Tag: Asia

Afghanistan tackles the Islamic State

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Photo-Wikipedia

By Vijay Prasad*

On October 8, a terrible blast struck the worshippers attending Friday noon prayers at the Gozar-e-Sayed Abad Mosque in the Khan Abad district of Bandar, the capital of Kunduz, one of Afghanistan’s largest cities in its northern belt. This is a mosque frequented by Shia Muslims, who were referred to as “our compatriots” by Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid. Forty-six people died immediately in the blast, and local officials said that many more people were injured in the incident. Not long afterward, the Islamic State in Khorasan Province, ISKP (ISIS-K), took credit for the attack on its Telegram channel. The suicide bomber was identified as Mohammed al-Uyguri by ISIS-K.

The name of the attacker raised red flags across the region. It indicated that he belonged to the Uyghur community and had a relationship with the Xinjiang region of western China, which is home to most of the world’s Uyghur population. That a Chinese extremist attacked a Shia mosque raised eyebrows in Beijing and in Tehran.

Foreign Terrorists

In June 2021, the United Nations reported on the presence of between 8,000 and 10,000 “foreign terrorist fighters” in Afghanistan. The report further stated that these fighters were mainly “from Central Asia, the north Caucasus region of the Russian Federation, Pakistan and the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of China.” Although most of the fighters had reported an affiliation with the Taliban, “many also support Al-Qaida” and “[o]thers are allied with ISIL or have ISIL sympathies,” said the report. ISIL refers to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, whose Afghan franchise is ISIS-K.

In 2019, in Turkey, I encountered a group of Uyghur fighters from various terrorist organizations, including the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which is now called the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP). These were hardened fighters, whose main goal was to fight “infidels”; they did not seem interested in anything other than that. The United Nations placed the ETIM on their terrorist list in 2002.

During the war on Syria, large sections of the ETIM—as the TIP—moved to the Syria-Turkey border. The TIP is now largely based in Idlib, Syria, which is the hub of various global jihadi organizations. When it became clear that the Taliban was going to take power in Afghanistan, many jihadis from Central Asia—including from China and Tajikistan—left Idlib for Afghanistan. ETIM’s leader Abdul Haq remains in Syria, where he is also a member of the Shura Council of Al Qaeda.

Worries Abound in Iran…

On October 4, four days before the attack on the mosque in Afghanistan, an Iranian delegation arrived in Afghanistan to hold talks about cross-border trade and to seek assurances that the Taliban will not permit attacks on either Afghan Shia or on Iran. Meanwhile, in Kabul, governors of two neighboring border provinces of Iran’s Khorasan Razavi (Mohammad Sadegh Motamedian) and Afghanistan’s Herat (Maulvi Abdul Qayum Rohani) agreed on facilitating more cross-border trade and ensuring that there is no cross-border violence. In another meeting that took place on October 4 with Motamedian at the Iranian border town of Taybad, Rohani’s deputy Maulvi Sher Ahmad Ammar Mohajer said that the Afghan government will “never allow individuals or foreign groups such as ISIS to use Afghan territory against the Islamic Republic of Iran.” “We (Iran and Afghanistan) have defeated the common enemy,” Maulvi Rohani said in reference to the United States.

All signs indicate some sincerity on the part of the Taliban government. On October 7, the day before the ISIS-K attack on the Shia mosque in Kunduz, Maulvi Abdul Salam Hanafi—the deputy prime minister of Afghanistan—met with a group of Shia elders to assure them that the Taliban would not allow anti-Shia activity. Nevertheless, members of the Hazara community—who are the Shia community of Afghanistan—tell me that they fear a return to the previous rule of the Taliban; during that time, documented massacres by the Taliban against the Hazara Shia community provided evidence of the Taliban’s sectarianism. This is why Iran opposed the Taliban, and why Iran has not formally recognized the current government in Kabul. However, for the past few years, the Iranians have been working with the Taliban against ISIS and ISIS-K, with Iran’s Brigadier General Esmail Qaani as the liaison to the Taliban.
…And in China

In the 1990s, the Taliban government allowed the ETIM and other Uyghur groups to operate from Afghanistan. This time, there is already evidence that they will not officially permit such activity. Earlier this year, ETIM fighters had relocated from Syria to the Badakhshan province in Afghanistan; reports suggested that the fighters had gathered in the sparsely populated Wakhan Corridor in the province, which leads to China. But in recent weeks, the Taliban security has moved them from the towns surrounding the “Afghan-Chinese border” to other parts of Afghanistan (rumors have been flying about the Taliban’s intention to extradite the ETIM—if not all the 2,000 Uyghurs in Afghanistan—to China, but these rumors are unconfirmed).

In late August, Mattia Sorbi of Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper met with Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid. This was a significant interview for the Taliban because Italy is a key partner of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Mujahid told Sorbi that China is currently assisting Afghanistan with short-term funds (including $31 million in emergency funds) and that the Taliban see the BRI as their “passport to markets around the world.” China’s long-term concession of the Mes Aynak copper mine, south of Kabul, will allow it “to come back to life and be modernized,” said Mujahid. The Taliban is keen on the BRI, he said, “which will lead to reviving the ancient Silk Road.”

The BRI runs on both sides of Afghanistan, the northern route through Tajikistan to Iran and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor running southward. The mouth of the Wakhan Corridor would be the opening of a third route, running toward Kabul and to Iran (and linking Pakistan’s agricultural goods to markets in Central Asia and Russia).

Isolation from China and Iran is not a welcome thought in Kabul. The United States is prepared to reengage with the Taliban, which could alter the equations on the ground. If the U.S. allows Kabul to access the funds in its central bank, Da Afghanistan Bank, (sitting in New York) or the IMF funds, these funds will help provide the Taliban with a lifeline. But they are not a solution for Afghanistan, which is caught as it is between China and Iran and the possibility of its connection to the new silk road.

* Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He has written 20 books and is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter.
Source: Globetrotter

State of the Nation 2021 : Asian Ambassadors stress importance of cooperation in the Indo-Pacific

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Photo grab- CEDA live

There was a panel discussion on ‘Australia and Asia – what does a mutually beneficial relationship look like?’ at the CEDA’s 2021 State of the Nation forum, under the theme of ‘Conversations for the future in which His Excellency Mr. Y Kristiarto S Legowo, Ambassador of Indonesia, His Excellency Mr. Manpreet Vohra, High Commissioner for India,
and His Excellency Mr. Shingo Yamagami the Ambassador of Japan to Australia participated. The facilitator was Ming Long AM, CEDA Board of Directors. The following is a report on this online event from the CEDA website – ceda.com.au

MELBOURNE, 24 June 2021: In response to a question on dealing with complex regional issues and his approach to China, Ambassador Yamagami told a panel discussion on Australia and Asia that Japan “would like to see the rule of law prevail in this region”.

“Whenever we have disputes we don’t resort to unilateral arbitrary measures. We should do our best to solve these disputes in accordance with international laws and norms,” he said.

“By joining voices together we would like to include as many countries as possible in the network of laws and norms.

“Of course we have to be careful not to escalate tensions on our part, but when push comes to shove you will know who is your real friend – this is the kind of moment that Australia needs real friends and Japan is hereby standing with Australia.”

Ambassador Yamagami was joined on the panel by the High Commissioner of India to Australia, His Excellency Manpreet Vohra, who also voiced concerns about the “disquiet” caused by recent events in the region.

“In a sense much of Asia until a few short years ago was living in a world where the rise of one particular country, the economic rise particularly, was being managed and accepted quite well,” he said.

“It is only in recent years where certain actions and behaviours have led to a certain disquiet.

“We in India have also faced some inexplicable aggressive actions, particularly last year at our borders, at a time when otherwise things were going well.

To suddenly face inexplicably aggression or attempted coercion has led to a lot of disquiet.”

“I think it is quite natural in this scenario for likeminded countries of this region…to come together and offer an alternative model to the region.”

The panel discussion also included Indonesian Ambassador to Australia, His Excellency Y Kristiarto S Legowo, who noted that the global pandemic should be an occasion to “enhance cooperation” between major powers.

“This is a challenge we have to deal with together because no single country could address this challenge alone and no single country will be safe until every country is safe,” he said.

“This is the time to put aside our political differences and work together – hopefully the habit of collaboration will continue after this trying time.”

Source- ceda.com.au

NEWS ANALYSIS: A caring world needs a sharing world to end the COVID-19 pandemic

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Photo-ANI,

A virus that mutates forever is a perpetual money-making machine for Big Pharma. Everybody else wants the world’s population to be vaccinated to control the spread of the pandemic.

By Prabir Purkayastha*

After three months of dithering, the Biden administration eventually agreed to a temporary waiver of patent rights for the COVID-19 vaccines. The proposal by South Africa and India for a waiver on intellectual property rights in the World Trade Organization has found support from a large number of countries and more than 400 public health organizations. The proposal now faces opposition from the European Union countries, which had earlier portrayed themselves to be more progressive than the United States. This portrayal was not difficult to achieve under the Trump administration. The latest move by Biden has, however, wrong-footed the EU, leaving the bloc as the only public supporter of Big Pharma in the WTO.

While appearing to support the South Africa-India proposal, the Biden administration has considerably narrowed down the scope of the waiver to just patents in comparison to what was there in the original proposal in the WTO: to waive all intellectual property rights on COVID-19 vaccines, diagnostics, and medicine, including industrial designs, copyright, and trade secrets. These waivers are required to scale up vaccines from research and development to production at an industrial scale. The Biden patent waiver is, however, limited to vaccines only. It leaves out patents on Remdesivir and various monoclonal antibodies that have shown efficacy against COVID-19. Without extending the vaccine patent waiver to other property rights, the stance by the Biden administration of waiving only vaccine patents is more optics than a real effort to ramp up the fight against COVID-19. The issue of knowledge transfers, to scale up vaccine manufacturing in other countries, still needs to be fought and won.

Even if it is at the level of optics, there are several reasons behind the United States’ sudden change in its position. The United States has been relatively isolated because of its America First policy of hoarding vaccines and vaccinating all Americans first before exporting the vaccines to the rest of the world. According to an article in the New York Times in March, the United States was sitting on “tens of millions of doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine,” which it was not using, while the WHO’s Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT)-Accelerator program—and its vaccines pillar of COVAX, on which a large part of the world depends—has been facing difficulties getting vaccine supplies. And lastly, with India facing a huge surge in cases domestically and virtually stopping all vaccine exports, China has emerged as one of the only suppliers of vaccines to large parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America. This is endangering Biden’s plans of a grand alliance against China, isolating it globally.

The U.S.’s unstated geostrategic vision is to support the Western Big Pharma companies to dominate the markets of rich countries, and the market for the rich in the rest of the world who can afford premium prices. Moderna is slated to generate a revenue of $19.2 billion this year from the sales of the COVID-19 vaccines, while Pfizer-BioNTech will rake in $26 billion in sales, according to the Wall Street Journal. This is the market that the rich countries want to protect.

The United States was banking on its new Quad partner, India, to provide vaccines to the rest of the world through the WHO’s COVAX program. The COVAX program, though nominally run by the WHO, is dominated by Bill Gates and his various vaccine initiatives: the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Gavi and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), which are co-leaders of the program. The Serum Institute of India, which is manufacturing two vaccines (Covishield, which is licensed from AstraZeneca, and Novavax), and Biological E, which will produce the Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) vaccine, were expected to provide about 2.6 billion to 3 billion doses per year from India for other countries, helping to vaccinate the global population.

This strategy faltered due to the utter incompetence of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to use the indigenous capability of the country for rapidly ramping up India’s vaccine production. The other constraint was the virtual U.S. export ban under the 1950 Defense Production Act, which denied Indian vaccine manufacturers the vital equipment and raw materials required to scale up production of COVID-19 vaccines. At the “current global vaccination rates of roughly 6.7 million doses per day,” and to achieve the much-needed herd immunity where up to 85 percent of the population has been completely vaccinated, will take about 4.6 years, according to an April article in the New England Journal of Medicine. China and Russia have effectively emerged as the only two countries willing to offer their vaccines and technology to other countries grappling to control the spread of the virus.

If the United States had banked on the Modi government’s ability to compete with China on the vaccine front, they backed the wrong horse. The Modi administration failed miserably not only to anticipate a second wave in India, but also to invest in ramping up production of its indigenous vaccine, Covaxin, which was developed by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the National Institute of Virology (NIV), in collaboration with Bharat Biotech, to increase the biopharmaceutical capacity of the country. Instead, the Modi government believed in the “magic” of the free market that would provide all the vaccines required without the need for any planning or government support.

The proponents of the patent monopoly, including Bill Gates, argue that a patent waiver is useless, as it is a lack of technology, knowledge and capital, not patents, that is holding up vaccine production outside the rich countries. If patents are not stopping vaccine production in other countries, then why did Big Pharma and the rich countries oppose the patent waiver in the WTO for the last six months? Why is there anger relating to the Biden administration’s current stand on patent waivers?
According to Big Pharma, a patent waiver on vaccines will disincentivize research and will be a huge blow to those who innovate. What they hide—and this is not new—is that most of the research money for the new vaccines has come from public funds. A Lancet paper published recently shows that governments and nonprofit organizations have given more than $10 billion for the development of the current crop of vaccines and other promising vaccine candidates. This does not include the billions of dollars that the U.S. and the UK governments paid to Pfizer and AstraZeneca for advance orders.

The argument of providing a monopoly to Big Pharma for incentivizing drug discovery is, therefore, a bogus one. Most of the research for the development of drugs and vaccines is supported by public funds and by government laboratories.

As far as the role of philanthropic money in developing private monopolies is concerned, it should be treated at par with public money as it comes out of tax-free dollars. Bill Gates and his initiatives—the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation—deserve a special mention here as the foundation has a direct role in strengthening Big Pharma monopoly. It was Gates and the power he wields through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Gavi, and CEPI that led Oxford University’s Jenner Institute to abandon its initial idea of making their vaccine technology available to any company on a nonexclusive basis. Instead, it signed an exclusive contract with AstraZeneca.

There are three major technology platforms that have emerged in the development of the current lot of successful vaccines. The first includes the “old-fashioned” inactivated virus vaccines like China’s Sinovac and Sinopharm and India’s Covaxin. The second technology platform (adenovirus-based) uses a relatively innocuous virus as a vector to carry a SARS-CoV-2 protein—for example, AstraZeneca, CanSino, Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology’s Sputnik V, and Johnson & Johnson. The third type is the mRNA vaccine that tells the body cells to produce the SARS-CoV-2 protein, as in the case of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. All three of these technology platforms have produced successful vaccines.

Almost all of the Big Pharma arguments on why patent waivers are not of much use are for mRNA vaccine platforms. The argument by Big Pharma that countries such as India, China and South Korea—three of the largest generic vaccine manufacturing countries—do not have biologic capability is not correct, as the mRNA vaccines are not of immediate public health interest to most countries. The mRNA vaccines require an ultra-cold supply chain; otherwise, they degrade rapidly. The cost and effort involved in building such an ultra-cold supply chain preclude the use of mRNA vaccines in mass vaccination programs in most countries. What is of interest for most countries is the inactivated virus vaccines or the adenovirus vector vaccines.

The WHO-supported platforms—CEPI and Gavi—where Bill Gates has an outsized influence have focused much more on the new vaccine platforms, the mRNA and the adenovirus vector vaccine platforms, and not on the traditional inactivated virus vaccines. Dr. Ricardo Palacios of Butantan Institute, while speaking during a webinar organized by the South Centre on April 1, pointed out “that CEPI and COVAX funded largely newer vaccine technologies and had the tendency to disregard older technologies such as inactivated viruses”—for example, vaccines like China’s Sinovac and India’s Covaxin. These inactivated virus vaccines are effective, cost less, and can be produced easily in many developing countries. Before we dismiss these vaccines as yesterday’s technology, it is relevant to note that this is still the vaccine platform for flu vaccinations across the world and is used to manufacture about 1.5 billion doses per year.

Meanwhile, the only novel part of the adenovirus vector vaccines of AstraZeneca, CanSino, and Gamaleya’s Sputnik V is inserting a small spike protein snippet in the adenovirus vector and then growing the adenovirus as we do for the inactivated virus. Five companies in India, a consortium of South Korean companies, and another consortium of Chinese companies are planning to scale up the production of Sputnik V to about 1.5 to 2 billion doses per year.

For any company involved in biologics, this is pretty much routine technology. India has about 30 biologic manufacturers, and South Korea and China also have an established biologic industry. Bangladesh, Southeast Asia, and Latin American countries also have biologic drug manufacturing capability, and can therefore become major manufacturers. Cuba has developed five vaccines, out of which two are in advanced clinical trials. According to the WHO’s Global Vaccine Market Report 2020, three Indian companies (the Serum Institute of India [SII], the Haffkine Institute [Haffkine], and Bharat Biotech [BBIL]) provide about 44 percent of the world’s vaccines by dosage. The argument by Bill Gates recently in a Sky News interview that “it’s only because of our grants and our expertise” that the Indians (or Koreans, Chinese, Latin Americans, Africans, Arabs, etc.) can produce the vaccines is just a racist view of the world. This is a repetition of the white man’s burden that cloaked the earlier genocidal colonial enterprise.

The question the world needs to ask is if we want to spend the next few years protecting the monopoly profits of a few Big Pharma companies, and thereby condemn the world to a much longer COVID-19 pandemic. Or do we believe that public health demands rapid sharing of knowledge so that the world’s population can be vaccinated within the next 6-12 months? If the latter doesn’t happen, new virus mutations will keep emerging, requiring updating the vaccines constantly, making this a never-ending game of snakes and ladders. This is of interest to Big Pharma, as it will create a perpetual money-making machine for them. But it is not so for the people around the world who believe that a caring world needs sharing of knowledge.

* Prabir Purkayastha is a senior journalist & the founding editor of Newsclick. in, a digital media platform. He is an activist for science and the free software movement.

Source- Globetrotter

Pakistan: Taliban donations, recruitment on the rise

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By S. Khan

ISLAMABAD, 28 May 2021: Concerns have been growing in Pakistan over intensified clashes in Afghanistan, with some politicians and civil society organizations fearing that they could prompt local militants to join the Afghan Taliban.

On Sunday, Afghan forces confronted Taliban fighters near Mihtarlam, a city of around 140,000 people and the capital of Laghman province.

Clashes have escalated in Afghanistan since US and NATO forces began their withdrawal of troops on May 1, with insurgents attempting to capture new territory. Foreign forces are set to pull out by September 11.

Analysts warn that Afghanistan is at risk of surging violence similar to that of the 1990s when the Taliban rose to power and thousands of Pakistanis joined the Afghan Taliban to fight the Northern Alliance.

Recently, videos have emerged on Pakistani social media platforms showing clerics soliciting support for the Afghan Taliban and calling for donations.

The Afghan Taliban is banned in Pakistan, but some clerics or Islamist groups sympathetic to the militant group have been known to recruit on their behalf.

‘Openly collecting donations’ in Balochistan
A former senator and leader of the nationalist Pukhtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party in the western Pakistani province of Balochistan, who did not want to be named, claims the Taliban is already carrying out recruitment to fight the Afghan government.

“Come to Balochistan, and I will show the villages and areas where clerics are openly attending the funerals of those Pakistanis killed in Afghanistan while fighting for the Taliban,” he told DW, adding that recruitment will pick up pace once foreign troops have completely departed from the war-torn country.

Muhammed Sarfraz Khan, the former director of the Area Study Center of Peshawar University, told DW that clerics from North and South Waziristan to Kurrum and Khyber in Pakistan are “luring” people into joining the Taliban as state authorities turn a blind eye.

They are openly collecting donations, he said, adding that the withdrawal of foreign troops will have a severe impact on the northwestern and western provinces of Pakistan, the regions which are home to tens of thousands of Afghan Taliban supporters, according to the expert.

‘Government is watchful’

Political analyst Rahimullah Yusufzai, meanwhile, said Pakistanis are unlikely to join Afghan Taliban forces, at least not in large numbers as they did during the Soviet War in Afghanistan between 1979 and 1989.

“The situation is much different now because the government is watchful. It will not allow people to cross over into Afghanistan and fight for the Taliban,” Yusufzai told DW.

“However, in remote areas close to the Afghan border, people might still go to fight and collect donations,” he said, adding that some Afghan students studying in Pakistani seminaries might support the Taliban and head to Afghanistan.

“They can see the victory of the Taliban and the situation is in their favor,” he said.

Peshawar-based analyst Samina Afridi also believes that support for the Afghan Taliban in Pakistan’s so-called tribal belt has dwindled.

“There are pockets of support for the Afghan Taliban in North and South Waziristan, but most of the people in other parts of the KP (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) want schools, hospitals, roads and infrastructure, not any militancy, be it from the Afghan Taliban or any other group,” she told DW.

Afridi said clerics sympathetic to the Afghan Taliban might begin recruitment or collect donations but that such actions would be “vehemently” resisted by anti-war grassroots organizations like the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement.

Pakistanis accused of Taliban support

Islamabad, Pakistani religious organizations and several Pakistani Taliban have also been accused of throwing support behind the Afghan Taliban.

During the 1990s, Pakistan was among the three countries that recognized the Taliban-governed Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

In recent years, critics called Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan “Taliban Khan” for suggesting that the Afghan Taliban should be engaged in talks despite the group’s insurgency between 2004 and 2016. Sporadic attacks have also been carried out in recent years.

Prominent Pakistani Taliban member Asmat Ullah Mauvia reportedly joined the Afghan Taliban in the fight against foreign troops and the Ghani government.

More recently, Pakistani Taliban leader Adnan Rasheed was also reported to have joined the Afghan Taliban.

Rasheed was convicted of an attack on former Pakistani president, General Pervez Musharraf, in December 2003 and imprisoned. In 2012, however, the Pakistani Taliban stormed the Bannu Prison, freeing hundreds of militants including Rasheed.

Pakistani religious parties like Jamiat Ulema Islam of Maulana Fazl ur Rehman and the Jamiat Ulema Islam Sami ul Haq Group have also been accused of supporting the Afghan Taliban.

Warnings for India

Muhammad Iqbal Khan Afridi, a parliamentarian from Pakistan’s ruling party, said authorities have placed strict measures to prevent cross-border movement of militants, such as setting up fences at the border with Afghanistan.

Afridi dismissed claims of Afghan Taliban recruitment or donation campaigns.

The parliamentarian did, however, warn India against using Afghan soil to create problems for Pakistan, saying New Delhi would face dire consequences for doing so.

Source- dw.com

Bangladesh at 50: From ‘basket case’ to rising economic star

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By Zobaer Ahmed

At the time of independence in 1971, Bangladesh’s economy was in tatters, a result of the bloody liberation war. Over 80% of the population were living in extreme poverty.

In the following years, the country struggled with military coups, political turmoil, poverty and famine.

In the 1970s, it was argued that “if development is possible in Bangladesh, it is possible in any other country,”Mustafizur Rahman, an economist at Bangladesh’s Center for Policy Dialogue, told DW.

He added that the South Asian country was viewed as “the test case” of development.

But fast forward to today, the situation has dramatically changed for the better.

Norwegian social researcher Eirik G Jansen said that in 2009 when he returned to a Bangladeshi village after a gap of nearly three and a half decades, he was surprised to see the remarkable improvement in socio-economic development and people’s income levels.

“Their incomes increased tenfold. It meant they could buy at least 10-15 kilograms of rice with their daily wages,” Jansen told DW.

From 1976 to 1980, he lived with several impoverished families in a village in the Manikganj district.

“If you have five or six people in your household and you come home with just one and a half kilograms of rice, you can hardly feed the entire family,” Jansen said.

“Severe poverty meant many people lacked enough food. Health and education services hardly existed. Many people became sick, and many died in their 40s and 50s due to diseases that could have been prevented if they had good nutrition. Many children also died,” the expert added.

Making strides in growth and development

Before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the economy was growing rapidly, recording an annual expansion in the range of 8% for years.

The Asian Development Bank said that despite the hit from the pandemic, the Bangladeshi economy is recovering fast.

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“Bangladesh also grows enough food now to feed its 167 million people. The country has significantly reduced maternal and infant mortality rate than many other countries in the world,” Rahman said.

Bangladesh achieved lower middle-income country status in 2015 and is on track to leave the United Nations’ Least Developed Countries list.

Currently, 98% of children nationwide have finished primary school, with more girls in secondary than boys.

Observers say the Muslim-majority nation over the years has invested heavily in the lives of women and girls. It has also made progress in combating child malnutrition and reproductive health.

Jansen said when he visited the village in Manikanj again in 2010, he found that schools in the area were refurbished, and both boys and girls were going to school.

The improvement in female education has transformed the socioeconomic structure, he pointed out.

“Providing scholarship for women’s and girls’ education is another factor. The women are now more articulate. They are not as shy as when I saw them four decades earlier.”

From agriculture to industry
With a GDP of over $305 billion (€259 billion), Bangladesh has currently the world’s 41st largest economy and forecasts suggest that the size of the economy could double by 2030.

While it was primarily an agricultural economy in 1971, the composition has changed over the decades, with industry and services now accounting for the lion’s share of the economic output.

Agriculture’s share of GDP has dropped to just 13%.

It was the availability of job opportunities outside agriculture that drove economic development, said Jansen.

“For many women, it was working in the textile industry and handicrafts. For men, it was jobs in local small industries. For some, it was migrating abroad to the Middle East, Singapore or Malaysia.”

The garment industry emerged as one of the nation’s success stories in recent decades. It is the second-largest globally, only next to China, and rakes in over $35 billion a year from exports.

The sector employs four million people, the majority of whom are women, contributing to female empowerment.

“The garment sector has changed not only the economy, but also women’s social status in Bangladesh,” Rahman told DW.

Remittances also play a major role in the economy, with Bangladeshi workers employed abroad transferring nearly $22 billion in 2020.

Quality and inequality challenges

Despite the steep rise in the number of children going to school, the quality of education remains poor, posing a major challenge to the development of a skilled workforce, said Rahman.

Also, not everyone has benefited equally from the nation’s impressive growth and development, say experts, pointing to rising income and wealth inequality as well as the slow pace of job creation.

“Per capita income has increased in Bangladesh. But income and wealth distribution could be made equal and fair,” Rahman said. “The income disparity between the top 5% and the bottom 40% is increasing day by day.”

Another problem is the heavy concentration of economic activity in big cities like Dhaka and Chittagong, resulting in a huge rural-urban divide and increased urban poverty.

“The poverty level might have come down to 20%, but 50% of those living in some cities face poverty,” Rahman stressed.

So, the biggest challenge Bangladesh faces is related to how the country ensures that the fruits of growth and development reach people at the bottom of the economic pyramid.

Source- dw.com, 26 March 2021

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