasion in October 2001. ISAF’s primary goal was to train the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and assist Afghanistan in rebuilding key government institutions, though it gradually took part in the broader war in Afghanistan against the Taliban insurgency.

ISAF’s initial mandate was to secure the Afghan capital of Kabul and its surrounding area against opposition forces to facilitate the formation of the Afghan Transitional Administration headed by Hamid Karzai. In 2003, NATO took command of the mission at the request of the UN and Afghan government, marking its first deployment outside Europe and North America. Shortly thereafter the UN Security Council expanded ISAF’s mission to provide and maintain security beyond the capital region. It gradually broadened its operations in four stages, and by 2006 took responsibility for the entire country; ISAF subsequently engaged in more intensive combat in southern and eastern Afghanistan.

From 2006 until 2014, NATO debate on ISAF centred around means instead of ends: how the burden of fighting should be equally distributed among the member states; what operational concepts like the “comprehensive approach” or “counterinsurgency”—often wrongly termed “strategies”—should be followed, or how to “transition” to Afghan responsibility. Pursuant to its ultimate aim of transitioning security responsibilities to Afghan forces, ISAF ceased combat operations and was disbanded in December 2014. A number of troops remained to serve a supporting and advisory role as part of its successor organization, the Resolute Support Mission.

The decision to launch a follow-on, NATO-led non-combat mission to continue supporting the development of the Afghan security forces after the end of ISAF’s mission in December 2014 was jointly agreed between Allies and partners with the Afghan government at the NATO Summit in Chicago in 2012. This commitment was reaffirmed at the Wales Summit in 2014.

Resolute Support was a NATO-led, non-combat mission. The mission was established at the invitation of the Afghan government and in accordance with United Nations (UN) Security Council Resolution 2189 of 2014. Its purpose was to help the Afghan security forces and institutions develop the capacity to defend Afghanistan and protect its citizens in the long term. 38 Countries (Albania, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mongolia, Netherlands, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom an United States) had posted their personnel to the mission in Afghanistan at different points in time.

In February 2020, the United States and the Taliban signed an agreement on the withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan by May 2021.

On 14 April 2021, recognising that there is no military solution to the challenges Afghanistan faces, the Allies decided to start the withdrawal of RSM forces by 1 May 2021.

NATO’s assumption of ISAF command on the one hand, and ISAF expansion on the other did not go hand in hand with a total revision of the DOD’s (US Department of Defence) position. Not only the sentiments of the “unilateralist” major US but the emotions of the non-Muslim world post “9/11”, which pushed NATO to be engaged in Afghanistan as intensely as possible − even without clearly defined political goals. This was not a conscious project but an unintended result of the colluding interests of the political masters in NATO countries with those of their administrative cadres. UN was made the Accidental Front.

The Afghans now have suffered generation after generation of not just continuous warfare but humanitarian crises, one after the other, and the world has to remember that this is not a civil war that the Afghans started among themselves that the rest of the world got sucked into. This situation was triggered by an outside invasion, initially by the Soviet Union, during the Cold War, and since then the country has been a battleground for regional and global powers seeking their own security by trying to militarily intervene in Afghanistan, whether it be the United States after 2001, the C.I.A. in the nineteen-eighties, Pakistan through its support first for the Mujahedeen and later the Taliban, or Iran and its clients. To blame Afghans for not getting their act together in light of that history is just wrong.

In the nineteen-nineties, there were only three governments in the world that recognized the Taliban: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. And this time around, too, Pakistan will be one of them. It isn’t the nineties, but Pakistan is still in the same awkward place that it was last time around. The Saudis and the Emiratis have a new geopolitical outlook. But China is not the same country that it was in the nineties. How will China support Pakistan in trying to manage a second Taliban regime, especially one that may attract sanctions or other kinds of pressure from the United States and its allies is something to be watched? Flirting with Taliban will blow back on Pakistan in one way or another, be that in the form of international pressure or instability.

Biden Administration is unlikely to change its policy. US cannot reverse the Taliban’s momentum without bombing Afghanistan to shards. US can certainly take responsibility for the lion’s share of the response to this unfolding humanitarian crisis to arrest the setting in of another massive refugee flow, which could certainly have political consequences.

US does what it likes – be it in Korea, Vietnam, Persian Gulf, Iraq or Afghanistan – the rest of the countries either support or keep quiet, few feeble voices of dissent are barely audible noises.

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First posted on 28 Aug 2021

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We Are Not Letting the Pandemic Weaken

The actual number of people getting sick with the coronavirus is increasing. We know this because in addition to positive COVID-19 tests, the number of symptomatic people, hospitalizations and later, deaths, are following the same pattern. Thankfully, Doctors, clinics and hospitals have learnt to reduce the fatality rate amongst the COVID-19 patients but this is no reason for people to throw caution to the winds.

Human behaviour is the major factor. State and local administrations, as well as individual people, differ in their response to the pandemic. Some follow COVID-19 precautions, such as physical distancing, hand washing and mask wearing. Others are not as prescriptive in requiring these measures or in restricting certain high-risk activities.

In some states and communities, public places are closed or practicing limitations (such as how many people are allowed inside at one time); others are operating normally. Some government and community leaders have encouraged or even mandated mask wearing and physical distancing in public areas. Others have left it as a matter of personal choice. In areas where fewer people are wearing masks and more are gathering indoors to eat, drink, observe religious practices, celebrate and socialize, even with family, cases are on the rise.

As state governments began to reopen cinemas, bars, restaurants and stores during the last few months, people were understandably eager to be able to go out and resume some of their normal activities. Nevertheless, the number of people infected with the coronavirus was still high in many areas, and transmission of the virus was easily rekindled once people increased their activities and contact with each other. Unfortunately, the combination of reopening and lapses in the infection prevention efforts – social distancing, hand washing and mask wearing – has caused the number of coronavirus infections to rise again.

There is a lag between a change in policy, and the effects of this change showing up in the COVID-19 data. An increase in the number of COVID-19 cases or hospitalizations is seen as many as six to eight weeks after change in policy. When a person is exposed to the coronavirus, it can take up to two weeks before they become sick enough to go to the doctor, get tested and have their case counted in the data. It takes even more time for additional people to become ill after being exposed to that person, and so on.

Several cycles of infection must occur before a noticeable increase shows in the data that public health officials use to track the pandemic. Due to such delays, people become careless with their behaviour, and they start moving around more. If everyone continues to wear masks, wash their hands and practice social distancing, reopening will have a much lower impact on transmission of the virus than in communities where people do not continue these safety precautions on a widespread basis. Also, after many months of cancelled activities, economic challenges and stress, people are frustrated and tired of taking coronavirus precautions. All these are factors that are driving surges and spikes in COVID-19 cases.

About 70% of the population needs to be immune to this coronavirus before herd immunity can work. People might be immune from the coronavirus, at least for a while, if they have already had it, but we do not know for how long such immunity lasts. A widely available, safe and effective vaccine is still going to take months for everyone to get it.

There is an alarming spike in the number of cases and more COVID-19 surges are likely to occur. Letting the coronavirus circulate freely among the public would result in hundreds of thousands of cases and millions more people left with lasting lung, heart, and brain or kidney damage. We must all continue to practice COVID-19 precautions, such as physical distancing, hand washing and mask wearing. We must work with our government to ensure that everyone in our household is up to date on vaccines as soon as they are made available.

Let no one harbour the false attitude of denial that COVID-19 does not happen to them or that they are not the spreaders of the infection once they have survived COVID-19 or have been vaccinated for it. 

Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has caused the COVID-19 disease but people are the cause of the pandemic.

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First published 12 April 21

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Some Unsought Advice for the Prime Minister Shri Modi

The situation where you are running from pillar to post to find a hospital bed or an oxygen cylinder for your loved one, and there is nowhere to go, you feel frustrated, helpless and angry.  If you are the lucky one to find some place, the ban on visitors makes you more edgy because you could not be with your loved one to offer comfort and support when he/she needed it most. The thought of not being able to see or comfort a loved one who is living with an advanced illness is heart breaking.

Time seems to freeze when you learn that someone you love has slipped from medical care to critical care in a COVID-19 facility. Maybe you instinctively pushed the news away, or perhaps you cried, or swung into action. You and your loved one may have pursued promising treatments and perhaps enjoyed some respite from the illness over the last few days.

The loss of a loved one is life’s most stressful event and can cause a major emotional crisis. All kinds of emotions, denial, disbelief, confusion, shock, sadness, yearning, anger, humiliation, despair, guilt, can flood people’s minds.

SUCCESS, WHICH THE GOVERNMENT IS TRUMPETING

The data given out by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare website https://www.mohfw.gov.in/.

COVID-19 CASES IN INDIA as on: 15 May 2021, 08:00 IST (GMT+5:30)

Active – 3673802   Discharged – 20432898    Deaths – 266207    

Until date (15 May 2021), 24372907 people have been identified to be infected, of which 15.07% (3673802) are Active cases right now, 83.83% (20432898) have successfully survived the infection but unfortunately, the balance 1.09% (266207) could not survive and have died.

Yes, your government is right that Indian has done exceedingly well, on an aggregate basis, in management of the COVID-19 crisis as compared to any of the countries in the world. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the mismanagement of second wave of COVID is hidden behind the exemplary management of the COVID. Your government was successful in flattening the curve of cases and deaths of the first wave over a period of 11-months, something which the Western world could not do. The same cannot however be said for the second wave.

FAILURE, WHICH OVERWHELMED INDIA

You do not have to go to any other source of data to see this. Failure, which overwhelmed India, is buried, not too deep, in these very numbers.

Please have a relook at the data given out by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare website https://www.mohfw.gov.in/.

COVID-19 CASES IN INDIA as on: 15 May 2021, 08:00 IST (GMT+5:30)

Active – 3673802   Discharged – 20432898    Deaths – 266207    

COVID-19 CASES IN INDIA as on: 15 April 2021, 08:00 IST (GMT+5:30)

Active – 1471877   Discharged – 12429564    Deaths – 173123    

Of the 24372907 people identified as infected so far (over the last 15 and one half month – the first case was reported on 30.01.2020), 10499082 (43.08%) cases came during the last one month. Out of 266207 deaths recorded so far, 94122 (35.36%) deaths occurred during the last one month.

This is not a joke or a mere spike. It is a deluge.

Of all the cases – 43% came in last one month;

Of all the people dying – 35% died in last one month.

COVID-19 began hitting way too close to everyone’s home. What were merely numbers for people during the first wave, started turning into names and those names 𝗂𝗇𝗍𝗈 real 𝗉𝖾𝗈𝗉𝗅𝖾 whom people know?

WHAT WENT WRONG

With micro-situations continuously evolving and rapidly changing, managing Pandemics at the ground level is a very complex phenomenon involving case-by-case tactical and urgent decisions that need ‘thinking fast’. However, the policy level, at which the office of the Prime Minister sits, the foresight and strategy based thereon, is an important decision that allows wider consultations, reviews and ‘thinking slow.’

At the strategy level, dealing with pandemics involve only two sub-strategies, ensuring that the pandemic does not spread (Restriction strategy) and ensuring that those infected are able to recover from the disease (Treatment strategy).

Restriction is about reducing the number of cases, which is accomplished through controlling the spread of infection (Appropriate Behaviour and immunisation through vaccines). Where the disease is contagious, isolation and quarantine of the prospect (contact tracing) and the suspect case (symptomatic cases) is as important as that of the confirmed case. In case like COVID, where not every infected person shows the symptoms of being infected (asymptomatic cases) the inter-people-contact has to be clamped down.

Treatment is about reducing the mortality rate among the cases through proper and timely diagnosis and treatment.

YOU HAVE RIGHTFULLY TAKEN CREDIT FOR MANAGING THE FIRST WAVE

You had the foresight and the promptness in March-April 2020, in using the Restriction strategy, when the first wave of the pandemic broke out, which resulted into definitive reduction in spread of infection and reduction in the mortality rates. Numbers speak for themselves.

However, the second wave, which started knocking at our doors towards the end of February 2021 and is peaking now, has left much to be desired at your level.

SHOW THE GRIT IN ACCEPTING THE DISCREDIT FOR MISMANAGING THE SECOND WAVE

COVID-19 patients tend to be sick for a long time, spending weeks in the intensive care unit in some cases. Patients improve up to a point, and then it can be several weeks before one would see them continue to improve. Families need to prepare for that, as well as peaks and valleys seen so often in the sickest patients. Hospital restrictions that prohibit visiting COVID-19 patients have been major stressors for families, as well as those in the hospital. In the unfortunate events of patients losing the fight against COVID-19, not every one of their families and friends have the emotional strength of suffering the pain sagaciously or silently. Patients, their families, and other caregivers have little patience or tolerance, and their short fuses can explode on the very people trying to care for them.

Doctors and nurses are withstanding the worst of a much angrier, more frustrated, and weary bunch. Medics falter when they witness rudeness and other bad behaviour. It interferes with their working memory and decreases their performance. Frustrated patients are making health care workers’ jobs even harder.

No medical-care infrastructure, in terms of both physical dimensions and human dimensions, can have the capacity to deal with such deluge.  No society can cope with such agony and death. Yes, Treatment Strategy has limitations in dealing with such tsunami of cases.

However, you have faltered in making use of the Restriction Strategy once the coming of the second wave was clearly visible towards the end of February 2021. This failure has resulted into the ‘unforeseen’ deluge of cases and deaths. In ability to see these coming, is itself a failure of leadership and his advisors.

Overtly or covertly, this failure is being attributed not to any lack of your foresight regarding COVID, but to your political ambitions in West Bengal and other states. I am not a political strategist, but the results tell us a story.

FAILURE IN STATE ELECTIONS 2021

Ever since you brought in the US Presidential style of electioneering to Indian politics in 2014, people vote for the leader as much as they vote for a party. Your inability to win Rajasthan, Punjab, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh had shown an association in your inability to project an unambiguous leader who could campaign in the same style in the state as yours in the national elections.

When you or any of your central leaders campaign in a state election, the electorate asks themselves – are you or any of those central leaders going to be their Chief Minister? Even when they wish to vote for your party, they do not know who is going to rule them. As they say, a known foe is better than an unknown friend is, the electorate ends up making choices, which may look poor from a larger perspective, but they are the best picks that the electorate could make from within the choices available to them.

Let us not forget that a day after the first round of polling took place on 20 May 1991, former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated while campaigning. The remaining election days were postponed until mid-June and voting finally took place on 12 and 15 June. When the surge in COVID cases was so visible by the end of March for everyone to see, not postponing the elections was neither good strategy nor good politics. The votes polled in your favour in successive rounds of polling have shown a negative association with the rising COVID-cases in the country. Who knows, if the state elections were postponed for a better time, their results for you could have been better.

WHAT NEXT

Dear Prime Minister! As a leader, please accept the fact that you won the battle against the first wave but lost the battle against the second wave. You do not win all the battles. It is important that you win the war – war against COVID-19.

You won people’s mandate because they trusted you. You used your high visibility and high credibility in winning over their emotions. Trust is after all an emotion.

All Indians are one but they are not the same. Similar people are grouped into states. That we have 29 states shows similarity of people within the states but dissimilarity of people across the states. Indians are not like Americans, who have little diversity in language, culture or religion.

The unified central-command structure of decision making which you could use so successfully in running the Government in Gujarat may not be an optimal design for running the Union Government. Please remember that the entire bureaucracy that you handled in Gujarat was a unified Gujarat cadre but when you handle the union Government, your bureaucracy is not one cadre. The rules of engaging with the opposition leaders and bureaucracy within Gujarat are not suited to engaging with the opposition leaders and bureaucracy in the matters of the Union.

They still trust you but the untold agony and death, which they have seen over the last one month, has broken them emotionally. Fear & grief of COVID-19 is overwhelming ordinary people and your political rivals and bruised media (you have taken away many of their free bees) are adding fuel to this fire. Emotions are contagious. Our brains are wired to mirror the body language and emotion of others. In an era of social media, opinions occlude information and truth becomes matter of opinion. Absolute truth makes way for pre-truths, half-truths, developing truths, post-truths, my truths, your truths and no-one-knows whose-truth.

There is no denying that you are suffering from a loss in your credibility. Your high visibility and waning credibility is untenable in public space. You cannot be complacent or disheartened. You need to make a serious course-correction.

You have to rise as a leader and restore the confidence of people in their ability to overcome and succeed under your leadership. Please work towards decreasing the COVID-19 test-positivity rate & case fatality rate and increasing the EMOTIONAL POSITIVITY among the people of India.

To everyone locked inside their homes, in fear or anxiety, and to everyone locked out from the joys of life as usual, please put a confidence in them that the sun will come again. Remind them of the vibration that passed all over their lives, make them remember everything that they shared with their loved ones, thank the Gods who helped them face the untold grief over the last one month.

You have to rise from the ashes of the second wave. YOU HAVE TO WIN ALL THE FORTHCOMING BATTLES AGAINST THE THIRD AND THE FOURTH WAVE. YOU HAVE TO WIN THE WAR.

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First Published 17 May 2021

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Crush the Enemy Within

A careful examination of the reactions of the civil-society; the secularists, and the reporting by the media connected with the “incidents and events” in India, over the last 28 years, beginning with the 1993 Mumbai blasts shows a very hypocritical prejudice. When those seen as perpetrators of the crime were Muslims, the standard line was, “terrorism has no religion.” And there were numerous instances of the kind. However, in an exceptional instance, where the crime could be attributed to Hindus; the untoward event was showcased as unassailable “Hindu Terrorism.”

To kill even the imagery of “killing for or in the name of religion” Hindus are possibly the only people in the world, who, rather than kill, have got killed. They have never attacked anyone for propagating their religion. Hindus have welcomed people of all nationalities, faiths and cultures, when they came pursuing their personal, logical dreams and aspirations. Only under a threat to their own survival caused by a “Fire & Sword” tenet of the external aggressors, did the Hindus invoke “Maa Kali” to rekindle their sacrificial fire and then did not stop until they have driven the aggressors back to where they came from.

Christian or Muslim, though they have just recently converted and still have lots of Hindu content in their spiritual lives, somehow believe that they belong to a cultural unit altogether different form the Hindu one. Hindustan to them is where they live, yet it is not Holy land to them, which is far off in Arabia or Palestine. Naturally therefore, their love is divided. They must set their Holy-land above India in their love and allegiance. It is however, a folly, when Indian Muslims start looking at Pakistan as their fatherland and/or holy-land. If the majority of the Indian Muslims can free themselves from their prejudices coming from such ignorance, and as the patriotic and noble – minded amongst them have always been doing; and begin to love Hindustan as their fatherland, the story of their conversions, forcible in millions of cases is too recent to make them forget . . . that they inherit Hindu blood in their veins.

If a Sister Nivedita or an Annie Besant could become a Hindustani in spite of being from a different Nation (rashtra), Race (Jati), Civilization (Sanskriti) and Holy land (pavitra bhoomi); Hindu-ness must be something more profound than the what it is being made out to be by the propagators  of the malicious scare of “Hindu-Terror.” This propaganda gives fire to the deviant and the misled to form into scattered hooligan groups adorning the “saffron” and creating mischief. All these are rudderless groups of young people out seeking media limelight through acts of misplaced adventurism. They are ‘rogues and goondas’ exhibiting a religious fervour at the most, not necessarily driven by religion; some of them neither Hindus nor with Hindu names; but for sure, not terrorists.

Unfortunately, there are no external aggressors and there is no “fire & sword” tenet in the present day attacks on Hindu-ness of India which has always stood for universal peace and brotherhood. The aggressors are enemies within; and they are using the tenets of “propaganda, unrest and division.” They are not the enemies of Hindus or friends of Muslims. They are simply bigoted, selfish, blood-thirsty hyenas waiting to feast on the remnants of the wealth and flesh of India, which they believe would fall prey to the roaring lion of “Maa Kali” or the ‘tandava’ of “Bhagawan Shiva”

True Hindus are trying their best, as they ought to do, to develop the consciousness of and a sense of attachment to the greater whole, whereby Hindus, Muslims, Parsis, Christians and Jews would feel as Indians first and every other thing afterwards. But whatever progress India may have made to that goal one thing remains almost axiomatically true – not only in India but everywhere in the world – that a nation requires a foundation to stand upon and the essence of the life of a nation is the life of that portion of its citizens whose interest and history and aspirations are most closely bound up with the land and who thus provide the real foundation to the structure of their national state.

Multiple ethnicity and religiosity is the strength of India. This provides cultural and social diversity, variety and enrichment within the mega space called Bharat. Hindutva or Hindu-ness is plural and should not be mistaken as a synonym for Hindu-religion. Yet India needs cleansing in the nature of weeding out of the enemy within. It is unfortunate that most of such enemies have Hindu names and origins. They are deep in a new kind of “Intellectual terrorism.”  Indians and Hindus cannot drink with equanimity this cup of bitterness and political servitude at the hands of those whose only aspiration is to feast on the putrefied flesh from the corpse of Hindustan. Whenever under aggression, Hindustan has looked to Vedic wisdom. “Arise, awake, and stop not till the goal is reached” is a shloka of Katha Upanishad which was popularized in the late 19th century by Swami Vivekananda.

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Multiple sources of like-minded thought are humbly acknowledged for the above expressions. First published 25 Feb 2021

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COVID-19 and INDIA

The Indian ethos is centred on the twin concepts of BHAGYA and KARMA.  PURUSHARTHA, which denotes an ‘object of human pursuit,’ is KARMA. It is a key concept in Hinduism, and refers to the four proper goals or aims of a human life. The four PURUSHARTHA are DHARMA (righteousness, moral values), ARTHA (prosperity, economic values), KAMA (pleasure, love, psychological values) and MOKSHA (liberation, spiritual values). Since Hinduism believes in cyclical life, BHAGYA, which is understood as fate, luck, destiny or fortune can naively be understood as KARMA of past or previous life. KARMA of this life will be the BHAGYA of next life. 

Thus, we inherit our past actions and we act to improve upon what we inherited. We inherit circumstances; we improve them for the next generation.

Spread of COVID-19, like wildfire, across the world showed how connected the world has become, and yet how people feel more alone than ever.

Given the considerable uncertainty about when the COVID-19 pandemic will end, how and when a vaccine will be deployed to the public, when we will travel across the world to see family and friends, and how each of our bodies will react to this virus, people are coping with a myriad of emotions and mind-sets and with unpredictability. Depression, anger, denial, aggression or silence, people have oscillated between these reactions to constant stress and anxiety.

An unfortunate coping reaction dominating the people in the west has been to become apathetic towards the struggles of others with numbness substituting for empathy. In contrast, more people in India have shown a renewed purpose, hope, and sense of community. Scientists and Corona-warriors have responded with dedication to developing vaccines, treatments and appropriate care and guidance. Ordinary citizens have taken on roles in their communities running welfare groups.

Expectedly, people are split over whether they think more about the collective health of society, or prioritise individual interests. Perhaps the most difficult part is how to take the open wounds and inequalities that COVID-19 has exposed. Where does one’s responsibility to others begin and end? What is selfishness in the context of a pandemic?

It is to be seen as to whom among the politicians will forego their turn to get a vaccine and offer it to someone else. The pandemic will show who each of us really is.

(First published – 19 Nov 2020)

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COVID-19: Postscript

During the Pre-COVID days, most of the people attributed positive meanings to the word ‘Western’ and would not believe that black people are getting beaten up in America. COVID era has shown that people in the west were dying because of a lack of care, their economies face financial ruin and their people are caught in a wave of violence, gang warfare and toppling of statues.

Post the pandemic, the world will stop looking at the US and West-Europeans to learn how to live properly, how to govern, and how to run a democracy. Countries will come down heavily on foreign funding of civil groups because such funds will be seen as attempts to apply a form of “liberal imperialism” to “force their worldview onto countries that think differently.” Even the courts will begin to realise how they often get involved in such subversion of national goals in the name of freedom and liberalism advanced before them by people who have ties to such international networks. Political groups masquerading as NGOs, GROs and VOs, which mobilise public opinion and public action without participating in electoral processes, will face regulatory heat.

The Chinese LAC trouble of 14-16 June has established beyond doubt that even when the government stood for Indian sovereignty and national consensus, it faces a “constant struggle” with “internal agents” doing anti-national bidding and with people abroad. All Indians must demonstrate the same position on certain issues, and this entails forming a national consensus on how to handle any national issue – a cross-border problem with China, Nepal or Pakistan, a pandemic or the rebooting of the economy. Nationalism movement will be strengthened.

Experience over the last five months in terms of how the world has dealt with the pandemic has exposed the hubris of populist politicians and the  complacency of scientific ‘experts’ who work as the  government’s scientific advisors. Time was squandered resulting into thousands of lives being lost.

This pandemic, which has killed nearly half a million people out of nearly nine million people already infected so far will leave humanity transformed; with new norms of individual and social interactions, increased pressure for universal vaccination and a new shape of the modern  world. Tensions will arise over the interests of communities versus individuals. The vast number of deaths will precipitate new waves of xenophobia against the Chinese and also the French and the Italians.

Governments and scientists will be accused of not doing enough and an intellectual crisis may ensue.  People will notice a striking gap between the extravagant claims for 21st century medicine and the dismal reality. The sense of scientific and medical failure will lead to a growth in alternative medicine, back-to-nature movements, spiritualism, and new prophets for a post-COVID age.

A new era of research into the control of viral diseases will be born. Alternative ways of looking at causation of diseases will emerge. Scientists will break away from the present thought that simply knowing the identity of a pathogen and the aetiology of a disease is sufficient to bring an epidemic under control. Community mitigation of disease, cutting across poverty and inequality will be embraced with new political energy. The success of such mitigation will be possible when designed on “military logic” of discipline and unity. After poverty and hunger, health will become the next political slogan. A new public discourse on themes like pessimism, irony, and absurdity will become common.  Societies will thrive after the COVID pandemic subsides.  The 2020s will see a period of flourishing economic growth.

It is to be hoped that, after Covid-19, no one will be foolish enough to make the same mistake again though it seems to be characteristic of human behaviour that, indeed, we are foolish enough and we will repeat our mistakes. COVID-19’s effects will be profound and long-lasting; how profound and long-lasting will be up to us.

(First published 21 June 2020)

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Unclamping of Lockdown

Across the nation, sounds of protests and objections to the COVID-19 shutdown are beginning to get audible. As the rules drag on, they are causing job losses, bankruptcies and a feeling that people have no rights. Possibly the largest migration in the human history, where rural folks are returning from urban areas and Indians abroad are returning to their homeland is a deluge which no one saw coming. Let us not be so liberal as to call these protesters as fool-hardy or selfish, for they have science and the Constitution on their side.

It is neither common sense nor a sustainable situation to close down everything, close down the economy, and lock everyone in their houses. India has not shared demographic data of the dead or the infected or even those tested, but the international data show almost all the COVID-19 fatalities are among the elderly and those with serious health problems. Shutting stores and restaurants did not save them.

Unfortunately, social media companies are censoring any science that challenges the shutdown saying the platform’s policy is to ban content that “disputes the efficacy of local health authority recommended guidance.” YouTube also censors views at odds with the World Health Organization.

Shutting down schools and businesses was justified to “flatten the curve,” meaning buying time for hospitals to add beds and gather enough ventilators, masks and other medical equipment. The goal of the shutdown was not eradicating the virus. That is not possible. The virus will possibly last another 18 to 24 months, fading once most Indians have been exposed and have developed immunity.

When the shutdown was temporary and tied directly to hospital preparedness, and enforcing behaviour of responsibility and care, government had the right to protect itself against an epidemic using reasonable regulations using an archaic law – the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 – which no government bothered to review for the last 120 years. But shutdowns lose their reasonableness when they have no deadline or benchmark to meet and continue to get extended without any official rationale and justification in terms of the objectives of the state. Their vagueness tramples upon people’s rights and shows the government as being tentative in its approach and guided by myopic considerations on a day-by-day basis.

Uncertainty about reopening could convert the cities to wastelands of lifeless stores and shopping malls, abandoned commercial buildings, landlords defaulting on municipal taxes and soaring tax rates for the people still in the city. Consider this urban landscape – the upper class is into hiding in their cocoons, the lower class is on the reverse run, going back to their rural and semi-urban abodes from where they had migrated, but the middle class has nowhere to hide or nowhere to run back to?

It is time for India to lift its shutdown and strike a balance between keeping the virus at a level that will not overwhelm our hospital systems and allowing people to still try and earn a living. The word of caution however is that the clamping of lockdown was for a real objective, the unclamping too has to be for real objectives and not just to support any lobby or an ideology. Slow easing of restrictions since 20th April has shown little spikes in the ‘new cases’ and the relaxations should not let these small spikes turn into outbreaks.

Let us be very sure that the virus cannot be eradicated. The idea of having treatments or a vaccine available, to facilitate return to the ‘normal’ life before the pandemic would be something of distant possibility. Even at the top speed at which the researchers are going, no vaccine is likely to be administered to individuals in next few months. Testing is no panacea in mitigating the disease. When will everyone have a yes/no infection test?  The answer depends on layers of uncertainty, decisions made by individual state governments, national and international businesses, small producers of test parts like swabs and chemical reagents, availability of personnel and facilities that ensure prevention of cross infection, congestion within processing labs, and legal chain of custody issues. A negative test result is only good until the moment of taking of sample. Such result does not show that the person could not get infected after the test.

India is by constitutional design and operational reality, not a big monolith, not the Soviet Union, not China, but a federal structure of 28 states, plus eight union territories.  No central stockpile of perishable tests would have fit the virus or lasted long just as no central stockpile of hospital or quarantine beds can ensure most efficient service delivery. Each new case of infection comes a unique problem set, each problem set is different, which is why the right answer is allowing independent management of each problem case – with 24/7 central guidance and support, though interstate and intrastate coordination.

Some ministers, government officials and legislators, who get paid show no respect for working people who don’t get assured salaries but need to earn. Government officials should heed the concerns of the millions who want to get back to work. Shutting down won’t stop the virus, but it will destroy our rights and the nation we call our own. Let us not permit the feeble sounds of protests and objections to the COVID-19 shutdown escalate to deafening levels. Let us not look so tentative while unclamping the lockdown when we had looked so confident in clamping it.

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This article was first published on 13 May 2020.

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Isn’t this a World War?

Geo-Politics is driven by Geo-Economics. Altering Geo-economics through peacetime efforts takes 30-35 years or consistent efforts of two generations as the Japanese growth and the Chinese growth would show.

Balance of Economics can only be disrupted by Wars. Wars are won by destroying lives and livelihoods. Firepower models of 105 year old and 75 year old World Wars and even the gulf war are obsolete. The modern firepower lies in information-weaponry and bio-weaponry.

There is a school of thought which believes SARS-CoV-2, irrespective of it being a synthetic or a natural virus, is a Chinese enterprise which was nearly always known to the US. Western World, particularly the US has been at cold war with China due to its growing economic might and influence. China purchased western consumption and sold them goods produced in China. These goods were produced by deploying western capital, non-Chinese materials, non-Chinese know-how but Chinese labour. In the process, the west not only shipped its capital but also its jobs to China.

With the cold-war with China heating up, Trump started arm-twisting China. And the day arrived when China pulled the trigger of its information-weaponry and bio-weaponry.

China meticulously exported the SARS-CoV-2 and fed the stories of untold-death from Wuhan and created a world-wide panic bringing nearly every country on their knees.

Since misery sells, media amplified the fictional stories of human suffering in Wuhan from where; the non-Chinese had already fled, lot of them carrying SARS-CoV-2 as accompanied baggage. Trying to make money out of the misery that it had inflicted, China tried selling Tests and PPEs. The disinformation machinery from China provided a noise-byte to the non-ruling politicians to coax their democratic Governments into more testing, more economic disruptions and more social alienation. The fact remains that testing only identifies the prevalence of infection and not the likelihood of death. The real mortality from SARS-CoV-2 is lower than even the recent pandemics. Current data shows – this is a disease of the High and Upper Middle Income, rich Western countries have higher Case Fatality Rate, and Western countries have followed intensive testing in few regions, not across the country.

China has managed to immobilise most national economies and their drivers of growth – oil, power, education, travel and tourism, informal economies, banking, social affinity, cultures and values. In one stroke, China has managed to put EU on ventilator. Not only did it start the World War, China has also achieved the strategic objectives in waging the war and to that extent it has won the war. Like any party in war, China will also have collateral economic damages and costs to bear. But the damage and costs which China has succeeded in inflicting on rest of the world is many fold.

The efforts are now on to exit the war zone and close the war. The irony is that in departure from the past neither China has to announce a unilateral cease fire nor does need to sit and negotiate across the table with anyone to end this war.

Of course, China will face the retaliation and retribution for its war crimes the intensity of which would be determined by the strength and resolve of the losers of this war. Meanwhile China would diplomatically buy or win the support from some of the losers.

https://youtu.be/BTLii-e_UtY

Am I just hallucinating as an effect of lock-down and imagining a war where there is none or is it that I just lived and survived through a war without even noticing it? If it be the latter, than I am an eye-witness who saw nothing of the war,  a war which shall go down in human history as a world war of smallest duration, with minimum casualties but maximum ruin.

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Reckless behaviour is caused by a mind virus

Viruses are costly to those infected with them. They demand large amounts of money and time. They impose health risks and make people believe and do things that are demonstrably false or contradictory or even harmful. Viruses contain instructions to “copy me,” and they succeed by using the human fallacy of attitudes like “it can’t happen to me” or “I am indestructible” or “why worry when it is God’s will.”

Diseases caused by natural viruses like CONVID-19 spread only because some people do not care. It is for the rest of the people to decide if they would continue to be apologetic about the irresponsible behaviour of few slipshod people or take them on in the interest of human lives. Such infection is not just highly communicable but also self-replicating, according to the laws of cultural evolution.

Today it seems as if humanity is being driven to the brink of extinction by an illness? We don’t know if such destruction is likely to be caused by an organic virus or a mind virus?

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Guidelines and Protocols for Prioritising COVID-19 Patients

Imagine that day when India has reached a situation where every ventilator and every ICU bed in the country is taken and only two beds are available in the army hospital in the ICU for admitting Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) patients. Unfortunately, only one ventilator is available. God forbid, at that moment, the Prime Minister, the Defence Minister and the Leader of Opposition catch COVID-19 and all three need an ICU bed and a ventilator. What would be the protocol for allocating these resources (2-beds and one ventilator) among the three claimants?

This completely fictional and hypothetical scenario has been presented above purely for communicating the point which is being made. No ill-will or malaise is intended towards anyone caricatured in this picture.

COVID-19 is affecting 210 countries and territories around the world. With confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the world nearing two million and deaths from the disease already having surpassed a hundred thousand, a growing number of national and local medical authorities have begun issuing guidelines and protocols that call for hospitals to prioritise younger patients over those who are older.

The positive news about the cases of recovery heading towards half a million mark is getting lost on people because of the fear of death causing cognitive dissonance among people who filter out all positive news and let the feeling of fatality seep in.

There is no denying the fact that no medical and health care system in any country has the capacity of handling the sudden spike in numbers of patients which the likes of Italy and Spain have seen.  The scarcity of healthcare resources in India can be directly attributed to decades of mismanaged public healthcare system. While India is working overtime to ramp up the capacity, the growth of the current epidemic makes it likely that a point of imbalance between the clinical needs of patients with COVID-19 and the effective availability of intensive resources will be reached. Should it become impossible to provide all patients with intensive care services, it will be necessary to apply criteria for access to intensive treatment, which depends on the limited resources available.

COVID-19 does not discriminate among its victims in terms of their social or constitutional status. It did not spare even the British Prime Minister.

In Italy and Spain, the two countries most affected by COVID-19 in Europe, doctors in overwhelmed intensive care units have for weeks been making life or death decisions about who receives emergency treatment. The new protocols, however, amount to government directives that instruct medical personnel effectively to abandon elderly patients to their fate.

There are confidential protocols in Spain, now leaked, which effectively advises that elderly people afflicted by CONVID-19 should die at home. The document stated that dying at home was more humane as it avoids suffering: patients can die while surrounded by their families, something that is not possible in overcrowded hospitals. The protocol also advised medical personnel to avoid referring to the lack of hospital beds.

In Italy, a document prepared by a crisis management unit in the northern city of Turin also proposed that COVID-19 patients aged 80 or older or that in poor health should be denied access to intensive care if there are not enough hospital beds.

What is the best way to serve humanity? Aspects such as who has the greatest chance of surviving an admission to intensive care will come into play. It is up to the doctors to see who has the best chance of survival.

One must ask if the high rate of mortality among the elderly is a feature of COVID-19 or an outcome of discriminatory medical care provided to them. The large numbers of dead, especially among the elderly, appears to be the price that Indians would be paying just like the European countries.

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