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Daily Current Affairs 18.08.2021 (The script of the new endgame in Afghanistan, A report that is at odds with access to knowledge, Exporters to get duty relief as part of Jan. 1 RoDTEP scheme)

Daily Current Affairs 18.08.2021 (The script of the new endgame in Afghanistan, A report that is at odds with access to knowledge, Exporters to get duty relief as part of Jan. 1 RoDTEP scheme)

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1.The script of the new endgame in Afghanistan

This is a moment of tragedy for Asia as well, with the U.S. leaving the country in a worse situation than when it came in

The rapidity with which Afghanistan has unravelled has shocked and surprised everyone. The fall of Kabul, and the ignominious end of any resistance to the Taliban within six weeks of the U.S. forces vacating the Bagram airbase (near Kabul) on July 2, reveals how brittle the vaunted Afghan Security Forces were. The departure of Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani and almost the entire top political leadership of Afghanistan to safer havens, removes the last vestige of hope that the Taliban can be checked. Like a ‘house of cards’, Afghanistan has fallen apart the moment foreign forces vacated the country.

Taliban’s duplicity

The enormity of the current situation is only now beginning to be evident to much of the outside world. The Taliban’s duplicity in projecting, at one level the image of a mature group during the Doha talks while at another, perpetuating violence of the most ferocious kind, is clearly evident as events unfold. The worst is, perhaps, yet to come. Afghanistan today is in a condition that is far worse than what existed when the Russians withdrew in the 1990s.

At that time, there was at least a titular leader around whom those opposed to the Taliban could hope to mobilise and put up a fight. Moreover, the ‘retreat’ of the United States from Afghanistan in 2021 is far more humbling than the Russian withdrawal in the 1990s, for the latter at least had to contend with the actions of a superpower, like the U.S. This time the Taliban having played fast and loose with the U.S. has left the ‘superpower’ with not even the fig leaf of a honourable withdrawal. U.S. President Joe Biden’s decision to set a date for the withdrawal of the American forces, and treat this decision as one carved in stone irrespective of the situation within Afghanistan — without any consideration of the consequences — clearly enabled the Taliban to take over.

After the Russian withdrawal in the 1990s, Afghanistan still had a future, for in the final years of the 20th century, the world was intent on making efforts to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a ‘black hole’ that would create mayhem across a vast region that bordered Iran, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and China. In the 1990s, moreover, the Taliban were a band of outlaws. Today, it is recognised — may be with different degrees of disdain — by powers such as the U.S., Russia and China, and is on the brink of gaining a country. For a regulated international order that most countries across the world seek, there could be no greater tragedy than the emergence of a ‘rogue’ state under the Taliban.

Paving the way for terror

The Afghan Establishment seemed to give up the fight against the Taliban earlier on by ceding authority to private militias, former Afghan warlords and a rabble of disparate armed groups. To expect that this kind of armed rabble would resist the Taliban was clearly a mistake. As the Afghan state implodes, one should now expect a wider cleaving between Pashtuns, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Hazaras and the myriad other clans that populate Afghanistan. The virtual death of the Afghan nation, approximates as it were to the ‘end of history’.

The collapse of organised resistance to the Taliban within Afghanistan, together with the group being courted by Russia, China and quite a few other nations, apart from Pakistan — not excluding the U.S. — marks the saddest day in the history of a proud nation. This is also a moment of tragedy for Asia as a whole. It virtually spells the death-knell of any possible Afghan renaissance in the near future. Instead, the situation is far more likely to encourage erstwhile terror groups, such as the one led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar — a one-time client of Pakistan and a traditional opponent of the Taliban — to return to their erstwhile hunting grounds.

Afghanistan versus Syria

References to Afghanistan becoming another Syria are again misplaced. At the worst of times, Syria had a relatively strong President (Bashar al-Assad), while Afghan President Ghani can hardly be compared to him. The territory of Afghanistan is also very different from that of Syria. Afghanistan’s borders, with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, unlike that of Syria are extremely porous and almost impossible to guard or protect. More to the point, the end-game in Afghanistan has little in common with the power equations witnessed in Syria. In Afghanistan, the Taliban is intent on keeping absolute control and is counting on China, Russia, and Pakistan to do so. All of them are more intent on keeping out the U.S., and in effect India.

Indulging in a blame game at this time may appear inappropriate. However, the U.S. cannot shrug off a major share of the responsibility for Afghanistan’s current plight. Apart from the decision of Mr. Biden not to alter the last date for the exit of U.S. troops in Afghanistan — which sent a clear signal to the Taliban of a collapse of U.S. resolve to safeguard the interests of Afghanistan — the stealthy exit of the U.S. from the Bagram airbase also left an indelible impression as far as the Taliban was concerned: that the U.S. had acknowledged the Taliban’s supremacy in return for the safe passage of their troops. All this has diminished the image of the U.S. in Asian eyes. In light of this, U.S. claims to ‘make America great again’ sound extremely hollow.

Old threats may resurface

Some political commentators seem to believe that after the initial success of the Taliban and the collapse of the Afghan state, the natural political dynamics of the region would assert itself. This seems like a pious wish. After two decades of active involvement in the affairs of Afghanistan, and spending over a trillion dollars in the process to defeat terrorism and the al Qaeda, the U.S. has left Afghanistan in a worse situation than when it entered. It is not possible to discern any reduction in terrorism or the demise of any of the better known terror groups, such as the al Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS), or for that matter, of lesser known terror outfits. As a matter of fact, there has been a resurgence in al Qaeda activities recently. The IS, after some earlier setbacks, is again regrouping and currently poses a real threat to areas abutting, and including, Afghanistan. Radicalised Islamist terror and the forces of ‘doctrinaire theocracy’ have, if anything, thus become stronger. The collapse of the Afghan state will ignite many old threats.

Compared to the situation when the U.S. left Vietnam in 1975 — which was also seen by many as a kind of ‘retreat’— the Afghan ‘misadventure’ has been a disaster. Under the leadership of the Communist Party, Vietnam was able to emerge as a vibrant nation with a thriving economy. Under the Taliban regime, Afghanistan cannot hope for any such outcome. It would remain the ‘sick man of Asia’ for generations to come, a standing folly to perils of outside intervention in the affairs of another nation.

Stakes for India, Iran

Among Afghanistan’s neighbours, India and Iran are two countries that would find accommodation with a Taliban-dominated Afghanistan very difficult. Pakistan may be an enigma of sorts, but the Taliban will need Pakistan at least in the short and medium term. Relations between Taliban Afghanistan and Uzbekistan and Tajikistan may not be easy, but will not lead to any major problems for now. India, even more than Shia-dominated Iran, may be the outlier among Afghanistan’s neighbours for a variety of reasons, including its warm relations with the Karzai and the Ghani regimes in the past two decades.

If the 21st century was expected to become the century of progress, the situation in Afghanistan represents a severe setback to all such hopes and expectations. The aftershock of the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban can be expected to continue for long. For India, the virtual retreat of the U.S. from this part of Asia; the growing China-Russia-Pakistan nexus across the region; and an Iran under a hardliner like Ebrahim Raisi, all work to its disadvantage. A great deal of hard thinking is needed as to how to retrieve a situation that for the present seems heavily tilted against India.

Historical Background

The Saur Revolution had taken place in Afghanistan in 1978 which installed a communist party in power. Nur Muhammad Taraki became the head of the state replacing the previous president Daoud Khan. Taraki’s government introduced many modernisation reforms that were considered too radical and left them unpopular, especially in the rural areas and with the traditional power structures. The communist government also had a policy of brutally suppressing all opposition. Even unarmed civilians opposing the government were not spared. This led to the rise of various anti-government armed groups in the country. The government itself was divided and Taraki was killed by a rival, Hafizullah Amin, who became the president. The Soviet Union, which at that time, wanted a communist ally in the country, decided to intervene.

Soviet army was deployed on 24th December 1979 in Kabul. They staged a coup and killed Amin, installing Babrak Karmal as the president. Karmal was a Soviet ally. This intervention was seen as an invasion by the USA and other western nations. While the Soviet army had control of the cities and towns, the insurgency groups called the Mujahideen had the rural parts of Afghanistan under their control. A bitter war was fought between both groups. The Soviet Union, which had planned to stay for 6 months to a year in Afghanistan found themselves stuck in a war that was proving to be too costly.

The Mujahideen did not relent in their pursuit to ‘drive out’ the Soviets. They had the support of many countries like the USA, Pakistan, China, Iran, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. They were given assistance like arms and training needed to fight the soviets. The soviets followed a policy of wiping out the rural regions in order to defeat the Mujahideen. Millions of land mines were planted and important irrigation systems were destroyed. As a result, millions of Afghan refugees took refuge in Pakistan and Iran. Some came to India as well. It is estimated that in the Soviet-Afghan war, about 20 lakh Afghan civilians were killed.

In 1987, after the reformist Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the Soviet Union, he announced that his government would start withdrawing troops. The final soviet troops were withdrawn on 15 February 1989. Now, the government of Afghanistan was left alone to fight the Mujahideen. Finally, they succeeded in taking control of Kabul in 1992. Again, the Mujahideen had different factions within and they could not agree on power sharing. The country collapsed into a bloody civil war.

The Taliban

In 1994, a group of fundamentalist students, wrought control of the city of Kandahar and started a campaign to seize power in the country. They were called the Taliban . Many of them were trained in Pakistan when they were in refugee camps. By 1998, almost entire Afghanistan was under the control of the Taliban. Many of the Mujahideen warlords fled to the north of the country and joined the Northern Alliance who were fighting the Taliban. This time, Russia lent support to the Northern Alliance, though they were fighting against them earlier. The Taliban ruled the country under strict interpretation of the Sharia law and many of the progress with regard to women and education which the country had seen earlier, were reversed. Girls were forbidden from attending schools and women banned from working. The Taliban-ruled country also became a safe haven for international terrorists. Only Pakistan, the UAE and Saudi Arabia recognised the Taliban government.

In 2001, a US-led coalition defeated the Taliban and established another government in place. However, Afghanistan still sees resistance from the Taliban in certain pockets.

US fighting a war in Afghanistan and why has it lasted so long?

  1. On 11 September 2001, attacks in America killed nearly 3,000 people. Osama Bin Laden, the head of Islamist terror group al-Qaeda, was quickly identified as the man responsible.
  2. The Taliban, radical Islamists who ran Afghanistan and protected Bin Laden, refused to hand him over. So, a month after 9/11, the US launched air strikes against Afghanistan.
  3. As other countries joined the war (ISAF), the Taliban were quickly removed from power. But they didn’t just disappear – their influence grew back and they dug in.
  4. Since then, the US and its allies have struggled to stop Afghanistan’s government collapsing, and to end deadly attacks by the Taliban.
  5. The mission, he said, was “to disrupt the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base of operations and to attack the military capability of the Taliban regime”.
  6. The first targets were military sites belonging to the hardline Taliban group who ruled the country. Training camps for al-Qaeda, the terror group run by 9/11 plotter Osama Bin Laden, were also hit.
  7. But 18 years on, it’s hard to argue the US mission has been fulfilled – the Taliban may play a part in ruling Afghanistan again if peace talks do eventually succeed.

The Taliban first took control of the capital Kabul in 1996, and ruled most of the country within two years. They followed a radical form of Islam and enforced punishments like public executions. Within two months of the US and its international and Afghan allies launching their attacks, the Taliban regime collapsed and its fighters melted away into Pakistan.

A new US-backed government took over in 2004, but the Taliban still had a lot of support in areas around the Pakistani border, and made hundreds of millions of dollars a year from the drug trade, mining and taxes. As the Taliban carried out more and more suicide attacks, international forces working with Afghan troops struggled to counter the threat the re-energised group posed.

In 2014, at the end of what was the bloodiest year in Afghanistan since 2001, Nato’s international forces – wary of staying in Afghanistan indefinitely – ended their combat mission, leaving it to the Afghan army to fight the Taliban. But that gave the Taliban momentum, as they seized territory and detonated bombs against government and civilian targets. In 2018, Taliban was openly active across 70% of Afghanistan.

Where did the Taliban come from?

  • Afghanistan had been in a state of almost constant war for 20 years even before the US invaded.
  • In 1979, a year after a coup, the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan to support its communist government. It fought a resistance movement – known as the mujahideen – that was supported by the US, Pakistan, China and Saudi Arabia, among other countries.
  • In 1989, Soviet troops withdrew but the civil war continued. In the chaos that followed, the Taliban (which means “students” in the Pashto language) sprang up.
  • They first rose to prominence in the border area of northern Pakistan and south-west Afghanistan in 1994. They promised to fight corruption and improve security and, at that time, many Afghans were tired of the excesses and infighting of the mujahideen during the civil war.
  • It’s thought the Taliban first appeared in religious schools, mostly funded by Saudi Arabia, which preached a hardline form of Islam.
  • They enforced their own austere version of Sharia, or Islamic law, and introduced brutal punishments. Men were made to grow beards and women had to wear the all-covering burka.
  • The Taliban banned television, music and cinema and disapproved of girls’ education.
  • And because the Taliban gave shelter to militants from the al-Qaeda group, it made them an immediate target for an attack by US, Afghan and international forces in the wake of 9/11.

Why has the war lasted so long?

  • There are many reasons for this. But they include a combination of fierce Taliban resistance, the limitations of Afghan forces and governance, and other countries’ reluctance to keep their troops for longer in Afghanistan.
  • At times over the past 18 years, the Taliban have been on the back foot. In late 2009, US President Barack Obama announced a troop “surge” that saw the number of American soldiers in Afghanistan top 100,000.
  • The surge helped drive the Taliban out of parts of southern Afghanistan, but it was never destined to last for years.
  • As a result, the Taliban were able to regroup. When international forces withdrew from fighting, Afghan forces left to lead the charge were easily overwhelmed. To make matters worse, Afghanistan’s government, that is full of tribal division, is often hamstrung.

5 Main reasons why war is still going on:

  • a lack of political clarity since the invasion began, and questions about the effectiveness of the US strategy over the past 18 years;
  • the fact each side is trying to break what has become a stalemate – and that the Taliban have been trying maximise their leverage during peace negotiations
  • an increase in violence by Islamic State militants in Afghanistan – they’ve been behind some of the bloodiest attacks recently
  • There’s also the role played by Afghanistan’s neighbour, Pakistan.
  • There’s no question the Taliban have their roots in Pakistan, and that they were able to regroup there during the US invasion. But Pakistan has denied helping or protecting them – even as the US demanded it do more to fight militants.

How have the Taliban managed to stay so strong?

The group could be making as much as $1.5bn (£1.2bn) a year, a huge increase even within the past decade. Some of this is through drugs – Afghanistan is the world’s largest opium producer, and most opium poppies – used for heroin – are grown in Taliban-held areas.

But the Taliban also make money by taxing people who travel through their territory, and through businesses like telecommunications, electricity and minerals.

Foreign countries, including Pakistan and Iran, have denied funding them, but private citizens from the region are thought to have done so.

The figures for Afghan civilians are more difficult to quantify. A UN report in February 2019 said more than 32,000 civilians had died. The Watson Institute at Brown University says 42,000 opposition fighters have died. The same institute says conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan have cost the US $5.9 trillion since 2001. The US is still conducting air strikes against the Taliban, instigated by the third president to oversee the war, Donald Trump. But he is keen to reduce troop numbers before he faces another election in November 2020. The Taliban now control much more territory than they did when international troops left Afghanistan in 2014. Many in Washington and elsewhere fear that a full US troop pull-out would leave a vacuum that could be filled by militant groups seeking to plot attacks in the West. The Afghan people, meanwhile, continue to bear the brunt of the long and bloody conflict.

What do the Taliban and the United States want?

The negotiations appear to be focused on four elements:

  • Withdrawal of Foreign Forces: Both sides agree on the full withdrawal of the fourteen thousand U.S. troops currently in Afghanistan, as well as of additional foreign forces, but they disagree on the timeline. The United States is reportedly offering a two-and-a-half-year deadline, while the Taliban insists on nine months.
  • Counterterrorism Assurances: The Taliban has agreed to prevent Afghanistan from being used by terrorist groups, but negotiators disagree over how to define the terms “terrorism” and “terrorist.”
  • Intra-Afghan Dialogue: Washington has urged Afghan government and Taliban leaders to begin official talks on how Afghanistan will be governed after the war, but the Taliban refuses to negotiate with the government until after it has reached a deal with the United States.
  • Comprehensive Cease-fire: U.S. negotiators seek a permanent cease-fire among U.S., Taliban, and Afghan government forces prior to a peace deal, but the Taliban insists on putting off a cease-fire until U.S. troops have withdrawn.

Reasons for India to be part of reconciliation process with the Taliban:

  • Regional Stability: Security and Stability are foundations over which development can be built on. Peaceful neighbourhood and trouble free regional climate will provide space for the regimes to focus more on development as threats of violence by Taliban’s in the region will be minimized.
  • Counter China and Pakistan’s vested interests: India should play a considerable role through Quadrilateral group plus 2 talks to thwart the efforts of china to place puppet regimes which can play according to their own vested interests. This can be counterproductive for India’s aspirations and concerns.
  • Connectivity with Central Asia: India’s trade with Central Asia and reaping benefits from the enhanced connectivity will be largely dependent on Afghanistan’s domestic environment. A peaceful and cooperative Afghanistan will be a key pin in India’s central Asia policy. The latest trilateral transit agreement between India. Iran and Afghanistan is a significant step in this direction.
  • TAPI for Energy security: Violence free Afghanistan is desideratum for finishing the project of TAPI and sustaining the benefits from it through energy supplies from Turkmenistan.
  • Gateway to “Link west” policy: Afghanistan will act as a gateway to India’s increasing rigour on its west Asia policy.
  • Minerals of Afghanistan: The cost of access to minerals will be minimum and helpful in expanding the production of Indian Industries.

US- Taliban Deal

Recently, the U.S. signed a deal (at Qatar’s capital-Doha) with the Taliban that could pave the way towards a full withdrawal of foreign soldiers from Afghanistan over the next 14 months and represent a step towards ending the 18-year-war in Afghanistan. Along with this, a separate joint declaration was also signed between the Afghan government and the US at Kabul.

The peace deal is expected to kick-off two processes- a phased withdrawal of US troops and an ‘intra-Afghan’ dialogue. The deal is a fundamental step to deliver a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire and the future political roadmap for Afghanistan peace process and the Central region.

Background of the Deal

  • On 11 September 2001, terrorist attacks in America killed nearly 3,000 people. Osama Bin Laden, the head of Islamist terror group al-Qaeda, was quickly identified as the man responsible.
  • The Taliban, radical Islamists who ran Afghanistan at that time, protected Bin Laden, refused to hand him over. So, a month after 9/11, the US launched airstrikes against Afghanistan.
  • The US was joined by an international coalition and the Taliban were quickly removed from power. However, they turned into an insurgent force and continued deadly attacks, destabilising subsequent Afghan governments.
  • Since then, the US is fighting a war against the Taliban.
  • Donald Trump’s 2017 policy on Afghanistan, was based on breaking the military stalemate in Afghanistan by authorising an additional 5,000 soldiers, giving US forces a freer hand to go after the Taliban, putting Pakistan on notice, and strengthening Afghan capabilities.
  • However, the US realised that the Taliban insurgency could not be defeated as long as it enjoyed safe havens and secure sanctuaries in Pakistan, the US changed track and sought Pakistan’s help to get the Taliban to the negotiating table.
  • The negotiations began in September 2018 with the appointment of Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad to initiate direct talks with the Taliban. After nine rounds of US-Taliban talks in Qatar, the two sides seemed close to an agreement.

Salient Features of the Deal

  • Troops Withdrawal: The US will draw down to 8,600 troops in 135 days and the NATO or coalition troop numbers will also be brought down, proportionately and simultaneously. And all troops will be out within 14 months.
  • Taliban Commitment: The main counter-terrorism commitment by the Taliban is that Taliban will not allow any of its members, other individuals or groups, including al-Qaeda, to use the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies.
  • Sanctions Removal: UN sanctions on Taliban leaders to be removed by three months and US sanctions by August 27. The sanctions will be out before much progress is expected in the intra-Afghan dialogue.
  • Prisoner Release: The US-Taliban pact says up to 5,000 imprisoned Taliban and up to 1,000 prisoners from “the other side” held by Taliban “will be released” by March 10.

Challenges in the Deal

  • One-Sided Deal: The fundamental issue with the U.S.’s Taliban engagement is that it deliberately excluded the Afghan government because the Taliban do not see the government as legitimate rulers. Also, there is no reference to the Constitution, rule of law, democracy and elections in the deal.
    • Taliban is known for strict religious laws, banishing women from public life, shutting down schools and unleashing systemic discrimination on religious and ethnic minorities, has not made any promises on whether it would respect civil liberties or accept the Afghan Constitution.
    • Therefore, Shariat-based system (political system based on fundamental Islamic values) with the existing constitution is not easy.
  • Issues with Intra-Afgan Dialogue:
    • President Ashraf Ghani faces a political crisis following claims of fraud in his recent re-election.
    • The political tussle is between Ashraf Ghani (who belongs to the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan- the Pashtun) and Abdullah Abdullah (whose base is among his fellow Tajiks, the second largest group in Afghanistan).
    • If there are any concessions made by Mr Ghani’s government to the Taliban (predominantly Pashtun) will likely be interpreted by Mr Abdullah’s supporters as an intra-Pashtun deal reached at the cost of other ethnic groups, especially the Tajiks and the Uzbeks.
    • Consequently, these ethnic fissures may descend into open conflict and can start the next round of civil war.
  • Thus, the lifting of the US military footprint and the return of a unilateral Taliban could set the stage for the next round of civil war that has hobbled the nation since the late 1970s.
  • Problem with Prisoner’s Swap: The US-Taliban agreement and the joint declaration differ:
    • The US-Taliban pact says up to 5,000 imprisoned Taliban and up to 1,000 prisoners from “the other side” held by Taliban “will be released” by March 10.
    • However, the joint declaration lays down no numbers or deadlines for the prisoner’s swap. Afghanistan President held that there is no commitment to releasing 5,000 prisoners. He also held that such prisoners’ swap is not in the authority of the US, but in the authority of the Afghan government.
  • Also, the Taliban is fragmented or divided internally. It is composed of various regional and tribal groups acting semi-autonomously.
    • Therefore, it is possible that some of them may continue to engage in assaults on government troops and even American forces during the withdrawal process.
    • It is unclear if there is a date for the complete withdrawal of US troops or for concluding the intra-Afghan dialogue, or how long the truce will hold.

Impact of the Deal on Other Stakeholders

  • US: The promise to end America’s “endless wars” in the greater Middle East region was one of the central themes of US President Donald Trump’s election campaign in 2016. This deal may demonstrate progress on that front in his bid for re-election later this year.

    • Though, the US doesn’t recognise Taliban as a state under the name of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (key demand of Taliban), though many experts are of the view that this deal is a little more than a dressed-up U.S. surrender that will ultimately see the Taliban return to power.
  • Pakistan: The deal provides the strategic advantage to Pakistan, who is a long-time benefactor of the Taliban.
  • China: After the launch of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Pakistan is seen as more of a protectorate state of China. Thus, China may leverage Pakistan’s influence on the Taliban, to propel its strategic projects like the Belt and Road Initiative.

Impact of this Deal on India

This deal alters the balance of power in favour of the Taliban, which will have strategic, security and political implications for India. The deal may jeopardise the key stakes of India in Afghanistan:

  • India has a major stake in the stability of Afghanistan. India has invested considerable resources in Afghanistan’s development.
  • India has a major stake in the continuation of the current Afghanistan government in power, which it considers a strategic asset vis-à-vis Pakistan.
    • An increased political and military role for the Taliban and the expansion of its territorial control should be of great concern to India since the Taliban is widely believed to be a protégé of Islamabad.
  • As Afghanistan is the gateway to Central Asia, the deal might dampen India’s interest in Central Asia.
  • Withdrawal of US troops could result in the breeding of the fertile ground for various anti-India terrorist outfits like Lashkar-e-Taiba or Jaish-e-Mohammed.

India – Afghanistan: Heart of Asia Conference

  • Calling for a “double peace” both inside Afghanistan and in the region, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said India supports the Intra-Afghan Negotiations (IAN), in a rare direct reference to the Taliban at the 9th Heart of Asia conference in Tajikistan.
  • Mr. Jaishankar attended the meet along with Foreign Ministers of 15 countries, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey, Iran, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Central Asian states.
  • “India has been supportive of all the efforts being made to accelerate the dialogue between the Afghan government and the Taliban, including intra-Afghan negotiations,” the Minister said and referred to his participation in the inaugural virtual session of the Doha talks in September 2020.

‘Engage in good faith’

  • “If the peace process is to be successful, then it is necessary to ensure that the negotiating parties continue to engage in good faith, with a serious commitment towards reaching a political solution,” he added. India has not in the past referred directly to the Taliban, and the government has not opened any public engagement with the militant group.
  • Mr. Jaishankar said India views the escalation in violence against civilians in and the “continued involvement of foreign fighters” in Afghanistan with “grave concern” and pushed for Heart of Asia members to ensure a permanent ceasefire.
  • Speaking at the same conference, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said Pakistan “fears that any space gained by ISIS and Al-Qaeda could accentuate the threat of terrorism,” and cautioned against the role of “spoilers”, both “within and outside Afghanistan”.
  • In a departure from the recent past, however, Mr. Jaishankar and Mr. Qureshi were present for each other’s speeches during the conference, unlike previous boycotts by the two sides at a number of conferences since 2019.
  • However, despite speculation over an ongoing India-Pakistan peace process and a back-channel dialogue, Mr. Jaishankar and Mr. Qureshi did not make any public contact during the day-long conference, and were seen avoiding eye contact during the joint photo opportunity they both participated in.
  • Speaking at the conference in Dushanbe, Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani, who spoke to both foreign ministers in separate meetings, thanked neighbouring countries for their support.
  • He also lauded a number of regional connectivity initiatives including India’s air corridor programme and Chabahar port project, as well as the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline.

Russia calls for an inclusive solution for Afghanistan peace talks

  • A solution to the Afghan civil war should balance the ethnic and religious groups of Afghanistan and no group should be left out of the final settlement, said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov here on Tuesday after holding bilateral discussions with his Indian counterpart Dr. S. Jaishankar.
  • Mr. Lavrov said India and Russia were working for stability and connectivity in the region, and urged that “military alliances” should not come up in Asia.

‘Part of Afghan society’

  • “The Taliban movement is a part of Afghan society. Decision on the settlement in Afghanistan should foresee the participation of all political, ethnic and religious groups in the country. Otherwise, the solution will not be stable. This decision has to be based on balance of ethnic, political and religious interests, including in the legislative bodies,” Mr. Lavrov said.
  • “Any exclusion of any group from this process will not lead to an implementable and sustainable agreement which can lead to resumption of hostilities, which is not the desire of the stakeholders,” he said in response to a question after both the Ministers issued press statements.
  • Dr. Jaishankar said there is a need to “harmonise” the interests of various stakeholders that are active in and around Afghanistan.
  • “For India, what happens in Afghanistan impacts our security directly. I shared our approach that for a durable peace there would require harmonising the interest of all — both within and around that country,” Mr. Jaishankar said. “The peace process should be based on foundational principles to which we all subscribe and a political solution should mean independent, sovereign, united and democratic Afghanistan,” he added.

Missile defence system

  • Apart from the Afghan situation, the major issue on the agenda for Tuesday’s talks was expected to be the delivery of the Russian S400 missile defence system and the threat of U.S. sanctions that the delivery could attract.
  • However, the Ministers said the “specific” issue did not come up during the discussion.
  • However, Mr. Lavrov acknowledged that the U.S. exerts pressure on any country that wants to sign military and industrial contracts with Russia.

2.A report that is at odds with access to knowledge

There is a profound misunderstanding of the raison d’etre for granting copyright in educational content

In 2002, in light of two progressive pronouncements by the Supreme Court of India (Miss Mohini Jain vs State of Karnataka and Ors. and State of Himachal Pradesh vs H.P. State Recognised and Aided Schools Managing Committees and Ors.), the right to education found a secure constitutional home in the fundamental rights chapter of the Indian Constitution. This fundamental right, set out in Article 21A, guarantees every child between the ages of 6 and 14 access to free and compulsory education. In a series of rulings (Anuradha Bhasin vs Union of India, and Avinash Mehrotra vs Union of India), the top court has interpreted the right in a broad and expansive way, holding that it imposes an affirmative obligation on the government and civil society to secure its enjoyment.

Consistent with this spirit, the Court held in Farzana Batool vs Union of India that, while access to professional education is not a fundamental right, the state must take affirmative measures to secure the right to education at all levels.

State’s failure

Against this backdrop, the cavalier dismissal of the right to education under the garb of “ensuring balance between copyright protection of the publishers and public access to affordable educational study material” by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Commerce in a recent report, is deeply worrying. The Committee suggests curtailing fair dealing provisions under Indian Copyright law — which enable access to the work without the copyright holder’s consent — since it was informed that the provisions pose “a detrimental impact on the publishing industry and authors who are mainly dependent on royalties”. To highlight this as a concern instead of the abject state failure to remedy impediments to accessing educational material, exacerbated by the novel coronavirus pandemic, betrays complete ignorance of the state’s obligation to secure the right to education.

The issue of ‘purpose’

The Committee takes note of the Delhi High Court’s landmark judgment in the DU photocopy case. In that case (The Chancellor, Masters & Scholars of the University of Oxford & Ors vs Rameshwari Photocopy Services & Anr.), the court (both the Single Judge and the Division Bench) adopted a robust understanding of the educational exception enumerated in the list of fair dealing provisions in the Copyright Act. Section 52(1)(i) allows the reproduction of any work by a teacher or a pupil in the course of instruction. The court held that ‘course of instruction’ therein is not confined to the time and place of instruction, and would include anything that could be justified for the purpose of instruction. This includes steps commencing at a time prior to lecturing and continuing till after it. It also noted that apart from Section 52(1)(a), which provides for the right to a “fair dealing” of any copyrightable work, other rights/purposes enumerated under Section 52 would not have to meet the express requirement of fair dealing.

Thus, Section 52(1)(i) was recognised as enumerating an affirmative purpose exempt from infringement. The fairness of use under these Sections can be deemed to be presumed by the legislature as long as it is justified by the purpose specified. Consistent with this, the court also noted that there are no quantitative restrictions on the extent of the reproduction permitted as long as it is justified by a specific purpose under Section 52.

In its report, the Standing Committee notes that it is distressed that the conflict between educational institutions and copyright owners does not bode well for the “overall literary culture and image of the country”. In a bid to make the system fair and equitable, it calls on the government to amend Section 52 to allow for such copying only in government-owned institutions. It further states that there should be a quantitative limit on how much copying is permissible and regulation of the storage of copied works in digital formats.

A flawed view

The Committee’s views are flawed for multiple reasons. First, they betray a profound misunderstanding of the raison d’etre for granting copyright in educational content. As the single judge eloquently noted in the DU photocopy case, the purpose of copyright is to increase the: “harvest of knowledge, motivate the creative activity of authors and inventors in order to benefit the public”. Therefore, the rights of publishers are only a means to an end.

Relatedly, the Committee misunderstands the role of fair dealing provisions within this framework. Fair dealing provisions are user rights which are no less important than the rights of publishers. Given the fundamental character of the right to education, the importance of these rights can be traced to the Constitution. Therefore, their interpretation should reflect their salutary nature.

Second, the Committee errs in assuming that the rights of publishers were not duly accounted for in the DU photocopy judgments. Addressing arguments regarding any adverse impact of adopting a broad interpretation of the educational purpose exemption on the market of the concerned copyrighted works, the Division Bench noted with an example that access to copyrighted material for literacy and education does not curtail the market for these works. It held that students are anyway not potential customers of 30-40 reference books in the library, and that citizens with improved literacy, education and earning potential expand the market for copyrighted materials in the long run.

Third, having quantitative restrictions on the extent of permissible copying would be inapposite, because any limit would be arbitrarily arrived at. Instead, what is needed is a test suited to Indian realities and its development needs of making access to education more equitable and fairer in a context of deepening socio-economic inequalities.

Looking backward

The novel coronavirus pandemic has revealed the inadequacy of our fair dealing provisions to promote educational access. Specifically, these provisions were not designed to promote the free dissemination of educational content in digital form and to facilitate the sharing of resources required to effectively offer virtual education.

The Committee should have focused on suggesting amendments to Section 52 that would have made our copyright law fit for today’s challenges. That it has decided to look backward instead of forward is deeply troubling. Given the Supreme Court’s richly articulated constitutional obligation of the state to secure access to education, copyright law should facilitate, as opposed to attenuating its enjoyment.

Section 52(1)(a) in the Copyright Act, 1957

(a) a fair dealing with a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work 1[not being a computer programme] for the purposes of— 1[(i) Private use including research;]

(i)criticism or review, whether of that work or of any other work; 2[(aa) the making of copies or adaptation of a computer programme by the lawful possessor of a copy of such computer programme from such copy— 1[(aa) the making of copies or adaptation of a computer programme by the lawful possessor of a copy of such computer programme from such copy—”

(ii) in order to utilise the computer programme for the purpose for which it was supplied; or

(iii) to make back-up copies purely as a temporary protection against loss, destruction or damage in order only to utilise the computer programme for the purpose for which it was supplied;] 3[(ab) the doing of any act necessary to obtain information essential for operating inter-operability of an independently created computer programme with other programmes by a lawful possessor of a computer programme provided that such information is not otherwise readily available; 3[(ab) the doing of any act necessary to obtain information essential for operating inter-operability of an independently created computer programme with other programmes by a lawful possessor of a computer programme provided that such information is not otherwise readily available;”

3.Exporters to get duty relief as part of Jan. 1 RoDTEP scheme

The rebates range from 0.5% to 4.3% of the FOB value of outbound consignments

The Centre on Tuesday notified the rates and norms for the Remission of Duties and Taxes on Exported Products (RoDTEP) scheme, with Commerce Secretary B.V.R. Subrahmanyam asserting it would put ‘direct cash in the pockets of exporters’ soon.

The RoDTEP scheme had kicked in from January 1, replacing the earlier Merchandise and Services Export Incentive Schemes (MEIS and SEIS) that were in violation of WTO norms.

A budgetary allocation of ₹12,454 crore has been made for 2021-22 under the scheme which covers 8,555 tariff lines, accounting for about 75% of traded items and 65% of India’s exports. To enable zero rating of exports by ensuring domestic taxes are not exported, all taxes, including those levied by States and even Gram Panchayats, will be refunded under the scheme.

The rebates under RoDTEP, which Director General of Foreign Trade Amit Yadav said is WTO-compliant as per legal advice, range from 0.5% to 4.3% of the Free On Board value of outbound consignments. The lowest rate is offered on items like chocolates, toffees and sugar confectionary, while yarns and fibres have been granted the highest rate.

“Steel, pharma and chemicals have not been included under the scheme because their exports have done well without incentives,” said Mr. Subrahmanyam. “There are a couple of more schemes in the pipeline to help exporters, but RoDTEP, which is valid till March 31, 2024, will be our flagship scheme.”

The top trade official also assured of a resolution of the pending dues under the MEIS and SEIS by the first week of September, through a ‘staggered’ mechanism.

Remission of Duties or Taxes on Export Product (RoDTEP):

  • The scheme was announced in 2020 as a replacement for the Merchandise Export from India Scheme (MEIS), which was not compliant with the rules of the World Trade Organisation.
    • Following a complaint by the US, a dispute settlement panel had ruled against India’s use of MEIS as it had found the duty credit scrips awarded under the scheme to be inconsistent with WTO norms.
    • The RoDTEP scheme would refund to exporters the embedded central, state and local duties or taxes that were so far not being rebated or refunded and were, therefore, placing India’s exports at a disadvantage.
    • Significance:
      • Indian exporters will be able to meet the international standards for exports as affordable testing and certification will be made available to exporters within the country instead of relying on international organizations.
      • Also under it, tax assessment is set to become fully automatic for exporters. Businesses will get access to their refunds for GST via an automatic refund-route.
      • This would increase the economy for the country and working capital for the enterprise.
  • Extension of Benefits:
    • The government has decided to extend the benefits of the RoDTEP to all export goods starting 1st january 2021.
      • Initially, the scheme was expected to be limited to around three sectors to start with due to limited resources.
    • The rates under this scheme, which are expected to be notified soon, will be applicable from 1st january 2021 to all eligible exports of goods.
    • Reason for Extension:
      • It will boost the export sector of the country.
      • So far refunds were not taking place, adversely impacting exports.
        • India’s exports fell 8.74% in November, steeper than 5.12% dip in October.
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