HOW THE U.S IS HELPING INDIA DEAL WITH COVID-19 EXIGENCIES? - The Daily Guardian
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HOW THE U.S IS HELPING INDIA DEAL WITH COVID-19 EXIGENCIES?

India’s health emergency needs a global response as this virus knows no borders, says Mukesh Aghi, CEO and President of US-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF).

Maneesh Pandeya

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The United States, as a precautionary measure, may have banned Indians travelling to its shores from 4 May, but it is working relentlessly to ensure that all essential medical supplies reach India without any further delay, ensuring a ‘global fight’ against the Covid pandemic. The Covid relief supplies from the US, which arrived on Friday, indicate President Biden administration’s all-out support to control the ‘Indian Variant’ as early as possible.

The US has come forward to help timely as India has collapsed under the weight of its creaking health infrastructure, inadequate vaccinations, and its policy makers’ inability to come out with a contingency plan to meet the demand-supply gap.

Many see the incoming US health supplies as a new lifeline for people affected by the coronavirus. At the forefront of this fight against the Covid pandemic in India, are the Indian origin CEOs, their US counterparts, and dozens of American companies working round-the-clock to make available the supplies to India at the earliest. 

The Sunday Guardian spoke to Mukesh Aghi, CEO and President of  the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF), which is at the centre stage of relief supplies coordination with other Indian groups and companies in America. There is hope in fighting together as the challenge is huge, says Aghi. 

Excerpts:

Q: India is faced with a health crisis, no one anticipated or alerted. Is this a signal for a bigger global health scare?

A: India is going through the same phase that wreaked havoc in Italy, France, UK, or the US. The second wave was caused by lack of vaccination, callousness, and too many public events. India is suffering more because of the lack of healthcare infrastructure.

Q: How much impact does the Indian Covid pandemic situation have on the US and global economies, which were slowly getting back to business?

A: Almost 2,000 US companies have a presence in India. They have varied operations from direct sales (Amazon, Walmart) to R&D and back-office support. We are seeing critical back-office operations as a precaution being assigned to other geographies. The financial impact on the US is minimal when you look at the size of the US economy and its trade with India.

Q: The US administration under President Biden pledged all support to India? What all went to make that happen?

A: The US companies and its leadership were alarmed when there was no clear directive of support coming out of Biden administration, initially. Efforts by USISPF and others to nudge the administration paid off eventually with a call between President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Also, planeloads of supplies got delivered to India quickly.

Q: USISPF has been spearheading the initiative with others. Can you elaborate on what has been done from the USISPF so far and what’s more in offing for India?  

A: The USISPF has been focused on multiple fronts to support India’s immediate health emergency. So far we have committed to deliver 100,000 oxygen concentrators. Shipments have starting landing in Delhi at 1,000 pieces at a time. One thousand devices weigh 1.5 tons. We expect to deliver 25,000 in May. We have delivered 11 one-ton cryogenic oxygen tanks. Shipments of anti-viral supplies are being also delivered.

India›s health emergency needs a global response as this virus knows no borders. We are working with our member companies to alleviate critical shortages of oxygen by procuring supplies necessary to concentrate and ship clinical oxygen around the country. With the support of our members — Deloitte and FedEx, we are ensuring that the supplies reach India at regular intervals in May to control the spread further. We are energised and heartened by the support of our members and board at all levels, using their substantial resources and expertise to help address this burgeoning crisis in India.

Q: The problem is the demand-supply gap, which largely aggravated the crisis. How fast the global support, including the one coming from the US, will help India control the situation?

A:  The current need is enormous if we have to control India’s health emergency quickly. We have estimated India needs a minimum of one million oxygen concentrators right away. The challenge is India’s manufacturing capacity, which takes time to ramp up. You have to look at the challenge both from preventive and cure. Preventive means vaccination, we need to ramp up production and delivery of these vaccines. The immediate cure lies in faster delivery of all these medicines and supplies. The challenge here is logistics and distribution. We are delivering everything to Indian Red Cross and it is distributing the health supplies in partnership with the Ministry of Health.

Q: Are there fund-raising efforts or any other fightback measures also being organised by the USISPF to help India from other countries?

A: Our efforts are with US companies and the Indian diaspora in the US. The Indian diaspora through its associations has launched fund-raising campaigns to help India. We are helping the Indian diaspora in Canada, Brazil, and others in North and South America.

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NCC as elective course: A potential game-changer

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The recent circulars by University Grants Commission and All India Council for Technical Education are paving the way for offering National Cadet Corps training as an Elective Credit Course, did not occupy much media space ostensibly due to the pre-occupation of the nation with the pandemic. This step by UGC could not have been timelier and germane. Of late NCC has caught the imagination of the nation not only for the role played by young cadets in supporting the fight against Covid-19 but also for engaging in many social service and community development activities and bravely facing the challenges of current times.

With academic institutions shut for the most part of the last year, the NCC cadets were busy doing online NCC training, National Integration Camps, and participating in a host of social campaigns, culminating in an impressive march past in the Republic Day Parade 2021. And if that was not enough, they also attended mandatory NCC camps and B & C Certificate Examinations from February to March 2021. There was never a dull moment for them throughout the pandemic. Appreciating the role played by NCC cadets in strengthening national integration, the Prime Minister on 15 August 2020 announced the expansion of NCC to the border and coastal areas The world’s largest voluntary uniformed youth organisation was raised by Parliamentary Act No XXXI in 1948 with 20,000 cadets. It has grown in stature and size over the years and currently has a sanctioned strength of 15 lakh cadets who undergo basic military-like training for two years in the junior wing and three years in the senior divisions. The curriculum and syllabus of NCC cater for character building, leadership, mental and physical toughening, critical thinking, problem-solving, team building, and a host of other soft skills apart from exposing them to limited military subjects. The capabilities and qualities thus imbibed by the cadets prepare them for the real world and help them combine these with academic knowledge to become more effective professionals in their chosen areas. NCC alumni swear by the qualities and capabilities they developed during NCC Camps and training. The list of distinguished NCC alumnus is endless and includes the likes of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Raksha Mantri Rajnath Singh, Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh, Sushma Swaraj, and so on. Thus, it is evident that the NCC training syllabus and curriculum is closely interwoven with the professional and personal development of a student into adult life. If that be so, should NCC continue to be treated as an extra-curricular activity as hitherto? Well, the UGC and the AICTE circulars provide the answer. The circulars not only underline the importance of NCC training in a student’s life but more importantly, recognise the necessity and possibility of adopting it in the main academic curriculum. These steps by UGC and AICTE are also in line with the New Education Policy 2020, which intends to remove the hard separation between curricular and extra-curricular activity as also expects Higher Educational Institution (HEIs) to migrate to Choice Based Credit System (CBCS) and offer community development, social service and other such youth development activities as credit courses. These steps would also be seen as major motivational boosts for lakhs of NCC cadets, who spend a large quantum of their non-academic time in undergoing NCC training and participating in a plethora of social service and community development activities, but currently do not receive corresponding academic weightage for the focused time they have spent and valuable lessons they have learnt. The newly designed NCC Elective Course is proposed to carry 24 credits spread over six semesters with specific credits for attending rigorous 10 days mandatory camp. In the first phase of implementation, NCC as an elective course/subject will be offered only in those colleges which already have NCC senior platoon or company, and to only those students who enrol as NCC cadets. This implies that a student of UG Course, who also enrols as an NCC Cadet, can partially offset his total credit score requirement for a UG degree with that earned in NCC. Students of other colleges who join under open quota vacancy will also get the benefit. Likewise, private colleges which are allotted NCC under the Fully Self-Financed Scheme (FSFS) will also be allowed to offer NCC Credit Course. The importance of the circulars also needs to be weighed against the felt need or otherwise of conscription or compulsory military training for youth. Many analysts and strategic thinkers have written about it, mostly in favour and some against it. It is the mammoth economic cost and logistic challenge that makes this proposition almost unviable. In August 2016, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar stated in parliament that the government has not found it feasible, in terms of infrastructure and resources, to make NCC training compulsory in schools and colleges. The potential outcomes of offering the NCC Credit Course needs to be viewed in the backdrop of this statement. If the FSFS experiment is successful, in future it may pave the way for possible expansion of NCC beyond the current sanctioned strength at an economical cost to the government. In case the government finds it viable and necessary in the national interest, HEIs in future may also be able to offer NCC to private students for just one or two semesters to receive basic NCC training and gain academic credits as well. This model has the potential to expand limited NCC training to cover a much larger population of students at a minimal economic cost. Well, while the UGC and the AICTE circulars apparently open up a wide range of possibilities, the implementation of the very first phase itself is expected to be a big challenge. The circulars by UGC and the AICTE specifically refers to the DG NCC letter of 16 March 2021 which not only elaborates on the proposal but also mentions a uniformly designed NCC General Elective Credit Course which would be available on the NCC website. Universities can make use of this universal model and adopt it as per CBCS norms after suitably modifying it as per respective academic norms and regulations. The ready availability of a pre-designed Credit Course model this time around, that can pass the muster of scrutiny by academic councils and board of studies of universities overcomes a major impediment. Hence, the success will therefore hinge on the level of involvement of the stakeholders which includes, MoD, MoE, DGNCC and the State Govts since the majority of the colleges that have NCC fall under state universities. State Directorates of NCC and NCC units at the grass-root level will play a vital role in consensus building and supporting the operationalisation of the circular in concerned colleges. As per informal feedback, the NCC student community is excited and eagerly awaiting implementation. The vast population of NCC alumni hails the UGC proposal almost unanimously. Further, the security situation in our neighbourhood, the uncertain world order, the damaging impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and other such looming global threats, underlines the necessity of strengthening and expansion of a disciplined and voluntary uniformed organisation like NCC. The circumstances today are more conducive, aspirational and essential; than ever before. It is now for the stakeholders of NCC to decide, how far they wish to go, to transform the aspiration of lakhs of NCC cadets into a reality, and in the words of the Prime Minister, take NCC into a higher plane as it turns 75 in 2023.

Maj Gen Indrabalan is currently serving as ADG NCC Bihar & Jharkhand and is concurrently pursuing PhD in social economics from NIT Patna. He headed the DGNCC Study Committee on the introduction of NCC as a Credit Course in Indian Universities. Prior to this, he was a faculty in  Army War College. A veteran of the Kargil War 1999, he has represented India as a military observer in UN Mission in Sierra Leone.

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HOW INDIAN STEEL INDUSTRY AND THE GOVERNMENT ARE BATTLING OXYGEN CRISIS

Vidya Ratan Sharma, MD, Jindal Steel and Power Ltd, spoke about how the steel conglomerates are helping the nation in the time of crisis by supplying liquid medical oxygen and overcoming the challenges along the way.

Megha Sharma

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Vidya Ratan Sharma shared how his company has been working with the Government to supply LMO to various states in these challenging times.

Q. How are steel conglomerates the likes of Jindal steel, setting up the way ahead for remote parts of the country and rural parts of the country to procure this life-saving gas?

A:  We, as a country, have been going through a very difficult time and this is an ordeal that we had to come through. And the steel industry has come forward to supply LMO to the state hospitals everywhere in the country from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. We are supplying LMO, the entire steel industry is together under the Ministry of Steel portal. The Ministry of Steel gave us a call that you had to spare LMO as much as possible. So we are voluntarily told that whatever options are available with us, it is available to the nation. And we will be in a position to supply to the Government of India and there won’t be an issue. And after that, the nodal agency was formed under the Ministry of Steel and Ministry of Home Affairs and now a nodal agency is governed by the local administrators and the local Chief Ministers of different states. We get the requirement and then they send the tankers and we fill up the tankers and send them back and this is how the chain is going on. The country needs about 7000 tonnes of oxygen every day although its capacity is more than 8000 tonnes. So there is no shortage of oxygen in the country. The country is capable enough to produce and protect the lives of the people. The only issue today is the logistics as the steel plants are remotely located somewhere in the eastern part of the country and bringing the liquid oxygen to the western part of the country like in Maharashtra, Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, or Chennai is a big problem. The distance is about 2000 to 3000 kilometres. This is how the chain is going on. But we are always ready in the interest of the nation.

Q. What were the initial hiccups versus the challenges that are being faced by the steel conglomerates in providing oxygen to various states and districts? How ready are we for the third wave?

A.  The main steel producer produces about 10% of the total oxygen into the liquid. Since we are in the steel plants, we need oxygen as our raw material and that goes as a gas. So, just for the factor of safety, sometimes we have to take the shutdown breakdown of the plant. At that time we use liquid oxygen, we convert liquid into oxygen and utilise it. Most of these plants have this test facility about 8% to 10% of the total liquid oxygen available with them. So, we discussed and pondered upon which steel mill is near to which Metro cities or major cities in the country, for example, we are located in Angul, we are supplying mainly to Telangana and Andra Pradesh then Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Similarly, we also supplied some of the gas to Chattisgarh and also to the western part of India. We have also kept the options open for the people if somebody is in dire need of oxygen. They do come to us and we fill it up. Now the challenge is that we have to compromise the production. So 8% to 9% production cut we have taken to meet our country’s demand. If the need be, then we’ll further take a hit but will not let people die for the amount of oxygen. So, for example, we can go up to 150 tonnes per day, but today we are dispatching about 100-200 tonnes every day. We have recently stocked about 360 tonnes and are waiting for the tankers to come in to fill it up. 

Talking about the third wave, we didn’t even know what the second wave is. So from where the third wave has come? Nobody knows. The point here is, you cannot predict it. But we’re in a very similar situation like a biological bomb. The first thing is the financial capital of the country, Mumbai, and entire Maharashtra was affected by this virus. Then soon after maybe two weeks later, it is Delhi, now Delhi NCR. So two major capital cities of the country, one is the financial capital hub, and the other is the political capital, both are seriously affected by this particular virus. How it came, whether it is a tsunami or is a wave, I cannot say anything. The third wave should not come as we are now more educated, more prepared to compare the situation. But we have to see what is the origin of this particular virus? I’m not saying that it is coming from some foreign countries but maybe some of the miscreants are going to create this particular virus or spread this particular virus within the country. So we have to find out internally as well as externally. I’m sure the Government of India intelligence department and the Prime Minister’s office must be working, how to combat it and solve this problem. Thanks to all the European countries as well as America and many other countries who are helping India, bringing the concentrators and even the oxygen. The Indian steel industry is committed and we are working hand in hand for the government and shoulder to shoulder to support them.

Q.Taking the ongoing second wave into consideration, we are better educated, more aware and have learned the lesson the hard way, is there a logistical organisational and management managerial concept of proof that we can learn from and apply in the future? Keeping in mind that there needs to be some sort of digital connection or a digital control room war room that needs to be created at a macro level on a national level, or perhaps even internationally. Thereby allowing steel conglomerates and other key industries to be in touch with the government’s ministries to ensure that there is an overall system, whenever needed on an emergency basis, so that lives do not get lost like that. What are your views on it?

A: There is already a nodal agency and it is controlled by the Government of India and is mechanised as well as fully IT-driven. So they know which tanker is moving where, which truck driver is having which phone number and various details, and now they are going to put up a GPS so that even the empty truck can be monitored. Up till now, they’re not monitoring the empty trucks. So the empty container tankers when they go back for the refilling that is also most important stoker down the turndown cycle. The total cycle time is 10 to 12 days. We request the Government of India to do three things. Firstly, please ask the tanker operators or tanker owners to depute at least two drivers per tanker. The government of India found yesterday that 2400 more drivers will be working as Corona warriors. They will be deployed on every truck so at least 1200 trucks can run for 24 hours a day. Secondly, we suggested to the Government of India that it is for a large country, and it is like a biological attack on the country. We should have more than 600 oxygen plants. They declared the next day that the PM Cares fund will invest money and 551 oxygen plants will be installed in different parts of the country. This is a very good move. Our Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a very good manager and he can manage these disasters in a much better way. We only have to support him, we don’t have to find a fault in the government, whether it is state government or Central government. My request to the doctors, the patients in hospitals is not to create panic in this situation. Thirdly, we request the Government of India that there should be a capping on the fees being charged by doctors and hospitals. Nowadays the doctors are demanding online consultation fees ranging from Rs 500 to Rs 5,000. Some doctors are charging even more than Rs 5,000 for 30 minutes of consultation. This is ridiculous, it’s not the time for the doctors to earn money out of the desperate or distressed patients, it›s time to help them. The basic humanity has to be shown by them and the hospitals. People are running from one hospital to another hospital. They are not even being accommodated in the corridors or on the stretchers or the wheelchairs. We have to do something and the government must come up with some strong disability action. I think the consultation fee should not be more than Rs 1,000. 

Talking about what kind of preparation and education we have based on last year, I agree that we were very raw back then. But we got into lockdown, the entire country was down for about two and a half months. That’s why this spread could be avoided. But this time, the decision has been left on the states. So the states will have to decide what needs to be done. I have one suggestion, I’d like to share with the government officials that now the government authorities need to open the government offices at night. There should be shift duty for the government officers like from 6 am to 2 pm and 2 pm to 10 pm or even 10 pm to 6 pm as the industries are also working in shifts. Through this, the country will keep running and we will not be locked down into the houses and contribute to the nation’s growth as a whole in a holistic way.

Q. It’s been a long haul of a year and a half and the second wave has been unprecedented. It has stretched us all to our maximum, frustrated us and made us feel completely helpless at times. A lot of our friends, family members, or relatives have all been reeling under the crisis in a personal capacity. How have you been able to tackle it?

A. There are two things here. First, I’ll suggest all hospitals in the country and the health institutions, those who are running the hospitals or any nursing homes or medical colleges, to please put up their own oxygen plants. They can be self-reliant and the oxygen is made out of the air and the consumable is only electricity. So, there are no chemicals and no raw material is required to produce oxygen. Today, the oxygen plants are available even at a very small cost of Rs 40 lakhs to Rs 50 lakhs and they can manage about 150 beds 24 by 7. This is a very meagre amount. The oxygen plants or containers are available in Malaysia, Italy and China and these plants can be imported immediately. Even if the hospital does not have a place to keep the oxygen plants we can request the city authorities to allow them to keep the plant on the outside footpath. 

Second, when we are telling people that they can’t come to the hospital, we must see how we can help them and what best can be done. Third, there are oxygen concentrators in most of the hospitals; they do not have only concentrators, they are banking upon the cylinder gas or dry gas. So, I request to all the hospitals that if you have a 100-bed hospital at least you should have 30 to 40 oxygen concentrators. Now the Government of India has also reduced the GST, it is now only 12% on concentrators and there is no import duty. It›s a wonderful move. People can give oxygen concentrators to relatives and or medical institutions. We must utilise this so that we can have the equipment ready in emergency cases. Times are uncertain, we have to get up, manage ourselves and support the government at this time. We should not overburden the hospitals and the healthcare system. We must help the government to combat the situation.

Q. When you have diverted all your resources and manpower in the creation of LMO it is bound to impact the primary production levels of the steel plant of your company. How soon can the recovery be made?

A.  It’s very a great concern. Our Chairman Naveen Jindal, tweeted about it 10 days back that the last drop of liquid oxygen is available for the nation. He said that people’s first so we are going by that. The approach we have taken is if the country is there, then we are there. We aim to serve the nation. Even if we had to lose some production or compromise on production, we will keep on compromising. We will get time to recover. If our markets are good, our customers are our ally, if they are healthy, MSMEs are working. The steel users are working. There’ll be a time that we can recall and if people are disturbed, the entire country is disturbed, then we will never get time to recover. So our motto is people first. In business, 5% less production or 10% less production doesn’t matter as we can still pick up in the next one to three months. So we will have to work shoulder to shoulder with the Government of India, local authorities, and I’ll also ask the media to spread the positive news and combat it together. Let us find a solution together and conquer these particular catastrophic conditions.

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CHINA CONDUCTS ‘TAIWAN INVASION’ MILITARY DRILLS AMID RISE IN TENSIONS

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Amid rising tensions over Taiwan and the South China Sea, China has released videos showing military drills that appeared to simulate a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

The drills showcased the Type 075, a 40,000-tonne amphibious warship that is understood to carry up to 30 helicopters and nearly 1,000 personnel, Express.co.uk reported. It was not clear where or when the drill was conducted. The videos were released in response to joint military drills carried out by the US, Japan, Australia and France. Chinese military expert Song Zhongping said the PLA was targeting its combat training to prepare for a possible war over Taiwan. A Chinese military official told the state-run Global Times: “Many on the island of Taiwan and foreign countries for a long time believe the Chinese mainland does not possess what it takes to organize a proper large-scale, joint amphibious landing operation on the island due to this kind of mission’s high complexity.”

“Exercises like this one and daily routine warplane drills near the island, could serve as a deterrent and give secessionist and foreign forces a clear look at the real situation that the PLA is fully determined and capable of safeguarding China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the official added. He warned that China could carry out “many more amphibious landing tactics, including the involvement of missile, artillery and aviation forces if secessionists insist on provoking Beijing”.

Since mid-September of last year, Beijing has stepped up its gray-zone tactics by regularly sending planes into Taiwan’s ADIZ, with most instances occurring in the southwest corner of the zone and usually consisting of one to three slow-flying turboprop planes.

Over the past few months, Taiwan has reported incursion by Chinese warplanes into ADIZ almost daily. Last month, Taiwanese premier Su Tseng-chang termed the incursion by Chinese warplanes into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADZ) as “unnecessary” and “thoughtless”.

Beijing claims full sovereignty over Taiwan, a democracy of almost 24 million people located off the southeastern coast of mainland China, despite the fact that the two sides have been governed separately for more than seven decades.

Taipei, on the other hand, has countered the Chinese aggression by increasing strategic ties with democracies including the US, which has been repeatedly opposed by Beijing. China has threatened that “Taiwan’s independence” means war.

WITH ANI INPUTS

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MISSING BENGAL TIGER FOUND UNHARMED IN HOUSTON

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A Bengal tiger named “India” that went missing in the US state of Texas has been found unharmed and now transferred to one of the animal shelter in Houston.

“We got him and he is healthy,” said Houston Police Department (HPD) Major Offenders Commander Ron Borza. “In no way shape or form, should one have an animal like that in any household. That animal is only nine months old and already wrights 175 pounds. Full-grown that animal can get to 600 pounds. It still has its claws and could do a lot of damage if it decided to. Luckily for us, he is very tamed and he will be going to a sanctuary tomorrow,” Borza added.

On Monday morning, a Bengal tiger named India was last spotted prowling around the front yard of a house in Texas’ west Houston neighborhood.

Earlier, a panicked resident had told police that the tiger had a collar around its neck and was staring at the residents, while some neighbours had guns drawn out and started to come out on the street.

Previously, 26-years-old Victor Hugo Cuveas was taken into custody by authorities after being identified as the tiger’s owner.

According to Texas law, tigers can technically be owned as pets as long as the owner is able to obtain a certificate of registration. Cuevas also owns two monkeys, but they are under 30 pounds and therefore are abiding by Texas state law.

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Israeli diplomat visits family of Kerala woman killed in Hamas strike

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Jonathan Zadka, consul general of Israel to South India, on Sunday extended condolences to the family of Kerala woman Soumya Santhosh, who lost her life during the Hamas strike in Israel.

“CG, @Jonathan_Zadka, paid a visit to the family of Soumya Santhosh who lost her life during #Hamasattack on #Iseael. On behalf of the Israeli people, @israelinbenguluru extends its condolences to the family at loss. We hope peace restores soon,” the Consulate General of Israel to Bengaluru said in a tweet. “Honoured to pay my respects and convey our sympathies to the family and friends of Soumya Santosh as she was laid to rest in her home town Keerithod, Kerala. May she RIP our prayers are with the family that lost an angel in a cowardly hamas terror attack,” Zadka tweeted.

The 30-year-old Indian woman, hailing from Idukki in Kerala, was among those killed in a rocket attack by a Palestinian Islamist group on Tuesday. She was working as a caretaker to an elderly woman at a house in the Ashkelon, which borders the Gaza strip. According to her family, she was living in Israel for the last seven years. Her husband and nine-year-old son stay in Kerala.

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US withdrawal from Afghanistan could lead to rise in terrorism: China

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China fears that the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan could lead to a rise in terrorism in the region and affect its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative.

A commentary in the Global Times has elaborated on Beijing’s concerns that the US pull-out “could leave chaotic situations and the region could become a breeding ground” for three evils—terrorism, separatism and religious extremism, reported Asia Times. Besides, the Chinese experts are also worried that the hasty US pull-out might stall the Afghan peace process and engender civil-war conditions. While the US allowed the region to become a “breeding ground” for the “Three Evils” and poppy cultivation “now Washington wants to leave this mess to the regional countries”.

An exclusive op-ed in the Communist Party of China organ People’s Daily on Friday was titled “US can’t just get away from it all in Afghan issues”. It concludes, “At present, the US is the biggest exterior factor of the Afghan issues. The White House shall not duck its responsibilities and get away from it all,” reported Asia Times. “Its withdrawal must be implemented in an orderly and responsible manner, and aim at preventing further escalation of violence in the country and preventing terrorist forces from ramping up and creating trouble. It shall create a favourable exterior environment for the Intra-Afghan negotiations, not the other way around.”

Meanwhile, as reported by ANI, M.K. Bhadrakumar, writing in Asia Times views second session of meeting of foreign ministers of China and the five Central Asian states on May 11 at Xian as symbolic. The ancient city of Xian used to be the starting point of the Silk Road. And, perhaps, the timing too, as this is the 25th anniversary of the Shanghai Five process, where China, quietly but steadily, began building up its economic, military, and diplomatic relations with Central Asia and presented itself as a viable partner.

The Xian meeting was a watershed event as it created an “institutional guarantee” for the nascent “C+C5” framework. The participants agreed on a memorandum of understanding to establish a regional cooperation mechanism, promote the high-quality construction of the Belt and Road and establish three research centres to carry out cooperation, reported Asia Times.

The Shanghai Five, consisting of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan, also had a modest beginning in 1996 as it emerged from a series of border-demarcation and demilitarisation talks that the four former Soviet republics held with China. The institutionalization of the C+C5 also marks a turning point in regional security—as the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan gets under way amid speculation that the Pentagon is looking to base facilities in Central Asian countries, wrote Bhadrakumar.

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