‘New beginning’: Khan brings hope of stronger ties with India

India has expressed cautious optimism about an improvement in the country’s relationship with Pakistan following Imran Khan’s rise to power. (AP/photo)
Updated 19 August 2018

‘New beginning’: Khan brings hope of stronger ties with India

  • Cautious optimism in India as Imran Khan becomes PM in Pakistan
  • Indian experts say stable government in Pakistan will determine the course of India-Pakistan relations

NEW DELHI: Indian foreign policy experts have expressed cautious optimism about an improvement in the country’s relationship with Pakistan following Imran Khan’s rise to power.

Former India ambassador to Pakistan TCA Raghavan said that if Pakistan’s new prime minister was able to provide stable government internally and address the nation’s numerous domestic issues, it “will create the basis for better relations with India.”

Raghavan, author of “The People Next Door: The Curious History of India-Pakistan Relations,” said: “It’s difficult to make predictions about India-Pakistan relations at any time. But in my view the internal situation in Pakistan has a great role to play in determining the course of the relationship.”

Sudheendra Kulkarni, a peace activist and adviser to the former prime minister Atal Behari Vajppayee, described Khan’s leadership as a “new beginning for Pakistan and the Indian subcontinent.”

“The past four years have been a wasted opportunity in taking the India-Pakistan relationship forward,” he said. “Nawaz Sharif was a leader with a thorough commitment to a better relationship with New Delhi, but the Narendra Modi regime could not sustain the initial hopes when it invited the leader of the Islamic republic to a swearing in ceremony in 2014.”

However, Kulkarni cautioned that “we should not expect marked improvement in relations in the next eight to nine months as India is going to have elections early next year.”

Professor Happymon Jacob, of the Center for International Politics, Organization and Disarmament at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, said: “I am positive about Imran Khan. If the Pakistan army and the political establishment are on board, and there is no difference between the two elites, then it becomes easier for India to navigate.

“Under Nawaz Sharif, both the elites were not on the same page regarding India. The present regime in Delhi will not reach out to Pakistan when elections in India are around the corner. If anything wrong goes so far as peace process is concerned, then it will have electoral ramifications. Any revival of peace talks will happen only after the elections.”

India’s leadership reached out to Khan after his election victory with the Ministry of External Affairs saying: “Prime Minister Narendra Modi expresses hope that democracy will take deeper roots in Pakistan and reiterates his vision of peace and development in the entire neighborhood.”

In his victory speech, Khan also said that “Pakistan is ready to improve its ties with India.”

He said that his government hoped the leaders of the two nations can resolve all disputes, including the core issue of Kashmir, through talks.

“If they take one step toward us, we will take two,” he said.

Meanwhile, India cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu, a guest at Khan’s swearing in on Saturday, has called for peace on the subcontinent.

“It’s in the interest of both countries that peace prevails. I have come to Pakistan despite all the criticism back home with a message of peace and friendship. We have the same culture, the same way of thinking and, therefore, it is important that we should have a strong bond.” 

Cuba ends medical exchange program with Brazil

In this Aug. 30, 2013 file photo, Cuban doctors observe a dental procedure during a a training session at a health clinic in Brasilia, Brazil. (AP)
Updated 41 min 5 sec ago

Cuba ends medical exchange program with Brazil

  • The Brazilian Ministry of Health said there were 8,332 Cuban doctors in Brazil, each costing the country roughly $3,100 a month, plus room and board
  • Bolsonaro said Brazil would offer asylum to Cuban doctors who wished to stay in Brazil

HAVANA: Cuba said Wednesday that it is ending a program that sent thousands of government doctors to underserved regions of Brazil in exchange for hundreds of millions in badly needed hard currency.
The end of the “Mas Medicos,” or “More Doctors,” program signals a sharp deterioration in relations between communist Cuba and Brazil, which just elected far-right presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro. He takes office Jan. 1.
Cuba made the announcement after Bolsonaro said the program overseen by the World Health Organization could only continue if doctors directly received their salaries from Brazil, and were able to bring their families with them during their assignments, among other conditions.
The Cuban government generally keeps most of the salaries of state employees working abroad as part of the socialist state’s “international missions.” Participants also are generally barred from bringing family members in a measure that critics say is designed to prevent doctors from emigrating.
“Mas Medicos” started five years ago under leftist President Dilma Rousseff. Cuba said roughly 20,000 doctors saw millions of patients in areas such as the Amazon rainforest and slums of major cities.
Cuba maintains similar missions in 67 other countries but “Mas Medicos” was one of the largest and most important, serving as a link between the cash-strapped island and South America’s largest economy.
“Cubans have provided a valuable service to the Brazilian people with dignity, deep sensitivity, professionality, dedication and altruism,” Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel wrote on Twitter. “Such humane acts should be respected and defended.”
All Cuban doctors work for the state and virtually all receive salaries that are well below $100 a month. Doctors are not permitted to leave Cuba without government permission, a control that was lifted for virtually all other Cubans five years ago.
Thousands of Cuban doctors work in the island’s public health-care system, which suffers from crumbling infrastructure but still provides free and universal health care to all citizens. Thousands of other Cuban doctors go abroad each year and generate billions of dollars for the state, one of Cuba’s most important sources of foreign exchange.
The doctors generally receive a fraction of the salary paid to the Cuban government. But even that fraction far exceeds the salaries of doctors working in Cuba. That drives many doctors to complete foreign missions in order to earn cash for important expenses like home repairs, appliances or a motor vehicle.
The Brazilian Ministry of Health said there were 8,332 Cuban doctors in Brazil, each costing the country roughly $3,100 a month, plus room and board.
Bolsonaro said Brazil would offer asylum to Cuban doctors who wished to stay in Brazil.
“This is slave labor,” he said. “We couldn’t be accomplices.”
Neither side said exactly when the Cuban doctors would be leaving but their departure comes at a bad time for Cuba, which is facing its third year of slow growth, expected to be around 1 percent this year. Productivity is low in virtually every state-run industry, tourism has slowed under the Trump administration and Venezuela, a key ally, has cut back on subsidized oil and other aid.
Nonetheless, Bolsonaro’s conditions were out of the question for Cuba.
“It’s not acceptable to question the dignity, professionalism and altruism of Cubans who, with the support of their families, provide services in 67 countries,” the Cuban health ministry said in a statement. “The Brazilian people will understand who bears the responsibility for the fact that our doctors can’t keep providing their support and solidarity in that nation.”