Research & Analysis

The World This Week: Seven weeks after Coronavirus, the Left Turn in Ireland Elections, Pakistan’s balancing act with Malaysia and Turkey, and US deal with the Taliban

Coronavirus: Seven Weeks After

What happened?

The number of confirmed cases and casualties due to the virus has surpassed the 2003 SARS epidemic, which had claimed 774 lives in eight months. The virus has now spread to 25 countries. Japan is the second most infected, with 203 cases. Additionally, 218 passengers of a cruise ship are known to have signs of infection, after the ship carrying 3,700 people was quarantined outside of Japan.

As on 15 February 2020, there have been 67,101 confirmed cases globally and 1,526 deaths due to the novel virus. The diagnosis spectrum was expanded on 12 February 2020, to include medical assessments where a doctor identifies a person as requiring treatment for Covid-19 without, or before, receiving positive test results for the virus. The World Health Organisation has issued a warning against countries closing borders, as it would accelerate the sense of panic. It also reported that there were no new countries in the list of affected regions.

What is the background?

The seven weeks of the coronavirus has seen both hysteria and effective-quick responses. Outside China, two deaths have been reported. Countries have asked their citizens to avoid all ‘non-essential travel’ to China. Screening measures are being undertaken for passengers arriving from China. Many countries have evacuated their citizens from Hubei and quarantined them to avoid contagion. Some countries have not, as they lack the medical infrastructure to address the concerns – the statement of Pakistan, for example.

Italy, the US, and the UK have announced the virus outbreak as a public health emergency or as a ‘serious imminent threat,’ to public health. Airlines and businesses undertook effective measures to contain the spread. The public holiday in China was extended. Since 10 February, schools and businesses resumed work with a limited staff.

However, there has not been any collective initiative to help fight the virus, except that Russia and China are developing a vaccine together. Few governments have offered financial help to China. The blame is still on China, not realizing that both the concern and ineffectiveness are now global.

Within China, there are more than 48,000 cases have been in Hubei province alone; it has now spread outside the province in China as now. Till 23 January, the number of infected cases was limited to the south-eastern zone of China, but by 13 February, there are at least 100 cases within every province in China.

What does it mean? 

Pandemics are non-security threats of concern to every country. However, the cooperative or collaborative response has been less visible in the case of the virus outbreak. It reflects how politics and borders have seeped into sectors of humanitarian concerns. Mistrust and hysteria can be reflected even in the actions of countries setting up evacuation missions, knowing there is no effective solution available to treat.

The economic impact of the virus outbreak would be reflected in the economies that depend on China for trade. For example, Southeast Asia is likely to be affected the most. Shutting down airports to Chinese tourists will have an impact on the small-term incomes of many businesses. The interconnectedness of the global economies will leave an impact on the already slowing down the economy.

Global healthcare systems have not been in pace with the increased interdependence of countries. This should remain as a reminder for countries to ensure cooperation exists within non-security domains.

 

General Election: Ireland turns Left, after decades 

What happened?

The general election in Ireland on 8 February led to a surge in vote share for the left-wing nationalist political party Sinn Féin for the first time in decades. The general election has produced an outcome where no one party has a majority, and even two centrist mainstream parties (Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael) together will fall short of forming a coalition government. In the first preference vote, Sinn Fein won 37 seats, while Fianna Fáil secured 38 and Fine Gael 35 seats respectively.

The Sinn Fein party took 24.5 per cent of the vote, compared to 22 per cent for Fianna Fáil and 21 per cent for Fine Gael (the liberal-conservative parties), led by outgoing Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar. The Sinn Féin’s success in the election will put the question of Irish unity and thus the future of Northern Ireland’s inclusion in the United Kingdom – firmly on the agenda, owing to the party’s historical ties to the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and that organization’s association with violence in the past.

What is the background? 

The Sinn Féin has been frequently associated with the IRA after its party president, McDonald’s predecessor Gerry Adams, became the central figure in the IRA leadership for decades. The IRA played a vital role in the 1990s Irish civil war over the demand for a collective Irish nationality. It brought the country to the brink of a prolonged violent conflict for a decade. The present vote to the Sinn Fein has brought back the collective memory from the civil war and triggered the question of an unfulfilled Irish unification which the party has propagated for a long time. Also, Sinn Féin is not considered as a democratic party, because its leadership still follows orders from the IRA Army Council.

Due to its links with the IRA, Sinn Fein has traditionally not enjoyed an overwhelming electoral mandate. Instead, Ireland’s political landscape has been dominated by Varadkar’s party governing in partnership with its traditional rival Fianna Fáil. However, both parties have been slowly suffering a dip in their vote share since 2016. The only way the two conservative parties stayed in power was through a grand-coalition deal. Fianna Fáil did not take any cabinet positions, but its votes kept Varadkar in office. With this traditional power-sharing, the votes for Sinn Fein was never expected in these high numbers.

In the present election campaign Varadkar sought to send a convincing message to the voters of a strong economy with some of the eurozone’s highest growth rates, a Brexit deal finally struck with the British government and the promise of stability after years of upheaval. However, the vote share to the Sinn Fein in this election has brought to light the failures of these mainstream parties to meet the demands of the people. The Sinn Féin managed to successfully tap into the public anger felt in Ireland about economic issues that have been dogged by the centre-right Fine Gael for several years especially the issue of the shortage of housing, increasing rents and homelessness. The people of Ireland voted for change. This is in spite of the fact the country is forecast to have one of the fastest-growing economies in the EU in 2020. Brexit remained – a considerable focus of Leo Varadkar as the prime minister, but the agenda barely registered as an issue with the voters.

What does it mean? 

In recent years, populist earthquakes have taken place in the countries where economic underperformance have triggered discontent over immigration and mainstream policies. On the surface, Ireland does not fit this trend. Its economy has grown by 4-8 per cent annually for the past four years, unemployment is at a record low, and immigration barely featured in this election campaign. Still, the Left party has been able to dig into the votes of the centrist parties due to a domestic discontent rather than nationalist fervour. The implications of Sein Finn’s surge in power would be threefold.

First, Ireland looks at an unstable coalition and the possibility for Sinn Fein forming a government. The smaller parties with more than one member – Greens, Labour, Social Democrats and Solidarity-People Before Profit – could also potentially support a Sinn Féin government. The Labour Party has already ruled out going into government. More than this, a shift to the Left showed that health and housing were the most critical issues for the voters. Two-thirds wanted investment in public services to be prioritized over tax cuts. When the Irish economy crashed in 2008, governments led by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael was blamed for not putting in place any structural change to restore the public-housing sector. Unlike the Labour Party and the Greens, Sinn Fein had not been in government during the recession and did not bear responsibility for the bank bailout or cuts to public services.

Second, the question of reunification will be triggered by the Sinn Fein party. The victory by Ireland’s leftwing Sinn Féin Party has not only overturned some 90 years of domination by the island’s two centre-right parties; it puts the issue of Irish reunification on the agenda. While the campaign was fought over domestic issues like housing and health care, a united Ireland has long been Sinn Féin’s raison d’etre. The election result does not exist in a vacuum, and Sinn Féin’s leader Mary Lou McDonald has said she wants to see a vote on unification within five years.

Third, subsequently, the unification question will bear an impact on Britain-Ireland relations with Northern Ireland as the core. During the 2016 Brexit vote, Northern Ireland, like Scotland, voted to stay in the EU. In removing the backstop deal, Northern Ireland has been promised by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson that there would be no EU inspections. The UK general election in December, and the country’s formal withdrawal from the EU on 31 January, have jolted the past sore issues a bit. Using Northern Ireland’s vote to remain, now Sinn Féin could push its traditional demands of including Northern Ireland in the larger Irish identity. This will bear an impact on how Britain has traditionally dealt with Northern Ireland: politically (as the Northern border), economically (link between EU and Britain) and socially (religious conflict between Protestant and Catholic).

 

Pakistan’s rapprochement with Turkey, following Imran Khan’s visit to Malaysia

What happened?

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived in Islamabad for a two-day official visit on 13 February 2020. Erdogan was accompanied by a high-level delegation and welcomed by Prime Minister Khan together with his Cabinet members. Erdogan is to co-chair a high-level meeting with Khan during his visit.

The Pakistan-Turkey High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council (HLSCC) in its joint declaration referring to J&K and Afghanistan, stated that “the two sides underscored need for resolution of all outstanding disputes between Pakistan and India, including the core issue of Jammu & Kashmir through a sustained dialogue process and in accordance with the relevant UN Security Council resolutions” and “Sustainable peace and stability in Afghanistan can only be achieved through an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process.”

What is the background?

Recently Imran Khan visited Malaysia during 3-4 February 2020. Earlier, in December 2019, both Malaysia and Turkey led a summit in Kuala Lumpur. Pakistan had confirmed its participation at the summit but withdrew after Saudi Arabia, and other Arab countries raised concerns over it. Riyadh viewed the summit as an attempt to create a new Islamic bloc.

President Erdogan’s visit comes after Islamabad’s ties with Ankara suffered due to the last-minute withdrawal from Kuala Lampur Summit in December 2019. The visit also comes at a time where Khan is hoping to prevent being blacklisted at the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) meeting that is to begin.

What does it mean?

Khan’s recent visit to Malaysia and the visit of the Turkish President to Islamabad shows Pakistan’s rapprochement to Malaysia and Turkey respectively. Pakistan and Malaysia continue to thrive on the bilateral front with Islamabad considering Kuala Lumpur central to its East Asia pivot.

These visits are aimed at increasing support to Pakistan’s position in its immediate neighbourhood at a time when Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and other OIC leaders, have adopted a pragmatic approach.

 

Taliban agrees to a seven-day deal to reduce violence

What happened?

US and Taliban have agreed to a seven-day ‘Reduction in Violence’ deal, as Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on the sidelines of the Munich security conference on Friday.

What is the background?

The ‘Reduction is Violence’ deal is the latest between the US and Taliban, as a part of their on-off negotiations. 2019 witnessed several attempts and failures between the US and the Taliban.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Special Envoy, had made several trips to Doha to lead the negotiations between the Taliban and the US. The negotiations have focussed on three critical issues about a US-Taliban Peace deal: Complete withdrawal of US and NATO forces from the region, a permanent ceasefire between the Taliban and the government and Intra-Afghan talks. Negotiations took a downturn when the Taliban claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb attack in September 2019. A deal that was to be announced in the US was declared ‘dead’ by President Donald Trump.

Later, Khalilzad made several trips to Afghanistan and had talks with Taliban leaders. In November the talks resumed after Trump’s visit to Bagram airbase in Afghanistan.

Armed hostilities continued between Taliban and US troops even when the talks were happening.

What does it mean?

First, unless any deal that fails to bring both the Taliban and the Afghan government is less likely to lead towards a permanent solution once again. Second, the forthcoming US election means more pressure on the Trump administration to bring back the American troops.

Third, the success of the deal would depend on how the immediate region is likely to respond. For example, Pakistan.
Also, during this week..

In the Munich Security Conference, the French President underlines a European Way

The Munich Security Conference 2020 has begun. In his address, the French President Emmanuel Macron has said: “We cannot always go through the United States, no, we have to think in a European way as well…Now we have to be able to say clearly that if we want a sovereign Europe, if we want to protect our citizens, then we do need to look at that aspect, also with a view to Germany.”

The 2020 Munich Security Conference is the first major international summit after the exit of UK from the European Union, and the announcement of a Middle East plan by the US. The Conference is also taking place at a time when there is a widening gap between the US and its European partners on issues ranging from Iran to 5G.

 

Pakistan court convicts Hafiz Mohammad Saeed in a terrorism case

Islamist cleric Hafiz Mohammad Saeed has been sentenced by an anti-terrorism court to 11 years in jail for financing terrorist operations and is to serve two five-and-a-half prison terms simultaneously. He is accused of being the mastermind behind the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.  Saeed has been designated as a global terrorist by both the UN and the US and has a $10m bounty on his head. He is the founder of one of Pakistan’s largest militant groups, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).

Saeed’s conviction comes before the key meeting of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which is an intergovernmental watchdog that monitors terrorism and criminal financing laws. FATF would be issuing a decision on whether Pakistan has taken sufficient measures to avoid being “blacklisted”, a designation which would not help Pakistan’s already struggling economy.

 

African Union Summit 2020 aims at Silencing the Guns

The 33rd African Union (AU) summit titled “Silencing the Guns: Creating Conducive Conditions for Africa’s development” was concluded this week. The two-day event saw participation from 55 African states. Key issues that were high on the AU agenda included gender equality, climate change and the creation of a new continental free trade area (AfCTA) to boost commerce. The AU failed to achieve its goal adopted in 2013 of ending “all wars by 2020” and reveals the complexity of the security situation in Africa. This year AU had hoped to start financing security operations such as peacekeeping missions, mediation and conflict prevention in the continent but failed due to insufficient funds.

The AU chair next headed by South Africa’s Ramaphosa identified Libya, and South Sudan conflicts to be his focus areas.

 

January 2020 is the hottest month on record

Record of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, shows that the January 2020 was the hottest, since 141 years of recorded climate history. The average global temperature in January was 1.14oC above the previous century. The polar regions are the worst affected, with temperatures rising above 20oC in Antarctica for the time. In the Arctic, an unusually warm winter was felt in Russia, Canada and Scandinavian countries, raising the fears of a climate disaster in the coming years.

 

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