Current Affairs 23rd August

Afghan Sikhs, Hindus among 392 airlifted from Kabul #GS2 #IR

India on Sunday airlifted 392 persons from Kabul in an operation that covered Indian citizens as well as Afghan nationals, including Sikhs and Hindus. Those airlifted were flown in on three aircraft, including a heavy lift C-17. Air India and Indigo operated two flights via Tajikistan and Qatar. The evacuation operation is expected to continue over the coming days.

Apart from workers and engineers employed at various India-backed projects, the evacuees included an infant, Iknoor Singh, the youngest to be airlifted from Kabul so far. A number of workers from Darjeeling, who were stuck in Afghanistan, were also among those evacuated. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had earlier urged the Centre for help in bringing them back.

The Hindu has learnt that the largescale evacuation was facilitated by a small multi-agency Indian team, now based in Kabul airport. The cell has taken charge days after Government of India evacuated its India-based staff from the Embassy in Kabul. The Ministry of External Affairs has not yet commented on this development. Initial reports suggested that the team consists of seven officials from different sections of the government and is led by Indian diplomats at the U.S.-controlled airport.

MP among evacuees

Among those evacuated was Narender Pal Singh Khalsa, a member of Afghanistan’s Parliament, who said the Taliban have been undependable since they took over Kabul. “They came to my office on Saturday and took away my computers, official vehicles and other personal vehicles. They said they were there to take away my official car that was given to me as MP but ultimately took away many personal items, including three watches,” he said, adding that there are a large number of Pakistanis among the fighters.

“Those who came to my house could not speak Farsi and spoke in Urdu. There were some who spoke a language that I could not even understand. It’s quite clear that they were either from Pakistan or some other country,” Mr. Khalsa said.

Petrol, diesel prices cut by 20 paise #GS3 #Economy

Petrol and diesel prices were cut by 20 paise a litre on Sunday. It was the first reduction in petrol rate in over a month, and the fourth in case of diesel in less than a week. The petrol price in Delhi was cut to Rs. 101.64 a litre and diesel to Rs. 89.07, according to a price notification of State-run oil companies.

The reduction came as international oil prices tumbled to their lowest level since May, after the U.S. Federal Reserve signalled it was set to start tapering asset purchases within months, hurting commodities and lifting the dollar.

The price cut in diesel is the fourth since August 18, when the reduction cycle began. All four reductions have been of 20 paise per litre each.

On the previous three occasions when diesel rates were cut, petrol prices remained unchanged. Sunday’s cut in petrol price came after 36 days of status quo in rates. Petrol and diesel prices were last hiked on July 17. The freeze in rate revision coincided with the Parliament session, where the Opposition parties tried to corner the government on various issues, including the hike in fuel prices.

Drug abuse on rise, will have huge consequences: HC #GS3 #Security

The Delhi High Court has observed that the menace of drug abuse was on the rise in the country and its consequences “can be experienced across the board from causing economic issues to societal disintegration”.

Justice Subramonium Prasad made the remarks while declining the bail plea of a Nepal national who was caught with 475 g of charas here.

“The harmful effects of drugs on an individual and on the society have been researched extensively and are well known… The purpose of enacting the NDPS [Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances] Act was to curb this menace,” Justice Prasad said.

The High Court also noted that the accused, Madan Lama, being a citizen of Nepal, has no roots in society and can be considered a potential flight-risk. “Thus, he satisfies the factor that there exists the danger of him absconding or fleeing from justice, if released on bail,” the court said, adding, “Furthermore, if the petitioner [Mr Lama] is released on bail, it cannot be ruled out that he will not indulge in such activities again.”.

On December 18, 2020, secretly provided information was received by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) that one Nepali national of small built wearing yellow-coloured clothes would be near Gate no.1 of the city’s Kailash Colony metro station, between 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., and that he might be carrying narcotic drugs for delivery to his client.

India signs deal for 70,000 assault rifles #GS3 #Defence

With repeated delays in deals for the procurement of AK-203 assault rifles and Kamov-226 utility helicopters from Russia, India has signed a deal for 70,000 AK-203 assault rifles to be procured off the shelf, while the Army is also looking at procuring a limited number of helicopters the same way to meet an immediate shortage of light utility helicopters. Meanwhile, Russia has carried out upgrades of the Ka-226T helicopter on offer, according to officials.

“The deal for the 70,000 rifles has been signed, but the first payment is yet to be made. The deliveries would begin within three months once the first payment is made and be completed in six months,” officials from India and Russia confirmed. On the Ka-226T “Climber”, as the upgraded version is referred to, an official from Russian Helicopters said the redesigned helicopter had improved flight and technical characteristics.

The Army is looking at procuring over 7.5 lakh AK-203 rifles and the two countries had signed an Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) in February 2019, following which a joint venture (JV) — Indo-Russian Rifles Private Limited (IRRPL) — was set up at Korwa in Uttar Pradesh for manufacturing the rifles.

The JV is between the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) from the Indian side and Rosoboron Exports and Kalashnikov on the Russian side. The Army had also appointed a Major General as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of IRRPL to ensure timely execution and deliveries.

The Defence Ministry had already floated a Request For Proposal (RFP) to the JV for the supply of 6.71 lakh rifles, but the final deal had been held up over the high cost quoted.

There are two major changes in the Ka-226T helicopter, which include a change in the hull from composites to aluminium and a change in avionics, apart from several minor upgrades, said Vasily Grydin, deputy head of the commercial department, Ulan-Ude Aviation plant of Russian Helicopters, at the Army 2021 expo that began on Sunday.

In 2015, India and Russia had concluded an IGA for at least 200 Ka-226T twin-engine utility helicopters estimated to cost over $1 billion.

Sixty helicopters were to be directly imported and the remaining 140 manufactured locally by a JV, India Russia Helicopters Limited, set up between Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and Russian Helicopters. However, the deal had been held up over the percentage of indigenous content, which as per the RFP, should reach 70% in phases.

Fourth evacuation from Kabul since 1992, but in different international climate #GS2 #IR

The evacuation of Indian Embassy personnel, including Ambassador Rudrendra Tandon, from Kabul is the fourth time India had to pull out all its diplomats from Afghanistan, but what has changed considerably now is how world players have dealt with the Taliban, say diplomats who recall the strong stand taken by the United Nations and various governments in the 1990s.

In 1993, India decided to close the mission in Kabul after a rocket attack on the Chancery building killed an Indian security guard. Significantly, the Indian security official was killed when rockets were fired on Kabul by Hizb-e-Islami forces commanded by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who is now one of the coordinating council members negotiating with the new Taliban regime.

The mission staff, led by Ambassador Arif Qamarain, who had only been appointed two months before that, were driven in three buses to the Uzbek border town of Termez and flown out from Tashkent, after a joint decision by the heads of the Indian, Chinese, Turkish, Pakistani and Indonesian missions in Kabul that the situation was too volatile to stay.

Hamid Ansari’s tenure

His predecessor Ambassador Vijay Nambiar had been flown out of Mazar-e-Sharif with the help of Gen. Rashid Dostum in 1992, with the IAF operating two AN-32 aircraft that also flew out the Ambassadors of ASEAN countries and others. At the time, the Kabul Air Traffic Control had been destroyed by the Taliban, wielding U.S.-supplied anti-aircraft stinger missiles, and the IAF planes had loaded anti-missile flares just in case, but fortunately did not need to deploy them. The cooperation with Gen. Dostum had been secured during a special diplomatic mission by former Vice-President Hamid Ansari, who was then India’s Ambassador to Iran, and had previously served as Ambassador to Afghanistan, who carried humanitarian and medical relief to Mazar-e-Sharif.

“While it is necessary to judge each situation anew, and decide India’s reactions to it, we may also remember the principle that a neighbour’s neighbour can often be a friend. Many Afghans feel the same way,” Mr. Ansari told The Hindu , when asked about the mission.

In 1996, after opening the Embassy for about a year, India decided to close it again, when the Taliban entered Kabul and brutally murdered former President Najibullah and his brother, and then, more significantly, Northern Alliance forces led by Ahmed Shah Massoud retreated to the Panjshir valley.

“We achieved the evacuation of the mission, which was quite small, along with the few other Indians present there quite painlessly, on an Ariana [commercial] flight,” recalls Vivek Katju, who was the Joint Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs at the time. “The difference between then and now, 25 years later, was that this time, the U.S., Russia, China and other countries have not shunned the Taliban, and in fact appeared to legitimise them by signing a deal with them, inviting Taliban delegations to their capitals, and holding talks with them in Doha,” he added.

New Delhi too has not yet directly named the Taliban in its statements, or criticised its actions, possibly due to the ongoing evacuation of Indian nationals, and discussions with the U.S., Russia and China on the possible de-designation of various Taliban representatives at the U.N. Security Council, where India heads the Taliban sanctions committee.

MEA’s stand

Speaking at an event on Friday, Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla said that there was a “silver lining” in the Taliban’s statements seeking international legitimacy, in contrast to its previous regime in Afghanistan. The MEA had also sent a two-man delegation to Doha on August 12, for a meeting that included other countries, and the Taliban’s representatives.

Speaking in Parliament in 1996, however, then External Affairs Minister Inder Kumar Gujral, who became Prime Minister the next year, had said India would have no truck with the group.

Subsequently the Indian government maintained the Afghanistan Embassy at its own cost, until the Taliban was defeated in 2001, and Hamid Karzai took over as President.

During the 1996-2001 period, India had actively supported the Northern Alliance. India’s Ambassador in Dushanbe Bharathraj Muthukumar coordinated funds, supplies for them, contacting Massoud through Amarullah Saleh (President Ashraf Ghani’s Vice-President until a week ago), and is now a leader of the anti-Taliban resistance force regrouping in the Panjshir valley.

It is clear that many of the leading figures that have dominated the Afghan landscape still remain in significant positions today. What has changed, however, is the immediate reaction of global players to the Taliban’s Kabul takeover nearly three decades on, even as India’s position remains to be spelt out in the weeks and months ahead.

Malabar war games to begin on Thursday #GS2 #IR

The Quad countries — India, the U.S., Australia and Japan — will carry out the next edition of the Malabar naval exercise from August 26 to 29 off the coast of Guam amid mounting global concerns over China’s growing military muscle-flexing in the Indo-Pacific region.

Indian stealth frigate INS Shivalik and anti-submarine warfare corvette INS Kadmatt arrived in Guam, an island territory of the U.S. in the Western Pacific, on Saturday to take part in the exercise that would feature complex drills, Indian Navy officials said on Sunday.

“The Malabar-21 will witness high-tempo exercises among destroyers, frigates, corvettes, submarines, helicopters and long-range maritime patrol aircraft of the participating navies,” Navy spokesperson Commander Vivek Madhwal said.

Expanding ties

The exercise is taking place in the midst of growing convergence of interests in the maritime domain as well as military cooperation among the Quad nations in the face of China’s increasing assertiveness. Though the exercise is not part of the framework of cooperation under Quad, it is seen as a reflection of the increasing partnership among the four countries. Senior officials from the Quad nations held talks on August 12 on advancing practical cooperation to achieve the goal of a free and open Indo-Pacific.

China has been suspicious about the purpose of the exercise as it feels that the annual war game is an effort to contain its influence in the Indo-Pacific.

Women’s panel defends draft Inheritance Bill #GS2 #Governance

The Arunachal Pradesh State Commission for Women (APSCW) has defended a “contentious” Bill it has drafted for providing equal inheritance rights to women in the State.

The panel has also advised critics to go through the draft Arunachal Pradesh Marriage and Inheritance of Property Bill, 2021, carefully before commenting, and give suggestions.

Various community-based and students’ organisations as well as political parties in the State have slammed the draft Bill as “anti-tribal”, “anti-Arunachal”, violative of customary laws and an invitation to outsiders to take over tribal land through marriage.

Members of the APSCW and the Arunachal State Commission for Protection of Child Rights had been working on the draft Bill. “It has taken years to draft it and was finalised after several awareness camps, discussions with community-based organisations and students unions,” APSCW Chairperson Radhilu Chai Techi told presspersons in Itanagar on Saturday.

She said the opposition to the draft Bill was based on a clause that was redrafted long ago. A couple of new clauses deal with the rights of an Arunachal Pradesh Scheduled Tribe (APST) woman married to a non-APST man, she added.

According to one of the clauses, such APST women shall enjoy the rights to any immovable property inherited from the head of the family in her lifetime. “The commission is not against any customary practices,” Ms. Techi said.