MonitorsPublished on May 10, 2016
South Asia Weekly | Volume IX; Issue 19

< style="color: #0180b3;">ANALYSES

Afghanistan: President Ghani’s foreign policy shift

By Kriti M. Shah The Taliban suicide bomb and gun attack in Kabul on  April 19 has led to a major shift in Afghanistan’s foreign policy. The attack marked the beginning of the Taliban spring offensive and demonstrated the unwillingness of the group to join in peace talks with the Afghan government. In the days following the attack, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced that the Taliban would now be dealt with militarily and that Kabul would no longer be seeking Pakistan’s help to go forward with peace talks, but was instead asked to begin military operations against the insurgency group. Such a shift away from Pakistan may prove costly for the Ghani government. The Afghan government’s plan to defeat the Taliban on the battlefield, without Pakistan’s help will most likely be unsuccessful, given Pakistan’s intrinsic role in stabilising Afghanistan.  In addition to Pakistan’s unique role, any military operation against the Taliban depends heavily on the level of United States commitment.

Strongest push

The attack comes at a time when the Kabul government and the US have made their strongest push for peace with the Taliban. The Quadrilateral Coordination Group, which met in January 2016 to draft a roadmap to peace, hit a dead end with the Taliban rejecting peace and continuing their attacks against the government. Frustrated with Pakistan’s failure to bring the Taliban to the table for talks has caused Ghani to adopt the new military strategy. This is a significant change from Ghani’s earlier policy of reconciliation with the Taliban and soft diplomacy with Pakistan. Since becoming the president in 2014, Ghani has reached out to Pakistan, pleading with them to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table.

Pak hostility

The change in strategy was reflected in Ghani’s address to the joint session of the two houses of parliament where he lambasted Pakistan for its “state of hostility with Afghanistan” and said that the international community wanted Pakistani to abandon its distinction between terrorist groups and take strong action against the Taliban. Ghani threatened that if Pakistan failed to do so, Afghanistan would be left with little choice other than complaining to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Although when Ghani began his diplomatic outreach to Pakistan in 2014, he was severely criticised and questioned within Afghanistan, he stuck to his policy with the knowledge that Pakistan had a key role in ending the insurgency in his country and influencing the Taliban. Since then, despite Pakistan Foreign Affairs Advisor Sartaj Aziz admitting that Pakistan has certain influence over the group, Pakistan has been unsuccessful in its role within the QCG- to deliver the Taliban to the table. This, coupled with the Taliban offensive is the reason why Ghani has placed diplomacy in the back seat for the first time since taking office and has instead adopted the rationale that, if the Taliban are unwilling to make peace, let them have war. However, despite Pakistan’s failure to deliver the Taliban, altering the course of diplomacy with Pakistan is unwise. A military victory against the Taliban in Afghanistan, given the country’s current security and political situation, will not be possible without Pakistan’s help in securing its borders and going after the financial assets of insurgency groups. With the Taliban leadership council or Quetta Shura living in Pakistan, any diplomatic or military solution to neutralise the Taliban will only be effective with Pakistan cooperation. Any form of strained relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan will only result in increased Taliban offensives, as the group exploits the situation. Ghani must therefore not forget the reasons behind his diplomatic approach to Pakistan and remember Pakistan’s cooperation is vital towards any sort of stability in his country.

Changing old ways

As Ghani attempts to pressure Pakistan to change its old ways and internationalise the issue if Pakistan fails to comply, a diplomatic isolation of Pakistan is likely to be ineffective in changing the country’s foreign policy towards Afghanistan, especially without US support. While attacking Pakistan may win him favour within the Afghan parliament, countries such as the China and China are unlikely to exert the same pressure on Pakistan. In addition, the Afghan National Security Forces continue to suffer from persistent challenges and shortfalls that hamper their military operations. While the US troops continue to assist, advise and train the Afghan forces much remains to be done to address gaps in the forces’ capabilities. The December 2015 US Department of Defence report on ‘Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan’ stated that “significant obstacles in areas such as providing organic aerial fires and logistics and maintenance will require several more years of intensive advisory efforts, human capital development and considerable investment”. The US, war weary after fighting in Afghanistan for over fourteen years are looking for a quick exit strategy and will decide later in the year whether to follow through on Barack Obama’s plan to reduce US troops in the country to 5,500 by January 2017. A decline in US troops in Afghanistan will greatly hamper any military operation against the Taliban.

New US strategy?

Ashraf Ghani should therefore focus on building and strengthening the Afghan security forces while the US is still present in the country. The incoming US president may alter the Afghan war strategy significantly, cutting down on troops and foreign aid. Ghani should therefore make use of the time the US is present and focus resources on strengthening the country’s security infrastructure. While maintaining a cordial relationship with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the Kabul government should utilise international conferences and institutions such as the upcoming Brussels Conference on Afghanistan and NATO Warsaw Summit to build regional support and attract funding. A weak and divided central government and a badly trained and equipped military are reasons why Ashraf Ghani should take a step back and re-think his policy, before its too late. The author is a Research Assistant at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

Bangladesh: Diaspora and threat of radicalism

Poster of the Bangladesh resistance movement. Poster of the Bangladesh resistance movement By Joyeeta Bhattacharjee The arrest of eight suspected Bangladeshi members of the ISIS is a cause for concern for the stability and peace of not only Bangladesh, but also the South Asian region.  This development calls for a serious discussion both inside Bangladesh and  globally to find a solution. The eight Bangladeshis were working in Singapore. They were arrested on charges of planning attacks in Bangladesh to topple the present government. The group formed an organisation called Islamic State in Bangladesh. Initially, they wanted to travel to Syria to join the IS as foreign fighters. However, due to difficulty in travelling to Syria, they wanted to return home and topple the government by violent means and establish caliphate there.  These suspected IS activists had come to Singapore to work there and they were not radicalised when they arrived in Singapore.  The transformation of these people have raised questions of the role of diasporas in the growth of radicalism in Bangladesh.

Substantial influence

The large Bangladeshis diaspora abroad commands substantial influence in the society at home. The remittances sent by the people working abroad are a big source of revenue for the country which has helped significantly in the growth of the country. The Diaspora in the Middle East is reported to have played a major role in the spread of Wahabism in the country. Now the links between diaspora and radicalism has become a concern for the country. There have been various instances where members of the diaspora were arrested for spreading radicalism in the country.  The government of Bangladesh has taken several measures to check militancy, but these steps have failed to have the desired result.  The financing and spreading of radical ideology have become a key challenge for the government. Considering the geographical location of the nation, which stands between South Asia and East Asia, a surge in radicalism in Bangladesh will have ramifications for the next door India and the rest of the world. The country will not only be a transit to India  for  organisations like Pakistan based  Lashkar-eToiba or international organisations like IS and Alqaeda which are looking for a foothold in the region, but also a transit for terror across the world. The government has been seeking international support to deal with rising tide of Islam and urging the countries like United Kingdom(UK) to take steps to control radicalism by controlling finances etc. The government claims  that Diaspora in countries like UK often has been involved in financing militancy. Bangladesh has made significant economic and social progress.  The country which was once described by US statesman Kissinger as a basket case is today one of the fastest growing economy. It has maintained a six percent growth for more than a decade. This kind of situation, however, is not unique to Bangladesh only. Many countries across the globe are facing a similar problem. A greater cooperation among the countries across the world might help find a solution to this important issue. The author is a Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

< style="color: #0180b3;">COUNTRY REPORTS

< style="color: #0180b3;">Afghanistan

New poppy crop helps Taliban

The 2016 poppy-harvesting season in Afghanistan’s Helmand province has produced strong yields, according to a report in the New York Times that surveys Helmand’s opium harvest that began in late March and early April and is now drawing to a close. As a result, the Taliban has an inflow of cash and a pool of nearly 15,000 jobless, young men to recruit to join their ranks at the conclusion of Helmand’s harvest season. For more information, see: Bountiful Afghan Opium Harvest Yields Profits for the Taliban

Concerns over war-plan

According to Tolo News, military officials and provincial leaders in Afghanistan’s Helmand province are concerned over the lack of direction and war-plan implementation from President Ashraf Ghani. Karim Attal, a Helmand provincial council leader, said, “The President is different in action and speech and he is not putting his words into practice and it means he is kicking dust in people’s eyes.” Helmand is one of Afghanistan’s most contested provinces, as the Taliban reportedly control multiple districts throughout. For more information, see: Ghani’s War Orders Not Being Implemented: Helmand Officials

Over-run by Taliban

Last week, dozens of police checkpoints along the 160-km long highway that runs between Tarin Kot in Uruzgan and Kandahar were overrun by the Taliban, prompting claims that their loss was a deliberate action by Rahimullah Khan, the Uruzgan deputy police chief. For more information, see: Fall of Afghan highway reveals virulent power struggle

< style="color: #0180b3;">Bangladesh 

Six killed in poll violence

Violence in the fourth phase of union council elections has claimed six lives, and scores injured taking the death-toll since the first phase on 11 February to 70. However, the Election Commission said that incidence of poll violence and fraud has come down this time. For more information, see: Violence over Union Parishad polls continues

Threat to kill

An unnamed professor of Dhaka University has been provided police protection after social media threats to kill him, over reports of his asking a female student to remove her veil. For more information, see: “Open campaign to kill Bangladesh professor”, The Daily Star, 8 May 2016; “A Bangladeshi-American in the White House”, Dhaka Tribune, 7 May 2016

VVIP pay-hike

Parliament has passed through voice-vote pay and perks increases for the President and Prime Minister, to Tk 120,000 and 115,000 respectively. The pay-rise would have retrospective effect from 1 July 2015. For more information, see: Bangladesh raises president, prime minister’s pay, perks

< style="color: #0180b3;">Bhutan

BBIN pact hits roadblock

The government’s fight for ratification of the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) motor vehicle agreement will hit a major roadblock in the upcoming Parliament session. Days after Opposition Leader Dr. Pema Gyamtsho spoke against the sub-regional transport agreement in a meeting with local leaders in Gelephu, transport operators reiterated that it will do more harm than good, at a meeting in Thimphu on May 4. For more information, see: BBIN motor vehicle agreement faces roadblock

MPs discuss growth goals

Parliamentarians discussed their roles in Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in a workshop organised by UNDP in the national capital. The Parliament has a major role of giving impetus towards domestication, implementation and monitoring when it comes to SDGs. For more information, see: Parliamentarians discuss their role on SDG

Teacher up-gradation

The government reiterated its will to focus on professional development of teachers in the country. This was the message the Prime Minister, Tshering Tobgay conveyed as the Nation celebrated Teachers’ Day, on May 2. For more information, see: Government to focus on professional development of teachers

< style="color: #0180b3;">India

Congress puts up united fight

In a show of strength a combative Congress led by Sonia Gandhi, courted arrest. The party charged Narendra Modi with “pursuing a strategy” to “destroy the Congress,” for not doing enough to help people in the drought-hit parts of the country and for the “murder of democracy”. For more information, see: Congress puts up a united fight

One-man govt: Shourie            

Bracketing Narendra Modi with leaders like Indira Gandhi and Jayalalithaa, former BJP Minister, Arun Shourie hit out at the Prime Minister accusing him of “narcissism” and of running a one-man “presidential government”. He added that “the direction of the government under his supervision “is not good for India”. For more information, see: Modi running one-man Presidential government, says Shourie

Diesel ban adds to woes

The Supreme Court’s ban on vehicles having engines above 2,000 cc, followed by the ban on taxis operating on diesel, has hit the automobile sector hard. An estimated Rs 5,000 crore was invested in building diesel engine capacity when demand picked up between 2009 and 2013. Now, however, diesel’s future looks dim. For more information, see: Diesel ban adds to auto firms' woes in troubled times

Scorpene takes to sea

‘Kalvari’, the first of the Scorpene class submarines built at the Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Ltd Mumbai (MDL), went to sea for the first time on Sunday. The submarine returned to harbour after having undergone the standard operating procedures. For more information, see: Scorpene takes to water but India needs more submarines quickly

Chinese dissident at Dharamsala

The government on Thursday asserted that the controversial China conference in Dharamsala held last week was "no conference" at all. Meanwhile, Han Zheng, member of politburo of the Communist Party of China and party secretary of Shanghai, started a five-day official visit to India, beginning with a meeting with PM Narendra Modi on Thursday, highlighting the importance India is giving to his visit. For more information, see: After dissidents, India hosts Chinese leader

Probe into Rafale deal

As the BJP and the Congress lock horns over the Agusta Westland chopper deal, the Narendra Modi government has decided to up the ante by initiating investigation into all the defence deals finalised by the previous UPA government, including the high-profile Rafale jets. For more information, see: Even as Agusta fire rages, government puts UPA's Rafale deal under scanner

< style="color: #0180b3;">Maldives 

Nasheed’s leave extended

After reviewing the supporting documents submitted on behalf of jailed former President Mohammed Nasheed, the prisons authorities have extended his medical leave till 18 May and revoked the earlier decision in the matter. This, even as President Abdulla Yameen continued to be critical of international pressure for immediate release of ‘political prisoners’ and also domestic sanctions for international sanctions in this regard. For more information, see: “Nasheed’s medical leave extended”, Maldives Independent, 5 May 2016; “Democracy or money? Excerpts from Yameen’s May 2 speech”, Maldives Independent, 5 May 2016; “Age-limits, clemency and tuna: excerpts from Yameen’s May 3 speech”, Maldives Independent, 5 May 2016; “Defense Minister: President unrivaled in political field”, Maldives Independent, 6 May 2016; “Civil society groups call for inquiry into police’s blocking of May Day rally”, Maldives Independent, 6 May 2016

Gayoom honoured

The Royal Institute of Singapore has honoured former Maldives President, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and made him a ‘honorary fellow’. Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) Deputy Leader Aishath Raffiyya also made history by becoming the first Maldivian to be conferred Fellow of Royal Institute. For more information, see: Maumoon elected Honorary Fellow of Royal Institute”, SunOnline, May 7, 2016

< style="color: #0180b3;">Myanmar 

President proposes new ministry

President U Htin Kyaw proposed the formation of a ministry for the state counsellor in a message sent to the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw on May 5.The proposal is intended to speed up the government’s efforts at national reconciliation, internal peace, national development and the rule of law, the president has said in the message. For more information, see: New ministry proposed for state counsellor and New State Counselor Ministry Proposed for Suu Kyi

Protestors decry restart of copper mine

Villagers assembled in protest at the Letpadaung copper mine in Sagaing Region on May 4 and 5 alleging that the government has failed to prevent the internationally crticised project from restarting. Wanbao Mining Company, which is jointly operating the mine along with military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd, had officially announced that operations would resume on May 5. For more information, see: Protesters decry restart to Letpadaung copper mine as police phalanx builds

Fire in camp destroy Rohingya shelter

A fire tore through a camp for displaced Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State on May 3, destroying 55 shelters and rendering 2,291 camp residents homeless. The fire broke out around 9 am at Baw Du Pha 2 Camp, which is one of the largest camps and home to nearly 7,000 Muslims. For more information, see: Fire in Rohingya camp leaves hundreds without shelter

< style="color: #0180b3;">Nepal

International airport at Nijgadh

The government has decided to construct the second international airport at Nijgadh using funds from the state coffers. A cabinet meeting held at Baluwatar on May 5 took the decision to this effect. The meeting also decided to begin land acquisition process for the construction of the second international airport at Nijgadh, informed Minister for Industry Som Prasad Pandey. For more information, see: Govt decides to construct Nijgadh int'l airport using public funds

Maoists to back govt

The two major ruling coalition partners -- CPN-UML and UCPN (Maoist) -- reached a nine-point agreement May 5 night after the Maoist party decided continue support to Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli’s government. The two have signed an agreement to take initiatives to form a national consensus government with the objective of creating favorable environment to implement the constitution and for socio-economic transformation. For more information, see: Oli, Dahal sign 9-pt deal and UML manages to keep coalition intact

LPG deficit huge

Gas bottlers have said the country still faces a shortfall of 55,000 tonnes of cooking gas as a result of the four-and-half-month-long India’s trade embargo which ended in the first week of February. The traders also said weak government monitoring and retailers taking distributorship of several LPG brands resulted in the shortage. For more information, see: Country faces shortfall of ‘55,000 tonnes’ of cooking gas

< style="color: #0180b3;">Pakistan

US asks Pak to fund F-16 purchase

The United States has asked Pakistan to pay for the eight F-16 fighter jets it wants to purchase from them. While the earlier deal was that Pakistan would pay $270 million from its national funds and the US would cover the rest of the cost, a congressional hearing of US law makers on 3 May announced that they would not allow Barack Obama to use US funds for the deal. The latest announcement practically kills the deal and Pakistan may find it difficult to buy the planes at two and a half times more than the agreed price. For more information, see: US asks Pakistan to pay for F-16s

Death for 11 Talibans

Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen. Raheel Sharif on 2 May approved the death sentences for 11 Taliban militants who, according to an Army statement, were convicted of crimes such as terrorism, kidnappings, attacks on civilians and assaults on police and army officers. Pakistani laws require the COAS’s approval for all death sentences given to those tried in military courts. The date of the executions for the 11 Taliban members is yet to be determined, and the convicted individuals are allowed to appeal the COAS’s decision For more information, see: Pakistani army chief confirms death sentences for 11 Taliban $ 4.2-b pact with China Pakistan and China agreed to $4.2 billion worth of financing for two road projects along the eastern portion of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) during planning, development, and reform minister Ahsan Iqbal’s visit to China last week. To date, the CPEC investment package totals $46 billion, with $11.5 billion allocated to road and railway development. For more information, see: Pakistan, China ink agreements worth $4.2b Death for teenage girl A 15-member jirga, a decision-making body composed of elders, in Pakistan’s Abbottabad district ordered the death of a 16 year-old, Amber, who helped a friend escape from their village of Makol so as to marry someone of her own choice. After a six-hour jirga on 28 April, Amber was forcibly taken from her home, drugged, and killed. Her remains were found in a torched van in Donga Gali on 6 May. For more information, see: Pakistan elders ‘ordered girl’s killing’ in Abottabad

< style="color: #0180b3;">Sri Lanka 

No LTTE threats: PM

Seeking to end speculation in the light of arrests leading from the ‘Chavakachcheri weapons haul’, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has declared that the threat of LTTE’s revival did not exist anymore. This, even as the Government downsized security for former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, leading to fisticuffs in Parliament. For more information, see: “PM: LTTE threat no longer exists”, The Island, 4 May 2016; “Govt. probing detained Tigers trying to form new terror group – PM Announces new anti-terrorism laws on the lines of UK”, The Island, 1 May 2016; “Another ex-Tiger arrested”, The Island, 2 May 2016; “Chava explosives: Key suspects flee to India, MP Sumanthiran says Sivakaran, Sasitharan suspended in the run-up to last prez polls”, The Island, 2 May 2016; “MR’s military security replaced with police personnel”, Daily Mirror Online, 2 May 2016; “Reconsider MR's security withdrawal: Joint Opp.”, Daily Mirror Online, 2 May 2016; “Removal of army commandos, decision of National Security Council – UPFA Gen. Secy.”, The Island, 5 May 2016; “MR’s security issue plunges House into chaos”, The Island, 3 May 2016; “Rajapaksa faction could not stomach Fonseka speaking on their leader’s security – Govt. Fisticuffs in Parliament”, The Island, 4 May 2016; “Attempt to kill Gotabhaya: Trial fixed for June 27”, The Island, 4 May 2016; “Govt. must react to NPC resolution:JHU”, Daily Mirror Online, 5 May 2016

< style="color: #0180b3;">PRIMARY DOCUMENTATION

< style="color: #0180b3;">Bhutan

Press Releases

Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay visited the JICA Office, Cabinet Secretariat, May 3, 2016

< style="color: #0180b3;">Myanmar

Press Releases

President, JPN FM hold talks over founding of Japan-Myanmar Joint Initiative, Office of the President,  May 4, 2016

< style="color: #0180b3;">Nepal

Press Releases

Press Release on Cars Handover CeremonyMinistry of Foreign Affairs Nepal, May 4, 2016 Press Release on the visit of the UN Deputy Secretary-GeneralMinistry of Foreign Affairs Nepal, April 30, 2016

< style="color: #0180b3;">BIBLIOGRAPHY

< style="color: #0180b3;">Afghanistan

Opinion Pieces

Tim Craig, Despite billions in US funding, Afghan forces have a problem with boots, The Washington Post, May 5, 2016 Raoof Hasan, Pakistan’s Afghan challengeThe News International, May 6, 2016 John Sifton, Pentagon hospital attack report falls short, CNN, May 4, 2016

< style="color: #0180b3;">Bangladesh

Opinion Pieces

Milia Ali, “The age of intolerance”, The Daily Star, May 8, 2016 Subir Bhaumik, “India’s confusing signals to neighbours”, bdnews24, May 7, 2016 Mahmood Hasan, “Shadow of Pathankot killings hang over Delhi and Islamabad”, The Daily Star, May 8, 2016 Faruk Wasif, “One-eyed world of the civil war roadmap”, Dhaka Tribune, May 5, 2016 M. A. Taslim, “Much ado about growth forecasts”, bdnews24, May 4, 2016

< style="color: #0180b3;">Bhutan


Kuensel, Honouring our lopens, Kuensel, May 4, 2016 Kuensel, World Press Freedom Day, Kuensel, May 5, 2016

< style="color: #0180b3;">India

Opinion Pieces

T. N. Ninan, The urge to control, Business Standard, May 7, 2016 Aditi Phadnis, Being Ahmad Patel, Business Standard, May 7, 2016 Shekhar Gupta, Guns, thieves & ghosts, Business Standard, May 7, 2016 C Raja Mohan, Raja-Mandala: Delhi and Donald Trump, The Indian Express, 3 May 2016 Abhijit Singh, India's Maritime Stakes in the South Asian Littoral, The National Bureau of Asian Research, May 3, 2016

< style="color: #0180b3;">Maldives

Opinion Pieces

Hassan Mohamed, Mohamed Saif Fathih, Zaheena Rasheed and Xiena Saeed, “Locked Up: 13 writers whose words were held against them”, Maldives Independent, May 3, 2016 N. Sathiya Moorthy, “India and Maldives: A make or break visit”, South Asia Monitor, April 9,2016

< style="color: #0180b3;">Myanmar

Mizzima, Education, heritage, culture and media – Mizzima talks to UNESCO, Mizzima, May 6, 2016 Edith Mirante, A Tale of Two Mega-Dams: Burma and Borneo, The Irrawaddy, May 3, 2016

< style="color: #0180b3;">Nepal

Opinion Pieces

Mukesh Jha, Where are the rights?The Kathmandu Post, May 6, 2016 Ayush Joshi and Bijay Jha, Art of friendshipRepublica, May 4, 2016

< style="color: #0180b3;">Pakistan

Opinion Pieces

Khurram Hussain, Memories of F-16s, Dawn, May 5, 2016 Rafia Zakaria, “After Saudi Arabia”, Dawn, May 4, 2016

< style="color: #0180b3;">Sri Lanka

Opinion Pieces

Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, “Reconciliation and Unity: Warnings”, Daily Mirror Online, May 4, 2016 Gomin Dayasri, “Pre-war, post-war period need two mind-sets”, Daily Mirror Online, May 4, 2015 C. A. Chandraprema, “Politics of the May Day turnout”, The Island, May 3, 2016 Jehan Perera, “Accountability of the past is part of accountability of the present and future”, The Island, May 3, 2016 N. Sathiya Moorthy, “India and the return of the ‘federal’ word”, ORF, May 2, 2016 N. Sathiya Moorthy, “Toppling talk all over again”, The Sunday Leader, May 1, 2016

< style="color: #0180b3;">Contributors:

Afghanistan and Pakistan: Kriti M. Shah Bangladesh: Dr. Joyeeta Bhattacharjee Bhutan and Myanmar: Mihir Bhonsale India: Shubh Soni and Pushan Das Maldives and Sri Lanka: N. Sathiya Moorthy Nepal: Dr. Anasua Basu Ray Chaudhury and Sreeparna Banerjee  
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