Image: Jeanne Menjoulet/Flickr
One joke making the rounds in Kabul’s diplomatic circles these days is that the power transition in Kabul from the Ghani government to that of the Taliban was smoother than the one that took place in Washington D.C. earlier this year. That may be a (slight) exaggeration, but there is little doubt that the swiftness with which the Taliban entered the Afghan capital caught most observers by surprise.
After twenty years, the notion that a decision to end America’s longest war was due is uncontroversial. Beyond Afghanistan, however, the question is what will happen next in Central Asia, and how will the security deficit there be addressed. Who wins and who loses with the U.S. withdrawal from the “graveyard of empires”? What will its effects be on China and on India, the two “Asian giants” whose own bilateral links have been on a downhill course recently?
A standard rationale for the US withdrawal from Afghanistan is that it was done to end the “distraction” of a war in a “secondary theater”, so that Washington could focus on its main concern – that is, China. This would be in line with the U.S. shift in emphasis from NATO to the Quadrilateral Strategic Dialogue (the “Quad”), whose inaugural summit, in March 2021, was the first international meeting hosted by President Biden after he took office. It would also correspond to the recent AUKUS deal to deliver nuclear-powered submarines to Australia, creating a major diplomatic rift with France.
If Afghanistan were to become a hotbed of international terrorism, and provide once again a base for the Eastern Turkmenistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) of Uighur militants bent on Xinjiang’s secession from China, this could become a headache for Beijing. This was one reason the PRC never recognised the previous Taliban regime that ruled Afghanistan from 1996-2001. Yet if, as all indicates, China reaches an agreement with the Taliban, both sides have much to gain. Afghanistan has enormous mineral riches (valued at up to US 1 trillion dollars), mostly in copper and lithium (some refer to it as “the Saudi Arabia of lithium”), both in high demand by China for its E-V industry. China could also build much of Afghanistan’s infrastructure. If the Taliban government is able to guarantee security and law and order (a big if), it is possible to imagine an influx of Chinese mining and construction companies that could do much to bolster the Afghan economy – exactly what the new regime in Kabul needs.
China’s long-standing partnership with Pakistan, the country where the single biggest Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project, the US$ 46 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), is located, and whose intelligence services created the Taliban in the first place, also gives Beijing some leverage. India, on the other hand, may find itself holding the short end of the stick. Having bet heavily on the Hamid Karzai government first, and the Ashraf Ghani government later, it has had a rocky relationship with the Taliban from the word go. India was left out of many of the recent multi-party negotiations regarding the future of Afghanistan, and New Delhi will not find it easy to reclaim its diplomatic footing there again.
The larger issue, though, is the changing configuration of Eurasia, what Kent Calder has referred to as the “Super Continent”, rejoined by the technologies of the new century, including bullet trains and mobile telephony. The return of the Taliban opens new doors to the two players that have been reshaping it over the past decades, that is Russia and China. Seeing the writing on the wall, Moscow carried on talks with the Taliban for years, and its Embassy in Kabul is open for business. As the newly independent “Central Asian Five” (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan), the old former Soviet republics, struggle to find their place in the sun, Moscow and Beijing vie to establish their predominance in an area where Afghanistan is at the very centre. China’s BRI was initially all about connecting the world’s fastest growing region, East Asia, with the world’s biggest market, the European Union, while bringing into play these new, until now marginalised countries, rich in natural resources, thus recreating the old Silk Road.
Russia, though uneasy about it at first, as it saw BRI encroaching on its own turf, has ultimately played along, as a way of consolidating a condominium of sorts with China in what has traditionally been considered the geopolitical centre of the world. A rich panoply of regional entities, like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), aim to redefine a space that Russia considers its “near abroad”, and China sees as critical to its New Silk Road.
The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the earlier closing of U.S. military bases in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, means that China and Russia will now have more of a free hand to proceed. India’s putting all of its eggs in one basket in Afghanistan, and its early rejection of the BRI, leaves it with a weak hand to help shape the new regional security and economic architecture in Central Asia, though its membership on the SCO and old ties with Moscow mean it is not totally cut off from the action.
For much of human history, Eurasia, which Halford Mackinder referred to as “the world island”, has been at the very centre of geopolitical conflicts and contests. During the 20th century, it disappeared from our vocabulary, but has now made a triumphant return. As we brace for what Kishore Mahbubani forecasts will be “the Asian century”, there is no reason to think Eurasia will recede from view. In that perspective, the fall of Kabul may be more than a historical footnote.
Let us recall that the Afghan capital was once a key caravan stop of the Silk Road traversed by Marco Polo. It may yet become one once again, this time of the New Silk Road being forged these days across the vast expanses and indomitable mountains of Central Asia.
Jorge Heine, a former Chilean ambassador to China (2014-2017) and to India (2003-2007) is a research professor at the Pardee School of Global Studies, Boston University, and a Wilson Center global fellow.
This week GOFAD shines a light on His Excellency Kevin Isaacs, St Kitts/Nevis High Commissioner to the UK. While being a Diplomat is his designated occupation he has a passion for poetry and is quite accomplished. I have attached a link to his Podcast of what he calls verbal photography. Out of his vast collection on a variety of subjects, I am fascinated by the one entitled, “Paper Cup. “ It prepares me fully for my immediate future. I invite you to explore the link to Kevin Isaac's website after listening to the Podcast and get acquainted with this fascinating artist and his work. https://verbalphotography.com/2021/03/28/paper-cup/
Over the past year, other poets from among GOFAD readers have sent copies of their work. It occurred to me that I could share these from time to time since some among you may find them a diversion that is soulfully fulfilling.
See Kwame Ryan Conducing on YouTube
You would recall that in last week’s blog that featured Maestro Kwame Ryan, it was indicated that the premier of the opera, “Time of our Singing” may be viewed on YouTube. For those who are interested, please subscribe to opera vision (link below) for notification and access to Time for our singing on Friday 24, 2021. https://youtu.be/HuA7CX4QFYA
This Blog is being written after the incredible opera conducted by Kwamé Ryan has been premiered in Brussels on Tuesday, September 14, 2021 and may be viewed via web stream online from Friday, September 24 at 1.00 pm EST (March 2022). According to the text of the programme booklet, The Time of Our Singing, published in a Dutch and French translation, the Opera is based on “a magnificent, multifaceted novel about a supremely gifted―and divided―family, set against the backdrop of postwar America, from the Pulitzer Prize–winning and bestselling author Richard Powers”
In celebration of this occasion, GOFAD had intended to review the novel, but having read the amazing connectedness of Maestro Ryan to this novel-opera, thought it best to let readers experience his unadulterated views of what he labels of “Mixedness - Unified in Time”
The Essence of the Novel
Glimpses of the novel’s power and meaning should be a further enticement.
You may read the documentation of Kwamé Ryan’s connectedness as a conductor to the orientation of the novel in this link: https://www.lamonnaie.be/en/mmm-online/2141-mixedness---unified-in-time
An Eloquently Profound Preview of the Opera
It is further worth your time to listen to the YouTube preview of the opera, by conductor Kwamé Ryan, whose production was delayed due to the COVID 19 pandemic. Bringing to life 'The Time of Our Singing', Kris Defoort's latest opera based on the novel by Richard Powers, Kwamé states: “This production would have been immensely relevant one year ago, and it's even more important to create it today". See link https://youtu.be/v8A9O0Ye1J0
Who is Kwamé Ryan?
Kwamé Ryan was born in Canada and grew up on the Caribbean island of Trinidad, where he received his early musical education. He completed his studies reading musicology at Cambridge University, and specialising in conducting at the International Eötvös Institute. He held the position of General Music Director of Freiburg Opera between 1999 and 2003, and that of Musical and Artistic Director of the National Orchestra of Bordeaux Aquitaine between 2007 and 2013. When not on the podium, Kwamé Ryan dedicates his time to educational and community development work as Director of Trinidad and Tobago’s Academy for the Performing Arts (APA) and Chairman of the youth art Non-Profit Organisation Searchlight International.
For those wanting to connect more directly with Kwamé and his work, you may explore his new website www.kwameryan.com
I am sure Kwamé would appreciate your comments.
Africa-CARICOM SUMMIT A Landmark Bridge of Hope
CARICOM Secretary General Dr. Carla Barnett provided the context for evaluating the virtual historic Africa-CARICOM Summit held on Tuesday September 7, 2021. She said: “We have had our moments of acting together to protect and advance our mutual interests, but today we are committing to forge a new more permanent alliance that has the potential to open new vistas of collaboration and cooperation". This aspirational goal was endorsed from the opening statement by the current Chair of the Caribbean Community, Hon Gaston Browne, Prime Minster of Antigua and Barbuda to the closing statement by Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta, President-in-Office of the Organization of African Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS). A preview is presented in this link: President Kenyatta Roots For Closer Cooperation Between Africa And The Caribbean In Confronting Common Challenges.
As we await the official release of the Summit's Communique, GOFAD highlights some of the main issues advocated by the speakers from both Africa and the Caribbean and offers some speculations about the prospects of future African Union-CARICOM relations. Underlying these speculations is the hopefulness that the takeaways from the Summit would stimulate a bridge of hope to a more viable Caribbean Community.
Exploiting the Geopolitical Environment “United, we have Known Success”.
The two regions account for approximately 1.4 billion people with great natural and wealth creating resources, supplying vital commodities to the global community, and offering a strong market for the goods and services from Europe and North America. This is enriched by the bonds of cultural, historical and political relations and bolstered by the prospects of combined voting power of 69 nations in the United Nations and all its subsidiaries including the World Trade Organization. Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, St Vincent and the Grenadines aptly summarized the potential: “We have global bargaining power but only if we use it effectively.” The general agreement was that new relationship emanating from the Summit must also extend to increasing trade and investment between Africa and CARICOM. Preliminary figures for 2020 indicate that total trade between Africa and the Caribbean, estimated at approximately US $29 Million is a drop of $10 Million from 2018. While the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic can explain this decline, rebuilding the economies in both regions require that the private sector on both sides with the requisite support from the public sector must become alive to the opportunities to expand investment and trade in both regions. Mutual membership in organizations such as the Organization of African Caribbean and Pacific States, can be leveraged to the mutual benefit of both regions. From the perspective of the Caribbean, Africa has been CARICOM’s invaluable partner in several platforms such as at the UN, within the Group of 77 and, in our dealings with Europe under the umbrella of what is now the Organization of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS).
Post-COVID-19 Recovery and Debt Sustainability
Debt sustainability has been a big concern for the African Union and CARICOM, whose member states are among the world’s most highly indebted nations. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted structural weaknesses of countries in both regions and amplified the debt problem. In 2020, public debt reached 70% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in Africa and 83% of GDP in CARICOM. Both Regions face the unusual conundrum of striving for debt sustainability while seeking to generate adequate fiscal resources to build resilience. The common view is the need for a forceful message on issues relating to rescheduling of loans, debt financing, access to capital in rebuilding efforts. An evaluation of the global vaccination system along with its failure to respond to the most vulnerable in the world is an illustration of the inequities that the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals seek to resolve. But this dilemma is largely a spinoff from the historical legacy whereby interests of both Africa and the Caribbean have not been protected in the Bretton Wood institutions established prior to acquisition of independent status by countries of both regions.
In addition, the two regions suffered immensely from the fallout in the rising cost of commodities and transportation services during the pandemic. It has reawakened the vulnerability of both regions to food supply, fragility of markets, and sensitivity to price changes. But most of all, the African Medical Supplies Platform emerged as a quintessential example of cooperation coordinated by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. It is a response to the vaccine apartheid that provided for significant amounts of vaccines for CARICOM Member States out of the quota allocated to Africa. An evaluation of the global vaccination system along with its failure to respond to the most vulnerable in the world is required. It should not happen again.
Climate Change and Climate Resilience
But even as the recovery from COVID 19 is an uncertain contemplation, the development prospects both in Africa and the Caribbean as it is, across the globe, are further buffeted by climate change. The countries of the two regions are among the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Presentations from both African and CARICOM Leaders, reiterated how countries in both regions, are less able to resist, adapt to, and recover from the effects of sea-level rise, prolonged droughts, and extreme weather conditions. Natural hazard events have repeatedly resulted in adverse environmental, social, and economic consequences. Projections also suggest that the two regions will face more exaggerated climate risks for the remainder of the century. This poses a serious threat to the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals. Hence there was unanimity of the need to speak with one voice at the UN General Assembly later this month and at COP 26 in Glasgow in November-December on mainstreaming the International Climate Development Strategy (ICDS) including the Blue Economy, Climate Resilience, Forests and Low Carbon Development priorities.
Just as there is merit in developing joint approaches to debt, so too is it necessary for the climate change challenges. The presentations from the Presidents of both the African Development Bank and the Caribbean Development Bank, indicate that both regions are well placed to engineer innovative financing approaches. This requires advocating for access to lower cost of finance based on an imperative for development that distinguishes pre-event vulnerability, magnitude of impact, and post-event persistence and duration of impact. These effects, evidenced by our repeated natural hazard events and the Covid-19 pandemic, present strong arguments against the inadequacy of per capita income as a measure of classification and access to concessional finance. In this respect, Africa is described as "a fountain of knowledge" on innovative financing for the private sector, especially youth entrepreneurship. Consequently, the Caribbean can adopt the "Boost Africa" model, the joint initiative between the African Development Bank and the European Investment Bank, that offers an innovative way to de-risk private investment.
Pillars for a Sustainable Future
The issues that emerged from this historic Summit help to establish to what extent Africa- CARICOM can adopt strategies to achieve the expected outcomes associated with the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. In many instances, global solidarity resonates in the takeaways from the Summit:
As Health Care Systems reach Breaking Point UG Alum Vidia Roopchand Provides Clues: Take the VaccineRead Now
As the coronavirus continues to take its toll on health and welfare globally GOFAD, this week focuses on the situation in the Caribbean and a fascinating and informative presentation by Mr. Vidia Roopchand, UG Alumnus and lead COVID 19 Vaccine Researcher at Pfizer.
The seriousness of the situation in the Caribbean Region, is best illustrated by recent decisions taken by the political, education and health authorities in the English, French and Spanish Speaking Caribbean to postpone the start of the school year which is normally scheduled for the first two weeks of September. In view of the rising number of positive cases, the governments of Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago have imposed lock downs and the doctors and nurses in Guyana have initiated strikes and sickouts against government mandates for the vaccination of health workers. In preceding blogs, we referred to the suggested results of "nudges" combined with mandates as policies to combat vaccine hesitancy which contributes to much of the problem. In the CARICOM Member states, vaccine hesitancy is compounded by the lack of adequate supply, conflicting information and in some cases unscientific and fake news. The stark reality is demonstrated in the official figures which reveal the dramatic health situation in the French Caribbean (Guadeloupe, Martinique and St Martin) in proximity to the Eastern Caribbean states, with COVID deaths ranging from between 108-120 per 100,000. Suriname with 121 per 100,000 being the worst case scenario for CARICOM, while Guyana (71); St Lucia (56); Jamaica (51); Barbados (49) and Antigua and Barbuda (45) are indicative of the challenges that are being presented. At the same time, the Caribbean Public Health Agency (the CDC of the Caribbean) has illustrated that vaccination take in the region is relatively low. This partly due to lack of access and availability. Through the Caribbean Regulatory System (CRS), CARPHA apples its verification of vaccines safety based on the authorization for emergency use by the World Health Organization (WHO). While countries are at liberty to undertake their own assessments of the quality, efficacy and safety of vaccines, it is understandable how vaccine hesitancy can be sustained especially in cases where vaccines are not duly authorized.
It is under these circumstances that the University of Guyana hosted a virtual seminar on August 27th on virology and the COVID Vaccines. It was presented by Mr. Vidia Roopchand, Principal Scientist for Vaccine Research and Development at Pfizer. He has been with the company for 28 years and spent his career supporting the efforts of the research and development team in formulating innovative vaccines especially for immunization of children in Africa and including the research to develop the COVID-19 vaccine. He was particularly high in praise for the high quality of Education he received at the University of Guyana, graduating with a degree in Chemistry which was the solid foundation for his professional development.
The Fundamentals of Mr. Roopchand's Presentation: This is a Great Time to Learn
Mr. Roopchand's presentation illustrated how it was possible for Pfizer and other pharmaceutical companies to develop the respective COVID-19 vaccines. The ability to fast-track research and clinical trials for example, was a direct result of the worldwide cooperation as the researchers quickly mobilized to share their coronavirus data with other scientists; made
advances in genomic sequencing based on previous results of researchers that successfully uncovered the viral sequence of SARS-CoV-2. Fast tracking was also facilitated by numerous previous studies done since the Ebola outbreaks in West Africa (2014). As a result, WHO prioritized 11 pathogens most likely to cause severe outbreaks in the near future. In addition, research findings on Hemorrhagic Fever, Chikungunya, Zika and respiratory syndrome coronavirus, all combined and contributed to the quick turnaround of results with respect to COVID -19. See The Lancet Global Health Trusted Source.
In the U.S., Operation warp Speed (OWS) was responsible for fostering partnerships with multiple institutions including the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to develop, manufacture, and distribute 300 million doses of vaccines. By investing in multiple companies and vaccine platforms at once, OWS increased the odds of having a vaccine, or vaccines, available by the beginning of 2021. Simultaneously, The European Commission also funded several vaccine candidates and worked with others in pledging $8 billion for COVID-19 research. The UK government Vaccine Taskforce was a significant contributor to a wide variety of vaccine research. Its funding helped develop the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine and the designers of this vaccine were the first to publish peer reviewed efficacy results.
Mr. Roopchand provided a glimpse into the future of vaccine research. He describes himself as a "vaccine farmer", stating categorically, “I’m from the developing world and I’ve seen what infectious disease can do.” He proposes to continue dissecting the data, to try and find other indicators of effective defenses. He indicated that this involves a greater understanding of T cells produced by the immune system to destroy virus-infected cells, and antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity (ADCC). This is, a specific immune response whereby a cell is covered in antibodies then destroyed by white blood cells, have largely been neglected in immunology research and may play a significant role. His optimism is illustrated in a response to a question raised by Dr. Ulric Trotz, one of his former UG Chemistry lecturers to whom he gives credit of his scientific beginnings. “This is a great time to learn.”
An appreciation to Mr. Roopchand given during the proceedings is worth quoting :
“ we salute you , grateful that you grace us with your wonderful presence and your bountiful gifts as a scientist with roots that are riveted in the University of Guyana; mindful that you help to shine a light so brightly on the University. You are an exemplar of the fact that UG is the highest and most recognized institution of higher education in Guyana and the reason why we can aspire to be a world class university. As we approach the 60th anniversary of the University in 2023, we look to you and others of your ilk to help to continue to forge partnerships, to attract endowments, to build a residential cadre of future graduates who aspire to your achievements but always remembering that we must help to build an institution that reaches back into the community, and whose research, teaching and practice must continue to inspire young Guyanese and young people from this region to make meaningful contributions; and like you, make the world your stage for transformative change.
As we salute Vidia Roopchand, it is to be hoped that the lessons he presents and a multitude of suggested remedies that have emerged would help to inspire actions at the level of CARICOM where CARPHA, in this field, continues to play a vital role. Especially aware of the upsurge in several variants and the evidence that the majority of hospitalizations and deaths from COVID are increasingly among the unvaccinated, there is need for adherence to the following among others:
In the final analysis, all creditable reports and scientific recommendations point in the directions that taking the COVID -19 vaccination is the best insurance against hospitalization and death.
Edward and Auriol Greene Directors, GOFAD.