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India at Afghan crossroads as Taliban cocks its guns

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India Army on Desert

New Delhi, July 3 : With Chinese bellicosity reverberating across the world, South Asia is bracing for another jolt — the epicentre of which is neighbouring Afghanistan. The tremors from Kabul will pass through Islamabad and hit Delhi, yet their intensity is not known. To what extent is India prepared is a question mark.

It all began on February 29, when the US signed a deal with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, to withdraw its forces from the war-torn country after almost 19 long years. Strangely it chose to leave out the elected Afghan government from a deal that impacts the future of Afghans.

The peace deal between the US and Taliban, remains a misnomer. Contrary to the spirit of the deal, the Taliban has increased attacks and the violence has engulfed the landlocked country – right from the maternity ward of a hospital in Kabul, to a gurdwara in prayers; from a funeral site in Nangarhar to a court in Paktia. And, not to mention dozens of Afghan security check-points where many hundreds of security personnel have died.

On its part, the Afghan government is implementing various provisions of the deal, like the release of Taliban prisoners, and President Ashraf Ghani has committed to join the intra-Afghan talks in Doha.

Doha is where the Taliban maintains its political office, and where the US-Taliban deal had been negotiated this February. The US Special Representative for Peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad has been chasing diverse parties including Pakistan for the intra-Afghan talks, reducing violence and release of prisoners. In his recent talks with Afghan leaders, Khalilzad reinforced that peace in Afghanistan is equivalent to peace in the region and the US is ready to invest in this sphere.

However, going by the high levels of violence inflicted by the Taliban the future looks bleak for the nation. It is not difficult to understand why the Taliban has stepped up its deadly attacks across the country – it is looking forward to an American withdrawal to enable a complete takeover of the country. The World Human Rights Watch Report has said that the Taliban”s widespread human rights abuses in areas under its control raise concerns about its willingness to adhere to future agreements.

Besides the two key nations — the US and Afghanistan, there always has been a high-stakes player — Pakistan, with its behind-the-scenes shelter and support to terror groups. In its efforts to control a resource-rich but unstable neighbour, it has played a pivotal role in keeping Afghanistan on the tenterhooks and vulnerable to attacks through battle-hardened terror groups. It has also put in considerable efforts to keep India at bay.

Indian intervention in Afghanistan has been diametrically opposite Pakistan”s — it has pumped in $2 billion aid and assistance for the Afghan people to rebuild the war-ravaged country and promote democracy. India has built dams, power stations, roads, hospitals and trained Afghan people in various aspects of administration and security.

With unprecedented developments happening in Afghanistan, many including Khalilzad are urging India to talk to Taliban. This is a view which even Zamir Kabulov, Russia”s special presidential envoy for Afghanistan, holds. The million dollar question is — how does India view the Taliban, which India has kept at an arm”s length for close to two decades now.

India still looks at Afghanistan as a democratic country that elects a people”s government, while the Taliban is still viewed as a terror group, power hungry and a Pakistani stooge. Indian thinking is still governed by the good old-fashioned theory of an ideal Afghanistan where all tribes come together to hold elections, where terror groups drop their arms and the Afghans climb up the development charts with roads, dams, schools and hospitals with Indian support.

With unbelievable violence engulfing Afghanistan, this looks like an impossible reality. An Indian pipe dream. But what is still possible amidst these impossibilities is that India opens up a window to talk with the Taliban.

The Taliban has made reconciliatory gestures towards India which have been surprising. It has already said that the revocation of Article 370 in Kashmir was an internal matter of India. And, it has said a couple of times that it is open to talks with India. In fact, even the Afghan government has indicated that India should join the intra-Afghan talks as the country has always been supportive of peace in Afghanistan. It wants India to drop its opposition to the Taliban and lend strength to the peace process.

While calls for India”s role in the peace process echo from all sides, the only opposition has come from arch enemy Pakistan, which is still busy playing its ”running with the hare and hunting with the hounds” game. Even as it poses with the US as an ally in the Afghan peace process, it has been sheltering and training various terror groups in attacking both Afghan and Indian interests.

However, the good news for India is that the terror groups are mutating in the Afghan battlefield. While the Taliban is warming up to India, the formidable terror group, Haqqani Network, shares Pakistan”s line of thinking.

The fast-paced developments in Afghanistan have left the field wide open for India to drop its nonchalance and join the talks, paving the way for a bigger Indian role once the US completely withdraws from the region. As the various players in the Afghanistan theatre know, India”s stand at the talks will only be from a point of peace and from a perspective of the Afghan people.

We know that there are no permanent friends and no permanent enemies in international relations. People evolve, entities change but peace still remains a goal worth pursuing. India has pursued that goal for millions of Afghan people for long. It should not give up now.

By : Rahul Kumar

(This content is being carried under an arrangement with indianarrative.com)

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Newsprint paper manufactures voice concerns

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New Delhi, Aug 13 : Indiscriminate import and dumping of newsprint paper is threatening the very survival of the domestic newsprint industry, says the Indian Newsprint Manufacturers Association (INMA), the apex body of newsprint manufacturers in India.

In the first quarter of the current fiscal year, as much as 85 percent of domestic demand for newsprint paper was met by imports while the country has adequate manufacturing capacities to meet the demand both in terms of quality and quantity. In a SOS communication to the Prime Minister, INMA has asked for urgent remedial measures to safeguard the interests of the industry.

“The adverse impact of dumping is so serious that currently no good orders are in place to keep the plants running, resulting in severe financial stress, endangering the continuity of the mill operations and retaining employment,” INMA has said in a statement.

“Domestic newsprint production capacity was 2.6 million tonnes in FY 2014-15 but has come down to 2.2 million tonnes in view of continued challenging environment leading to closure of mills. However domestic capacities are still adequate to meet the domestic demand. There is an urgent need to curb dumping and other unfair trade practices operating in the industry,” states INMA.

Due to imports being cheaper than the domestically manufactured newsprint product, during FY18 and FY19, domestic sales of newsprint stood at 1.2 million tonnes per annum which reduced drastically to 0.7 million tonnes in FY20 in view of dumping.

According to INMA, against the import price of $800 per tonne of newsprint in FY18, the news print is currently being dumped by exporters at $390-400 per tonne which is almost $250-300 per tonne cheaper than their home country sales price. With Covid pandemic leading to demand reduction worldwide, market intelligence points to dumping of newsprint paper at $350 per tonne.

INMA says it is not against legal import by actual users but against unfair trade practice being adopted by the exporters. As an urgent measure, INMA has asked for imposition of a five-year moratorium on newsprint imports, among other asks.

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Pilot stays in hunt for bigger role, to be rewarded in 2021 by high command

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Sachin Pilot

Jaipur/New Delhi, Aug 11 : The can may well have been kicked down the road in Rajasthan but the vexed leadership issue remains wide open. Contrary to popular perception, former Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot, who camped in Gurugram these past few days, has not beaten a hasty retreat.

Optically, he may have lost the skirmish, but he is very much in the game. This was a battle in a long drawn-out war. A war based on principles and one of anger over maltreatment.

Sources close to developments told IANS that his meeting with the Gandhi siblings – Rahul and Priyanka – at the former’s residence was one where he did not merely reveal his state of mind and reservations but was equally given cast iron assurances about the future.

Pilot, it is believed, didn’t hanker for any position but told them that belittling him by levelling charges of sedition was nothing short of outrageous. The Special Operations Group and Anti-Corruption Bureau charges were a travesty and he was pained and appalled at the charges levelled against him.

IANS has gathered that Pilot did not want to be a Deputy CM with a car and a bungalow for he had worked hard on the ground over the last six and a half years to help the Congress storm back to power in the state in the late 2018 election. To be viciously targeted by his own government was an abomination, according to him.

Apparently, he was given a fair hearing and while a decision on the party leadership in Rajasthan may have been kept in abeyance for the time being, a view will be definitely taken on this issue in early 2021. This assurance was given to him.

What is more is that Pilot has managed to get a fair and equitable settlement for all his followers, particularly those who camped with him in the last few days when they went underground. In a mockery of democracy, these MLAs were spied upon by the state CID which kept them under daily surveillance under Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot’s orders. This was intolerable for Pilot.

These things rankled with Pilot and while he was adamant that he won’t join the BJP from the outset, he was clear that he would stay with the Congress. All he wanted was a proper hearing and a just recourse to the problems and issues that he and his followers were facing in Rajasthan.

The Gandhi siblings have also come to realise that their footprint continues to shrink with the BJP trying to topple their state governments, the most recent case being Madhya Pradesh.

They didn’t want the BJP to take advantage of the fluid situation and hence sought closure. Once Pilot had given his side of the story, it was appreciated by the siblings.

It is clear that the Congress will want to hit the ground running with a young Pilot at the helm in the race for the state in 2023. It appears that Pilot may well become Chief Minister of Rajasthan in early 2021 to prepare for the battle in late 2023.

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Political circles mourn Rahat Indori’s demise

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Rahat Indori

New Delhi, Aug 12 : Condolences have poured in for noted Urdu poet Rahat Indori, who passed away on Tuesday after suffering a cardiac arrest. The poet had also tested positive for Covid-19.

Offering his condolences, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh tweeted in Hindi, “I am deeply saddened by the news of the demise of noted poet Rahat Indoriji. He was an ardent personality of Urdu admiration. He has left an indelible mark on the hearts of people by his memorable poetries. It is a great loss for the literary world. I extend my condolences to his loved ones in this hour of grief.”

“My heart sank after I got to know about your demise. It has created a vaccum in the literary world which will be difficult to fill,” Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan tweeted in Hindi.

Quoting pne of Indori’s couplets, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted, “Ab na main un na baki hai zamane mere, phir bhi mashhoor hai shahron mein fasane mere… Alvida Rahat Indori sahab.”

Leader of Opposition in the Upper House, Ghulam Nabi Azad, said in his condolence message, “He will be remembered for his free, fair and fearless poetic expressions.”

“India has lost a great Urdu poet; I salute the departed soul of Rahat Indori, the voice of millions of Indians,” Azad tweeted.

Indori, a poet and painter, taught Urdu literature at the Indore University before foraying into Bollywood as a lyricist.

Among the many memorable verses he created for Hindi films are “Neend churayi meri” and “Dekho dekho jaanam” (“Ishq”), “Chori chori jab nazrein mili” (“Kareeb”), “M bole toh” and “Chhan chhan” (“Munna Bhai MBBS”), “Dil ko hazaar baar” (“Murder”), “Tumsa koi pyaara” (“Khuddar”) and the title song of “Sir”.

His popular books include “Do Kadam Aur Sahi”, “Maujood”, “Chand Pagal Hai”, “Mere Baad” and “Naraz”.

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