Current Affairs 25th August

Economic status not sole basis for creamy layer #GS2 #Governance

The Supreme Court held that economic criterion should not be the sole basis to identify sections of backward communities as ‘creamy layer’. Social advancement, higher employment in government services, etc, played an equal role in deciding whether a person belonged to the creamy layer and could be denied quota benefits, it said.

“The basis of exclusion of ‘creamy layer’ cannot be merely economic,” a Bench of Justices L. Nageswara Rao and Aniruddha Bose observed in their judgment.

Modi, Putin discuss Afghanistan crisis #GS2 #IR

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday discussed charting out a “coordinated” strategy in Afghanistan, while National Security Advisers (NSA) from the five BRICS countries met virtually to discuss developments there with a focus on combating terrorism.

Officials said the Russian President called Mr. Modi to discuss developments in Afghanistan, with the two leaders agreeing to set up a “permanent bilateral channel” on the issues arising from the Taliban takeover. “Had a detailed and useful exchange of views with my friend President Putin on recent developments in Afghanistan,” Mr. Modi tweeted after the 45-minute conversation.

Among the particular areas of concern were ensuring regional security, countering radicalisation and spread of “terrorist ideology”, and the proliferation of drugs as a consequence of the developments, a Russian Embassy spokesperson said.

These were also issues that figured as the NSAs from India, Russia, China, Brazil and South Africa met virtually, one of the key meetings in the lead-up to next month’s BRICS leaders’ summit, which India is chairing.

NSA Ajit Doval hosted the virtual meeting. The Ministry of External Affairs said the meeting “reviewed the regional and global political and security scenario with particular reference to current developments in Afghanistan, Iran, West Asia and the Gulf, and emerging threats to national security, such as cybersecurity”.

The meeting also discussed counter-terrorism, and India raised “the issue of cross-border terrorism and activities of groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba [LeT] and Jaish-e-Mohammed [JeM], which enjoy State support and threaten peace and security,” it said.

The Ministry added that the representatives “adopted and recommended the BRICS Counter Terrorism Action Plan”. On Afghanistan, there do remain differences within the grouping, with China and Russia broadly aligning their positions. China and Russia, along with Pakistan, are among the few countries that continue to keep their embassies open in Afghanistan in contrast to India, which has evacuated all diplomatic personnel.

Both Russia and China continue to maintain their diplomatic presence in Kabul and have hosted Taliban delegations on a number of occasions, most recently by China on July 28. However, both are yet to offer recognition to the new regime.

How far India and Russia can indeed coordinate their strategies, as both leaders discussed on Tuesday, remains to be seen.

Both Indian and Russian officials said it was significant that Mr. Putin reached out to Mr. Modi directly, indicating the Russian interest in working with India bilaterally, and multilaterally at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and at other forums like BRICS, despite the differences between India and China on the Afghanistan issue, and on the role of Pakistan in facilitating the Taliban. China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the BRICS NSA’s meet was “an important platform for the five countries to strengthen political security cooperation”.

No request to delist Taliban leaders: officials #GS2 #IR

There are no requests from the United Nations Security Council’s (UNSC) permanent members for the delisting of the Taliban’s top leadership from sanctions thus far, officials said here. They also refuted reports that the next meeting of the UN’s 1988 Sanctions Committee, due next month, would lift restrictions on designated terrorists like Sirajuddin Haqqani and Mullah Baradar.

Sources told The Hindu that the next meeting of the Taliban Sanctions Committee, as the resolution 1988 committee is referred to, is due to be held in “mid-September”, ahead of an important meeting to discuss the renewal of the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), which expires on September 17.

India’s Permanent Representative to the UN (UNPR), T.S. Tirumurti, is the Chairman of the committee until December 31 this year, and is key to deciding the date of the meetings, and scrutinising requests to delist the Taliban leaders.

While diplomats from at least three countries as well as External Affairs Ministry officials confirmed that there were no requests to de-designate or delist any of the sanctioned 135 individuals and five entities, they said a decision was likely to be taken on whether to extend the special travel exemptions given to 14 Taliban members to participate in the “peace and reconciliation efforts”. The meeting could also discuss whether to include other Taliban leaders in the exemptions.

Significant for India

The reports concerning Sirajuddin Haqqani are significant for India as he and the Haqqani group, founded by his father Jalaluddin Haqqani, are wanted for the Indian Embassy bombings in Kabul in 2008 and 2009. Around 70 persons were killed in the attacks.

In November 2012, India was instrumental, as the then President of the UN Security Council, in ensuring that the Haqqani group was designated as a terror entity.

Sirajuddin, deputy to Taliban chief Haibatullah Akhundzada, is now likely to have considerable influence in the next government in Afghanistan. His brother Anas Haqqani, who was arrested in 2014 for financing the group’s terror attacks and was released as part of a hostage swap in 2019 from Bagram prison, is now one of the chief negotiators in government formation talks in Kabul.

This is the first time the committees would meet after the Taliban takeover of Kabul on August 15. The stand taken by the UNSC members, particularly the P-5 — the U.S., Russia, China, France and the U.K. — would indicate how they intend to approach a future Taliban-led regime in Afghanistan.

Hope Afghan crisis does not pose challenge to neighbours #GS2 #IR

India on Tuesday hoped that the situation in Afghanistan did not pose a challenge to its neighbours and the Afghan territory was not used by terrorist groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) to threaten other countries, as it pitched for an inclusive and broad-based dispensation in Kabul that represented all sections of Afghan society.

In his address at a special session of the UN Human Rights Council on the situation in Afghanistan, Indian Ambassador to the UN in Geneva Indra Mani Pandey said a “grave” humanitarian crisis was unfolding in the country and everyone was concerned about the increasing violations of fundamental rights of the Afghan people.

He said India hoped that the situation stabilised soon, and the parties concerned addressed the humanitarian and security issues.

“We also hope that there is an inclusive and broad-based dispensation that represents all sections of Afghan society. Voices of Afghan women, aspirations of Afghan children and the rights of minorities must be respected. “A broad-based representation would help the arrangement gain more acceptability and legitimacy,” he added.

In a first, Army receives hand grenades from private sector #GS3 #Defence

Marking a first in ammunition supply by the private sector to the Army, Nagpur-based Economic Explosives Limited (EEL) handed over the first batch of Multi-Mode Hand Grenades (MMHG) on Tuesday.

“The first batch of MMHG manufactured by EEL following Transfer of Technology from Terminal Ballistics Research Laboratory of Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO), was handed over to the Army in the presence of Defence Minister Rajnath Singh in Nagpur,” a Defence Ministry statement said.

The EEL had taken the technology from DRDO in 2016, the statement said. “Extensive trials were successfully undertaken by the Army and Directorate General of Quality Assurance (DGQA) in 2017-18 in plains, deserts and high altitudes over summer and winter,” it stated.

The MMHG grenades will replace Grenade No. 36 of World War I vintage design still in service. The EEL had signed a contract with the Ministry of Defence on October 1, 2020 to supply 10 lakh modern hand grenades to the Army and Air Force. The deliveries will be spread over two years from the bulk production clearance, which was accorded to EEL in March 2021, the statement added.

Talking of the initiative of technology transfer to Industries by DRDO, Mr. Singh said that this was being undertaken free of cost, while providing access to testing facilities and over 450 patents.

India-Russia defence trade worth $15bn in 3 years #GS2 #IR

In the last three years, since 2018, the defence trade between India and Russia was $15 billion because of some big ticket defence deals, said Victor N. Kladov, Head of International Cooperation and Regional Policy of Rostec state corporation.

The S-400 air defence systems deal, for which deliveries are scheduled to begin in a few months, was on schedule, Mr. Kladov said, while downplaying the threat of U.S. sanctions under CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act).

“Indian government stands very firm in protecting national interests… Since getting S-400 is very important to enhance national air defence, definitely India will continue implementing this contract,” Mr. Kladov said in a conversation with The Hindu at the ongoing Army 2021 exhibition.

Stating that CAATSA was not targeted against Russia but against third countries cooperating with Russia, Mr. Kladov said it was for the Indian side to decide “how to protect itself”.

“When it comes to our side, we are very helpful. For instance, we protect our banking systems by doing payments in national currencies,” he said.

Mr. Kladov said they had no problems as far as payments are concerned. “At every stage of the contract, there is an instalment payment. We are moving smoothly because we are getting instalment payments.”

As reported by The Hindu earlier, deliveries of S-400 long range air defence systems are scheduled to begin by November.

Air Force trained

“One team of Indian Air Force (IAF) officials has been trained in Russia to operate the system and a second team is being trained now,” said Vyacheslav K. Dzirkaln, Deputy Director General for foreign economic activities of Almaz Antey, which manufactures the S-400, on the sidelines of Army 2021.

In October 2018, India and Russia signed a $5.43 billion deal for five S-400 regiments despite objections from the United States. U.S. officials have on several occasions raised concerns over the deal as India deepens its defence cooperation with the U.S. and has acquired several frontline military platforms like transport aircraft, helicopters, artillery and drones.

A few JVs were set up long before the Government of India announced the Make in India initiative like BrahMos, and more were being set up for the manufacture of Ka-226T helicopters and Ak-203 assault rifles, Mr. Kladov said. Russia was ready to kick start production once the deal for Ka-226T utility helicopters was signed, he said. “We lost a few years on localisation issues… By concluding this deal we can further supply to third countries.”