1. ‘Indus water talks held on ‘cordial’ terms’
Both sides to resolve issues. says MEA
Indian and Pakistani negotiators ended another round of talks as part of the Indus Water Treaty on “cordial” terms, said the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), describing the 118th meeting of the Permanent Indus Commission that took place in Delhi on May 30 and 31.
The MEA did not give any details on the issues that were on the agenda for discussion, including Pakistan’s request for flood-flow data sharing and objections to hydro-power projects planned on “western rivers” in Jammu & Kashmir.
However, it said that the annual report of the Commission for the previous year had been finalised and signed, indicating some consensus on the way forward on a number of issues that come up each year. A statement from Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs also added that India had promised a response to its objections.
“The meeting was held in a cordial manner. The Commission appreciated the commitment of the two sides to interact frequently and resolve issues through bilateral discussions under the Indus Water Treaty,” the MEA said after the meetings between six-member delegations on either side led by the new Indian Commissioner for Indus Waters A.K. Pal, and Syed Muhammad Mehar Ali Shah, the Pakistan Commissioner for Indus Waters, adding that they had agreed to hold the next meeting in Pakistan.
The MEA’s statement comes in contrast to previous, more acrimonious statements issued by both India and Pakistan, which had detailed areas of dispute between the two sides.
Indus Waters Treaty (IWT)
The IWT was signed by the then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the then Pakistani President Ayub Khan. Brokered by the World Bank (then known as the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development), the negotiations for the agreement went on for nine years.
Ever since the partition of India in 1947, the Indus River had been a bone of contention between the four countries through which it runs – India, Pakistan, China, and Afghanistan. The river originates from Tibet.
India had blocked water to Pakistan for some time in 1948 but later restored it after the ceasefire. In 1951, Pakistan took the matter to the United Nations (UN) and accused India of cutting the supply of water to many Pakistani villages.
On the recommendations of the UN, the World Bank came up with this agreement in 1954. It was eventually signed on September 19, 1960.
The treaty spells out conditions for water-sharing of the River Indus and its five tributaries.
- India got control over the three eastern rivers, which are:
- All the waters of the Eastern Rivers shall be available for the unrestricted use of India until the arise of any unwanted situation.
- Pakistan got control over the three western rivers, which are:
- A Permanent Indus Commission was set up by the United Nations for resolving any disputes that may arise in water sharing, with a mechanism for arbitration to resolve conflicts amicably.
- According to the treaty, India can use the water from the western rivers for domestic, non-consumptive needs such as storage, irrigation, and also the generation of electricity.
- The treaty gives India 20% of the water from the Indus River System and the rest 80% to Pakistan.
- In executing any scheme of flood protection or flood control each country(India/Pakistan) will avoid, as far as practicable, any material damage to the other country.
- The use of the natural channels of the Rivers for the discharge of flood or other excess waters shall be free and not subject to limitation by either India or Pakistan, and neither of the countries shall have any claim against the other in respect of any damage caused by such use.
There have been issues concerning the treaty with both sides accusing each other of violating the terms of the treaty.
- In 2016, Pakistan had approached the World Bank raising concerns of India’s Kishenganga and Ratle hydroelectric power projects being constructed in Jammu & Kashmir. India then requested for neutral experts to inspect the plants, saying that the points raised by Pakistan were technical ones and do not require a court of arbitration (as Pakistan has taken it to an arbitration court). The World Bank permitted India to proceed with the projects after talks were concluded between both the countries on the technicalities of the treaty.
- The Tulbul project (which is a navigation lock-cum-control structure at the mouth of the Wular Lake, situated on the Jhelum from Anantnag to Srinagar and Baramulla) was suspended in 1987 after Pakistan objected to it. Recently, the government decided to review this suspension not taking into account Pakistan’s protests.
- Pakistan’s Left Bank Outfall Drain (LBOD) project passes through the Rann of Kutch in India’s Gujarat. The project was constructed without India’s consent. India has objected because this is in contravention to the IWT. The lower riparian state is in India and hence it needs to be given all details. There is also the danger of flooding in the state of Gujarat.
- Recently, the bilateral relations between India and Pakistan have taken on a downward spiral. In the wake of the Uri attacks on India, Prime Minister Modi remarked that blood and water cannot flow simultaneously indicating to Pakistan that its support to terrorism across the border will lead to India rethinking its generous stance on the IWT. Indeed, many experts believe that the treaty is more favourable towards Pakistan than India.
- Another issue cited with the IWT is that it was signed on India’s behalf by the then PM Nehru. However, he was not the head of state and that the treaty ought to have been signed by the head of state, the then president of the country.
- India does not use its entire share of water it is entitled to as per the provisions of the IWT. About 2 million acre-feet (MAF) of water from the River Ravi flows into Pakistan unutilized by India.
- In the wake of the Pulwama attacks in 2019, the Indian government stated that all water flowing into Pakistan at present, in the three eastern rivers, will be diverted to Haryana, Punjab, and Rajasthan for different uses.
- To prevent this flow and utilize the entire share of water under the Treaty, India has taken the following steps:
- Shahpurkandi Project: This will help in generating power for Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir.
- Ujh Multipurpose Project: This will create storage of water on the Ujh, which is a tributary of the River Ravi, for irrigation as well as power generation.
- 2nd Ravi Beas link below Ujh: This has been declared a National Project by the GOI. This involves constructing a barrage across river Ravi for diverting water through a tunnel link to the Beas Basin. This is planned to prevent excess water flowing into Pakistan.
Developments on the Eastern rivers of Indus Water Treaty
- To utilize the waters of the Eastern rivers which have been allocated to India for exclusive use, India has constructed Bhakra Dam on Satluj river, Pong and Pandoh Dam on Beas river, and Thein (Ranjit Sagar Dam) on Ravi river.
- India utilizes nearly an entire share of 95% of the water of Eastern rivers with the help of works like Beas-Sutlej Link, Madhopur-Beas Link, Indira Gandhi Nahar Project, etc. However, about 2 Million Acre Feet (MAF) of water from Ravi is reported annually to be still flowing unutilized to Pakistan below Madhopur.
- India has taken the following steps to stop the flow of this water to Pakistan which belongs to India for its utilization-
- Construction of Shahpur Kandi Project to utilize the water coming from Thein Dam for irrigation and power generation in Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir.
- Construction of Ujh multipurpose project – River Ujh is a tributary of Ravi. It will create storage of water for irrigation and power generation in India. This project is a National Project whose completion period will be 6 years from the beginning of the implementation.
- The 2nd Ravi Beas link below Ujh project is being planned to tap excess water flowing down to Pakistan through river Ravi, even after construction of Thein Dam, by constructing a barrage across river Ravi for diverting water through a tunnel link to Beas basin.
2. Questioning the safety of Aadhaar
Can Aadhaar be the one-stop solution for all identification requirements? Does it safeguard the privacy of its various beneficiaries?
The Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies Benefits and Services) Act, 2016 states that Aadhaar authentication is necessary for availing subsidies and services that are financed from the Consolidated Fund of India. However, confidentiality needs to be maintained and the authenticated information cannot be used for anything other than the specified purpose.
The NPCI’s Aadhaar Payments Bridge (APB) and the Aadhaar Enabled Payment System (AEPS) facilitate direct benefit transfer (DBT) and allow individuals to use Aadhaar for payments. This requires bank accounts to be linked to Aadhaar.
But more than 200 central and State government websites publicly displayed details of some Aadhaar beneficiaries such as their names and addresses. This means that this data could be potentially used to fraudulently link the rightful beneficiary’s Aadhaar with a distinct bank account, embezzling the beneficiary by impersonation.
The story so far: Two days after issuing an advisory asking people to refrain from sharing photocopies of their Aadhaar Card, the Unique Identification Development Authority of India (UIDAI) opted to withdraw the notification. It stated that the action was to avert any possibility of ‘misinterpretation’ of the (withdrawn) press release, asking people to exercise “normal prudence” in using/sharing their Aadhaar numbers.
What did the UIDAI advisory say?
The withdrawn notice had suggested holders use a masked Aadhaar card instead of the conventional photocopy, adding that the document must not be downloaded from a cybercafé or public computer and if done for some reason, must be permanently deleted from the system. ‘Masked Aadhaar’ veils the first eight digits of the twelve-digit ID with ‘XXXX’ characters. The notice informed that only entities possessing a ‘User Licence’ are permitted to seek Aadhaar for authentication purposes. Private entities like hotels or film halls cannot collect or keep copies of the identification document.
In July 2018, Telecom Regulatory of India’s Chairman R.S. Sharma tweeted his Aadhaar number challenging users to “cause him any harm”. In response, users dug up his mobile number, PAN number, photographs, residential address and date of birth. It could not be ascertained if the PAN number was actually correct. UIDAI dismissed assertions of any data leak, arguing that most of the data was publicly available. It did however caution users from publicly sharing their Aadhaar numbers.
What does the law say?
The Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies Benefits and Services) Act, 2016 makes it clear that Aadhaar authentication is necessary for availing subsidies, benefits and services that are financed from the Consolidated Fund of India. In the absence of Aadhaar, the individual is to be offered an alternate and viable means of identification to ensure she/he is not deprived of the same.
Separately, Aadhaar has been described as a preferred KYC (Know Your Customer) document but not mandatory for opening bank accounts, acquiring a new SIM or school admissions.
The requesting entity would have to obtain the consent of the individual before collecting his/her identity and ensure that the information is only used for authentication purposes on the Central Identities Data Repository (CIDR). This centralised database contains all Aadhaar numbers and holder’s corresponding demographic and biometric information. UIDAI responds to authentication queries with a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. In some cases, basic KYC details (as name, address, photograph etc) accompany the verification answer ‘Yes’. The regulator does not receive or collect the holder’s bank, investment or insurance details. Additionally, the Aadhaar Act forbids sharing Core Biometric Information (such as finger print, iris scan, among other biometric attributes) for any purpose other than Aadhaar number generation and authentication.
The Act makes it clear that confidentiality needs to be maintained and the authenticated information cannot be used for anything other than the specified purpose. More importantly, no Aadhaar number (or enclosed personal information) collected from the holder can be published, displayed or posted publicly. Identity information or authentication records would only be liable to be produced pursuant to an order of the High Court or Supreme Court, or by someone of the Secretary rank or above in the interest of national security.
Is identity theft via Aadhaar possible?
As per the National Payment Corporation of India’s (NCPI) data, ₹6.48 crore worth of financial frauds through 8,739 transactions involving 2,391 unique users took place in FY 2021-22.
Since the inception of the UID project, institutions and organisations have endowed greater focus on linking their databases with Aadhaar numbers, including for bank accounts especially in light of the compulsory linkage for direct benefit transfer schemes. The NPCI’s Aadhaar Payments Bridge (APB) and the Aadhaar Enabled Payment System (AEPS) facilitate direct benefit transfer (DBT) and allow individuals to use Aadhaar for payments. This requires bank accounts to be linked to Aadhaar. In 2017, researchers at the Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) acquired information of various beneficiaries of such social security and employment schemes such as their Aadhaar numbers, bank account details, job card status, mobile number etc. The same year, the UIDAI in response to an RTI stated that more than 200 central and State government websites publicly displayed details of some Aadhaar beneficiaries such as their names and addresses. Both were made possible by the lack of robust encryption. This data could be potentially used to fraudulently link the rightful beneficiary’s Aadhaar with a distinct bank account, embezzling the beneficiary by impersonation, made possible by the sizeable identity documents available.
The UIDAI maintains that merely knowing the bank account number would not be enough to withdraw money from the bank, stating that the individual’s fingerprint, iris data or OTP to a registered mobile number would be required. CIS states that brokers are known to buy tonnes of Aadhaar documents from mobile shops and other places where the identification document is shared. Additionally, there have been instances where employees of service providers were caught stealing biometric information collected solely for Aadhaar authentication. A far-stretch means for acquiring biometrics would involve collecting fingerprints from varied places that an individual might touch unknowingly in a certain space (such as a railing of a staircase) with iris data being acquired from high-resolution cameras.
As for mobile verification, phone users in India are known to carry two or more phone numbers at one time. There could be a possibility that the number linked to the Aadhaar is not prominently used. Fraudsters could use this as an opportunity to link their phone numbers instead, update it in the bank using the available information (of the individual) and deprive them of benefits or embezzle funds.
What are some of the structural problems that the UIDAI faces?
The Aadhaar Data Vault is where all numbers collected by authentication agencies are centrally stored. Its objective is to provide a dedicated facility for the agencies to access details only on a need-to-know basis. Comptroller and Auditor General of India’s (CAG) latest report stipulated that UIDAI neither specified any encryption algorithm (as of October 2020) to secure the same nor a mechanism to illustrate that the entities were adhering to appropriate procedures. It relied solely on audit reports provided to them by the entities themselves. Further, UIDAI’s unstable record with biometric authentication has not helped it with de-duplication efforts, the process that ensures that each Aadhaar Number generated is unique. The CAG’s reported stated that apart from the issue of multiple Aadhaars to the same resident, there have been instances of the same biometric data being accorded to multiple residents. As per UIDAI’s Tech Centre, nearly 4.75 lakh duplicate Aadhaar numbers were cancelled as of November 2019. The regulator relies on Automated Biometric Identification Systems for taking corrective actions. The CAG concluded it was “not effective enough” in detecting the leakages and plugging them. Biometric authentications can be a cause of worry, especially for disabled and senior citizens with both the iris and fingerprints dilapidating. Though the UIDAI has assured that no one would be deprived of any benefits due to biometric authentication failures, the absence of an efficient technology could serve as poignant premise for frauds to make use of their ‘databases’.
3. Looking at the UN report on the Taliban regime
Which are the foreign terrorist groups flourishing on Afghan soil? What are the internal dynamics within the Taliban post its ascension to power?
A new report from the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team of the UNSC says that foreign terrorist organisations continue to enjoy safe haven under the Taliban regime. It adds that the terrorist groups are not likely to launch major attacks outside Afghanistan before 2023.
Two India-focussed terrorist groups, Jaish-i-Mohammed (JiM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), are reported to have training camps in Afghanistan.
Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) constitutes the largest component of foreign terrorist fighters in Afghanistan, with their numbers estimated at 3,000-4,000.
The story so far: A new report from the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) says that foreign terrorist organisations continue to enjoy safe haven under the new Taliban regime. The report adds that due to financial constraints, and possibly under political pressure not to embarrass the Taliban internationally at this juncture, the terrorist groups are currently in consolidation mode and not likely to launch major attacks outside Afghanistan before 2023.
What is the mandate of the monitoring team and how did it collect data?
The monitoring team assists the UNSC sanctions committee. Its report, circulated among committee members, informs the formulation of UN strategy in Afghanistan. India is currently the chair of the sanctions committee, which comprises all the 15 UNSC members. This report — the 13th overall — is the first since the Taliban returned to power in August 2021. The UN team could not visit Afghanistan for evidence-gathering. This is the first of its reports not informed by official Afghan briefings. Instead, the team relied on consultations with UN member states, international and regional organisations, private sector financial institutions, and the work of bodies such as the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.
What does the report say about terrorist organisations that pose a threat to India?
Two India-focussed terrorist groups, Jaish-i-Mohammed (JiM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), are reported to have training camps in Afghanistan. While the JiM “maintains eight training camps in Nangarhar, three of which are directly under Taliban control,” the LeT was “said to maintain three camps in Kunar and Nangarhar”. Both the groups enjoy close links with the Taliban leadership, with the LeT having a history of providing finance and training expertise to Taliban operations.
The report also says that the al-Qaeda in Indian Sub-continent (AQIS) has 180-400 fighters in Afghanistan. “Fighters included nationals from Bangladesh, India, Myanmar and Pakistan,” says the report. While AQIS capabilities were “assessed as still weakened from losses as a result of the October 2015 joint United States-Afghan raid in Kandahar’s Shorabak district”, the outfit has also been forced to adopt a “less aggressive posture” due to financial constraints. The report notes that the name change of the AQIS magazine from ‘Nawa-i-Afghan Jihad’ to ‘Nawa-e-Gazwah-e-Hind’ suggests a “refocussing of AQIS from Afghanistan to Kashmir”.
What about internal tensions?
The foremost internal division in the Taliban is between the moderate and hardline blocs. While the moderate bloc) wants working relationships with foreign partners and integration with the international system, the hardliners (consisting of senior Taliban leaders centralised around Hibatullah Akhundzada) have a more ideological stance, with little interest in international relations. Independent of both these blocs is the Haqqani Network, which, while more aligned with the hardliners, is inclined towards a pragmatic rather than ideological approach to securing Taliban interests. According to the report, under the command of Hibatullah, various Taliban factions are manoeuvring for advantage, with the Haqqani Network cornering most of the influential posts in the administration.
How are ethnic dynamics in the administration?
The report believes the Kandahari (Durrani) Taliban to be in the ascendancy among the Taliban leadership, with Pashtuns getting precedence over non-Pashtuns. Several key Tajik and Uzbek commanders in the north have been replaced with Pashtuns from the south, and these decisions have come against the backdrop of an “organised campaign by Pashtuns to dislodge ethnic Tajik, Turkmen and Uzbek communities from rich agricultural land in the north”.
Internal cohesion within the Taliban was easier to maintain during the insurgency period, when there was a “compelling common cause to expel foreign forces from Afghanistan”, the report notes. But now that they are in power, “the Taliban’s core identity of a Pashtun nationalist cause dominated by southern Taliban has again come to the fore, generating tension and conflict with other ethnic groups.”
What about other terrorist groups?
Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) constitutes the largest component of foreign terrorist fighters in Afghanistan, with their numbers estimated at 3,000-4,000, and mostly located along the east and south-east Afghanistan-Pakistan border areas. Among all the foreign extremist groups in Afghanistan, it is the TTP that has benefited the most from the Taliban takeover. The report also notes that the Kabul airport attack of August 26 has elevated the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant-Khorasan (ISIL-K) to be the most prominent Da-esh affiliate in the region. While its activity declined towards the end of 2021, the group has grown in strength through prison releases and new recruitments. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda continues to enjoy a close relationship with the Taliban, celebrating the latter’s success by “renewing its pledge of allegiance to Hibatullah”. Noting that neither ISIL-K nor the al-Qaeda are “believed to be capable of mounting international attacks before 2023 at the earliest,” the report concludes that their presence, along with the presence of other terrorist groups on Afghan soil, remain a matter of grave concern for neighbouring countries and the wider international community.