WITH TALIBAN AT KANDAHAR GATES AND CHINA CHECKING IN ON KABUL, INDIA TO REORIENT ITS AFGHAN POLICY - The Daily Guardian
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WITH TALIBAN AT KANDAHAR GATES AND CHINA CHECKING IN ON KABUL, INDIA TO REORIENT ITS AFGHAN POLICY

Utpal Kumar

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When India decided to pull out around 50 diplomats and security personnel from its consulate in Kandahar in Afghanistan on Saturday, in view of the Taliban gaining ground in new areas around the southern Afghan city, India once again found itself at a crossroads in what is believed to be the “graveyard of empires”. What has added to the already complex scenario is the eagerness of China to jump into the Afghan melee once the last of the Americans pack their bags on 11 September 2021.

The presence of the Dragon has made the situation more alarming in Afghanistan. A senior MEA (Ministry of External Affairs) official said that New Delhi has to reorient its Afghan policies. “We just can’t afford to sit back and let the situation slip away to the advantage of the forces inimical to us. Sensing an opportunity in the Afghanistan crisis, China has become super active in the region. Its close ally Pakistan too must be elated with the development.”

There’s a serious churn going on in the MEA on how to bite the Afghan bullet, especially on the issue of the Taliban. There was a time when a section of the Indian establishment wasn’t too averse to talking to the Taliban, but the Kandahar hijacking episode in 2001 changed all that. New Delhi just couldn’t be seen dealing with the Taliban. But now with the Dragon in the Afghan picture, and Taliban knocking on the Kabul doors, the consensus seems to be building up in India about the inevitability of talking to the Taliban. “Just that we should not be seen as too desperate for talks,” advised an official in the know of the situation. “Taliban know very well that India’s nod is necessary for their legitimacy in Afghanistan and have therefore in recent times made several overtures to Delhi through third-party contacts,” he added.

As per media reports, the Taliban have reached out to India at least two dozen times and even tried to come clean on their Pakistan connections. In fact, Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen went to the extent of saying that his organisation never took part in the Kashmir jihad!

Sources say that there has also been softening in Delhi’s stand vis-à-vis Taliban. In 2018, India, for instance, sent a “non-official” delegation comprising two retired diplomats to the Moscow peace conference on Afghanistan. Two years later, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar himself participated in the intra-Afghan talks in Doha where he said in no uncertain terms that the peace process must be “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled”. He also emphasised that no part of Afghanistan is “untouched” by India’s “400-plus development projects” in that country.

No doubt, India has been a big part of the Afghanistan development story, with investments worth $3 billion. It may not be the biggest investment, but each project undertaken by India, including the construction of the parliament building, the Salma dam and the Zaranj-Delaram highway project, has won goodwill among the public in that country. As Jaishankar himself had said while speaking at the Raisina Dialogue, “In the last 20 years, we have demonstrated, through our actions and projects on the ground, what our real feelings are for Afghanistan… I think, in all the 34 Afghan provinces, we have development projects of some kind.”

It is because of these investments and stakes that India can’t leave Afghanistan. This is also the reason why Indians stationed in Afghanistan find themselves in the line of jihadi fire. No wonder, about a week before the Kandahar evacuation, the Indian embassy in Afghanistan had issued a strongly-worded advisory for Indian nationals, asking them to exercise “strict vigilance and caution” with regard to security at workplace, place of residence and also during movement in the city. The advisory said that the security situation in Afghanistan is “highly volatile, unpredictable and dangerous”.

So, what should India do to deal with the Afghan quagmire? Unlike the US, it just can’t pack its bags and vanish, being in the immediate neighbourhood, and with Pakistan and China trying to turn it into their strategic depth vis-à-vis India. “India needs to follow a very fine diplomatic line,” said a senior MEA official, adding that Delhi must keep on supporting President Ashraf Ghani and yet should not be averse to talking to the Taliban. “The Taliban are a reality. The US has accepted it, and the sooner we accept it, the better placed we would be in dealing with the Afghan challenge. But this doesn’t mean we should give up on President Ghani. In fact, India’s active diplomatic role may hold the key to democratic forces retaining some of their hold in the Afghan administration,” he said.

Now that’s where the crux of India’s new Afghan policy lies. Delhi may not have a military presence in Kabul, but it has a strong hold over the hearts and minds of people there. India’s active role in rebuilding Afghanistan has given people there a semblance of normalcy amid violence and killings. This explains why the Taliban have been reaching out to India. This also explains why India is being invited to diplomatic high tables while discussing the fate of Afghanistan.

This doesn’t mean that the Taliban have cut their ties with Al Qaeda or even the mother of all terrorism—Pakistan. If anything the links have become deeper and would turn even more menacing, especially in the wake of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan which many in the Islamist world would see as an affirmation of jihadi victory. The real problem, however, is on the eastern side of the Durand Line in Pakistan, which just refuses to give up on its terror aspirations. With Taliban in power, Pakistan would achieve, in Steve Coll’s words in Ghost Wars, General Zia-ul-Haq’s dream: “A loyal, Pashtun-led Islamist government in Kabul.”

India’s—and for that matter world’s—problem resides in Pakistan, which called for “guns rather than butter” weeks after its independence. Where every general, liberal or otherwise, “believed in the jihadists, not from personal Islamic conviction, in most cases, but because the jihadists had proved themselves over many years as the one force able to frighten, flummox, and bog down the Hindu-dominated Indian Army”, as Coll writes again. In Pakistan, jihad is not a calling for the otherwise liberal generals, but a professional imperative. “It was something he (general) did at the office. At quitting time he packed up his briefcase. Straightened the braid on his uniform and went home to his normal life.”

The Americans would have saved themselves from this embarrassment of leaving Afghanistan like a loser had their President listened to former CIA operative Bruce Riedel, who had told President Barack Obama right at the beginning of his first term to shift focus from Afghanistan to Pakistan, for the latter has a “convoluted relationship with terrorists in which it was the patron, the victim and the safe haven—all at the same time”, as former Ambassador Rajeev Dogra recalls in his book, Where Borders Bleed.

The Americans failed to act, despite knowing the real force behind the Taliban surge in Afghanistan. Maybe they fell under the trap of Pakistan being a nuclear weapons state, an argument which the Pakistanis would use generously vis-à-vis India till Prime Minister Narendra Modi called the bluff after the Balakot air strikes in 2019!

Be that as it may, India will have to play the Great Game, with or without the US. For, its stakes have risen further with the Dragon all set to play the Afghan tango with Pakistani generals and Taliban leaders. With Taliban at Kandahar gates and China checking in on Kabul, it’s time India reoriented its Afghanistan policy.

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Voters must be made aware of healthcare issues

Suravi Sharma Kumar

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Covid 19 pandemic is when we have so clearly understood how broken our health systems are and this has made us contemplate the role that the government should play in ensuring healthcare for all in the country. Surprisingly Indian election manifestos across all parties don’t allow healthcare any decent space. And more curiously, India’s voters appear to place little emphasis on health as they decide whom/ which party to vote into power. For instance, in the state elections in Bihar in October-November 2020, as found in a post-election survey, only a meager about 0.3% of the voters considered health as a priority–even against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic. Economic factors and general developmental issues loomed much larger to voter priorities against providing good healthcare.

Why do our voters not prioritize health despite their having to pay one of the world’s highest out-of-pocket (at 78% OOP) expenditures and catastrophic spending on health for decades? The reasons for the low prioritization of health in elections seem to be complex and rooted in our psychological imprint. Our people have surprisingly non-existent expectations of government as healthcare provider/s. This most likely is because the health system had been unresponsive and unaccountable for way too long. People’s minds have been turned away from this in their upbringing years while going through the thick and thin of their woes around hospitals and clinics. There is simply no expectation in their minds. 

An expectation is the emotional anticipation or belief of an occurrence that may take place in reality in the future. It’s a potential reality that we look forward to being manifested in our lives. But mindsets primed over many decades are transformed to such a state that it doesn’t allow the emergence of any such expectation in people. The very concept of government providing healthcare doesn’t exist in the minds of the multitude in our country.

The other cause of such reaction in voters may also be because none of the political parties provide the subject of Health any decent place in their election manifestos. They make no promises about improving health care. So this leaves the people to themselves as far as health is concerned and are left with no scope to choose a political candidate or a party on that ground.

Political leaders, on the other hand, stay away from promising improved healthcare, either because they don’t have the answers, or they find it too complex an issue to analyze and come up with an agenda on offer, or because timelines for improving the system are well beyond the life of their political regimes. However, we get to see that where political leaders have delivered well on health, such as in Kerala, it has created an expectation from citizens which compels leaders to offer election agendas prioritizing health. Despite the pandemic, it has been hard to identify any shift in the electoral politics of health provision even in the world’s richest party governing our country. The ruling party under the charismatic leadership of the honorable prime minister has also been stressing other welfare goals even in the backdrop of a pandemic. The ruling party is also seen to garner benefits from maintaining a raft of welfare schemes since 2014 adding several such schemes and promoting them actively during elections. 

Various factors/reasons are under play for this and the most prominent one is because reforms in the health sector are harder to enact and much slower to yield any tangible outcomes for voters to take cognizance of and manifest any impact in terms of votes earned for the party undertaking such a complex agenda. Hence, foregrounding health sector investments have been seen as politically riskier than other result-oriented schemes/ agendas. For instance, improvements in the distribution of food grains or gas cylinders (Ujjwala) are more visible and tangible/measurable for the general public than enabling efficient medical caregiving policy/ scheme which is a far tougher and time-consuming task to undertake. Welfare schemes based on the ‘delivery’ of a product are much simpler and tangible than improving services like health and education, which are much more complex. 

Healthcare depends on a system that includes infrastructure, human resources, medical protocols and resources, high accountability, and capacity. For this reason, perhaps, the main electoral pledge in the health sector in recent years has been on health insurance and a few free treatments offers rather than comprehensive infrastructural reforms within which this product can be effectively utilized.

The social determinants to health that are highly prioritized in the UN sustenance goals must find a place in any discussion on health infrastructure improvement. They are important contributory factors to health status in general and get varying degrees of priority in governments. But there is a need for more focused coordination to ensure optimal allocation of resources across various sectors touching the subjects of safe drinking water, sanitation, hygiene, and nutrition. Their contribution to good health is unarguably a lot but these need to be adequately recognized, measured, and evaluated.

There is also a need to establish a coordinating body in the country’s highest offices to connect the dots in health and other social determinants of health and coordinate the work of various agencies contributing to health improvement to enhance and better utilize these for the general good.

Experts would agree rebuilding India’s health system requires first and foremost better financial allocation and some policy work around the clarity of roles of the national and state governments. The other area is creating empowered institutions with evidence-based healthcare governance and administration. The motivation for these will emerge from creating (or making more visible) the demands of Indian voters for improved health. Social help groups and non-government organizations should work on voter awareness, their perception of health schemes, and even the politics behind these.

The author is a Consultant Doctor, Moolchand Medcity.

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HOW ONE CAN FOLLOW ONE’S PASSIONS AND DREAMS IN LIFE

A career has to be true to your inherent talent and interests. It should fulfil your financial goals and help you grow personally as well. It is important to be guided on the right career path, but it is far more important to stay true to oneself while making a career choice.

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We all have aspirations for the future. Ask a child and he too will have a dream. Dreams might revolve around a career, achievement, or the little pleasures of life, such as travelling or driving a nice car. We are defined by our dreams. Additionally, dreams also direct the course of our lives. But occasionally, circumstances deter us from pursuing them. Does that imply one shouldn’t pursue their dreams? Should one give up trying? And, more importantly, should we keep encouraging our children to follow their dreams and aspirations until they come true?

Firstly, we must realise that while barriers may occasionally stand in the way of realising our ambitions, they are seldom long-lasting. After all, dreams are what give us hope. The right thoughts, the right environment, and the right attitude are the key components that may assist children, students, and adults in never giving up. 

To stay authentic to yourself and your dreams, you can consider the following:

1. To think beyond examination scores:

Imagine parents telling their child to follow what their best friend or the best student in their class is doing. Most likely, he has no interest in what the other person does. However, ordering the youngsters to do anything will just add pressure on their young minds. Despite peer pressure, supportive parents and relatives must recognise their child’s innate skills. The child’s overall growth must be more important than who received the highest grades in the class. Once the child’s latent skills are discovered, positive reinforcement might help him excel in his chosen career path. This is the first step towards dream realisation – encouragement at all times. 

2. The P’s that will stand the test of time:

Patience, Perseverance, Passion. A deep interest in anything naturally leads one to success. But persevering in the long run with no distraction or fear of failure or other obstacles is the key. There will be challenges but taking them head-on will take one through the testing times. And what’s most important is patience. To wish for quick results and give up halfway through leads one nowhere. Things happen only with time and at their own pace.

3. Being grounded:

Taking time to introspect and self-evaluate is very important. One has to be mindful of one’s attitudes and confidence levels and keep arrogance under check. Perhaps with all the years of experience, we have still not come across someone better. So being modest and preparing to listen keenly is necessary. This includes being open to better ideas and suggestions. Besides, work ethics play a big role. From turning in homework in time at school to timely reporting at work, discipline only adds more to humility. Chasing your dreams needs you to be grounded first.

4. Making use of technology:

We are blessed to be living in the era of digitization. Not only has technology brought the world closer, but technology has empowered children to get ample information at the tip of their fingers. To follow a particular vocation, one is better empowered today than one was a few years ago. Children are brimming with innovative ideas. With education technology, children are fully equipped to learn whatever they wish from any corner of the world. It helped them not to stop learning during the lockdowns, and, interestingly, they also discovered some of their latent talents. What also follows, however, is that one keeps upskilling with the ever-evolving technologies and opportunities.

5. Be a seeker:

The more one reads, the wiser their minds become. Besides, learning must stop at any age. The moment one stops learning, there is no fuel left to drive the dreams. Making learning enjoyable is something parents can do for their children. Teaching time can also be bonding time and motivate children to learn more and more. Children learn not from what parents say but from what they see. Parents too must serve as examples by learning something new every day and sharing it with their children.

6. Thinking beyond a conventional career:

A career has to be true to your inherent talent and interests. It should fulfil your financial goals and help you grow personally as well. It is important to be guided on the right career path, but it is far more important to stay true to oneself while making a career choice. A little support from folks and friends goes a long way in making a difference. 

7. Challenging oneself:

One must not be bogged down by the criticisms as they only help us grow. Learning to navigate through obstacles is a confidence booster. As we challenge ourselves to do better, we only grow our potential and skills. Don’t stop dreaming. When you take up a task take it up with the same zeal as you would as a beginner.

The author is a Lifestyle writer & voice artist, The learning obby by Practically 

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PM Modi launches multiple portals at Digital India Week 

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi has launched multiple digital portals at the ongoing Digital India Week 2022 including a single sign-in portal Meri Pehchaan, a website IndiaStack.Global, MyScheme on Monday.

The launch came amid the ongoing Digital India Week 2022 in Gandhinagar. He highlighted that the masses had to hustle from pin to pole for basic registrations and documents, however, the country solved the issue digitally.

“Just remember the situations of 8-10 years ago. The line for taking birth certificate. If you want to pay the bill, then the line, ration line, line for admission line for result and certificate, line in banks, India solved so many lines online,” said PM Modi.

He also stressed that India is guiding the world in the fourth industrial revolution, Industry 4.0. “With the passage of time, the country which does not adopt modern technology, time moves ahead leaving it behind. India was a victim of this during the Third Industrial Revolution. But today we can proudly say that India is guiding the world in the fourth industrial revolution, Industry 4.0,” he added.

‘Indiastack.global’ – is a global repository of key projects implemented under India Stack like Aadhaar, UPI, Digilocker, Cowin Vaccination Platform, Government e Marketplace (GeM), DIKSHA Platform and Ayushman Bharat Digital Health Mission. This offering of India to the Global Public Digital Goods repository will help position India as the leader of building Digital Transformation projects at population scale, and prove to be of immense help to other countries which are looking for such technology solutions. ‘MyScheme’ – is a service discovery platform facilitating access to Government Schemes. It aims to offer a one-stop search and discovery portal where users can find schemes that they are eligible for. ‘Meri Pehchaan’- National Single Sign On for One Citizen Login. National Single Sign-On (NSSO) is a user authentication service in which a single set of credentials provide access to multiple online applications or services.

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LET TERRORIST TALIB HUSSAIN NOT A MEMBER OF BJP: J&K BJP CHIEF

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Jammu and Kashmir BJP chief Ravinder Raina on Monday said the most wanted Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terrorist Talib Hussain who was apprehended from Reasi district is neither an “active member of the BJP nor a primary member”.

 Speaking to ANI, Raina said, “Hussain is neither an active member of the BJP nor a primary member. There was a letter circular, on the basis of which it is believed that Sheikh Bashir, who is the President of BJP Minority Front of Jammu and Kashmir had appointed Hussain on 9 May.” He termed the reports fake which claimed that one of the two most-wanted LeT terrorists, who were overpowered by locals and handed over to the police, was in charge of the party’s IT cell.

 The BJP leader further said after that Hussain had circulated a letter himself and resigned from the membership of the party on 18 May. “A couple of years ago, Hussain along with with his three colleagues used to come to the BJP office as a media person. He had also interviewed me many times, he used to call himself a reporter for a YouTube channel named ‘New Sehar India’,” Raina said.

 “As a journalist, Hussain clicked photos with us many times in the BJP office. Pakistan terror outfit wanted to target the head office of the BJP of Jammu and Kashmir. It has been done through the targeted medium and carried out such incidents,” he said. “It is too soon to say more on this matter as the investigation is going on. Not only the BJP, but all the offices of other political parties need to be more alert now,” Raina added.

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29.1% men, 2.6% women in Haryana consume tobacco products

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The use of tobacco products swallows around 80 lakh people’s lives across the world and according to statistics, India is the largest country in terms of production and consumption of tobacco products. Haryana also emerges among those states making the maximum use of tobacco products. The National Family Health Survey-5 revealed that 29.1% males use tobacco products to be followed by 2.6% which continues to result in the untimely deaths of thousands of people. The survey included the people falling into the 15 years or above age group. The survey also revealed that the people residing in rural areas consume more tobacco as compared to the people residing in urban areas. Among the male, 32.2% males use tobacco while 23.3% urban people used tobacco in any form. If you look at the female tobacco users the scenario remains almost the same as out of total 2.6%, 3% rural women consume tobacco products followed by 1.7% urban women who consume tobacco. 

In this series, it is pertinent to mention that the Haryana government had extended the ban on the sale and manufacture of gutkha and pan masala for one year. The state Food and Drugs Administration has issued a notification in this regard, under which the sale and purchase of tobacco products have been prohibited for a year from 7 September 2021. Now, the sale of tobacco and nicotine products like pan masala and gutkha in Haryana will be considered illegal till September 2022. The order said legal action will be taken against those who violate the rule. Despite that, tobacco products are being sold and purchased openly violating the rules which is a matter of serious concern.

 The survey also revealed that at the National level, 39% of men and 4% of women (15-49 years age group) use some form of tobacco. The most common form of tobacco consumption among men is chewing gutka and pan masala (15%) to be followed by smoking (13percent), using khaini (12%) and bidis (7%). Among those who use cigarettes or bidis, 46% smoke more than five cigarettes or bidis each day on average. Among women, the most form of tobacco used is chewing pan masala and gutka, chewing pan with gutka and khaini. The trend which came to the surface is that the use of any kind of tobacco decreased from 45% and 7% among men and women from 2015 to 2016 to 39% and 4% among men and women in 2019-21 respectively.

Pertaining to the issue, Prof. Sonu, an expert from PGI said that the use of off tobacco products is a matter of serious concern as it causes health hazards. It not only affects the life and health of a person using tobacco but also creates problems for the family members. Apart from this, an active smoker puts the lives of other people around them. In the wake of the increasing trend of tobacco among youth. Check holders namely the government, non-government organisations, social organisations, education and health departments should come up with full-proof strategy to curb the menace.

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CORRUPTION IN FIRE BRIGADE APPOINTMENT, SUSPENSION ORDER BY KOLKATA HIGH COURT

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Allegations of corruption in the recruitment of teachers and non-teaching staff in the state’s primary and higher education departments had been raised earlier. This time there were allegations of corruption in the appointment of the fire department. Based on this allegation, the Calcutta High Court issued an interim stay on the appointment of 1500 posts in the fire department.

In 2018, the state issued a notification for the recruitment of one and a half thousand fire operators in the fire department. The written test was done in 2019. The problem arose when the result was published. The complaint was that the test had the wrong questions. Even if there was a player quota or firefighting training certificate that matched the extra number or reserve, it was not given. It is even alleged that the job seekers have been given jobs in the scheduled quota.

Initially, the job seekers approached the SAT with all these allegations. There that the appeal was dismissed. Then they approached the Calcutta High Court. The case was heard on Monday in the division bench of Justice Harish Tandon and Justice Shampa Dutt Pal of the Calcutta High Court. Following the hearing, the Calcutta High Court issued a one-week interim stay on the appointment. The suspension will continue till next Tuesday. The next hearing of the case is on Monday. The court’s decision to fill the 1,500 vacancies in the fire department is currently uncertain.

It is to be noted that recently there have been allegations of corruption in the appointment of the state’s primary and higher education departments. The CBI is investigating the court order. The court is keeping a close eye on that investigation. A moratorium has also been issued on recruitment. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had spoken about this a few days ago. His regret, ‘How do I recruit? It is not possible to make an appointment without the permission of the court. I have always said that the decision of the court must be followed in all cases’. This time the appointment in the fire department was also stopped by the court order.

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