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INDIAN EXPRESS EDITORIALS AND EXPLAINED 14TH FEBRUARY 2020

ISSUE: TRUMP’S VISIT TO INDIA

Editorial highlights that it  is easy to get carried away by the expansive optics surrounding US President Donald Trump’s visit to India and miss its strategic significance. Many Indian and US political observers see the visit as a part of Trump’s campaign to retain the White House in the November elections and Delhi’s willingness to extend support. They also see it as a continuation of the “Howdy Modi” rally last September in Houston and the PM’s virtual if controversial endorsement of the US President’s re-election bid.

REAL SIGNIFICANCE OF THE VISIT

India-US relationship is larger than the immediate personal interests of both Trump and Modi. There are two important issues in play during Trump’s visit to India — trade and security.

The trade relationship has been under high stress ever since Trump came into office in January 2017; Delhi was slow in reading his deeply held opposition to “free trade” and has struggled to construct a new framework for commercial ties. At the bottom of it is Delhi’s lack of a strategy to deal with the upheaval in the global trading order triggered by Trump.

In contrast to trade, there has been a growing convergence of interests on securing the Indo-Pacific. Although India’s arms purchases from the US continue to draw headlines it is the deepening engagement — ranging from military intelligence sharing to inter-operability of forces — between the two defence establishments that may be of long-term political consequence for the balance of power in Asia and its waters. The shared interests in the Indo-Pacific, however, have not necessarily translated into the Greater Middle East — especially in the Af-Pak region and the Gulf. Trump has promised his core domestic supporters to end the “forever wars” in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
As he prepares for a major American retrenchment from the volatile regions to the west of India, Trump would like India to take larger security responsibilities in both Afghanistan and the Gulf. Notwithstanding its declared strategic ambition, Delhi does not look ready. The foreign policy establishments in the US, China and elsewhere in the world, have made the mistake of underestimating Trump as a leader and his sweeping agenda for restructuring the global economic and political order. South Block has every reason to do better than that.
CONCLUSION
Trump’s radical policies have presented India many challenges that Delhi must address and many opportunities it must seize.
ISSUE: HAFIZ SAEED’S CONVICTION IN PAKISTAN
The conviction of Hafiz Saeed by an anti-terrorism court in Pakistan is the direct result of the intensifying gaze and pressure of the Financial Action Task Force, an international watchdog against terror financing.
It was the FATF’s placement of Pakistan in the “grey list”, and repeated warnings that Pakistan’s non-compliance with commitments to clean up its act could result in a blacklisting, that led to a crackdown against Saeed and his Jamat ud Dawa/Lashkar-e-Toiba last year.
Charges were laid against him and several others of the JuD under Pakistan’s 1998 Anti-Terrorist Act, leading to the conviction a couple days before the FATF is to meet to decide if Pakistan should be “blacklisted”. He has been sentenced for five and a half years in prison.
The designation of Saeed and Masood Azhar under 1267 has given India diplomatic victories to crow about, but little relief on the ground from these vicious men or the terrorist networks associated with them, especially in Kashmir. But an FATF blacklisting could get Pakistan excluded from the global financial system, from banking and non-banking lenders, which for a country whose economy is on life support from the International Monetary Fund, would be far more devastating.
WHY THIS SHOULD NOT BE SEEN AS COSMETIC STEP?
This is why it is not wise of Delhi to dismiss Hafiz Saeed’s conviction as cosmetic, done to keep off international pressure. That seems to suggest that such pressure has little value, even though Delhi frequently asks the world to use its influence on Pakistan to act against terror groups on its soil.
It also downplays the work of the FATF, which is doing more than most to rein in Pakistan’s free radicals.
CONCLUSION
Still, Saeed’s conviction is no small thing. This is the first time Pakistan has been forced to convict a man running a proxy army for its military and nurtured as a VIP for years, as a terrorist under its own law. India should welcome the sentencing as a good first step.
ISSUE: HOW MORE WOMEN CAN WORK?
India continues to struggle to provide its women with equal opportunity. On international measures of gender equality, India scores low on women’s overall health and survival and ability to access economic opportunities.
Since the woman’s economic engagement is related to her own and her family’s well-being, the continuing decline in rural women’s labour force participation is a cause for concern, and both affects and reflects these worrying gender gaps.
NEED FOR MORE WOMEN IN WORKFORCE
The Economic Survey acknowledged this and highlighted that the state should design policies that better involve women in the economy. It quoted the World Bank, noting that “no country can develop and achieve its full potential if half of its population is locked in non-remunerative, less productive and non-economic activities.”
Ignoring India’s declining female labour force participation at a time of economic distress is a mistake. Involving women in the economy is not a social cause — it is a source of efficiency gains and economic growth. In a country where young women’s education is now at par with men’s, ignoring that half of the population isn’t participating equally in the economy means we are missing out on innovation, entrepreneurship, and productivity gains.
IMPORTANCE OF WOMEN IN INDIAN ECONOMY
A report by McKinsey Global Institute suggests that if women participated in the Indian economy at the level men do, annual GDP could be increased by 60 per cent above its projected GDP by 2025.
WHAT COULD BE DONE TO INCREASE WOMEN’S PARTICIPATION?
Continuing to improve ease of doing business and addressing rigid labour market regulations can also draw more women into high-potential sectors, such as those supported under Assemble in India.
It would be nice if the government matches its words with deeds and increases funding to programmes targeting women.
Until then, policy can build on the fact that pulling women into the economy isn’t just a function of budget allocations or social sector programmes. It’s also a matter of thoughtful policy design and political will.
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