Tag: Biden

US recognition of the Taliban could be a geopolitical game changer

Anti-Taliban rally in New Delhi. Photo-ANI

By M.K. Bhadrakumar*

The stunning disclosure late Tuesday in Brussels that the US is working on a “road map” for recognition to the Taliban Government will take a lot of people by surprise but it could have been expected sooner rather than later.

The US has a consistent record of rethinking its strategies once it realizes that the policy has landed in a cul-de-sac. That is exactly what has happened in this case.

Pressure tactics will not work on the Taliban, which has a strong support base rooted in Pashtun ethnonationalism. On the other hand, the US took no interest whatsoever in the self-styled Panjshiri “resistance,” either. In retrospect, the Biden Administration, quintessentially, resumed the Doha peace process.

Former US Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad recently acknowledged that the US and Taliban were inches away from realizing the understanding per the Doha agreement that an interim government would be formed in Kabul (which, of course, Ashraf Ghani and his clique duly sabotaged.)

The new US Special Representative for Afghanistan Tom West explained in a briefing on Tuesday that Washington is worried about an uptick in attacks by the ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan and remains deeply concerned about al Qaeda’s ongoing presence there.

West is currently on a visit to Brussels to brief the NATO allies on the US’ talks with the Taliban and hold consultations on a “road map” toward recognition of the government. Importantly, he was speaking on-the-record.

To quote West, “The Taliban have voiced very clearly and openly their desire to normalize relations with the international community, to see a resumption in aid, to see a return of the international diplomatic community to Kabul and to see sanctions relief. The United States can deliver none of these things on our own.”

West is proceeding from Brussels to Pakistan for a meeting of the “Troika Plus” in Islamabad on Thursday. From there, he’ll travel to Delhi to brief the US’ Quad ally on the new thinking in Washington regarding the Taliban Government and the developments thereof.

From Delhi, West is proceeding to Moscow. Tass had reported earlier citing Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that during a telephone conversation with the Russian presidential envoy Zamir Kabulov, West had said he wanted to come to Moscow to establish contact with the Russian side. Accordingly, a “working visit” has been scheduled for coming Monday.

West’s disclosure comes against the backdrop of the Pakistani media reports on Tuesday that Islamabad is “set to host the interim Afghan foreign minister as well as special envoys from the United States, Russia, and China as part of diplomatic efforts aimed at preparing the ground for the international community’s recognition of the Taliban government.”

Incidentally, Interim Afghan Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, leading a high-powered delegation, is expected to arrive in Islamabad on Wednesday, which will be his official first visit to Pakistan.

The meeting of the special envoys in Islamabad will be in the format of the so-called “Troika Plus” — Russia, US, China, and Pakistan. According to Express Tribune newspaper, Muttaqi will also join the “Troika Plus” meeting, which if correct, will be highly symbolic. In reality, Taliban authorities are being co-opted by the “Troika Plus.”

Conceivably, the US is considering providing access to Afghanistan’s blocked funds in American banks to the tune of $9.5 billion. There is immense international pressure on this score, as was apparent at the recent meeting of the regional states in the so-called Moscow Format.

Clearly, the Biden Administration has veered round to the view that it is in the interests of regional and international security that the Taliban Government’s capacity to stabilise the Afghan situation, especially on the security and economic arena, is beefed up in whatever way possible.

Without doubt, the Biden Administration is taking the right approach, although this is going to be controversial in the polarised political opinion in the US. To be sure, this rethink carries the imprimatur of President Biden.

It appears that Beijing is in for a nasty surprise by the turnaround in the US thinking. A commentary in Global Times earlier Tuesday was apparently quite unaware of the meeting of the “Troika Plus” in Islamabad or that the ground beneath the feet was shifting dramatically.

The Global Times report said that “Muttaqi’s visit to Pakistan is likely to be transactional with discussions on practical issues of mutual concern, including Afghan Taliban’s role as mediator between the Pakistani government and the Pakistani Taliban.

“Despite the frequent recent interaction between the Taliban government and Pakistan, there is a long way to go before a country recognises the Taliban government as legitimate. In addition to the implementation of anti-terrorism commitments ensuring inclusiveness and protecting women’s rights by the Taliban, there are also specific issues ahead such as borders and trade routes.”

Interestingly, the report went on to speculate that “one possibility is that after China, Russia, Pakistan and other regional countries establish a dialogue with relevant countries in the Middle East, they will recognise the Taliban regime collectively or independently.”

On the contrary, the Biden Administration has been talking directly to the Taliban and Islamabad all this while but kept the discussions strictly on a “need-to-know” basis, which excluded Beijing. At any rate, Beijing has been on a hostile belligerent mode and refusing to cooperate with Washington. Its growing assertiveness as kingmaker in Kabul has suffered a setback with Washington quietly moving in. The great game is shifting gear.

Indeed, the above developments completely change the regional alignments. For a start, Pakistan bounces back as Washington’s most important partner in the period ahead in regard to the “road map” under consideration for recognizing the Taliban Government. An effective future US role in Afghanistan will need to be anchored on Pakistan’s cooperation.

Quite obviously, the Biden Administration has been swayed by the Pakistani argument that continued procrastination in engaging with the Taliban Government holds dangers and a replay of the anarchical conditions in the 1990s may well ensue with the added complication that ISIS is gathering strength.

Equally, the US seems to share the British assessment that the progressive elements within the Taliban deserve to be supported. Giving evidence to the UK’s House of Commons Defence Committee on Tuesday, General Sir Nick Carter, the Chief of the Defence Staff said,

“Taliban 2.0 is different. There are a lot of people in Taliban 2.0 who would like to govern in a more modern way, but they are divided among themselves, as political entities so often are.

“If the less repressive elements end up gaining greater control… then I think there is no reason to suppose that Afghanistan over the next five years might not turn out into a country that is more inclusive than it might have been otherwise.

Interestingly, Gen. Carter who has had a hands-on role in the Afghan issues was dismissive about winners and losers. As he put it, “I think it is too early to say that defeat has occurred. Victory here needs to be measured in the results and not some great military extravaganza.”

The US and the UK mostly move in tandem, especially when it comes to Afghanistan. Biden was in the UK only last weekend for the climate summit in Glasgow.

Credit goes to Biden ultimately for the sense of realism that is on display here to let bygones be bygones and to open a new page as quickly as possible in the US national interests.

*This article was produced in partnership with Indian Punchline and Globetrotter. M.K. Bhadrakumar is a former Indian diplomat.

Source: Globetrotter

‘Quad’ leaders bat for ‘free & open’ Indo-Pacific; warn against use of Afghan territory for terrorism

Quad summit in progress. Photo- ANI

By SAT News Desk

WASHINGTON/MELBOURNE, 26 September 2021: Quad leaders, US President Biden, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Indian Prime Minister N. Modi, and Japan Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga have in a joint summit communique called upon for a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific, directed at China, though it is not named. The leaders’ summit on Friday (24 September 2021) in Washington DC, discussed many issues including the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis, and critical and emerging technologies.

The Quad also welcomed India’s announcement to resume exports of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, including to COVAX, beginning in October 2021. On the climate front, the Quad countries decided to work together for successful outcomes at the COP26 and G20 that uphold the level of climate ambition and innovation. It announced the launch of Quad Principles on Technology Design, Development, Governance, and Use that to guide not only the region but the world towards responsible, open, high-standards innovation.

The communique says, “In South Asia, we will closely coordinate our diplomatic, economic, and human-rights policies towards Afghanistan and will deepen our counter-terrorism and humanitarian cooperation in the months ahead in accordance with UNSCR 2593. We reaffirm that Afghan territory should not be used to threaten or attack any country or to shelter or train terrorists, or to plan or to finance terrorist acts, and reiterate the importance of combating terrorism in Afghanistan. We denounce the use of terrorist proxies and emphasized the importance of denying any logistical, financial or military support to terrorist groups which could be used to launch or plan terror attacks, including cross-border attacks. We stand together in support of Afghan nationals, and call on the Taliban to provide safe passage to any person wishing to leave Afghanistan, and to ensure that the human rights of all Afghans, including women, children, and minorities are respected.

Quad leaders at the summit.Photo-ANI

The communique concludes: ” At a time that tests us all, our commitment to realize a free and open Indo-Pacific is firm, and our vision for this partnership remains ambitious and far-reaching. With steadfast cooperation, we rise to meet this moment, together.

China had reacted sharply against the recently formed AUKUS, comprising of the United States, Australia, and United Kingdom. A pre Quad meeting article in the Global Times said, ” While the Quad mechanism is engaged in splitting Asia and instigating various forces to contain China if Japan, India and Australia went too far in following the US strategy of containing China, they will become cannon fodder as China will resolutely safeguard its interests, Chinese analysts warned.”

China’s reaction to the Quad leaders’ communique is awaited.


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


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

A hard time for democracy in Asia


By Larry Diamond, Stanford University

Under the presidency of Donald Trump, concerns about democracy and human rights were demoted in US foreign policy. Trump’s administration deserves credit for reorienting American foreign policy to confront an increasingly authoritarian China. But while some US officials did what they could to advance human rights, Trump himself had a transactional, value-neutral approach to dealing with China. President Joe Biden will be different.

The Biden administration will prioritise the renewal of democracy at home and abroad. Yet the new administration faces formidable difficulties and contradictions in trying to counter authoritarianism and defend freedom in Asia. This is due both to an authoritarian China’s increasing power and the United States’ declining stature. The battle over China policy in the Biden administration will likely emerge from two competing views of what constitutes a ‘realistic’ stance towards China.

The ‘old realism’ emanating from former president Richard Nixon’s opening to China holds that drawing Beijing more deeply into the international system would make it a ‘responsible stakeholder’, facilitating its ‘peaceful rise’ and gradual modernisation into a more politically open — if not entirely democratic — system.

‘New realism’ sees China pursuing dominance in Asia, including through pushing the United States out of the Indo-Pacific region, constructing military bases in and controlling the South China Sea, and eroding US alliances. From this perspective, countering China’s bid for regional dominance is imperative both for regional security and for defending democracy.

The modernisation and expansion of China’s military increasingly threatens democratic Taiwan. President Xi Jinping and other senior Chinese leaders speak in increasingly belligerent terms of their intention to ‘reunify’ Taiwan with the mainland. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s policy restraint is met with psychological warfare and other forms of intimidation.

The Biden administration must consider how it can deploy greater military force to defend against and deter Chinese military coercion, while also avoiding unnecessary confrontation or further stoking Chinese nationalist sentiment already on the rise.

Within Asia, the indispensable counterweight to China is India. India will have a larger population than China within a decade and is catching up economically and technologically. And though India’s military spending is only a quarter of China’s, it has one of the world’s largest militaries and is a Quad partner with the United States, Japan and Australia.

A loose strategic forum, the Quad lacks joint military exercises but is evolving towards greater military cooperation and intelligence sharing to deter Chinese aggression and preserve a free and open Indo-Pacific region. But just when India is becoming important to the future of democracy in Asia, it is drifting in an authoritarian direction.

Re-elected in a landslide victory in 2019, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its charismatic leader, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, are eroding the independence of India’s main institutions. The right-wing populist party traffics in religious chauvinism and intolerance of critics and minorities. If the Biden administration remains silent in the face of these trends, the strategic partnership with India will ring hollow in its defence of democracy. On the other hand, if it is too confrontational and moralistic — especially when US democracy is visibly diminished — US–India relations could careen off the rails.

No dilemma complicates the Biden aspiration to promote democracy in Asia more seriously than the erosion of democracy in India, which remains poorly understood in Washington.

It is a hard time for democracy in Asia. Myanmar’s military, which already held veto power over constitutional change and control of Myanmar’s power ministers, staged a coup in February — ending the country’s five-year experiment with semi-democracy. In Thailand, the military remains in charge alongside the monarchy, blocking any return to democracy. An illiberal populist, Rodrigo Duterte has degraded a functioning democracy in the Philippines.

Hun Sen has completed Cambodia’s slide into one-party dictatorship. Vietnam has been cracking down heavily on dissent and civic space. The prospect of a democratic transition seems stalled in Malaysia and distant in Singapore. Indonesia and Mongolia remain genuine democracies but are preoccupied with internal stresses.

Even in Japan, Asia’s oldest liberal democracy, democratic norms and practices weakened during the nearly eight years of Shinzo Abe’s leadership. South Korea’s left-of-centre government is also infringing on judicial independence and freedom of speech. While liberal democracy is in many ways thriving in Taiwan, it is increasingly threatened by China.

There is little prospect for success in a frontal campaign demanding perfect fidelity to democratic norms. Any strategy to promote democracy in Asia will need to integrate strategic and human rights imperatives, strengthen and defend partners in civil society, and look to the medium run.

Few people in the region want their countries to become vassals of a regional order under China’s control. This common interest can provide leverage for engagement around human rights issues and rule of law. Some leaders, like Duterte, may threaten to ‘play the China card’ but it is unlikely to be popular domestically, particularly as the costs of economic and strategic engagement with China become more apparent. When a democratic rebound comes, it will be driven by forces in civil society.

The United States and its liberal democratic allies, such as Australia, Canada, the European Union and hopefully Japan, must work through diplomacy and aid flows to preserve civil society groups and independent media. These democracies will have more impact if they coordinate their activities and prioritise the diffusion of technologies to help democrats evade digital surveillance and censorship. In some instances — and sadly for Hong Kongers — established liberal democracies may need to provide a temporary or even long-term home for democrats at risk.

In the near term, the priority may need to be containing the democratic retreat and countering the rise of authoritarian China. In some countries, this means just trying to keep democrats alive. But the growing demands of young people in the region for more open and accountable government offer hope that this authoritarian moment will have an expiration date.

Larry Diamond is Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and at the Freeman Spogli Institute and Director of the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law at Stanford University.

An extended version of this article appears in the most recent edition of East Asia Forum Quarterly, ‘Asia after Biden’s election’, Vol. 13, No 1.

Source- eastasiaforum.org, 24 March 2021. (Under Creative Commons Licence)