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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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Malaria kills 180,000 more people annually than previously thought, says WHO | Global development

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The World Health Organization has called for a “massive, urgent” effort to get the new malaria vaccine into the arms of African children, as it warned that about 180,000 more people were dying annually from the disease than had previously been thought.

Dr Pedro Alonso, director of the WHO’s global malaria programme, said the RTS,S vaccine, recommended for widespread rollout in October, represented a historic opportunity to save tens of thousands of lives, mostly those of under-fives in sub-Saharan Africa.

But he warned that the global community risked “massive failure” if funding commitments aimed at boosting production and helping deployment of the vaccine were not rapidly made.

“What I think is the real barrier [is] international solidarity,” he said. “Is the world going to allow that there is a first malaria vaccine that can save the lives of tens of thousands of African children every year and they’re going to let it sit on a shelf? Or are they going to step up?”

The British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKlein, which developed the RTS,S vaccine, has committed to donate up to 10m doses for use in the pilot programmes already under way, and to supply up to 15m doses annually.

However, with more than 240m cases globally last year, the potential demand could reach 80 to 100m doses annually, Alonso warned. “Therefore, this is a prime example of where international mechanisms will need to come into play,” he said.

“A vaccine that could save somewhere between 40 and 70-80,000 lives every year, of African children, is something that needs to be treated with the utmost ambition and sense of urgency. And therefore, a slow, gradual scale-up, if you ask me, would not be acceptable. This needs to be a massive, urgent operation to ensure that we can reach as many children as possible and as soon as possible.”

He added: “If the global health community does not respond to this challenge, it will represent a massive failure. I cannot imagine how different leaders, leaders of philanthropy or of financing institutions, are going to go to Africa and advocate for efforts to prevent childhood deaths if they don’t, first and foremost, support the deployment of this vaccine.”

Last week, the global vaccine alliance, Gavi, said its board had approved an initial $155.7m (£117m) for the rollout of RTS,S. The funding would help the introduction, procurement and delivery of the vaccine for eligible countries in sub-Saharan Africa from 2022 until 2025, it said.

Dr Abdourahmane Diallo, CEO of the RBM Partnership to End Malaria, said the announcement would give the private sector “a crucial motive to scale up” the rollout.

“We now call on leaders to step up investment to accelerate the development and delivery of more effective, transformative tools to combat the ever-evolving malaria parasite,” he said.

New figures released by the WHO on Monday underlined the scale of the problem, with a new, “more precise” method of counting estimating that 627,000 people died of malaria last year, 180,000 more than the total would have been according to the old methodology.

The vast majority of all malaria deaths – 96% – were in sub-Saharan Africa.

In its annual malaria report, the WHO said the “doomsday scenario” some had predicted at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic – that deaths from malaria would double as a result of disruption to treatment and services – had not materialised.

Nonetheless, it said, deaths had risen by nearly 70,000 last year, an increase of 12%, of which nearly 50,000 were attributable to disruptions during the pandemic. One main cause of disruption was that more than a quarter of insecticide-treated bed nets – the backbone of WHO efforts to combat malaria – were not distributed in 2020.

Faced with a slowing of progress in the fight against malaria, the WHO believes the vaccine could be a crucial new weapon, even though questions have been raised over its limited efficacy. Over four years of trials, RTS,S was found to prevent 39% of malaria cases and 29% of severe malaria cases.

But Alonso rejected concerns. “A reduction of 30% [in] severe cases of malaria means a massive public health impact, larger probably than any other vaccine against any other disease being used right now,” he said.

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Fresh violence at anti-vax protests in Brussels

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Belgian police fired water cannon at violent anti-vaccination protesters outside EU buildings in Brussels for the second weekend in a row on Sunday. More than 40,000 people also protested against lockdowns in Vienna Saturday. Several thousand people also protested in Utrecht, in The Netherlands, as well as in Berlin and Frankfurt, where German police used batons and pepper spray after being attacked by a radical minority in the demonstration.

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‘They see it in corridors, in bathrooms, on the bus’: UK schools’ porn crisis | Pornography

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Barnardo’s works directly with children who are victims of abuse or display signs of harmful or risky sexual behaviour. In 2020-21, they worked with 382,872 children, young people, parents and carers.

In a recent survey of their frontline workers across England and Wales, staff reported a rise in the number of children participating in acts they have seen in pornographic videos, despite feeling uncomfortable or scared. They describe porn as having a “corrosive” effect on child wellbeing.

Child sexual abuse expert Sarah works with children who are displaying signs of inappropriate sexual behaviour. She also trains other professionals who work with children

“I started out as a primary school teacher eight years ago, and I’ve been worried about children seeing porn ever since. Children don’t have to be able to type to see porn – it can be sent to them or shown to them on someone else’s phone. They see it at school, in the corridors, in the bathrooms, on the bus. There is just no censor on any of it – one video leads to another. If you can imagine it, it exists as porn, and children are seeing it.

“I am working with a teenager who was sexually abused by a family member. This young person had been exposed to porn and it was perpetuating what the abuser told them – that this is normal, that it’s not abuse.”

She is particularly concerned, as are her colleagues, about the increasingly extreme nature of the porn freely available on mainstream sites.

“A common role play theme on porn sites is intra-familial abuse – on mainstream sites you will see fetishisation of grandad and granddaughter sex, or stepfathers and stepdaughters. This may lead to a young person not disclosing or getting the support they need. From both angles it is dangerous; it puts the child at risk and encourages the perpetrator.

“The impact of porn shows in children harming others or themselves because they either don’t understand or are so ashamed of sexual urges. Shame is very prevalent and is often hidden.

“We are working with a seven-year-old who has been exposed to porn and is now displaying sexualised behaviour. They had free rein on a device, and someone hadn’t deleted a browser history. Once a young person sees porn, they may feel a need to come back again and again – porn is designed to meet a need. That is a form of sexual abuse against that child.”

Brian* is a senior social worker who has worked with children for over 30 years

“Unfortunately, porn is a feature for the majority of the children who come into our service. The children we support are very damaged. They would be likely to have experienced multiple forms of abuse – sexual, physical and domestic. Porn in and of itself is not the cause of their behaviour but it becomes a compounding factor when it hits that history of vulnerability.

Adult sex offenders can give children a distorted rationalisation for their behaviour, and the messages that are given through porn then fit with that distortion.

Lucy* has worked within the field of child sexual abuse for 16 years.

“We know children find porn distressing – they are telling us that themselves. We have done research with children in schools so that we have a cohort to compare our vulnerable children to, and they are saying the same thing.

“This is not what could be described as erotic or soft porn. They may start on porn sites and quickly begin to see very hardcore material. Or [extreme material] lands in their social media feeds, and they can then feel compelled to go back and look again.

“Children are less able to manage sexual arousal, and this material is designed to be arousing. Lots of children can feel guilty and distressed by what they see. We have 14-year-olds telling us they have to watch it as soon as they wake up. They describe being preoccupied with accessing porn to an extent that impacts upon their day-to-day life.

“We also regularly work with children with learning disabilities, another group vulnerable to the harm of porn. They may be shielded from sexual information and then reach 13 or 14 and take away the wrong learning from porn. They may learn that no means yes, that if you persist, women will enjoy forced sex. These messages are harmful for any child but for children with learning needs or who have developed unhealthy beliefs around sex as a result of abuse, it’s particularly bad.

“After lockdown, we began to get more calls from parents where there is no other obvious trauma, just the exposure to porn. I’ve been doing this 16 years, and children have far more access to porn now.”

* Names and some details have been changed to protect identities

In the UK, the NSPCC offers support to children on 0800 1111, and adults concerned about a child on 0808 800 5000. The National Association for People Abused in Childhood (Napac) offers support for adult survivors on 0808 801 0331. In the US, call or text the Childhelp abuse hotline on 800-422-4453. In Australia, children, young adults, parents and teachers can contact the Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, or Bravehearts on 1800 272 831, and adult survivors can contact Blue Knot Foundation on 1300 657 380. Other sources of help can be found at Child Helplines International

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