Insecurity In Afghan Region After US Withdrawal

The American forces left Afghanistan secretly to avoid any interference or casualties resulting from intelligence breach that might have forced the US head to revamp the policy of withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Biden administration was determined to pull out their forces from Afghanistan. Many analysts do believe that Talibans could never survive against the allied forces if they had not been funded and supported by the secret hands. It seems obvious when we see that the Talibans never lacked modern weapons, technology, dollars, food, backdoor diplomacy channels and other facilities.

The future of South Asian politics seems troublesome. The UK and other countries have consented to work with Taliban governments but US along with other powers advised Talibans not to capture Kabul and political power by force because it would be difficult for them to cooperate with them. This gesture shows advice to Talibans that if they capture power with consensus they, US and allies, would be ready to render cooperation.  

We see a big change in Talibans in that their vision seems mature. They have been occupying the rival territories without resorting to barbarity and brutality they had were infamous for in the past. That they are capturing bordering districts one by one without any resistance from the locals shows the terror of the Talibans. The Afghan masses cannot forget the ruthlessness of Talibans and fear it will recur for coming decades. Therefore they don’t trust the Ashraf Ghani administration to provide the safety and security. Even people working in Government are submitting to them gradually and it seems that Talibans will soon occupy the major portion of Afghanistan.

The US allies have planned to retain Kabul to counter Taliban if they prove a menace for the international movement or diplomacy. Ashraf Ghani weak government, extremist ideology and past inhumanity of Talibans present a fragile situation of law and order in Afghanistan.

If Talibans come to power, many refugees will flee to Pakistan. Many pro US families had already applied for immigration in the west because they expect barbarian treatment by the Talibans after the US withdrawal.

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The circumstances heading towards conflict create a new sense of insecurity in Afghanistan and South Asia. Afghan refugees in Afghanistan will cause trouble in Pakistan because Tehrik-I-Taliban Pakistan and anti-Shia and other Muslim sects can be targeted, befriended and encouraged towards violence by the troublemakers infiltrating in the guise of the refugees. There is empirical evidence that the same happened in the past.

The only difference is that past happened under the Soviet Union while the current scenario presents US and allied forces. The rest of the situation is same.

In India, the BJP government under Narendra Modi has been targeting Indian minorities. The citizen laws, agriculture bills, ghar wapsi, conspiracies against Churches, Mosques, Gurdwaras, Granth Sahib, etc. Throwing the blame on its neighbour and promoting the disinformation that all troubles in India come from Pakistan will ignite a new era of tussle between Indian and Pakistan. The Kashmir issue, Sikh issue and Muslim issue in India are expected to heighten to the extent that the region could see a new wave of agony and terrorism. The Taliban could start to exploit these as well.

The Talibans were approached by the Indians but they were not welcomed under a revengeful atmosphere as India had supported anti-Taliban internal and external forces during the past decades.

The Talibans have enjoyed a soft corner by Pakistan but the post-withdrawal situation is not favourable for Pakistan either. The US should have reached out to all the fighting factions in Afghanistan and secured their agreement on a coalition government which could bring peace in Afghanistan. Unfortunately the US forces abdicated from all influence in the government formation or maneuvering power. This has caused a major crisis in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and India lack diplomatic vision, depth and wisdom to cope with the alarming situation that is developing under these circumstances. For this reason, all share apprehensions because if Talibans get the support from Russia and western secret agencies as happened in the past two decades the South Asian countries will be unable to handle the situation. Resultantly, the region will be destabilised and go on fire.

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The BJP government may benefit from this hate-ridden situation but they will have to make many sacrifices because hatred cannot be alternative to peace. Peace and love are the only solution to eliminate hatred and violence.

Pakistan is the most vulnerable country. Past record shows that Afghan wars hit it to the extent that terrorist activities of the Afghan sponsored factions not only supplied drugs and weapons but also resulted in attacks on Pakistani military bases, schools, markets, Imam Barahs, Churches, Gurdwaras and Mosques. It seemed that Pakistan would never be able to restore peace in the country.

The Pakistan army had to plunge into war within Pakistan against the terrors and with 70,000 lives lost. The Army managed to control the criminals and terrorists and restored law and order situation. However once again the same woeful situation is emerging and the Pakistani policymakers are pondering over the situation.

The issue of the daughter of the Afghan ambassador and their return to Afghanistan as tacit protest has created a new chapter of confusion between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pakistani government believes that Indian hand is behind all these incidents because Pakistan cannot afford such tensions with its neighbouring Afghanistan. Such incidents are engineered by foreign secret hands.

Under these destabilizing and increasingly fragile circumstances, Pakistan and India should hold more and more sessions of dialogue to clarify things otherwise they will face another wave of havoc in the future.

Revisiting SR Bommai Case & Secularism

Against promoting ‘dynasty’, and contemptuous of Nehru-Gandhis, the Bharatiya Janata Party nevertheless has some families of its own and has adopted some like the Bahugunas and, recently, of Jitin Prasada. The latest addition is its anointment of Basavaraj Bommai as Karnataka’s Chief Minister.

The only difference is that father S R Bommai, who headed the state in 1988-89, was a socialist and the son too began his political career as one. The socialist tag remains, going by media reports from Karnataka, and may take long to wash off, as had happened in the case of the late Sushma Swaraj.

However, father Bommai’s legal and constitutional legacy should worry the BJP, since all Central Governments have tended to experiment with powers pertaining to declaration of President’s rule in opposition-ruled states.

The apex court’s judgment of March 11, 1994, popularly known as the SR Bommai case, also dwells at length on separation of the State from religion and prohibits the former to use the latter. This part of the verdict is less-known and has not yet been acted upon.

While the Modi Government as such has not advocated removing ‘secularism’ from the statute book, individuals and groups, including Justice Anil Dave, a former Supreme Court judge, have publicly demanded it. The political opposition and critics at home and abroad have alleged that a majoritarian political plank militates against secular ethos, if not the constitutional provisions.    

Senior Bommai’s government was dismissed under Article 356 of the Constitution and the President’ rule was imposed. He lost an appeal against his dismissal before the Karnataka High Courtand moved the Supreme Court. The court took about five years to deliver a verdict that in essence ruled that the Governor’s powers to impose the President’s rule in a state is not absolute and is challengeable. It ruled that the test of a government’s majority must be determined on the floor of the Assembly, and by implication, not in Raj Bhavan, or elsewhere.    

In spite of the senior Bommai’s successful court battle, Central Governments of the day have used other means to topple opposition-run state governments, like chipping away the ruling party’s legislators, as was attempted in West Bengal, in the run-up to the assembly polls this year.

Last year’s change in Madhya Pradesh was after 23 Congress MLAs switched sides.  Karnataka itself had seen the end of the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) government following defections.

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The Centre’s gambit failed miserably in Maharashtra in November 2019 when Ajit Pawar of the Nationalist Congress Party revolted, only to return to the party fold within three days. Governor Bhagat Singh Koshiyari swore in a BJP-led government supported by Ajit Pawar, in the Raj Bhavan, without testing the numbers in the Assembly. The move failed when the Supreme Court on November 29, 2919, ordered the new government to prove its majority on the Assembly floor.  

For the long years that it has been in power at the Centre, the Congress has dismissed the maximum number of state governments using Article 356 of the Constitution. The number is 44 as per Wikipedia, but 93 according to Union Home Minister Amit Shah.

Senior Bommai’s government was dismissed on grounds that it had lost majority following large-scale defections. Then Governor P Venkatasubbaiah refused to give Bommai an opportunity to test his majority in the Assembly despite the latter presenting him with a copy of the resolution passed by the Janata Dal Legislature Party.

The SR Bommai case raised questions on the proclamation of President’s rule in a state. The Supreme Court discussed the grounds and the extent of the imposition of President’s rule in a State.

The verdict of the nine-judge Constitution Bench has gone on to become one of the most cited whenever hung Assemblies are returned, and parties scrambled for a government. The historic order has in a way put an end to the arbitrary dismissal of State governments under Article 356 by spelling out restrictions.

The verdict concluded that the power of the President to dismiss a State government is not absolute. It said the President should exercise the power only after his proclamation (imposing his/her rule) is approved by both Houses of Parliament. Till then, the court said, the President can only suspend the Legislative Assembly. “The dissolution of Legislative Assembly is not a matter of course. It should be resorted to only where it is found necessary for achieving the purposes of the Proclamation,” the court said.

“In case both Houses of Parliament disapprove or do not approve the Proclamation, the Proclamation lapses at the end of the two-month period. In such a case, the government which was dismissed revives. The Legislative Assembly, which may have been kept in suspended animation, gets reactivated,” the Court said. It also made a Presidential Proclamation under Article 356 subject to judicial review.

The significance of the case lies in the fact that it categorically ruled that the floor of the Assembly is the only forum that should test the majority of the government of the day, and not the subjective opinion of the Governor, who is often referred to as the agent of the Central government.

“The Chief Minister of every State who has to discharge his constitutional functions will be in perpetual fear of the axe of Proclamation falling on him because he will not be sure whether he will remain in power or not and consequently he has to stand up every time from his seat without properly discharging his constitutional obligations and achieving the desired target in the interest of the State,” it said.

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In one of the first instances of the impact of the verdict, the Vajpayee government in 1999 was forced to reinstate the Bihar government it dismissed. The Rabri Devi government, sacked on February 12, 1999 was reinstated on March 8, 1999 when it became clear that the Centre would suffer a defeat in the Rajya Sabha over the issue.

The ruling pertaining to secularism is equally significant for its endorsement of Indian federalism. It is a sharp commentary on the inroads of religion into politics and safeguards Indian secularism. Bommai‘s promise of fair federal play, the judgment’s mandate for secularism, and for action against parties and State governments violating the constitutional philosophy that prohibits the mixing up of religion and politics.

Justice P B Sawant (who passed away recently) held in paragraph 145 that the right to religion is subject to laws governing secular activities such as the law governing politics and that the Indian State is a secular state and not a theocratic State.

He wrote: “Our Constitution does not prohibit the practice of any religion either privately or publicly. Through the Preamble of the Constitution, the people of this country have solemnly resolved to constitute this country, among others, into a secular republic and to secure to all its citizens. Article 25 of the Constitution guarantees to all persons equally the freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion subject to public order, morality and health and subject to the other Fundamental Rights and the State’s power to make any law regulating or restricting any economic, financial, political or other secular activity which may be associated with religious practice. Article 26 guarantees every religious denomination or any section thereof the right [a] to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes, [b] to manage its own affairs in matters of religion, [c] to own and acquire movable and immovable property and [d] to administer such property in accordance with law. Article 29 guarantees every section of the citizens its distinct culture, among others.

“Article 30 provides that all minorities based on religion shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice. It prohibits the State from making any discrimination in granting aid to an educational institution managed by a religious minority. Under Articles 14, 15 and 16, the Constitution prohibits discrimination against any citizen on the ground of his religion and guarantees equal protection of law and equal opportunity of public employment. Article 44 enjoins upon the State to endeavour to secure to its citizens a uniform civil code. Article 51 casts a duty on every citizen of India, among others, [a] to abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions, [b] to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood, among all the people of India, transcending, among others, religious and sectional diversities, [c] to value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture, [d] to develop scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform; and [e] to safeguard public property and to abjure violence.”

These provisions by implication prohibit the establishment of a theocratic State and prevent the State either identifying itself with or favouring any particular religion or religious sect or denomination. They carry their own relevance in the present times.

US-Jordanian Ties Rejuvenated

Jordanian King Abdullah became the first Arab leader to meet the US President Joe Biden at the White House on July 19. By granting him this honour the new US administration is putting its weight behind Jordan to become the voice of the region and non-gulf Arab nations, once again.

As the Jordanian monarch for the last 22 years King Abdullah has been seen by American presidents as a moderate, reliable ally in the Middle East, besides being the eyes and ears from the Arab world in Washington.

However, during the last four years that special relationship was put into cold storage, as Donald Trump, favoured working with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states instead.

For instance the Trump administration didn’t consulted King Abdullah, on the Mideast peace plan, which originally provided for annexation of the Jordan Valley.

Reports say that in his renewed role as a representative of moderate, pro-Western Arabs, Abdullah brought several messages to Biden.

Impact on Jordan-Saudi relations

President Joe Biden may have little appetite for Israeli-Palestinian peace-making efforts, but he seems determined to prevent certain third parties from exploiting the regional stalemate to their advantage.

Although the US’s and Biden’s foreign policy priorities are heavily focused on China and Russia, the Middle East is a region that the new administration understands very well it cannot afford to ignore.

Relations between Jordan and Saudi Arabia had their own ups and downs during the last four years. The Saudis were irked by King Abdullah’s fierce rejection of Trump’s recognition of all of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Jordan also refused to consider the president’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.

King Abdullah suspected that the US and Israel were favouring a Saudi role in the administration of the Muslim sites on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Jordanian officials denied reports last year in Israeli newspapersquoting Saudi diplomats as saying that Jordan was willing to grant Saudi Arabia observer status in the endowment administering the Muslim holy sites on the Temple Mount.

The Saudi interest is marked by various moves initiated by the country in recent years, though it has not officially declared its desire to wrest control of the Temple Mount from Jordan, yet.

Saudi King Salman announced at the Arab Summit in Dhahran in April 2018 that he was donating $150 million to support Islam’s holy places in Jerusalem. The donation was aimed to counter Turkish bequests. Saudi Arabia has since clashed with Jordan at various Arab forums over Jordan’s exclusive control of the administration of the Jerusalem sites and is believed to have been wooing Palestinian religious dignitaries to achieve its objective.

Here the risk for Saudi Arabia is that broadening the administration of the Jerusalem sites could lead to demands that the custodianship of Mecca and Medina should also be internationalised. This proposition, often put forward by Iran, sounds horrific to the Saudis.

For much of the past century, the administration of Jerusalem’s Muslim holy sites has vested in a Jordanian government-controlled endowment. And Jordan views the Saudi and other interested Islamic nation’s efforts as an affront, which certain observers also describe as the battle to emerge as the supreme leader of the Islamic world.

The stakes in the struggle for control of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem sites are high. For Riyadh’s ruling Saud family, this is about bolstering its religious claim to leadership of the Muslim world.

For Jordan and its Hashemite monarchs, who trace their ancestry back to the Prophet Muhammad, this is more about politics than religion. Palestinians account for more than 40% of Jordan’s population, thus maintaining the status quo in Jerusalem—which most Palestinians hope to be the capital of a future Palestinian state—is key to ensuring the regime’s survival.

Despite Abdullah’s fraught relationship with the Saudi crown prince, the Jordanian monarch told Biden, “we have to work with MBS,” the sources said. This magnanimity stems from the confidence, which Abdullah has in revival of his ties with the new US administration.

Jordan as the regional peacemaker

King Abdullah also discussed Iraq and Syrian affairs with Joe Biden. It is reported that he urged Biden to back Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi, who will be visiting the White House this week.

King Abdullah’s pro-Kadhimi argument were based on the fact that he enjoys support of Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, as well as Jordan, and was described as the best bet to offset Iranian militias and influence in Iraq.

King Abdullah also urged Biden to join a task force to help stabilise Syria. The approach Abdullah advocates would bring together the United States, Russia, Israel, Jordan and other nations to agree on a road map for restoring Syrian sovereignty and unity.

Reports say that Biden hasn’t yet committed to the proposal, as it would mean realigning the US interest with both Russia and the Bashar Al Assad regime, both of which are controversial decisions to be made.

US academic Curtis Ryan, a widely acclaimed Jordanian expert opines that Jordan and its partners see the new three-way alignment or axis with Iraq and Egypt as an alternative power centre in Arab politics that will help to bring non-Gulf voices back to the forefront of Arab politics.

In this regard Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sissi’s visit to Baghdad can be described as a “positive step” to limit Iranian influence there. 

Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution says that Abdullah has been the most energetic Arab leader by far in trying to support a stable Iraqi government. This summit in Baghdad of Iraq, Jordan and Egypt is the first time that the Sunni Arabs have ever done anything in 18 years since the fall of Saddam—that they have actually done something to not only stabilise Iraq, but to offset Iranian influence.

A final major area of discussion was Jordan’s relationship with the new Israeli government. Abdullah labelled a recent meeting he had with PM Bennett as reassuring, and said he trusts the two governments could cooperate on security and other issues. Although Jordan and Israel have a peace treaty, relations remained tense during Netanyahu’s long tenure as prime minister.

However, this time though King Abdullah has apparent support of POTUS, but he also will have to outmanoeuvre his younger rivals like Sheikh Mohammed of the UAE and Prince MBS of Saudi Arabia to regain the regional Islamic leadership.

(Asad Mirza is a political commentator based in New Delhi. He writes on issues related to Muslims, education, geopolitics and interfaith)

Pakistan Military Won Elections In PoK

July 25, 2021, will be remembered as the day when elections held for the so-called legislative assembly of Pakistani-occupied Kashmir (PoK) were marred with rigging, violence and murder under the watchful eye of the Pakistani military establishment itself.

So far 25 Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and 11 Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) candidates allegedly approved by none other than Pakistani Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa have been officially declared winners taking first and second place respectively.

Ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has only been able to bag six seats. This clearly demonstrates that for the first time in the history of PoK, the Pakistani military establishment will not only be able to form a government but also have a pro-Bajwa opposition. Hence, Pakistan’s Army Chief will be able to play one against the other whenever he finds it beneficial to his political ambitions in the region.

The aforementioned elections have also proved to be a money-grabbing event. Prior to July 25, sector commander of PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan Brigadier Naeem Malik was caught red-handed accepting bribes from PTI candidates. It was reported that Malik has offered PTI candidate billionaire Ilyas Tanvir the position of the prime minister of the occupied territory for a cash lump sum of one billion rupees of which one million was taken as token money.

Brigadier Naeem has likewise been accused of selling tickets to PTI candidates and promised them a victory. He has been accused of manipulating the appointment of Judges of both the High and Supreme courts and issuing favour to selected construction companies in PoK.

The Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan, Ali Ameen Gandapur was barred by the Election Commission from entering PoK after he gave five lakh rupees to a PTI candidate. The money was confiscated.

But Gandapur refused to abide by the orders of EC and continued to visit several constituencies in PoK. On one occasion when confronted by the youth he got out of his motor, pulled out his pistol and began firing!

Besides the above-mentioned tactics by means of which the outcome of the current elections has been controlled, there are other factors involved as well such.

The role of Lent officers, head of the revenue department, the patwari, and the tehsildar. Their role is to ensure that people living in their area vote for the candidate who is favored by the Pakistan military. During the last week of the election campaign, they start to pay visits to families of those who they consider are still in doubt about who to cast their vote for.

All sorts of pressures are applied to motivate them to fall in line for a meager monetary favour. And they do fall in line since they know that the price they will be paying in form of extortion and requisition of their lands by the patwari on behalf of the Pakistan army will be too much to bear.

The most important document for a government servant, serving in PoK, is his or her Annual Confidential Report commonly referred to as ACR that is prepared by senior bureaucrats. It is this ACR on which all government servants depend for promotions and any disobedience of one’s superiors means that one is side-lined for the rest of one’s life.

Here is when they become the most effective tool that is applied to bully hundreds of thousands of government servants to cast their votes in accordance with the dictates of their supervisors.

PoK is run by a troika composed of the Minister of Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan, Chief Secretary and the Inspector General of police. All three are non-resident Pakistanis appointed by the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Hence they are referred to as Lent officers. The accomplishment of the election result desired by the military establishment is fulfilled by them.

It is therefore not surprising that despite the crowd-puller public meetings held all over POK by Maryam Nawaz, PTI has managed to secure a ‘convincing’ victory pushing the ruling PML-N to third place.

Forty thousand extra troops were deployed at polling stations on July 25 to maintain peace. However, it was the very military that stood by as silent spectators as PTI goons carried on with violence and occupied the polling station where they uninterruptedly marked PTI candidates.

The hypocrisy of PPP and PML-N is now evident. Although both parties have accused PTI of applying a combination of violence, bullying and rigging yet, according to reliable inner circles who spoke to this scribe, they refuse to launch a wider protest campaign for fear of India using it as a pretext to exposing the plight of the subjugated people of PoK to those living in the valley.

(Dr Amjad Ayub Mirza is an author and a human rights activist from Mirpur in PoK. He currently lives in exile in the UK. – ANI)

Coexistence, A Unifying Factor For Indians

A recent survey throws contradictory and unbelievable findings, yet it also underlines how an Indian really feels

For most political parties, sociologists and psephologists what a common Indian on the street thinks matters most. It is an insight into a common man’s psyche, which allows them to strategies and formulate new plans and narratives. Though the political parties are able to set the narrative for their own narrow agendas yet they are unable to control the common perceptions and thinking among the populace.

Studies like a recent one by the US-based Pew Research Centre’s Survey of Religion across India, helps not just the narrative formulators but also offers a peep into the common man’s psyche. The recent Pew study based on nearly 30,000 face-to-face interviews of adults conducted in 17 languages between late 2019 and early 2020 (pre-COVID-19), finds that Indians of all religious backgrounds overwhelmingly say they are very free to practice their faiths.

Religious Tolerance

Indians see religious tolerance as a central part of who they are as a nation. Across the major religious groups, most people say it is very important to respect all religions to be “truly Indian.” And tolerance is a religious as well as a civic value: Indians are united in the view that respecting other religions is a very important part of what it means to be a member of their own religious community.

Yet, despite sharing certain values and religious beliefs – as well as living in the same country, under the same constitution – members of India’s major religious communities often don’t feel they have much in common with one another. The majority of Hindus see themselves as very different from Muslims (66%), and most Muslims return the sentiment, saying they are very different from Hindus (64%).

Tolerance

Indians, then, simultaneously express enthusiasm for religious tolerance and a consistent preference for keeping their religious communities in segregated spheres meaning they live together yet separately. These two sentiments may seem paradoxical, but for many Indians they are not.

Indeed, many take both positions, saying it is important to be tolerant of others and expressing a desire to limit personal connections across religious lines. Indians who favour a religiously segregated society also overwhelmingly emphasise religious tolerance as a core value.

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In other words, Indians’ concept of religious tolerance does not necessarily involve the mixing of religious communities. While people in some countries may aspire to create a “melting pot” of different religious identities, many Indians seem to prefer a country more like a patchwork fabric, with clear lines between groups.

This is what I ascribe to the syncretic Indian values, which you’ll not be able to see in any western society. The Indians in spite of all differences and antagonisms try to view themselves as colours of a rainbow, which India is and this is what makes India, united.

Dimensions of Hindu nationalism in India

The survey reports that Hindus tend to see their religious identity and Indian national identity as closely intertwined: Nearly two-thirds of Hindus (64%) say it is very important to be Hindu to be “truly” Indian.

Most Hindus (59%) also link Indian identity with being able to speak Hindi. And these two dimensions of national identity – being able to speak Hindi and being a Hindu – are closely connected. Among Hindus who say it is very important to be Hindu to be truly Indian, almost 80% also say it is very important to speak Hindi to be truly Indian.

Overall, among those who voted in the 2019 elections, three-in-ten Hindus take all three positions: saying it is very important to be Hindu to be truly Indian; saying the same about speaking Hindi; and casting their ballot for the BJP.

Indian Muslims

Vast majority of India’s Muslims say Indian culture is superior. Today, India’s Muslims almost unanimously say they are very proud to be Indian (95%), and they express great enthusiasm for Indian culture: 85% agree with the statement that “Indian people are not perfect, but Indian culture is superior to others”.

Overall, one-in-five Muslims say they have personally faced religious discrimination recently, but views vary by region. Relatively few Muslims say their community faces “a lot” of discrimination in India (24%). In fact, the share is similar to the share of Hindus who say Hindus face widespread religious discrimination in India (21%).

In addition, most Muslims across the country (65%), along with an identical share of Hindus (65%), see communal violence as a very big national problem.

Muslims’ desire for religious segregation does not preclude tolerance of other groups – again similar to the pattern seen among Hindus. Indeed, a majority of Muslims who favour separate religious courts for their community say religious diversity benefits India.

South v/s North

The survey consistently found that people in the South (the states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Telangana, and the union territory of Puducherry) differ from Indians elsewhere in the country in their views on religion, politics and identity.

For example, by a variety of measures, people in the South are somewhat less religious than those in other regions – 69% say religion is very important in their lives, versus 92% in the Central part of the country.

Hindu nationalist sentiments also appear to have less of a foothold in the South. Among Hindus, those in the South (42%) are far less likely than those in Central states (83%) or the North (69%) to say being Hindu is very important to be truly Indian. And in the 2019 parliamentary elections, the BJP’s lowest vote share came from the South. In the survey, just 19% of Hindus in the region say they voted for the BJP, compared with roughly two-thirds in the Northern (68%) and Central (65%) parts of the country who say they voted for the ruling party.

Other Contentious Issues

Most Indian Muslims opposed triple talaq. 56% said Muslim men should not be allowed to divorce this way. Still, 37% of Indian Muslims say they support triple talaq, with Muslim men (42%) more likely than Muslim women (32%) to take this position. A majority of Muslim women (61%) opposed triple talaq.

Similarly many Indians, across a range of religious groups, say it is very important to stop people in their community from marrying into other religious groups. Roughly two-thirds of Hindus in India want to prevent interreligious marriages of Hindu women (67%) or Hindu men (65%). Even larger shares of Muslims feel similarly: 80% say it is very important to stop Muslim women from marrying outside their religion, and 76% say it is very important to stop Muslim men from doing so.

The survey throws up many findings which may sound contradictory and unbelievable, yet they represent the true feelings of Indians, however convoluted they may be. And this contradictory yet assimilating feeling is what makes India what it is.

(Asad Mirza is a political commentator based in New Delhi. He writes on issues related to Muslims, education, geopolitics and interfaith)

Is It Curtains For Cinematic Freedom?

Most governments want control. Some governments want more control than the others. Some governments want more and more control, but also want to appear democratic. They camouflage this obsessive tendency with this or that fig leaf. However, some governments want absolute control, and they care a damn.

Witness what China is doing in Hong Kong. But Hong Kong was not like the ‘mainland’ – it was not like Shanghai, Beijing, Chengdu, Lhasa, or even Urumqi in Xinjiang — under total control of a well-oiled totalitarian system. Hong Kong was so different!

For all you know, these days it reminds of ‘one hundred years of solitude’ in Hong Kong. It’s a new model of ‘cultural revolution’ enshrined by ‘President for Life’: Xi Jinping. Total control on freedom of expression; not even peaceful symbolism is allowed. They might pick you up if you flash your mobile as a sign of ‘creative dissent’.

Therefore, independent newspapers and media outfits etc, have been shut, or, compelled to be shut, while scores of peaceful dissenters and activists are rotting in jail. Also in prison are editors, journalists, and, at least one media owner. This is a ‘gift’ given to the people of Hong Kong as the mainland celebrates ‘one hundred years’ of the Communist Party of China!

Myanmar, like a good neighbour, has chosen China as a role model. A military junta is yet again running amok after dismantling a fragile democracy, killing hundreds of non-violent youngsters, and putting in prison not only Aung Sang Su Kyi, but pro-democracy dissenters, students and journalists. And since doctors and nurses were the first to protest, some of them too have been packed off to prisons, even as the pandemic rages like a death machine. Thus, many doctors and journalists have gone underground, running secret clinics and solo media-outfits, from nameless locations.

Surely, India is not going the Hong Kong or Myanmar way! So, what are the ‘signposts’ of Indian democracy while we await the third surge of a killer virus?

Stan Swamy, 84, no charges proved, not even interrogated by the NIA for one day, his body ravaged by Alzheimer’s and Covid. Witness his slow, tortuous death in jail, without bail — also called an ‘Institutional Murder’.

Or, remember all the others in prison for no rhyme or reason—young, brilliant scholars, eminent intellectuals and academics, under the draconian UAPA, on what are widely perceived to be fake and cooked-up charges.

Indeed, tomorrow, if a filmmaker makes a movie called ‘A Sipper for Stan Swamy’ — it might run into serious trouble.

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It is not only the obsessive addiction with ‘control’ – the ominous signs are all out there: the concerted attack on campuses, the targeting of dissenters, scholars, journalists, intellectuals, the organized move to capture institutions like the FTII and the clampdown, the rampant use of a British-era law like ‘Sedition’, and the way in which sections of the media have become relentless perpetrators of fake, doctored news and hate politics — media ethics can go get damned! Or, the manner in which the organized army of trolls operate — in their crass cacophony, in tandem with the ultra-loyal TV anchors.

A pronounced savagery has come to rule the roost in the dominant political narrative, riding vitriolic, venomous and vicious campaigns, signifying the most bestial dimensions of human nature. This is upfront and ugly – from the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh, to the death of photo-journalist Danish Siddiqui. Besides, he is a Muslim.

This was exactly the vile method followed in the systematic targeting of Rhea Chakravarty and Deepika Padukone, and the Mumbai film industry! Look at the language they would willfully use! It’s so predictable — this diabolical, indecent diatribe!

Undoubtedly, democracy in India is currently trapped in a twilight zone. It’s a kind of condemnation for an entire nation. There is therefore an immediate historic context to the uncanny unease in the film industry in India — from Mumbai to regional cinema.

So why has the central government sought comments on the ‘draft’ Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill 2021? And what are the proposals in this new draft bill? 

To punish piracy with a fine and jail term, bring in age-based certification, and, most significantly, empower the central government with the power to seek ‘recertification’ of a film already certified by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC).

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Several eminent filmmakers have written to the government: “Undermining the sovereignty of the Censor Board and the Supreme Court, this provision will effectively give the central government supreme power over cinema exhibition in the country, potentially endangering freedom of expression and democratic dissent.”

They are backed by scores of film associations and unions like the Producers Guild of India (PGI), Indian Film and Television Producers Council (IFTPC), Indian Motion Pictures Producers Association Associate (IMPAA), Western India Film Producers Association (WIFPA), Federation of Western India Cine Employees (FWICE), Indian Film and Television Directors Association (IFTDA), the Associated Chamber of Commerce of India (ASSOCHAM), Screen Writers Association (SWA), among others. There is a massive campaign on by academics, filmmakers, writers, artists, etc, arguing that this new proposal should be dropped lock, stock and barrel.

So, why this new draft at all? Why this need to ‘rethink’ certification once the CBFC has passed it?

In April this year, the Centre dissolved the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT), where filmmakers could go seeking relief from decisions of the Censor Board which they did not agree with. Besides, there is a considered opinion in the film industry that the CBFC should only do certification, and not censor a film!

There can be many stated and unstated reasons behind this move, and conspiracy theorists can fly to the moon. Control, undoubtedly. But the underlying message could be less subtle: Choose self-censorship as a one-stop-shop, drop subjects which might seem to annoy the powers-that-be, toe the line, follow the dominant code of conduct, accept passive submission in terms of script, story-line or cinematic content, even songs and lyrics, take the safe way out, no creative subversion please, drop/rethink historical narratives with a historical backdrop, if they re-write history, keep your mouth shut, drop/rethink socially and politically relevant themes, avoid controversial current affairs, don’t make films which tell an established truth but they want it to be hushed up, avoid bitter realism, avoid realism, period. Don’t make films which they might not like; indeed, just don’t make films, period.

Said a filmmaker, “Tomorrow, after a film is passed by the CBFC, a group or politician might claim that the film is anti-national and a ruckus is socially engineered. So the government might just come in and block/delay the film. So what should the filmmaker do? Jump in which nearest well?”

Others say this is also a time-tested method to test the muddy waters, to send signals, and to put a leash on the film industry which has been historically secular. Anyway, with so much money pumped in, why should a commercial filmmaker or a mega star choose to not toe the line? As for the offbeat filmmaker making meaningful cinema – she/he can go hang themselves! The sword hangs like McCarthyism in the US during the Cold War.

In such a hopeless futuristic scenario, most good filmmakers will either stop making good films, or make only such films that make the ‘system’ happy. Meaningful, aesthetic or socially/politically relevant cinema just cannot be made in such a realm of authoritarian control, fear and uncertainty. In such a scenario, can a filmmaker really make a movie like ‘Parzania’ or ‘Haider’? Or,afilm on the assassination of Gandhi, for instance? Indeed, if you call a film ‘The Oxygen Cylinder’ with the second surge of mass cremations as a backdrop, they might just choose to get it canned – The End!

Indian Sports And Chinese Games

The Indian athletes at the forthcoming Tokyo Olympics will be seen wearing ‘unbranded’ sports apparel. No more Chinese designs, logos and sponsorship. With this symbolic, globally visible (since it will be visuals-only games) parting of ways with the hostile neighbour, India has also joined the global China-versus-the United States game, on the latter’s side.

The change has come after last year’s military skirmishes on the disputed border. The Indian Olympic Association has suspended its collaboration with Chinese giant Li Ning that kitted the Indian athletes and sponsored their travel. This was being done, the IOA said, to respect “sentiments of the people of the country.”

Prior to the border incidents, then sports minister Kiren Rijiju, incidentally a Member of Parliament from Arunachal Pradesh that China claims as its territory, had said: “Li Ning designed the official sports kit inspired by India’s national colours and integrated unique graphics to emote the energy and pride of the Indian Olympic Team.”

The deal was reported to be worth INR 50 million. Li Ning was the Indian team’s apparel sponsor at the Rio Olympics five years ago and had also provided uniforms for the 2018 Commonwealth and Asian Games.

Tokyo Games big medal hopeful, shuttler PV Sindhu, was also sponsored by Li Ning. All that is over, at least for now. Last year, till the border incidents, Vivo, the telecom giant had sponsored India Premier League, the multi-million cricketing tournament. It returned briefly this year, apparently due to some contract obligations.

India relies heavily on products and raw materials from China in nearly every sport. According to the Department of Commerce’s data for 2018-2019, over half of India’s sports equipment was imported from China. This includes ­footballs to table tennis balls and shuttlecocks, tennis and badminton racquets and their stringing machines, mountain climbing and adventure sports gear, gym apparatus and athletics gear including javelins and high jump bars.

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Forget the no-politics-in-sports idea. Popular sentiments over the ‘betrayal’ on the border should have triggered a “boycott Chinese goods” campaign. But Prime Minister Modi’s government, keen on taking political credit, does not wish to stir the economic and trade cauldron.

This is not child’s play. The global toy market is about $100 billion, but as Modi lamented at the recent “Toycathon”, urging Indian toymakers to be ‘atmanirbhar’ (self-reliant) in making toys for children, that India’s share is only around $1.5 billion. Worse, “we import about 80 percent of our toys,” and worse still (which he didn’t say), 70 percent of this 80 percent come from China.

India is ‘critically dependent’ on China in imports across 86 tariff lines, a Group of Ministers (GoM) reported last December. Line items include consumer electronics, computer hardware, telephone equipment, electronic items, and air conditioners and refrigerators. Also, China has the largest share in India’s imports — more than 18 per cent in April-September 2020. This share has risen since, despite the border incidents and despite the pandemic, as China, unlike India, has managed to curb the spread of Covid-19 and kept its factories running.

The Indian authorities have banned a hundred Chinese apps and more are in the pipeline.  Only, the Chinese presence in India’s market – name any product – remains heavy, a fact of everyday life. Two-way trade in 2020 reached $87.6 billion, down by 5.6 percent, the trade deficit declined to a five year-low of $45.8 billion. “The trade deficit is not in dollars, it is in overdependence,” Sanjay Chadha, Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry said in January.

Cell-phone has fully integrated into an Indian’s life. Visit any home or market place and see how Chinese brands dominate. They commanded 75 percent of India’s smartphone market in 2020, up from 71 percent in 2019. Given their spread, pushing Germans, French, South Koreans among others to the margins of a growing market, it is doubtful if India’s online education of millions of students, compelled by Covid-19, would have been possible.

Cell-phone is just one example. Computers and other communications gadgets and apps are hugely Chinese. Fear of a possible suspension of Chinese tech-support for their maintenance persists. Keen to avoid any such problem in future, this writer purchased a Taiwanese brand laptop last year, only to find that it was “Made in China” under Taiwanese licence.

It is no consolation that the US itself is having to urge its own basketball stars to shun Li Ning sports products because the Chinese giant is said to be using cotton sourced from its Xinjiang region where the authorities are accused of suppressing minority Muslims. Incidentally, in a tit-for-tat, Li Ning had itself suspended cooperation with the Americans earlier, “in national interests”, after American producers backed the anti-Beijing protests in Hong Kong.

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The Indian story is similar to many countries. Only, not everyone has a disputed border with China. Neither is there nudging from a strategic partner like the United States to ‘balance’ the Asian scene. In a sense, India pays double price when it cannot deal with erstwhile ally Russia, Iran or anyone the US dislikes.

India’s case remains unique for several reasons. Besides a border that gets ‘live’ from time to time, and talks have made little headway in the last six decades, it has reasons to feel ‘surrounded.’ The Himalayan ranges became pregnable in the last century.  For long years, one debated on the “string of Pearls”, of China developing military bases on islands all around the Indian Ocean. The region was for long ‘Indian’ — its backyard, in broad maritime terms – no longer so.

This is old story. The Chinese deep pockets have won over just all of India’s neighbours after China formally launched the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). All South Asians have joined in, with varying outcome, but with bright hope of the Chinese money and technology being available — for a price. India is the sole ‘outsider’. Its pockets are not deep, nor has it established a good record of completing projects in its neighbourhood, yielding space to China.

For long years, there was a quiet pride that India and China managed well their economic and trade ties, despite an unsolved border dispute. It was called pragmatism and was contrasted with India-Pakistan, wherein the trade was restricted due to mistrust. India would show the Chinese example and accuse Pakistan of being cussed. While that remains, the China story has taken a beating. This is unlikely to normalise for long.  

The conflict-from-cradle rivalry with Pakistan has taken India miles ahead of the recalcitrant neighbour. But even that is now becoming thin. China has taken resolute striders in Pakistan in the shape of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), investing billions in building infrastructure that Pakistan could never dream of despite its decades of alliance with the West – the US in particular. Now, China, the “iron brother”, is helping out, in return for entry to the Indian Ocean. Now, the two are about to extend their collaboration, howsoever unequal and weighed in China’s favour, to a land-locked Afghanistan. Whether or not Pakistan gains “strategic depth” against India in future, a government in Kabul that may not be hospitable to India, with this extension of CPEC bears the potential of giving it “economic depth.”

Call it “Chinese East India Company”, or talk of the inevitable debt trap – who cares? In the next decade, China will have laid infrastructure that is as good, or even better than, India, across South Asia. And its CPEC will have created a significant class or rich politicians and civil and military officials in Pakistan who can, supported by military and economic heft from China, can afford to stare down at India.

The writer can be reached at mahendraved07@gmail.com

A Resurgent Taliban In India’s Backyard

The recent advances by Taliban in Afghanistan compel us to impartially analyse their psyche and reasons for their success and continued survival

The US President Joe Biden in a speech on Thursday 8 July announced that the U.S. military would complete its withdrawal from Afghanistan by August 31, nearly two weeks before his earlier deadline of September 11, announced in April. The U.S. pull-out from Afghanistan, will end the US’s longest overseas war – which cost the lives of around 2,300 US troops and $825 billion monetarily- is a result of the February 2020 agreement that the Trump administration negotiated with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar.

In his latest speech Biden strongly defended his decision to pull U.S. military forces out of Afghanistan, saying the Afghan people must decide their own future, rather than sacrificing another generation of Americans in an unwinnable war. Biden called on countries in the region to help bring about an elusive political settlement between the warring parties. He said the Afghan government should seek a deal with the Taliban to allow them to coexist peacefully.

And this is what has proved to be the red herring amongst the neighbouring and regional countries. Most of the countries have reacted in a guarded manner over the advances of the Taliban forces in Afghanistan since May, who now controls 162 districts in Afghanistan.

In reality the chaotic and unpredictable conditions in Afghanistan will have a significant impact on the regional geo-politics. For starters, the Iranians have started fishing in the troubled waters by inviting the Taliban leadership for talks in Teheran.

Iranian Initiative

The Taliban-Iranian talks began in January this year, as part of Iranian efforts to broker peace between the Afghan government and other factions. The latest round of intra-Afghan talks began on Wednesday 7 July morning by a speech from Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who warned that the continuation of conflicts between the government and the Taliban will have ‘unfavourable’ consequences for Afghanistan, noting that a return to the intra-Afghan negotiations is the ‘best solution’.

Earlier, Saeed Khatibzadeh, spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, had said that Taliban is part of the reality in Afghanistan and they are also talking to the Afghan government. During the recent meeting, Zarif discussed the prospect of Afghan people forming an all-inclusive government, including Taliban.

Pakistan’s Alarm

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan in an op-ed in The Washington Post on 9 June sounded hurt by the accusations of the government in Kabul naming Pakistan as inciting violence in the country.

He further wrote that he would like Pakistan to be ‘a partner for peace in Afghanistan’, which may have ideated from the Indian outreach to the Taliban.

UK’s Concern

The UK it seems is more worried about the presence of Al Qaeda and Daesh elements in Afghanistan and not with the Taliban advances. Sir Alex Younger, former head of MI-6 has cautioned about the terrorism threat to Britain rising, following the US withdrawal and has further said the threat from terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and Daesh would grow if the UK turns its back on Afghanistan.

But the UK’s Chief of Defence Staff, General Sir Nick Carter, who served several command tours in Afghanistan, believes the Taliban leadership may have learnt from their earlier mistakes. He maintains that if the Taliban expect to share power, or seize it, then they will not want to be seen as international pariahs. Wiser heads amongst the Taliban, especially those who attended the recent peace negotiations, may well argue for a clean break with Al Qaeda in order to secure international acceptance.

India’s Outreach

Indian officials recently met with the Taliban delegation in Doha. This marks a marked policy shift in India’s approach to Afghanistan and Taliban. Besides showing maturity of the policy makers and strategists, the move may accelerate the transition from a non-existent relationship to the inception of a diplomatic engagement, whilst acknowledging Taliban as a critical component of future Afghanistan.

Though Indian policy makers will also be worried about the security threat from the pro-Taliban Pakistani outfits, yet they may have weighed the advantage of engaging with the Taliban and also considered that in future the Taliban might be able to assert pressure on forces inimical to India.

India has always called for ‘an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled process’, and as such, the strategic move to engage with Taliban broadly demonstrates a regional security imperative for India and its efforts to minimise Islamabad’s influence.

Taliban Psyche: American View

The Americans have always wondered what fuels the Taliban to fight against a huge military machine despite the odds. Though in reality this has not led to any effort to try to understand the Taliban’s psyche and their commitment.

However, an American, Carter Malkasian has tried to discuss this in his new book The American War in Afghanistan: A History. Malkasian analyses the Taliban advantage in inspiring Afghans to fight. He opines that their call to fight foreign occupiers, steeped in references to Islamic teachings, resonates well with Afghan identity and psyche.

He says that for Afghans, jihad — more accurately understood as ‘resistance’ or ‘struggle’ than the caricatured meaning it has acquired in the United States — has historically been a means of defence against oppression by outsiders, part of their endurance against invader after invader. The Taliban were able to tie them-selves to religion and to Afghan identity in a way that a government allied with non-Muslim foreign occupiers could not match.

The very presence of Americans in Afghanistan trod on a sense of Afghan identity that incorporated national pride, a long history of fighting outsiders and a religious commitment to defend the homeland. The Taliban’s ability to link their cause to the very meaning of being Afghan was a crucial factor in America’s defeat.

He further says that the Taliban exemplified something that inspired, something that made them powerful in battle, something tied to what it meant to be an Afghan. They cast themselves as representatives of Islam and called for resistance to foreign occupation. Together, these two ideas formed a potent mix for ordinary Afghans, who tend to be devout Muslims but not extremists.

Now, with the Taliban overrunning districts in the north, they will likely press their attack, further emboldened by US departure over the next few weeks. Afghan soldiers and police will suffer from the same morale problems that have plagued them for two decades. Provincial capitals and Kandahar or Mazar-e-Sharif are likely to fall, possibly within a year. After that, Kabul itself will be in danger. The capital may hold, at least for a while, but the government and its allies will struggle to survive, with little chance of regaining what has been lost.

The world it may seem is bound to sit at the same table with Taliban, once they embrace political identity and become part of the political establishment, and this may mark a peaceful future for Afghanistan.

(Asad Mirza is a political commentator based in New Delhi. He writes on issues related to Muslims, education, geopolitics and interfaith)

Is India Prepared For 3rd Covid Wave?

Indonesia now is in exactly the same terrible and tragic situation as India was during the peak of the second surge. Australia is going for a lockdown, and even New Zealand, hitherto totally safe, is on high alert. With cases rising in thousands every day, Boris Johnson might once again take the UK down the drain if he opens up the lockdown on July 19, even while all is not well in Catalonia/Barcelona in Spain, among other EU nations.

Vice President Kamala Harris led a ‘pride rally’ recently without a mask. Americans in many parts are allowed to come out in the open without masks. However, with 50 per cent fully vaccinated, is the virus really “on the run”, as President Joe Biden so proudly claimed on Independence Day, 4th of July?

There is reportedly a ‘silent surge’ in many parts of America and it is worrisome. It is being largely attributed to clusters of unvaccinated people, including Trump-supporters ‘in denial’. A Georgetown University study reportedly found 30 clusters of counties, of which five are across the Southeast and Midwest, from Georgia to Texas, across Missouri, and parts of Oklahoma, Tennessee, Louisiana, Alabama and Arkansas, where the threat is real and looming large.

So how well is the Indian State with a new health minister at the helm prepared for the ‘third surge’, even as the second wave lingers on, and thousands care a damn in tourist spots, without masks or physical distancing?

Listen to the Covid Task Force head, Dr VK Paul, as reported by the Indian Express: “It is right that the graph (of the decline in the number of cases) has slowed down. It was earlier declining at a faster pace. It only shows that we cannot take the situation for granted. If it is around 35,000-37,000 cases per day, this is almost one-third the number of cases we saw during the first wave peak. The war is not over; the second wave is not over. It is perhaps more visible in some districts and two particular states and the Northeast, but it is still there. As long as this is still rising there, the nation is not safe…With a lot of effort and difficulty, we have reached a situation where cases are on the decline. The situation is bad only in a few districts. But all this can be snatched away from us because we have not contained the virus completely. If we give the virus an opportunity, and chains of transmission are launched…this is something we cannot afford…”

Indians banged thalis, frying pans, pressure cookers at 5 pm on March 22, 2021, following the call of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, even when the virus was just about spreading its wings. Indians followed dutifully with no questions asked, the sudden, draconian and unplanned lockdown last March, which led to the exodus of lakhs of migrant workers. Indians even believed the PM when he said that all will be well in 21 days.

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Meanwhile, the states fought their own battles without any tangible help from the Center. Millions were rendered jobless, the poor were left to their helpless fate, the economy tanked and continues to tank, hunger, starvation, anxiety and depression stalked the unhappy landscape, there was ‘no vaccine policy’ worth its name, and people hoped against hope that 2021 will start with a flicker of hope. Remember the PM’s cathartic speech at the World Economic Forum’s Davos Dialogue in January 2021?

“Today, Covid cases are declining rapidly in India… India’s stats cannot be compared with one country as 18 per cent of the world’s population lives here and yet we not only solved our problems but also helped the world fight the pandemic… In these tough times, India has been undertaking its global responsibility from the beginning. When airspace was closed in many countries, India took more than 1 lakh citizens to their countries and delivered essential medicines to more than 150 countries…” 

Significantly, the PM said India’s role will increase with the rollout of more ‘Made in India’ Covid-19 vaccines. Clearly, this was chest-thumping in its most glorious form at the world stage.

Then arrived the deadly second surge, even as the PM and his Union home minster were obsessed with capturing Bengal at any cost, while welcoming millions at the super-spreader Kumbh. The PM was delighted to see huge crowds in one of his last rallies in Bengal. While sections of the stooge media played along, the international media published front page pictures of mass cremations, accompanied with highly critical text putting the entire blame on Modi. And they were on the spot, on the dot. Surely, the mass tragedy was a public spectacle for the world to see!

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Lest we forget, there were tens of thousands dying due to the acute scarcity of hospital beds, oxygen, life-saving drugs, with cremation and burial grounds unable to find space for the dead bodies, while parking lots, pavements, open spaces and public parks in some places were converted into cremation grounds. Some electric crematoriums refused to work because their ‘internal organs’ had melted due to the relentless heat, huge make-shift walls were created to block journalists to report on the relentless mass cremations (in Lucknow), and the data of deaths were allegedly fudged or censored, even while the obituary pages were full of tributes to the dead (as in Gujarat). 

So, is India prepared for the third wave?

On June 19, said Dr Randeep Guleria, Director, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi:  “We don’t seem to have learnt from what happened between the first and the second wave. Again crowds are building up… people are gathering. It will take some time for the number of cases to start rising at the national level. But it could happen within the next six to eight weeks… maybe a little longer.” He said that unless the population is vaccinated, the country will remain vulnerable in the coming months.

The Hindu reported in early May that that the principal scientific adviser to the government of India has warned that the third wave of Covid-19 is inevitable. “There is, however, no clear time-line on when this third phase will occur. We should be prepared for new waves, and Covid-appropriate behaviour and vaccine upgrades is the way forward,” he said.

Modi has made the promise on live television of total and free vaccination in India after June 21. Hoardings have come up with the PM’s mug shot profusely thanking him for free vaccines. If Rahul Gandhi as much as tweets: ‘July has come. Where are the vaccines?’ some central ministers suddenly emerge from the shadows and Rahul gets a good tongue-lashing.

The situation is as fuzzy as it gets. Noida apparently stopped vaccination from June 30 for a week – reasons not known. Gujarat suspended vaccination recently for unknown reasons – there were no vaccines, according to sources, it was reported. Vaccination was stopped in Mumbai due to lack of vaccines, but restarted again. Almost all the big states reportedly have vaccination shortfalls; Bihar has a shortfall of 71 per cent, while West Bengal, Jharkhand and UP are not far away. Even Kerala and Delhi, who have done the best, will not be able to achieve a 60 per cent target by December.

Is the current scenario optimistic? Not really.

Apparently, about 20 per cent plus have got their first dose, and 5 per cent plus have been fully vaccinated. Surely, at this rate, no one knows when a country of India’s size will ever get ‘fully vaccinated’. And the bitter truth is that less the level of vaccination in the population, the more there are fears of multiple mutations of this killer virus. India, therefore, is as vulnerable as ever.

Turkey’s Entry Into Kabul Carries Risks

The proposal made by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to US President Joe Biden last month on the sidelines of a NATO summit that Turkey could undertake the security of the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul after NATO’s withdrawal from Afghanistan could be a bargaining chip for improving Ankara’s relationship with Washington but given the resurgence of the Taliban it could turn into a nightmare in the long run, unless it is handled very skillfully and with the utmost caution.

Erdogan told Biden that Turkey could run security at the airport if the US provided it with the necessary “diplomatic, logistical and financial support.”Ankara wants to collaborate with Pakistan and Hungary in this task. In their first face to face meeting, Erdogan and Biden did not make much progress on the main disputes that have poisoned Turkish-US relations in recent years, but Erdogan indicated that there is a possible consensus on Afghanistan.

Ankara’s proposal to secure Kabul’s airport, after the withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan by August 31, raises questions about the risks it is prepared to take, what logistical and other support is going to get from the US for the whole operation, what the Biden administration is prepared to do on the contentious issues between Ankara and Washington and what actual support Turkey may be given on the ground. Moreover, Turkey must take seriously into account the risks involved in the whole operation and the possibility of having to confront other regional players, like Pakistan, Russia, Iran, and China.

It is highly probable that all these regional powers would prefer to deal with a domestic actor — the Taliban — or a new government that might emerge, rather than Turkey.

On July 9 Turkish President Erdogan said that an agreement has been reached over the post-withdrawal Kabul airport security. He added:”Our Defense Minister met with the US Defense Secretary, and we had a meeting with US and NATO to discuss the future of the Hamid Karzai International Airport. We decided on what we accept in this respect and which conditions we don’t agree upon.”

The Afghan government immediately welcomed the move. The Civil Aviation Authority on Sunday said that a new defense system has been activated at Hamid Karzai International Airport.

The Taliban on Sunday announced its opposition to the agreement between the US and Turkey. A spokesman for the group stressed that the Taliban are against the presence of any foreign troops after the given deadline for their withdrawal from Afghanistan. “If they remain within the framework of NATO or Turkey or any other country, it will not be acceptable both for the people of Afghanistan and for the Taliban,” former Taliban commander Sayed Akbar Agha said.

Turkey has about 500 troops in Afghanistan as part of a non-combat NATO mission. Its soldiers never had any direct conflict with the Taliban, while maintaining good relations with all ethnic groups in Afghanistan. They were mainly involved in the training of Afghan security forces, while some still serve, together with Hungarian soldiers, at the Kabul airport. The hard question for Turkey is how it could assume responsibility for the security of the airport, embassies and critical facilities in Kabul without conducting military policing and patrolling, which are clearly combat tasks.

As Afghanistan is a landlocked mountainous country, the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul offers a vital connection to the outside world and is generally considered to be a prerequisite for the operation of diplomatic missions in the country and for the delivery of international humanitarian aid. If the Airport does not remain open and operating, embassies in Kabul will be withdrawn and Afghanistan will become an isolated state. Last May, Australia, citing security fears, closed its embassy in the country.

Taliban’s rejection cannot be lightheartedly ignored by Ankara, as according to several reports the Taliban controls nearly half of the 400 districts in Afghanistan, while a Taliban delegation in Russia claimed that 85 percent of Afghan territory was under the group’s control.

NATO’s former senior civilian representative for Afghanistan and former Turkish Foreign Minister, Hikmet Cetin, told Al Jazeera: “While Taliban’s political wing is in favour of reconciliation, the military wing is chasing a military victory. Otherwise, nothing will have changed there in the last 19 years. Yet far more hinges on Turkey reaching an accord with the Taliban, which is steadily advancing towards the capital and has made clear it will not tolerate any foreign forces on Afghan soil after the US leaves…Afghanistan is now in the midst of a de facto civil war. Turkey needs a ceasefire and a deal with the Taliban, which is now telling it: ‘You came with Nato, and you’ll leave with Nato’. Without the Taliban’s approval, Turkey assuming this role is a mistake. It’s too risky.”

Another serious problem, Turkey may face in Afghanistan, is the lack of cooperation and open hostility prevailing among the various ethnic groups existing in the country and the dreaded possibility that it could be forced to support one or more against the others.

As Al-Monitor columnist Metin Gurcan says: “The Taliban hail predominantly from Pashtun groups that have been extremely hostile to other ethnicities in Afghanistan. Turkey might face a dilemma on whether to align with non-Pashtun and Turkic groups or the dominant Pashtun groups. This may sound like a minor issue, but it was one of the essential causes of the US failure in Afghanistan. So, Ankara needs to think twice and be aware that Afghanistan is not Syria, Libya or Nagorno-Karabakh and is not called a “graveyard of empires” without reason.” (ANI)