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(Uzbekistan/Central Asia/South Asia/Pakistan) Uzbek President’s Call for Connectivity, Cooperation, Dialogue and Trust in Central Asia-South Asia Region: Pakistan’s Obduracy is the Obstacle (VIF)

Amb Skand Ranjan Tayal writes for VIF: President Shavkat Mirziyoyev of Uzbekistan hosted an important conference ‘Regional Connectivity Between Central Asia and South Asia – Challenges and Opportunities’ in Tashkent on 15-16 July 2021. The conference was proposed by the Uzbek President in his statement at the UNGA last September, but the weeks before the conference saw a rapid deterioration in the Afghan situation and the subtext of the informal discussions and the formal statements was the dangerous situation in Afghanistan.

go to VIF website: Uzbek President’s Call for Connectivity, Cooperation, Dialogue and Trust in Central Asia-South Asia Region: Pakistan’s Obduracy is the Obstacle | Vivekananda International Foundation (vifindia.org)

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South Asia – Unlocking and Safeguarding Human Potential Across South Asia (Hartwig Schafer, World Bank blogs)

Samina rose from humble beginnings in Karachi, Pakistan to become a proud woman business owner employing nine people. Her embroidery business helped pay for her kids’ school and made her the primary earner in her household. Then COVID hit, trampling on her sales and dreams. She now struggles to make ends meet.

Unlocking and Safeguarding Human Potential Across South Asia (worldbank.org)

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South Asia – How air pollution is accelerating Himalayan glaciers melt (Muthukumara Mani, World Bank blogs)

 Local women is standing in the mountains holding a shovel.

Local women is standing in the mountains holding a shovel in Muktinath, Nepal. Photo: Shutterstock/Oleskaus

Kumik village sits in the picturesque Zanskar valley high in the Himalayas. Travelers had long considered this valley an oasis amid the barren mountain ranges.

Once home to one of the oldest and most remote civilizations on the planet, agriculture and livestock flourished in this area thanks to plentiful water flowing from the surrounding glaciers.

However, over the years, the glaciers receded, making the village unlivable. Finally, as meltwater dwindled to a trickle and irrigation canals went dry, residents had no option but to move.

Today, the empty Kumik village stands as a cautionary tale against the dangers of melting glaciers. This phenomenon is likely to lead to water scarcity for millions of people in South Asia.

A new report, Glaciers of the Himalayas: Climate Change, Black Carbon, and Regional Resilience, provides new evidence of how black carbon compounds the effects of climate change to accelerate the melting of the glaciers of the Himalayas, the Hindu Kush, and the Karakorum mountain ranges.

The report calls for greater effort to curtail black carbon emissions and strengthen regional cooperation to protect these critical natural resources. More than 750 million people depend on the glacier and snow-fed Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra rivers for freshwater, and changes in the volume and timing of flows will have important economic and social implications. 

The report launched on June 3 at a virtual event featuring three prominent experts on glaciers and environmental protection. Participants discussed challenges and solutions associated with glacier melt, water and energy security, air quality, and ways to create a better future for millions of South Asians.

Speaking at the event was Aisha Khan, from Pakistan, chief executive of Civil Society Coalition for Climate Change and of Mountain & Glacier Protection Organization.  She has been working at the forefront of the social, economic and environmental issues in the Himalayas in Pakistan ever since she went for a trek to the K2 Base Camp 20 years ago.

Also speaking was Jemma Wadham, director of the Cabot Institute for the Environment, University of Bristol. She is a glacier biogeochemist who has conducted award-winning research on glaciers worldwide and has written a fascinating and accessible memoir about her work, Ice Rivers.

Rounding out the panel was Swarnim Waglé, a former vice-chair of Nepal’s National Planning Commission, who has worked with national governments and international agencies to address critical environmental issues.

In his opening remarks, World Bank Group South Asia Region Vice President Hartwig Schafer called for increased regional cooperation to address common threats posed by black carbon and glacier melt. 

Jemma Wadham called glacier melt an urgent and imminent threat to life in the region and implored governments and societies to treat the situation as an emergency Aisha Khan described the perilous conditions of mountain communities and said women were especially hard hit by the effects of climate change and glacier melt Swarnim Wagle noted challenges faced by policymakers who must reconcile the need to address environmental challenges that play out over the long term , even as they operate within electoral cycles over the short term. He urged regional cooperation to address stark regional mega-trends such as climate change, urbanization and water scarcity that could constrain economic prosperity and poverty reduction efforts.

The report and the event underscored how melting snow and glaciers pose major risks to populations, affect their water, energy, and food security, and have the potential to trigger natural disasters.

The major river systems that originate from these mountain ranges provide a lifeline to millions of people downstream. Recent evidence suggests that black carbon deposits – soot — are also compounding the effects of climate change to accelerate glacier melt in the Himalayas. Black carbon, a product of incomplete combustion from industrial and vehicular emissions, biomass burning, and forest fires, is carried by the wind from all over South and Central Asia, black carbon. When it settles on the surface of a glacier, it increases the absorption of sunlight by darkening the surface, raising the temperature, and speeding the melting of the ice.

A key finding of the study is that by fully implementing current black carbon emission reduction policies in South Asia, we can reduce black carbon deposits in the region by 23 percent . Enacting and implementing new policies that are currently economically and technically feasible can further reduce black carbon by an additional 50 percent and maintain glacier melt at its current levels. The implementation of Paris Agreement commitments by countries could further reduce black carbon.

Where do we start? Absent stepped up action, the significant threats to water resources in South Asia from melting glaciers, loss of  seasonal snow, and changes in precipitation will only get worse. The findings of report suggest that the impacts on glaciers and availability of water may differ substantially among basins. Panelists agreed that greater regional cooperation could get going by exchanging information about black carbon emissions, changing water flows, and weather forecasting. Improved information sharing could further help countries manage more frequent natural disasters caused by melting glaciers and identify best adaptation practices.

More details and related materials are here: press release,  full report, and a short video.

A recording of the panel discussion is available on WB live / Twitter / Facebook. Please also follow the #MeltingGlaciers conversation on social media.

Research for the report received funding from the South Asia Water Initiative, a trust fund supported by the United Kingdom’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs, and Norway.

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Nuclear Deterrence/South Asia – Comments on the IISS paper of May 2021 titled: “Nuclear Deterrence and Stability in South Asia: Perceptions and Realities” (VIF)

Amb Satish Chandra, Vice Chairman, VIF

Comments on the IISS paper of May 2021 titled: “Nuclear Deterrence and Stability in South Asia: Perceptions and Realities”<sup>1</sup> | Vivekananda International Foundation (vifindia.org)

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India/China/Russia/South Asia – Authoritarians seek advantage in India’s Covid crisis (The Interpreter)

MUBASHAR HASAN

China and Russia are on a vaccine drive across South Asia to deliver on India’s fast-vanishing promises.

https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/authoritarians-seek-advantage-india-s-covid-crisis

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(South Asia) UN sounds alarm over COVID deaths of children in South Asia (Al Jazeera)

Pandemic may have indirectly contributed to around 228,000 additional child deaths in 2020, UN report says.

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/3/17/un-sounds-alarm-over-covid-deaths-of-children-in-south-asia

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(China/India/South Asia) South Asia deftly navigates China–India tensions (East Asia Forum)

Rohan Mukherjee, Yale-NUS College

China–India relations took a turn for the worse in 2020. Intrusions by the People’s Liberation Army along the contested border led to a military standoff and skirmishes, the likes of which had not been seen for decades between the two countries. Only recently have they begun the process of disengagement.

South Asia deftly navigates China–India tensions

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(South Asia) Climate security and the strategic energy pathway in South Asia (Council on Strategic Risks)

By Sarang Shidore and Rachel Fleishman

https://imccs.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Climate-Security-and-the-Strategic-Energy-Pathway-in-SOUTH-Asia_February-2021.pdf

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America, South Asia, technology (Michael Kugelman, Marco Emanuele, The Science of Where Magazine)

The Science of Where Magazine meets Michael Kugelman, the Deputy Director of the Asia Program and Senior Associate for South Asia at the Wilson Center

The relationship between the US and South Asia is the subject of the article entitled “How will Biden’s strategy on South Asia differ from Trump’s?” published by East Asia Forum on January 10, 2021. What is your general thesis?

My general argument is that while Trump and Biden may not agree on much, they do largely agree on policy in South Asia. Both prioritize partnership with India, both wish to drawdown in Afghanistan, and both seek a workable relationship with Pakistan–mainly one focused on cooperating on the Afghan peace process, and on counterterrorism measures in Pakistan.

This isn’t to say there aren’t differences in their views on South Asia. For example, I imagine Biden will be more open than Trump was to an expansion of the relationship with India, and to a lesser extent with Pakistan, by focusing on non-security challenges like climate change and public health. I also believe Biden will make more of an effort than Trump had done to tie the withdrawal of remaining US forces in Afghanistan to conditions on the ground (such as clear indications that the Taliban is reducing violence and denying space to al-Qaeda).

I believe that, among the decisive dynamics, there is the technological one.How will strategic relationships between the USA and South Asia evolve in relation to this?

Yes, technology is a big part of the geopolitics of South Asia–and the world more broadly, of course. Shared concern about the security and surveillance risks of Chinese telecommunications is one of the core drivers of US-India partnership. It’s no small matter that the Americans and the Indians have arguably cracked down harder on Chinese apps and tech platforms than have any other countries.

Also, technology transfers are a major component of US-India relations. With Washington and New Delhi scaling up their defense partnership, we can expect the US to send more advanced intelligence and other technologies to India that better enable New Delhi to monitor threats emanating from China and Pakistan. In the Biden era, such technology transfers may be expanded to the clean energy realm. For example, we may see the US provide technologies meant to help India ramp up its capacity–through stronger battery power–to store solar energy.

I would like to focus attention on two important phenomena. How will the RCEP agreement and the Digital Belt and Road Initiative affect relations between the USA and South Asia? 

BRI is a much bigger factor in US-South Asia relations than is RCEP. With RCEP, you’re looking at a new trade accord for which neither the US nor any South Asian country is a member. It’s a group of East Asian countries, including several US treaty allies-but also China. If either the US or India were to join RCEP-which is unlikely anytime soon-then the agreement would take on more significance for South Asia in that the country that joins may then expect the other to follow.

BRI is a key factor in relations between the US and South Asia, because it is the core driver of India-China competition in South Asia–and, because it is opposed by both Washington and New Delhi, BRI is also a key driver of growing US-India partnership. The digital components of BRI are an especially important explanatory factor of growing US-India partnership, given that Huawei and other Chinese telecommunications firms associated with the digital BRI are major concerns for  the American and Indian governments and publics. In effect, the manifestations of the digital BRI, and their major risks as perceived by Washington and New Delhi, are one of the biggest reasons why China has brought the US and India closer together in recent years.

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