Research & Analysis

The World This Week: Taliban Violence in Afghanistan, Lockdown in Germany and the US-China blame-game

Afghanistan: 30 killed in two days

What happened?
Last week, Afghanistan witnessed two attacks after the US and Taliban peace deal was signed on 29 February.

On 21 March, four personnel of the security forces were killed in a Taliban attack, near a local police station in Kapisa province. This was the first attack, in the province after the US-Taliban deal.

On 20 March, six police infiltrators attacked an Afghan army base camp near Qalat, Zabul province. Ata Jan Haq Bayan, Zabul provincial council chief, said: “The attacker had connection with the Taliban insurgents”. Twenty Afghan soldiers were killed in the attack. The councillor Asdullah Kakr said that the attackers have taken all the weapons and ammunition and fled in two military vehicles from the spot.  The Ministry of Defence vowed to ‘avenge’ the Zabul attack.

What is the background?
On 19 March, Asadullah Kalid, Afghanistan Defence Minister said country’s forces would switch to “active defense posture”, which will bring down the restrictions on Afghan National Defence and Security Forces and will allow them to carry operations against the Taliban.

Last month the US and Taliban signed a deal, to end the 18-year long war in Afghanistan. Four key areas were addressed in the deal out of which, the intra-Afghan dialogue was supposed to begin from 10 March. But due to the failed negotiations over a ‘prisoner swap’ agreement, there has been a delay in bringing both the Taliban and Afghan government to the negotiating table.

What does it mean?
First, though after the deal Taliban had decreased attacks against the US and NATO troops, the country still witnesses’ continuous attacks against the government.

Second, in Afghanistan, rival leaders are primarily fighting over the presidency, then disagreement over the prisoner release between the Taliban and Afghan government added to inadequate medical facilities available for people infected with COVID-19 and finally these attacks dissolve the tendency of having the intra-afghan dialogue.
Lastly, it seems that the US is only keen on withdrawing forces from the region. As the world is facing the pandemic of COVID-19, peace is yet to come.

 

Coronavirus: Germany imposes the first lockdown in Bavaria and Saarland

What happened?
The state of Bavaria became the first German state to impose a lockdown for the next two weeks starting from 21 March. The Bavarian state premier Markus Söder said that though the Bavarians are not locked, their public life is being entirely stopped due to an increase in the coronavirus cases in the state. The state of Saarland followed suit when Tobias Hans closed down the state along with its border with France.

Bavaria is the largest state in Germany with 13 million people and over 3,000 confirmed cases as of 20 March, while Saarland along the French border counted over 250 cases.
In Bavaria, the only exceptions to the curfew will be necessary shopping and need-based visits to doctors and pharmacies.

What is the background? 
Germany has introduced stringent measures to restrict public life in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. The German Chancellor Angela Merkel made a public appeal to stop any form of public gathering and compared the pandemic to a crisis faced by Germany since WW II. However, so far the country has stopped short of imposing a full-scale lockdown like France, Italy, and Spain. The decision to lock down Bavaria came after a massive increase in the number of coronavirus cases from 19 March to 20 March wherein the number of infections rose by 35 per cent, and the number of deaths grew from 10 to 15. Second, the government appeals have been regularly ignored by the public, and despite the measures, several group outings, including corona parties in public parks have continued.

According to Merkel’s chief of staff Helge Braun, the behaviour of residents across Germany over the coming weekend will be closely watched – and will play a decisive role in determining whether strict curfews will be extended throughout Germany. The latest figures in Germany reveal that there are over 19,000 confirmed cases, and the “curve is likely to rise.”

What does it mean? 
First, a State’s decision to impose a lockdown essentially brings out the fact that even in the face of the pandemic, restricting social gathering and social contact as an individual choice is difficult. Hence the States have been forced to enforce its unilateral collective choice to contain the spread of the pandemic. Since the health crisis, life in Germany is beyond normal. Panic-buying has left empty shelves in supermarkets.

Second, the economic losses for Germany have been increasing owing to its domestic crisis and also due to shutting down of its overseas car plants in China. The production of major German automakers like Volkswagen and Daimler have been hit by the epidemic. And with many automakers sourcing electric car parts from China, work at plants in Germany has also hit a stumbling block. If the domestic containment of the virus is not attempted, the government will be staring at an economic burden to facilitate its health sector as well as financially support companies suffering coronavirus losses.

Last, closing of borders throughout Europe and now the border state of Saarland will be another attempt to return to the pre-Schengen era and prevent further spread of the virus. Germany has closed its borders with France, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Austria and Denmark and authorities in Poland and the Czech Republic have already begun spot checks, measuring the temperature of travellers crossing main road borders out of Germany. With its decision to lockdown in the subsequent weeks, Germany will join the rest of the West European countries in systematically altering the free movement of people and reconstructing borders to contain the ‘virus domino-effect.’

 

CoronaVirus: The US-China blame game

What happened?
The outbreak and spread of COVID-19 worldwide have put to the test the response and capacity of states in an unprecedented manner. The virus first detected in the city of Wuhan; it has taken the lives of thousands across the world. China, Iran, Italy have been affected most severely till date.

In the US, Donald Trump deemed the virus as a media hoax before having to switch his stance. He soon made another controversial statement naming the pathogen as ‘Chinese Virus’. This has given a new identity to the virus in the international political field. While viruses and pathogens do not have a nationality, this seems to be propaganda from the Trump administration to show China in poor light. This issue takes an interesting turn with China trying to blame the US military for spreading the virus.

What is the background?
The virus was first detected in December of 2019 by the Chinese authorities. The Chinese state media has been accused of taking an active part in suppressing the spread of information that would tarnish the states repute. By late December, news regarding the outbreak of a new disease including keywords like ‘SARS variation’, ‘Wuhan seafood market’ etc were censored off the social media by China as doctors tried to warn the world.

China argues that detection of the disease in Wuhan does not mean it originated there. China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian tweeted the possibility of US military’s role in the outbreak, but without any evidence to support the claim. The US senator Tom Cotton posited a Chinese developed bioweapon theory which he later clarified to be one among many possible explanations to the origins of the virus.

What does it mean? 
While the US and China are trying to point fingers at each other for the origin of the virus, the disease is still not under control. People are dying, and economies are falling. In the US, healthcare has been expensive for the average American, and in developing and underdeveloped nations where the virus has only made landfall, it is only going to be worse. Trump’s calling the 2019-nCoV as ‘Chinese’ adds to a long-standing history of the US to blame other countries for diseases along with making policies of exclusion for citizens of such countries.

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was a result of years of hate crimes and discrimination over fears of Cholera and Smallpox. Spanish Flu originated in Kansas but was wrongly named after Spain detected it for the first time during World War I. Trump’s statement might generate Sinophobia in the masses. It might also be helpful for his protectionist policies. A bioweapon theory seems too farfetched as an infectious disease that is beyond control would not be the best bioweapon in today’s globalised world.

The disease will certainly affect China’s mammoth project of BRI as well. China wants to divert attention from the looming economic crisis which could have been better managed if not for the state’s initial reaction to suppress information regarding the disease which could have better prepared all countries for the pandemic.

 

Also, during this week…

Netanyahu’s moves: To recover from the virus and defer court trial
Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has shut down the courts and ordered Israel’s internal security service to identify people who should be quarantined using data harvested from their phones. These extraordinary moves made in the name of combating the virus has delayed the process of Netanhyu facing trial on corruption charges.

The opposition blames Netanyahu’s action as a danger to the state’s democracy and is critical of Netanyahu’s intention to cling onto power in spite of three inconclusive elections. Netanyahu, however, insisted that he was safeguarding the nation while adhering to democratic values, underlining the fact that the court shutdown was temporary and the tracking of cellphone data was valid only for 14 days.

Closure to the Nirbhaya case, as India executes of the convicts
The four men convicted in the Nirbhaya gang rape and murder on 16 December 2012, were hanged to death in Tihar Jail on Friday pre-dawn, culminating a chapter in India’s long history of sexual assaults. Their executions were carried out; State rejected the multiple mercy petitions filed by the convicts exhausting all possible legal avenue to escape the gallows. Otherwise, the first date of execution was set two months ago, on 22 January by a Delhi high court.

People from all spheres of life across the country posted their reactions on social media hailing the final judgment on the case. At the same time, it also invited criticism for the duration of seven long years in concluding the case. The Judiciary needs to be improved by correcting the loopholes in the system.

North Korea fires short-range ballistic missiles into the sea
North Korea fired short-range missiles from North Pyongan’s province towards the East Sea (Sea of Japan) that landed outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone, as reported by the Japanese Coast Guard and South Korean military. This is the third launch after similar launches were carried out during two other occasions in March.

South Korea has slammed the firings as “extremely inappropriate” at a time when the world was dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. It also urged the US, China to return to talks on ending North Korea’s nuclear and missile program.

The United Kingdom to “turn the tide” on the coronavirus
As the United Kingdom braces itself for the shutdown, Prime Minister Boris Johnson examined tougher measures to tackle the coronavirus crisis. In his fourth daily press conference this week, Boris Johnson said that the UK could “turn the tide” in the fight against coronavirus within the next 12 weeks provided all the necessary steps are followed by people.

The Prime Minister based his assessment on experimental treatments for the virus. Though there is no announcement of any new measures on quarantining people and containing the virus, Prime Minister has raised prospects of mass testing for coronavirus. He hopes to get to some form of normalcy by summer, although there is no denial of possibilities of shutting down cities to bring the situation under control.

EU-Turkey refugee deal slows down amidst coronavirus crisis
With the epicentre of coronavirus shifting to Europe, the European Union has shut its borders to non-EU citizens to contain the spread of coronavirus. The refugee deal signed between Turkey and the EU will be put on hold indefinitely owing to “restrictions on travel”. Thousands of migrants had gathered at the Turkey-EU border since February when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that the border was open.  In a separate EU-Turkey deal, German Chancellor Angela Merkel insisted on Germany paying Turkey to host refugees. However, Germany has now put a hold on this and will no longer accept refugees from any country.

 

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