Current Affairs 19th August

Only Sharia law, say the Taliban #GS2 #IR

Afghanistan may be governed by a council now that the Taliban have taken over, while the Islamist group’s supreme leader Haibatullah Akhundzada would likely remain in overall charge, said a senior member of the group.

The Taliban would also reach out to former pilots and soldiers from the Afghan armed forces to join their ranks, Waheedullah Hashimi, who has access to the group’s decision-making, said in an interview.

Many issues regarding how the Taliban would run Afghanistan have yet to be finalised, Mr. Hashimi said, but Afghanistan would not be a democracy. “There will be no democratic system at all because it does not have any base in our country,” he said. “We will not discuss what type of political system we should apply in Afghanistan because it is clear. It is Sharia law and that is it.”

Mr. Akhundzada would likely play a role above the head of the council, who would be akin to the President, Mr. Hashimi said. “Maybe his [Mr. Akhundzada’s] deputy will play the role of President.

Action plan for elimination of single-use plastic gets nod #GS3 #Environment

The Delhi government approved a comprehensive action plan (CAP) for eliminating selected single-use plastic (SUP) in the city. The plan has different deadlines for different projects and has identified departments responsible for each project. The projects include identification of alternative products and its research and development, awareness, among others.

As per the CAP, a district-wise assessment of plastic waste generation and infrastructure required for plastic waste management — collection, segregation, recycling — will be done by March 31, 2022. An analysis of existing infrastructure and a gap analysis will be done by the same time.

Focus on alternatives

The plan has also given a strong focus on alternatives. “Development of schemes for providing assistance in setting up manufacturing capacities of alternatives including for enterprises transitioning away from single-use plastics,” the CAP read.

“Providing incentives for penetration of alternatives in the market, development of a database of producers of alternative products including compostable plastic manufacturing capacity, promotion scheme for alternatives to prohibited single-use plastic items,” reads some of the other projects.

‘Research and development on creating alternative packaging materials to plastic’ has been termed as a long-term project with a deadline of March 31, 2023, and it has been assigned to the Environment Department. Another project is the identification of littering hotspots of SUP items and development of strategy for their collection and further management. Funds for many of the projects under the CAP will be from the Swachh Bharat Mission.

New rules

On August 13, the Union Environment Ministry notified the Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules, 2021, which prohibits specific single-use plastic items which have “low utility and high littering potential” by 2022.

Under these rules, by July next year, the manufacture of a range of plastic products will be banned. These include earbuds with plastic sticks, plastic sticks for balloons, plastic flags, candy sticks, ice cream sticks, thermocol for decoration, plates, cups, glasses, cutlery such as forks, spoons, knives, straws, trays, wrapping or packing films around sweet boxes, invitation cards, and cigarette packets, plastic or PVC banners less than 100 microns, and stirrers.

States had been “requested” to constitute a Special Task Force for elimination of single-use plastics and effective implementation of Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016.

The Delhi government formed the Special Task Force under the Chief Secretary in May and the CAP is a result of the meetings of the STF with different departments and other stakeholders.

India can do more, hints climate official #GS2 #IR #GS3 #Environment

Alok Sharma, President-designate, United Nations Conference of Parties (COP), said he hoped India would consider more ambitious emissions targets. Mr. Sharma is visiting India as part of a larger international tour building consensus among nations for concrete outcomes ahead of the 26th round of climate talks.

“I have been encouraged by the discussions I have had. India is on track to overachieve its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC). I would request if India would consider any NDC that takes into account this overachieving,” Mr. Sharma told reporters on Wednesday. Among those he met in this three-day India tour were Environment Minister Bhupendra Yadav and Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.

A major theme building ahead of the climate talks to be held in Glasgow, Scotland, in November is the question of how many nations can commit to a net zero target and by when. Net zero or carbon neutrality is when more carbon is sucked out from the atmosphere or prevented from being emitted than what a country emits and is critical to ensuring that the planet does not heat up an additional half a degree by 2100.

Carbon neutrality

A little over 120 countries have committed, with varying degrees of firmness, to reaching carbon neutrality by 2050. Five countries have net zero pledges set for after 2050, including Australia and Singapore, which have not set a firm target yet.

China, the world’s biggest emitter, has committed to peaking its emissions before 2030 and achieving net zero by 2060.

The United States has said it would achieve net zero by 2050 and nearly halve emissions by 2030. India is among the major countries that have not committed to a 2050 plan but has said it is one of the countries that has delivered on one of the 2015 Paris Agreements main goals that is taking steps to ensure that its emissions do not put the globe on a road to heating one degree more than present by the turn of the century. Further, India’s position is that it has among the lowest per capita emissions, is not responsible for the climate crisis, which the science establishes is due to historical emissions by developed countries, and cannot compromise on ensuring economic growth of its vast citizenry.

Renewable energy

India’s NDC includes reducing the emissions intensity of GDP by 33%–35% by 2030 below 2005 levels; increase the share of non-fossil-based energy resources to 40% of installed electric power capacity by 2030, with help of transfer of technology and low-cost international finance including from Green Climate Fund and to create an additional (cumulative) carbon sink of 2.5–3 GtCO2e through additional forest and tree cover by 2030. It has committed to installing 450 GW of renewable energy by 2030 of which 100 GW is reportedly installed.

A thorn of contention is the over-$100 billion that was to have come to developing countries from developed ones for clean energy investments and mitigation that continues to be outstanding. Mr. Sharma said Canada and Germany were working with his team to set out a “delivery plan”.

“Delivering the $100 billion a year is a matter of trust. Germany and Canada will be setting out a delivery plan until 2025 and have it in place before COP 26. For the years beyond 2025, that will certainly require trillions of dollars, much is expected to come from the private sector,” he said.

On Wednesday, the Union Cabinet approved ratification of the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol that envisages phasing out of hydrofluorocarbons (HFC) by 80-85% of present levels by 2040 in a phased manner by all signatory countries. The HFC are used in refrigeration and contribute to global warming. India in 2016 committed to phasing down HFC in four steps from 2032 with a 10% reduction in 2032, 20% in 2037, 30% in 2042 and 80% in 2047.

India, Vietnam navies hold joint exercise #GS2 #IR

The navies of India and Vietnam undertook a bilateral exercise in the South China Sea. Four frontline ships of the Indian Navy are on an overseas deployment of over two months to South East Asia, the South China Sea and Western Pacific, during which they are undertaking a series of port calls and exercises.

“This visit also holds special importance as Indian Naval ships celebrated the country’s 75th Independence Day in Vietnam,” the Navy said. Guided missile destroyer INS Ranvijay and missile corvette INS Kora undertook the exercise with Vietnam People’s Navy frigate VPNS Ly Thai To.

COVID protocols

The ships arrived at Cam Ranh, Vietnam, on August 15 for the harbour phase, which included professional interactions while maintaining extant COVID-19 protocols. “The sea phase included surface warfare exercises, weapon firing drills and helicopter operations. Regular interactions between the two navies over the years have enhanced their interoperability and adaptability. This has ensured a quantum jump in the complexity and scale of professional exchanges.

Govt. adopts differing stance on snooping #GS2 #Governance

An August 5 reply by the Union government in Parliament stated that the Home Secretary is the competent authority to deal with legal interceptions. However, the affidavit by the government in the Supreme Court, denying “all or any” allegations in the Pegasus snooping case, was filed by the Information Technology Ministry.

On August 5, replying in the Rajya Sabha member John Brittas’s question about “telephone interceptions”, Minister of State for Communications Devusinh Chauhan specified that the “Union Home Secretary is the competent authority in case of Central government and Secretary in charge of Home Department in case of States/Union Territories”.

The Home Secretary’s power to approve legal interceptions was mandated under Section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act,1885 read with Rule 419A of the Indian Telegraph (1st Amendment of 2014) Rules, 2014 and Section 69 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 read with the Information Technology) Procedure and Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring and Decryption of Information) Rules, 2009, the Minister said.

Aware of the law, the Supreme Court repeatedly urged the government, on two consecutive days of hearing, to have the “competent authority”, that is the Home Secretary, address the Pegasus issue in a detailed affidavit.

National security

But the government has so far objected to the suggestion. It has refused to be a part of any “public debate” on the Pegasus issue or any interception, whatsoever, by having the Home Secretary file a “detailed affidavit”.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta has maintained that a public discussion in court on the software used for interception would alert terrorists and compromise national security.

The court has not bought the government’s argument. Though it assured the Centre that nothing would be done to compromise national security, the Bench headed by Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana said it still had to address the concerns of citizens, including persons of eminence, who had complained to the court that their mobile phones had been hacked.

Amid Afghan crisis, Jaishankar cuts short U.S. visit #GS2 #IR

In view of the developments in Afghanistan, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar is cutting short his visit to the Americas this week, and will return from the United Nations after chairing over two meetings at the UN Security Council (UNSC). Mr. Jaishankar was due to travel to Mexico, Panama and Guyana after his visit to New York, but sources said these visits would now be “rescheduled” at a later date, evidently due to the fast-moving crisis in Afghanistan, which has triggered an exodus to neighbouring countries and beyond.

Mr. Jaishankar is due to return to Delhi on Friday to oversee logistical and diplomatic meetings over the rapid turn of events in Afghanistan and India’s stand on the new Taliban regime in power in Kabul and, in particular, the government’s decision after Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired a Cabinet Committee on Security to accept visa requests from all Afghan nationals, including Hindus and Sikhs who want to leave Afghanistan.

However, a human rights organisation in Delhi has said providing visas to Afghan nationals seeking shelter in India would not serve a humanitarian purpose and they should be granted the status of refugees. The Rights and Risk Analysis Group (RRAG) has urged the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to defend the human rights of the Afghans who are fleeing to India by granting them the status of refugees.

‘Highly inadequate’

Suhas Chakma, Director of RRAG, said the grant of ‘e-Emergency X-Misc Visa’ was “highly inadequate” to deal with the immediate concerns of the fleeing Afghans. “Visa comes with an expiry date that can be denied at any time. Visa by definition also excludes extension of any humanitarian assistance by the government and any possibility to work or engage in activities necessary for survival. The grant of emergency visa, therefore, does not take into account the needs of the Afghans who fled to India,” said Mr. Chakma.

Over the last few days, a large number of Afghans had arrived in India through commercial and special flights operated by India as the regime change got under way in Kabul.

Among those who arrived were Wahidullah Kaleemzai, MP from Wardak; Abdul Aziz Hakimi, MP from Parwan; Abdul Qadir Zazai, MP; Senator Malem Lala Gul; Jamil Karzai, former MP and second cousin to former Afghan President Hamid Karzai; Shukria Esakhail, MP from Baghlan; and several other notables, including government officials and security personnel.

The RRAG said under the Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, the Afghan guests had the protection of their right to life and liberty, which would require basic support such as medical and health facilities, education for family members and opportunity to work in activities for survival.

The RRAG urged the NHRC to set up a division within the Commission to process the refugee claims of the Afghan guests who had to flee to India following the takeover of political power by the Taliban. Mr. Chakma said the Government of India had already extended similar humanitarian assistance to Tibetan and Sri Lankan refugees, adding, “Therefore, there is no reason as to why India must not formulate a policy on the Afghan refugees.

NHRC flags delay in criminal justice reform process #GS2 #Governance

A group of experts under the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on Wednesday expressed “serious concerns over the slow pace of reforms in the criminal justice system to ensure speedy justice”, an NHRC statement said.

The NHRC core group on the criminal justice system held its first meeting on Wednesday where experts said the delay in disposal of cases was leading to human rights violations of the under-trials and convicts.

Supplanting IPC

NHRC member Justice (retired) M.M. Kumar, who chaired the meeting, said that despite the Supreme Court’s directions on police reforms, there had been hardly any changes on the ground. He said special laws and fast-track courts could replace certain offences under the Indian Penal Code in order to reduce the piling up of cases at every police station.

NHRC chairperson Justice A.K. Mishra (retd.) said that not only were trials getting delayed, but court orders convicting a person also took years to implement. He said digitisation of documents would help in speeding up investigations and trials.

Centre to boost oil palm farming #GS3 #Economy

The Centre will offer price assurances, viability gap funding and planting material assistance to oil palm farmers to boost domestic production and reduce dependence on imports via a new mission approved by the Cabinet on Wednesday.

Over a five-year period, the financial outlay for the National Mission on Edible Oils – Oil Palm (NMEO-OP) will amount to Rs. 11,040 crore of which Rs. 8,844 crore is the share of the Central government, according to an official statement. The Mission hopes to increase oil palm acreage by an additional 6.5 lakh hectares by 2025-26 and grow production of crude palm oil to 11.2 lakh tonnes by 2025-26 and up to 28 lakh tonnes by 2029-30.

At a media briefing after the Cabinet meeting, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said the government aimed to reduce the risk for farmers facing price fluctuation of the fresh fruit bunches from which oil is extracted, due to volatility in the international market.

Price mechanism

“The government will develop a mechanism to fix and regulate palm oil prices. So if the market is volatile, then the Centre will pay the difference in price to the farmers through direct benefit transfer,” he said.

This is the first time the Centre will give oil palm farmers a price assurance, with industry mandated to pay the viability gap funding of 14.3% of crude palm oil prices. In a bid to encourage oil palm cultivation in northeastern India and in the Andaman and Nicobar islands, the Centre will bear an additional cost of 2% of the crude palm oil prices in these States. The scheme has a sunset clause, ending November 1, 2037.

The Mission will also more than double the support provided for the cost of planting materials.

Asked about biodiversity concerns involved in monoculture plantations, Mr. Tomar said an assessment by the Indian institute of Oil Palm Research had found 28 lakh hectares across the country which could be safely used for oil palm cultivation. Less than four lakh hectares are currently planted with oil palm.

Praise from industry

The Oil Palm Developers & Processors Association hailed the Cabinet decisions and said it has been relentlessly urging the government to usher reforms in the sector. The decisions would benefit farmers and make it viable for the industry to continue contributing towards making the country self-sufficient in edible oil requirements and consequently save foreign exchange.

Tech to help protect UN peacekeepers: Jaishankar #GS2 #IR

Presiding over a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) open debate on technology and peacekeeping, his first as External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar announced the rollout of a technological platform in partnership with the UN — ‘UNITE Aware’ — to help enhance the safety of UN peacekeepers. India, as a major contributing nation to UN peacekeeping activities, has been keen on using its month-long UNSC Presidency to prioritise peacekeeping. The platform has been used in four UN missions, an Indian official told The Hindu .

On Wednesday, the Security Council adopted a resolution that paid tribute to peacekeepers and asked member-states that had hosted them to bring to justice those who had killed or committed acts of violence against them. “The international community must come together better to govern the digital space for good, while addressing its many challenges,.

Mr. Jaishankar outlined a four-point framework for securing the peacekeepers at the debate. First, he called for the deployment of proven, cost-effective and field-serviceable technologies that were environmentally friendly in their construction. Second, peacekeepers needed sound information and intelligence, he said, and this would require precise positioning and overhead visualisation.

“It, therefore, gives me great pleasure to announce that India is supporting the UN in the rollout of the ‘UNITE Aware’ platform across select peacekeeping missions. This initiative is based on the expectation that an entire peacekeeping operation can be visualised, coordinated and monitored on a real time basis,” Mr. Jaishankar said.

Finally, he called for investment in capacity building and training of peacekeepers with regard to technology, while announcing to the Security Council a Memorandum of Understanding between India and the UN in support of the “Partnership for Technology in Peacekeeping” initiative and the UN C4ISR Academy for Peace Operations (UNCAP).

The Security Council adopted a “Presidential Statement” underscoring the importance of peacekeeping, the complexities and challenges of the environment in which it occurs and the importance of existing and new technologies to protect peacekeepers.

Nod for Indo-Swiss medical research agreements #GS2 #IR

The Cabinet has approved agreements between the Indian Council of Medical Research and Swiss research agencies to promote collaboration on diagnostics and antimicrobial resistance, according to an official statement on Wednesday.

A Memorandum of Understanding was signed with Switzerland’s Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics in February, according to which ICMR is committed to make available funding up to $100,000 while the Swiss foundation will make available funds up to $400,000 to local partners.

The other MoU was signed with the GARDP Foundation on Antimicrobial Resistance Research and Innovation in March. The Swiss foundation aims to develop and deliver new or improved antibiotic treatments, and also ensure their sustainable access. The collaboration will involve joint strategy and financial and in-kind contributions by both parties.

What’s next for Afghanistan? #GS2 #IR

Almost 20 years after they were ousted from power by a U.S.-led invasion, the Taliban, who rose from a group of madrassa students in the 1990s under the leadership of Mullah Omar, are back in Kabul. The city fell without a fight on August 15, as President Ashraf Ghani and most of his Ministers and elected lawmakers fled the country. The whole world is now looking at the unfolding situation in Afghanistan as the Taliban are now tightening their grip on the country.

What’s happening?

The Taliban are yet to form a transition government. Their leaders, including Amir Khan Muttaqi, a former Information Minister, are currently holding talks with former President Hamid Karzai, top government negotiator Abdullah Abdullah and Hezb-e-Islami leader and former warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar on transition.

The Taliban call themselves the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Currently, Afghanistan is an Islamic Republic, where President is the head of state. The Taliban are expected to change the name in the coming days, which would also mean that their supreme leader Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada would be the ‘Emir’ of Afghanistan. As the transition process is under way, the Taliban have moved to assure the foreign diplomatic missions as well as the public that they would not target anybody.

On August 17, Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s spokesperson, held a press conference in Kabul where he said the new government would respect Afghan women’s rights “within the framework of the Islamic law”. Mujahid, who was a shadowy figure until recently, also said the Taliban would not target anyone who worked with the fallen government or foreigners, and asked government employees, including women, to continue to go to work. Media houses continued to allow women journalists to work, while the streets of Kabul were patrolled by Taliban militants in the military vehicles abandoned by government soldiers. The Taliban have also set up checkpoints across the city.

Have Taliban changed?

The press conference in Kabul suggests that the Taliban are concerned about the public perception, at least for now, as the transition is under way. They also want to assure the Afghan people, many of whom are desperately trying to flee the country, that things have changed from 1996. But the question is whether these statements are mere optics given the delicacy and complexity of the current situation or signals of a genuine transformation. While clarity is yet to emerge on what kind of a regime is going to be formed in Kabul, there is little evidence to suggest that the Taliban have gone through an ideological transformation.

When the Taliban were in power during 1996-2001, even basic human rights were suspended in Afghanistan. Women were not allowed to work and girls were not allowed to go to schools. Women could not venture out of their homes without a male companion. Men had to grow their beard.

Amputation, flogging and stoning were common. Kabul’s famed football stadium had been turned into a public execution ground. Music, TV, cinema, photography, painting and even kite-flying were banned. The sixth century monumental statues of Bamiyan Buddhas were destroyed. The Taliban did all these because they believed in a puritanical interpretation of Islam and in their bid to establish a “pure Islamic system”. They haven’t disowned these beliefs.

The Taliban may have taken Kabul within a day without bloodshed. But their long road to victory has been marred with violence. Over the past 20 years, they have carried out many attacks, including suicide attacks, killing thousands of civilians. Particularly after the U.S.-Taliban agreement was signed in February 2020, Afghanistan saw a series of assassinations of journalists, liberal critics and even pilots. And in areas the Taliban captured since May, there were reports of public executions, beatings and forced marriages of young girls with Taliban militants.

In Kabul, many residents say, the Taliban were doing a door-to-door search, looking for those who worked with the government despite assurances from the group’s leadership that no one would be harmed.

The chaotic scenes from Kabul airport indicate how much sections of Afghan society fear the Islamist militants. On Wednesday, Taliban militants in Jalalabad opened fire into a crowd of protesters, putting down the first demonstration of public dissent violently. So the Taliban spokesman’s comments about moderation and rights of the people are not supported by the Taliban history and the developments on the ground. It’s up to the militants to prove the sceptics wrong. On the other side, the Taliban have shown more willingness to engage with other countries this time, especially with China and Russia. And Pakistan has openly welcomed the Taliban’s capture of power.

Is there any resistance?

In 1996 when the Taliban took power, the Mujahideen government of President Barhanudeen Rabbani and Ahmad Shah Massoud retreated to Panjshir where they regrouped the Northern Alliance. This time, the Taliban appear to be more powerful. They reached Kabul after forcing the U.S., the world’s most powerful country, to pull back. Most top officials in the Afghan government, including President Ghani, have fled the country. The only top official who still stays defiant is Amrullah Saleh, the former First Vice-President.

Mr. Saleh, a former aide of Massoud during the Northern Alliance days, is believed to be in Panjshir along with Ahmad Massoud, son of Ahmad Shah Massoud.

On August 17, almost at the same time as the Taliban’s Mujahid was holding the press conference in Kabul, Mr. Saleh tweeted, saying he’s “the legitimate caretaker President” of the country, according to the Afghan Constitution. He also asked Afghans to join the “resistance”. It’s too early to say which direction Mr. Saleh’s efforts would take.

In the 1990s, Massoud had the backing of Russia, Iran and India, and the Northern Alliance was strong across northern and northeastern provinces. This time, Panjshir is the only province that stays out of the Taliban’s control. It’s to be seen whether Panjshir could hold off the Taliban and Mr. Saleh could muster enough domestic and regional support to mount a credible challenge to them.

April-June GDP growth to be ‘deceptively high’ at 20%: ICRA #GS3 #Economy

India’s GDP is estimated to grow at the “deceptively high” level of 20% for the April-June quarter but would still remain far below the pre-COVID level. ICRA said the low base of the last fiscal year, when GDP had contracted by close to 24%, ‘conceals’ the impact of the second wave of COVID-19 infections.

Economic activity has been boosted by robust government capital expenditure, merchandise exports and demand from the farm sector, it said, estimating the GDP to grow by 20% and the gross value added (GVA) to register a growth of 17% for the June quarter. GVA is estimated to contract 15% compared with the preceding March quarter, showing the impact of the second wave.

“The double-digit expansion expected in YoY terms in Q1FY22 is deceptively high, as it benefits inordinately from last year’s contracted base,” ICRA chief economist Aditi Nayar said. “We forecast GVA and the GDP to have shrunk by around 9% each in Q1FY22 relative to the pre-COVID level of Q1FY20, highlighting the tangible distress being experienced by economic agents in the less formal and contact-intensive sectors.”

Official data on economic activity is expected by the end of the month.

ICRA cautioned that the organised sector was expected to have gained at the cost of the less formal space. Available statistics were often unable to capture the pain experienced by the latter, which might result in an overestimation of growth under the present circumstances.

India on track to meet climate goals, says FM #GS3 #Economy #Environment

India is among the few G20 countries on track to meet United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and Paris Agreement goals and has taken decisive actions to tackle climate change.

The Minister, in a meeting with COP 26 president-designate Alok Sharma, said the government is taking concrete steps and at ‘appreciable speed’ to meet its commitments on the target of 450 GW of renewable energy by 2030. She also said 100 GW of this had already been achieved.

The Minister discussed issues related to climate change and specifically COP 26, the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties. The U.K. will host the international climate conference COP 26 in November this year.