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1.Afghan overture (The Hindu, MEA)

2.The faltering economy (The Hindu)

3.A fight against prejudice (The Hindu)

1.Afghan overture (The Hindu)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue meeting of Strategic Partnership Council between India and Afghanistan. (GS paper II)

Overview

  • India and Afghanistan have a strong relationship based on historical and cultural links. The relationship is not limited to the governments in New Delhi and Kabul, and has its foundations in the historical contacts and exchanges between the people.
  • Recently the steps had been taken for enhancing the security partnership between India and Afghanistan during the meeting of the Strategic Partnership Council. After training Afghan National Army officers and soldiers for four years, India is now planning to train Afghan police officers as well, as part of a UNDP project.  A welcome step, which would have a significant impact on the security situation in Afghanistan, it sends out a loud geopolitical signal.

Strategic Partnership Council

  • In recent past, Indo-Afghan relations have been further strengthened by the Strategic Partnership Agreement signed between the two countries in 2011. The 2nd meeting of the Strategic Partnership Council between India and Afghanistan held in New Delhi in September 2017.
  • The Strategic Partnership Council discussed a range of bilateral, regional and global issues of mutual interest and shared understanding and convergence of views on them. The outcomes of the four Joint Working Groups in the areas of political and security issues; trade, commerce and investment; development cooperation; and human resource development, education and culture were reviewed and assessed positively.
  • Also both the countries agreed to have regular meetings of the Joint Working Groups, including monitoring of implementation of the decisions taken and to hold the 3rd meeting of the Strategic Partnership Council in Kabul in 2018.

Political & Security Consultations

  • Both sides expressed grave concern at the incidents of terror and violence in Afghanistan resulting in loss of innocent lives. Noting that terrorism presented the greatest threat to peace, stability and progress of the region and beyond, they called for an end to all forms of support, State sponsorship, safe havens and sanctuaries to terrorists against Afghanistan.
  • It was agreed to strengthen security cooperation between the two countries. India agreed to extend further assistance for the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces in fighting the scourge of terrorism, organized crime, trafficking of narcotics and money laundering.
  • The Indian side reiterated its support for an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process. It was agreed that concrete, meaningful and verifiable steps for immediate cessation of violence were essential for the success of regional and international efforts to promote peace and stability in Afghanistan.

New Development Partnership

  • Recognising bilateral development cooperation as a key pillar of the strategic partnership, and economic assistance extended by India to Afghanistan towards social, economic, infrastructure and human resource development in the country, both sides agreed to initiate an ambitious and forward looking next generation ‘New Development Partnership’.
  • In this context, as per the priorities and request of the Government and the people of Afghanistan, both sides agreed to take up 116 High Impact Community Development Projects to be implemented in 31 provinces of Afghanistan, including in the areas of education, health, agriculture, irrigation, drinking water, renewable energy, flood control, micro-hydropower, sports infrastructure, administrative infrastructure.

It was further agreed to implement the following new projects under grant-in aid assistance from India-

  • Shahtoot dam and drinking water project for Kabul that would also facilitate irrigation;
  • Low cost housing for returning Afghan refugees in Nangarhar Province to promote resettlement; ·
  • Road connectivity to Band-e-Amir in Bamyan Province that would promote tourism to the National Park and economic development; ·
  • Water supply network for Charikar city in Parwan Province; ·
  • Establishment of a Gypsum board manufacturing plant in Kabul to promote value added industry; and ·
  • Construction of a polyclinic in Mazar-e-Sharif.

Training police officers

  • By training police officers and hundreds of army cadets and officers, India is taking an important role in capacity building for Afghan security. As the country saw the highest civilian casualties last year since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion. Increasingly, these casualties are coming not from Afghanistan’s border areas but its cities and villages where only a professionally trained police force, and not armies, can maintain peace.
  • India has also announced “new development projects” across Afghanistan, and police forces will be crucial in protecting irrigation, housing and school projects from the Taliban and other terror groups.
  • The decision send clear message to the Pakistan and other countries in the region that deal with the Taliban, as India will not be deterred from assisting Afghanistan for its security. It will also send a message to the U.S. and NATO forces, just ahead of an important visit by U.S. Defence Secretary James Mattis to Delhi, that India will play a part in putting Afghanistan back on its feet in India’s own way and not necessarily, as the U.S. may prefer, with ‘boots on the ground’ or by sending large numbers of trainers into Afghanistan, where they would become marked targets.

Way ahead

  • The decision to enhance security training comes coupled with an India-Afghanistan trade fair sponsored by USAID, that will also be welcomed, India has always been an excellent partner for Afghanistan capacity building programmes, as both the countries have similarities in some of the aspects of the conflicts. Indian knowledge and experience is going to be very useful for Afghanistan, especially in counter-terror and counter-narcotic programmes.
  • Also the India-Afghanistan-Iran trilateral arrangement to circumvent the obstacles is on track and the commitment that the Chabahar port development project will be completed next year will also reassure business on both sides about a sustainable trade route from South Asia to Central Asia.

Question India’s plans to expand its security assistance to Afghanistan by training police officers send a clear message, to the countries in the region that deal with the Taliban that India will not be deterred from assisting Afghanistan for its security. Critically analyse the India’s role in Afghanistan security.

2.The faltering economy (The Hindu) 

Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of the Indian economy and need to enact tough structural reforms. (GS paper III)

Overview

  • Since early 2016, GDP growth has fallen for six consecutive quarters, slumping to a three-year low in the April-June quarter, the weak economic numbers has left the Central government scrambling to do something. Recently the Finance Minister had promised appropriate action to revive the economy.
  • The government mentioned that it had taken note of all economic indicators which are available, and it will take any additional moves which are necessary.

Measures

  • Though the government has not mentioned the details of what could be in store. It has been mentioned that the increased fiscal spending to the tune of ₹50,000 crore or more may be approved by the government to make up for lack of private investment.
  • The suggestion come forward after the expansion in gross domestic product slowed to a multi-year low of 5.7% in the first quarter of 2017-18, and industrial output growth dropped to 1.2% in July, compared to 4.5% a year earlier.
  • In addition, retail price inflation jumped to a five-month high of 3.36% in August from 2.36% in July, further dimming the prospects of a monetary stimulus from the Reserve Bank of India to help boost the economy.
  • Though the demonetisation of high-value rupee notes and the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax seem to be the most proximate causes behind the lacklustre growth numbers, but, it has been pointed out that the economy has been decelerating for the last five quarters. In such a case, demonetisation and GST have merely brought to the fore a more fundamental weakness in the economy.

Will the measure be successful?

  • However it has been considered that the increased fiscal spending is unlikely to provide more than short-term relief to this problem, as it will not address any of the production bottlenecks in the economy.
  • Apart from this any loosening of the fiscal deficit target will affect India’s standing among global investors and project the image of a government resorting to fiscal stimulus to make up for the lack of more meaningful reforms.
  • The various rigidities in the market for land and labour have been holding back the economy for decades now, stopping investors from risking their capital on large-scale projects needed to boost growth.
  • Further, the overall unease involved in doing business in the country and the even larger uncertainty looming around the rules that govern the conduct of business have seriously held back growth. It has been reflected in the sluggish credit offtake numbers, private investment has failed to make sufficient use of the country’s relatively high private savings rate.

Way ahead

  • India’s major macroeconomic numbers, despite the recent worsening of the current account deficit, are still quite stable compared to a few years ago. The government must rise to the challenge and enact tough structural reforms.

Question– Weak demand and lack of easy finance and the fear of policy uncertainties has discouraged private investment in India. Discuss the statement in the wake of economic slowdown; also suggest measures for policy stability.

3.A fight against prejudice (The Hindu)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of Britain it is one step closer to including measures against caste discrimination in equality law. (GS paper II)

Overview

  • Untouchability is the most widespread, pernicious and intractable form of discrimination affecting the lives of millions of men and women and with a negative impact on the lives of untold millions of children and their potential for growth and development.
  • The British government had recently concluded a consultation on whether measures against caste discrimination should be included in equality law, to ensure there is “appropriate and proportionate legal protection” against unlawful discrimination because of a person’s origins.

Why a caste discrimination law?

  • In June 2009, the first World Conference on Untouchability took place in London. Delegates from across the world gathered to consider how to tackle pervasive and protracted discrimination based on caste or descent.
  • And to explore versions of untouchability in all its forms, it brought together experts and activists from across the globe from India to Japan and Nigeria. At the conclusion of the conference, delegates issued what has come to be known as the Conway Hall Declaration on Untouchability, calling on all states where such practices were prevalent to introduce legislation to outlaw the practice and undertake programmes of education.
  • The conference resulted in an ambitious statement aimed at strengthening grassroots movements aimed at eradicating such discrimination and trying to make national legislation more robust. The move, and subsequent testimonies of those who had suffered, caught the eye of U.K. legislators and the House of Lords, in particular, which were already debating issues around equality as the government sought to streamline and simplify Britain’s legislation on equality into one act of Parliament.
  • The government allowed for further research, it has taken till 2017 for the government to begin a consultation, despite urgings from the U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights for it to implement the legislation as soon as possible.
  • The government said while there was “no place” for any form of prejudice and discrimination based on a person’s origins, it wanted to be careful “not to create or entrench any notion of caste consciousness or caste-based practices into British society, which may prove counterproductive or divisive.
  • The legislation is part of a wider campaign conducted through EU institutions and UN human rights organs aimed at putting pressure on India to extend caste based reservations. Proponents hope that such interference in India’s internal affairs will augment the number of converts, a chief target of churches and Western governments.

India’s political view

  • Hindu organisations’ response to an international mobilisation of Dalits rights activism has brought the Indian Hindu nationalist agenda into U.K. politics including the eccentric imagination of U.K. anti-caste discrimination as being all about driving Indian reservation policy and Christian religious conversion.
  • The protection against caste discrimination could somehow do more harm than good and could be disrespectful of South Asian communities, as it has impacted the tone of the government’s approach. The consultation document insists it wants to ensure measures do not “create or entrench any notion of caste consciousness or caste-based practices into British society, which may prove counterproductive or divisive.
  • For example- during general election, Hindu organisation have sought to urge traditionally Labour voters to switch their allegiances to the Conservatives, arguing voting for Labour by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains was akin to “turkeys voting for Christmas”.
  • Those opposing the legislation, such as the National Council of Hindu Temples and the Hindu Forum of Britain, argue that caste isn’t an entrenched part of Indian society but a product of colonialism and any move to recognise it in legislation would entrench divisions, and deepen prejudice towards Indian communities. It would also lead to unnecessary interference and a bureaucratic nightmare, they argue.

Way forward

  • It has proved a highly divisive issue for Britain’s substantial Indian community covering not just the Hindu communities but Sikh, Christian and other groups too. Those in favour of the legislation are deeply sceptical of the government, believing that a 2010 study commissioned by the government already provided the necessary proof of caste discrimination.
  • It has been mention that bringing in the legislation would not only impact the substantial numbers of people whose testimony they have heard, who had faced either discrimination or abuse in their schools, work places and it will also help rid the South Asian community of prejudice more widely in the longer term.

Question– Discuss the British government measures against caste discrimination, why it has been argued that it should be included in equality law to ensure that there is “appropriate and proportionate legal protection”. Explain its implications over the India.