Pakistan cannot be a strategic US ally: Experts

Ambassador (retd) Abdul Basit flanked by PTI lawmaker Dr. Shireen Mazari and Major General (retd) Hafiz Masroor Ahmed speak at a seminar, “United States’ South Asia Policy: Challenges for Pakistan,” here in Islamabad. (AN photo)
Updated 19 March 2018
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Pakistan cannot be a strategic US ally: Experts

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan cannot be a strategic ally of the US as the latter’s interests in South Asia contradict Pakistan’s national interests, defense and security experts said on Monday at a seminar in Islamabad organized by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI).
Pakistan’s relationship with the US is transactional, and Islamabad mistook it as strategic, said Abdul Basit, president of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute.
US interests in South Asia “are totally in contradiction to the national interests of Pakistan,” and “we don’t have any foreign policy to deal with the challenges,” he added.
A lack of convergence of interests, and of economic cooperation, are the major contributing factors to the relationship’s poor history, he said.
“We need to formulate proactive diplomacy and behave as a mature nation instead of just reacting to international developments,” he said. “During the last four years, we have lost our space in US diplomacy.”
Dr. Shireen Mazari, a lawmaker with Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and director general of the Strategic Studies Institute Islamabad, said Pakistan miscalculated its relationship with the US.
“Pakistan has been acting against its own interests in the region just to serve the US, and this should come to an end now,” she said.
The rise of India as a regional power, the isolation of Iran and the containment of China are the major US interests in South Asia, she added.
“Our national interests did not converge with the interests of the US,” Mazari said, adding that America can never be a natural strategic ally to Pakistan.
Security analyst Imtiaz Gul said the relationship remains hostage to fundamental differences. “Pakistan needs to work out some fundamental changes in its foreign policy to normalize relations with the US,” he added.
Pakistan should capitalize on its geostrategic importance and redefine its relationship with the US and India for regional peace and stability, he said.
Hafiz Masroor Ahmed, vice president of the Center for Global and Strategic Studies, said Indian influence in Afghanistan poses a danger to Pakistan.
Islamabad should not be a hostage to US interests in the region, as peace talks in Afghanistan with the Taliban were sabotaged by Washington, he added. “All our institutions should formulate a joint strategy to deal with the US,” he said.
Shakeel Ahmad, director of research uptake and business development at the SDPI, said the Trump administration “has brought a mix of change and continuity in the country’s foreign and security policies, including those in South Asia, and we need to understand that for a better relationship.”


India launches world’s biggest health care scheme, dubbed as ‘Modicare’ 

Updated 11 min 38 sec ago
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India launches world’s biggest health care scheme, dubbed as ‘Modicare’ 

  •  “Modicare” plans to provide around $7,000 of medical coverage to half a billion people
  • The program has been launched in 400 districts out of 640 in India

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched a mega health care scheme, touted as the world’s biggest public health scheme, on Sunday in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand. 

The National Health Protection Scheme, popularly known as “Modicare,” plans to provide around $7,000 of medical coverage to 100 million families or 500 million people, accounting for around 41 percent of people who fall below the poverty line.

 “The aim is to provide medical care to the people standing at the very margin of society. It has been a dream to provide health care to the needy and that dream is coming true today,” Modi said in a speech after inaugurating the scheme.

 “This is the first time in the world that a health care program is being launched where an individual will have an insurance cover of 5 lakh rupees ($7,000).”

The program has been launched in 400 districts out of 640 in India.

The intervention is meant to take the burden off the government hospitals and bring the expensive private hospitals within the reach of poor people.

For Ganesh Yadav, a daily wage earner, the “Ayushman Bharat Yojna,” as the program is officially called, is “a good move by the government if it really works.

 “Last year I spent more than 50,000 rupees ($720) in getting a kidney stone removed in a private hospital and I am still struggling to pay back the debt that I incurred. If the Modicare really works then poor people like me will not have to worry about the expenses in health care,” said Yadav, who lives in Noida, a satellite town of Delhi.

But one doctor raises doubts about the success of the program.

“An earlier health scheme also had the provision for insurance cover but the out-of-cost expenses of the poor people could not come down. There is a lack of clarity on this issue in the new scheme as well,” says Dr. Shakil, a cardiologist based in Patna, the capital of the eastern Indian state of Bihar.
 
Talking to Arab News, he asks: “How will you identify the real beneficiaries? Besides, the scheme will not build public health infrastructure but give benefit to the private players, which I think is the real drawback of this policy.
 
“The government is in a hurry to launch the scheme and not many preparations have gone into it before inaugurating it.”

Economist Venkat Narayana questions the budgetary provisions for the scheme. “Under the scheme 60 percent of expenses would be borne by the central government and 40 percent by the state government. But the poorer states cannot afford the huge sums involved in the expenditure,” says Narayana, who also runs NGOs for poor people in Warangal district in the South Indian state of Telangana.

“My experience suggests that such a program does not address the real health care needs of the people living in villages and smaller cities. The money that the government plans to spend on insurance can be spent in expanding and enriching the medical infrastructure across the country.”

But Nirala, a political activist associated with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, feels that “this is a visionary intervention in the health care system of the country.

“Modi has tried to address the gap that exists in medical system of the country by bringing private hospitals within the reach of the poor masses,” he told Arab News.

Political analyst Pawan Pratyay, however, feels that Prime Minister Modi "has played a big political gamble in the election year by launching this attractive looking and sounding health care policy.

“The government has been cutting the health budget year after year. By bringing this pro-poor scheme Modi wants to change the pro-rich image that he has acquired over the years and attract the voters from the economically marginalized demography.”