By Dr Jumma Khan Marri
With the pandemic year 2020 behind us, the people around the world now pin their hopes on the year 2021 opening a new chapter of peace, tranquillity and prosperity for all.
2020 proved an awfully turbulent year for the world. Many an earthshaking event occurring across the globe completely changed not only the course of history, but also the way people live and work. From a deadly corona pandemic to a global movement for racial justice, the year 2020 witnessed a fair share of many world-shifting developments, including the China-India standoff, the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict and recognition of Israel by some Arab countries.
The outbreak of the novel coronavirus, at the beginning of the year in China, soon spread rapidly throughout the world, bringing life virtually to a grinding halt with the global economy suffering a major impact of the pandemic. In order to contain the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and protect susceptible populations, most countries imposed stringent lockdown measures in the first half of 2020. As a result, economic activity contracted dramatically on a global scale.
According to the World Economic Forum, during May and June 2020, as many economies tentatively reopened from the Great Lockdown, the global economy began to climb from the depths to which it had plunged in April. But with the pandemic spreading and accelerating in places, many countries slowed reopening, and some reinstated partial lockdowns. While the swift recovery in China left the world guessing, the global economy’s long ascent back to pre-pandemic levels of activity remains prone to setbacks.
In the Middle East, the second half of 2020 saw an accelerated rate of normalisation of ties between Israel and some Arab states. The “Abraham Accords” were signed with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in August, Bahrain followed a month later, and Sudan’s transitional government announced normalisation of relations with Israel in October. Morocco has also agreed to a rapprochement with Israel in return for American recognition of the kingdom’s sovereignty over a long-disputed territory.
A massive explosion at a Beirut port on August 4, sparked by a mysterious detonation of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, killed at least 190 people and injured thousands of others. The incident heightened tension between Iran and Israel. Tehran believed that Israel played a major role in carrying out this massive blast.
As far as the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict is concerned, troops hoisted the Azerbaijani flag in the final district given up by Armenia under a peace deal that ended weeks of fighting over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. Armenia agreed to hand over the three districts—Agdam, Lachin and Kalbajar—as part of the November deal that stopped a conflict that had flared up between the two countries at the end of September.
The year also witnessed increased violence in India’s capital Delhi and Indian held Kashmir after a Hindu nationalist rampage was let loose by RSS extremists under Narendra Modi’s Hindutva rule.
Earlier in August 2019, India unilaterally revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status, redrew its internal boundaries and scrapped Kashmiris’ exclusive rights to immovable property and access to government jobs. To quell potential protests, the authorities ordered an unprecedented crackdown, which included detaining almost all local politicians and a months-long communications blackout.
Revocation of the Indian constitution’s Article 370, which gave Kashmir its autonomous status, had been on the Bharatiya Janata Party’s agenda for decades. Emboldened by its landslide win of a second term in May 2019, the government ordered the state’s overhaul soon afterward, without consulting Kashmiri politicians or society. The crackdown that followed New Delhi’s forcible annexation of the country’s only Muslim-majority state has failed to quell dissent as the region undergoes the biggest changes since India’s independence. The region is devoid of democratic oversight or local political representation. New Delhi’s actions have also heightened tensions with Pakistan. Islamabad characterises the Indian government’s moves in Kashmir as illegal and inhumane. China too has rejected India’s unilateral move.
In 2020, China-India relations remained tense and both the countries had skirmishes in the region of Ladakh. The 2020 border clashes were part of an ongoing military standoff between China and India. Since 5 May 2020, Chinese and Indian troops have engaged in aggressive melee, face-offs and skirmishes at locations along the Sino-Indian border, including near the disputed Pangong Lake in Ladakh and the Tibet Autonomous Region, and near the border between Sikkim and the Tibet Autonomous Region. More clashes also took place at locations in eastern Ladakh along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The clashes resulted in the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers (including an officer) and casualties of 43 Chinese soldiers.
Meanwhile, Europe witnessed a major development on Brexit as the negotiators from the European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom (UK) reached an agreement on a new partnership on 24 December 2020. This agreement set out the rules that will apply between the EU and the UK from 1 January 2021.
In America, Joe Biden became the 46th president of the United States on November 7, defeating President Trump with critical support from his birth state, Pennsylvania, which delivered the votes to propel him to victory and end one of the most contentious elections in recent memory.