PM Modi inaugurates ‘Maitri Setu’ between India and Bangladesh

 2021 witnessed the inauguration of a number of infra development projects aimed at improving connectivity. On March 9, the Maitri Setu, a 1.9 km double-lane bridge built over the River Feni that flows between the Indian boundary in Tripura and the neighbouring Bangladesh, was inaugurated. Built at a cost of 133 crore by National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd. the bridge is set to become the "Gateway of Northeast" and boost trade and commerce between the two countries.

On November 16, PM Modi inaugurated the 341 km-long Purvanchal Expressway connecting western and eastern UP, which is expected to boost the economic development of the eastern areas. Built at a cost of 22,497 crore, and over 3 years from 2018, the Expressway among other things boasts a 3.2 km airstrip that would enable landing and take-off of the IAF fighter planes in an emergency.

On December 29, the Union Territory of Ladakh got the world's highest motorable road at Umling La Pass at an altitude of over 19,000 feet. The 52-km long road, built under the BRO'S Project Himank, connects remote villages in eastern Ladakh. The road, close to the LAC, is not just strategically important enabling easier movement of military vehicles and troops, but will also play a role in boosting tourism and the socio-economic conditions of the people in the region.

Besides, several development projects were launched in Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Goa, Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh and other States.

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CDS Bipin Rawat, wife, 11 others killed in helicopter crash in Tamil Nadu

Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat, his wife Madhulika Rawat and 11 others, including his staff, the pilot and crew, lost their lives in an Indian Air Force chopper crash on December 8. There were 14 people on board. The hi-tech Mi-17V5 helicopter was en route to the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington, from Sulur on the day it crashed near Coonoor in the Nilgiris district in Tamil Nadu close to the destination. A tri-service inquiry into the crash was ordered by the IAF headed by Air Marshal Manvendra Singh, Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief Training Command. Group Captain Varun Singh, the lone survivor of the crash, also succumbed to injuries on December 15. Gen Rawat assumed office as the country's first CDS or tri-service chief on January 1. 2020.

Gen Rawat, who was appointed as CDS in January 2019, was on a visit to Defence Services Staff College, Wellington to address the faculty and student officers of the staff course.

Rawat arrived in Coimbatore from Delhi on Wednesday morning. An IAF Mi-17V5 helicopter with the CDS took off from the Air Force station in Sulur in Coimbatore, and crashed at Katteri, which was about 10 km from the helipad where he was to land. TV visuals showed the chopper in flames after the crash, with local people rushing to the spot to put out the fire. The IAF said that an inquiry has been ordered to ascertain the cause of the accident.

Gp Capt Varun Singh SC, Directing Staff at DSSC with injuries is currently under treatment at Military Hospital, Wellington, said a tweet by IAF. Soon after reports of the crash came in, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh held an urgent meeting with the Ministry of Defence officials. Singh subsequently briefed Prime Minister Narendra Modi. At 6.03 pm, the IAF confirmed the passing away of Gen Rawat through its official twitter handle.

Subsequently, a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security was presided over by the Prime Minister. Besides the PM, Defence Minister, Home Minister Amit Shah and Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, the meeting was attended by Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba, Defence Secretary Ajay Kumar and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.

Credit : Business Line

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Who is Miss Universe of India 2021?

India's Hamaaz Sandhu made history on December 13 when she was crowned Miss Universe 2021 at the 70th edition of the beauty pageant held in Eilat, Israel, beating contestants from 80 countries 21 years after India last brought home the title. Harnaaz became the third Indian to win the title, after Sushmita Sen (1994) and Lara Dutta (2000). The Chandigarh-based actor-model, who is pursuing her master's degree in public administration, was crowned by her predecessor Andrea Meza of Mexico, winner of the pageant in 2020.

This year's competition marks the second Covid-era Miss Universe pageant. Israel's borders were set to open to vaccinated tourists ahead of the main event this year, which would have allowed thousands of fans to attend.

But with the emergence of the new Omicron variant, the Israeli government shut its borders to foreigners two weeks before the competition, throwing travel plans and preparations into chaos. One contestant, Miss France, tested positive for the virus upon landing in Israel and had to quarantine -- getting out just in time for the preliminary competition on Friday.

The pageant was also wrapped in another layer of political controversy, with some critics and countries calling for boycotts -- as with previous international events hosted in Israel.

The South African government withdrew its support and called on Mswane to drop out, citing Israeli treatment of Palestinians, calling it "apartheid," a charge Israel has vehemently denied. But Mswane -- with the backing of the Miss South Africa organization -- chose to travel to Israel and compete.

Other figures, including Miss Israel, Noa Cochva, responded with a common refrain heard from pageant organizers and contestants: Miss Universe should not be about politics.

Israel was one of the first countries to begin vaccinating its population and had reached a high vaccination rate by May this year, when the country was approached about hosting the December competition, according to a spokesperson from Israel's Ministry of Tourism.

Credit : CNN 

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Union Cabinet clears bill to scrap three farm laws

After 16 months of protests by farmers on the different borders of Delhi, three contentious farm laws were repeated by the Centre on November 29. Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a television address on November 19 had apologised to the farmers and announced that the laws would be repealed. Both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha passed the Farm Laws Repeal Bill 2021 without debate on the first day of the winter session of Parliament on November 29.

Subsequently, the farmers ended their mass protests and started returning to their homes from December 12. The farmers had been protesting for over a year demanding the repeal of the three laws - The Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act. The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act.

Earlier, it was reported that the Centre would introduce one "comprehensive" bill to repeal the farm laws. An official brief of The Farm Laws Repeal Bill, 2021 will reportedly be available later on Wednesday. The Union Agriculture Ministry had finalized the bill after consultations with the PM's office (PMO).Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar will reportedly table the bill in the Lok Sabha.

Laws can be repealed in two ways: through an ordinance or legislation. The government has to move a bill in Parliament to repeal the three contentious farm laws. All three farm laws can be repealed through a single legislation, which has to be passed by both Houses of Parliament before receiving Presidential assent. Usually, bills titled Repealing and Amendment are introduced for this purpose.

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Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award renamed after hockey legend Dhyan Chand

The Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award, the country's highest sporting honour, was renamed after hockey legend Major Dhyan Chand by the Prime Minister on August 6. PM Modi said he had been getting many requests from citizens to name the Khel Ratna Award after Major Dyan Chand. "Major Dhyan Chand was among India's foremost sportspersons who brought honour and pride for India. It is fitting that our nation's highest sporting honour will be named after him,” PM Modi tweeted.

The government's decision comes a day after Indian men's hockey team ended the 41-year wait for an Olympic medal when it defeated Germany 5-4 and secured first hockey medal for the country since the Moscow Olympics in 1980.

The women's hockey team too performed admirably and just missed out on a medal when it lost to Great Britain 3-4 and finished 4th earlier in the day.

The change came at a time when India's hockey teams (both men's and women's) had captured the imagination of the nation with their splendid performance at the Tokyo Olympics. The award, launched in 1992, comprises a medallion, a certificate, and a cash prize of 25 lakh. In this context, it is significant to note that Dhyan Chand won three Olympic golds for the country and his birthday (August 29) is being celebrated as National Sports Day.

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What is the Pegasus scandal?

Last year on July 13, a row erupted over Israeli spyware Pegasus allegedly being used for targeted surveillance on a host of public figures in India.

Pegasus is a type of hacking software sold by Israeli surveillance company, NSO Group. It is said that the spyware is capable of extracting data from phones and can infect devices without the knowledge of users. According to reports, Paris-based media non-profit Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International accessed a leaked database of thousands of phone numbers targeted by Pegasus across the world. It was said to contain data of government clients of Pegasus since 2016. The data was shared with global media groups as part of a collaborative investigation called Pegasus Project. Subsequently, on October 27, the Supreme Court directed a panel of technical experts to investigate whether the government used military-grade Pegasus spyware to monitor politicians, activists, tycoons, judges and journalists.

More authoritarian countries frequently claim journalists, dissidents and human rights activists are criminals or a national security threat making them worthy of intrusive surveillance.

And in many of those countries there is limited or no accountability and oversight on how the powerful capabilities are used.

The spread of encryption has increased the drive for governments to get inside people's devices. When phone calls were the main means of communication, a telecoms company could be ordered to wiretap the conversation (which once meant literally attaching wires to the line).

But now the conversations are often encrypted, meaning you need to get to the device itself to see what was said. And devices also carry out a much richer treasure trove of data.

In the past, ransomware - in which hackers demand a payment to unlock access to your system - was the province of criminal networks. It is now sold as a service on the dark web.

An individual can simply agree a deal to give them a cut of the profits and they will hand over the tools and even offer support and advice, including helplines in the case of problems.

Other techniques - like location tracking and developing profiles of people's activity and behaviour - which once required specialised access and authority are now available freely.

Credit : BBC 

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Which party is leading in Tamil Nadu in 2021?

Last year between March 27 and April 29, elections were held in the States of West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Assam and the Union Territory of Puducherry amid a surge in COVID-19 cases across the country. While the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress pulled off a spectacular victory in West Bengal to form the government for a third consecutive term, the DMK-led alliance wrested power from the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu. The Pinarayi Vijayan-led LDF got a record second term in Kerala, while the BJP retained power in Assam. In Puducherry, the All India NR Congress (AINRC) which contested part of the NDA along with the BIP and AIADMK, emerged victorious. While Mamata Banerjee returned as CM in West Bengal and Pinarayi Vijayan in Kerala, M.K. Stalin became the CM of Tamil Nadu for the first time. However in Assam, the BJP chose Himanta Biswa Sarma over incumbent Sarbananda Sonowal to head the State. In Puducherry, AINRC founder N. Rangasamy took over as CM. heading a coalition government.

Change of guard: in a departure from tradition, the BJP changed CMS even before their term ended in three of the four States-Uttarakhand Assam, Karnataka and Gujarat-for non-performance, dissidence or other reasons. On March 10, Uttarakhand CM Trivendra Singh Rawat was replaced with Tirath Singh Rawat, who within a few months passed the CM's baton to Pushkar Singh Dhami aged 45 on July 4. Karnataka CM B.S. Yediyurappa. 78, resigned on July 26, and Basava Raj Bommai was made the CM. In Gujarat, Vijay Rupani was replaced by Bhupendrabhai Patel in September. In a surprise move, the Congress also changed the CM of Punjab mid-term-Amarinder Singh was replaced by Dalit leader Charanjit Singh Channi as Punjab CM in September. After his unceremonious exit as CM, Amarinder Singh formed his own party. Punjab Lok Congress, and announced that his party would contest the coming state polls in alliance with the BJP.

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How Cyclone Tauktae got its name and what it means

Even as the country was reeling under the devastating COVID impact, several states had to face the fury of nature in the form of cyclonic storms, floods, landslides and earthquakes. In one of the most tragic disasters in India, over 200 were either killed or went missing in the glacier burst in Uttrakhand's Chamoli district on February 7. Assam witnessed a 6.0 magnitude earthquake on April 28, killing two and injuring over a dozen people. While Cyclone Tauktae which made landfall in Gujarat coast on May 17 killed over 170 people in regions such as Kerala, Karnataka, Goa and Gujarat. Cyclone Yaas hit Odisha on May 26, killing 20 people; mass evacuations from the coastal areas of Odisha and West Bengal resulted in saving a lot of lives.

Over 30 people died in landslides in Mumbai following torrential rains in July. Rains lasting several days triggered floods across Maharashtra in July, leaving over 250 dead and major rivers in spate. Telangana also witnessed flooding caused by heavy rain in low-lying areas. On October 16, flash floods caused by heavy rains in Kerala killed over 40 people, while a few days later heavy rains and landslides in Uttarakhand claimed 64 lives. Cyclone Jawad wreaked havoc across Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Odisha in the first week of December. Environmentalists have warned that climate change and indiscriminate construction in coastal regions could lead to more disasters.

The cyclone has been given the name ‘Tauktae’ (pronounced Tau’Te) by Myanmar. It means 'gecko', a highly vocal lizard, in Burmese dialect. The World Meteorological Organisation and UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (UN ESCAP) led Panel on Tropical Cyclones – a global body which also includes regional specialised meteorological centres (RSMC) as well as tropical cyclone warning centres -- prepares the names of the cyclones.

Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) is among six RSMCs in the world, is mandated to issue advisories and name tropical cyclones in the north Indian Ocean region.

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Has India's deadly second wave peaked?

India is among the most severely affected countries in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The second wave, which began around February 2021 in the country, was more devastating than the first, leaving infected patients gasping for breath. The country witnessed a massive death toll due to the coronavirus, with the numbers surpassing 4.5 lakh as of November 2021. The soaring cases overwhelmed the healthcare system, leaving hospitals struggling to cope. During April-May when the second wave peaked, several hospitals around the country ran out of the life-saving medical oxygen given to critical COVID patients. With patients flooding hospitals, several states faced shortage of beds, oxygen cylinders and other equipment. The Indian Railways ran Oxygen Express trains for transporting Liquid Medical Oxygen to different parts of the country. At judicial intervention, the Centre stepped up oxygen production, set up oxygen plants at hospitals, urged states to make rational use of LMO and imposed restrictions on the industrial use of oxygen.

The rate of decline of cases from the first wave was slow - active cases began declining only from late September last year, a trend which continued till the beginning of the second wave in the middle of February.

The decline appears to have been faster in the second wave, and it is not clear why.

Experts say one reason could be the virus has burnt through a large part of the population.

But then what about the fact that the second wave appears to have been driven by mutant strains to which previously infected people may not be entirely resistant?

Dr Mukherjee said her models indicated cases would come down to between 150,000 and 200,000 by end of May, and by the end of July may return to where they were in February.

But, she said, a lot would depend on how India's states exit from local lockdowns.

Positive rates should be at or below 5% for at least 14 days before a state or country can safely reopen, according to the World Health Organization.

Dr John says if India manages to test an average of 1.8 million samples daily, a positive rate of 5% would mean about 90,000 daily new cases.

"That will be a healthy sign that things are under control," he said.

Credit : BBC 

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Germany's Angela Merkel bows out after 16 years

The Angela Merkel era in Germany came to an end in December 2021. A familiar face, the 67-year-old Merkel served as the Chancellor of Germany for 16 years from 2005. One of the longest-serving heads of government in the EU, Merkel bid goodbye to politics after a fond send-off from colleagues. Her era saw Germany emerge as the fourth-largest economy, next only to Japan, China and the U.S. Her popularity soared during the pandemic, making her the country's best-liked politician. Merkel endeared herself to many across the world with her sheer optimism, when she opened the country's doors to migrants during the Syrian refugee crisis. After serving four terms, she refused to seek a fifth term as Chancellor in the 2021 federal election, paving the way for Olaf Scholz to become Germany's new chancellor. On December 8, she officially handed over the reins to Scholz who took oath in the Bundestag (the German federal parliament)

Merkel said she was bowing out of the EU in a situation that definitely gives me cause for concern as well.

We have been able to overcome many crises in a spirit of respect, in an effort always to find common solutions she said. But we also have a series of unresolved problems, and there are big unfinished tasks for my successor.

That's also true at home, where her record dominated by the crises she addressed and including a pandemic that is flaring anew as she steps down is a mixed bag.

She leaves Germany with lower unemployment and healthier finances, but also with well-documented shortcomings in digitisation many health offices resorted to fax machines to transmit data in the pandemic and what critics say was a lack of investment in infrastructure.

She made progress in promoting renewable energy, but also drew criticism for moving too slowly on climate change. After announcing in 2018 that she wouldn't seek a fifth term, she failed to secure a smooth transition of power in her own party, which slumped to defeat in Germany's September election.

The incoming governing coalition under Scholz says it wants to venture more progress" for Germany after years of stagnation.

But Germans' overall verdict appears to remain favourable. During the election campaign, from which she largely was absent, Merkel's popularity ratings outstripped those of her three would-be successors. Unlike her seven predecessors in postwar Germany, she is leaving office at a time of her choosing.

Merkel's body language and facial expressions sometimes offered a glimpse of her reactions that went beyond words. She once lamented that she couldn't put on a poker face: I've given up. I can't do it.

She wasn't intimidated by Putin's style. The Russian president once brought his Labrador to a 2007 meeting with Merkel, who later said she had a certain concern about dogs after having once been bitten by one.

She was never the most glamorous of political operators, but that was part of her appeal the chancellor continued to take unglamorous walking holidays, was occasionally seen shopping at the supermarket and lived in the same Berlin apartment as she did before taking the top job.

Named The World's Most Powerful Woman by Forbes magazine for the past 10 years in a row, Merkel steps down with a legacy of breaking through the glass ceiling of male dominance in politics although she also has faced criticism for not pushing harder for more gender equality.

Obama said that so many people, girls and boys, men and women, have had a role model who they could look up to through challenging times.

Former President George W. Bush, whose relationship with Merkel's predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, soured over the latter's opposition to the US-led war in Iraq, said that Angela came in and changed that completely.

Angela Merkel brought class and dignity to a very important position and made very hard decisions...and did so based upon principle, Bush told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle in July. He described her as a compassionate leader, a woman who was not afraid to lead.

Credit : Business Standard

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Barbados ditches Britain's Queen Elizabeth to become a republic

Barbados finally became free on November 30, 2021, when Queen Elizabeth II was removed as its head of state, marking the end of monarchy on the Caribbean island nation. Barbados remained a British colony for nearly four centuries ever since the English ships arrived at the Caribbean in 1625. Barbados gained independence from the United Kingdom in November 1966, centuries after the English settlers turned the island into a wealthy sugar colony thanks to the hard work of thousands of African November 30, and Sandra Mason, 72, lawyer, slaves. Since independence, the country has tried to revive its economy by moving away from agriculture to tourism and industry. The country of nearly 3 lakh people celebrated its 55th Independence Day on diplomat and the last governor-general, was sworn in as the new republic's first president.

Prince Charles' speech highlighted the continuing friendship of the two nations though he acknowledged the horrors of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

While Britain casts slavery as a sin of the past, some Barbadians are calling for compensation from Britain.

Activist David Denny celebrated the creation of the republic but said he opposes the visit by Prince Charles, noting the royal family for centuries benefited from the slave trade.

"Our movement would also like the royal family to pay a reparation," Denny said in an interview in Bridgetown.

The English initially used white British indentured servants to toil on the plantations of tobacco, cotton, indigo and sugar, but Barbados in just a few decades would become England's first truly profitable slave society.

Barbados received 600,000 enslaved Africans between 1627 and 1833, who were put to work in the sugar plantations, earning fortunes for the English owners.

More than 10 million Africans were shackled into the Atlantic slave trade by European nations between the 15th and 19th centuries. Those who survived the often brutal voyage, ended up toiling on plantations.

"I'm overjoyed," Ras Binghi, a Bridgetown cobbler, told Reuters ahead of the ceremony. Binghi said he would be saluting the new republic with a drink and a smoke.

Barbados will remain a republic within the Commonwealth, a grouping of 54 countries across Africa, Asia, the Americas and Europe.

Outside the lavish official ceremony, some Barbadians said they were uncertain what the transition to a republic even meant or why it mattered.

"They should leave Queen Elizabeth be - leave her as the boss. I don't understand why we need to be a republic," said Sean Williams, 45, standing in the shadow of an independence monument.

The last time the queen was removed as head of state was in 1992 when the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius proclaimed itself a republic.

Credit : Reuters

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What was agreed at the Glasgow climate conference?

COP26 was the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties, which took place in Glasgow, Scotland, from October 31 to November 12. Leaders from across the world came together and deliberated upon several issues, with setting an emission target for each country remaining the prominent topic. The summit called for a phasing down of coal-based power generation. It targeted global warming not to exceed 1.5 degrees C and got about 140 countries to announce target dates for bringing down emissions to net zero. India announced its net zero target by 2070 (net zero is a state in which a country's emissions are compensated by absorption and removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere) and also urged developed countries to deliver on their promise of climate financing. With the U.S. having rejoined the Paris Deal in 2021, it unveiled a surprise climate pact with China to accelerate climate action this decade.

The agreement pledged to significantly increase money to help poor countries cope with the effects of climate change and make the switch to clean energy.

There's also the prospect of a trillion dollar a year fund from 2025 - after a previous pledge for richer countries to provide $100bn (£72bn) a year by 2020 was missed.

While some observers say the COP26 agreement represented the "start of a breakthrough", some African and Latin American countries felt not enough progress was made.

World leaders agreed to phase-out subsidies that artificially lower the price of coal, oil, or natural gas.

However, no firm dates have been set.

The world's biggest CO2 emitters, the US and China, pledged to cooperate more over the next decade in areas including methane emissions and the switch to clean energy.

China has previously been reluctant to tackle domestic coal emissions - so this was seen as recognising the need for urgent action.

Financial organisations controlling $130tn agreed to back "clean" technology, such as renewable energy, and direct finance away from fossil fuel-burning industries.

The initiative is an attempt to involve private companies in meeting net zero targets.

However, some environmental organisations have said without a greater commitment to ending support for fossil-fuels, this could be little more than a PR exercise.

Credit : BBC

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Who is the 100th Prime Minister of Japan?

Fumio Kishida, former Japanese Foreign Minister, was elected as the nation's 100th prime minister on October 4. The 64 year old succeeded Yoshihide Suga, who was criticised for his inept handling of the pandemic Suga after being just a year in office refused to run for the leadership, thereby paving the way for Kishida to head the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). In the Japanese general election held on October 31, Kishida and the LDP along with its coalition partner Komeito, retained a majority government. Kishida has vowed to combat the spread of COVID-19, reduce the income gap worsened by the pandemic, cut emissions, promote science and innovation, and create a stronger Self-Defense Force to protect the country amid growing threats from China and North Korea.

A former Foreign Minister, Fumio Kishida (64) used to be known as a dovish moderate but turned hawkish apparently to win over influential conservatives in the party. He is firmly entrenched in the conservative establishment and his victory in the party election was a choice for continuity and stability over change.

All but two of 20 Cabinet posts under Mr. Suga will be replaced, 13 of them appointed to ministerial posts for the first time, Japanese media reported. Most of the posts went to powerful factions that voted for Mr. Kishida in the party election. Only three women are reportedly included, up from two in Mr. Suga’s government.

Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi are to be retained, ensuring continuity of Japan’s diplomacy and security policies as the country seeks to closely work with Washington under the bilateral security pact in the face of China’s rise and growing tensions in the region, including around Taiwan.

Mr. Kishida supports stronger Japan-U.S. security ties and partnerships with other like-minded democracies in Asia, Europe and Britain, in part to counter China and nuclear-armed North Korea. He is set to create a new Cabinet post aimed at tackling economic dimensions of Japan's national security, appointing 46-year-old Takayuki Kobayashi, who is relatively new to parliament.

Japan faces growing nuclear and missile threats from North Korea, which last month test-fired ballistic missiles capable of hitting targets in Japan. Kishida also faces worsening ties with fellow U.S. ally South Korea over history issues even after he struck a 2015 agreement with Seoul to resolve a row over the issue of women who were sexually abused by Japan's military during World War II.

An urgent task at home will be turning around his party’s sagging popularity, hurt by Mr. Suga’s perceived high-handedness on the pandemic and other issues. Mr. Kishida is expected to make a policy speech later this week before dissolving the lower house of Parliament ahead of the general election expected by mid-November.

He'll also have to ensure Japan's health care systems, vaccination campaign and other virus measures are ready for a possible resurgence of COVID-19 in winter, while gradually normalizing social and economic activity.

Mr. Kishida said last week that his top priority would be the economy. His “new capitalism” is largely a continuation of Mr. Abe’s economic policies. He aims to raise income of more people and create a cycle of growth and distribution.

A third-generation politician, Mr. Kishida was first elected to Parliament in 1993 representing Hiroshima and is an advocate for nuclear disarmament. He escorted former President Barack Obama during his 2016 visit to the city that, along with Nagasaki, was destroyed in U.S. atomic bombings in the closing days of World War II.

Credit : The Hindu

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What is the AUKUS partnership?

A trilateral security partnership called AUKUS was formed on September 15, to counter the influence of China in the Indo-Pacific region. Under the deal, jointly announced by U.S. President Joe Biden, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the U.S. and the U.K. pledged to help Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines for deployment in the region. A nuclear-powered submarine enables a navy to reach far out into the ocean and launch attacks. The deal upset China, which is getting increasingly aggressive in the Pacific region, especially in and around the South China Sea. In this context, it is significant to note that the U.S., Australia, India and Japan are also members of a strategic security dialogue known as "the Quad."

Under the Aukus pact, the US and UK will help Australia build at least eight nuclear-powered submarines, the first time that Washington and London will be sharing sensitive nuclear submarine technology with Canberra.

To begin the partnership, naval officials and technical specialists from the three countries will work together over the next 18 months to equip Australia with the technology to deploy nuclear-powered submarines. But given the complexity of the technology, Australia’s nuclear submarine fleet may not be operational until about 2040.

The biggest benefit of nuclear-powered submarines is that they are able to stay submerged longer, with enough fuel to theoretically run for years, which is an advantage in stealth attacks. Conventional submarines that use diesel-powered electric motors have to resurface regularly so that their batteries can be recharged, allowing them to be spotted more easily.

Just because submarines are nuclear-powered, it does not mean that they are carrying nuclear warheads. Nonetheless, the technology is sensitive because US and British submarine reactors use uranium that is enriched at 93 to 97 per cent, and anything above 90 per cent is considered “weapons-grade” uranium with potentially dangerous implications.

There are currently only six countries with nuclear-powered submarines – the US, Russia, China, the UK, France and India – with Australia set to become the seventh under the new pact. The US is the world leader in this area, with 68 nuclear-powered submarines, while Russia has 29 and China has 12, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a London-based research centre.

Credit : South China Morning Post

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When did the Taliban take over Kabul in 2021?

On August 15, the Taliban captured Kabul, capital of Afghanistan, soon after President Ashraf Ghani had fled the country for the UAE. The Islamic fundamentalist group seized power in Afghanistan just weeks before U.S., troops were set to exit the country. Afghanistan was under the Taliban control from 1996 to 2001, before the latter was driven out by U.S. troops as part of its campaign against terrorism following the 9/11 attacks. In 2020, former U.S. President Donald Trump had agreed to a deal with the Taliban to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan by May 1, 2021, and stuck to the pact by gradually reducing the troop levels.

Meanwhile, many regions came under attack by the Taliban. Though new President Joe Biden delayed that deadline, he eventually ordered the complete withdrawal of U.S. soldiers from the country by August 31. Ever since gaining power, the Taliban has re-imposed various restrictions on women such as barring them from most jobs and prohibiting them from travelling without a male escort. Fearing repression by the Taliban, thousands of Afghans surged near the Kabul airport to flee the country. On August 30, the U.S. withdrew its last remaining troops from Kabul, ending 20 years of operations in Afghanistan.

The number of civilians killed and injured in the conflict surged in the first six months of 2021 from attacks by both Taliban and Afghan government security forces, the latter primarily from  airstrikes. The ISKP carried out numerous attacks on civilian facilities, including schools and mosques, killing hundreds, most of them members of Afghanistan’s Hazara community. ISKP attacks continued after the Taliban takeover.

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court sought authorization to resume his investigation but stated he would focus on alleged crimes by the Taliban and ISKP, and deprioritize those committed by the US military and CIA and former Afghan government security forces.  

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