Current Affairs 18th July

Taliban won battles, we will win the war: Ghani #GS2 #IR

The Afghan national forces will prevail over Taliban militants who are making advances on towns and border checkposts, Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani has said, conceding, however, that the Taliban had won some battles thus far.

In an interview, shortly after a fiery speech accusing Pakistan of failing to prevent “jihadi” fighters from crossing the border and for not pushing the Taliban hard enough on talks, Mr. Ghani said he would keep dialogue open with Islamabad and continue the intra-Afghan negotiations with the Taliban in Doha.

“Winning battles is not winning the war. They [the Taliban] have won battles. But they are going to lose the war, and we are determined,” Mr. Ghani said, when asked about recent Taliban gains, particularly on the border with Pakistan at the Spin Boldak-Chaman crossing, where Indian photojournalist Danish Siddiqui was killed.

Mr. Ghani, who condoled the death, said there might be a need to “rebalance” the situation to win the war militarily but the larger goal of his government was to arrive at a political settlement in Afghanistan. The President stressed that he would want to avoid the fate of countries such as “Algeria, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen” that continued to see strife.

As a result, after several changes in its plans, an Afghan delegation, led by High Council chief Abdullah Abdullah, travelled to Doha on Saturday to begin “high-level” talks with Taliban leaders in an effort facilitated by the Qatar government and other countries to restart the stalled intra-Afghan dialogue.

Asked if he felt abandoned by the West, after the abrupt U.S. pull-out and after comments by the British Defence Secretary that the U.K. was prepared to engage with the Taliban if it came to power in Afghanistan, he said, “No, no, I don’t. We have an engagement.”

‘India a true partner’

Mr. Ghani emphatically denied having asked India for military assistance in the face of the Taliban’s advances. India was a “true partner” in Afghanistan’s development. “This [defeating Taliban] is our job. The period of international engagement, or use of force in Afghanistan is over.

Delta variant found in most COVID cases in the Capital’ #GS3 #SnT

Over 88% of 92 samples from Delhi, for which genome sequencing was done in June, had the Delta variant of COVID-19. In May, out of 745 samples, 83.4% were found to have the Delta variant, which was first found in India. The Delta variant became dominant in April (55% of 1,967 samples) when the city witnessed a deadly second wave and the daily new cases were reported as high as 28,000.

Also, the percentage of Alpha variant of the virus, first found in the U.K. and a dominant strain in the city earlier, fell from 47.4% in March to just 3.3% in June.

“The Delta variant is the dominant strain of the virus in Delhi at this moment. It has seen a steady rise in the past few months. Also, till now, there is no Delta Plus variant of the virus reported here,” a Delhi government official said. Results of more samples from June are awaited. The data is based on genome sequencing of COVID positive blood samples from Delhi by the National Centre for Disease Control.

“The data show that the second wave in Delhi was in a way due to the Delta variant. This variant is highly infectious and that’s why Delhi registered a sudden spike in cases. He said a similar trend was observed in several other States as well. “Now the percentage of Delta variant may fall and another variant could become dominant. That is what happens during pandemics.

Concerns remain over anti-trafficking Bill #GS2 #Governance

There are high hopes and some concerns surrounding the Trafficking in Persons (Prevention, Care and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2021, likely to be tabled in the monsoon session of Parliament.

Several anti-human trafficking organisations, lawyers and researchers have welcomed the draft of the Bill which states that the legislation is aimed at preventing and countering trafficking in persons, especially women and children, to provide for care, protection, and rehabilitation to the victims, while respecting their rights, and creating a supportive legal, economic and social environment for them, and also to ensure prosecution of offenders.

NIA to be nodal agency

The draft Bill also states that the National Investigation Agency (NIA) shall act as the national investigating and coordinating agency responsible for prevention and combating of trafficking in persons and other offences under this Act, as well as for investigation and prosecution and coordination in cases of trafficking in personsof such cases.

Pompi Banerjee, a psychologist and anti-trafficking activist associated with the Kolkata-based NGO Sanjog, said the Bill (also referred as the TIP Bill) had been built on the feedback and criticism that the Ministry of Women and Child Development received on the 2018 Bill on the same issue.

Ms. Banerjee who is associated with Tafteesh, a platform of anti-trafficking stakeholders, pointed out that the Bill also defines human trafficking as an organised crime with international implications and attempts to move away from conflating trafficking with sex work, while upholding the right of survivors to rehabilitation and compensation independent of criminal proceedings.

Experts working in the area of human trafficking said the draft Bill, which has been put on website of Ministry of Women and Child Development, is not clear about how the NIA as a nodal agency will gather information and intelligence through anti-human trafficking Units (AHTUs) at the district and State levels. The Ministry of Home Affairs had mandated the AHTUs for conducting inter-State probe in cases of human trafficking and allocated budgets to them.

Rescue protocol

Kaushik Gupta, a Calcutta High Court lawyer who has taken up several cases of human trafficking, said the draft Bill at present was largely silent on rescue protocols except the “reason to believe” by a police officer not below the rank of a sub-inspector. “This makes the role of AHTUs unclear in the rescue and post-rescue processes,” Mr. Gupta said.

There are also concerns about absence of community-based rehabilitation.

Representatives of Durbar, the largest sex workers collective based out of Kolkata, have said that the Bill criminalises sex work and the choice of sex work as a profession. “The Bill mixes up the issue of trafficking and sex work,” said a statement from Durbar. Prostitution and pornography have been added to the definition of exploitation and are considered to be trafficking, while the issue of consent has been made irrelevant.

SC with people to protect civil liberties #GS2 #Governance

The judge observed that the “danger to our freedoms may not only originate from those who are tasked to govern but also originate in the intolerance of persons in society as well”. The CJI said the people of India knew that “when things go wrong”, the Supreme Court, as the guardian of the largest democracy, “will stand by them”.

The Constitution, together with the immense faith of the people in the judicial system, brought to life the Supreme Court;s motto Yato Dharma Sthato Jaya . “Where there is dharma, there is victory,” CJI Ramana stated in the keynote address to a global audience at the Indo-Singapore Mediation Summit of 2021.

Majoritarian tendencies

At a separate event to commemorate the 101st birth anniversary of his father and longest-serving CJI Y.V. Chandrachud, Justice Chandrachud, who is line to be the CJI, stated: “Majoritarian tendencies, whenever and however they arise, must be questioned against the background of our constitutive promise.

Any semblance of authoritarianism, clampdown on civil liberties, sexism, casteism, otherisation on account of religion or region is upsetting a sacred promise that was made to our ancestors who accepted India as their Constitutional Republic.”

“Our nation was forged and united, with a promise of certain commitments and entitlements to each and every citizen. A promise of religious freedom, a promise of equality between persons, irrespective of sex, caste or religion, a promise of fundamental freedoms of speech and movement without undue State interference and an enduring right to life and personal liberty.

Chief Justice Ramana noted that conflicts were unavoidable in any society. But with conflicts, there was also the need to develop mechanisms for conflict resolution. The CJI took a leaf from the Mahabharata to illustrate that peace through amiability was better than violence.

Mahabharata, actually provides an example of an early attempt at mediation as a conflict resolution tool. Lord Krishna attempted to mediate the dispute between the Pandavas and Kauravas. … failure of mediation led to disastrous consequences,” he said. It was both “uncharitable” and an “overstatement” to blame pendency on judicial delay. Even a case filed a day back was added to the oft-quoted pendency statistic of 45 million cases. One of the chief reasons for delays was “luxurious litigation”

Independent defence policy in place now, claims Amit Shah #GS3 #Defence

Union Home Minister Amit Shah said the country had an independent defence policy under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Delivering the Rustamji Memorial Lecture at the 18th Investiture Ceremony of the Border Security Force (BSF), he said that before Mr. Modi became the Prime Minister, India did not have an independent defence policy. It was influenced by, or overlapped with, the foreign policy.

Mr. Modi provided an independent defence policy and this was a major achievement. India intended to live in harmony with others, but if anyone challenged its sovereignty and threatened its borders, the country would respond in the same language. The government had implemented this policy on the ground.

Border safety was at the core of the national security policy, Mr. Shah pointed out and listed infiltration, drugs/weapons trafficking and drones as challenges before the BSF. Agencies such as the Defence Research and Development Organisation were working on developing an anti-drone mechanism. Drones were used to trigger explosions inside the Air Force Station in Jammu last month.

New challenges

Mr. Shah said there was a need to develop a long-term strategy for countering the possible use of artificial intelligence and robotic technology from across the border. As suggested by the Prime Minister during the last year’s DGP conference, hackathons should be organised by paramilitary forces to find indigenous solutions to such challenges with the help of technical experts.

Earlier this month, the BSF held one such event in coordination with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. The Ministry of Home Affairs was planning to making it a regular practice, he noted.

Border fencing

Before 2022, all the gaps in border fencing would be plugged. A pilot project of the Comprehensive Integrated Border Management System had been implemented for effective surveillance along the border. A new model was also being developed with certain modifications.

Several measures were being taken to prevent the exodus of people from bordering villages. It was vital for border security. The para-military forces had been made nodal organisations for the implementation of government projects in those villages. Infrastructure development works were being undertaken to provide basic services to the residents. They should be made aware of their rights, he said.

Compared to about 3,600-km-long road stretches constructed along the border from 2008 to 2014, the Modi government laid 4,764-km-long roads from 2014 to 2020.

Funds to the tune of Rs. 44,000 crore were allocated for road construction, as against Rs. 23,000 crore during the previous regime. The length of bridges constructed had now doubled. In place of just one tunnel, six had been constructed. The pace of border road resurfacing and associated works along the India-China border had also doubled.

Live-streaming court proceedings is key: CJI #GS2 #Governance

Formalising live-streaming of court proceedings is crucial for dissemination of information. The spread of information is sacrosanct to free speech. The Chief Justice was inaugurating the launch of live-streaming of proceedings at the Gujarat High Court in the presence of Supreme Court e-Committee Chairperson Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, Supreme Court judge Justice M.R. Shah, Gujarat High Court Chief Justice Vikram Nath.

The CJI said the Supreme Court is “keen” to commence live-streaming of its proceedings. “We are working out the logistics and working on the full consensus of the full court… We can introduce live-streaming in a cost-effective manner without much of a burden on the exchequer. The people have a right to be informed about the institutions which serve them, the CJI said.

“Currently, the public obtains information about court proceedings through the media. In effect, the information from the courts is being filtered by agents of transmission. In the process, there is sometimes a transmission loss leading to misinterpretation of questions asked and observations made by the Bench due to the absence of context. Vested interests are eager to amplify these misinterpretations in order to embarrass or discredit the institution,” the CJI said.

However, the CJI said live-streaming was a “double-edged sword”. Judges, working under public scrutiny, may face a stressful environment.

“A judge cannot be swayed by popular opinion. Yes, with increased public gaze, he might become a subject of multiple debates, that should never deter him from his duty to protect the right of one against the might of many. Always remember, as a repository of people’s faith, a judge cannot afford to lose objectivity. The CJI said the rules of live-streaming should be calibrated to protect the privacy and security of victims and witnesses.

U.S., Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan to form quad group #GS2 #IR

The U.S., Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan have agreed in principle to establish a new quadrilateral diplomatic platform focused on enhancing regional connectivity. The parties consider long-term peace and stability in Afghanistan critical to regional connectivity and agree that peace and regional connectivity are mutually reinforcing.

Recognising the historic opportunity to open flourishing interregional trade routes, the parties intend to cooperate to expand trade, build transit links, and strengthen business-to-business ties. The parties agreed to meet in the coming months to determine the modalities of this cooperation with mutual consensus.

Strategic location

Afghanistan’s strategic location has for a long time been touted as a competitive advantage for the country. Afghanistan is bordered by Pakistan to the east and south, Iran to the west, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan to the north, and China to the northeast.

Located at the heart of the historic Silk Road, Afghanistan was long the crossroads of commerce between Asian countries connecting them to Europe, and enhancing religious, cultural, and commercial contacts. The formation of the new quad group is important amid China’s desire to extend its Belt Road Initiative (BRI) to Afghanistan.

The BRI, a multi-billion-dollar initiative launched by Chinese President Xi Jinping when he came to power in 2013, aims to link Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Gulf region, Africa and Europe with a network of land and sea routes. By virtue of its location, Afghanistan can provide China with a base to spread its influence across the world.

Since the announcement of the withdrawal of U.S. forces by August 31, violence has been rising and efforts to broker a peace settlement between the Afghan government and insurgent Taliban have slowed.

Curbs on Mastercard #GS3 #Economy

The story so far: The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) banned Mastercard from issuing new debit and credit cards to customers in India with effect from July 22. According to the RBI, the U.S. card-issuer has failed to comply with the local data storage rules announced by the central bank in 2018. The ban has unsettled banks operating in India that use Mastercard’s services to issue a variety of cards to their customers.

What is the RBI’s data localisation policy?

In 2018, the Indian central bank had issued a circular ordering card companies such as Visa, Mastercard, and American Express to store all Indian customer data locally so that the regulator could have “unfettered supervisory access”. This meant that foreign card companies had to store complete information about transactions made by Indian customers in servers located within India.

Companies were initially required to comply with these rules within six months. The reason offered by the RBI to back up its data localisation rule was that local storage of consumer data is necessary to protect the privacy of Indian users and also to address national security concerns. Since the order, Mastercard, Visa and other foreign card companies have lobbied to dilute the rules.

But the RBI has remained strict that companies must comply with its data localisation rules. Consequently, Mastercard deleted Indian customer data from its foreign servers and promised to invest in building local servers in India to store local customer data. The RBI, however, has not been impressed.

It has banned Mastercard from issuing new cards to customers from July 22. Reuters reported Mastercard as having said it was “disappointed” with the RBI’s decision and it had provided regular updates on its compliance with the rules since 2018. The company was quoted as saying it would continue to work with the Indian central bank to provide any additional details required to resolve its concerns.

Existing Mastercard customers, however, can continue to use their cards. Earlier this year, American Express and Diners Club International were also banned by the RBI from issuing new cards after they failed to comply with the 2018 circular.

What is the need for local data storage?

Experts believe that customer privacy and national security are genuine concerns that need to be taken seriously. However, many also believe that data localisation rules are too stringent and they could simply be used by governments as tools of economic protectionism.

For instance, they argue, it may not be strictly necessary for data to be stored locally to remain protected. Broadly speaking, formal international laws to govern the storage of digital information across borders may be sufficient to deal with these concerns. Governments, however, may still mandate data localisation in order to favour local companies to foreign ones.

China, for example, has used its cyber-security laws to discriminate against foreign companies. A similar trend may be playing out in India with the Centre’s emphasis on economic self-sufficiency. In 2018, Mastercard had launched a complaint with the U.S. government that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was actively promoting Indian cards like RuPay and that it was affecting the business of foreign card companies. Governments may also believe that mandating foreign companies to set up local infrastructure can boost their local economies.

What lies ahead?

Indian banks that are currently enrolled in the Mastercard network are expected to make alternative arrangements with other card companies. The process is expected to take a few months, and their card business is expected to take a significant hit meanwhile. The RBI’s data localisation policy, as it burdens foreign card companies, may end up favouring domestic card issuers like RuPay.

Mastercard owns about one-third of the market share in India, and the RBI’s ban is likely to significantly benefit its competitors. RBL Bank, for instance, has decided to enter into an agreement with Visa after the RBI’s ban on Mastercard. Similarly, the ban on American Express and Diners Club earlier this year benefited the Indian card network RuPay.

Some believe that even Visa, a foreign company which dominates card payments in India, may come under regulatory pressure in the near future. Thus, the card payments sector may end up being restricted to a few domestic companies, which in turn can lead to reduced competition. This could mean higher costs and lower quality services for customers.

It is also worth noting that in today’s digital economy data have turned out to be a valuable commodity, which companies as well as governments have tried to gain control over. Information about spending patterns and other customer data can be monetised by companies in a variety of ways. With no clear rules on who owns customer data and to what extent, conflicts over data ownership are likely to continue for some time.

Is Twitter acceding to takedown requests? #GS3 #SnT

The story so far: Social media platform Twitter released its Transparency Report for the second half of last year (July 1 to December 31), in which it was revealed that India was the single largest source of government information requests. India also was one of the prominent sources of legal demands for removal of content, according to the report.

What’s the transparency report all about?

Twitter started publishing a biannual report — Twitter Transparency Report — in 2012. The original goal, it says in its blog, “was to provide the public with recurring insights into government pressures that impacted the public, whether through overt political censorship or by way of compelling account data through information requests”.

It further says, “A lot has changed since 2012. It is now more important than ever that we also shine a light on our own practices, including enforcement of the Twitter Rules and our ongoing work to disrupt global state-backed information operations.”

Over the years, the scope of the report has been expanded gradually. Additional categories such as non-government legal requests, trademark notices, coordinated manipulation, and so on, have been added from time to time. This aspect of reporting isn’t rare any more.

Google, which has been issuing its transparency reports since 2010, says in its blog that “transparency reporting is an increasingly common practice across industries”. It then goes on to list over 40 brands, from Facebook to Reddit, and from Uber to Yahoo!, that undertake transparency reporting.

What are the highlights of the latest report?

As mentioned above, there are different categories under which Twitter provides the data. One of the main categories is ‘Government Information Requests,’ and this includes “both emergency and routine legal demands for account information issued by law enforcement and other government agencies”. The report noted that there was a 15% increase in such requests (and more than a 100% increase in the number of accounts specified in these requests) compared with the January-June 2020 period.

Notably, for the first time in the history of the transparency report, the U.S. wasn’t the “top global requester”. India was. It accounted for 25% of the global volume and 15% of the global accounts specified. The U.S., however, submitted the highest volume of global emergency requests, at 34%, followed by Japan (17%) and South Korea (16%).

Twitter describes routine requests as “legal demands issued by government of law enforcement authorities (e.g. subpoenas, court orders, search warrants)” that compel it to turn over account information. Emergency requests, on the other hand, may be entertained “if we are provided with sufficient information to support a good faith belief that there is an imminent threat involving danger of death or serious physical injury to a person, and we have information relevant to averting or mitigating the threat”.

Under the category of ‘Government Information Requests,’ Twitter says it “narrowed or did not disclose information in response to 70%” of the requests.

One of the other significant sub-categories is ‘Legal Demands’, which provides data about court orders and other formal demands to remove content. The source of such demands can be “governmental entities and lawyers representing individuals”. While the number of global legal demands fell 9% to 38,524, a whopping 94% of the demands came from just five countries (Japan, India, Russia, Turkey and South Korea).

Japan was the top requester in this category, accounting for 43% of the total. India was next, at 18%. Japan’s requests, Twitter says, were largely related to “laws regarding narcotics and psychotropics, obscenity, or money lending”.

A large portion of Russian requests related to its laws prohibiting the promotion of suicide. This section of the report also notes that “199 accounts of verified journalists and news outlets from around the world were subject to 361 legal demands, a 26% increase in the number of accounts since the previous reporting period. These included removal requests from India (128), Turkey (108), Pakistan (52), and Russia (28)”.

The compliance rate, which is the “percentage of information requests where Twitter produced at least some sort of requested account information”, in the case of requests emerging from India was far less compared with the average of the worldwide data.

What else is notable about the new report?

Twitter has started reporting about two additional things. One is an impressions metric, which “captures the number of views violative Tweets received prior to removal”. The other is about the adoption of two-factor authentication “to keep accounts safe and secure”. About the first, Twitter said violative tweets accounted for less than 0.1% of all impressions for all tweets globally during this period, and it had removed 3.8 million tweets that flouted its rules. Only 6% of the removed tweets had more than 1,000 impressions.

Was there another report specific to India?

On July 11, it published ‘Twitter’s India Transparency Report,’ under the new Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021. It will be a monthly report from now on. This comes after months of uneasiness between the government and Twitter over the latter’s non-compliance with the new rules, including the delay in the appointment of a grievance officer.

The social media platform has just complied with that requirement. This report dealt with user grievances and proactive monitoring, which Twitter says refers to “content proactively identified by employing internal proprietary tools and industry hash sharing initiatives”. In the May-June period, it reportedly suspended over 18,000 accounts for child sexual exploitation and a further over 4,000 accounts for promotion of terrorism.