1. MEA hints at talks with Taliban
‘In touch with various stakeholders’
India is in contact with “various stakeholders” in Afghanistan, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said in response to specific questions about whether the government has opened direct talks with the Taliban.
While the MEA did not confirm the talks, which would represent a major shift for Indian policy, it did not deny recent reports that indicated that Indian security officials have exchanged messages with several “nationalist” Taliban factions, including Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a member of the Rehbari Shura, or the leadership council, which includes the Pakistan-based Taliban accused of terrorism.
“We are in touch with various stakeholders in pursuance of our long-term commitment towards development and reconstruction of Afghanistan,” said MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi while speaking to presspersons on Thursday, where he referred to External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar’s participation at the inaugural ceremony of the Intra-Afghan talks with Taliban leaders in Doha last year.
Significantly, Mr. Jaishankar held a meeting with Qatar National Security Adviser Mohamed Bin Ahmed Al Mesned on Thursday during a transit stop in Doha between his visits to Kuwait and Kenya, where he said he had discussed “developments in the region and beyond”. The MEA declined to respond to a question on whether the recent developments in the Afghanistan talks came up during the conversation.
The talks appear to have run into trouble both in Doha, where the Taliban’s official headquarters are based, and in Istanbul, where a U.S.-backed process for talks with the Taliban have been delayed for more than two months.
So far, India has refused to open a direct dialogue with the Taliban leadership.
However, according to experts, India has reconsidered its position in the aftermath of the U.S. announcement that it would pull out all its troops by September this year.
“The clarity over the U.S. decision to pull out, which could be as early as next month, has added to the sense of urgency for Delhi to make these direct contacts,” said Avinash Paliwal, an associate professor of international relations at SOAS in the U.K. and an author, who had confirmed the Indian outreach in a column earlier this week.
An official, who asked not to be named, said India’s engagement with groups in Afghanistan was driven by a desire to “limit damage” to its security interests as a result of the U.S.’s decision to leave and the Taliban gaining military strength in several key provinces.
India’s Voice in the Afghan’s Reconciliation Process
- In the past, due to terror activities of the Taliban, India has been very critical of the Taliban coming into power and shown resistance to publicly dealing with the Taliban.
- Under the US-Taliban peace deal, the Taliban will be in the centre of power in Afghanistan, as the US forces withdraw from Afghanistan.
- In the present scenario, India has never announced its support for the U.S.-Taliban peace deal. Rather, India supports the Ashraf Ghani government and backs the idea of an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, and Afghan-controlled process.
- Further, in order to provide legitimacy to recently held Afgan president elections, Ashraf Ghani entered into a power-sharing agreement with former chief executive Abdullah Abdullah.
- This agreement will inevitably further weaken Ashraf Ghani and subsequently undermines Indian interest in the region.
- Due to these factors, India’s voice in the reconciliation process has been limited.
India’s Interest in Afghanistan
- Economic and Strategic Interest: Afghanistan is a gateway to the oil and mineral-rich Central Asian republics.
- Afghanistan’s main advantage is its geography, as anyone who is in power in Afghanistan controls the land routes connecting India with Central Asia (via Afghanistan).
- Developmental Projects: The massive reconstruction plans for the country to offer a lot of opportunities for Indian companies.
- Three major projects: the Afghan Parliament, the Zaranj-Delaram Highway, and the Afghanistan-India Friendship Dam (Salma Dam), along with India’s assistance of more than $3 billion in projects, hundreds of small development projects (of schools, hospitals and water projects) have cemented India’s position in Afghanistan.
- Security Interest: India has been the victim of state-sponsored terrorism emanating from Pakistan supported terrorist group operating in the region (e,g. Haqqani network). Thus, India has two priorities in Afghanistan:
- to prevent Pakistan from setting up a friendly government in Afghanistan, and
- to avoid the return of jihadi groups, like al Qaeda, which could strike in India.
Due to the Taliban’s coming to power, India faces a dilemma, between:
- Should India reconsider its current policy that a lasting political settlement in Afghanistan must come through an “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan controlled process” (considering that the elected Afghan Government is hardly in control of the peace process).
- Should India, consider the option of entering into direct talks with the Taliban. But, If India does so, it would constitute a major departure from its consistent policy of dealing only with recognised governments.
Dent in India’s Goodwill
- The building blocks of India’s goodwill are assistance in infrastructure projects, health care, education, trade and food security, and also in the easy access to Afghani citizens to study, train and work in India.
- Above all, it is India’s example as a pluralistic, inclusive democracy, inspires many in Afghanistan.
- However, there has been a dent in India’s goodwill, due to recent events in India, especially the controversy over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019.
Exclusion of India
- India has been excluded from the Afghanistan peace process many times including the recent meeting (6+2+1 grouping).
- This poses a challenge for India to secure its interest in deciding the fate of Afghanistan and its people.
Steps To Be Taken
- India must also pursue opportunities to fulfil its role in the peace efforts in Afghanistan, starting with efforts to bridge the Ghani-Abdullah divide, and bringing together other major leaders with whom India has built ties for decades.
- India should take the diplomatic route to press for its inclusion in “6+2+1” dialogue, to claim its legitimate role in the Afghan peace process.
- India should leverage the United Nations’s call for a pause in conflicts during the Covid-19 pandemic to restart dialogue with Pakistan, which in turn is necessary for lasting peace in Afghanistan.
- Also, India can learn from US-Taliban talks where two opposing parties came to the negotiating table for talks on Afghanistan’s future.
- For India, given its abiding interest in Afghanistan’s success and traditional warmth for its people, making that leap should be a bit easier. Thus, India can consider the appointment of a special envoy and start Track II diplomacy with the Taliban.
2. ‘Restrain online platforms from carrying Islamophobic content’
Plea urges SC to direct a CBI or NIA probe against Twitter
A petition has been filed in the Supreme Court to restrain social media platforms from carrying Islamophobic content on their timelines and to direct a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) or a National Investigation Agency (NIA) probe against Twitter and its users involved in putting out “inflammatory posts”.
The petition, filed by Khaja Aijazuddin, referred to how “massive publicity was given by the media that many of the positive cases of symptoms of coronavirus were found from Tablighi Jamaat at Nizamuddin in Delhi”.
“There was a massive trending of tweets on Twitter attaching the Muslim religion to the cause of spread of coronavirus,” Mr. Aijazuddin said in his petition filed in May. “Restrain all online social media networks operating in India not to carry any Islamophobic posts or messages hurting or insulting the feelings of a particular community. Moreover, with respect to the prayer for issuing directions to the Government of India to register criminal complaint against Twitter and its users, who are spreading hatred messages,” the petition said.
It asked the court to direct the government to frame specific guidelines under the Information Technology Act, 2000, on “hate messages against any religious community, including Islamophobic posts on various social media platforms”.
Mr. Aijazuddin had initially moved the Telangana High Court, which directed him to approach the Supreme Court.
3. Govt. agencies can analyse WhatsApp chats, NCB tells HC
Conversations in drug case sent for forensic analysis
WhatsApp chats, which are end-to-end encrypted, can be analysed by government organisations, the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) recently told the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
Responding to a bail petition filed in the High Court by an 18-year-old under Section 439 of the Code of Criminal Procedure in a Narcotic Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 (NDPS) case, the NCB stated that since the entire WhatsApp chat of the accused was end-to-end encrypted, it could not be opened by the agency, which was constrained to send it to forensic specialists for its “opening and analysis”. The NCB, Chandigarh, submitted that the petitioner and his father, a co-accused, were found in possession of 520 g of heroin without any permit or license while they were travelling in a car.
They were arrested on February 14, 2020. It added that the petitioner’s involvement in trafficking was established from his conversation with a Nigerian handler-supplier of the contraband over phone and WhatsApp communications.
The petitioner’s advocate submitted that recordings of the alleged WhatsApp conversations between the petitioner and the contraband supplier, a Nigerian national, had not been revealed or made available to show the petitioner’s involvement.
The NCB counsel stated that the WhatsApp conversation was sent for analysis on April 4 this year, as it was not considered necessary earlier in view of the petitioner’s confessional statement. The counsel added that the NCB was subsequently constrained to send the conversations for forensic analysis to submit its report at an appropriate stage during trial.
Justice Sudip Ahluwalia, who was hearing the matter on May 7, stated that the Court finds no justification to release the petitioner on bail at this stage. The petition is, therefore, dismissed.
Narcotics Control Bureau
- It was constituted by the Government of India in 1986 under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985.
- It is the apex coordinating agency under the Ministry of Home Affairs.
- The National Policy on Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances is based on Article 47 of the Indian Constitution which directs the State to endeavour to bring about prohibition of the consumption, except for medicinal purposes, of intoxicating drugs injurious to health.
- Drug abuse control is the responsibility of the central government.
- Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985
- It provides for the penalty of property derived from or used in illegal traffic in narcotic drugs.
- The Act made an express provision for constituting a Central Authority for the purpose of exercising the powers and functions of the Central Government under the Act.
4. Biden, Johnson seek to sign ‘new Atlantic Charter’
President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson met for the first time on Thursday, looking to highlight their nations’ famed “special relationship” but doing so against a backdrop of differences both political and personal.
At their first meeting in the seaside resort of Carbis Bay, the two leaders inspected documents on Thursday related to the Atlantic Charter, a declaration signed by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt in August 1941, setting out common goals for the world after Second World War. Those goals included freer trade, disarmament and the right to self-determination of all people. It is often cited as a cornerstone of the trans-Atlantic “special relationship.”
Mr. Johnson noted that the charter laid the foundation for the United Nations and NATO. “Yeah, I know,” Mr. Biden said.
Finding common ground
At their meeting, the two leaders plan to sign what they’re calling a new Atlantic Charter, pledging to “defend the principles, values, and institutions of democracy and open societies.”
Mr. Biden hopes to use his first overseas trip as President to reassure European allies that the U.S. had shed the transactional tendencies of Donald Trump’s term and is a reliable partner again. But tensions could simmer beneath the surface of Mr. Biden’s meeting with Mr. Johnson.
The President staunchly opposed the Brexit movement, the British exodus from the European Union that Mr. Johnson championed, and has expressed great concern with the future of Northern Ireland. And Mr. Biden once called the British leader a “physical and emotional clone” of Mr. Trump.
The British government has worked hard to overcome that impression, stressing Mr. Johnson’s common ground with Mr. Biden on issues such as climate change and his support for global institutions. But Mr. Johnson, the host for the G-7 summit that will follow his sit-down with Mr. Biden, has been frustrated by the lack of a new trade deal with the U.S.
The Atlantic Charter was an agreement between the United States and Great Britain that established the vision of Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill for a post-World War II world. One of the interesting aspects of the charter that was signed on Aug. 14, 1941, was that the United States was not even a part of the war at the time. However, Roosevelt felt strongly enough about what the world should be like that he put forth this agreement with Churchill.
Fast Facts: The Atlantic Charter
- Name of document: The Atlantic Charter
- Date signed: Aug. 14, 1941
- Location of signing: Newfoundland, Canada
- Signatories: Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, followed by the governments in exile of Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, and Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union, and the Free French Forces. Additional nations expressed support of the treaty through the United Nations.
- Purpose: To define the Allies’ shared ethics and goals for a post-war world.
- Main points: The eight major points of the document focused on territorial rights, freedom of self-determination, economic issues, disarmament, and ethical goals, including freedom of the seas and a determination to work for “a world free of want and fear.”
5. Delta variant is taking hold of Europe: WHO
People are urged to travel wisely
The World Health Organization’s Europe director warned that the highly transmissible delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 is “poised to take hold in the region,” as many countries prepare to ease restrictions and allow more social gatherings and travel across borders.
During a press briefing on Thursday, WHO’s Dr. Hans Kluge said the delta variant has shown signs of being able to evade some vaccines and warned that many vulnerable populations, particularly those over age 60, remain unprotected.
“We have been here before,” warned Kluge, WHO’s European regional director. “Over the course of last summer, cases gradually rose in younger age groups and then moved into older age groups, contributing to a devastating resurgence,” he said.
Dr. Kluge said that spike in COVID-19 ultimately led to more lockdowns and deaths in the fall and winter of 2020. “Let’s not make that mistake again.”
Dr. Kluge did not say people shouldn’t travel, but urged any travellers to do so wisely. He also called for vaccination and other public health measures to be stepped up across the continent, saying even immunisation coverage “is far from sufficient to protect the region.”
6. GST: FinMin revamps Groups of Ministers
Pawar is convenor of IT-related GoM
The Finance Ministry has modified the composition of ministerial groups studying pending Goods and Services Tax (GST) issues.
Maharashtra Deputy CM Ajit Pawar has been appointed convenor of the Group of Ministers (GoM) monitoring IT-related challenges, replacing former Bihar Deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi.
Mr. Modi’s successor in the Bihar government Tarkishore Prasad has also been included in the GoM, while former Haryana Minister Captain Abhimanyu has been replaced by the State’s Deputy CM Dushyant Chautala. Mr. Pawar replaced former Maharashtra FM Sudhir Mungantiwar, while Assam’s Himanta Biswa Sarma has been replaced by the new FM Ajanta Neog.
The ministry notified the changes in the GoMs on Wednesday along with changes to two other groups set up in January 2019. Gujarat Deputy CM Nitin Patel has been made convenor of the GoM to analyse revenue under the GST regime, replacing Mr. Modi.
Mr. Patel stays convenor of the the real estate sector- focussed GoM, which now includes Mr. Pawar and Kerala FM K.N. Balagopal.
Mr. Balagopal is the new convenor of the GoM overseeing implementation of e-way bills for moving gold and precious stones.
7. Editorial-1: The dream of a borderless world
More than the biological virus, civilisation is experiencing a pandemic of barriers and barricades across the world
The more I see images of racist violence, of the dispossessed sea of humanity travelling hundreds of miles by foot to reach their homes, of migrants being turned back by xenophobic immigration policies at the Mexican border, of vulnerable hungry people moving from Somalia to Jordan, or Bangladesh to India, or of a white policeman suffocating an African-American with his knee pressed into his neck, the more I am compelled to think that the world needs to rise above the frenzy of labels of race, gender, caste, religion and political bias, and begin, instead, to address as one people the issues that are far more crucial to humanity. More than the biological coronavirus, civilisation is indeed experiencing an excruciating world-wide pandemic of barriers and barricades, a disease that since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 has jumped from a little more than a dozen border walls to over 60.
The real image
But a different image comes to mind when you visualise a borderless earth from far away in space. The arsenal of concertina wires and checkposts are not visible. You do not see the barriers of language, culture or distance from here. And you do not see the blockade of Gaza where two million Palestinians “caged in a zoo” that could easily be a toxic slum with negligible access to medicines, food, electricity or drinking water. The landmass or the seas and oceans stretch across the globe interspersed with rivers and mountains. The mind begins to wander across the mountains, an eternal tranquil stretch across the face of the earth.
Absorbed in the landscape, I begin to imagine a world undivided by race, gender, religion or nationalities, a global consciousness unabashedly pro-diversity that is like the white cloud moving freely or the blue sky stretching far into the horizon, a peaceful land that gives you a deep sense of belonging. The cloud is not fenced in like many threatened by death behind a razor-sharp fence that is reproduced globally, in every continent, in every nation, in every state. However, at the back of my mind, I can feel the hidden bazooka-like cameras revealing sorrowfully the apprehensive face of a mother crossing the border from Mexico to Arizona to reunite with a lost child. Cold-blooded xenophobic immigrant laws, threats and detentions clash with the deep sense of peace that I experience from the placid landscape before my eyes, resonating a flash of some utopian borderless world that might someday become a reality.
Rights for all
But as a river bursts out of a dam that its gushing waters find irksome, fences too are broken by rebels incarcerated for no crime but the love of freedom or a happier tomorrow. How long can you keep a human being locked up when the crime is struggling for the human rights of all? The insatiable desire to breakout becomes the carnival of the oppressed, an iconic symbol of that ray of hope that sustains the power of imagination and reclaims the space for freedom and the dream of reality where the past meets the future in the present.
The wandering cloud or the effortless river is a souvenir of rebels dancing on the edge of chaos, between the broken and the built, each telling her untold story that profoundly surpasses in its intensity the single overriding story that is always ideologically frozen in its linearity and intransigence. Their action is the action of life, powerful as the winds converging into a whirlwind, distinct, and yet a reflection of the many alliances uniting to target the rich and the powerful in their palaces and in the government buildings gradually beginning to feel insecure.
Tyranny of the majority
The fence is a testimony of death and terror of race and ultra-nationalism, something Mexicans or Palestinians or we in India can very well realise, cut off as we are from the rest of the world lest we infect it with an unsurpassable wave of death and human suffering. We stand fractured by not only borders but political and economic and social and ethnic differences. Surveillance, lockdowns and military vigilance at the borders are a lame excuse of self defence camouflaging the tyranny of the majority aiming at the expulsion of the “other”.
Between the rich and the poor, between the business class and the tourist class travelling in the same plane, reaching the same destination or crashing together, between an upmarket gated community and the suburbia of poverty and hunger, between the mosque and the temple, there is the jarring sense of imbalance, screaming out in a burlesque of the inordinate magnificence of bigotry and self-indulgence.
Sorrowfully, racism now seems to be embedded in the very idea of the fence. The world overflows with stern vigilantism, the cold and heartless bureaucracy, the secret agents and the terrorising state apparatus. The onslaught is on the people, jobless and homeless, with no choices in their own land. They leave their homes seeking a better way of life as well as serve the host country supplying it the labour that it so desperately needs to uphold its economy. Migration occurs owing to the unbearable suffering in war-torn homelands lacking social security, or the construction of mega-dams that drive out the native farmers from their land, the only means of their subsistence. As the author Naomi Klein says, they “are increasingly treated like cargo, with no rights at all”. Rich nations who believe in free trade do not realise that the migrants who have come to their shores in the face of death are not their “clients but sellers” of their labour, their blood, sweat and tears. How long will they remain silent?
If you listen carefully, you can hear the whispering of the voices from below, the voices the rich and the powerful refrain from hearing. How long will they ignore the farmers, the artisans, the builders? How long will they turn a deaf ear to the demands of those who want to break out of the confines of chauvinism or racial fanaticism? How long will their voices go unheard from across the fences, voices fortified with the words of resistance not for rewards but for the vision of peace and freedom, of human rights and dignity that await people of all races, of all colours of all ethnicities, of all genders?
These voices cannot submit to the powerful and the rich. They cannot because they are on the other side of the fence opposing the rich nations, which meet annually in sickeningly opulent venues, discussing and adjudicating on the poor and the deprived on whose land they now exercise their will and their right. Armed policemen keep the hungry and the deprived out, and if ever they dare to cross over, the unfortunate wither away in detention centres behind the impenetrable walls of the hawk-eyed state. The fence keeps them at bay from vast stretches of land preventing thousands from cultivating on the land that rightly belongs to them. Surely, clean air, drinking water, health care, land and shelter and food are their birthright.
The power of peace
The only option left is to peacefully send across the fences their messages and songs of resistance that reverberate across the world with the ideas of revolution and hope, of emancipation and freedom from the tyranny of the handful who rule the world. The rebel voices, sooner or later, will remember their poets and the songs of their past that will penetrate the fences, tear them down in globally interconnected social movements when the extremes of wealth and poverty will no longer be endured. The language of diversity and dignity would soon engulf the unilateral predatory game plans of the rich and the mighty.