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‘Hope There’s No Quid Pro Quo’: Is US Expecting Something in Return for COVID Aid to India?

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Until last week, the US was against divesting itself of any of its much-needed store of vaccine components – as well as stock-piled jabs – in favour of India, which is reeling under a devastating second COVID-19 wave.

Several appeals by the Serum Institute of India (SII) and the Indian leadership, including External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, to lift the US export restrictions on the ingredients needed to make the vaccine fell on deaf ears. 


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REUTERS / POOL

A U.S. Air Force aircraft is seen on the tarmac after landing with coronavirus disease (COVID-19) relief supplies from the United States at the Indira Gandhi International Airport cargo terminal in New Delhi, India

However, in an overnight turnaround, US National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, told his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval on 25 April that America would help India with deliveries of raw materials.

Although President Joe Biden said earlier this month that the US was stock-piling vaccines to inoculate its citizens first, Washington said on Thursday that it would also export the jab to India.

Although America’s initial refusal to help its “Quad” ally India triggered massive anti-US sentiment, the Biden administration’s volte-face on the matter has prompted suspicion about his motives.

“I hope there is no quid pro quo in sending help to India,” Sudheendra Kulkarni, an adviser to late Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, confided to Sputnik.

Kulkarni, who is now a commentator on Indian domestic politics and foreign policy, has joined the chorus of displeasure in the South Asian country over the Biden administration’s “initial hesitancy” to help India, despite several industry and government appeals earlier this month. 

“It was only after a huge outcry in India that Washington decided to make amends. Friends should not behave like this,” Kulkarni said.

Is the US Looking to Base its Troops in India After Withdrawing from Afghanistan?

Former Indian diplomat M.K. Bhadrakumar says the Biden administration’s overnight turnaround to help India should be taken with a pinch of salt, recalling the US’ “diplomatic history of transactional relationships”.

“The big question is whether the US is relenting on the vaccine front with a view to cutting a deal with India on Afghanistan,” Bhadrakumar, India’s former envoy to Turkey and Uzbekistan, wrote in a column published in the Asia Times this week.

“The thought of it, of course, is very frightening. But if past experience is any guide, Washington has shown itself savvy at exploiting India’s difficulties,” he adds.

Washington’s change of tack came soon after President Biden announced that US troops would leave Afghanistan by 11 September, as he extended the Trump administration’s previous deadline of 1 May.

The US, however, is already planning its counter-insurgency strategy once is troops leave the war-ravaged nation. Commander of the US Central Command General Kenneth F McKenzie Jr told the House of Representatives’ Armed Services Committee this week that US diplomats will talk to their allies in the region in the coming days about potential basing facilities for American troops after 11 September.

Ambassador Anil Trigunayat, a former Indian diplomat and a distinguished fellow at New Delhi-based think tank Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF), doesn’t rule out the chances of a US naval or military base in India in the future. He noted that both countries had already sealed all the foundational agreements to ease interoperability.


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AFP 2021 / MANPREET ROMANA

In this file photo US Marines from the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade wait for helicopter transport as part of Operation Khanjar at Camp Dwyer in Helmand Province in Afghanistan on July 2, 2009.

“As such, the interoperability with the signing  of all foundational agreements between the US and India have given the requisite depth which may obviate the need for a military or naval base,” he told Sputnik.

“The US is pretty heavily present in the Gulf and can mobilise its resources in conjunction with its Quad partners should a need arise,” he added. 

He also points out that the US has been “urging” India to take a keener interest in Afghanistan, including having Indian boots on the ground.

“But in my view there is really no appetite in India under the bilateral matrix,” reckons Trigunayat, saying India isn’t ready for a “full-fledged” alliance with any power.

Is Biden Using Vaccine Aid to India to Exploit India-China Differences?

Several commentators have also suggested that America’s aid policy reversal could also be because of fears that New Delhi had started to consider offers of help from Beijing – if accepted, such aid would dent Washington’s ongoing efforts to counter China.

The offer of assistance from China comes as the two Asian powerhouses are settling the Ladakh border dispute, which has been going on since May last year. After almost a dozen rounds of military commander-level talks, Beijing and New Delhi finally began to disengage troops from the friction points in Ladakh in February this year.


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REUTERS / Indian Army

A handout photo released by Indian Army on February 16, 2021 shows the disengagement process between Indian Army and China’s People’s Liberation Army from a contested area in the western Himalayas, in Ladakh region.

The thawing of ties between India and China coincides with the Biden administration increasing pressure on Beijing, which Washington describes as its foremost rival.

President Biden, much like his predecessor Donald Trump, has already made his strong views against China known to the world.

“We’re in competition with China and other countries to win the 21st Century. We’re at a great inflection point in history,” Biden remarked in his debut address to a Joint Session of US Congress on 28 April, also pledging that the US would become an “arsenal of vaccines”.

“I told President Xi Jinping that we will maintain a strong military presence in the Indo-Pacific just as we do with NATO in Europe, not to start conflict, but to prevent conflict,” Biden said in his address. 

The American publication Foreign Policy suggested a day after Biden’s address that America’s COVID-19 aid to India could be used by Washington to force Delhi to accept its “counter-China strategy”.

India’s former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal told Sputnik last week that India might be “encouraged” to seek aid from China should the US continue to restrict raw materials, pointing towards Beijing’s official offer to help India with its COVID-19  response.



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Ten women and girls killed every day in Mexico, Amnesty report says | Global development

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At least 10 women and girls are murdered every day in Mexico, according to a new report that says victims’ families are often left to carry out their own homicide investigations.

The scathing report, released on Monday by Amnesty International, documents both the scale of the violence and the disturbing lack of interest on the part of Mexican authorities to prevent or solve the murders.

“Mexico is continuing to fail to fulfil its duty to investigate and, therefore, its duty to guarantee the rights to life and personal integrity of the victims as well as to prevent violence against women,” says the report, Justice on Trial.

“Feminicidal violence and the failings in investigation and prevention in northern Mexico are not anecdotal, but rather form part of a broader reality in the country,” the report adds.

Femicide has been rife in Mexico for decades – most notoriously in an epidemic of murders which claimed the life of some 400 women in the border city Ciudad Juárez during the 1990s. In recent years, a growing feminist movement has held massive street protests against the violence, but authorities have proved unwilling to take action to stop the killing.

“It’s always a question of political will,” said Maricruz Ocampo, a women’s activist in the state of Querétaro.

Ocampo has been part of teams lobbying state governors to issue an alert when femicides reach scandalously high levels – a move to raise awareness and mobilise resources. But officials often resist such moves, she said, as governors worry about their states’ images and investment.

“They refuse to recognise there is a problem,” she said.

The president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has also downplayed the problem. He branded the women protesting on 8 March, International Women’s Day, as “conservatives” and alleged a dark hand manipulating the demonstrations.

When asked last year about rising violence against women, he responded, “Tell all the women of Mexico that they are protected and represented, that we’re doing everything possible to guarantee peace and quiet and that I understand that our adversaries are looking for ways to confront us.”

Mexico recorded the murders of 3,723 women in 2020. Some 940 of those murders were investigated as femicides.

The Amnesty report focused on Mexico state, a vast collection of gritty suburbs surrounding Mexico City on three sides. It has become notorious for femicides over the past decade – and for the way the former president, Enrique Peña Nieto, a former Mexico state governor, ignored the problem.

The report found cases of families carrying out their own detective work, which were ignored by investigators. In many cases, authorities contaminated crime scenes or mishandled evidence. They often did not even pursue leads such as geolocation information from victims’ mobile phones.

In the case of Julia Sosa, whose children believe she was killed by her partner, two daughters found her body buried on the suspect’s property – but had to wait hours for police to arrive and process the crime scene. One of her daughters recalled the subsequent interview process, in which “the police officer was falling asleep”.

Sosa’s partner hanged himself, prompting police to close the case, even though family members said there were more leads to pursue.

In states rife with drug cartel violence, activists say cases of femicides go uninvestigated as impunity is commonplace.

“The authorities say it’s organised crime and that’s it,” said Yolotzin Jaimes, a women’s rights campaigner in the southern state of Guerrero. “Many of these aggressors find protection under the excuse of organised crime.”

The persistence of femicides is a stark contrast to recent gains by the women’s movement in Mexico. The country’s supreme court decriminalised abortion earlier this month. A new congress recently sworn in has gender parity and seven female governors will be installed by the end of year – up from just two before last June’s election’s

The decriminalisation of abortion “let off some steam” from the pressure driving the protests “because part of the demands was over the right to choose,” Ocampo said. “But when it comes to violence, we still see it everywhere.”

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US official urges EU to speed up enlargement

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Gabriel Escobar, the US’ newly-appointed acting deputy secretary of state for South Central Europe, has urged Europe to speed up Western Balkans enlargement. “To return 20 years later and see that there hasn’t been much progress on that front was a little disappointing,” he told the RFE/RL news agency Friday, referring to his last post in Europe in 2001. “We would like to see a more rapid integration,” he said.

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Climate crisis leaving ‘millions at risk of trafficking and slavery’ | Global development

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Millions of people forced to leave their homes because of severe drought and powerful cyclones are at risk of modern slavery and human trafficking over the coming decades, a new report warns.

The climate crisis and the increasing frequency of extreme weather disasters including floods, droughts and megafires are having a devastating effect on the livelihoods of people already living in poverty and making them more vulnerable to slavery, according to the report, published today.

Researchers from the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and Anti-Slavery International found that drought in northern Ghana had led young men and women to migrate to major cities. Many women begin working as porters and are at risk of trafficking, sexual exploitation and debt bondage – a form of modern slavery in which workers are trapped in work and exploited to pay off a huge debt.

Boys at lathes turning aluminium pots
Children working in an aluminium pot factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Up to 85 million children work in hazardous jobs around the world. Photograph: NurPhoto/Getty

One woman, who migrated to Accra from northern Ghana, used to farm until the land was ruined by flooding and she was forced to move. For seven years she has worked as a porter (kayayie), carrying items on her head.

She said: “Working as a kayayie has not been easy for me. When I came here, I did not know anything about the work. I was told that the woman providing our pans will also feed us and give us accommodation. However, all my earnings go to her and only sometimes will she give me a small part of the money I’ve earned.”

She dropped a customer’s items once and had to pay for the damage, which she could not afford. The woman in charge paid up on condition that she repay her. She added: “I have been working endlessly and have not been able to repay.”

A woman from Bangladesh
A woman from the Sundarbans in Bangladesh, who moved to Kolkata after a cyclone to support her family. Now she cannot return to home without her employer’s permission. Photograph: Somnath Hazra

In the Sundarbans, on the border between India and Bangladesh, severe cyclones have caused flooding in the delta, reducing the land available for farming. With countries in the region tightening immigration restrictions, researchers found that smugglers and traffickers operating in the disaster-prone region were targeting widows and men desperate to cross the border to India to find employment and income. Trafficking victims were often forced into hard labour and prostitution, with some working in sweatshops along the border.

Fran Witt, a climate change and modern slavery adviser at Anti-Slavery International, said: “Our research shows the domino effect of climate change on millions of people’s lives. Extreme weather events contribute to environmental destruction, forcing people to leave their homes and leaving them vulnerable to trafficking, exploitation and slavery.”

The World Bank estimates that, by 2050, the impact of the climate crisis, such as poor crop yields, a lack of water and rising sea levels, will force more than 216 million people across six regions, including sub-Saharan Africa, south Asia and Latin America, from their homes.

The report is a stark warning to world leaders in advance of the Cop26 UN climate summit in Glasgow in November and calls on them to make sure efforts to address the climate emergency also tackle modern slavery. The report says labour and migrant rights abuses are disregardedin the interests of rapid economic growth and development.

Ritu Bharadwaj, a researcher for the IIED, said: “The world cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking that’s being fuelled by climate change. Addressing these issues needs to be part and parcel of global plans to tackle climate change.”

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